November 25, 2014
Thanksgiving Day has quickly become the single biggest day for road racing in America, outstripping runner-up July 4 by several hundred thousand participants. According to industry organization Running USA, over 800,000 people participated in a Turkey Trot in 2012, with that number sure to rise. With so many of us out walking and running this Thursday, here are a few tips for getting the most out of your Trot experience.
DO make it a family affair
There are few better chances to have your family participate in what may typically be seen as “your weird distance habit.” Extended families are often together on Thanksgiving morning, and a multigenerational activity appeals to all. With a morning start, a family Turkey Trot leaves plenty of time for food prep, football viewing and gratuitous consumption. Light hearted family peer pressure can ease a reluctant exerciser through the threshold and even give them a goal for next year’s Thanksgiving holiday, while having a family group along eases your stress for bailing out and “missing out” while getting in your workout or race solo. With kids races abounding, the little ones can get the wiggles out as well.
DON’T take yourself too seriously
Turkey Trots come on a Thursday, often after hectic travel and a scramble to get out of town at work and at home. You might have even gone to the local watering hole on Wednesday night to convene with your high school friends. While it is a great idea to get a workout in on a Thursday and give it a go, you might not be in an optimal condition for a personal best effort. Keep it fun, think family first, wear a costume, get your heart rate up, but don’t sweat the outcome.
DO include service in your Trotting
Another great motivator for participating in a Turkey Trot and bringing others is the chance to incorporate service into the outing. Many trots include opportunities to donate canned goods or other items for local families in need. Even if not, the race may benefit a local organization for which the donation of a race entry or other contribution may make a big difference. Turkey Trots can be a great way to visibly demonstrate your thankfulness for health, a roof over your head, food on the table to look forward to and other blessings. Any way to pass it forward to others offers an opportunity to highlight your attitude of gratitude, even if that means visiting a soup kitchen or other volunteer effort as a group following the race.
DO enjoy the benefits of getting in workout before all that food
Even if you just feel a bit better tucking into an overflowing plate now that you have already gotten in a few miles that morning, setting the pattern of incorporating regular exercise and prioritizing it can help you navigate the tricky world of a holiday season that seems to encourage overindulgences around every corner. Set the tone and follow through so you arrive at the new year without a big hole out of which to dig.
DON’T forget to adjust your schedule
Make sure you include your racing in your runcoach training calendar as well as on your Goals and Results feed, so we can make sure you have the proper spacing between this effort and your next challenging tasks. Because a Thursday race is a rarity, your training rhythm may be a bit off from usual for the next several days. Stay healthy and on track by making sure your schedule has all the information it needs to help you look back on your Turkey Trot effort as a positive day.
November 22, 2014
With the holidays around the corner, spending an extra few dollars on your next goal race or the gear to get you there can challenge the budget. With so much giving to do, here are a few ways to stay on track by taking advantage of some great bargains.
Register early and save big!
In many cities, and for lots of walkers and runners, a big local race is often a yearly goal, regardless of what else is on the calendar. Oftentimes, these races offer deep discounts for next year’s event when you are at the expo for this year’s race, or via email at what may seem like a far too early time to make the commitment. Registering early can save a large percentage of the last minute or race weekend fee, and can help you commit well in advance and stay on track. Consider it, especially if you have maintained a pattern of registration for some of the same events year in and year out.
Want a fitness test without paying big bucks? Try cross country or an all-comers track meet.
Many recreational runners and walkers don’t consider themselves cross country or track and field athletes, but these races are often low cost ways to mix things up and compete between big goal efforts. Many all-comers track meets only charge $5-10 to compete, and provide the most fail-safe, flattest course on which you can measure your 5K or even 10K fitness – a track. Although the change of scenery found on the roads may be more your style, an indoor meet during a snowy winter or a lit track on a dark night may prove a better alternative for a hard effort every once in a while. Since cross country races for adults tend to cater towards club athletes and not the general public, they tend to have modest fundraising expectations and lower entry fees. Cross country may also provide a solid shorter alternative to longer trail runs, with much of the same types of course challenges and fun.
Run a Relay!
You may want to take part in a local event, but may not be quite prepped to run the entire distance or able to justify the entire entry fee unless you are well prepared. Some longer races offer relay options, which are a way you can both share the experience with friends as well as take part at a lower price point. Again, the earlier you register, the better the price!
Crack the code!
Before you sign up for your next race, consider if there may be any discounts to that race for groups to which you already belong. Check your email for discount codes you may have been sent through a running or walking club, a local retailer, a gym or fitness center, or another running connection you may have. If you know you have a group of individuals or part of a club that may want to run a race, go ahead and ask if you can get a discount for bringing a group. The worst the race management can say is no, and for a couple of seconds of checking your email, the worst you can find is nothing – this time. $5 or 10% off might not make a big dent in your budget once, but over the course of a year or two, taking advantage of any code available to you can make a difference, particularly if you end up saving others a few more dollars.
Many races exist to help others, and there is a time when a full donation is the appropriate thing to do and is done gladly. However, taking advantage of opportunities to save here and there can help allow each of us to race a bit more, which helps everyone involved.
November 11, 2014
There is a lot of advice available for prospective marathoners and half marathoners taking on a big challenge. Much of that advice focuses on topics related specifically to how to physically and mentally complete the race. All of this well intentioned information, including all the good stuff that comes from this blog, misses a few subtle aspects of a goal race that are often overlooked. Here is some of that "secondary" advice!
Be able to answer the question: “Why are you doing this?”
You may or may not ever be asked throughout this entire process. If you are asked or just find yourself wondering, you should know. It helps give you tremendous focus and motivation when preparing and when battling through the tough spots of the race. When you finish, it helps the whole project have tremendous resonance. This may be a no-brainer for many with clear causes, but for those who have entered on a whim, it is worth unpacking the deeper reason for the commitment needed for the race.
Have a ride ready
There can be a great deal of angst about the pre-race logistics, but often, the post-race getaway plan is an afterthought. When the ground stops feeling like a treadmill and the sweat starts to chill, you will be glad of a clear cut way to a soft seat and the comforts you most desire in recovery. Goal races often take a village and this part is one where you can maximize your support network effectively.
Channel Ferris Bueller in the last miles
The last miles of a marathon or half marathon can be very tough and require great focus to find the finish line. But like that teenage sage Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Now, no one is suggesting you actually stop unless you need to! However, the actual race itself, which once seemed so long, will be over in a flash. Enjoy it, look around, celebrate your presence at the farthest point you may have ever traveled on your own two feet, and try to soak it in. Those sights and sounds help you remember the experience and remember it fondly even after the sore muscles are recovered.
Stay on the yellow line
Most cities like their roads to drain when the rain or snow falls. This means, many roads tilt to the outside on either side of the roadbed. Running or walking along a cambered road for a few miles may not be a big deal to your brain, but traveling along an uneven / slanted surface for many miles when working hard or fatigued can take a toll on IT bands, hips, knees, or other parts of the body. Follow the yellow line and keep yourself on the path to injury-free recovery.
Smile when you pass the cameras
Sometimes mid-race pictures lose a bit of sheen due to the unfortunate effects of gravity. A winning smile can help keep the focus on the excitement inside and the pride in having the courage to be out there. Even if you aren’t enjoying the exact moment, make the effort to smile. This will buoy your mood and give you the boost you need to make it to the next smile point along the way.
November 03, 2014
Every runner or walker has a slightly different style. Each of us move a bit differently, but if you are looking for a few quick and subtle tips to start with as you begin to train for a goal race, or are an experienced athlete looking for reminders, here are a few key concepts to keep in mind when trying to move efficiently.
Relax and drop your shoulders
Hunched up shoulders are tense shoulders. Tense shoulders take energy away from where you need it and result in a fatigued feeling well before you have earned it. Try to keep your shoulders low enough that if your arms hang at about 90 degrees, your hands will brush your pockets (or where your pockets would be) when you swing your arms.
Keep your head neutral
As you run, ideally your body should stack up in a column leaning barely forward. If your head is tilted forward looking at the ground or your chin is up due to fatigue, it disrupts the efficiency of this line and quickens the onset of that achy, tired feeling many athletes get in their upper back toward the end of longer efforts. Keep your eyes on a spot around 15 yards ahead so your head sits in line with the rest of your spine, and avoid the distraction of an achy upper body for a few more precious miles.
Concentrate on a crisp stride cadence
Many athletes grow up assuming that longer strides will help an athlete cover more ground, faster. While it is true that while sprinting, you might cover more ground per stride, your stride rate is pretty quick. Concentrate on the rate aspect of the equation, rather than the distance. When you take long, bound-y strides, all that time in the air just results in a greater decrease in speed by the time the next foot hits the ground. Concentration on keeping a crisp stride rhythm can provide a welcome distraction when tired, and also helps keep your body in line.
Engage your core
The less your midsection vacillates or rotates per stride, the more efficiently your body can move forward. Drawing your navel to your spine (figuratively) and using that tightened core to help your posture can make it easier for your legs to cycle under you efficiently, your arms to swing front and back, instead of side to side, and for your body to get to the finish line with less strain and hopefully less time.
There are innumerable exercises to help athletes improve their efficiency while striding (try these suggestions from a previous blog post). Sometimes these can be intimidating to recreational athletes, but these small tweaks can make a difference without feeling the need to completely overhaul your form. Experiment and see if the suggestions above can make a difference.
October 27, 2014
Over the course of a 13 or 26-mile effort, music can be a welcome distraction. And after a few of these, bands or music along the course become a part of the day worth looking forward to. Occasionally, there are some renegade bands or neighborhoods that will greet the athletes streaming by with some unexpected tunes, but more likely than not, there are some tested and true tropes that will appear like the daily mail. See if this rings true for your next goal race or brings back fond memories of your last.
Goal races like marathons or half marathons are often signposts indicating the culmination of weeks and months, maybe years of hard work. Race organizers know this, and rarely miss a chance to set the tone with music usually associated with the grandest stages and ultimate opportunities. “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” can set the mood, or in the case of the New York Marathon, a ritual playing of “New York, New York” after the starting cannon sounds. These songs mean to celebrate your achievement, and with a wink, remind you how awesome it is that you get to do such an amazing race as the one you are doing right now!
Without a scientific study it is hard to know for sure, but no experienced marathoner would be surprised if the Rocky theme was awarded the most played song award. Those familiar notes are there to remind you that you are in a fight! You can win! All that training is going to pay off! “Rocky” along with the song from the opening credits of Chariots of Fire, and “Eye of the Tiger” are not there for subtle encouragement and secondary meanings. Those songs are played and received as direct reminders of your purpose and your ability. Listen and heed - the finish line is coming! While the Chariots of Fire tune is a good song for the first few miles when the runners and walkers are thick across the road and optimism is high, playing “Rocky” or “Eye of the Tiger” too early implies that you should be tired and need encouragement. Those are best deployed for the second half of the race.
Any band signing up to play along a half or full marathon must consider what overtly or even vaguely inspirational songs are in their wheelhouse. Failing that, they must consider if they can play any songs that have lyrics related to running or even just the word “running” anywhere in the song. For many cover bands, this list includes “Runnin’ Down a Dream” by Tom Petty, “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey, and “Where the Streets Have no Name” by U2. For the guitar alone this last one works wonders on the tired spirit, but when you belt out “I wanna RUN” for that first line, you know you are legitimately helping people! Urban selections might include “Runnin’” by the Pharcyde or “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. With a barely more subtle subtext than the overt anthems, these songs help to remind you (in case you forgot) that you should be running, moving, walking, progressing. Just in case you did indeed forget. Failing that, many of them have a good beat, which works just as well.
Highly inappropriate or sad songs
Sometimes, the best-laid plans go awry, and the playlist wasn’t quite as thoughtfully considered as it might have been. For example, “Tears of a Clown” is probably not a winner (true story – it has been played), and other sad songs might greet a walker or runner who has the misfortune of passing a band who is now playing on vapors, exhausting the last drops of their repertoire. Sometimes, a cheer station or a neighborhood lets loose with a song that nobody remembered had a line or two of completely inappropriate language or verbal imagery. Better bet is to play the same solid songs three times each rather than a ballad, a sad song, or an explicit tune played over the loudspeaker to the entire neighborhood. It might be boring to the band, but the runners and walkers only get the one moment. A few depressing thoughts as well as a smile due to the randomness of the choice can occur as a result of these. Even concurrently. Additional note: “We are the Champions” or “Celebration” by Kool ‘n’ the Gang should never be played unless the finish line is in sight. That’s teasing!
One of the many great informal traditions of a large running and walking event is the occasional neighborhood individual equipped with a microphone, a speaker, potentially some background music, and a great deal of energy. Kudos to these folks, willing to just call out bib numbers, shirt colors, Sharpied names, and other filler for hours. Never underestimate the power of having your name called over a loudspeaker, and never underestimate the ability of a well-timed musical distraction to make the finish line seem just a bit closer.
The recently held Berlin Marathon lived up to its potential for fast times and then some, with Dennis Kimetto shattering the existing world marathon record by 26 seconds and becoming the first human being under 2 hours and 3 minutes. If you are keeping score, that is an average pace of 4:41 per mile, or essentially the equivalent of running 105 laps around a track and hitting 70 seconds on each one.
Performances like this can seem so many light years away that the average athlete may feel that they can barely relate. Yes, Kimetto covered 26.2 miles in an amazingly fast time, but looking beneath the surface, races like his can yield connections that can encourage us all, even if we are in the middle or the back of the pack.
The Berlin marathon benefitted from the mano a mano duel Kimetto staged with his mentor Geoffrey Mutai. Although we aren’t yet looking for Must See TV or world fame with our distance exploits, having a complicated race plan can sometimes add more stress than it is worth. Some top quality races have huge fields of aspiring world class athletes, but the race may become strategic as a result. If a fantastic time is the goal, nothing beats an old fashioned foot race with one or two people. The mind can’t drift and so stays alert, and the athlete is able to race at the optimum pace indicated by training. Toward the end you can race for the finish, but until then remind yourself of your confidence, tell the truth about your training log, and wait patiently for your turn.
October 04, 2014
Throughout your training, you likely have given a lot of thought about how you will handle the challenges of race day. Another day worth giving a fair amount of consideration is the day before the big day. Before it sneaks up on you, here are a few general tips for making sure your “Goal Race Eve” sets you up for success.
Get the your pre-race shakeout done before noon
Certainly, many athletes have been successful when their schedules require them to do whatever pre race shakeout walk or run they have planned later in the day. However, doing these few miles earlier in the day will likely put you in a spot where you are exercising at the time of day you will be on race day, and give you the maximum amount of recovery. While probably minimal in actual physical benefit, it can make a difference to an athlete looking to feel in rhythm.
Avoid walking around aimlessly at the expo
If possible, take care of your bib number pick up two days before, when the process will likely be less impacted by crowds and nerves. If you want to order an official race shirt for a family member or yourself, you can often do that online. If that isn’t an option or the expo is only open the day before, be strategic. Decide what, if anything you need (want) to purchase, and make deliberate progress to accomplish that efficiently. A big race expo could keep an athlete busy for hours, with myriad vendors hawking various energy bars, drinks, clothing, and other gadgets. There is a time for testing all these things, but hours on your feet and a bunch of weird stuff in your stomach the day before is not a winning formula. Be mercenary. Get in and get out.
Plan your morning checklist
Sometimes nerves can get the best of us in the lead up to a race. Many athletes find comfort in knowing that they just have to check off a series of steps and can focus on the doing rather than worrying if they forgot anything. Lay out your exact outfit and pin on your bib. Have your breakfast food ready and a bag packed with extra long sleeves, cold weather gear, or whatever you need for a meteorological surprise. Riding a train or parking where you need change or funds? Have that ready so you aren’t standing in line for a fare card or digging through your car for change. Let the race be about the race, and not about these mundane details.
Stay in charge
When friends and family are just as pumped up about race day as you are, they unfortunately don’t have an outlet like you will. This can lead to some over enthusiastic ideas, too much excited energy and chatter, and epic plans that may not have anything to do what is best for you. Gently make clear that your itinerary the day before is your itinerary, and while you appreciate their love and support, on this particular day, you need to prioritize the race.
Eat early, and in moderation
A lot of thought is often put into a pre-race dinner, but one important one is how your body will deal with that dinner in the hours between dinner and the race. Plan to eat a bit earlier than normal. With many races on Sunday, Saturday night can mean a bit of a wait in a restaurant, etc, pushing you to a later time of day when you actually are chowing down. Eat familiar foods that you know will sit well - no risk taking. Even if you are doing a marathon the next day, keep in mind that your body can’t suddenly process a huge amount of food in a short time. What isn’t used, is discarded, which can be a distraction on race morning.
Hydrate early and not only with water
Hydration is a key part of your race day prep, and it is important to make sure you aren’t trying to accomplish it on the morning of the race. Throughout the several days before the race, include enough water and sports drink (for electrolytes) that your urine is very light yellow. You are in good shape if that last day before the race, you are able to carry around a bottle for the occasional sip and top off.
September 27, 2014
Training hard for your big fall goal race is the most important things you can do to increase the odds of success on your big day. Putting in the work may not mean that a challenge or two may yet await when you finally pin on your bib number. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when preparing to greet the morning with a resilient mind.
Create quantitative and qualitative goals
Your primary goal may be to finish, or to hit a certain time, and that may be the guiding light in your training thus far. However, consider all that you have learned or are learning about yourself along this journey. Having goals that take into consideration this gained knowledge and experience, as well as the memorable nature of the accomplishment can be important in case the primary goal appears far off or doubtful during a rough part of the race. Intermediary time goals, goals to keep a certain attitude or pace through various distance markers, goals to consume certain amounts of fuel or fluid at certain times, even goals to promise to smile and enjoy the last few miles or to take a selfie at the finish line can occupy your brain and keep you on track to your ultimate quantitative goal.
Break down the race into smaller pieces
A half marathon or marathon can seem quite daunting when considering the full length. If intimidated or feeling nervous, concentrate on one part of the race at a time. Focus on making it through each 5K or 10K, to the top of the hill ahead, the tree around the bend, or even just to the next mile post. Building a pile of small “wins” along the way can build a growing confidence that will form a crashing wave of certainty once the finish line is closer than the start.
Plan your focus for when a rough patch occurs
Rough patches are common for almost all marathoners and half marathoners. These periods might mean a mile or a few where the progress seems much more hard fought than anticipated. Oftentimes, these patches dissipate and a second wind of confidence follows. Experienced racers can look back and use previous experiences to remind them of the temporary nature of the difficult stretch, but first timers must also be armed with a quiver of motivation when the going seems unexpectedly difficult for a time. Perhaps you had a personal motivation for starting your training, a charitable goal, a family member to which you’d like to pay tribute with a great effort, or other talismanic aspect that served as a catalyst for this entire endeavor. Plan to remember your primary motivation and the reasons why you embarked from the starting line, and even remind yourself with a piece of clothing, or even a note written on your hand or arm.
Wear your heart on your sleeve (or better yet, your name on your chest)!
Spectators love to have something to yell besides “Yay!” “Go!” and “Great job!” Savvy racers looking for a bit of encouragement label themselves to give the crowd something to shout. Even if they aren’t truly your personal cheering section, an enthusiastic spectator yelling for you individually can be an irresistible attraction to carry on.
Station your supporters at strategic points on the course
If you do have the luxury of a bit of a cheering section, consider where you will likely have a tougher time. Certainly between miles 18 and 22, vocal support can help temporarily delay or distract you from the final challenge of a marathon’s last few miles. Knowing where you will see family and friends can also provide the intermediate goals mentioned above, as well as the visual representation of the motivation you need to be strong and maximize the benefits of the training you have done all these weeks. Some racers are fine as solo competitors, but oftentimes the trip to the starting line has taken a bit of a village of support. Enjoying that village’s encouragement along the way can help make the far side of the finish line even that much sweeter.
September 20, 2014
Many of our runcoach trainees are in the middle of heavy training for their fall goal races. As some of the most challenging weeks of the year, this period can often seem like one step after another beyond the comfort zone. Experienced runners will recognize this as a normal part of the training cycle, but if experience is not yet on your side, here are a few tips for making it through the heavy load to the restful period of the taper.
Your full body of training is preparing you – not just the long runs
It is easy to get very caught up with your weekend long efforts, and if one goes poorly or has to be skipped due to an unforeseen circumstance, it can be scary to be even a bit off track. Don’t forget that the efforts you make throughout the week – harder ones as well as the key recovery days, are building a tapestry that provides your safety net. One snag doesn’t mean disaster, and staying confident despite a setback can be good practice in case your race plan doesn’t go absolutely smoothly on the day either.
It’s ok to “look down”
Heights can be scary, unless you are standing on a firm foundation. Your many weeks of work have stacked up, and now you are attempting very challenging tasks. The good news is, you are prepared! Don’t be afraid to look back at your training log to see where you’ve come from when you started. Be encouraged that if you have been able to ascend so far and are doing ok, you will be ok to keep it up just a few more weeks.
Plan for dessert
If your challenge is staying motivated as the training has become more difficult, consider planning something fun to look forward to at the end of your goal race. The planning and anticipation can be a bit of a healthy distraction to keep your mind off the hard parts to come and to keep the goal race day and its aftermath as a red letter day to look forward to rather than be fearful of.
“I can’t” is almost always just down the block from “I will”
Oftentimes the hardest part of a training cycle or race is closer to the end than the beginning. You are a bit tired and have been stretched, maybe mentally and physically. You might be wondering if you have what it takes to go all the way. These thoughts are completely common, but experienced racers know that often the time between these thoughts and the time when the finish line feels absolutely within reach are almost always pretty close together. If you have been training for 12 weeks and you only have four to go, consider that 2-3 of those weeks will have a decreased demand as you taper and doing the math, you only have about one week of tough stuff to endure. If you have made it through 12 weeks, the fact is that you can definitely make it through one more. Take one day at a time and look forward to the moment when you can sniff the finish and you can rejoice in getting through the forest of heavy training. You’ll deserve some congratulations not only for the training itself, but staying calm and confident despite the occasional storm. Savor the feeling!