0 to 26.2 – Tips for New Marathoners

My laurel wreath and first marathon medal

I learned a lot of lessons while training for my first marathon

When I participated on the running bloggers panel at the Route 66 Marathon Expo, one of the questions we were asked was what advice we had for first time marathoners and half marathoners.  It is a good question, one that I would break into two parts – training tips and race day tips.  It occurred to me many people have probably set the goal of running their first endurance event this year.  Now that they have set their goal, they may be thinking about how to achieve their goal of running a marathon or half marathon.  Where do you start?  In this post, I will share my training tips.  I’ll write about race day tips later.

I am not going to bother to go over training plans.  I am not an expert in how to train.  In fact I still rely on a running coach to get me ready for a marathon.  Some running stores offer training programs to prepare for races.  There are plenty of training plans available on the Internet from running experts like Jeff Galloway, Hal Higdon, and Jenny Hadfield.  You can also train with charity programs such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT).  In exchange for fundraising, the charity provides a training plan, supported weekly long runs, and entry into a specific event.  I have run 11 races for charities. It is rewarding to cross the finish line knowing that I have helped someone else while participating in an event.  This spring I will be running the Boston Marathon for a charity.  Whatever training plan you use, I recommend that you follow it to the letter.  There is a reason why they tell you to cross train or stretch.  I have always done better when I don’t ignore the portions of a training plan that I don’t like.

Okay, now to the advice that you probably will only hear from me.

Know the Course – My first marathon was the Country Music Marathon in Nashville.  I watched the video of the course that was posted on the race web site.  By the end of the video, I was terrified.  What had I signed myself up for? I was convinced I would never be able to finish the race.

I decided to approach the course like it was an enemy I needed to conquer. To beat it I needed to know the course very well.  I printed out the course map, which included the elevation map (or as I call it, the EKG line), and studied it.  I knew every turn and hill along the course.   Each time I ran, I visualized myself running the race.  At the end of every training run, I saw myself crossing the finish line.  After each of my long runs, I would highlight that distance along the course map.  For example, when I finished my 16 mile training run, I highlighted the course map up to the 16 mile marker.  It was a visual reminder of the distance that I had already run.  If I could run it in a training run, I could run it on race day.

By knowing the course inside and out, I didn’t have any surprises on race day.  I knew exactly where I was all the time and what was coming up ahead.  I beat the course that had once terrified me.

Treat every training run as a dress rehearsal for race day – During your training runs, you should be doing everything exactly as you plan to do on race day.  That includes having the same breakfast you plan on having on race day; wearing the same running clothes and shoes; using the same hydration and nutrition you will have during the race.  By trying things out before race day, you will find out what works for you and what doesn’t.  If you travel to a race like I frequently do, confirm how you will get your preferred breakfast on the road.  Will you be able to get oatmeal at 4:30 AM in your hotel?  If not, then you might want to try other breakfast options while you are training.

Find out what sports drink they will have along the course and try it during a training run.  If you can’t handle the sports drink the race will have, then you will need to come up with an alternative hydration strategy.  You might want to carry your own fluids, which means getting use to wearing a hydration belt.

When I ran the Tokyo Marathon, runners were not allowed to carry any fluids.  We had to rely solely on the water stops.  I always carry my own hydration so I was concerned.  I needed to figure out how I would handle this on race day.   My strategy for training for this restriction was to practice only taking fluids during my training runs at the corresponding miles where the water stops would be on the course.  On race day, I was prepared and everything went smoothly.

I remember training for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Disney World.  Back then the race started at 10 PM at night.  I wasn’t sure how I would handle a race that started when I normally would be asleep.  To prepare for the race, I ran a couple of training runs at night.  I learned that I needed to adjust my pre-race meals plus take a nap in the afternoon.  I was prepared and it ended up being one of my all time favorite races.

I used a similar strategy when I trained for the Disney World Dopey Challenge (5K, 10K, half and full marathon over 4 consecutive days). I practiced running increasingly long distances over 4 days.  My Dopey dress rehearsal helped me understand how tired my legs would be each day.   I adjusted my post-race recovery plan to ensure I would be ready for the next day’s race.

Actors use dress rehearsals to ensure they deliver the best performance on opening night.  Runners can ensure they have the best race possible by using the dress rehearsal strategy too.

Run in all kinds of weather – While many runners love running in the rain, I hate it.  (I wrote about being a fair weather runner in an older post, Embrace the Weather.)  Given a choice, if the weather forecast is for rain or snow, I reschedule my run to another day or run on my treadmill (or as I call it, my dreadmill).

But who knows what the weather will be on your race day.  It isn’t like the race directors will move a race indoors if the weather is bad.  Not every town has indoor tracks.  Where would they get thousands of treadmills on a moment’s notice anyway?  I recall when the Mississippi Blues Marathon was canceled two weeks ago, someone on Facebook asked why they just couldn’t move the race indoors.  It just isn’t one of the contingency plans for a race.  Except for ice or thunderstorms, you need to be prepared to run in whatever weather greets you on race day.

Do you have any tips you would offer to new marathon runners?  What helped you get through your first race?  What did you learn the hard way?

Extending a Hand

In my high school psychology class, we learned about the bystander effect, or “Genovese Syndrome”, named for Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her New York City apartment in the middle of the night in 1964.  In the newspaper account of her murder, it was reported no one came to her aid, even though 38 people had either witnessed portions of her 30-minute attack or heard her cries for help.  Psychologists used Kitty’s murder to analyze why people are reluctant to help someone.  The story was a provocative way to get students to discuss whether they would step in and help someone in a similar situation.  Over time it has been revealed many parts of the story were not true and people were not as indifferent as the news accounts led us to believe.  However, the discussion about the bystander effect still continues.

Kitty came to my mind when I saw a news report about a girls cross-country runner who stopped to help a runner from another team who had fallen during a state sectional meet.  Gracie Bucher, an 8th grader from Windom in Minnesota, collapsed not far from the finish line.  Despite several attempts, she could not get back on her feet to finish the race.  That was when Liana Blomgren, a senior from Mountain Lake High School, came by.  Seeing Gracie on the ground, Liana grabbed her by the arm and told her “I’ve got you. You’re with me.”  Liana helped Gracie finish the race.  That gesture of kindness resulted in both Liana and Gracie being disqualified.

I was sad to hear Liana ended her high school cross-country career with a DQ.  Gracie felt bad about it too.  In fact, she sent Liana flowers and gave her a Dairy Queen, DQ, gift card as a token of appreciation.  Liana said she doesn’t recall what place she was in at the sectionals for the prior two years but she will always remember this one.  Liana is a terrific young woman.

Over the years I have seen many instances of a runner helping another runner to the finish line.  This happens in all kinds of races, including marathons and half marathons.  There are a number of reasons why a runner might collapse – twisted ankles; falls from tripping; tendons that give out; dehydration; or, in Gracie’s case, an undiagnosed case of mononucleosis.  Who can forget the collision of Abbey D’Agostino (USA) and Nikki Hamblin (New Zealand) half way through a qualifying heat for the women’s 5000 meter race in the 2016 Summer Olympics?  Abbey and Nikki helped each other to get back up and finish the race. They personified true sportsmanship.  It is comforting to know some runners are willing to put kindness and compassion above competition.

The National Federation of State High School Associations Board of Directors has changed the rules for high school track and field in 2017.  With the new rule, “a participant who assists an injured/ill competitor shall not be disqualified if an appropriate health-care professional is not available.”  As I interpret this new rule, I think Liana still would have been disqualified.  Gracie collapsed not too far from the finish line where conceivably there would have been appropriate health-care professionals.  They would have seen Gracie struggling and could have intervened.  Maybe I am wrong.

img_7114I question rules that penalize someone for helping another person in need. Instead we should foster an attitude that encourages people to help each other.  The lessons we enforce in sports competition carry over into day-to-day life.  I experienced this first hand in 2014 when I fell and broke my arm during a training run.  I will remember forever Rebecca, a stranger who helped me until a friend arrived to take me to the hospital.  Although she could have finished her own run, Rebecca stopped to help me.  Without her help I probably would have gone into shock.  Rebecca kept me calm while we waited for my friend.   As runners, we are frequently alone but we are also part of a larger community.  We should always have each other’s back and never be afraid to lend a hand – in a race or on a trail.

Don’t Count Me Out

I was looking at my racing statistics recently on athlinks.com and was amazed at what I have achieved.  I have raced over 1,100 miles in nearly 100 races (5Ks and up to marathon distances) – all since I started running just 9 years ago, in November, 2006.  I remember back then it seem inconceivable that I would be able to complete a marathon.  Look at me now – I have done 11 of them!

Running my first marathon

Running my first marathon

When I first started running, I am embarrassed to admit that I did minimal training.  My first Team in Training coach had developed a training program that included 3 days where I ran and 2 days of cross training.  True confessions: I did the bare minimum in terms of training.  I ran 3 days a week but I never once did any cross training.  I finished my first marathon in a respectable time of 5:19.  I didn’t beat Oprah’s time in the Marine Corps Marathon but who cares.  I was happy.  I kept running and somewhere along the way decided that I wanted to run faster.  If I had completed a marathon with minimal training, how fast could I go if I really put some effort into it?

About 5 years ago I had the opportunity to meet a well-known runner/running spokesperson.  While talking about PRs and aging, this person stated that I had already run the fastest marathon that I could run.  Older athletes just get slower, this person said.  According to this person, in the trajectory of my running life, I had already passed the apex and was heading straight down.  I recall getting very angry about this proclamation regarding my running future.  No, I wasn’t ready to say my best running days were behind me.

Before I go further, to be fair I should note that this is not just this person’s belief but one that is widely held by many running experts – as we age, we slow down.  I came across one article that stated age 35 is the last age at which most people are able to set a personal record (PR).  After that, we get a bit slower until we hit 60 when our running speed really tanks.  My personal challenge was to prove this notion wrong.  Last year I decided was the year I would do it.

I never bought one of these but it sure was tempting.

I never bought one of these but it sure was tempting.

In 2015 I hired a running coach who gave me a training plan.  I had to report in every day on what I had done.  I didn’t skip the cross training days but I certainly didn’t push myself as hard as I could have.  I didn’t make any changes to my nutrition, although she did bring that up a couple times.  On days when I was depressed about my dogs dying, I would stop at Walgreens and buy a bag of Red Vines licorice, my go-to comfort food.  I’d eat the entire bag before I made it back home.  I put on a few pounds, which didn’t do much to help my speed.  By shear determination, I was able to pull off that sub-5 hour marathon at age 57.  So there, running know-it-alls. I can still get a PR!

Last month I got to thinking about my marathon PR and decided that maybe there was still more that I could do.  I called up my running coach and said I wanted to finish a half marathon in under 2 hours.  We met to talk about where I was, where I wanted to go, and how we were going to get me there.  One thing that she needed me to invest in was a heart rate monitor.  The data from that will enable her to see how efficiently I am training. We also talked about nutrition and strength training.  Those were going to be as important as getting out to run.

In the month before my running coach kicked off my training program, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 235, a nifty watch with a built-in heart rate monitor.  I started using it to get use to the new technology and to start collecting data for her to review when planning my training.  Heart rate monitor: Check!

Nutrition has always been a sore spot with me.  I was raised by parents who treated sugar as if it was one of the basic food groups.  I realized that I couldn’t keep making detours to Walgreens for Red Vines.  I found a nutritionist to help me improve my diet.  She noted that I needed more muscle (my upper body muscles had atrophied from my broken arm) and I needed to change my diet to help create that muscle.  More protein, less sugar, more veggies and fruit.  I haven’t seen the pounds melt away yet but I feel better – not so fatigued.  Nutrition: Check!

My running coach has been creating cross training routines that are a bit more demanding.  I am honestly working harder to make sure that I do them properly.  Then I got a gift.  One of my friends won a 50% off membership at her gym for semi-personal training and she gave it to me.  This gym has done wonderful things for her.  I could only imagine what they could do for me.

This week I met with Justin, the gym’s owner, to go over my physical challenges (right arm that I can’t fully lift, twisted ankle that hasn’t healed, Transverse Myelitis complications) and what I wanted to achieve, specifically strength training to regain functionality in my arm and strength to improve my running.  I thought he might roll his eyes at me but he didn’t.  Justin listened and watched me go through a series of moves to determine my level of fitness.  His assessment matched the things that I already had figured out with my massage therapist and physical therapist.  He defined a program for me to gain the flexibility in my arm as well as in other areas like the hips that tend to be tight in long distance runners.  Better flexibility in those tight areas will also mean less potential for injury.  Justin also is adding in strength training to build up my atrophied muscles.  Strength Training: Double Check!

Despite what all the experts say, I am not ready to throw in the towel.  I can’t accept that I have already seen the best days of my running life.  To be a faster runner I have to do more than just run.  I have to focus on nutrition as well as strength training.  I am committed and I know I have a team of experts in place to help me do it: my running coach, my nutritionist, my strength coach, and my massage therapist. I am going to prove there is more kick left in these legs.

I found this interesting article about aging and running performance.  Check it out.

Last Isn’t Losing

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.05.15 PMOn New Year’s Eve, I ran my last race in 2015.  What better way to ring out a year of running than toeing the start line one last time?  I opted for the 10K distance instead of the 5K because I am back in training for a marathon.  The 10K race started about 10 minutes after the 5K.  I watched the 5K runners take off and then made my way over to the start line.  Looking around, I noticed that there were significantly fewer of us running the 10K.

When the 10K race got going, a lot of runners were passing me.  I got a bit flustered because I was worried that I would come in last.  At one point in the race, we had an out-and-back loop so I was able to see the number of runners behind me.  I relaxed when I saw there were quite a few.  Unless something catastrophic happened, I was not going to finish last.  I ultimately ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.

Finishing last in a race is one of the biggest fears of any runner, especially newbies.  At any race, a handful of people will be standing around waiting for the last runner to finish.  Instead of arriving to cheering crowds, the last runner can be greeted with sighs of relief from race officials and volunteers who couldn’t leave until they crossed the finish line.  I can’t imagine how embarrassing that might feel.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately after seeing news reports about the woman who was the last person to finish the New York City Marathon.  I think she got more headlines than the runners who won.  Sala Cyril, a 38-year-old Brooklyn teacher, was the last person to cross the finish line.  She finished with a time of 8 hours, 28 minutes and 24 seconds.  The race officials and volunteers were there to applaud her finish but the huge crowds that welcomed the winners were long gone.  Regardless, Sala was on top of the world.  After months of training and hard work, she had achieved her goal of finishing the marathon.  Sala might have been the last to finish but she received the same medal as the runners who finished hours before her.

Mainly Marathons is a race series that recognizes not only the first person to finish one of their races but also the person who finishes last.  They realize finishing a marathon is a big deal for anyone.  The runner who finishes last in one of their races receives a special award – the Mainly Marathons Caboose.  I wonder if people battle it out to be last just so they can win one of those special cabooses.

My friend Buzz did the Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon in Savannah with me.  It was only her second half marathon and she was worried about finishing.   She was disappointed to see that she was assigned to corral 22, the last corral.  Buzz later told me that the only thing behind her were the garbage trucks picking up the trash along the course.  She showed me a picture to prove it.  Despite being at the end of the line, Buzz kept her eyes focused on where she was headed.  Although she was diverted when the race was canceled, she had passed other runners and walkers along the way.  Buzz proved that starting out last doesn’t mean you will finish last.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 8.02.58 PMI heard this catch phrase a few years ago from some people who were training for a triathlon.  Their coach had told them this at the start of their training season.  I think about it frequently when I am running:

Dead Freaking Last (DFL) beats Did Not Finish (DNF) beats Did Not Start (DNS)

The person who finishes last achieves more than the person who can’t finish.  And the person who starts but can’t finish is doing more than the person who didn’t even get to the start line.  Being last is not the worst thing that can happen to you.  It shows that despite the challenge, that person made it.

We are all running our own race.  When I head to the start line of any race, the only thing I am competing against is myself.  For many people the risk of being last is enough to keep them from even starting.  Last doesn’t mean you are a loser.  The loser is the person who never had the courage to try in the first place.

I love this Nike commercial that shows what my friend, Buzz, might have felt in the back of the pack, bringing up the rear.  No matter what, you just need to keep going.

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

Every once in a while I have to ask myself why I chose a hobby that involves so much physical pain.  In marathon running there is frequently pain while you are running, pain when you are done, and if things are really bad, pain the next day.  I never hear people who paint or quilt complain about pain from their hobby.  But then I can’t see myself sitting still for long periods of time to paint or quilt.  I have to move.

Saturday was one of those days.  I ran my longest training run – 20 miles – in preparation for the Berlin Marathon.  I started my run early, hoping to beat the heat.  My running spouse was off working a race for a charity so I was running solo.  I arranged for my husband to meet me around Mile 10 with water, ice, and a banana.  The last 6 miles were tough because there wasn’t any shade.  My Transverse Myelitis doesn’t like the heat and I was starting to drag.  Except for being hot, I didn’t feel that bad while I was running.  Some dull aches but nothing extreme.  When I finished my run, I had a few spots – lower back mostly – that reminded me that I had just run 20 miles.  The next day was when I really felt the pain.

I asked Jessica, my physical therapist, to explain why it hurts the day after a long run or race.  She started talking about actin, myosin, trigger points and fascia, and my head started to spin.  From what I could gather, movement comes from the interaction of the actin and myosin.  When you do something like run for 20 miles, you can end up with trigger points where the muscles go into a spasm (a contraction) from all the repetitive motion.  Normal movement becomes painful or maybe not even possible, in the case of injury.

According to Jessica, massage is great for recovery and working out the trigger points that result from a long run.  My hero, Meb Keflezighi, uses massage as a key part of his recovery.  Unfortunately for me, my massage therapist, Jennifer, is not on call 24/7.   When I can’t see Jennifer, I have to resort to Plan B – self-massage.

There are lots of self-massaging tools on the market.  After my run on Saturday, I pulled out all the ones that I have in my closets.  It was astonishing to see all the things that I have bought over the years to keep my muscles moving.  Some were things I picked up at my local running stores but others were impulsive purchases made at race Expos.  In my self-massage arsenal I have two different kinds of foam rollers that you can sit or lay on (both in multiple sizes); three different massage sticks; a massage ball; and one hand massage roller.

I drafted my husband for a fun product evaluation experiment.  We tested the self-massage tools by using each of them on the same 6 areas of the body: calf, IT band, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and back.  We used the tools on each area and then gave it a score, using a scale of 1 to 10.  Here are our observations on each of the products (Disclaimer: these are our observations; your mileage may vary.) :

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

(top to bottom) Pro-Tech Foam Roller (full and travel sizes), the Grid (full and travel sizes)

Pro-Tech Foam Roller:  This roller is long and smooth.   I have used this one to do some my PT exercises for my arm but not too much for self-massage because it is pretty hard.  It is like rolling on a hard floor.  Not very comfortable.  Neither of us found that it helped much with any of the 6 areas because it didn’t seem to get too deep.  Overall score: 2.17

The Grid:  The Grid is another foam roller but with raised areas, or bumps, of different sizes.  The bumps can get much deeper than the plain foam roller.  You have to get into some unusual positions to use the Grid on some muscles so you have to have balance and some upper body strength.  Both of us thought the Grid did a great job, though my husband felt it was uncomfortable on his back.  Overall score: 8.50

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick, the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

(left to right) the Marathon Stick, the Hybrid Stick with red trigger wheel, the RangeRoller Pro with four black Trigger Treads, the Orb Massage Ball, Addaday Marble Massage Roller

The Marathon Stick:  I think this was one of the first self-massage tools that I ever bought.  It is a stick about 20 inches long with beads that move independently of each other.  You can roll the stick over muscles to work out sore areas.  Because it is flexible, it contours to areas of the body.  The Marathon Stick doesn’t provide a deep massage like the Grid and, in my opinion, is only good for lightly massaging the legs.  I saw videos on the Internet that show how to use the Stick on other parts of the body like the neck and back.  I don’t have the flexibility with my right arm to use it that way.  Compared to some of the other tools, my husband and I didn’t rate this one too high.  Over all score:  4.0

The Hybrid Stick:  The Hybrid Stick is very similar to the Marathon Stick except it has a single trigger wheel in the center that can reach deeper into a muscle.   The trigger wheel made this tool score higher in our review.  Overall score: 5.0

The RangeRoller Pro: This 16” stick is firmer than the other stick rollers that I have.  It has 4 Trigger Treads ™ (similar to the trigger wheel on the Hybrid Stick) that can reach deeper into the muscles.  Like the other stick rollers, I had difficulty using this on some spots due to my arm and we both found that it isn’t as helpful on the glutes.   Both my husband and I gave the RangeRoller high marks for working our legs.  Overall score: 6.5

The Orb Massage Ball:  The Orb Massage Ball is a 5” nubby ball made by ProTec.  I bought the Orb at an Expo this year.  It appealed to me because of its small size.  It fits into my carry-on.  It works like the foam rollers.  You can roll along the sore areas of your legs and even into your glutes.  I thought it was a bit difficult to use on the outside of my calves but otherwise it was pretty effective.  Overall score: 7.0

Addaday Marble Massage Roller:  I bought this at an Expo last Spring.  The 3 marbles can get deep without sharp pain.  The Addaday roller fits easily in the palm of my hand so I can massage any place that I can reach.  While it is not very helpful for massaging hamstrings or glutes, I think it works great on calves, quads, and the IT Band.  Plus I can massage my neck and arms, areas that are still recovering from my broken arm.  The small size makes this one very portable.  I can toss it into my carry-on bag or even my purse for a quick leg massage when I am flying on the plane.   I liked this one more than my husband did.  Overall score: 6.0 (I would give it 7 just because of how portable it is.)

We summarized our observations:

  1. The more bumps or raised areas on the self-massage tool, the better the tool.  The smooth foam roller just doesn’t give the same relief.
  2. Foam rollers that you can sit or lay on are better.  You get the added benefit of your body weight to get deeper into the muscles.
  3. Portability is important when traveling.  You can buy some of the foam rollers in smaller travel sizes but they still take up a good bit of valuable space in your suitcase or carry-on.  I think the RangeRoller Pro, the Orb and the Addaday Marble Massage Roller are the best for trips.  [Note:  The Stick might be considered a potential weapon so when flying, put it in your checked baggage.]
  4. Different tools work better on different areas.  In his book, Meb for Mortals, Meb mentioned that he uses a foam roller on his IT band and a ball on his glutes.  We found that some tools worked better on some areas than others.  Experimenting with different tools will tell you what works best for you.
  5. I don’t need to spend any more money on self-massage tools.  I have enough.  I just need to use them.

None of the self-massage tools we tested is a replacement for my massage therapist, Jennifer.  She can make just about any ache or pain disappear with a 60-minute massage.  Plus I enjoy chatting with her while she works the kinks out of my muscles.

Not sure how all this foam rolling works?  Jenny Hadfield made this terrific video on how to use a foam roller.  Check it out!

My Running Spouse

One of my dear friends was my first Team in Training coach, Rebecca.  Since my first marathon back in 2007, we have trained and run many races together.  We have shared all sorts of experiences over the years, the vast majority are very amusing (at least to us) but not really things I can write about and still maintain my goal of a PG-13 rating for my blog.

Rebecca’s husband, Rich, joined us a few years ago.  Rich added more fun to the mix and the three of us continued to make running memories.  Two years ago Rebecca decided she needed a break from marathons.  I still had races to run and so did Rich.  Rich jumped in where Rebecca had been to become my running partner.  I guess you could call Rich my running spouse.  (In case you are wondering, my husband is unable to run due to knee and ankle issues.)

We make an odd couple.  Rich is a 6’ 3” former Marine; I am only 5’ 2” so he towers over me.  Rich’s height is always useful in races when I need help finding a path through a crowded field of runners.  As we pound out the miles, Rich endures my endless chatter on all sorts of topics – my dogs (both dead and alive), documentaries I have watched, anything that pops into my head.  I know he is actually listening to me because he will chime in with a witty comment about something I have said.  It all helps keep our hours of running from getting boring.

Our big year was 2013-2014.  We ran the Marine Corps Marathon together in October then we trained together for the Dopey Challenge in January.  I have to say that there has never been a year quite like that one before or since.

Although we didn’t train much together for the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM), we both wanted to finish the race in under 5 hours and get PRs (personal records).  On race morning we both felt we were ready to do it.  Although it started out chilly, the weather was great.  We saw Rebecca along the course a few times, cheering for us.  Rich tolerated my chatter and my crying (long story that I will save for another post).   Things were going as planned and we were staying on track for our objective of a sub-5 hour finish.

John Bingham came up with the term “the Bite Me Zone”.   This is the point in a marathon where you are tired, frustrated, just want to be done already.  In the Bite Me Zone many runners change from being a pleasant person to a not so friendly one.  That was Mile 20 for me in the MCM.

At Mile 20 Rich told me that he didn’t think he could keep up the pace that would have us finishing under 5 hours.   As the 5-hour pace setter came by, Rich told me to go join them.  Things had gotten really challenging for me at that point too.   I knew that I had only gotten as far as I had because I was running with him but I did not want to abandon him.  I will always remember the exchange that followed as we stood on the 14th Street Bridge:

Rich: Go on, Lynn.  You can still make it.

Me: No, I am staying with you.

Rich: You can catch the 5-hour pace group.  Go.

Me: (yelling) No! A Marine never leaves another Marine behind!  I am staying with you!

I have no clue what possessed me to say that.  I was never a Marine but somehow I felt like a Marine that day.

We kept running together, a bit slower, until Mile 23.5 where they were handing out donut holes.  I was hungry but immediately felt ill after I ate just one.  I threw the rest of them away and kept running.  A bit later I looked around and couldn’t see any sign of Rich.  I wasn’t sure if he was ahead of me or behind me.  I just wanted to be done with the race so I kept running.  I ran into him after the race in the runner’s village.  He had finished 8 minutes behind me.  He said he was so hungry when he saw donut holes that he had to stop.  We both ended up with PRs, just not the ones we wanted.

We spent the next 2 months preparing for Disney World’s Dopey Challenge – 4 consecutive days of races, 5K, 10K, half marathon and full marathon in January. There weren’t many people on the trail when we went running in November and December.  I remember one day where there were 20-30 mph winds and wind chills put the temperatures in single digits.  The headwinds were so strong that I was nearly blown over.  I probably would not have even been out on a day like that, if it wasn’t for the commitment I made to Rich.

The Dopey Challenge was another memorable experience.  Just like the MCM, the Dopey races were filled with lots of bantering back and forth between us.   At the 5K we saw lots of guys dressed up in costumes including Disney characters (male and female), tutus and sparkle skirts.  In jest, I told Rich that I would donate $200 to the charity he was running for if he would run the next race in a skirt.  After we finished the 5K, he went to the Expo and bought a gun metal sparkle skirt to wear in the 10K.  I have to say he looked great in his skirt – certainly better than the 6’ 5” guy with a dark beard dressed as Snow White.  Lots of people complimented him on his outfit.  When he posted pictures of himself on social media after the 10K, he got pledges of nearly $1000 if he would run all of the remaining races wearing the skirt.

Rebecca ran the 10K and the half marathon with us, which made things even more fun.  But Rich and I were on our own for the full marathon.  In the Animal Kingdom I insisted that he ride the Expedition Everest roller coaster.  (I am terrified of roller coasters and was just happy to have a moment to rest.)  It is a crazy concept – riding a roller coaster in the middle of running a marathon.  I can’t think of any other place that you can do that.  That was probably the happiest moment of any race I have run.  I enjoyed watching Rich zoom by on the ride.  He looked like a big kid having a great time.

As we continued running, our conversations started to really go downhill.  The runners around us overheard our banter.  At one point a man asked Rich if I was his wife.  Rich replied “No, it’s my mother.”  Although you might think I should have been offended, I stopped dead and doubled over in laughter.  I still laugh about that.  [For the record, I am old enough to have been his babysitter but not his mother.]

Last year I was planning to run the MCM and part of the Dopey Challenge  with Rich and Rebecca when I broke my arm.  I was bitterly disappointed to miss running those races with them.  This year I am making up for it.  Although Rebecca is back on the sidelines, Rich and I are training again for the MCM.  In January he will be running the Dopey again and I will run the half and full marathons with him.  One Dopey was enough for me.  We have only had two weekend runs together but we slipped back into our running routine like a comfortable pair of running shoes.  I chatter away and Rich patiently listens before adding a witty comeback.

I am not sure how much longer I will have a running spouse.  I have races all over the world that I want to run and Rich confessed he is thinking of doing a triathlon.  Rebecca has other interests now besides running.  No matter what the future holds, I can say that I have wonderful memories of running with both Rich and Rebecca – the kind that still make me laugh.  I will be glad whenever Rebecca and Rich join me on the trail.  The miles go by much easier when there are more pairs of running shoes alongside me.

Osteoblasting

My friend, Patsy, is a cyclist and has been since she was in high school.  One night over dinner in Montana, we were talking about the Tour de France and the workout that the cyclists get when they are competing.  Patsy mentioned that the bone density of professional cyclists is continually measured because cyclists can lose bone mass over the course of a season.  She noted that swimmers have the same issue.  I was surprised to hear this and decided that I needed to do some research to learn more.

I started with an Internet search and found many articles and studies about swimmers, cyclists, and even kayakers having lower bone mineral density (BMD).  BMD indicates risk for bone fractures by measuring how much mineral (e.g., calcium) you have in your bones.  There are several ways to measure BMD.  A DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan is the most common and measures specific areas of the body – spine, hips, and forearm.   The scan results will indicate if your bones have sub-normal bone density (osteopenia) or if you have deterioration of the bone tissue (osteoporosis).   Studies have been done of cyclists and swimmers where their BMDs were compared before and after their competitive seasons.  In the studies I read, there was a decrease in BMDs in both cyclists and swimmers between those two points in time.

I know many people who are dedicated cyclists or Master’s swimmers.  It was hard to think that by being so intensely active in their sport of choice, they could actually be hurting themselves.  Physical activity is suppose to keep you healthy.  But the scientific evidence clearly shows that too much time in the water or on the bicycle seat can be harmful.

My husband can’t run due to an issue with his knee.  He likes to ride a bike and has even completed a Century Ride (100 miles).   His first question when we started talking about this was “why is cycling bad for my bones?”

This week while Jessica, my physical therapist, worked on my arm, I asked her to explain why cycling and swimming would lead to lower BMD.  Jessica put it in very basic terms for me.  She explained that there are three primary types of bone cells – osteoblasts, osteoclasts, and osteocytes.  In order to build up bones, our bodies need osteoblasts.  Osteoblasts are bone cells that create  the framework for new bones (or bone remodeling as she put it).  Stress on the skeleton from weight-bearing exercise increases the workload on the bones and triggers osteoblastic activity or the remodeling process.  Osteocytes are mature bone cells that originate from osteoblasts.  Osteoclasts are cells that break down the bone.  Reduced workload on the skeleton from things like prolonged bed rest and some medications will increase the osteoclastic activity and lower bone density.  And yes, prolonged sitting is bad for bone health.

Swimming is a great exercise to build and maintain muscles and improve flexibility and balance.  Jessica says that she recommends swimming for her patients that have arthritis and have to avoid high impact activities.  But swimming doesn’t put stress on the skeleton because of the buoyancy of the water.  It is almost like an anti-gravity exercise.  Therefore, swimming doesn’t trigger osteoblastic activity.  (As a side note, astronauts in space lose BMD, indicating that we need the stress of gravity on our bodies.)

Cyclists are sitting on a seat when riding and likewise cycling doesn’t trigger osteoblastic activity (though standing up on the pedals may make it a modest weight-bearing exercise).  The same is true for kayakers who are seated when they are paddling.  No weight-bearing exercise there.  Elliptical trainers are popular in the gym but according to the Mayo Clinic, they are not helpful for improving bone health.  Ellipticals provide great cardiovascular exercise but not weight-bearing exercise.  According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, weight-bearing exercise is any activity you have to do on your feet like running, walking, climbing stairs, racquet sports like tennis, and strength training.

So what is a swimmer or cyclist to do?

Building bones during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon

Building bones during the 2015 Tokyo Marathon

We need to have a variety of exercise activities.  Replace some of those swimming or cycling days with running or strength training exercises.    I am a runner but my coach mixes up my training activities.  I only run three times a week.  The other days I ride a recumbent exercise bike or do strength training exercises.   And I try to squeeze in a daily stretching routine.  I have always believed that too much of anything is bad.  This is true with exercise.  We need to have a balance of exercises – cardiovascular, weight-bearing, strength training, stretching and flexibility.

This weekend I will be out on the trail for my long run, “osteoblasting” my way through 18 miles.  I will be thinking about all those strong leg bones I will be building up as I run.

I Can! I Will!

During the summer, my morning runs on the trail were lonely, except for the occasional mom pushing her toddler in a stroller or a retiree out walking a dog.  Now that we have hit August, I am joined on the trail by high school cross country runners and the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets who are both busy training.

Last week as I was heading out, the cadets were heading back in from their run.  I was watching them as they passed me.  There was a mix of runners – some fast, some slower.  I saw one girl running alone.  She reminded me of myself in high school – not exactly what you would envision as an athlete.  As I passed her, I heard her say under her breath, “Don’t quit.”  I understood why she said that.  I have said the same thing to myself many times, taking tests, running races, even in training runs.  Although I would not call what she said a “self-affirmation,” I think she was trying to mentally psych herself up to finish her run.

Source: psychologydictionary.org

Source: psychologydictionary.org

I recently read about a study published in the “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin” that found self-affirmations help people perform better.  According to Sonia Kang PhD., the lead researcher for the study, your actual performance in situations like taking a test is closely related to how you expected you would do.  If you don’t have high expectations for yourself, then you probably won’t do as well.  Dr. Kang notes that self-affirmation – thinking “I will pass this test” for example – is a way to neutralize the negative thoughts.  Both thinking and writing down self-affirmations can help, though research indicates writing them down may be more effective.

While the study was informative, it was not as easy to digest as the book I read “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big” by Scott Adams, best known as the creator of the “Dilbert” comic strip.  In his book Scott writes about his successes, his failures, and things he has learned from both.  Scott explained how self-affirmation helped him in his life.  According to Scott, self-affirmation “helps you focus, boosts your optimism and energy, and perhaps validates the talent and drive that your subconscious always knew you had.”

DSCN0659I can recall many situations in my own life where my mind was ready to throw in the towel.   A few years ago, I had to take a professional certification exam.  My past experience taking standardized tests had not been good.  I would panic and my test scores reflected it.  It didn’t help that I heard horror stories from others who had taken this particular exam and failed.  When I was preparing for the exam, I used self-affirmation.  Sitting on my desk was a Franklin Covey bag with the words “I will”.  Every day I looked at that bag and read that out loud. “I will.”  My cubicle mate had to listen to me saying my daily mantra.  He even joined in and would respond with “Yes, you will.”  When I took the exam, the man who scored my exam said he had never seen scores as high as mine.  The next day I crossed out “I will” on the bag and wrote “I DID!!”

One of my mantras for race day

One of my mantras for race day

In a pre-race show before April’s Boston Marathon, Frank Shorter said that the half-way point of a marathon is not at mile 13.1.  It is at mile 20, when your body says enough already.  But you still have 6.2 more miles until the finish line.  Self-affirmation becomes the tool that gets me through those last miles.  I have used lots of mantras to remind myself that I have done the training, I am ready, and I can finish.  My mantra changes with the race, depending on how training went and how I feel on race day.  Yes, self-affirmation works for me.

I would love to see that young girl on the trail again.  I would tell her to change “Don’t quit” to “I WILL finish!”  She needs to really believe it to do it.

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I highly recommend the Scott Adams book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.”  Although Scott points out that people shouldn’t take advice from a guy who writes a comic strip, his stories are things you can understand and relate to in your own life.  My husband and I found the book to be informative, funny, and inspiring.  After finishing the book, my husband made positive changes to his diet and lifestyle – and he is sticking to them!  Don’t ask to borrow my copy of the book, though.   We have parts highlighted and pages flagged with Post-its so we can quickly refer to things we read.  It’s a keeper.

Vacationing Experientially

Training for a marathon requires a 4-5 month commitment of early morning runs in all weather conditions, careful eating, cross training, and lots of rest.  When our family vacation falls in the middle of a training season, I have to figure out ways to fit in my training.

Last week we were on vacation with my friend Patsy in Montana riding horses and herding cows on a gorgeous 6,000 acre ranch – Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge.  There are not a lot of places to run there.  We were up in the mountains (elevation of over 5,000 feet versus 400 feet where I live) so altitude was a challenge.  This is grizzly bear country so I would have to run with bear spray.  That’s extra weight I don’t need to carry when I run.  I talked to my coach Leanne, an easy-going Aussie triathlete who helped get me running again following my diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis (TM) back in 2011.  She planned a week of strength and core training since I would not be able to run.  Leanne’s attitude kept me from stressing out about missing a week of running and let me sit back and enjoy the ride (horseback ride in this case).

I didn't get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

I didn’t get to run in Montana but I did stop in here for some new running clothes.

Herding cattle on a ranch comes under the category of an experiential vacation where you get hands-on experience being a cowboy.  As Boyd Farrow wrote in a recent article for United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine, we traded “our days out of the office for an internship somewhere else.”  Rather than sit back and relax like a typical vacation, we were up with the sun, dressed in our jeans and cowboy hats, to help with the daily chores of managing 600-head of cattle.

DSCN0564 - Version 2

This was the second year that we stayed at Hubbard’s.  Our first year we spent learning the ropes – rounding up stray cattle, moving herds from one pasture to another, and splitting up a herd.  Call it Cowboy 101.  When we returned this year, we were experienced and ready to do more work.  We were a bit disappointed our first day when we moved a measly 6 cows that had gotten separated from the herd.  At dinner that night, we heard another couple talk about moving 60 cattle that day so we complained we wanted more work.  More work on vacation sounds a bit nutty.

Wraymon on his horse, Patch

Wraymon in the Gallatin National Forest

On the second day Wraymon, the wrangler who trained us last year, told us to start moving a herd to another pasture while he went higher up the mountain to get some stragglers.  We remembered all the techniques to use to push a herd along, through trees and thick brush, while watching for cows that were hiding or wandering off.  Everything went smoothly and I can say there was no cow left behind on our watch.  We moved 163 cattle and refreshed our horses by walking them up a creek.  It was just like the Westerns we watched on television as kids.

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

Walking through the creek to cool off the horses

We had a full-day ride (7 hours) up into Gallatin National Forest which was part cattle work and part sightseeing.  It was exciting to  ride through a forest that is only accessible by foot or horseback.  We were treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains plus moved cattle that had gotten on the wrong side of the fence.   According to Patsy’s Fitbit, we covered over 13.5 miles on that ride.  It seems odd to me that a Fitbit would capture steps while on horseback.  I searched the Internet about Fitbits and horseback riding.  From what I found, the Fitbit probably captured the horse’s movement.  Our horses covered a lot of ground that day.

One day there were cows that had gotten out on the county road.  Rather than take the horses out to herd two cows, we herded them back into the pasture on foot.  We pretended we had coconuts just like the knights in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.

Although it seems like I didn’t get much of a workout riding a horse, I did.  Riding horses works different muscles.  I was working my legs, squeezing them to signal to my horse and maintain my seat when we jogged and loped.  To maintain my balance on the horse, I worked my core.  It is an intense workout – different than what I would get running but still beneficial.  It was like one week of cross training.  Every night we did a full-body stretch which helped minimize sore muscles, especially my abductors.  Plus I did the core and strength training routines Leanne had outlined in my training plan for the week.

I can tell when I have had a great vacation because re-entry into normal life back home is very difficult after a great vacation.  I have been struggling the last few days to get back into my normal routine.  I missed a long run and it keeps getting pushed out, waiting for me to recover.  I know I will get it in eventually.   The other day we drove past a field of Black Angus.  My husband and I looked at each other.  We felt like hopping on horses and doing some herding.  We’ll have to wait until we can get back to Hubbard’s.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard's.

The view from the back of our lodge at Hubbard’s.

Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge is an Orvis flyfishing and horseback riding lodge on the north border of Yellowstone National Park.  The best testament to the quality of Hubbard’s is the number of repeat guests.  The scenery is incredible – this is what they mean when they say “million dollar views.”  The staff is extremely attentive and friendly.  Last year I wanted sarsaparilla but it wasn’t something that they kept on hand.  This year they made sure to stock up for me and I got to enjoy sarsaparilla floats for dessert.  If you have a cowboy adventure or fly-fishing on your bucket list, make your way to Hubbard’s.  They will give you an experience you will never forget.

In case you missed it last week, Lily Trotters launched their Kickstarter campaign.  Early birds get the best deals on the best and cutest compression socks.  I can’t wait to get more pairs.  Don’t miss out!

Trotting Out in Compression Socks

I have mentored several runners through their first marathons.  I told them all to think of training runs as “dress rehearsal” for race day.  The number one rule of marathoning is you should never wear/eat anything new on race day.  You don’t want to get out there and find out those snazzy new shoes you bought at the Expo really don’t feel so good at Mile 12 or that new sports drink makes you sick.  Getting picked up by the sag wagon due to running gear issues would just waste months of training.

I am in training mode for the Berlin Marathon.  I am using my training runs to try out all the new nutrition, hydration, and running gear that I picked up at Expos this spring.  I will be sharing my opinions with you (and maybe save you some money on things that I find aren’t so great).

Today I have to tell you about the most incredible compression socks that I tried – Lily Trotters.  They are getting ready to launch a Kickstarter campaign and they generously sent me a pair to try out.  Within the running community, there is a debate about the benefits of compression socks.  Even Runners World recently stepped into the fray and had an article on the compression sock debate.  Lots of my running buddies wear them.  I have tried compression socks in the past but never felt comfortable running in them or even wearing them after a run.  But Lily Trotters makes a compression sock that is unlike the others I have tried.

My Lily Trotters!

My Lily Trotters!

First off, the Lily Trotters socks are easy to get on.  I found the other compression sock brands are almost impossible to get on.  It is like a wrestling match to get them over my foot.   And heaven forbid if they don’t line up correctly when I pull them up.  I have to wrestle with them again to pull them down and straighten them out.  I shouldn’t have to fight to get my clothes on or off.  (In case you are wondering, I had been measured and was wearing the correct size.)  The Lily Trotters folks must know how that feels because putting on their compression socks is easy peasy.

Second, the Lily Trotters are not excessively tight in the toe box.  Toes are important for balance and for running.  My toes like to stretch and move around in my shoes.  David Carrier, a biologist at Brown University, along with his colleagues Kathleen Earls and Norman Heglund, analyzed people walking and running to see how they used their toes.  They found that toes are like the gears in a car.  Our toes help us accelerate from standing still or going from a walk to a run – a bit like going from first to second gear.  I need my toes to be able to wiggle around so I can get into a higher gear and run.  The other brands of compression socks bound my toes tightly together.  My poor toes felt like they were being strangled.  It was painful.  My toes were not helping me run.  The Lily Trotters let me wiggle my toes.  I don’t feel like my socks are holding me back.  The Lily Trotters even feel great when I wear them all day – happy toes, not strangled toes.

Finally, the Lily Trotters have fun colors and designs.  The other brands of compression socks are not attractive.  I always looked like I was wearing something that I got at a hospital.   I am not a vain person but I like to have a little style, even when I run.  Lily Trotters socks look so good I would enjoy wearing them when I am running on the trail or to the store.

I will be honest – I still love my Balega socks.  My legs need to breathe in warm weather and high socks seem to make me hotter.  I definitely will keep wearing my Balegas for warm weather runs.  But I will try running again in my Lily Trotters when the weather is cooler.  I think they would be perfect for cold weather running when my Balegas are a bit too chilly.

I love wearing my Lily Trotters after a long run to help with recovery.  I did a long run right before I hopped on a plane for a 2-hour flight.  I wore my Lily Trotters on the plane and was amazed at how wonderful my legs felt after sitting so long.

I guess I am a bit like Goldilocks with compression socks.  They can’t be too tight or too loose.  They need to have just the right amount of support without strangling my toes.  Lily Trotters do just that for me and they look great doing it.  Lily Trotters made me a compression sock convert.

Lily Trotters will be launching their Kickstarter campaign on July 14.  I signed up to be notified when the launch happens.  I want to get more Lily Trotters in the other fun designs.  Here is a link to their website so you can sign up to be notified for early-bird discounts.