Tips and Tricks of the Boston Marathon – PART 2

There’s so much more to the Boston Marathon (or ANY marathon, for that matter) than just a solid pacing strategy. This post attempts to cover the other pre-marathon stuff that falls in the “miscellaneous…but extremely important” category.

If you missed Part 1 (pacing tips & strategies), I recommend you backtrack and read it HERE.

Tip #1a: Be cognizant of the weather

This thought came to me after publishing the last post, and it’s pretty important.

The weather is supposed to be pretty mild on Monday. Right now, it’s looking to be in the mid-50s with a friendly NW wind to push you into Beantown. For most runners (myself included), this is actually an awesome forecast. But regardless of what’s forecasted: I urge you to be realistic with what works for YOU. Consider your race plan and goal finish time wisely, and take the heat into consideration.

Last year, it was hot as balls…but no one knew just hot how it actually was going to be until we were in Hopkinton, with the sun BEAMING down over our heads. I remember sweating just standing, waiting to start, listening to the national anthem being sung. Even though I was hot, I stood in my corral, convinced I was still going to break 3.

Fast forward 7 miles into the race, a runner next to me chuckled, “ha, this isn’t the day to PR! Today is about survival.” I was pissed, and I surged away from him muttering, “that’s what you think.”

It wasn’t until mile 14 that I realized I needed to reconsider things. So I changed my race plan, and I finished the remaining miles with an updated goal in mind. I was one of the lucky few to PR.

What I WISH I had done was been a little more realistic, and changed my goal time while I was standing in Hopkinton. I would’ve gone out much slower, and I probably wouldn’t have positive split the race by 4 minutes.

Hindsight is 20/20, I know. But know that if you’re warm at the start of the race…you’re only going to get hotter…and you might want to reconsider your pacing strategy. Avoid a death march before it starts!

 

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Hot – literally and figuratively

Tip #2: Keep off the breaks 

Yes, there is a way to attack the downhills, and yes, you should think about it while you’re running the Boston Marathon.

I compared my body to a car in the first post: I like to consider myself driving in neutral for the first 4 miles; and one of the most important things to think about in this section is keeping off the breaks.

What do I mean? Be kind to your legs as they cruise downhill. Obviously your cadence is going to quicken on a decline (that’s only natural). But another natural tendency–especially if you’re trying to hold back and not go out like a bat out of hell–is leaning back and tensing up in an attempt to slow down.

You don’t want to do that.

Instead, focus on running the hills strategically, and with good form:

  • Lean FORWARD slightly (not back)
  • Hit the ground with your mid-foot
  • Do your best attempt to keep your feet underneath your hips
  • Keep your neck relaxed

Or keep it simple and just imagine yourself gliding (prancing?) down the hills in a neutral gear.

Tip #3: Training doesn’t have to be perfect to have a perfect race

Three words: TRUST. YOUR. TRAINING.
More words: EVEN. IF. IT’S. NOT. PERFECT.

The odds of having an absolutely perfect training cycle are slim to none. Everyone takes personal days. Everyone gets a cold. Everyone needs to take extra days off to rest a little niggle. Everyone has to deal with LIFE, even professional runners.

Needing to take a string of days completely off–even weeks off–from running does not mean you’re going to have a terrible race. Depending on the reason for the time off, you may have to adjust your goal time. When in doubt: be rational, realistic, and conservative. But also trust that even though you took March 3rd through 6th off for that tender ankle tendon, it doesn’t mean you can’t PR.

Training is cumulative (which is why I hate hype on things like “ZOMG PEAK WEEK”) and it also takes a pretty long time to get “out of shape” when you decrease your aerobic activity. Even if you need to skip multiple days; what’s important is the work you’ve put in over the course of your ENTIRE training cycle.

Also, when we held our live chat last week, one of our coaches, Tim Ritchie, brought up a very valid point: don’t hang your shoes on a single workout–good or bad. When you’re thinking about your goal time, you must consider the big picture of all your runs and workouts. Just because you had one lights-out workout might not mean you’re ready to run an OTQ. And just because you bonked your last effort at marathon pace does not mean you’re doomed. Calm down and be realistic.

 

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Remember the good runs, but don’t hang onto them for dear life

Tip #4: Read the material from the BAA. Know where you’re going in the morning. Be on time. Know where the bag drop-off is. Know where the buses are.

I’m not here to tell you where you’re going the morning of the 17th, but I AM here to tell you to get your shit together and make sure you have it all figured out before you wake up marathon morning.

Unfortunately, last year, I did not have my shit together and I ended up making an extra lap around the Commons and down the street trying to find the bag check (which they had moved to Boylston St.). When all was said and done, I was fine and I didn’t miss my bus…but it did cause some unnecessary stress and walking, which I could have avoided had I just read the material from the BAA.

Tip #5: Figure out what you are and aren’t taking on the bus to Hopkinton.

Everything you bring on the bus either comes along with you as you run the marathon…or you throw it out.

There’s something wonderful and so exhilarating  about dropping your stuff at the bag check and just knowing that that’s it. Typically, I only bring nutrition, fluids, and an inhaler (which I’m prepared to throw out) to Hopkinton.

Don’t forget to make a trip to Goodwill before the marathon to get warm clothes to go over your marathon outfit. Boston’s weather is crazy, so you never know how many layers you’ll need. Also – bring something to sit in at Athlete’s Village! Year after year I forget to do that, and I regret it.

Tip #6: Spend some time thinking about nutrition.

I’m not a nutritionist, but I think I have a pretty good handle on nutrition. While nutrition could be a post of it’s own, I’ll keep this succinct. I’m going to cover my thoughts about race nutrition as well as nutrition the morning of the marathon, which needs to be thoughtfully planned as well.

Race Nutrition
By now, you should have a pretty good idea of not only the type of nutrition you prefer while running, but also how frequently your body likes eating it.

The hotter and/or more effort you’re putting out, the more nutrition you’re going to need to take in. Which means if you’re negative splitting the race and you’re running significantly faster in your back-half, you’re going to need to ingest more calories per mile than you did in the first half. This isn’t rocket science. Food is fuel, especially when you’re running a marathon. And when things start to speed up, you NEED to compensate by taking in more calories.

Generally, I will eat 1 gel 15 minutes before the start, then start nutrition during the race at mile 4. I keep eating gel (Huma) every 30-40 minutes, washing down with water. Through the entire course of a marathon, I will go through 5-6 gels. I used to think that was too much until I started seeing a positive increase in energy levels. Obviously the number of gels you need will change depending on how long it takes you to run a marathon! The longer you’re running, the more fuel you’ll need. Remember: my plan works for me because I run around a 3:0x marathon.

When it comes to fluids, I suggest switching back and forth between water and gatorade along the course, as you feel fit. The course support is incredible at Boston, and I’ve never had difficulty getting a cup of SOMETHING while running.

Also families and supporters will be out in HERDS along the course, offering water bottles, orange slices, wet cloths, and vaseline. If you miss a water cup at a stop, don’t fret: there likely will be an opportunity to grab something else down the road. (And I’m telling you…there’s something magical about eating an orange slice in the middle of a marathon.)

Race Morning Nutrition
Your nutrition on race morning depends on the time of your wave. The later your start is, the more you’ll likely need to eat in the morning. And it’s a long morning.

  • blog 4DO eat what you normally would before a long run
  • DO bring food (or a second breakfast of sorts) with you to Hopkinton
  • DO bring water/electrolytes with you to Hopkinton

This is what I’ve eaten prior to my 3 Bostons:

Breakfast 1 (upon waking up)

  • Mini bagel w/ a generous amount of peanut butter
  • Coffee & water
  • Banana

Breakfast 2 (bus to Hopkinton)

  • 2nd mini bagel w/ peanut butter
  • 2 scoops of Generation UCAN
  • Gatorade & water

Breakfast 3 (Hopkinton)

  • Picky Bar (or non-processed bar of sorts)
  • Gatorade & water
  • Gel (15 minutes prior to starting)

Remember: don’t try anything new on race day. By now, you should have a solid idea of what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Tip #7: Temper your race week nutrition too

When it comes to food leading up to the race, I recommend not changing much, but slightly incorporating a few more carb-y selections into your diet. No, I don’t mean eat pasta Monday through Saturday. I mean reaching for two dinner rolls instead of one…or having a regular-sized bagel instead of a mini bagel. Keep your fats down and I also start backing away from salads and tons of fiber 1-2 days prior to the race. Hydrate hydrate hydrate. Know that IT’S OK to feel bloated and as though you’ve gained weight. It doesn’t mean you’re heavy and/or out of shape.

The day before a marathon, I eat a decent-sized lunch (usually carb-heavy) and then a regular dinner (usually chicken and an average serving of carbs). Resist the urge to stuff yourself silly during dinnertime. Seriously.

Tip #8: Keep stress levels down

While it’s now humorous to tell the marathon story from Philly (which included shitting in the street), it wasn’t very funny while it was happening. I mentioned in my race recap that I had been having GI issues for several weeks leading up to the marathon. What I failed to mention is that my stress levels were also CRAZY HIGH the week of the marathon, particularly the days leading up to the race. I’m also pretty sure I just needed a break from running and training (helloooo racing 3 marathons in a year), so my body decided to rebel in the form of explosive bowel movements. While GI problems are hereditary in my family, after a healthy colonoscopy reading that was performed a month after Philly, I can only conclude that my issues before/during Philly were a product of stress and the fact that my body wanted to shut down after 18 months of consistent training. We live and learn, right?

Moral of the story: keep as calm as possible the days leading up to the race. I’m not saying you’re going to shit all over the train tracks in Natick if you aren’t. Some stress is actually productive. But control what you can and don’t sweat the small stuff.

Tip #9: GO TO SLEEP

Just accept it now: you’re going to get very little sleep the night before the race. But it’s ok. The body works on two-day cycles, so the sleep you get on Sunday night won’t make or break you, I promise. (Ever wonder why you’re most sore two days after lifting instead of the day immediately following? Yeah. That concept applies here too.)

I’m a huge fan of Sleep Night–the sacred evening two days leading up to a big race/workout where you sleep as much as humanly possible. And, of course, do your best to sleep the entire week leading up to the race. Like most things associated with training: sleep is cumulative and ample sleep has a positive relationship with performance. So small tweaks in your weekly bedtime routine this week will benefit you come Monday.

Tip #10: Enjoy the city of Boston…but sit the eff down because you’re still running a marathon

Time on your feet is significant. I know you’re excited and IT’S THE BOSTON MARATHON. But if you really want to kill it on Monday, your priority list should be the following:

  1. Arrive in Boston
  2. Pick up your bib
  3. [Briefly] explore the expo
  4. Do your shakeout run
  5. Eat. Sleep. Poop. Watch TV. Read a book. (Even have sex…it’s suggested to potentially help with performance!)
  6. Sit down

It’s supposed to be a beautiful weekend in Boston, but do your best to minimize the amount of time you’re strolling around the city. The less moving around you’re doing, the better.

When all is said and done: have fun. You’re running the Boston fucking Marathon. Enjoy the anticipation of this entire week. Get excited to spend time with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Drink a glass of wine with the extra time on your hands during taper. Say a special prayer to commemorate those who lost their lives and limbs in the 2013 bombing. Look out the window on the bus ride to Hopkinton and feel the excited butterflies in your stomach. Give ALL the high-fives. Hug a stranger when you cross the finish line. Let yourself be emotional. Soak in everything that the Boston Marathon has to give, because it is a privilege and an honor to not only cross the starting line, but to simply be a part of this incredible weekend.

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Most importantly: hug your friends. Be proud of what you’ve all accomplished.

Tips and Tricks of the Boston Marathon – PART 1

Note – I started writing this post with the intention of it being one entry; but the course review ended up being…verbose…and I realized it’d be better to split this up to two. Part 1 will give you a course preview of learnings I’ve gathered from my 3 Boston experiences, while Part 2 will give you an overview of dos and don’ts to keep in mind during the weekend of the Boston Marathon. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. It pains me more than you will ever know to not run the race this year, but I’m thankful to share some of my thoughts and advice on the marathon that never fails to steal my heart year after year.

The Boston Marathon is less than 2 weeks away. Usually, this post would be about how training has been going…how excited I am to race…which workouts were my strongest over the training cycle. But that’s not what I’m writing about. Instead, I’m sharing advice.

I’ll be honest: I’ve been in a funk the past couple of weeks, and I haven’t quite been able to put a finger on why…until I got off the phone with a dear friend a few days ago. She reminded me that this is the first spring in 4 years that I’m not running a marathon, and the first spring in 3 years that I’m not running Boston. It’s certainly not a coincidence that I’m feeling…off.

So, instead of letting the negative energy manifest, I’ve decided to write it out, and give you an inside scoop of things that I’ve learned from the past 3 years of running the Boston Marathon. I’m also extremely thankful (AND EXCITED!!) to be coaching 6 athletes in this year’s Boston Marathon…so I’m looking forward to creating a new Boston experience this year as a coach.

First, let me give you a little bit of background of my relationship with Boston:

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2014

2014 – 3:08:35 (3:34 negative split) – My first Boston and probably the best running day of my life. I had the race you dream about, starting out very conservatively and feeling better and better as the race went on. I loved the weather and I felt like I was running on clouds. The whole training cycle, I realized that gunning for sub-3:10 would be risky. But I knew deep down inside I could do it. My race was a 14 minute PR.

2015 – 3:08:47 (1:43 positive split) – I had the race you have nightmares about, positive splitting the course (my first positive split marathon ever, FML), death marching to the finish…and causing a femoral stress fracture in the process. I think the injury was brewing prior to the race, but I had no idea how severe it was until after the marathon. I was flabbergasted my time was almost equal to the year prior’s.

2016 – 3:06:16 (4:06 positive split) – I was in the best shape of my life, ready to break the  3-hour barrier. My training was lights-out and all workouts pointed to a marathon time that would be well under 3 hours. Unfortunately, the unexpected heat got the best of me. I realized at mile 14 that I would not be running a time that started with a 2…and if I didn’t adjust my race plan, I’d be in deep shit and not even PR. Mid-race, I decided to tailor my goal, change my racing strategy, and finish to the best of my ability. I finished feeling happy for the PR, but craving more. My race was a 2+ minute PR.

So Boston and I…we’ve got a thing. I get the tingles when I think about the marathon, and I’m sad as hell not to be running it this year. So take my advice for what it’s worth, but here’s to hoping this will help, and you, too, can have the Boston race of your dreams.

Tip #1: Be strategic about your pacing strategy
You cannot cross the starting line of the Boston Marathon without a pacing strategy. And if that strategy involves anything about “banking time on the downhills,” you’ve got the wrong idea.

Let me share the splits of my first Boston, a 3:34 negative split:

2014

Now. You don’t need to be gunning for a sub-3:10 marathon to translate some learnings from this breakdown. But you’ll notice the extreme difference between my first mile (a 7:25 down a 130-ft decline) vs. my last mile (6:50). That’s a :35/mile difference between the first and last miles;  also :18 slower than what ended up being my average overall split.

The takeaway? SLOW THE FUCK DOWN IN THE BEGINNING OF THE RACE. This is a marathon, not a 5k. It is wise to go out around 10-15 seconds per mile slower than your goal average split. –And, yes: shoot for your dreams, but also be honest about that goal average split. Trying to be a hero and hanging onto a goal pace that…isn’t there…is only going to cause a shitload of pain once you get to mile 21.

When I run marathons, I like to think of my body as a car shifting gears. For the first 5 miles of the Boston marathon (a generous net downhill), I like to think of myself being in neutral. The focus is gliding down the hills, mid-foot strike, hips open and loose, brakes not turned on. (I’ll talk more about keeping the brakes off in Part 2.)

Don’t shift from neutral into first gear until the first section of rolling hills, between 4 and 6, but remember: there is more decline than climb in this section. Know that once you’re past mile 6, you’re pretty much costing on flat terrain for another 6 miles.

Also: nutrition nutrition nutrition. I’ll talk more about that in Part 2 too.

By the time you get to mile 10, YOU SHOULD STILL FEEL FRESH. If you don’t? Have some self-control and dial it in. Honestly, I don’t advise feeling less than fresh until the second half. No, you’re not in trouble if you’re tired by mile 10. But you MUST be smart about how you proceed with the next 16 miles.

Once you’ve hit halfway, the remainder of the race depends on how well you’ve set yourself up at this point. In the splits above, you’ll notice that I made a conscious push once I got to 14. You may or may not have the energy to do that as you’re running, so do a body check and see what you can manage pace-wise between halfway and the hills.

When you coast (yes, another huge downhill) from mile 16 to 17…IT’S ON.

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2015

In my opinion, the first Newton incline (passing over I-95/Route 128) is worse than heartbreak…and it’s a 1/2-mile long, so don’t be surprised when it feels like it never ends. Also, mentally, I think it’s difficult to get over the first hill and think to yourself, “oh shit…I have 3 more of those to tackle.”

The good news is that the 3 more hills of Newton really aren’t as horrible as that first fucker…but you still have to be smart. Know that as you look at your watch, your pace will be slower on the inclines and faster on the declines. This is really where you need to trust your training and remember that YOU ARE FIT. You are ready. Your training will recover you on the downhills, just like it powered you on the uphills. At this point in the race, I’m generally talking to myself out loud like a crazy person. Normal.

Do your best to run the hills with gusto. Honestly, I think my favorite part about the hills is that you’re FINALLY there. I feel like so much of the anticipation of Boston is waitingwaitingwaiting for the hilly section. So by the time you get to the hills, it’s like FINALLY, I’VE ARRIVED!!!!! 

You’ll also want to keep a technical focus in mind: the hills are where you must focus on solid running form again, just like you did in the first 5 miles:

  • Keep a neutral pelvis
  • Drive your knees
  • Shorten your strides
  • Pump your arms. Know that even if your legs feel like shit, pumping your arms in a strong rhythm will allow your legs to follow suit
  • Run tall

Then you’ve got Heartbreak Hill. Soak in the crowds on Heartbreak. They know you want to (maybe) kill yourself at this point…so let the supporters help you work the hill to the top.

When you crest Heartbreak…MOVE. This is where I look at my overall time (on my watch…remember, the course clocks are different) and I do some mental math to figure out what pace per mile I need to run in order to achieve x.

After my savvy mental math maneuver, I tend to pretty much black out the rest of the marathon, just running with every ounce I have left. I would suggest you do the same: hang on and go. Remember: you still have 5 miles to run…but this is really the grand finale.

Around miles 21 and 22, be prepared for your quads to feel like shit…because the downhills HURT at this point. Last year, I discovered the true meaning of cramping. Think butter knives going into your quads. It’s not nice.

But, again: let the crowds lift you up. Run past BC and resist the urge to take the students’ beer (your beer will be coming soon) and realize that the Citgo sign at 25 isn’t a mirage; you’re actually almost done. Remember: NO WALKING, just keep moving and KEEP FUELING. Be careful of traffic and of people who might be stumbling or stopping in front of you. Seriously. Putting on the breaks at this point could be detrimental.

Once you travel under Mass Ave and up another little baby hill (which may feel like a mountain at this point) you can practically see Hereford in the distance. Let yourself cry a little bit as you turn right on Hereford (I’m tearing up writing this), but also know that if you cry, it’ll inhibit your ability to breathe. Breathing is important at this point of the game.

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Weeping.

Take your final left turn onto Boylston and book it. Yes, this stretch seems to take forever and most people say to not sprint it all-out…but if you’ve got it…GO.

What’s most important about crossing that Boston finish line–PR or not–is remembering to take a second and realize what you’ve just done. Not only have you completed a marathon…but you just ran THE BOSTON MARATHON. The marathon of marathons (yep, now I’m crying). The marathon that is so iconic to the sport that we love so much. Every year after finishing the Boston marathon, I walk over to a guardrail and just take a minute to soak it in. The entire marathon experience is exhilarating, and it’s so important to realize what you’ve just achieved.

As you get your finisher’s medal, make sure to look the person giving it to you directly in the eye and thank them. Sobbing is acceptable, as is smiling at everyone you pass. As you stumble to your post-race food bag, walk as slowly as possible–not only because you’re tired as hell–but also because you don’t want this moment to end.

Get some calories in you, then waddle your way to meet your family and friends at the Commons. Drink some water. Think about the burger you’re about to scarf down. Hug your husband/wife/mom/dad/best friend/coach. Pee your pants a little (if you haven’t already). You’ve done it. You are a Boston Marathoner.

My Friend, ED

Warning – this post may contain triggering material related to eating disorders and a disordered relationship with food. An eating disorder is a horrible disease, and it’s never too late to seek help.

Click here to learn more about getting help, or call this number: (800) 931-2237. 

This is my story.

Any time I’ve seen “Athena division” in a race registration form, I’ve shuddered.

“No. I won’t be that weight (150) when I get to race day. I’ll be well under. I know I’ll lose weight as I train. I have to lose weight.”

And time and time again, I’ve usually fallen around 140-145 on race day; therefore slightly disqualifying me from the Athena division in most races. In the past, missing the Athena benchmark has been an accomplishment to me. Admitting to Athena meant admitting to fatness.

Studies have shown that lighter runners finish races faster than those runners who are heavier. So do I want to be faster? Of course. But the more I run, the more I also want to be healthy. And being healthy means being strong, improving balance, and fixing movement deficits through strength training. It means optimizing performance for the 5’9” frame I was given. Being faster also means fueling for a high level of training, and eating a balanced diet.

I dealt with several bone injuries between 2014-2015. The aftermath of my femoral stress reaction meant I needed to start from scratch and get stronger. Throughout 2016, I worked harder than ever with my workouts and through strength training…and it paid off in big ways: I PRed in every single distance I ran in 2016.

I started caring less about the number on the scale, and more about my performance on the road. Without even trying, my body became leaner and more muscular, while my workout and race times dropped. My weight increased from being in the low to mid-140s to being to the high-140s, even sometimes hovering around 150.

150 lbs.

That weight used to haunt me. It was the number that I feared the most. And now? Now I’ve screamed from the rooftops that I’m 150 lbs. Because this year, when I went to sign up for Hartford, instead of shuddering at the Athena division and being ashamed…I signed up as one.

I am an Athena runner. And, for the first time in my life, I’m really fucking proud of that.

Growing up, I was always the tallest person in class. My second grade teacher assigned me and 2 boys to the role of “camel” in our nativity play. Yes. I know. Horrible.

I also went through phases in my life where I was bullied for being heavier. Looking back on it, I think it had less to do with me being heavy, and more to do with being so tall and bigger than everyone else. But when you’re 11 years old, you don’t understand why people are making fun of you. You only feel sad and hurt.

One day in 7th grade, I wore an Abercrombie and Fitch shirt to school. One of the boys in my class said to me in homeroom, “wow, I didn’t realize A&F made clothes big enough to fit you.” It wasn’t the first time I had heard a comment like this. But I would pretend that the comments wouldn’t bother me, lashing out in other ways, like pushing people on the playground, and crying once I got home. My weekends were sad and lonely; I lived in a town apart from my school and friends and I wasn’t involved in extracurricular activities. My parents were getting a divorce. I spent a lot of time by myself, reading books.

High school was a little better…until junior year, where I found myself struggling to fit in with my friends, all who seemed to be smarter, prettier, and more athletic than me. I thought losing weight would be the solution to fitting in with them. And so it began.

I stopped eating lunch. It was easy—I would go the cafeteria with my friends and take small nibbles of yogurt or take the entire lunch period to eat an apple. At home, I told my mother I was on a diet, and she didn’t think twice about it, because I would “eat” a majority of my dinner. What she didn’t know was that I was also hiding food in my napkin, and throwing it out immediately after the meal.

People started to notice the weight loss. I thrived off the attention. It was working! I was losing weight. The nurse called me into her office, asking if I realized how thin I was getting. I pretended to act stupid. She weighed me and asked if I knew what I weighed. Of course I knew…but I lied and said I didn’t.

My goal was to weight 120 lbs. I was ready to do whatever it took to get to that number.

For the entire month of January, 2004, I’d walk the mile home from school (a good way of burning calories) and let myself into my house. I’d immediately drop my backpack in the front hallway and run upstairs, stripping every ounce of my clothing along the way up the stairs. (I had to weigh myself completely naked, of course.)

Each daily weigh-in was so exciting because my weight was dropping…FAST.

I lost my period. I was constantly cold. My fingers and feet were constantly numb. None of my clothes fit. My hair fell out. I got used to being hungry all the time.

“I’ll stop dieting when I reach 120. I don’t need to lose any more weight from there,” I constantly reminded myself.

But then February 20th, 2004,  I weighed 119 lbs. It had only taken me a few months to get to that weight. (I’m uncertain what my “starting weight” was, but I suspect it was somewhere around 150-155 lbs.)

This is when things started to unravel even more.

Being obsessed with numbers, I wasn’t prepared to see any reading on the scale below 120. I saw 119 and I freaked out.

“Fuck. I control this process. How am I under 120? I don’t want to be under 120.”

So I began to eat. And I ate and ate.

I was in a panicked haze for the next few months: eating too much, and then “getting rid of it” in the bathroom…being mad at myself for not being able to empty out the entire contents of my stomach… “starting over” the day after a binge/purge session with a new diet…not being able to keep to my new diet because my body desperately craved nutrients and food…being mad at myself for not being able to adhere to the diet like I used to…chewing food and spitting it back out into the sink, but wondering how many calories I was actually ingesting…going to the store and buying entire cartons of ice cream to eat in one sitting and then forcing it back up, still cold as it came up. 

It was the beginning of a 6-year cycle.

One day, after a huge binge/purge session, I set out to only eat 100 calories in a day. I ate a chicken breast (George Forman-grilled, 90 calories) and a sugar-free jello (cherry, 10 calories). Success!

…but the next evening, I ate the entire contents of my kitchen pantry while my mother was watching TV, then went upstairs and got rid of it. I remember lying on the floor of the bathroom feeling cold, numb, and helpless, and wondering if it would ever end. I wanted so badly for it to end. I peeled myself off the floor, went downstairs in a zombie-like stupor, ate another round of food, and closed myself back in the bathroom for the next hour.

I was gaining weight, so I appeared to be okay. My period returned, meaning I was a failure at being thin. As winter turned into spring, I desperately wanted help because I was completely consumed by food, calories, eating, purging, and chewing/spitting. I felt trapped inside my own head, wondering if there would ever be a day when I could eat and not be obsessed with hating myself for it. But I didn’t know how to get help. I didn’t “qualify” as being anorexic or bulimic because of the (then) eating disorder standards that were in place.

“Besides, you’re not even underweight, so you don’t deserve help,” I’d tell myself.

I stopped going to the cafeteria for lunch, hiding out in the bathroom until the lunch period was over. This was before cell phones, so I spent hours just sitting on toilet seats, mindlessly staring at the back of the stall door. If I ate anything for lunch, I’d bring it in with me and eat it there. I was too humiliated to show anyone that I was barely eating but still gaining weight because of the binging and purging.

Spring sports came around. I knew I needed to eat if I wanted to perform well as an athlete, so I did the best I could, and the binge/purge cycle lessened from two times a day to a few times a week. But it wasn’t enough, and I ended up being cut from the varsity lacrosse team. I was the only one who was cut, and it was humiliating. The coach had a private meeting with me and informed me that having me on the team would only bring everyone else down. She was planning on producing a state championship team, and including me wasn’t part of the plan. I was allowed to play on the JV team (as a junior, which rarely happened at my school) and I don’t think she thought I would actually do it. But I swallowed my pride and played JV anyway, even though some of my teammates were in middle school.

Joining an organized sport may have saved my life. My relationship with food began to slowly improve, and the benefits of exercise helped with my self-hatred and anxiety. I started obsessing less and started to actually enjoy lacrosse. By the end of the season, I started every game and ended up being one of the best players on the team; it was clear to anyone who watched me play that I shouldn’t have been kept on JV.

I wasn’t in the clear just yet. While my body and mind were both certainly much better than they were at 119 lbs., I spent the better half of 6 years relapsing back and forth between restrictive tendencies and binging/purging. But my grades in college never suffered and I was at the top of my rowing team, so no one would’ve guessed that anything was wrong. I didn’t tell anyone that I didn’t have my period for most of my college career. Through the ebbs and flows of my collegiate disordered eating, some teammates and friends did realize I had a problem…but they didn’t know what to do about it.

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Seemingly strong; deceptively sick

As a senior, I decided enough was enough. I was sick of studying the back of so many toilet bowls. I told a few close friends that I was seeking help through an outpatient program at Renfrew. They supported me, and were happy that I was FINALLY seeking help, after watching me suffer for four years.

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Calories in a sugar free ice pop (in my hand) – 15

But the facility was over 40 minutes away from school, and no one was MAKING me go. I went to a few counseling sessions but eventually stopped going because it was too much to juggle among school, rowing, and babysitting (my part-time gig). I also hated how they weighed me every time I came to a therapy session…I would completely dread it. So I quit, and continued to struggle with eating and self-deprecating habits on and off for 18 more months.

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2008, my first summer not living at home = freedom and non-monitored toilets!

I can’t tell you when I considered myself “free” from my eating disorder. The truth is that my ED tendencies lessened more and more throughout the past 7 years when I had other things to focus on: Gabe certainly had something to do with my recovery, as did running. During my podcast on I’ll Have AnotherLindsey and I discussed the relationship between disordered eating and running. She openly asked if I thought my running had replaced my eating disorder (as it does for so many people), and I honestly believe the answer is no. In fact: I think running helped me overcome many elements of my disordered eating.

Running gave me a goal to aim for, and it was directly correlated with food, because I realized very early on that food is fuel (why I didn’t understand this correlation with lacrosse and rowing, I’m not sure). When I started running, I started obsessing less about what I was putting in my mouth, and more about how I felt in my workouts. I started to relearn hunger queues, and I began to teach myself to eat when I was hungry, and stop when I was not. Striving for a performance goal with running was nothing like striving for a number on the scale-it was even more wonderful and fulfilling. Why would I care about what my body looked like, so long as I could run marathons and feel like a BAMF while running fast workouts?

It wasn’t until I spoke with Lindsey regarding my Athena photo at Hartford that I realized just how important that post truly meant to me. Not only did I have no shame about being in the Athena division…but I also, for the first time, was very open about it.

I had the realization that my eating disorder is now just a part of my history, and it’s something I can be honest and open about, because I’m so much happier and healthier in my own skin today.

I knew I had to share my story when Lindsey told me that I was one of the most confident and strongest women she’s spoken to, because for so many years, I was the complete opposite of confident and strong; I was incredibly humbled by Lindsey’s kind words. I’ve come so far from those miserable nights where I spent hours sprawled on the bathroom floor, or those moments when I told my college roommates I needed to take a shower to get clean, when instead I actually wanted to get rid of my dinner without anyone bothering me.

So I’ve shared my story to not only expose my vulnerabilities, but also to instill hope in those of you wondering if there will be ever be an end to the obsession…to the self-hatred…to the sadness…to the secrets…to the hunger…to the raw throat…to the bloody knuckles…to the constant heartburn…to the isolation. I can’t say for certain that your story will end exactly like mine; but I will say there is hope, which is something I was unsure about for a very long time.

And last but not least: if you are suffering, please seek support if you think you need help. Know that you deserve it. You are enough. If you are friends with someone whom you suspect has a problem, please ask what you can do, and don’t take “I’m fine” as an answer. For years, I told everyone that I was fine. And because my symptoms didn’t completely meet all of the “requirements” as an anorectic/bulimic, I delayed getting help, feeling ashamed that I wasn’t good enough at having an eating disorder to deserve support from a professional. This antiquated way of diagnosing an eating disorder has since been updated, thank god, but the process is still far from perfect.

Click here to learn more about getting help, or call this number: (800) 931-2237.

Recovery is truly a beautiful thing, and I hope those of you suffering are able to one day find solace and peace. I’m thankful I have my best years ahead of me, and that I can look back on those 6 years of hell and finally….FINALLY…lay them to rest. 

The New Normal

Me: This is never going away. I’m never going to get back to where I was. I can’t even go on a 30-minute test run right now without being in pain afterwards.

PT: Not with that attitude you won’t. Look. It took a long time to get to this stage of your injury; why would you think you’d get better in 4 weeks?

Then he gave me tough love about having perspective and asked me if I’d like to meet one of his patients who’s going through therapy for a broken neck.

I know. I KNOW. I’m not being rational. But we grasp to what’s familiar. Familiar to me is was running.

It has been 12 weeks since Philly.
I have been on my PT program for 5 of those 12 weeks.

I had a moment of hope last week, where I went a stretch of 3-4 days feeling REALLY good, with pain almost completely gone on one side and back pain virtually nonexistent. But I seemed to have taken a step back this past week.

PT: It’s a bummer because you felt you were making some good progress before [this week].
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This shit is taking forever to heal. The progress is slow and the light at the end of the tunnel is dim, at least this week.

So I’m learning a new normal. I’ve had to make some tremendous lifestyle adjustments because I’m no longer running 50 and 60 mile weeks, and won’t be for the foreseeable future. And, unlike my femur injury, when I was unemployed and had all the time in the world to work out all day every day…I’m now juggling 2 jobs, and I don’t have a plethora of time anymore.

I’m no longer grasping to my 2016 fitness for dear life. I’m not spending hours upon hours on cardio machines, dreaming of my next marathon. I’m not plotting my return to run schedule, and counting down the weeks until I can run again.

Instead, I’m trying to chill out and learn to live differently.

Training
I lift 2-3x/week (a program prescribed and closely monitored by my PT), and I supplement it 3-4x/week with circuits of cardiac output exercises, where I aim to keep my HR in a certain zone for 45-65 minutes. Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll do cardiac output for 90 minutes.

Exercises include:
jumprope, rope slams, heavy kettlebell carries, agility ladder movements, skips, marches, jumping jacks, bear crawls, medball slams, plank holds, etc.

On days when I’m craving mindless activity, I’ll either head to the elliptical OR I’ll walk on the TrueForm with a 30-lb. weighted vest on. Sometimes you just gotta not think about anything and listen to music, you know? I’d like to incorporate aqua jogging, but the pool schedule hasn’t been congruent with mine. And, sadly, yoga bothers it, otherwise, I’d be doing that a lot.

I have been approved to go for short runs on the TrueForm. I’ve gotten to 20-25 minutes without pain. The 25-minute barrier has been difficult for me to break without taking a step backwards. Discouraging.

The good news? Despite being injured, I’m still able to notice changes in my cardiovascular health. When I started doing cardio again after taking a majority of December off, my HR an easy day looked like this:

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Yellow = too high. We’re looking for green and blue here.

 

Nowadays, my HR graphs are looking a little more like this (with the same effort output):

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Mitochondria, get at me.

 

Nutrition
Aside from training differences, nutrition has obviously been the biggest change during this injury. Quite simply: I can’t eat everything in sight anymore.

I’m a picker and I really enjoy food: I love just grabbing what’s in front of me and eating it without a thought. But now, I’ve got to be smarter than that.

To be honest, I’ve always eaten pretty well; so avoiding snacks and sticking with wholesome foods has kept my weight pretty much the same as it was while running, with the obvious slight 2-3 lb. change on a day to day basis.

Tracking my food has helped keep things in line. It’s also reminded me that I do a terrible job of eating vegetables and eat a little too much fat. 🙂

Recent changes in my nutrition:
Eating much more protein for breakfast, like greek yogurt with fruit, or a shake with both whey and collagen protein mixed in…less wine…less desserts…roasting trays of vegetables Sunday nights and immediately going to those when I come home ravenous from work…less cheese.

Yeah. None of those things is really mind-blowing, I know. But the little things make a difference. I hope to go on the InBody machine this week to get a handle on my current muscle mass and body fat percentage. I’m actually excited to see how much muscle mass I’ve gained since beginning this strength program.

Blood Levels
My Inside Tracker results have always been pretty decent, but I was curious about what things would look like after an extended period of time off from training. I also was curious about my Vitamin D levels since I’ve now been supplementing with VitD for the better half of a year.

Well guess who’s no longer deficient in Vitamin D, suckas?!

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For all those wondering: the red was right when I hurt my femur. Blood don’t lie, eh?

 

And in other (great) news, my ferritin has skyrocketed:

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This is WITHOUT supplementation

 

 

And, while I know cortisol is something that varies a lot throughout the day, I think this graph speaks for itself:

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And guess what else has improved? My GI issues… 

 

But not all of my blood levels were rainbows and roses (though, nothing was really alarming). As expected, my hemoglobin has plummeted to an all-time low. Not surprising: Inside Tracker has informed me that, “there is a correlation between low hemoglobin and lower VO2 max, an indicator of endurance capacity, and of physical fitness.” Awesome.

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RIP Fitness

 

Sleep
I’ve mentioned before that sleep is my kryptonite. Generally, when I’m training, I find I need close to 9-10 hours of sleep every night. Now that I’m not training? I can function pretty damn well with 7, and I naturally wake up after 8. Before, I would have been completely nonfunctional with 7.

The double-edged sword, however, is that my motivation to take care of myself and go to sleep earlier is lower. I no longer have the excited anticipation (read: scared shitlessness) of waking up to a massive speed workout. So when it gets to be 11..12..1 AM…I feel guilty that I’m up so late, but I also know it doesn’t really matter much in a training sense. Bad, I know. I’m working on it.

More time on my hands
This really only applies to weekends and maybe one day during the work week. I’m now sufficiently invested in my current “fitness” routine that I still find myself working out 60-90 minutes per day during the workweek.

I don’t like not following a training plan; I’m just extremely type-A, and I like being told what to do (even coaches need coaches). Because my recovery has been monitored by my PT, I have been planning my workout weeks myself…which means it’s also been easy to not adhere to them. As of February 1st, I’ve been consistent with 6x/week of workouts. It’s the little things that make me happy these days. 🙂

James and I have an open line of communication about my recovery process, and he’s helped me immensely from a holistic approach with my running/life: he’s helped me get my shit together with nutrition as well as sleep. He has begun to program in interval-type XT work, which I’m appreciative of, because I would never prescribe that for myself, merely because I tend to gravitate towards other things.

Without a marathon training plan, I’m finding that I’m doing a better job of tuning into what my body wants. And I’m not resenting a day that deviates away from what I had intended to do on a particular day.

In fact, I’m currently riding a “I’m so proud of myself” high because yesterday, my hamstrings were feeling really crappy, but I was “supposed” to do one of my strength/PT days. Do I bag it? Do I rest? Do I move?  –I chose the latter. I didn’t do the assigned PT program, but I did move around my gym for 40 minutes and actually felt better afterwards. Go figure listening to your body is important.

Feeling of empty
I suppose I could take my PT up on his offer to meet his patient with a broken neck. My trips on the merry-go-round of self-flagellation seem to increase in frequency when I experience FOMO from watching others train for Boston. Running has turned into a lifestyle for me, inclusive of social events. I’m very thankful for friends who have insisted in meeting up and doing things that AREN’T running. Who knew that the key to my heart is actually just a good glass of cabernet, a long walk, and a manicure/pedicure date?

A couple friends have offered to go on my 20 minute runs with me. That kinda just makes me sad, because it’ll end really fast, and I’ll only feel bad about myself when said friend continues on to run for another 50 minutes. I’m being realistic, not pessimistic. I’m also slightly terrified of not running on the TrueForm right now, since it’s been such a great rehab tool and running outside has only seemed to hurt me.

At my last PT appointment, I was told that if, at the end of 12 weeks, things still aren’t feeling good…he wouldn’t blame me if I just said “fuck it” and started running again. Remember: this injury hasn’t hurt me while running–only after–which is why I was able to continue to train (damage?) on it for as long as I could. I don’t know if his validation is a good or bad thing, but I’m hoping things won’t get to that point. He said I do need to make a legitimate attempt to go through a thorough 12-week therapy regimen, which I’ve honestly doing. And, it would be remiss of me not to mention that I HAVE seen a little progress.

I have contacted my doctor regarding PRP injections. Based on the research, I’m hopeful they will help, even though the recovery from the injections also seems long and daunting.

Things are just a waiting game right now. A recovery game, if you will. One of my closest friends told me that while 2016 might have been about my own PRs and breakthrough races, it’s okay that 2017 isn’t going to be that way. And she’s right. 2017 is going to be about the PRs and successful races of every single person I coach. Putting my injury in that light makes me feel happy. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of an athlete texting you after their race with good news. I don’t think it will ever get old.

So while the old normal was me uttering, “oh my god,” every time I saw a marathon finish line…the new normal is me exclaiming, “oh my god” into my phone when I hear about a successful workout or race. Running in my life isn’t gone right now, thankfully…it’s just different. Perspective is everything.

A 24-hour pass to the merry-go-round of self-flagellation

I didn’t coin that term. Amelia Boone did. If you don’t know who she is…look her up. I think she’s one of the biggest badasses on the planet.

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Professional BAMF

Amelia sent me an email back in April. She started it by writing, “You don’t know me, but…”

–false. I knew very well who she was and I was humbled and floored to be receiving an email from her.

Amelia had just been diagnosed with a femoral stress fracture and was reaching out to me to hear my experience/journey with the injury (because let’s be honest: who doesn’t scour the internet, looking for advice and every single piece of reading material you can possibly find after getting diagnosed with an injury?)

I happily shared my story with her, assuring her she’d feel better in no time…respect the process…be a good patient…cross-train and get stronger…yes, I know it sucks big time…blah blah blah. We exchanged a few emails, and left off with me saying, “I hope you’re doing better and better every day!”

In the months following our email conversation, Amelia took to her blog to express her frustrations about her injury and how difficult of a time she was having with recovery. Even though we were no longer communicating via email, I read her posts, agreeing with every word, in particular this post, where she unapologetically admits that running and training are part of her identity…and that’s just the way it is.

Because, for better or worse, as humans, we seek to define ourselves. We seek meaning, and we seek joy. And for athletes, racing and competing in their chosen sport IS that joy. You build your identity around things you love, around the happiness you feel. You build your community with like-minded individuals, and the sport becomes your purpose in life.  And, frankly, I fail to see anything wrong with that.  -Amelia Boone

So when I came home from work today, sore, and with irritated hamstrings from my new PT program, I plopped down on my couch with some chocolate…opened up my computer…and reread Amelia’s blogs. And that’s when the tears started. Lots and lots of tears.

When I first read her posts–back when they were published a few months ago–I was happy and healthy and my running was going really well. I was in the best shape of my life, and only getting faster. With each workout, I was achieving a new feat…feeling stronger every day…always excited to go on my runs.

But today I am injured. I have been injured for a while; I’ve just been denying it. The word “injury” was something I had been terrified of using, ever since I had the tibia/femur bone issues in 2014 and 2015. “A muscle/tendon ‘thing’ isn’t an injury,” I told myself. “An injury is a stress fracture. I don’t have an injury. I have a hamstring ‘thing.'”

So, here it is: I have hamstring tendinosis. I also have sacroilitis. In other words: my hamstrings (yes, both at this point) are chronically inflamed and my SI joints (also, yes, both sides), are also inflamed.

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Behold: the SI joint.

 

I’ve always felt a little tight on one side; but then 2 weeks before Boston, I had a day where things just didn’t feel right. I had just run a hilly 18 mile workout the day prior, and on this particular day, I was slated to run 15, which I did as a 10/5 double. I remember feeling aerobically great…but my body was really beat up. Then, 2 days later, I wrote this in my training plan:

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I went into Boston feeling really good, but the tendonitis had already manifested itself on one side. I ran the race…PRed through the heat…then took some time to recover. And then I ran 2 more marathons before 2016 came to a close. The one-sided hamstring pain became two-sided. The sometimes achy SI pain became chronic.

I was never in pain while running until 2 weeks before Philly. The pain was so bad, it was radiating down to my coccyx (tailbone). But taper helped, and I ran the race with only mild pain and tightness.

Then, 4 days after Philly, I valiantly (stupidly) raced my local turkey trot and ran almost a 30-second PR. I was in pain for that too.

Then I stopped running. James told me to take a break until the new year. I gladly obliged, knowing I needed both a physical and mental rest. I hadn’t taken so much time off since my femur injury; but I knew it was good for me. I figured I’d be back up and running in the new year.

The new year came. I went for a 4 mile run on January 9th that put me in so much pain the following day, I could barely walk.

Enough was enough.

I raised my white flag on January 10th and committed myself to an extensive 3x/week strength and PT program. My weekly mileage for the past 3 weeks has not gone above 8. I am allowed 5-15 minute runs on the TrueForm, and they are the most glorious moments of my day. I’m fairly certain my PT thinks I’m a lunatic.

I’ve pretty much secured a 24-hour pass to the merry-go-round of self-flagellation.  -Amelia Boone

I’ve climbed aboard Amelia’s merry-go-round, and I’m riding it hard these days.

“Oh, you’re hurt…again?”
…yeah, well…my PT thinks this is all residual effects of those stupid stress fractures…and we all know why those happened…

“Well at least you work in a gym!”
…I used to live and breathe for the 60 minutes spent by myself during lunch, on the canal trail, behind my workplace. Unlike other Instagram “trainers” you see online: no, we do not skip around our weight room, constantly doing pull-ups and box jumps whilst simultaneously throwing kettlebells and bars over our heads. Do not believe anything the internet tells you.

“Oh hamstring pain? Everyone has a running nag…it’s just part of being a runner”
…I REFUSE to believe that everyone runs in pain. It’s not right, nor is it normal.

“At least you’re not training for anything!”
…I was signed up for Boston, thank you very much. It was supposed to be my 4th consecutive year running it. I also was just in the best shape of my life, and now, poof, I’m not. (Yes, also, the world is ending and Trump is our president, so put a fork in me Jerry.)

“Well you ran a lot in 2016, so it’s good you have time to rest.”
…Go to hell.

Finally, of course, as Amelia so perfectly writes, there’s also this:

…the (what I call) “there are children starving in Africa” phenomenon – I feel ashamed that I’m crying and being a bag of shit over a tiny crack in a bone given how “blessed I am” compared to so many people in the world. The inner monologue that goes: “it’s JUST running. Stop being so dramatic and emotional, Amelia. It’s not like you’re dying. Or will never run again.” (I’m sure many of you reading this would like to slap me and tell me the same thing right now).  -Amelia Boone

And then there’s my own inner embarrassment and pride. I’m a running and strength coach. I preach about prehab and lifting. I encourage my runners to listen to their bodies. What kind of example did I set? How can I say to listen to your body, when I did exactly the opposite for months? How do I STILL deserve outreach of my athletes, friends, and random people from the interwebs, saying how much of an inspiration I am? Surely, I can’t be an inspiration if I’m injured.

Unlike my bone injuries, I don’t know what I could’ve done differently. I mean…obviously…I could’ve stopped running way back in May, when this issue first popped up. But a tendon injury is so much different from a bone injury, especially because mine didn’t hurt while running until the final couple weeks before stopping. As strong as I am, I guess I wasn’t ready for some of the speed and mileage I took on this year. Sure, I kept getting faster…but I kept digging myself into a hole too. When you love something so much, it’s difficult to take a step back and realize that the thing you love just might be hurting you.

I wasn’t ready to write a post like this for a very long time. I still don’t like saying, “I’m injured,” so it’s difficult to be transparent. But chronic pain isn’t “just another running nag,” and it just took me a few months to realize that. Running through pain isn’t normal.

I’m going to say that again.

Running through pain isn’t normal. We, as runners, want to be tough. We are type-A, and many of us want to follow our training plans to a T. But that’s not always what’s best for our bodies.

It is now February. I don’t know when I’ll be better, and that’s why I feel lost. But at this stage, what’s the point of starting up running/training again if I’m only going to be back in pain in a few days? Or weeks? Or months? The pain is still there, deep at the hamstring attachments. If I piss my legs off enough, the shooting, down-the-leg sciatic pain still returns while sitting. Tendon/joint injuries are a weird and real thing…and they suck.

I love running. I love training. I love accomplishing big goals. And I miss that. I really really miss that. I’ve made running part of my life and part of my identity. So today, I will have my pity party, and I won’t apologize about it. Tomorrow, I will wake up, be incredibly sore from today’s new PT program…and find another source of varied movements to do during lunchtime to keep my HR (and sanity) around 70% for 45 minutes (it doesn’t take much to max me out these days, folks).

…I need to move forward, accept that I’m never going to be the same athlete, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  -Amelia Boone

Yeah. I’m still working on that one, Amelia. Maybe if I tape that quote to my dresser mirror and say it out loud to myself every morning, I’ll start to believe it. But I do think you’re right. Closing the pre-femur/tibia injury chapter was the only way I was able to beast through 2016, which, admittedly, was a bittersweet running year. I came back from both injuries to PR in all distances–yet–I faced external adversity with every single marathon. Anger doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about the distance. For the first time EVER with my running, last year, I failed to meet a goal I set out to achieve. I’m fucking livid.

I will run a sub-3 marathon. It’s indisputable in my mind, and something that I’m 100% capable of doing. But not in 2017. Hell, maybe not even in 2018. I don’t know when it will happen…but it will. It’ll happen when I’m stronger and healthy; and when my hamstrings aren’t hanging on by a thread. In the meantime, I’ll continue to dream of the same quarter-mile finish line stretch at Boston that I always visualize when I’m doing something tough. And the time on the clock…well…we all know what it’s going to say.

 

 

Listen To Your Goddamn Body

IT’S FRIDAY…which means it’s time for the third and final post of running tips, as prompted by the interview for shape.com! (post 1 is here and post 2 is here.)

Today’s post is about overtraining and, well…why it sucks. I also discuss a couple program tips that can help keep overtraining at bay.

As always, let me know if you have any questions.

 

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How do runners make sure they manage their training load so that they aren’t over or under-trained? Are there specific signs a runner should look out for to identify if they fall into either of these categories?

Having a coach, or having someone manage your training plan, really helps keep you honest and in check with training. A good coach will not only push and provide challenging workouts…but will also hold the reins and say no. It’s better to show up on the starting line undertrained versus overtrained. Seriously.

Be sure to follow some simple (but important!) rules when it comes to your programming:

  1. DO build your miles gradually. (And DON’T assume you can resume your pre-injury mileage and speedwork when you’re coming back to running. But injury comeback is a whole other topic.)
  2. DO execute runs based on time, especially as you’re just building fitness. Remember: becoming a faster runner has a lot to do with gaining time and experience on your feet. A 6 mile run for me may take 48 minutes, but for you, it may take 65 minutes…and 17 minutes of extra running is significant.
  3. DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your speed workouts for the week. Doing random speedwork is not going to make you faster…nor will doing too much mileage in your quality sessions if you don’t have a sufficient amount of other weekly miles to supplement. That’s just going to give you a stress fracture. 🙂
  4. DO consider weekly mileage totals before doing your long run. Your long run should be a percentage of your weekly mileage, and it differs a little bit per person. Yes…that means sometimes, you may not run over 20 miles before a marathon. IT’S OK, I PROMISE.
  5. DO allow days (yes, more than 1 per week) for strength training (no, a few clamshells do not count as strength training), especially when your mileage is relatively low and you’re just starting a training cycle.

And remember–these 5 tips only address programming. Listening to your body and BALANCE is what’s most important:

  1. DON’T choose running over sleep if you’re absolutely exhausted.
  2. DON’T run through pain.
  3. DON’T forget to take a multi-vitamin and fish oil.
  4. DON’T be a hero and run your easy days too fast.
  5. DON’T forget that nutrition is just as important as running!!!!!
  6. DON’T stress out. More stress –> higher cortisol levels –> shittier (sometimes literally) running and a body at greater risk of breaking down.
  7. DON’T forget that adequate recovery after a PR effort race (whether it’s a marathon or a 5k) IS SO IMPORTANT. Not taking enough time to recover after a major running event is just setting yourself up for failure and injury.

The huge red flag I see most commonly with overtraining is lack of motivation and sheer exhaustion…even, sometimes, sickness. When any of my runners complain of this, I immediately back them off, and approach their training a bit more conservatively. I also think it’s important to consider the mental aspect of overtraining. The mind is just as important as the body–sometimes, even moreso.

Overtraining signs to look out for are: pain spots that seem to linger, and not go away…constant fatigue…irritability…elevated HR…inability to focus…insomnia. If you’ve been experiencing over-training symptoms that don’t seem to go away, I’m also a huge advocate of blood testing to check basic CBC levels and iron.

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Not overtrained. Just tired. But you get the idea.

How does over-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?

It all goes back to recovery. If your nervous system doesn’t take time to back down and adapt/recover from a workout, overtraining symptoms may start to appear, which can lead to health issues that take longer than a few days to overcome. The most common issues are bone and tendon injuries; but, other issues include immune problems, chronic fatigue, and even amenorrhea (loss of period) in women. Having any one of these problems generally forces a runner to stop training for an extended period of time–making it much harder to reach a specific time goal.

 

How does under-training prevent a runner from reaching their goal?

Physically, there aren’t really health risks associated with undertraining. There are, however, mental ramifications of going into a race undertrained without realizing it until the result is not what you expected. –that can suck!

**EDIT – I had another thought. If you go into a long race–like a marathon or half–undertrained, you could hurt yourself because you’re not ready for that type of distance. Duh. That’d be stupid and bad.

Another risk of showing up to the starting line undertrained (and not realizing it) would be going out too fast, blowing up halfway…and death marching to the finish line. That’d also be bad.

Lastly, if a runner is doing everything right, i.e strength training, cross-training, foam rolling, etc but still isn’t getting faster what are some reasons for this occurring and how do they make corrections?

If a runner is trying to reach a specific goal, it’s so important to change up the speed, paces, and intensities of workouts and runs–otherwise, you risk plateauing or not meeting your goals. Varying your pace in a run can be as simple as inserting 30-second effort-based strides into a run…so, something like 30-sec on/60-sec off x 8, plus a warmup and cooldown of 10-15 minutes.

If you can’t afford a coach, it helps to keep a record of your workouts–whether it’s online or on paper. Being able to see your workouts and weekly mileage laid out can shed some light as to why you might not be improving.

Above all? Keep it real and be honest with yourself. Are you REALLY being good about recovery? How about eating? What’s your sleep look like? Stress levels? 9 times out of 10, when someone isn’t getting faster, it’s because there’s an important piece of the puzzle missing. Training smart is so much more than going for a run a few times each week. Once you have an understanding of the entire picture, it’s so much easier to identify what’s missing…and take action!

 

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An excerpt from my training plan. Trying to be honest. Trying to be smart. Honesty = key. Luckily, I only took a couple days off for this ankle nag; but it’s not uncommon to need to back down for a week or even two before feeling ready to train again.

 

 

SLOW DOWN.

Here we go! Blog #2 of my 3-part series (post 1 is here)–prompted by my interview for the article in shape.com.

If you’re reading ANY of these posts, this is the big one….because today, I’m giving you the super duper, top secret, really exciting INSIDE SCOOP behind what I believe are the two most important things you can do to get faster:

  1. Recover like a boss.
  2. Slow the fuck down.

Master these two things, and you’re destined for Tokyo 2020.

Just kidding.

But for real. This shit is important!!!!! Hope you get something out of it. Let me know if you have any questions.

See you Friday for the third and final post.

What are some common mistakes runners make that prevent them from getting faster despite hard work and following a training plan?

Runners tend to forget how important recovery is. Recovery includes (but is not limited to) stretching, hydration, nutrition, and, most importantly: sleep. Running hard speed or tempo workouts puts your body in a state of stress…so if you don’t give it enough time to recover, the nervous system starts working overtime, leading to injury and burnout. 

How do you know if you’re recovering correctly? -it’s easy. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY and be honest about how you feel. Yes, 7:30s can feel impossible one day and easy breezy the next. That’s normal. Do you eat/sleep/poop/breathe the same exact way, every single day? Probably not. So then why would you expect your runs to also feel the same every single day? They won’t, and that’s fine.

Ran a tough workout and feel like crap the next day? No matter what mileage is prescribed on your fancy pants training program: I promise you, the world will not spontaneously combust if you do not run every single mile that’s “assigned” to you. Seriously. If you’re really beat up, a light trot of 30 minutes will help immensely for blood flow. And if you’re really not feeling it (or you’re in pain), then bag it completely. Or do some light dynamic stretching, movement prep, and non-running, multi-planar locomotive movements that will increase your HR and loosen your muscles without killing your body with pounding.

And now I’m going to say something that will blow your mind:

If something is not right in your body, you can (and should!) skip your workout. In fact: I praise my athletes when they tell me they skipped their workout because x y and z hurt, or because they slept poorly the night before. There are a multitude of reasons why your body could be saying “no” to a workout on any given day; and you have to respect that. Any time I’ve ditched a workout in the past, it’s either because I’m coming down with a bug, or I did a bad job at recovering (sleep is my kryptonite…and I’m not always the best at it).

So don’t be a hero and run yourself into the ground.

On top of inadequate recovery, runners also tend to run way too fast on their easy days. Slowing the easy runs WAY down is SO important and crucial. Easy runs should be anywhere from 1:30-2:00/mile slower than your threshold, or 10k pace…but even that is a flexible rule. You really have to listen to your body and truly make easy runs an effort where you’re running comfortably and can hold a casual conversation. 

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This is my recovery pace. MINE. Figure yours out…and run it. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else on the internet.


Why is it important to slow down on easy runs? How does running slow actually help make someone a faster runner?

Easy runs not only help you recover from a speed session, but they also serve to condition your heart and muscle fibers. This helps improve aerobic capacity, or the efficiency with which your body delivers oxygen to your muscles. In other words: by improving your aerobic capacity, you’re building the base of becoming a faster, stronger runner.

Sound complicated? It’s not. The two major things that you’re improving with easy runs are your heart and muscle fibers. Running at 60% of your max HR helps to develop your heart’s stroke volume max (or, the amount of blood you pump with one beat). Creating a more-developed heart makes for a heart that can withstand the stress of a speed workout, or a long distance race.

Easy runs also develop mitochondria within your muscle fibers. Mitochondria are important because they help produce ATP…or ENERGY!! The more mitochondria you have, the more ATP can be developed during exercise.

If you run too fast, or above 60% of your max HR, on your easy days, you won’t be able to maximize the benefits of building a strong aerobic base. 

Having trouble slowing down? I get it, I really do. My biggest piece of advice: ditch your Garmin and the music for a week and use a regular ole Timex. Don’t cheat and run a route where you you know exactly how much the mileage already is…and then later convert your pace (yes, I know every trick in the book). Better yet – find a trail and run it. Both your body and mind will appreciate the change. Learn what it’s like to run while listening to your own breath and footsteps.

If you truly run slowly on easy days, you’ll find yourself not only recovering from your speed sessions, but also refreshed and ready to tackle your next run. More importantly, you won’t face detriments to your tendons, muscles, bones, and joints that come from not slowing down on easy days. Running “slowly” gives your body the chance to properly recover so you can continue to enjoy running throughout your lifetime.

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I practice what I preach. This was just before Boston, where I ran a 3:06 in 80-degree heat. Slow training does not equal slow race results.