What I Learned from Half-Marathon Training

Happy Spring everyone! There’s really nothing better than some fresh flowers on the first day of Spring.

I’m still basking in the glow of my first half-marathon this past Sunday. Over the last couple of days, as people have asked me “so how was it?”, I’ve describe it as, “The most physically and mentally demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life.” I honestly was prepared for the physical demand of the race, but the mental demand of the race was something that I was not quite as prepared for. There was a point in the race where I just wanted to quit. I wanted to walk off the course, find one of the many cops lining the edge of the course and say, “that’s it. I’m done.”

But I didn’t.

I pushed through. I got through these rough moments by thinking about Bernie and my parents and friends waiting for me at the finish line. I knew they would be there, with funny signs in hand, and cheering loudly. I couldn’t let them down. I worked too hard to not make it all the way.

Immediately after finishing, I knew that half-marathons were for me. I’m so ready to do another one! There’s a half in Boston in October that I plan on doing, and I’m looking forward to start training again. I’m already looking up training plans to help me shed my time. 2:12 is a good base, and I want to improve upon it.

As with everything in life, training was definitely a learning experience. I had never really trained diligently for a race before, so this was the first time. A few things I learned while training for my first half-marathon include:

  • PB/banana toast is my go-to pre-run fuel. There’s a reason a lot of people eat it before running, it works.
  • Fruit flavored Gu’s are WAYYYY better than the other non-fruit Gu’s.
  • Chomps don’t always sit well with my stomach. Use with caution.
  • My fuel belt was the best $40 I’ve ever spent.
  • When in doubt, go to the chiropractor. When my lower back/hips were hurting, the chiropractor fixed it and taught me at-home exercises that I could do to make them stronger. I’m officially a chiro convert.
  • There’s a really nice bathroom in the Boston Common. It came in handy many times.
  • My body can do amazing things. I learned that my body is so much stronger than I thought it was. I can push it harder than I ever thought I could. I need to trust it more.
  • Self confidence and body love. I haven’t always had the best love affair with my body, but after running the marathon, I am in awe of what it can do. I will no longer take it for granted and will appreciate every muscle.
  • Compression shorts are the JAM! I won a pair of Aspaeris compression shorts on Julie’s blog (I was shocked – I never win anything) and they are the greatest invention known to man. I wore them the nights leading up to the race, and immediately after the race, and over the last two nights post-race. It’s now 2 days after the race and I have no muscle soreness. If you often have hip pain after running long runs, invest in some high-quality compression shorts for recovery. I swear to you – they’re miraculous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Running really is for me. Some people run a big race like a half-marathon and realize that running is just not for them. After my experience on Sunday, my love for running has been reaffirmed. Running is definitely for me.

I’m already looking forward to my next race – the B.A.A 5k the day before the Boston Marathon. Steph and I are running the race, and then will spend the next day cheering on the Boston runners! It’s going to be a blast!

Until next time; readers – have you ever experienced similar mental blocks during a race like I did? How did you overcome them? What has running taught you? Share!

New Bedford Half Marathon Race Recap

I did it! I ran 13.1 miles and finished my first half marathon!

I couldn’t be more prouder of myself and my roommate Steph – who PR’ed!

Let’s go back to yesterday. The night before I packed everything I would need in my bag, created my playlist, and charged my iPod.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early. I slept like a BABY – I was really surprised. I thought I was going to be nervous and toss and turn all night. I had my normal pre-run breakfast, got dressed, and off we went. New Bedford is about an hour and ten minutes from Boston, and we made it in about that time. No traffic. Parking at the race was actually really easy. There were a ton of people there, but parking lots were numerous and had spaces left.

Steph and I made our way to get out numbers and boy, was it crowded! This year they had their largest field ever – 3,350 runners. Last year it was 2,730 – the largest to date.

After getting our numbers, we got ready, warmed up, and took some pictures to remember the moment. My parents came from NY to watch, and our Boston support group included Bernie, Steph’s boyfriend Micah, and our friend Devon.

Then we made our way to the start. It was a beautiful day in New England – 60 degrees and sunny. Perfect for a race.

And we’re off!

For the first two miles, Steph and I ran together. We were going at a good pace and I felt really good, but I knew something was wrong. I was going WAYYYY too fast way too early. For the first two miles, I averaged an 8:30 – 8:40 pace. I knew I had to slow down, so I told Steph to go for it, and off she went. After mile 2 there was a HUGE hill. It looked scary and it sucked, but since it was so early in the race, it really wasn’t that bad. I was enjoying the race and loved seeing all the signs that people brought to cheer on the racers. At the 10k mark, I clocked in at 55:32. But then. The wall.

I have never actually hit the proverbial ‘wall’ while running. I think it was a mixture of the heat, the constant sun beating down on us, and my big rookie mistake – going out too fast too early. As you can see from my splits, everything went down hill at mile 8. I was overheated, dehydrated, and tired. I had nothing left. I took a Gu at mile 6, but it sat like the biggest rock in my stomach.

The last 5.1 miles were the roughest miles of my life. At mile 8-10, the course looped around the edge of the ocean, so the breeze both cooled me off, and slowed me down. At this point in the race, I knew my goal of running a sub-2 hours was not within my reach. My goal at this point was to just finish strong. I began to walk through every water station, taking in as much water as I could. Every mile, I promised myself that I would walk for 30 seconds.

I hated myself during these miles. I started to beat myself up for quitting. I felt like my Gu was going to come up for a few miles. It was the toughest moment of my life. Mile 12 was another hill, a sort of heart-break hill like in the Boston Marathon. As I was running up the mile 12 hill, I started to see more and more runners who had already finished lining up the sides of the course, cheering on runners. At one point, a man who was sitting on the curb with a finishers medal around his neck looked me directly in the eye and said, “Don’t stop! You’re almost at the top…it’s all down hill from there!!”

That was it. I was going to finish. At that point, I knew that I was going to finish the race. I turned the corner and saw the finishing line. It was the most glorious sight I had ever seen.

One of our signs. Probably my favorite.

Then, I spotted them – my cheerleaders! They had made a couple of signs and once I saw the “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass!” sign, I knew it was them. Clearly I was happy.

I crossed the line in 2:12:58, and honestly, I didn’t care. I finished. I finished running strong and I didn’t vomit on myself! I was so ecstatic! It took a few minutes for it all to sink in. Once I found everyone, I found out that Steph beat her last half marathon time by a whole 15 minutes!! She finished in 1:49:56! She’s a rock star and I’m so proud of her!

Bernie came up to me after the race and said “I had a great time! I totally see why you did this! I want to do some 5k’s with you!” That took me back completely. Bernie has been very supportive during my training, but he always thought I was crazy. He didn’t get it – why would I run this? Only crazy people run long distances for no reason. After he experienced the excitement of the race and the energy, he was totally into it! I’m excited that he wants to do some 5k’s!

After the race, we stretched out, changed and went to find some food. My stomach was pretty unsettled for a good hour after the race, and I couldn’t even think about food, but we ended up at the Waterfront Grille for some seafood and beer. Steph and I had some celebratory drinks while we waited for our food.

Devon and Micah

Overall, I would do it again in a heartbeat. The satisfaction and pure joy that I experienced when I crossed the finish line was worth every shitty mile. There is another half I plan on doing in October, so I’m going to take this experience and learn from it. There are definitely a few things that I know I will fix for next time:

  1. Wear my fuel belt with my own water. I got so dehydrated and I was jealous of every person with their own water on the course.
  2. DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST. I need to slow the hell down! I went out way too fast. If this was a 10 k, then I did awesome. But it wasn’t.
  3. Eat more breakfast if I’m eating 4 hours before the race. I only had one piece of pb toast and banana for breakfast. My stomach felt weird in the morning, and I didn’t want to stuff more food in it. Bad decision. I needed more fuel. And the chomps I had right before running did not settle well in my stomach.
  4. Wear sunscreen, even if it’s a March race. I got burned. Ouch. Who wears sunscreen in March?!

For now, I’m still basking in the glow of the race. Now I’m off to foam roll my tired muscles. Thank you to everyone for all your comments of encouragement on the blog yesterday! It definitely helped! And a big thank you to Steph, Micah, Devon, Bernie, and my parents – you guys were the best cheerleaders/supporters ever!

13.1 or Bust!!

Today is the day! Today I run the 35th annual New Bedford Half Marathon. I’m super excited! I’ve gone through weeks of sore muscles, an aching back, many Gu’s, and cold Sunday mornings – but it’s here!

If you want to follow updates in real time, follow me on twitter!

See ya on the other side!

[source]

Tapering Like a Champ

Happy Friday everyone! It’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend!

This past week, I began the part of half-marathon training that everyone looks forward to; TAPER WEEK!

my thoughts exactly. Taper week=scary.

So far, I’m not really enjoying taper week. I feel anxious. I feel like I should be out running and doing other various crazy things. Here’s what my week has looked like so far:

  • Sunday: Lovely 8.5 mile run with Steph. Last long run! We high-fived afterward.
  • Monday: Gym, jump rope circuit and too many squats. Ouch.
  • Tuesday: 4 mile run outside, which sucked. My hips were super sore from previously stated squats. Stupid Sarah.
  • Wednesday: 60 min spin class with my favorite spin instructor who is 1 week away from her due date. She’s so pregnant it’s insane. Felt amazing to spin. Slept in my compression shorts.
  • Thursday: I was scheduled to run an easy 2 miles, but my stomach was NOT feeling too great throughout the afternoon, so I decided against it. I foam rolled my IT bands until I was bruised. Slept in my compression shorts again.

Today I plan on doing nothing, again. ‘Rest’ is the operative word this week. There are a lot of theories about how long one should taper for certain distance races, and how much activity is too much. I found a pretty great article with tips or first-time marathoners from an old Runner’s World “Ask Coach Jenny” blog. Some of my favorite tips include:

Have faith in your preparation, especially during the taper. Something mystical happens when you begin to taper your mileage to rest up for the race. It’s a little like taking away Linus’s blanket as there is comfort in training because you are actively moving towards your target race. As you reduce the mileage, the nervousness sets in. Remember that tapering allows your body time to rest and accumulate energy at the rate of a slow simmer so that on race day you are fresh and ready to rumble. Review your training log to remind yourself of the base you have going into the race and visualize a strong run during the season. You are well prepared and that is the best insurance against earning that medal.

I found myself reading over my training log today. My first ‘long run’ was 5 miles. Within 7 weeks, I doubled that and ran 11.5 miles for my final long run. That’s insanity! I’ve come a long way in a pretty short period of time. Over the course of training, I’ve gone from hating running, to being absolutely head-over-heels in love with it. My overall love for running has increased and I’m surprised how much I enjoyed my slow and easy long runs.

Warn your family and friends that you’ll have the stability of a 3-year-old child on race day. I’ve borrowed this line from my husband John Bingham, and it’s true. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned veteran, making even the smallest decisions like what to eat and what to wear will feel like life changing moments during race week. Ask your support team for extra patience, because they’ll need it. Anticipate this temporary state of immaturity and lay out your clothes the night before the race. It helps to try on everything you plan to wear (bib number, chip on shoe…) The more prepared you are the night before, the better.

Bernie is probably already so sick of hearing about running, he could scream. It’s become my entire life, especially over the last couple weeks. I don’t know what will happen on race day on Sunday, but I might cry. We’ll see.

Run the tangents! It took me several years to learn this nugget of information and I shaved minutes off my time once I did. When a race course is measured (and certified) it follows the tangents to the curves. A tangent is a straight line just outside the curve (or as close to the curve while still on the road). For example, Sandra the runner sees a curve on the course and runs a straight line (tangent to) the inside of the curve. Beth (who is not paying attention and didn’t read this blog) follows the curve in the road.  Curve for curve, Beth will end up running more mileage in the end. Sandra will run the measured 13.1 miles (and be showered  before Beth finishes). This will help you in two very important ways:  One, it keeps your mind actively engaged in running the course as you think your way through every turn.  Two, you’ll run only 13.1 miles! You can add more than a quarter-mile to the course by taking the long way around turns! Stay focused, grasshopper, and set yourself up efficiently as you wind through the course.

I figured this out from running a lot of 5k’s, but I didn’t even think about it for the half marathon. I plan on doing this as much as possible. While I have a time goal in my head, I decided the other day not to hold myself to it. This is my first half marathon and my first time running the distance, ever. I really should focus on enjoying every second.

Only 2 days to go! Thankfully, the weather is going to be gorgeous – almost 70 degrees! The average temperature this winter while I was running was between 35-40 degrees. 70 degrees is going to be quite a change. Hopefully it doesn’t completely throw me off.

 

Readers: Seasoned marathoners/racers – what are your tapering tips? Have you ever tapered before? What are you doing this weekend?

Cutting Myself Some Slack

I loved hearing all about the things you’re most thankful for/are loving yesterday. Sounds like a few of you also are in love with French bulldogs. Who could say no to this face?!

Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room for a second.

Cue the panic!

Last night, I went for an easy 4 mile run outside. The weather here has been beyond gorgeous. I ran in shorts and a tank top and was SWEATING after 4 miles. It also was a pretty tough 4 miles.

Notttttttttt exactly the splits that I like seeing. My hips were EXTREMELY tight. I think I overdid it on Monday at the gym with the squats and the hip strengthening moves. I need to remind myself that I should be taking it easier this week, since it is taper week. Steph and I went for our final long run on Sunday – a pretty nice 8.5 miles.

(my garmin took half a mile to finish loading the satellite signal…weird. Just add .6 miles to this.)

This whole positive split thing seems to be a theme. I’m not too worried – I need to remind myself that with New Bedford being my first half marathon, and the first time ever running 13.1 miles, I need to cut myself a little slack. I’d love to finish the race in under 2 hours, but if that doesn’t happen, I can’t beat myself up over it. Just training for this race has been a challenge – if I want to come out of it injury free (minus some soreness) I need to just chill out on the self-induced pressure. I’m a perfectionist, I always have been. There is no such thing as half-assing anything with me. This is a blessing, but also a curse. Over the next 4 days, I plan to focus on the fun aspect of the race and how crazy and cool it is that I committed myself to training for something for 15 weeks straight. That’s an accomplishment even in itself! Who cares if I run a sub 2-hour half marathon! I certainly do, but I really shouldn’t. That’s my goal for the next few days.

 

Readers: Are you also a perfectionist like me? How do you relax before a big race? Any tips for how to let go of the self-induced pressure and just have fun? Any half-marathoners out there with tips for Sunday?!

10 Things

I know, you’re probably thinking, “Where is the Travel Tuesday post?!” Not to worry – it will be back next week. I wanted to do a final write up about mine and Bernie’s experience with Contiki, and I want to make sure it covers everything, so I need another week to finish it. TT will be back next week, promise :).

Spring is all about renewal, new beginnings, and loving life. With the warm weather finally approaching and Spring around the corner, I thought I would share some things that I’ve been loving/am thankful for with Spring around the corner.

1. Red onions. They make EVERYTHING better.

2. Zucchini fries. Just zucchini cut long, dredged in egg white, then coated in breadcrumbs (mixed with parm cheese, salt, pepper, onion powder) and baked at 425 degrees for 20 min, flipping twice. Yum Yum Yum!

3. This weather! Yesterday it hit over 70 degrees in Boston. I rode home from work with the windows down and the sun roof open. This makes me VERY happy!

4. My body/my body’s strength and resilience. I’ve lasted 15 weeks of training for my first half marathon without anything worse than some tight hips and IT band. Injuries have been avoided and I feel stronger, faster, and more sure of myself. I can’t wait to run 13.1 miles on Sunday!

5. Naps. I took a nap Sunday night after a morning filled with an 8 mile long-ish run and grocery shopping. I told Bernie I felt tired, so I went and laid down for a quick power nap. 2 hours later, he woke me up and asked me if I was going to cook dinner. This is a rare occurrence – I never nap. Honestly, Bernie might be onto something with these naps. I felt pretty good afterward.

6. Foam roller. An absolute lifesaver. My life was changed forever when I was told by my orthopedist to try it out. My muscles have changed forever. Thank you, Foamy.

7. Bernie. I know it’s corny to be thankful for your boyfriend, or whatever, but he’s been amazingly supportive during my grueling training (aka: “Pretending you’re a Kenyan” he says). He’s also been my partner in crime with everything. I’m moving in with him come August, and it’s been fun redoing his condo and making it more of a home before I join. I’m getting really excited to live together!

8. My mom’s soda bread. She makes it every March around St. Patrick’s Day and has been sending me a loaf every year since I went away to college. My mom isn’t Irish at all (she’s Dutch and Ukrainian/Polish) but my father is 100% Irish (Southern Ireland – Co. Kerry/Cork). My mom is basically honorary Irish; she made my Irish Nana proud! The soda bread is pretty awesome, and she always send some really good jam to go with it.

9. My Garmin forerunner 405. Again, another item that changed my running game forever. I don’t know how I ran for years without one.

10. French Bulldog puppies. Bernie and I have discussed getting a dog within the next year or so, and we’re leaning toward a Frenchie. If I have a puppy as cute as this one, I will be the happiest girl alive.

[image source]

 

Readers: What are some things you’re thankful for/loving right now? What are some things you’ve been doing to take advantage of the warm weather?

To Work Out, Or Not to Work Out

This is what my life has come to over the last 24 hours.

Sarah’s head cold 2012 is here and in charge.

I am thankful, however, that the cold is basically focused only above the neck. I have no sore throat, my lungs feel strong, no cough. It’s basically all focused in my nasal passages. I’ve only had to deal with a stuffy nose, sneezing, and headaches. Not really being able to breathe out of my nose has definitely drained some of my energy, but I feel alright overall.

I woke up this morning sort of eager to get moving. I wasn’t tired. I felt okay (other than not being able to breathe normally) and wanted to do SOMETHING! I am not a good sick person. I am the type of person who’s first thought when I sit down is usually “what else should I be doing right now?”. I don’t rest. There is no such thing as full relaxation. I like to feel productive at all times. If I’m sitting on the couch watching TV, I may seem like I’m doing nothing, but I usually have a million other things going on at the same time. A load of laundry is probably in the washer, the dishwasher is probably running, and my laptop is open to some sort of to-do list. Sufficient to say I don’t like doing nothing, so this whole rest thing has been tough over the last day or so.

As I started to clean the apartment this morning, I noticed that my nasal passages started to open up. MIRACULOUS – I CAN BREATHE! I realized that maybe working out was a possibility today. I always knew the “neck” rule with working out while sick; if your symptoms are above the neck (stuffy/runny nose, sore throat, sneezing) it’s okay to work out, but if your symptoms are below the neck (cough, shortness of breath, body aches) no gym for you. I did a little googling this morning and found an article from 2008 in the NYT all about whether you should work out with a cold or not.

Since my symptoms are all above the neck, I knew I would be physically able to work out, but is it a good idea? Would resting help me recover better from my cold faster, and would working out hinder my recovery? Maybe not…

Once again, Dr, Kaminsky and his colleagues infected volunteers with a rhinovirus. This time, the subjects were 34 young men and women who were randomly assigned to a group that would exercise with their colds and 16 others who were assigned to rest.

The group that exercised ran on treadmills for 40 minutes every other day at moderate levels of 70 percent of their maximum heart rates.

Every 12 hours, all the subjects in the study completed questionnaires about their symptoms and physical activity. The researchers collected the subjects’ used facial tissues, weighing them to assess their cold symptoms.

The investigators found no difference in symptoms between the group that exercised and the one that rested. And there was no difference in the time it took to recover from the colds. But when the exercisers assessed their symptoms, Dr. Kaminsky said, “people said they felt O.K. and, in some cases, they actually felt better.”

 

I thought this article was really interesting. It seems that working out if you have a head cold does not hinder recovery from that cold, in fact, some people actually felt better. That’s awesome news – especially since my last long run before the half marathon is tomorrow.

So with that, it looks like I will be working out today. I’ll be taking it pretty easy; maybe a 2 mile run on the treadmill and some weight training, but nothing crazy. Not HIIT today, no hills, no speed intervals, just a nice and easy workout.

 

Readers: How do you deal with being sick? Do you indulge in resting, or are you just restless like me? What is your favorite remedy for a cold?