Mental Strategies for Tough Runs

We’ve been blessed with some awesome running weather this week (mornings are in the 50s-60s), but man, this summer was TOUGH, am I right? I adjusted all my training paces by 10-20 seconds (or more!) and did my best to just survive my long runs. The struggle to push yourself longer or faster and to not quit during these tough runs though is almost always more mental than physical. Our bodies are so capable and strong, but our minds will try to decrease or shut off effort long before our bodies quit.  Sometimes, we need to heed that switch because it’s a signal that we’re over-training or dehydrated, but other times, we need to re-train the brain to achieve what we’re capable of.

Source: Pinterest

Anyway, this summer, I really had to train myself to push through uncomfortable situations (NEVER pain though – be smart!) and increase my mental strength. Here are a couple of the techniques/exercises that worked for me:

1. Count your steps/breathing – this is the #1 trick to keep me going on tough runs. There are lots of ways to count your steps – the easiest is to just count “1-2-3” for every three steps, like a waltz (this also changes the leading foot in your head, which can help balance your form). I usually count one number for every 4 steps (i.e. count “1” when my left foot lands, then “2” four steps after that-on the left foot again) going to 10, then repeating again. Focusing on the numbers going up helps me to forget about how much I want to quit ;)

2. Have a mantra – this is a phrase you repeat to yourself to keep you strong and focused on your goals. Lately, my mantras have been “I am strong” and “I am gritty”. On the hills, I like mentally chanting “I eat hills for breakfast” in time with my steps.

3. Focus on your running form – when I feel myself getting really tired, I’ll focus on different parts of my form for a minute or two each. I’ll think about using my quads to push my legs into the ground; keeping my back straight; relaxing my upper body; and pumping my arms at my sides instead of crossing them in front.running-form

4. Use music/ media! I typically only listen to music for tough runs or workouts so I don’t lose its “pump up” factor. I also started listening to podcasts on long runs because they helped me to think about something other than how tired my legs were and how hot it was and how nice an air-conditioned Uber would be…

5. Try to zone out – this is a weird tip, I know, but I found that sometimes the best way to stay focused was to think about absolutely nothing. My least painful interval workouts happen when I’m zoned out (not thinking about pace, my body, or anything – picture a cat staring vacantly into space).

How do you push through a tough run?

{Race Recap} 2016 Army Ten Miler

Like I mentioned yesterday, I got the amazing opportunity to run the Army Ten Miler on Sunday (one of the women in my small group hadn’t trained and was giving away her bib). I was so excited to experience one of the races on my bucket list and one of the biggest races in our area (close to 30K runners, I think?).

To be honest, I’ve had a hard time with racing this year – of the six races I signed up for from the beginning of the year till now, I DNS/DNFed (did not start, did not finish) ALL of them for one reason or another.  Sometimes I was injured, sometimes the weather looked bad – but mostly I just didn’t feel like racing this year. Yet I knew this race would be different – I was better trained, I wasn’t planning to all-out race, and I knew my small group would want to know how the race went. #accountability

Race Logistics/Info

Transportation – The race starts at the Pentagon, so metro is an easy option for transportation if available. I don’t live near a metro station, so I was considering taking a bus to the Pentagon, but then I realized that buses were being diverted due to road closures. I ended up taking an uber to Pentagon City and walking about 10 minutes to the staging area. The traffic was pretty bad, so I would highly recommend adding about 20 minutes to your usual travel time (my 10 min ride took about 35 min).

Pre-Race – This was by far the smoothest pre-race experience I’ve had at a big race – there were plenty of port-o-potties at the staging area and near the corrals, bag check area was well-organized with no lines, and corral colors were marked by big balloon columns. Waves were sent about 5 minutes apart to prevent crowding. I arrived a little late and ended up running with a later wave, but I think the waves all started on time and I didn’t have to wait long in my corral at all.

Course Support – There are no headphones allowed on this course, so lots of people were running with a buddy or two to chat with. There were lots of spectators at the start and finish, and a few bands along the way, but other than that you’re running on the energy of the crowd around you :) Water/ Gatorade stations every two miles with plenty of cups.

Course/ ElevationThe race took place on concrete/asphalt roads around the Pentagon and National Mall and crossed two bridges.  The race elevation chart is relatively flat, but the bridges have a little incline/decline to them (the 2nd bridge after mile 7 felt like a mountain at the time).race-mapPost-Race – The race organizers very thoughtfully didn’t place any water/ medals close to the finish line chute – you have to walk a little ways to get water/medal/ food box, which prevents a jam at the finish line.  The finish line is about a 10-15 min walk from the start line (where the bag drop is), but they also ran shuttles between the two areas.  Then you can take the metro back home, or walk over to Pentagon City and catch an uber or ride from a friend.

My Race/ Goals

I mentioned before that I knew I wasn’t going to be “racing” the race – I had done a couple of hard workouts in the days before and I also wanted to minimize recovery time after the race to continue to train for my half marathon. I decided to shoot for a “faster long run”, which meant about 10-10:30 pace miles, but my real goal was to enjoy the race experience again.

I checked the weather when I woke up, and realized that it would be cooler than expected and MUCH windier than I thought (20-30 mph winds), so I added arm warmers to my shirt/shorts ensemble and pulled on a jacket to wear pre and post race. Arm warmers are my favorite way to adjust to temps because you can pull them down at any point if you get too warm (I pulled mine down around mile 9). I also brought my phone and a gel in my flipbelt. Pre-race logistics were very easy – I left the house around 7:30, arrived at the Pentagon by 8:20, and was making my way through the corrals 10 minutes later.1009160836_hdr

I think I started a corral behind, but there were plenty of people with the wrong color bib so I knew I wasn’t the only one. Our wave started at 8:40, and we were off! I decided to start with a conservative pace; the beginning of a big race is always pretty crowded so it can be hard to hit a fast pace right away, and I really wanted to have some energy in the second half and finish feeling great. For entertainment, I listened to conversations around me and counted my steps and breathing to keep a steady pace. The wind was very strong at times, but I kept telling myself, “small like a bullet” and tightened my form to drive into the wind. Miles 1-6: 10:11, 10:01, 10:18 (water stop), 10:03, 10:10, 10:29 (water stop and gel).

By the time the second half of the race rolled around, I was feeling pretty good so I decided to pick up the pace just a little. A friend had warned me that the bridge after mile 7 was pretty brutal, so I knew I had to conserve some energy for that. The bridge was tough, but not as bad as I was expecting – the wind was at my back for once, and I’ve done a lot of hilly runs with Pacers this summer ;) Miles 7-10: 9:55, 9:48, 10:01, 9:50.

I ran the course a little long and had another .11 miles to go, but at this point, there were tons of spectators, I could see the finish line and I knew I ran a great race and wasn’t going to stop now. I started to sprint a few minutes before crossing the finish line, but have no idea what my time was for this section since I forgot to stop my watch, lol.  Final time: 1:42:01 (worked out to be exactly 10:00 pace with the extra distance I tacked on)1009161028_hdr

This was a great race for me. I felt like I ran a very smart race with a solid negative split, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to quit at any point. I stayed focused in every mile despite the lack of music, and got to listen to the people around me motivating themselves and each other. More than anything, listening to those conversations reminded me why I love racing – you know that everyone around you is pushing themselves, and we’re all hurting and striving towards a goal. It was incredibly inspiring to hear someone say, “I want to quit, but I’m not going to” and her friend replied, “Yea, we’ll be in pain but so happy when we cross the finish line”. In pain but happy -> isn’t that true of achieving anything hard in life? Okay, I’ll end my philosophical ramblings here :)

Richmond Half Training: Week 13

Hey friends! Writing to you after a fun and busy weekend. We started the weekend on Friday night at small group as usual – and one of the women turned to me and asked if I wanted to run the Army 10 miler on Sunday! Um, yes – a 100 times yes – this race sells out so quickly every year and it’s one of the iconic DC races. I decided to use it as a “faster long run” since I was planning to run 10 miles anyway and I wasn’t in any shape to race.

Saturday morning, I slept in and ran an easy 3 miles before heading to Sushi Yoshi again with Mike! It’s definitely becoming a favorite with us – the weather was cold and rainy so I opted for the udon noodle soup, which came with a side of sushi (a salmon roll and several pieces of nigiri) as well as tempura.  I was pretty darn happy :)

We spent the rest of the day lounging and doing a few chores at home.  Sunday morning was ATM time!! I got up around 6:45 for my 8:30 race start – not bad at all.  I’ll do a race recap later, but this was one of the best organized races I’ve run.  I got home around noon and quickly showered before we headed over to an open house in Clifton (we go into house hunting mode for a few weeks every year, lol).  We grabbed lunch at at an excellent Thai restaurant nearby; I devoured both the chicken satay and my noodle dish.
No work on Monday – hooray! I took care of some cleaning, food shopping, homework and then met up with Vivian at Kung Fu Tea around lunchtime. I got wintermelon milk green tea with jelly – so tasty and addicting. So happy to hear that they use lactose-free milk for nearly all their milk drinks!
1010161217_hdrI binge watched Orange is the New Black in the afternoon (I’m about halfway through the last season) and then we visited Shirlington for an oyster happy hour :) Food is my happy place.  Anyway, let’s talk about training last week.

Richmond Half Marathon Training: Week 13

I got a late start on last week, but got in some solid miles Weds – Sun.  I’m happy that I’m nailing my pace and long runs lately – the pace run is the one I’m most nervous about each week, but it’s also the most confidence building when I get it right.

Mon-Tues: rest days

Weds: 4 X hills (4 miles total) – I’m adding a little hill training every other week alternating with speedwork to build strength; this week was a 1 mile w/u followed by 2 min of inclines from 3-6 at a steady speed. I did 4 of these intervals with 2-3 min of recovery jogging in between, and finished with a 1 mile c/d. It was a fun workout that went fast!

Thurs: 4 miles easy outside (10:32 pace) – nice steady run with perfect running weather (60s and overcast :)

Fri: 4 race pace miles outside (5 total) – I skipped a warmup and started with race pace immediately (9:07 average). The 4 miles went pretty quickly and I was surprised at how much faster I was this week than last. I need to do a few more race pace runs to figure out my goals for Richmond! Finished with a 1 mile cooldown.

Sat: 3 miles easy (10:15 pace) – I swapped my Saturday and Sunday runs so that I could run the ATM on Sunday!

Sun: Army 10 Miler (10:00 pace) – I was so proud of this effort; it’s my fastest long run all year and the race was both windy and (very slightly) hilly at times. I’ll have a race recap up later this week!

Friday Faves – Uses for Empty Birchboxes!

Hey friends! I’m trying my best to get back on a regular blogging schedule, so without further ado – another Friday Faves!

Salomon handheld water bottle
As happens every summer, I came to the realization that I needed hydration for nearly all my runs, even the shorter ones. The elastic on my old Nathan waistpack was too loose (the bottles would rattle around with every step), so after trying to run with a normal water bottle in my hands, I bit the bullet and bought this handheld for running with stellar reviews. After making some adjustments during a trial run, I loved it. It took some doing to figure out the right configuration for my small hand (I don’t use the finger loops), but once I figured it out, it felt so comfortable and I forgot about it being attached to my hand as I ran. It’s easy to drink from and I just tighten the velcro every time I drink to keep the bottle from flapping. My only wish is that it had a bigger mouth for easier filling and to accommodate ice.1004161311_hdr

First laptop since college
Will you believe I haven’t bought a laptop in the past 10 years? I’ve been using Mike’s old Macbook and a cheap desktop I bought about six years ago, but my classes are getting more modeling-intensive so I decided to invest in a new laptop this year. After a little research, I picked the Asus Zenbook for its portability, computing power and battery life (and reasonable price – some of the ultrabooks are $1000+). It’s SO light and fast, and the screen resolution is great – I use it to stream Netflix when I’m cooking or taking a bath. Can’t believe how much better the tech gets every year!0830160816_hdr

Birchbox “medicine cabinet”
Mike and I are medicine hoarders, and while I love being prepared for any minor medical issue short of surgery, I didn’t love digging through a big box of random pills and boxes for ten minutes to find the excedrin. One day, while looking for a use for my growing collection of Birchboxes, I decided to try using them to store our meds. It’s been great! No more digging through tons of stuff to find one thing since they’re all stored by type of med – and we can easily identify what we need to stock up on ;) #medicalpreppers

Tech Armor ballistic glass screen protector
I bought this screen protector for my LG G3 and have gone through 2-3 since (I stock up on ebay) – I drop my phone all the time and while the protector develops cracks and I eventually replace it, my phone screen has remained perfectly intact! Highly recommend ballistic glass protection for your phone if you’re drop-prone like I am.

And lastly, this video:

Cute animal videos make my day :)

Are you a Birchbox subscriber? What do you do with the empty boxes?

Why I’ve Stuck With Running

I’ve been running fairly regularly since I started training for my first race in 2012, and 4.5 years is by far the longest I’ve stuck with any sport. I was raised to value mental pursuits over physical, and while my mom didn’t let me quit piano till college, she readily let me drop basketball (HAHA) and track, which were followed by brief stints in crew and taekwondo in college. So how or why have I stuck with running for so long?

If I’m being honest, there have been several moments over the past few years when I’ve considered “breaking up” with running and finding a new activity/sport because I got bored or felt slow or wanted my Saturday mornings back ;) Whenever that happens, I try to think about why I run and want to continue running. This is the list I came up with the other day:

1. Running is fun for me – this is the #1 reason I keep running. Summer or winter, rain or shine, I still enjoy most of my runs and feel like a rockstar at the end. It’s not easy to get out of bed and go for a run first thing in the morning, but remembering how great it feels once I’m running helps me get out there.

2. Running gives me identity – While the core of my identity is my standing as a child of God, I’m also a big believer in the idea that the more traits you identify with, the more stable you are when your world is rocked. I NEVER thought of myself as a sporty or physically capable person before I started running, so it still gives me a thrill to say “I’m a marathon runner” in conversations. Identity also gives you ground on which you can connect with others – I love talking with others about their favorite running paths, races, and training experiences.

3. Running makes me gritty – I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast on grit while running last week; grit is the character trait of determination or stick-to-it-ivness that comes in handy for many events in life. Like I said earlier, I’ve quit plenty of things before, but I’ve stuck with running for a while and it’s taught me how to stick with something even when the going gets tough and how to maintain passion past the initial rush of interest. I can’t prove that grit has translated to other areas of my life though, haha.

4. Running makes me feel good about my body – I know I’ve talked about this on the blog before, but I really think one of the best antidotes to my inner negative body talk is exercise. I don’t always lose weight while running, but I do always gain appreciation (see what I did there?) for what my body is capable of and it helps me see my body as beautiful and strong.

5. Running has many aspects to seek improvement – Improvement and progress in something really help me to stick to an activity/hobby, and there are so many ways to improve in running! In different seasons, I find myself working on endurance, speed, hill strength, my mental game, consistency, form, or even exploring different trails. There are so many ways to track and see progress and keep running from getting boring.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with quitting (look at my track record!), and sometimes quitting is the smart thing to do to free yourself up for something you want to do more. But I’ve also invested a lot of time (and $$) in running over the past couple of years and I’m not ready to give it all up just yet :)

Richmond Half Training: Week 12

Hey guys! Coming to you after an awesome weekend here – we tried a new sushi place on the recommendations of many friends and LOVED it (Mike’s quote – “I think this might be my new favorite”) and went to our first regular season football game on Sunday. It was an exciting one – Redskins were leading with two touchdowns in the first quarter, fell behind in Q2/3, and won in Q4!1001161152a_hdr1002161254a_hdr

Richmond HALF Marathon Training: Week 12
I’m really excited to have a workout post to share today. I wrote last week that my training really fell off after week 8 of marathon training, and going back through my log, I realized that I took 3 weeks off (weekly mileage totaled 13, 18, then 4 haha). It was so tempting to just quit training and drop the race all together, but I decided to adjust my goal and re-focus my training to running the half instead. Thankfully, I had a solid week of training last week!

Mon: 4 X 400 on the treadmill (3 miles total)- this was supposed to be 7 repeats, but my legs were too tired to do more than 4. I think as my legs get used to the mileage again, my speed workouts will get better. 1 mile warmup, 400s at 7.0-7.2 speed, 0.25 mile cooldown.

Thurs: 3 miles on the T/M (10:26 pace) – nothing special, just cruised along listening to the September SoulCycle Spotify station (say that 5 times fast ;) Did weights at home afterwards.

Fri: 3 pace miles outside (4 total) – I was dreading this run because I haven’t done a pace in over a month, and all my pace runs from the summer were pretty slow. But I told myself I wouldn’t shoot for a specific pace and that I’d be happy with anything 9:30 and under. After a half mile warmup, I started running at a comfortably fast pace (one I could hold for several miles) – and was surprised to see a 9:16 pop up at the end of the mile! I tried to hold that pace for the next two miles – 9:11 and 9:15. I wasn’t expecting my pace to be anything below 9:20, so I was really happy with this run. After a couple more pace runs, I’ll have a better idea what my goal should be for my race. Core work afterwards.

Sat: 4 easy miles outside (10:31 pace) – It was raining when I woke up, so I decided to push my long run to Sunday and went back to bed ;) I finally got up around 9 and went for a short run (rain had backed off to a drizzle) before getting ready for our lunch sushi date!

Sun: 8 miles outside (10:29 pace) – Aside from a side stitch that would not go away, I felt really strong for this run. Weather was nice and cool (slightly drizzly at times) and I just listened to podcasts and chugged along. Felt great to get in a long(ish) run again.

This week will look a lot like last week, just with slightly longer pace and long runs. I think 5 running days is working for me right now, and I’ll try to add in a cross-training day and some yoga on a short run day.

Life Lately

Hey friends! I’ve been a bit absent on the blog front for a while, mostly because life has been busy and running has taken a bit of a back seat.  I thought I’d talk about what’s been going on around here lately, and provide an update on the running front.

1. We went to Disney! I had such a great time at Disney with my two friends a few years ago, and I really wanted to take Mike (he’s been to Disney Land but not World). When we saw that the Epcot Food and Wine festival coincided with a good deal on rooms this year, we booked our trip! We had an awesome time at all 4 parks, ate a ton of food, watched all the shows, and rode our favorite rides. I only wish it had been about 20 degrees cooler ;)0915161417_hdr

2. We celebrated Mike’s 30th bday! Our trip was also just a few days before Mike’s birthday, so we celebrated at Morimoto’s new restaurant in Disney Springs one night. To be honest, I thought our sushi platter was over-priced and sub-par (supermarket quality), but the cooked dishes (lobster chow fun and crispy branzino) and desserts were excellent. I keep telling Mike he’s my “older man” now (I’m about 7 months from 30 ;)0918161925_hdr

3. Lucy is doing fine. Despite the fact she might have lung cancer, Lucy seems to be doing well right now! I’m feeding her extra kibble and pumpkin to fatten her up a little, and I also ordered this L-lysine supplement that’s supposed to help with eye and respiratory function (she wheezes every once in a while). I can’t tell if the supplement is doing anything, but she LOVES it.


4. I love my class this semester. I’m pursuing an Operations Research masters at GMU, and was really dreading my fall class (Discrete Systems Modeling) and even considering dropping it because 60% of the grade is from a semester-long group project and I have lingering group-project-trauma from my middle/high school days.  But I got over my anxiety and found two great partners for my group! The class is also really fun because we’re learning to use a modeling software. So happy I sucked it up and didn’t drop the class.

5. Church small group has started. After a break for the summer, we’re meeting every Friday night with our church small group again. I really like the people in the group and want to be more involved this year, so I volunteered myself (and Mike) to be activity coordinators for the group! It’s not a lot of work – we just have to pick and schedule 2-3 activities a semester for group bonding time. So far, we’re thinking hiking, bowling, and dimsum!

6. My sleep is suffering again. After a couple of months of stellar sleep, my insomnia came back. After a couple of weeks of reaching for the ambien or nyquil every night, I finally bit the bullet this week and increased my thyroid meds. It took a few days, but I slept about 10 hours last night with no sleep meds, so I’m hoping this new dose is it.

7. I haven’t been running much. With all the above, my motivation for running has been really low. I decided to drop Richmond to a half marathon, and will be running 4-5 days a week instead of 6. This gives me time to do more cross training and/or sleep in until I feel 100%. I think my full marathon days may be behind me for a while, until I decide I’m really ready for the commitment and pain. Honestly, I’m more than okay with that and am excited to rock the half marathon distance this fall!