Boston, Renewed.

The love, support, and energy filling Boston this past week has been unbelievable. We’ve put 3,000 people on the cover of Sports Illustrated, received hundreds of prayer canvases from towns and cities across the U.S., and stood in the rain to honor a day that we will all never forget. To quote Vice President Biden from his address on Monday, this city is ready to show that we own the finish line.

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The Sports Illustrated cover shot taken at the finish line on Boylston St.

 In the midst of the renewed determination surrounding this year’s marathon, I’m overwhelmed by the meaning of next Monday. I’m so grateful to be such a tiny part of a day that means so much to so many. Training for a race can become a very individualistic effort, and after months of training, agonizing over training, and reflecting about training on this blog, I’m humbled to realize that this race is so much bigger than me, or my performance, or any one person’s performance. Our city will be the true champion on Monday.

 I’ve anticipated that this year’s race would be a momentous event in Boston’s history. But like everything, reality is never fully apparent until it’s upon you. No matter what Monday brings, I know I can count on being surrounded by incredible people in an incredible city.

Here’s to wishing everyone a wonderful Patriot’s Day, and to running fast and far whether on Monday or in any race or endeavor. Cheers!

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The Last Long One

It’s taper time, folks. I successfully completed a 21-miler last Friday. And it felt GREAT. Ok, not great, but by far much better than all of my other long runs. I kept up a steady pace for the last few miles and didn’t stop short at Finagle-a-Bagel in search of a Gatorade and a place to sit.

Cruising through the last few miles, Citgo sign in sight.

Cruising through the last few miles, Citgo sign in sight.

I owe this motivating finish partly to my smart hydrating and refueling technique (GU at mile 8 and 14 and water throughout), but in large part to a tricky part of running called pacing. As a former athlete, it’s taken awhile for me to accept that starting fast is not a performance booster. In fact, a fast start can kill many a marathon hopeful.

When I first started training, I was aiming to keep my average pace around 9:00 per mile. For many of my long runs, my early split times ranged from 8:20 to 9:00. By miles 14 through 17, I was dragging. I wasn’t able to finish my 18-mile run two weeks ago because my body was exhausted from my eager start.

I ran with a friend on Friday who’s also running Boston. We’ve done a few runs together, and we both have a tendency to overdo it coming out of the gate. I was very conscious about our pace, knowing that in order to get through 21 miles, we would need to start slow. And we did. Our early miles came in around the 10:00 mark, picking up the pace around mile eight. Miles eight through 17 were in the 9:15 range.

We finished with an average pace of 9:39 per mile. A little over the goal I had originally set for the race, but I’ll be happy to finish at a 9:30 pace. Training runs are supposed to be at a slower pace than your goal finish time.

So why does pacing work? I found this helpful article by running coach Jenny Hadfield at Runners World.  The article and the below graphic illustrate how and why pacing is necessary for a strong marathon performance, especially for rookie and first-time marathoners (like me!). Each zone represents a segment of the journey. Read up to find out how you can better pace for your next race.

The Best Day in Boston

When I saw Boston Magazine‘s April cover story on their guide to the Boston Marathon, I immediately swiped a copy from the shelf and threw it in my basket. The Marathon is HERE! summarizes the thought that triggered in my brain.  I was giddy for about the next three minutes in the check-out line and walking out to my car.

Check out Boston Magazine's tips for being part of the energy on Marathon Monday.

Check out Boston Magazine’s tips for being part of the energy on Marathon Monday.

Then I thought, the marathon is here, followed by one big expletive I won’t share. As soon as I flipped to the ten-page spread though, my excitement stirred back up again. Over the past few weeks of training, I’ve started to realize how big a factor the support of the people of Boston will be come race day. The April issue of Boston Magazine really solidified that.

The guide provides race-day tips for spectators and is laden with the quirky history and details about this race that make it so great. As a first-time Boston Marathon spectator two years ago, I was amazed at the energy of everyone around me, all so genuinely cheering on the runners and pushing them to achieve. On April 21st, the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boylston St. will be packed with more people screaming, waving signs, ringing cowbells, and handing out Swedish Fish than any year in Boston history. Some will be waiting for that one glimpse of their loved one, others will be there just to celebrate and enjoy the amazing feel-good spirit of the day.

In light of reading the article, I wanted to share some background on the best day in Boston:

  • Marathon Monday is officially celebrated as Patriot’s Day, the Massachusetts holiday observed on the third Monday in April, commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.
  • What is a Massachusetts holiday without the Red Sox? Every year on race-day, the Sox throw out the opening pitch at 11:05AM. This year, the World Champions take on the Baltimore Orioles.
  • In 1897, the official first year the Boston Athletic Association hosted the Boston Marathon, the number of entrants weighed in at 18. In 2014 that number has grown by 35,892, coming in at 36,000.
  • The first woman to race the entire Marathon was Roberta Gibb in 1966, although without an official entrant number. Gibb hid in the bushes near the starting line in the three years that she completed the race.  Great women like Gibb, Katharine Switzer, and Nina Kuscsik paved the way for the 11,606 women who entered in 2013.
  • The undergraduates of Boston and its surrounding suburbs play a huge part in Marathon Monday festivities. Wellesley College celebrates runners making the halfway point with their Scream Tunnel, and Boston College’s student population begins their revelry at midnight the morning of the race.
  • Mile 20 in Newton marks the famous stretch of the Boston Marathon, Heartbreak Hill. The sudden incline is notorious for wearing down runners’ on a target pace, making it a crucial spot for spectators handing out energy gels and bringing the noise. The reward comes in the form of Boston’s Prudential Tower in sight at the summit.

 

 

 

 

A Much Needed Trip to Marathon Sports

After probably far too many miles logged on my old ones, I made time in my weekend to take a trip to Marathon Sports to invest in a new pair of running shoes. From what I’ve found, the general rule of thumb is to retire running shoes after you’ve ran anywhere from 200-400 miles in them. Running surfaces can factor into that range, and with the brutal winter we’re still having, my Saucony Kinvara 3s had taken a beating.

It was time for these guys to retire.

Marathon Sports is located at the finish line on Boylston Street and serves as a mecca for the Boston Marathon. The storefront window holds a countdown, down  to the second of the start time on April 21st. As a first-time marathoner, it felt like a rite of passage that I purchase my race-day shoes from them.

Apparently, everyone else had the same idea. The place was PACKED. But it was awesome. So many runners, some repeat Boston participants and some just starting out in their running journeys, were there to get expert advice on everything from shoes to course training. It definitely got me even more pumped to be a part of such an awesome event.

26 days, 1 hour, 36 minutes, and 43 seconds to the official start time.

I’m notorious for over-analyzing when it comes to making decisions. Normally this purchase would have been a huge a deal. I would have tried on pair after pair of sneakers, as if they might be the magical reason behind my marathon performance. Should I stick with the same brand? Are these going to be too tight across my foot? Do I like this color?

Instead, this time I told the guy helping me that I was looking for the same minimalist shoe build as the Kinvara 3s but with more cushion. He quickly recommended three different shoes, all different brands, and brought them out for me to try. At Marathon Sports, just about all of the employees are runners themselves, and trained in evaluating the best shoe for a runner’s gate and mechanics. If your new to the sport, or just want an evaluation, they will watch you run to determine if you over-pronate, under-pronate, or have a neutral gate.

Nothing like a new pair of shoes for motivation!

After taking each pair for a spin on the sidewalk, I settled on a pair of New Balance 890v4s. They were by far the most comfortable while still encouraging a mid-foot strike. I naturally run with my heel striking the surface first, which can cause knee pain, so I’ve been working to correct that.

As for my quick and painless decision, I think I just knew that no properly chosen shoe is going to make or break my marathon experience. I am in total control of how race day goes for me, and that starts with my training, strength-training, and nutritional choices.

Power in Choices

I’m pretty in tune with my body, and I often reflect on how what I choose to put into it affects my energy, focus, and drive. This doesn’t mean that I don’t often make poor choices, and in fact, lately I’ve found that I’ve made more poor choices than good ones.

As I noted in my previous post, these first few weeks of March have been rough. When I get busy and overwhelmed, I tend to let go of the things that will actually keep me most sane when battling stress: a healthy diet and exercise. I don’t binge on fast food or stock up on Oreos, but I definitely haven’t been taking the steps or the time to prepare for the kind of nutrition I need for training.

  • Example 1: That 17 mile run I did two weeks ago, the one that I said I felt crappy after? My pre-run dinner of sushi and two heavy beers probably didn’t give me the carbohydrates, hydration, or energy I needed to perform well the next day.
  •  Example 2: I had every intention of getting in a long run this weekend. The week leading up to it presented a tough mental battle. It seemed like sacrilege to live in Boston and not spend at least one day of the St. Patrick’s day weekend celebrating Irish-style, so I made the choice to get my long run in on Saturday morning. Because of a late carb overload dinner on Friday night, this time of pasta and pizza, my stomach didn’t digest and store the carbs I needed during the run, making for a pretty unpleasant feeling at mile 10.
  •  Example 3: In choosing to go out Saturday night, I went way overboard on the booze. I don’t bounce back from a night of drinking the way I used to, and I know I’ll be paying for my choice for most of this week (as if Sunday’s pain wasn’t enough).

 It’s too bad that it’s taken these three examples for me to realize I need to get my act together, but there’s no use dwelling in the unchangeable past. What I can do, and I’ve resolved to take the first step, is think about how to prepare for choices in the future. My first big move, now that the marathon is officially one month away, is to cut out all alcohol from my diet. It won’t be easy, and neither will this last month of training, but for motivation I’m using these words to live by:
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Strength Training: the Other Marathon Training

When I wrote out my first month’s training plan, I fully intended to hit up my gym’s boot camp class at least once a week. I haven’t actually planned out training for March yet, a digression I’m not proud of. Let’s just say the first few weeks of this month have been hell. I’m still trying to catch up, and I know I won’t be out of the weeds until at least this Thursday.

But back to strength training. Let me tell you how many times I’ve been to boot camp since January: zero.

So, for this week, I’m making it a priority to write out the rest of my training schedule. I intend to make my one boot camp a week goal a reality, as well as mix it up with the super hardcore November Project stadium training on Wednesday mornings.

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Waking up sucks, but there’s nothing like a neon sunrise and stadiums for breakfast.

Here are a few articles I’ve found that point to the importance of alternative exercise in a training routine. Enjoy!

*As a follow up to last week’s post, my mid-race fueling experiment went as follows: I brought a handheld water bottle on my rainy, cold Saturday morning run (I’m not bitter about this at all). Minus my fingers just about freezing, it was nice to have some H2O to swig when I felt thirsty. I dutifully chomped down my CLIF shot-bloks at mile 8, but unfortunately never got to reap their benefits. My stomach did a total 180 at mile 10, and I had to call it quits. More on my poor nutrition choices that led to this in the next post.

Mid-Race Fueling

Let’s talk mid-race fueling. I’ve been reading up on how to combat carb and hydration depletion since January, but I still have a lot of questions. When to refuel? What’s the best option for me? How much is too much?

New runners beware: the advice out there on how to rehydrate and refuel properly can be confusing. Then there’s the myriad of energy boost choices lining the wall at your local running shop. There are chews, gels, bars and the ever-appetizing GU, not to mention the sports drink options you’re probably familiar with.

 Here’s what I Found in my Refueling Research:

It’s important to restore your energy stock with at least 100 calories for every hour of running beyond the first hour. Those calories should include sugar and carbohydrates (30-60 grams), with some electrolytes if you’re opting for a sports drink. The below articles from Runners World and Active.com point to this information in more detail, but it’s impossible to know what will work for you without experimenting on your own.


Here’s what I Found in my Refueling Experiment:

I have a sensitive stomach when it comes to working out, so the idea of eating anything mid-run is not appealing. But monitoring my body’s response during training runs has been a big part of my preparation, and once I started increasing mileage beyond 13 (halfway!), I felt sluggish and lightheaded and struggled to push through the last few miles.  I realized I was “hitting the wall,” and needed to try a refueling strategy.

I headed to City Sports and grabbed the most gummy bear-like energy chews I could find for my 17-mile run last week. There’s so much that goes into preparing for long runs (checking the weather, grocery shopping, refusing that third or fourth beer…), and stocking up on these treats is another task to add to the list. I call them treats because not only do the strawberry CLIF Shot Bloks I chose look like candy, they’re actually kind of good.

Despite the Shot Bloks’ sugary appeal, my first experiment was a fail. I had no problem downing a serving during mile 12, but I didn’t heed the instructions on the package to follow consumption with water. I also made the mistake of popping the chews too late. I waited until I started to feel crappy for a reboot, while I should have been proactive to fend off an energy crash. Lack of rehydrating paired with poor timing made the chews ineffective, and I finished 17 miles feeling awful.

Lesson learned, and I’m happy to be heading into the last six weeks of training with an improved refueling strategy. Next week calls for Shot Bloks around mile 9 or 10, paired with a handheld water bottle. I’ll be reporting back and would love to hear what refueling strategies you’re trying!