Philly Marathon Recap

My kid has been begging me to do the Philadelphia Marathon ever since he did a school report on the Liberty Bell. We try to make a family vacation out of as many of these races as we can to keep the weekends fun for everyone – and to reward my family for standing around for hours in a strange place while I run around. The City of Brotherly Love was on our bucket list and with my new job, I felt that I could actually pull this one off.

Marathon Training looked a little different for me this time around. However, I was welcoming to the new challenges of working in a distillery – a rather physically demanding job. Now that I was no longer a stay-at-home-parent, I had to run very early in the mornings before the kids got up for school. I weight lifted slightly less, thanks to the extra workout I was getting at work, and I ditched my evening shakeout runs because I often came home too tired or too overwhelmed with dinner & kids’ homework. A lot of my training happened in the dark at 5:30 in the morning, something I was not at all used to. This meant an awful lot of tedious loops around the same neighborhood where I felt safe. Despite these changes and challenges, I was determined to get this training in and some how pulled off 50-60 mile weeks. For the most part I stayed healthy & injury free (except for that day I managed to dislocate my femoral head in my right leg, but we won’t talk about that here, haha!) Seriously, I think this was the first year ever where my children did not bring home some awful cold – though I did end up missing out on one long run due to a reaction to a booster shot.

One major step I took in my training block was breaking away from pre-packaged plans. I’ve read so many blogs, articles, books, etc on marathoning and I’ve followed so many 18 week plans. But they weren’t working. I’ve tried to replicate past training cycles that did work, but of course what works one season won’t always the next. I knew I had to formulate a plan for ME and I had to work on my weaknesses. And, when it really came down to it, the best way to work on those weaknesses was through racing. I mean, what gets more “race specific” than racing!? In order to do this, I registered for three half marathons; New London on August 6th, New Haven on September 5th, and Norwalk on October 2nd. Each race was a build up to the next one with the week following the race as my cut back week. This gave an excellent ebb & flow to the training while also breaking it into manageable chunks (I only planned out three weeks at a time) and I constantly had something to look forward to while staying targeted and engaged. The first race was planned to be a marathon-paced run and to get me started with training & racing. 1:28:38 – perfectly on target. The second race was to work on running in a crowd and not worrying what other people were doing – something that is incredibly difficult for me. This event was to work on strategy and pacing as well. 1:25:11, a PR and a well executed race. The final race was to be my real test before the marathon. Typically I only get one race or time trial in, but building up to this third one was new. Even though this was a “test” and I was training for a full marathon, this half was also an A-race. I had a goal and that goal was to find out just how fast I really was and PR as big as possible. 1:22:04 – everything accomplished!!

With all my half marathons behind me and a major confidence boost, I put my head down and tackled the remaining six weeks of training knowing that I could indeed pull off a sub-3 hour marathon if I just kept myself healthy and didn’t race dumb. Focus, focus, focus. Hold onto that dream, but stay realistic. I envisioned crossing the finish line, seeing a giant number 2 as the first digit on the clock. I went over and over in my head how I’d approach each mile, each hill, each turn. I knew exactly when I’d slurp a gel and take a sip of water. I knew where the surges would be. I had every foot-fall planned out. I was going to run with the 3:00 pace group and/or run 6:48-6:52 splits until at least mile 16…maybe 17 or 18. I was going to stay controlled and conservative through the hills, then start inching away. I was going to have a strong final 5k. I was going to have a sprint finish. I was going to be amazing.

Of course, none of that happened. As I stood in the starting corral, minutes before the gun sounded, I made up a new plan. The new plan was no plan. The weather was not ideal; bitter cold and windy. We weren’t going to get over a real feel of 25 degrees, and the wind was going to increase from 10 miles an hour to nearly 30 as the day went on. Gusts would blow me away. I knew that it was going to get harder hour by hour as the race went on, especially the back half by the water. Starting conservative to save energy and strength for later on sounds like a good plan, and trust me, it is. But I knew that it wouldn’t work for me. I had to race the way I did my half in Norwalk – all guts and glory. The plan now was to run hard, tackle hills, run harder, then hang on for dear life when I ran out & hope the finish line showed up soon. Folks, this is running dumb.

The first 8 miles were all in the 6:30s. Fast. Too fast. But I was comfortable. I was tucked into a pack and we were all working together against the wind. It was time for my first gel at mile 5. I was feeling so good that I contemplated skipping it, but I knew that I’d regret the choice later, so I pulled it out of my waist band. And then I dropped it. There was a moment of panic. I was only carrying two UCAN gels because that’s all that would fit. The plan was to use them, then take the course offered Gatorade gels in the final miles. At least I’d be almost finished if they messed up my stomach. Thankfully my group had spread out a little for the fluid station, so I was pretty much alone. I stopped and went back for it. I was wearing throw-away cotton gloves and they were slippery on the packaging. I couldn’t get it open. I couldn’t feel my fingers. Finally I was able to rip it with my teeth, but I was holding it too tightly. Gel squirted out everywhere. It was all over my face, my gloves, dripping down my leg, on my shirt & bib. My black kit looked like it was covered in bird shit. I sucked as much pineapple gel (quite possibly the most awful flavor ever, but my superstitious self wont let me get a different one) out of my gloves as possible. I saw my family around mile 6 and this was a huge boost of emotions & I quickly forgot about how I was already screwing up.

We entered the hilly area at about mile 10. I was actually looking forward to this part. This meant I got to work, and I like working. The pack was gracious enough to let me draft, but I took the front on the up hills. Coming from Connecticut, these were more like fun little inclines. Zooming up, then zooming back down became a game. It was around mile 11 or 12 that I saw the elite men go by in the other direction and one of my old high school friends, James McKirdy, was on a sweeper bike. We spotted each other & he yelled out “GO MAZY!!” Another positive boost.

Third Time’s A Charm?

Here we go again. Another marathon build up. Another training block of hundreds of miles. This Spring will be my third attempt at a sub-3 hour marathon. I’ve changed my plan slightly since I’m just tired of the P&D plan, plus it left me feeling exhausted and doubting my abilities. But, honestly it’s a marathon training plan, so it’s pretty much the same collection of fast runs, recovery runs, long runs. I don’t believe my next race will come down to the training though. I’ve got a great base and some excellent speed & strength. Moving my feet faster than 3 hours is going to come down to mental power & self control.


My first attempt, Hartford Marathon 2019, I wasn’t physically ready. I had a feeling I wasn’t in sub3 shape. I had come off a great training block with a 3:10 PR (which was already a 7 minute PR from the previous year). Still, that’s a big jump & I was putting in lots of miles and dealing with lots of niggles. I spent that cycle training more or less for a 3:05, but I got cocky and went for it. Which was the right move. I got really close and hobbled away with a 9 minute PR. I was confident I’d go under on the next one, easy.


My next attempt, Hartford Marathon 2021, I wasn’t mentally ready. I was trembling before the race, on the edge of a panic attack. I had spent the last 4 weeks convinced I wasn’t good enough. The pandemic and lack of quality racing for 2 years derailed me mentally. Physically, I was strong enough to get there, but I sabotaged myself emotionally and I didn’t quite make it. Still close though.

I’m going into this block of training with a different mindset. I’m a little more relaxed because hey, I’ve done this all before. I’m a little more focused on the details. I know what I lacked in previous races, and I know what worked well, so I’m building off of that knowledge. I’m also spending as much time building my metal side as I spend running down the physical side of things. I know where my strengths lay and have a pretty good idea on how to hone in on them.

No More Time Trials

The pandemic and hault to in-person races meant I had to figure myself out as a runner without a starting line. I squirmed at the idea of a virtual marathon. Running that far alone at any sort of pace just seemed like pure hell. Some races did pop up here and there, but I just wasn’t comfortable with any sort of travel or crowds, especially dragging my family along. So, it would simply have to be me and my watch. I chose to do short, fast time trials on distances that I don’t normally do.

I sprinted through the Summer to test my legs at the mile and 5k. I built up my endurance in the Fall to slim through with a half marathon PR. I lifted a lot over the winter, focusing on strength and power. Spring came and I hit the track again to chase down a 5k and 10k PR. While I did get personal bests here and there, I feel largely defeated by it all. I did not hit any of my A or B goals at any distance. I’m positive I gained strength, power, and speed in this past year, but I didn’t really get to display it. It was all very anticlimactic.

Today I pushed myself through my last 10k time trial. It was another sub par performance, but a decent benchmark. A part of me is mad and wants to try again in a week. Another part of me is excited that it’s over. None of this year went the way I wanted it to, but hanging on won’t help. I can’t force anything.

Thankfully, the vaccine availability means that races are coming back! I am registered for a marathon in the Fall and I am so excited. I’m also a bit nervous because it feels like ages since I’ve done a real long run. I’m taking a couple of weeks of down time – I need to chill – and then take all this power and speed I’ve built up over the past year and hurl it at a marathon.

I haven’t even started to think about training schedules yet, but it already feels so good to have something real and concrete to look forward to. It’s also pretty exciting to be done with solo time trials.

February Breaking

February in New England, motherhood, and marathoning: when these three things come together, things get awfully tricky. It seems I’m getting a snow storm every couple of days, plus poor clean up crews, plus sub-freezing temps means dangerous roads for this runner. It also means my kids are home, either on a snow day or remote learning, and my kids are not yet old enough to leave home alone.

February brings on training anxiety. I have to get this done. I have to get this workout in or I’ll be behind on my training plan. In years past I usually freak out a little bit in the month of February. There’s a Spring marathon quickly coming, whether I train for it or not, and I am always convinced that skipping workouts due to weather will put me behind or be the reason I don’t reach my goals. I’ve run through all sorts of foul weather to train, to get those miles in no matter what. I’ve driven my family mad with farming them out to friends or begging my sister to babysit so I can go run. And, every year it has paid off. I’ve always done well in my races and moved on. But this pressure I put on myself isn’t helping my depression or my fitness. I go through this same cycle year after year and I think maybe it’s time to break it.

For now, I do not have any goal races on my Spring calendar, despite all the base training I put in for January. The last 5 weeks were nice, steady weeks of 50-65 miles. Good, quality miles. But suddenly this week I am stuck at home. I do not have a treadmill, so my options are run or don’t run. And, for the first year ever, I do not feel compelled to run. I’m taking this week (and maybe more) to give my legs a bit of a break and run unstructured. Instead, I’m focusing on High Intensity Interval Training (something I often neglect because it’s hard and it hurts and I don’t like it) and strength training. I’ll run when and if I can, but I’m not worried about the miles right now. Between our rolling snow storms and the fact that my kids will be on February break (three days of no school!), I’ll be breaking as well and hitting the weight room instead. And hey, everyone could use a little extra strength training, right?

Water bottle a day keeps the Muscle Cramps away.

Winter hydration doesn’t seem like it is a real issue, right? I’m not dehydrated because I’m not sweating as much, so maybe I don’t need to worry about refilling my water bottle so often, right?

Well, no. While winter dehydration may not seem as evident as the obvious signs of summer dehydration, there are still a lot of endurance athletes that are doing themselves a great disservice by not chugging down the H2O. In the summer, there are plenty of cues reminding us to drink: hot, sweaty, and thirsty means drinking comes easy. But when it gets below freezing, the thought of sucking down cold water just doesn’t seem very palatable. But if I’m not even sweaty, do I need to?

Our bodies have to work harder in the extreme cold just to keep them warm, and this involves increased respiration. Cold air goes out and the body uses water to warm it up inside you. When you breathe out and you see that steamy puff as you chug up the hill, you are seeing water leaving your body. Your body is also sweating, though you may not notice it as you would on a July run. The sweat cools and dries quickly in the winter, leaving you feeling dry and fresh – very dry on the inside. If you are wearing multiple layers, sweat can get trapped between the layers. If you aren’t taking in water, then you are setting yourself up for a fun bout of hypothermia – wet clothes, cold temps, and dehydrated bodies do not make a good mix. Personally, I also find the dry cold air plus heating systems dry out my skin really fast – an indicator that I need to drink more frequently.

If you normally consume water on the run, great! Make sure you bring an insulated container so it doesn’t freeze. I wear a hydration pack and blow into the mouth tube after each sip to clear all the water out of the hose so it doesn’t freeze between gulps. This helps and I’ve been able to run in extreme cold (below 10F) without issue. If the run is short or you’re not a fan of carrying water (I can relate), make sure you drink plenty before and after your workout. I’ve become a big fan of drinking hot Nuun post-frozen workout. I’ve also found that because I tend to reach for the tea and coffee more often (warm liquids just feel and taste better in February!), I need to make myself drink water – just plain water. I fill a 64 oz water bottle and leave it on the kitchen counter. Every time I walk by it, I take a sip, whether I’m thirsty or not. So far this has been working well and I’m consuming more and more water each day. This will help me avoid dehydration, muscle cramps, headaches, dry skin, poor sleep, and most importantly – slow times.

Drink up, friends!

2020 Year in Review

Well, we made it. The calendar rolled over and we are done with 2020. I actually don’t have a lot to say for my year in review. Races didn’t happen for most athletes, gyms closed, and we learned to run in masks. Before the pandemic locked us all down, my sights were only set on a sub 3 hour marathon. I was really excited for my first trip to Europe to race in my husband’s home country, Latvia. That was cancelled. All back up races were cancelled. My anxiety over the illness mounted each day. Going to the grocery store was panic inducing. I couldn’t fathom racing in crowds…

I quickly shifted gears to focus on short distance time trials. After all, running itself wasn’t cancelled. I tried a few mile runs on the track – just for fun and to see what I could pull off. (Spoiler alert; it wasn’t terribly impressive!) I attempted several 5ks and a 10k, all of which were a little lack luster. But really, without competition, these distances are even harder than they already are. I rolled all this summer speed up and threw it at a solo half marathon time trial on my birthday in the fall. I had actually put in a lot of really good training for it, so I had big goals. But I also knew that running it alone, on the road with traffic, and a touch hilly would make for a struggle. With the support of my husband and kids as a make-shift aid station at the side of the road, I ran an impressive 13.1 miles and snagged a meager PR. I also managed to pull off a 100 day run streak during this time. I then backed off my mileage for some rest & recovery and promptly got sick.

The entire month of November was dedicated to recovering from the flu. And then the month of December was dedicated to recovering from my recovery and attempting to build back some semblance of fitness. But, by the end of the day on New Year’s Eve, I had accumulated more miles than ever before (even if it wasn’t as much as I had intended way back in January) and had climbed more elevation than ever before. I also ended the year healthy and without injury.

2020 may not have been the year I had hoped for, but I did walk away from it stronger and faster – even if I had to race just myself and a watch. I learned a lot about patience and the grit involved with solo running. I learned to become my own cheering squad and push myself along with positive thinking. I’m hoping that we’ll all get to race again, for real and in person, in the Fall, but I also think I’ll be alright if we don’t. It ended up not being quite as soul crushing as I thought it would be.

My goals for 2021…
1. Stay alive. This means continuing to socially distance, mask wearing, & lots of hand washing.
2. Stay healthy, stay injury free. This means continuing my form drills, strides, listening to my body, taking rest days, eating well, hydrating, foam rolling, etc.
3. Faster time trials. This means a bit more prep for the 5k & more distance specific workouts in the summer.

My strategy for 2021…
I’m honestly not too sure how comfortable I am with in person racing just yet, so I’m not looking at spring races at this time. What I am doing is building up to two half marathon time trials, one in March and one in May with the latter being a “target race”. I’d really like to hit a sub 1:24 – though I do accept that running a solo time trial will be difficult and a lot of things may change between now and then. My build up for these halves will be similar to marathon training so if there is a race and I am comfortable, I’ll be prepared enough to jump in. The summer will be a focus on a mix of speed and long run endurance with (fingers crossed) a trip to Europe at the end of the summer for some more running. I want to tackle a marathon in late October/early November, though I have no idea how the world will look at that point so it may be an actual race, a virtual race, or a solo effort. Time will tell.

I am happy to move on to 2021, though with reserved optimism. I am happy to tackle some specific goals and to build myself up even faster and stronger than before. I have a lot to offer this year and I intend on giving it my all.

Run happy and stay safe, Friends!

How My Garmin Predicted the Flu

Back in June I was beyond annoyed with wearing my watch 24/7. I liked the data it gave me from constant use, but it just wasn’t working out. The watch was bulky and I was constantly banging it on things, plus, I just couldn’t look away from the information it gave me. Why was I sleeping less than the night before? What was my heart rate now? How many steps did I get from that dog walk? I just had to take a break from it. So, I took it off unless I was running. It was nice to break free from it.

But…I missed it. I couldn’t go back to wearing it all the time – it’s really just too big for my tiny arm. But was getting a second device silly? I thought about it for a long time. I really liked the convenience of wearing a watch (pulling my phone out to tell the time was annoying and would often lead to wasting time on Facebook or Instagram). I really liked the look of a lot of the slim “activity trackers” that were out there. But did I need one? Not really, but I still wanted one.

I eventually ended up purchasing a refurbished Garmin Vivosmart 4 at the end of September as an early birthday present to myself. I liked how neat & trim it looked on my wrist and it blended in with most outfits. After years of large fitness watches, I could finally tell the time on something scaled to my frame!

I did have to make a deal with myself: don’t obsess on the data or you’ll have to take it off! I check my sleep data and Body Battery in the morning while I’m drinking my coffee. This gives me an idea on my starting point and will help make decisions about pacing for my morning runs. The sleep data on my Vivosmart is more detailed than what I got from the older 235. I get REM (though mine seems to be wonky) along with the deep sleep cycles as well as a Pulse Ox, indicating how much oxygen I suck in while sleeping. I’m already seeing patterns in my SpO2 – when it drops, by how much, and how that effects my over all sleep (what to do about it – I’m not sure yet). The Body Battery is also an interesting metric. It basically tells you how much juice you have left in the tank based on heart rate, activity, sleep, etc. Mine tends to get up to 100 by about 4am (within 5 hours of sleeping) – which is good to know. And, if I have a lower Body Battery reading in the morning, I’ll adjust my intensity accordingly, and possibly even add in a power nap in the afternoon.

I will also check my data at the end of the day around 8:30 or so when my kids have gone to bed and I’m just sitting in front of the TV. This tells me everything I did (steps, stress level (another nifty metric based on heart rate variance – I’m still figuring all of that out…), heart rate, blah blah blah). I don’t necessarily need to know, but it fulfills my curiosity. These two times are my only times to check date. Otherwise, I leave the thing alone.

At first I didn’t know what to do with all the graphs and pretty colours that showed up on my phone. My heart rate was predictably low. My Body Battery went to 100 overnight, and, depending on what all I did during the day, usually went down to about 50 or so by the evening. My Stress Score was generally low – 20 or under for the day. Rarely did anything ever get high.

One evening my watch started buzzing on my arm. Weird, I thought, I didn’t think I was connected to Bluetooth. I looked at my watch expecting to see a notification about a text message or some sort from my phone. Instead the screen was asking me if I was feeling stressed and wanted to take a break. Huh?! And then, every few hours for the next two weeks my watch was concerned about my stress levels. I was through the roof – even while sleeping. My resting heart rate went up a bit more each day. My sleep was broken and poor quality. My Body Battery stopped charging up. One morning I woke up and it was a 4. FOUR. What was going on? I felt fine. I was sleeping fine. It was a rest week, so I wasn’t even running, let alone over doing anything. Obviously the watch had to be garbage! After almost a week, I reset my watch. There. Body Battery was back in the upper range where it should have been. Stress levels were no longer orange and alerting me. It was all back to normal for a day. The very next day I was back to doom & gloom.

Then I got sick. So horribly sick that I was in tears from the headache and began babbling to my husband about how to take care of the children in the future. I just assumed that I wouldn’t be alive by the morning. (Spoiler alert: I lived to tell about it.)

You can see on November 16th were I reset my watch to alter the data.

I don’t really know what I had. Maybe it was the flu. I know for sure it wasn’t COVID-19. I was tested twice and both were negative. I lost weight (5lbs in two weeks, which for me was roughly 5% of my body weight). My throat felt as if I had swallowed glass and my head felt as if a truck had driven over my face. My body hurt. My soul hurt. My chest was tight and a horrible, wracking cough burned my lungs.

My Vivosmart showed my illness in graphs. My stress score was up, despite sitting on the couch glazing out in front of the TV. My heart rate, even when not running, would crest over 100. My sleep was broken, disturbed by nightmares and interrupted by coughing fits. My Body Battery was on empty day after day. I felt awful and the data reflected that, clear as day. I felt like I was just waiting to die and looking at the data trends, I just didn’t see how I could ever bring my numbers back up.

Now that I’m out of the woods, I’m starting to see my numbers go up. I’m better than I was, but not healed, yet. (This is seriously one nasty MFer of a cold!) And now that I’ve been looking at this device’s data for two months, I can see what it’s been telling me. I should have seen this illness coming! I am pretty confident that in the future I will be able to dodge this type of thing before it runs me over. Could I have taken it even easier in the two weeks leading up to this? Could I have upped my Vitamin C in take, increased hydration, or gone to bed earlier? Now that I know what all the device can tell me, I’ll listen a bit better instead of assuming that the data is wrong or the watch is broken. I also think this will help me actually listen to my own body a bit closer. Of course I do not need to rely on technology to tell me that I’m about to get sick, but I can certainly use it to try and prevent it or lessen it.

So, here I am with this cool little watch – still figuring out how to actually use the thing, how to read all the graphs, and what all the data means, while trying not to become too obsessed with the numbers or my health. Do you have an activity tracker that helps you with recovery? Are you able to avoid illness with the data? Any tips for this newbie?

How to Maximize Your Off Season

The off-season – that lovely space between training cycles – is more than just time off from hard training. If anything, it is a crucial part of your overall fitness and training for your next target race. That’s right – your down time is also a training period when considering the big picture that is your fitness goals.

In a typical year I specifically train for two target races. For me, they are usually marathons, though I have dropped down to half marathons in some cycles. My “big picture” is generally a build up of an 18 week training plan – including and endurance phase, a sharping/speed phase, a taper phase and a race – followed by a short period of down time of roughly four weeks that quickly blends into a second build up of 12-15 weeks – with endurance, speed, taper phases and a race – and a nice long off season of two to three months before I start it all over again.

I spend a lot of time going hard, going long, and staying focused. This can lead to burn out, injuries, and general boredom with the sport. That’s why the off-season is such a crucial part of my overall fitness. It is a tool that keeps me healthy and strong by giving me some much needed rest. And I take this rest time very seriously.

Here are some things to consider during your off season:

  1. It’s not about mileage; it’s not about pace.
    This is not the time to worry about how many miles you are logging or trying to impress anyone with your Strava stats. Running in the off season is simply to maintain fitness, get the blood flowing, and keep sane. Personally, I find that running by TIME works better than running by DISTANCE. I am also liberal with my rest/off days and take as many as I feel I need. I slowly build back mileage and lengthen the long run – but how far I go and how fast I do it is not a priority.
  2. Yes, workouts still need to happen.
    Speed work is still important during the off season, but it will look different in your training log than it does the rest of the year. Shorter tempos (3 miles and under), shorter intervals (5 x 2 minutes is a favorite over here), and hill strides are necessary for form, maintenance, and breaking up monotony. I’ll do one or two light workouts a week, but at less intensity – normally I aim for half marathon to marathon race pace, and not any faster. You should be able to recover from these sessions very quickly.
  3. Lift all the heavy things.
    I am definitely in favor of strength training all year long, but I will advocate the crap out of lifting during the off season. Now is the time to lift heavy and often. Build up all that strength while you have the extra time (because you aren’t running as many miles) so you can convert that power to speed once you are in the throes of your next cycle. I will personally lift heavy weights two to three times a week, with stability, core, and drills three to four times a week. Yes, I am getting five sessions a week of strength focus.

Maximise your down time. It sounds silly, right? But just like any other phase of training, it’s important to make the off season work for you.

Know the beginning and ending of this phase.
Start by making a plan, even if it’s just a loose outline of one. You are more likely to stay motivated and use the time effectively (i.e. not jumping into fast paces because you are getting bored already) if you know all your steps ahead of time. Predetermining how many weeks off between cycles can help stave off over training and injuries in the next cycle. This is best done if you start looking into your next goal and putting some dates on the calendar.

Plan your daily activities.
We have a detailed plan for our marathon training, why not have a plan for our non-training as well? I keep the schedule flexible and take rest days as I need them, but I still have an idea of what I’m going to do on a daily basis for the next two months. Paces and distances will gradually increase as I head back into a marathon prep, but it is mostly a lot of the same easy miles. Monday/Wednesday/Friday will be easy runs of about 30-45 minutes total with pilates/yoga/stability exercises afterwards. Tuesday/Thursday may be a short workout of hill strides, a mini-tempo run, or a fartlek followed by heavy lifting. The weekend long run will be about an hour of steady, easy running and gradually get longer over the weeks. I like to focus more on the lifting, drills, core work, and stability exercises over the time spent running. I also prefer to alternate A and B weeks with A weeks heavy lifting two times and B weeks heavy lifting three times.

Consider not running at all.
Because this time is meant to recover the body, it’s okay to not even run. There are lots of ways to stay fit & get the heart rate up and exploring those other fitness options is a good idea. Sometimes I just get bored plodding through the same 5 mile course, so switching it up to hiking in the woods, cycling on a new path, or doing an aerobic video for half an hour keeps me engaged and willing to stay off the couch.

Ignore the whole thing and do a random workout or sign up for a 5k!
Okay, I know this sounds counter-productive, but just like runners suffer from the taper crazies, it can happen during the off-season as well. I often start feeling a bit antsy after a couple of days off and very restless after a week without a hard workout, so to break up the monotony and to scratch that itch, I may do a fast & hard track workout or jump into a 5K fun run. That’s okay too! Just remember that if you do deviate from any plans to keep it fun, allow yourself to fully recover, and don’t expect any PRs (just be pleasantly surprised if you hit one).

100 Day Run Challenge

I’ve always been a bit anti-run streak. I saw them as something that only running obsessed people did, and other than the attention they garnered, I didn’t really see the point. I attempted one late last Fall and failed miserably with incredibly tight muscles and had to quit at two weeks. I like to stick to very scheduled training plans – and with two marathons a year that’s between 30 and 40 weeks of planned workouts. I also really like my rest days and time off – I take sleeping in very seriously.

I made lots of assumptions about run streaks:
* They would lead to injury
* They would lead to burn out
* Running every day would leave less time for other things
* Properly training for a race wasn’t possible without days off
* They would get boring

I started streaking in the middle of the summer, but it was an accident. Thanks to the pandemic, races were cancelled, training got weird, and I took the time to experiment. I now had time to test out some theories I had! If I blew up in a time trial, I didn’t really lose anything, but I would gain some knowledge about what works & what doesn’t, right? One of the things I experimented with was a greater consistency on shakeout runs & their outcome. I began running an afternoon/early evening jog of 3 miles or 30 minutes Monday through Friday. This ended up being double run days four days a week. Since Mondays are my rest days, I ended up running all seven days. After three weeks of this, I decided to keep going to just finish out the month of August – a whole month of running! When I was most of the way through September I decided to go for a 100 day run streak, because why the heck not. COVID was keeping me from testing myself in a race, so why not mix it up & go for the long haul.

I was racking up a lot of miles with 60-70 mile weeks, but I was feeling great. I had fantastic energy levels. I was getting deeper sleep at night. I was recovering from hard workouts and long runs much faster than ever before. I hit PRs in all of my time trials (1 mile to half marathon). Even things like my chronic knee pain just seemed to disappear.

I’m not going to lie; I did start to peeter out in the last two weeks. Mentally I was kind of over it. I had finished my half marathon time trial in the middle of October & had nothing to train for. I was now just running to log miles & it was getting boring. The miles became plodding and the slower pace caused my hamstrings to tighten up. But, I was determined to finish my 100 days – all of them running. I even ran my last run as a 100 minute medium long run, which seemed like the most fitting way to wrap it all up.

I actually learned a few things in these last 3+ months, too.

1. You don’t have to sit still to have a rest day.
Mondays were still my designated rest day (day after my long run), but instead of zero movement, I stretched, did my drills, and jogged super slow for 30 minutes. Slow meant 2-3 minutes slower than my marathon race pace. Since my long runs were run on Sunday mornings and my rest day shakeout was run on Monday evenings, there was a lot of time (roughly 35 hours actually) between the start of both runs. That’s basically a rest day!

2. If you focus on RECOVERY, you will not get injured or burn out.
Shakeout runs were all run incredibly slow – warm up pace slow. So slow I wouldn’t break a sweat or breathe heavy. I had a few key workouts a week; a tempo, some intervals or hills, and a long run – and weeks alternated between 2 and 3 of these quality sessions per week. Everything else was easy. Runs that weren’t workouts and weren’t shakeouts were run relaxed, and anywhere from a 1 minute to 2 minutes slower than marathon race pace. I do believe that keeping an eye on my pace as well as perceived effort (and often slowing myself down) is what kept me going without ever crashing.

3. Streaks & training plans are compatible if you run the right paces.
I planned on my “season” building up to and ending with a half marathon time trial. That was ten weeks of hard training for a goal “race” and throwing a run streak on top of it. My training plan was not at all hindered by my motivation to run every day – if anything they worked hand in hand. But, I was strict about sticking to pacing zones, allowing myself to run as slowly as necessary for true recovery, eating healthy & often, and getting as much sleep as possible – just like I would during any other training cycle.

4. Don’t focus on the mileage. While of course you will be adding up a lot of miles each week by running day after day without a break, you have to widen your sights a bit and look beyond the end of the week. Because the miles stacked up, I actually chose to run a bit less than I would otherwise. If I had tackled my typical weekend long run of 18-22 milers, I wouldn’t have finished. I knew the mileage was there for me and I didn’t have to get it all in on Sunday mornings, so most of those weekend runs were actually medium long runs of 15 miles and under. It wasn’t about the miles or the pace; it was about keeping going, day after day.

While the 100 day run streak was a fun personal challenge to accomplish during these times of no racing, I’m not sure if I’ll streak again. If I do, I will probably set an intention – ie every day in a single month or x amount of days. Some people just run, run, run until they feel like stopping, but I personally need a little more structure than that to be comfortable. It was definitely more mentally challenging than it was physically, and I was surprised by that. I will most certainly continue to use shakeout runs in my future training – which just may lead to another streak in the next block. We’ll see!

Have you ever done a run streak? What was the longest you went without a break and how far did you go?

What’s the Why

Fall is winding down in New England with a lot of rain. I am going to be honest – I am not looking forward to the dark, cold days that lay ahead. A lot of Spring races are already falling off the calendar with cancellations and postponements. And without a concrete goal to work toward or something to look forward to, training is going to get super rough.

It’s time to start zeroing in on a big WHY. Why am I doing this? Why am I running in the cold, in the dark, in the rain and snow? Why am I trying if there is nothing to show for it? Why will I keep running?

It’s not an obsession or madness. There is a reason. I just have to figure out what that is so I can keep going forward. I have long term – very long term – goals. But it can be hard to stay motivated for something years away. I need to run in the present, the here and now. One month, one week blocks. One run at a time.

Despite the lack of racing, strange stop & go training, and all the spicy chips I can get my hands on, I am in great shape – possibly my best shape ever. I’ve also come a long way mentally, keeping my depression and anxiety in check through the lock-downs. I’m not giving up on my fitness just yet, nor am I losing hope in 2021’s possible race line-up. I simply have accepted the fact that running is going to continue to look different with different goals, priorities, and measurements. And I’ll get through it, even if I am bummed.

The rest of this year is going to be fairly relaxed with alternating A and B workout weeks. Week A will consist of two workouts (Tuesday and Thursday, ideally) with tempos and shorter repeats or hills, one long run on the weekend (probably Sunday), and easy runs around it all. Week B will be mostly easy runs with one bigger workout (Wednesday) of longer repeats (1000s, miles, or a longer tempo), and a weekend long run (hopefully with some marathon paced miles thrown in). This is how I plan on tackling my base training until the New Year when (hopefully) I’ll have a better idea about racing in the Spring (when/where/how). I want to continue to do workouts and speed work through my base training to keep myself from getting bored on the same old runs. The goal for the next two months is to stay fit, stay sane, and don’t get injured.