Friday, April 27, 2018

Taper Time To-Dos

With fewer miles and shorter workouts, what are you going to do with all that extra time during the taper? A few suggestions:

1. Rest

This is obviously the number one thing you’re supposed to be doing. Run less, rest more. Sleep in, go to bed earlier. Curl up with a good book (I highly recommend Deena Kastor’s Let Your Mind Run, it helps a lot with #5, below) and—if at all possible—procrastinate any to-do items until after the marathon. Spring cleaning can wait until… never, right?

2. Freak out about the weather

Just kidding, don’t do that. (Good luck not doing that.)

3. Plan any last minute details of race weekend

And by that I mean plan where you’re going to celebrate afterward. Around this time is when I start imagining all the junk I’m going to eat post-race, mostly of the cupcake/donut/ice cream variety. (If you have any suggestions of good Pittsburgh bakeries/ice cream shops/burger and beer places, let me know!)

4. Visualize your race

Don’t just picture the cupcakes; also picture how you’re going to earn those cupcakes.

I wrote about visualization before and it’s a relatively simple way to get mentally prepared. Imagine running well of course, but don’t pretend everything will go smoothly. Know that it may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I got an unexpected comfort from reading over an old race report. I remember the race going well, because it ended well, but I wrote that it was the hardest race I had ever run. I'd forgotten some of the struggle, but knowing I struggled and still succeeded was comforting. Recognize that in your visualizations. There will be moments of doubt and fear and wanting to drop out. Mentally practice moving through those moments. Feel yourself struggle and then see yourself pulling out of it and succeeding.

5. Build the mental arsenal

Keep looking for things that will help you pull yourself out of those tough spots. I’ve spent the last week or so writing down every encouraging quote or thought I have. I plan to scroll through this arsenal race weekend with the hope that I can memorize the most powerful to rely on during the race.

One of the quotes that really hit me was “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the BS story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.” Every time I think about all the reasons I believe I can make my goal, the old stubborn demons try to pop in and tell me why I can’t. In the Believe I Am Compete Training Journal, Lauren Fleshman writes about making a case for yourself. She suggests writing down all the negative chatter you tell yourself before a race and then coming up with an argument against each one (even if it’s an argument you only wish you could believe). Memorize the big ones and repeat them to yourself three times in a row every morning and night. (The repetition will help you believe, even in the shaky ones.) Deena Kastor suggested a similar strategy in the I’ll Have Another podcast: come up with three reasons why you’ll achieve your goal and remember them when the going gets tough.

I always sign these posts “Dream big” but in the days before a race, my mantra is different: Believe. Believe in God, believe in yourself, believe in the potential God has given you. Believe you’re capable of much more than you know. Believe in the training, in the miles and hard work accumulated. Believe in the taper, in the way your body is soaking up that rest. Believe that when it gets tough—seemingly impossible—you’ll find a way through and prove it wasn’t. Believe and don’t stop, because as soon as you stop the race is lost… but if you keep believing, who knows what will happen

Adding one extra piece to my race day attire.

(Note: There won’t be a post next Friday. I’ll be focusing on #1 on this list, but look for a race report in two weeks!)   

Dream big (and believe!),

Friday, April 20, 2018

Training vs. Racing

Recently, I remembered a question Oiselle had posed to Twitter a while back: “Do you prefer training or racing?” (Turns out I misremembered it. It was actually whether you’d rather run, race, or recover. But no matter, my inaccurate memory got me thinking.) I responded racing, but what made me consider it recently was that I’m not sure that’s true. I think I prefer training. I realized this because the training for Pittsburgh is wrapping up and I’m kind of bummed about it.

I love racing, but I also love the rhythm of training. (Which is a good thing, considering racing is only a few hours and training is a few hours every day for months.) It may seem like a monotonous routine of getting up early, scarfing down oatmeal, running, stretching, and amassing a heck of a lot of stinky laundry. But I actually love it. (Well, except for the laundry.)
Would I rather be training...

Even on the most exhausting days, I rarely wish I could run less. I always wish I had the time or energy to do more (or a body that could handle it). So when the taper comes, and with it the reduced mileage and shorter workouts, I get sad that it will be months before I’m back in that rhythm again. The race is exciting of course, but before (and after, as I recover) I’ll miss the reflective time I spend pounding the pavement, the satisfaction of a tough workout completed, the fulfilling soreness of a high-mileage week.

And of course, with less time spent running, there’s more time to agonize: am I ready? Did I do enough while I could? (Which is something I grapple with Every. Single. Season.)

On Sunday I redid the workout from a few weeks ago and, disappointingly, it went basically the same, only slightly worse. I was upset for a multitude of reasons: that I had another shot and I failed, that I sat out the 10K for no reason, but of course mostly that I didn’t get the confidence boost I needed. I expected the workout to lift a weight off my shoulders, to give me evidence that I could really do this. And truthfully maybe the weight wouldn’t have been totally lifted, but only shifted slightly, eased a bit. Instead, the weight of doubt grew a little heavier. I wasn’t sure I could carry it around for another three weeks until the race.

This week @thepacinglife posted a quote: “If the problem you’re facing can be solved with action, you don’t have a problem.” If my problem if that I want to run an Olympic Trials Qualifying time, then I know exactly what action I need to take and in three weeks I have the opportunity to take it. (Emphasizing that because we should be grateful when we have these opportunities.) The issue for me seems to be that it’s three weeks before I can take that action. I have to wait to see if I will. Like many eager, type A runners, I’d rather still be doing something that feels like I’m progressing/working towards it, still putting that metaphorical hay in that barn.

Instead all I can do these next weeks is wonder about it. I’m working on my mental game, reminding myself of all the other evidence I have from the rest of my training and racing this season. And really that is the action that I need to take now: to let my body rest while my brain wraps around the task ahead.

Still, I’d rather be working on my physical than mental game. I’d rather be training than wondering.

... or racing?
[Photo Credit: RunWashington]

But when someone asks why I run, why I put so much effort into training, I always say it’s to race. My motivation comes from trying to see what I’m capable of. I won’t know until race day and the excitement of the challenge is in the not knowing. And in putting all that hard work—physical and mental—on the line and finding out.

I guess what it really comes down to is, like many runners, I love training and I love racing.

I just hate tapering.

Which do you prefer: training or racing?

Dream big,

Friday, April 13, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Cherry Blossom

Photo Credit: RunWashington
Three weeks ago, while I was wallowing in my disappointing workout, I got an email from the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile race saying I qualified for the elite women’s start, which would take off 12 minutes before the men and the rest of the field. The email—which I almost deleted without reading it, whoops—immediately lifted my spirits. It was an opportunity to be treated like a star, and even though I would get my butt kicked by the actual stars I knew I wanted to do it.

But I wasn’t sure if it was a bad idea; I’d likely be dropped in the first ten meters, was it worth being stuck in no woman’s land for 10 miles just to feel special? So I asked Friend of the Blog/Neon Angel Kerry, who’s run it a couple of times, if it was dumb to start with the elites, only to feel elite, when I was surely going to be dropped immediately. But she assured me that was exactly why you do it, that we deserve the special opportunity, and if I was in sub-60 shape I should go for it.

Breaking 60 minutes was my goal, but I hadn’t yet said it out loud and as I typed it back to Kerry, it became real: Oh, geez you really think you can break 60? That’s crazy.

At the beginning of the season, I thought this was one of the races I could go for a PR, but that seemed less and less likely lately. I figured a 10K PR was much more in reach, as my 10K PR (37:08, or 5:58 pace, from the first part of a half marathon) is actually a slower pace than my 10 mile PR (59:24, or 5:56 pace). (Which is why I remain super bummed to skip the opportunity to race a 10K.)

In the week before the race, I tried to wrap my mind around why, even if a 10 mile PR was a bit ambitious, sub-60 wasn’t totally crazy. I wrote down my rationale: I ran sub-60 pace at Cherry Blossom in 2015 and I’ve run some* faster workouts and a faster half marathon this season. (*It’s never ALL. Some workouts are faster, some are slower, and a lot comes down to which you focus on. I actively try to focus on the faster/glass half full ones.) As my confidence grew, the possibility snuck in of maybe—on a perfect day, if I feel unexpectedly amazing—maybe, just maybe going for a PR.

And I let the deadline for opting out of the elite start quietly pass.

Race morning was cold and there were about 40 other women freezing their buns off in the advanced start, all of whom looked intimidating. But I talked to one who had a similar goal—start at 6:00 pace—so that made me feel a bit better. I wouldn’t be totally alone from the gun.

Within the first quarter mile, two packs formed: the lead pack, trailing the press truck and motorcycles, and a “chase pack” of five or six women, including myself. I laughed to myself when my internal monologue called us a chase pack, as if the race was televised and the commentators had any reason to refer to us. Which of course they wouldn’t have, because we weren’t so much chasing the leaders as a self-selected group of women who clearly all had the nice round goal of 60 minutes on our minds. I was psyched that, not only was I not alone, there were a couple of women with the same idea. At a turn around near mile 2, we broke up a bit, but I stuck by Rochelle Basil, who had seemed to be in control of our little pack. 

At three miles we were exactly on 60-minute pace, but I fell back a little from Rochelle. I didn’t want to lose contact too soon as I worried that might lead to me giving up a bit and falling off the pace, so I was glad when I was able to reel her back in. As I pulled back alongside her, I began to feel better and around mile 5 ended up passing her.

Photo Credit: RunWashington
As we ran back down Independence, the sun was in my eyes and I could barely see in front of me, but as we turned to head south along the Tidal Basin I finally spotted another ponytail ahead. She was far off but I sensed I could catch her so I focused on her and just kept churning. I was feeling good and the next few miles were sub-six minutes. Maybe I could PR after all?! Around the 10K, I thought, Hmm maybe this is where I get my 10K PR… and I may have sped up a hair for a few strides to hit the 10K timing mat three seconds faster than my old PR.

Mile 7 was a 5:48 and I was flying high. I am going to PR! I suspected I might be running fast because the wind was at our backs, and things might drastically change when we rounded the tip of Hains Point and started heading north, but I was actively repelling all negativity so I didn’t dwell on it. Instead I focused on how good I felt and how much I was surprising myself. I’m in better shape than I thought!

Somewhere in this stretch I caught the woman ahead of me and started focusing on the next one, which was Susanna Sullivan, one of the top runners in the region. Could I catch Susanna Sullivan?! She must be coming back from something. (I later read that link and yes, she is.) I couldn’t really believe I was just behind her, but she was the next ponytail so catching her was my new focus.

As we rounded the turn at the bottom of Hains Point, reality set in a bit. The wind was in our faces, but I was willing myself to stay positive. By mile 8, I had averaged 5:56 pace and I just needed to keep that up for two more miles to PR. I had figured any chance of a PR would mean wildly picking it up at the end, but I didn’t need to do anything too crazy, just maintain. I kept my sights on Sullivan.

But my ninth mile was 6:01. Just like last time, I was unraveling a bit and it was clear the wind had been helping and was now actively hurting. Okay, well now I do need to kick it in a little harder. One more mile, pick it up. But I couldn’t, or I wasn’t anyway. There were signs for 1200 meters to go, (C’mon, GO!), 800 meters (GO GO GO!), and, while I felt like my effort was increasing, I wasn’t sure I was going any faster. I seemed to have nothing. The men had started passing me around mile 9 and they were flying by. Beforehand, I had wondered what effect that would have: if getting passed by someone at essentially an all-out sprint would (a) encourage me to pick it up or (b) crush my spirits, but it was actually (c) no effect whatsoever. The finish line being so close also had no effect. The last mile, often my fastest, was the slowest of the day.

So I did not PR. I lost it in those last two miles and finished ten seconds over. It was incredibly frustrating because I came so close and I really thought I had it. I keep missing my big goals by a hair (sub-2:50 in November’s marathon by 20 seconds, sub-1:20 in March’s half by 27 seconds) and I absolutely cannot miss my next big goal by a hair: ten seconds, twenty seconds, whatever. But on the other hand, only in my really optimistic moments did I think a PR was possible at this race. My PR came from the spring of 2015, when I felt fit and fast, fresh off qualifying for 2016 Trials, and with the added motivation to beat my brother. This time I surprised myself a bit, especially with how good I felt in the middle miles while knocking off sub-6 minute miles. (Yea, the wind may have helped, but shhh!)

Even though I was alone for the second half of the race, I have zero regrets about doing the advanced start. Being in the elite start reminded me that I really want to be in more elite starts, to deserve to be there, and to be mixing it up more with the top locals and top Americans. I want to be able to hang with the Susanna Sullivans and not just when they are coming back from something.

I needed that reminder, because it's time for me to stop making excuses or doubting myself because I’m coming back from something, namely having a Baby. A month or so ago, Husband asked if I was still using Baby as an excuse. He was just curious: did I feel like I still was being held back a bit/recovering from pregnancy? I said no. That was my excuse last season, but this season I'm back to running times and doing workouts that are pretty close to my old self, even my old self at her best. And I’m sick of putting an asterisk on things, “This is the best I’ve run since Baby.” (Please note: every woman is going to have a different timeline and road back, this is just my own personal experience and I realize I’m lucky to be where I’m at. But every woman should feel totally comfortable with taking it at whatever pace she wants or needs to!)

But… sometimes I do doubt myself and think, Well, I just had a Baby, I don’t deserve to start with the elites/there’s no way I can run that fast/a PR is out of the question. During the race, I was thrilled at the idea of PRing because that would prove (to myself more than anyone) that I am faster than ever, not just the fastest I’ve been postpartum. Well... not quite yet.

Although I did technically get that 10K PR, so at least there's that.

Dream big,

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Little Extras

Professional runners often talk about the little extras: it’s not just the miles and workouts that make the difference on race day; it’s all the other little things done throughout the day that keep them healthy and able to run those miles and nail those workouts.

The problem, of course, is that we’re freaking busy. We’re not pros, so we don’t have time to sit in NormaTec boots, take afternoon naps, or spend hours lifting. It takes enough time just to get the running done and so the little things often get skipped.

Over the years I’ve worked hard (sometimes successfully, sometimes struggling) to focus on the non-running extras. Having Baby obviously threw that all for a loop and I’ve had to rededicate myself and find new ways to fit it all in. I still don’t have it totally figured out and things get skipped here and there, but below are some of the tips and tricks that are helping me at the moment. (Anything to add? Do so in the comments below!)


On Sunday nights, I look at my training plan for the week and figure out what days make sense (workout-wise/time-wise/Baby-wise) for strength, core work, and drills. (Each week, I aim for two strength sessions and four core sessions, although some of those core days are just a quick plank series. I do drills before harder or longer workouts, which is usually about twice a week.) In my log I write down which days I’ll do them and make little check boxes for each session. It seems trivial, but it works for me to (a) have a plan and (b) write it down. If I haven’t planned it, I won’t make the time for it (which usually just means getting up earlier) and if I don’t write it down, I’ll just keep putting it off until all I’m left with are days when I really can’t squeeze it in. Plus, checking it off at the end of each day feels good: at least one thing got accomplished.

An example of my log with my intention for the week. 

I also make a checkbox for one weekly yoga session. I often plan it for a day I know I’ll need the extra stretching (for example, if I have Baby all day, post-run stretches can be a little trickier). I prefer to do it at home, where I can do sequences designed for runners at whatever time works for me, but having a scheduled class could help keep you accountable. I had been doing Runner’s World videos but recently started Jasyoga (which has a promo code for a free month if you sign up by April 8!) I’ve been enjoying the videos so much, I’m hoping to do more sessions each week. (Jasyoga also has short meditations, which can be really helpful leading up to a race.)


This is one of the hardest and the one that makes me the most jealous of the pros and their claims to get twelve hours of sleep a day. With all the other things to do, how are we supposed to find time to sleep? Two things have helped me:

1. Cut back on TV
Back in 2014, I gave up TV as a New Year’s resolution, in part because I wanted more time to take care of these things. (That same year I qualified for the 2016 Trials, which I don’t think was a coincidence. I wrote about it for The Washington Post and also achieved a life goal I didn’t know I had: making it on FloTrack.) We as a society spend a ridiculous amount of time watching TV, even though we also claim to be crazy busy. If it helps you unwind and relax (which is important for running well!) then go for it. But what I realized over the year was that doing other relaxing things (like reading or going to bed earlier) helped me more; an hour spent reading felt longer and more refreshing than an hour spent watching TV. Although I do watch TV now, I watch significantly less, which means I have more time in the evenings for yoga/strength work/relaxing/just going to bed.

2. Set an alarm
A much simpler trick than banning TV is to set an alarm on your phone telling you to go to bed. I usually set mine for about thirty minutes before I want to be lights out, so I have enough time to stop whatever I’m doing, get ready, and have some devotional time. Admittedly, sometimes I snooze this alarm just like I would a morning one, but I do think it helps keep me accountable for what I promised myself. Apparently, even in my thirties, I still need someone telling me to go the fudge to sleep.

Foam rolling

I foam roll after nearly every run and (on days I’m really on top of it) before some runs. Doing it at the same time every day makes it a simple habit; like brushing your teeth before bed, it becomes routine and just takes a few minutes. You could put the roller where your store your running shoes as a reminder to do it when you come back from your run or beside your bed as a reminder to do it before bed. Alternatively it’s also easy to roll while watching TV or, if Baby lets you, while playing on the floor.

Baby "helping" me foam roll.
Eating right

Meal prep is everywhere these days and while I don’t quite go to the extent of others, at the beginning of the week I plan out each night’s dinner and do all the shopping. It’s easier for me to take the time to make the decisions all at once and then the rest of the week I don’t have to think about what we’re going to eat or whether we have the right ingredients. If I don't make a plan and just scrounge something up, I don’t eat as well.

Easy runs

This one actually does involve running, so I’m not sure if it counts as one of the “little extras” but I’m throwing it in here because it’s so important and is so often ignored: run your easy days EASY (so you can run your hard days hard). Compared to the others, this takes the least amount of extra time; it just means your runs will be a few extra minutes longer (and we’d all rather be running than lifting and foam rolling, right??). But too many people run moderately fast all the time, which means their bodies can’t recover properly. On my easy days, I wear a watch to make sure I’m going slowly enough, which for me is about two minutes slower than my marathon pace. You should finish your easy runs feeling refreshed, not more tired than when you started.

What are some of your tips and tricks for fitting it all in? Any other little extras you emphasize?

Dream big,