2016: The Year the Honeymoon Ended

If I can use a relationship as a metaphor for running, this was the year the honeymoon ended and the hard work began.

This was a pretty tough year in running/health for me.  I ran nearly 0 miles from January through March due to a bad hamstring injury, then spent the next several months adjusting my hyperthyroidism medication and dealing with my fluctuating weight.  I started to run consistently in the summer, but we had one of the hottest summers on record followed by record lows in December.  For all these reasons and sheer laziness, I ended up DNSing several races and definitely didn’t PR in any distances.

But here’s the thing – I didn’t quit.  Just a little over 4 years ago, I lined up at the start of my first race (a marathon!) and wondered how long this new hobby would stick.  It’s easy to stick with running when you’re setting PRs and running on rainbows and happiness, but my commitment to and love of running was well and truly tested this year…and I passed the test.  I ran over 800 miles from April – December, learned to embrace summer running, and changed up my routine and strategy again and again to keep myself motivated and improving.

2016 wasn’t a fun year for me and running, but we learned how to take a healthy break (with my hamstring injury), keep things interesting (add in cross training), and stay committed (during the hot hot summer, haha).  The honeymoon may be over, but our relationship is stronger than ever – and I can’t wait to see where we go in 2017 :)_DSC0445

Current Running Gear Faves

It’s been a while since I talked about the sneakers/ clothes/gear I’m favoring lately, so I thought I’d do a quick roundup today. What works for me might not work for you, but if you’re hunting around for some new running stuff, check out the list below!

Sneakers

I am pretty picky about my sneakers because I need a lot of forefoot padding (my landings are 95% forefoot) and toe box room (I have a wide front foot, thanks to bunions). Here’s what I’ve been running in lately:
For long distance: Brooks Glycerin. I’ve been running in these for years and love the support and wide toebox. I’ve also liked the New Balance 1080s in the past, although I haven’t tried any of the recent models.
For easy/recovery runs: Hoka One One Clifton. I loved the first version, and picked up version 2 when my first pair ran out. Unfortunately, the 2s are narrower in the toes and have a weird hot spot on the top of my big toe (reading the reviews, I’m not the only one having issues with the fit). I just wear a bandaid on my foot when I run with these, but I can’t wait to upgrade to the 3s when these wear out.
For speedwork/tempos: Saucony Kinvara 6. I ran in an older model a few years back and wasn’t a fan (not much padding, but the 6s have a much softer forefoot and feel so light on my feet!

Clothes

Bras: Champion T-back sports bras – they’re very reasonably priced (~$20-25 on Amazon), provide good coverage thanks to padding, and have no wires/clasps :)
Tanks: Athleta chi tank – these are so soft and flattering, and great for any kind of cross-training (don’t fall down in downward yoga poses!) in addition to running. I also love the burnout style tanks from Brooks in the summertime when I want the lightest fabrics possible.0709162110_HDR – Tights: Sugoi subzero – I’ll run in shorts down to about 35 degrees, but for temps below 10 degrees, I reach for these thick and cozy tights! I’ve run in negative temps with these!
Shorts: Oiselle Roga shorts – I love the soft fabric and longer length to prevent chafing. I also like their distance shorts (has side pockets that zip) and most Brooks shorts too.
Shirts: Under Armour tees (very wicking) or race tees, of course
Arm sleeves: Asics thermal sleeves. I love arm sleeves in the fall and winter – they basically turn any short sleeve shirt into a long sleeved one, and you can easily adjust for increasing temps or feeling too hot by rolling them down. The basic Asics ones are cheap and soft, and they also have a version that folds down over your hands.

Other Gear

This is the gear that I carry on a typical run in the AM:
Flipbelt – this is definitely my favorite way to carry a phone and gels; I’ve even been wearing the belt “unflipped” lately for easy access to my phone, and everything still stays inside the belt!
pepper spray – this is a new item I started carrying on my morning runs because it’s dark outside and not as many people are out and about.  I don’t love having to carry it, but it doesn’t feel bulky in my hand and I have quick access to the spray should I need it.
Knuckle lights – definitely my favorite way to see and be seen! There’s a regular mode, bright mode, and blinking mode (I use the last mode to signal cars as I cross a street).

What’s one thing you always carry on a run?

5 Things I’ve Learned From This Training Cycle

I mentioned last week and earlier this week that I’m no longer training for Richmond (half or marathon). The truth is, the summer was so busy and my training cycle stretched out to the point where I lost the motivation to continue training. After several missed workouts in a row and weeks of low mileage, I decided to push the half to next year and just focus on cross-training and find consistency in working out again.

That said, this was not a wasted training cycle – there’s something to be learned from every period of training, including incomplete ones ;) Here’s a few things I learned from my Jul-Oct training cycle.

1. My body does best running 5 days a week
Let’s face it, this is the second time I’ve tried Hanson’s and the second time that I’ve gotten really run down around 6 weeks in. For some reason, running 6 days a week feels really great for my joints but just wipes out my immune system, so I’m going to stick with 5 run days during marathon/half training and 3-4 run days during off seasons.
2. I need shorter training cycles
This felt like the never-ending training cycle – I think part of the problem was that my base-building period prior to starting marathon training felt a lot like marathon training, in that I was running 5 days a week with a long run, tempo, and speedwork. For future off-seasons, I’m going to limit running to 4 days a week with shorter long runs and incorporate more cross-training for fun. I think that will prevent running burnouts, and I’m going to hold to a 16 week marathon training cycle (should be plenty as long as I maintain the ability to run an 8-10 mile long run during off season).
3. Heat training isn’t all that bad
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but looking back, I didn’t mind running in hot weather this summer. As long as I was prepared to adjust my paces/ intensity and carried plenty of water, all my runs felt pretty good and I felt pretty hard core running in 80+ temps. That said, running in 40-60 degrees is still my happy range :D
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4. I need to start beating the blerch again
You know the blerch, right? That little voice that tells you to go back to bed, skip a run and get some rest, catch up on a little TV, enjoy a lazy Saturday morning? Well, I listened to the blerch a little too often this summer, resulting in missed runs and low mileage weeks. Next cycle, I’m going to find a more consistent routine and find ways to keep myself motivated with my eyes on the prize…and not on my comfy bed ;)
5. This older body needs more yoga
I seriously neglected yoga this training cycle, and my legs and hips really suffered as a result. I’m going to start finding time for yoga again, and hopefully it’ll stay in my routine when marathon training starts next year!

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.

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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?

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 :)

Adjusting Marathon Training for Illness/Injury

So back to some running talk today! It’s taken me a lot longer to get over my cold than I originally thought – typically when I’m sick, it affects my running for a day or two so I either try to make up missed workouts later in the week or just jump right back into my plan when I’m recovered. But this time around, my cold affected my running for much longer; after two low mileage weeks, I knew I couldn’t just jump right into the next week as planned (going from 20 miles to 40+ miles=not a good idea).

Here’s how I adjusted my training to account for the low mileage weeks and ramp back up again, and some tips for how to adjust your training plan to do the same.

Training Plan Before
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Training Plan After
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  1. Adjust mileage to ramp up slowly – Rule of thumb: if you’ve been sick for a week or less, you can ramp up 10% from the week prior. For two weeks off, I’d recommend repeating a similar mileage to the week before you were sick and ramping up from there (that’s what I did in this case). Increasing weekly mileage by more than 10% is the surest way to cause overuse or other running injuries, as I can attest! If you’ve been sick for longer than 2-3 weeks, you might want to start over from a reasonable base mileage-type week again – whatever your mileage looked like prior to training.  I also gave myself an additional cross-training/rest day for the first couple of weeks in place of a run day for a slower ramp-up.
  2. Be conservative with intense workouts – similar to the above tip, you may want to replace the first couple of intense workouts with easy runs or easier workouts. Give your body some time to strengthen and toughen up again. For me, this meant re-doing some skipped speed workouts on Tuesdays, pushing the first strength workout on Tuesday into week 12.  That means I’ll miss a strength workout later on, but I’m okay with that.
  3. Re-consider your race goal – this is a big (and painful) one.  I know from the past that I’ve tried to jump right back into training with the same paces for workouts as before so that I didn’t have to change my goal for the race.  But I’ve learned that even two weeks off can significantly impact my training, and it’s far better to back off an aggressive goal and relax my expectations than to drive myself to finish workouts at a punishing pace and get burnt out or injured.  In my case, I’m adjusting my goal race time from 4:00 to 4:10, which makes my workout paces doable and more enjoyable :) In the past, there have been times when I abandoned a time goal altogether and focused my training on getting fit enough to finish the race.
  4. Make sleep/nutrition a priority – This isn’t related to your training plan, but it’s so important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as you push your body back into training.  I’m making sure I’m getting lots of protein/veggies, drinking water, and getting to bed early to hit those AM workouts again ;)

I know it’s hard to abandon time goals and change training plans when you’ve paid for the race/ travel and have your heart set on a big PR.  I guess it helps me to remember that there will always be another race, another training cycle and the miles I put in now will help towards future goals.  For me, 4:10 will be a big PR anyway, and given my long illness/injury (hamstring, hyperthyroidism) earlier this year, I’m treating this training cycle as solid base-building for an awesome racing year in 2017.

Week 6 Training Log

Week 7 Training Log

Week 8 Training Log

My Long Run Routine

Saturday mornings are my favorite part of the weekend, and I genuinely look forward to my long runs all week.  They’re so hard (especially in the summer!) but make me feel accomplished and I know each one is bringing me closer to meeting big running goals. I thought it would be fun to share today what my long run prep and post-run recovery look like!

Friday

My prep for the long run starts the day before, where I hydrate ALL DAY.  I always drink a lot at work, but on Fridays I aim to fill up my 24 oz bottle 4 times, and continue drinking water/herbal tea at night.

Friday PM: I set out my clothes and hydration pack with gels and my car key, bake plantain bread for breakfast, make a PB+J sandwich, and brew coffee and stick it in the fridge. I pack up my gym bag with the sandwich, a magazine, wallet, sunglasses and visor, hand and face wipes, and a car seat towel cover.
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Saturday

6 AM: My watch alarm goes off and I pull on my running clothes and slather on sunscreen and lubricant before I get a chance to change my mind and go back to bed ;) I grab my coffee (mixed with milk and ice) and plantain bread and eat at the computer to check the weather and the route that the Pacers running group leaders sent out the day before.0611160600_HDR
6:30 AM: Time to leave! I use the restroom, quickly water my plants, fill the hydration bladder with lots of ice and water and head to the car.0709160635_HDR
6:45 AM: Meet the running group @ location. Today’s run is an out-and-back from Daingerfield Marina.  Sonia goes over the route and mileage options, and we pair off by pace and distance.

7:00 AM: Start running! I’m going for 1o miles today…

9:00 AM: Back at the car. I stretch a little, then sit down in the car to eat my sandwich and drink more water.  I’m not always that hungry, but I try to eat some of the sandwich because the immediate protein/carbs help me from feeling rungry all day.0702160931b

9:15 AM: Back at home – shower time! I drink a cold glass of orange juice first (tastes like heavenly nectar), put my dirty clothes in the hamper and stick the hydration bladder in the sink. The backpack goes into a delicates bag and into the washing machine, and is later hung to dry.

I spend the rest of the day resting and stretching my legs a little (foam rolling feels terrible but wonderful) and continuing to hydrate like crazy. I frequently get dehydration headaches so I make sure I’m downing a glass of water every 2 hours or so.

Do you have a routine for your long runs or weekend workouts?