My Running Super Power and Kryptonite

I’ll admit I stole borrowed the idea for this post from a fellow blogger who wrote on the subject several months ago, which you can read here if you’d like. In response to her post, I wrote that my superhero power was the ability to judge distances when I’m running (I’ll have a number in my head and check my watch to see if I’m right, like a game when I’m running) and my kryptonite was my weak stomach especially before running races.

For those of you that might not be Superman fans, this is from the superhero character “Superman,” who has superhuman strength and other abilities, but he also has a serious weakness. He is from the planet Krypton and when a rock from his homeland comes anywhere near him, Superman is cripplingly weakened. If someone asks you what your “kryptonite” is, they mean what’s your weakness.

Anyway, I was intrigued by that blog post and thought it would be a good prompt for a post of my own. I filed the thought away and then promptly forgot about it until I was out on a run recently. While I am pretty good at judging distances when I’m running, I think I have an even better answer for a superhero power, my ability to adapt to the heat.

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From Street Fighter V; perhaps an exaggeration

This past summer seemed hot and humid as usual but I noticed pretty quickly into the early weeks of “official” summer that I wasn’t struggling so much when I would run outside. This is nothing new to me; I feel like I’ve always been better at adapting to warm or hot weather than cold weather. I’ve often joked to others around me if I’m hot, it must really be hot outside or in a room.

Being able to adapt quickly to hot weather is a definite advantage when you live in the South like I do and often have days in the 80’s and many days in the 90’s as well during the summer. Of course the flip side of those hot days means the winters are mild and we usually only see snow once or twice each winter. Sometimes the snow just melts as soon as it hits the ground so there’s not even any accumulation. I absolutely despise cold weather so no or little snow is a great thing in my book!

If you’re going to run a fall race, like so many people do, that means running through at least part of the summer. The better you are at adapting to hot weather, the easier time you will have making your goal times for speed sessions and for just being able to put in the miles. As much as the treadmill is better than not running at all, there simply is no substitute for running outside, either.

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Running in Hilton Head, South Carolina during the heat of the summer

Are there ways to help your body adapt to hot weather? Sure, the usual like gradually increase your time spent outside (it takes about two weeks to acclimate to hot weather), drink cool water and/or electrolytes before you go out and bring some with you if you’re going for an intense or long run, and wear hot weather appropriate clothing. Some people also put ice cubes in their hats or sports bra before they run. Honestly, though, some people’s bodies are just better at adapting to hot weather and they may never be able to completely change that. Some people are also more efficient at sweating, which helps cool you off.

So, yes, if I was a running superhero, my power would be the ability to withstand extremely hot weather. The downside is I have a weakness toward cold weather and especially cold, dry air but that’s not my true kryptonite when it comes to running. My true kryptonite is my weak stomach before races.

I’ve been known to throw up before many a half marathon. You would think after running 49 half marathons plus a marathon and random other distances to round off to around 56 or so races, I would be over the nervous stomach before a race. Nope. I still get at least a little nauseous before each and every single race and sometimes I go from the verge of almost throwing up to the full point of actually throwing up.

Sure, I’ve tried all of the mind tricks before a race like telling myself how much fun I’m going to have. No pressure! Just have fun! I still feel sick. I visualize the course after actually driving the course the day before. I practice other imagery like me crossing the finish line or just running on the course. I’m still sick. I practice meditation. I make sure only positive thoughts cross my mind and I dismiss any negative thoughts. I’ve tried not eating solid foods before a race, just drink my calories. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing works, so now I just know that I’m going to feel nauseous and that’s OK. That’s actually normal for me. I embrace the nausea.

What about you guys? What is your running superhero power and kryptonite?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon, Omaha, Nebraska- 47th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Nebraska was my 47th state.

When I was looking at half marathons in Nebraska, I only found a couple that interested me, to be honest. Once I had run half marathons in around 40 or so states and had gotten the list down to my last several states, of which Nebraska belonged, I thought I would run the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon in Omaha on Thanksgiving weekend. But then more recently I started thinking about all of that and then I started overthinking everything.

I’ve never run a trail race before. Ever. That’s one strike. Omaha weather over Thanksgiving weekend can be pretty cold and I don’t run well in the cold. That’s two strikes. I started to question if that was really the best race for me given those two big factors. Then I saw an ad for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha and that race suddenly seemed much more appealing.

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Not only would it be warmer because the race was a month earlier than the other race the end of November, it wasn’t a trail race and part of the course was around a lake so it should be at least fairly scenic and hopefully flat. It was for a good cause, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, too. Plus there would be hot cider and caramel apples at the finish! Even better, you get a finisher mug and pullover! That’s way more pros for the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon than for the Feast and Feathers Trail Half Marathon. I’m in!

Packet pickup was on Saturday, October 26 at Fleet Feet Omaha from 10 am to 5 pm. There was the option of race-day packet pickup, but that was “not suggested” according to the race website. Finally, you could also have your packet mailed to you for $12.99. The only thing in my packet was the aforementioned pullover and race bib in a reusable tote bag. There were no other vendors presumably because it was in a somewhat small store so there wasn’t room for much else.

I did have a bit of a panic attack the night before the race when I happened to click on something on Google Maps on my phone and it said the race was at 8:10 am. I thought the race started at 8:30, so I went through my emails and the race website and everything else I could find to clarify. The confirmation email I had said the race start was 8:30, but the race website and everywhere else said it was 8:10. I figured it would be safer to go with the earlier time and if I was early that would be fine. It turns out the race start was indeed 8:10 am. Also, it was chip-timed, so even if I would have shown up at the race 20 minutes later than I did, it would have been fine, but I would have been in a total panic and wondered (wrongly) why the race started early.

A cold front moved into Omaha on Saturday evening and by Sunday morning, there was a frigid wind that had come down from Canada with gusts up to 18 mph, and to top it off, the sky was completely overcast. The temperature was in the low 40’s, which would have been fine for running a half marathon, but with the wind and lack of sun, it was so cold my feet were numb for the first three miles of the race.

The race start and finish was at a local high school, Skutt Catholic. Although there were plenty of parking spaces, many were already full by the time we got there around 7:40, but we were still able to find a spot. I made my way to the port-o-johns, reluctantly handed over my warm coat to my husband (who wasn’t running), and lined up at the start. The half marathon started promptly at 8:10 and included a 5k that also started at the same time. This caused quite a bit of congestion for the first couple of miles until the 5k runners split off from the half marathoners.

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Just before the race start

The vast majority of the race was around Lake Zorinsky, criss-crossing, looping, and zig-zagging around the paths that went around the lake and through the park. Lake Zorinsky has an interesting background story that you can read about here, which goes to show the power of the running community. Overall I would say the course was scenic and there were plenty of water views.

All was going pretty well for me until I noticed somewhere between miles 4 and 5 that my left shoelace had become undone, despite double-knotting it. I took off my gloves, tied my shoe, put my gloves back on, and continued on my way. Later, those 20-something seconds that took it to do all of that would come back to bite me.

Most of the course was relatively flat with short, moderate hills until we reached mile 7, and that was uphill pretty much for about a mile, but then we got to go downhill for a while to make up for it. We had to run uphill again in the 10th and 11th miles, but thankfully we got to run downhill for the last section until the course leveled off at the finish. There was almost no crowd support but there were these two women who were cheering everyone on at the first part of the race, around mile 5 and again towards the end, around mile 13. They were shouting things like, “You’re beautiful! You’re strong!” and for me because I was wearing a purple shirt, “Go purple! You’ve got this!” I love people at races like that. At races where it’s freezing cold like this one, people like that are appreciated even more by me.

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Lake Zorinsky in the background, where most of the course wrapped around

There were plenty of aid stations along the course, with water and Gatorade being handed out at five places along the course. I don’t remember seeing port-o-johns along the course, but perhaps I missed them if they were there. There are bathrooms at the park, though, so that would have been an option for runners.

My goal for this race was to finish under 2 hours, preferably under 1:55, and I finished in 1:54. Given the weather and the fact that I run far better when it’s warm than when it’s cold, I was happy with my finish time. Now for the DOH! moment. I checked finish times that were posted as they came in and the woman that finished third in my age group finished 23 seconds ahead of me. Of course all I could think about was, “Had I not had to stop to tie my shoe, I would have finished in third place.” BUT I don’t live my life by what-if’s, so I happily took my fourth place in age group finish along with a time that’s my second-fastest ever for a half marathon.

Now for the fun stuff- the swag! When I crossed the finish line, a volunteer handed me a mug that had a medal, bottle of water, and small bag of trail mix in it. The mug is of good quality; for some reason I expected a small, metal mug but this is a nice-sized ceramic mug with the Hot Cider Hustle logo and year on it. There was another table full of caramel apples, some with nuts, some without. I can attest that the caramel apple I got was absolutely delicious! Finally, the name-sake of the race, the hot cider. There was a table with big containers to dispense the hot cider either into your own mug or paper cups. A nice and friendly volunteer happily poured a cup for me when she saw my hands weren’t working properly after the race. This was delicious, steamy hot cider, as it should be, not lukewarm or watered-down in the least. I ended up getting two cups because it was so good and warmed me up.

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Sorry about the dark photo, but it was so overcast!

Would I recommend this race? Yes, despite the frigid wind and hills on the latter part of the course. I realize weather can vary from year-to-year, especially in October in Omaha. Besides, the temperature itself was reasonable for a half marathon, it was just the wind that got me, and maybe next year it wouldn’t be so windy. The hills at the end weren’t exactly fun, but they were short enough that I didn’t hate the race director either, and I did at least get to run downhill afterwards, straight to the finish line. The race was well-organized and had plenty of volunteers from pre-race to finish. Finally, this race coincided perfectly with peak fall foliage in Omaha, so it was absolutely beautiful seeing all of the yellow and orange leaves on the trees everywhere (not much red, for some reason, but a little).

Date of my race was October 27, 2019

Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon and 5k in Omaha, Nebraska

Have you run a race in Nebraska? If so, which one did you run? If not, is it on your list of places to run? Have you run another Hot Cider race in another city?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

My Dream Half Marathon

Have you ever thought about what you would do if you were a race director? I started thinking about how I would design my dream half marathon if I could be the race director and also add in some things that probably would never happen in reality, but hey, it’s fun to just think “What if?” sometimes. I’ve experienced quite the variety of races over the years in states all over the United States ranging from big cities to small towns. Some of the races offered things that I thought were a great idea and other races were so poorly ran I thought surely no one on the team for the race could be a runner because no runner would ever do something like that in a race.

So how would I design a race if I was in charge of absolutely everything including location, weather, and had an unlimited budget and a surplus of volunteers to help me pull it off? Well, for starters I would offer a half marathon because that’s my favorite distance. We could have a marathon the day after the half in case anyone wanted to run both races and of course give the runners a total of three medals, one for each race ran and one for completing both races.

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Some pretty nice views from a race start like this would be good. This was the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah.

Packet pick-up would be at a school or other place big enough to have a variety of vendors giving out free samples. Nuun and Honey Stinger would both be there, letting people try their products. Zensah would be there selling their compression socks and other running gear that I love but at a discounted price for runners. If you’re running both the half marathon and full marathon you’d get an even bigger discount on anything you bought at the expo.

There would be a pasta dinner the day before the race with Kara Goucher speaking and offering a short (one hour) running clinic and motivational talk. This pasta dinner would be sponsored by the best Italian restaurant in the state and everyone would rave about how good the food was. Family members of the runners would be encouraged to attend both the pasta dinner and running clinic, which would be offered at an amazing low price thanks to the generosity of sponsors.

There would be many, many port-o-johns at the start of the race and there would be small bonfires attended by volunteers for safety to help keep the runners warm. Hot coffee and tea would also be at the race start. Bart Yasso would be at the race start and after saying some motivational and funny words, the runners would be off. Mr. Yasso would be staying for the duration of the race to call out each runner’s name as they crossed the finish line.

The course would start at the top of a canyon in the mountains (but only maybe up to 3,000 feet in elevation at the peak) and wind its way down through the canyon alongside a river. You could see a beautiful bridge in the distance as you ran. Traffic would be closed off for the race so runners wouldn’t have to worry about cars. You would also be able to watch the sun rise from the start of the race but it would be a cool, cloudy day for the rest of the race.

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Water views like this along the course? Yes, please!

There would be homeowners out along the course cheering runners on, with adorable well-behaved dogs and cute kids holding funny posters, to help keep those smiles coming from runners along the course. Volunteer aid stations would have Nuun and water and Honey Stinger gels and chews. All along the course there would be a wide array of music being played, with local musicians playing classical music, guitarists playing rock music, drummers, a piano player, and more. The volunteer aid stations would all be told to come up with a fun theme and the team with the most votes by runners would win a small prize.

As the course wound its way through the canyon, traveling slightly downhill but not so much to trash your quads, you would pass some waterfalls and see a snow-capped mountain in the distance. There would be a couple of small (very small) hills just to mix things up a bit with your legs along the course. Every mile would be marked with a mile marker sign and include a countdown since the race started (you never know when you may have watch trouble or forget your watch for a race so this would be for those people). There would be pacers on the course who would be following their pace times phenomenally well and were chatty, funny individuals.

You would know when you were getting close to the finish because the last mile would be clearly marked, with a clear shot of the finish line. After entering a football stadium, you would run the last 50 yards of the race on the football field, where you would be handed a small football at the finish line, along with your medal (don’t even bother asking me about logistics of having both a clear shot of the finish line and entering a football stadium). As I mentioned earlier, Bart Yasso would call out each runner’s name as they were crossing the finish.

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Bart Yasso at the finish of the Skinny Raven Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska

Beer from a local brewery, chocolate milk, ice cold water, smoothies, and Nuun would be all of your free beverage choices post-race. There would be pizza, soft pretzels, watermelon slices, bananas, a variety of soups, chocolate chip cookies, and Noosa yogurt at the finish for all runners. Musicians would be playing for the rest of the day at the park near the race finish. Kids could play at the playground while their parents hung out and chatted with other runners. A local swim facility, hotel, or YMCA or something like that within walking distance would offer free post-race showers to all runners.

Awards would be given out to the first three male and female finishers as well as first three finishers in 5-year increments of age groups. Cash would be awarded to the first three male and female finishers and trophies to everyone else. Photographers would be along the course and at the finish and runners would have the option to print out their own photos for free with the link sent out after the race.

Now your turn- what would your dream race look like? What things would you be sure to include? Do you like how I’ve designed my dream race? Remind me what I’ve left off!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Checking In With Less Than One Month to Go Before My Next Half Marathon

I usually don’t do a week-by-week post because quite honestly, I don’t feel like my weeks are that interesting to warrant a weekly post. I don’t run many races like some other runners do (now I run only three races a year) so I don’t have that many race reports and my training isn’t that unusual. However, every now and then I do like to do a post with a brief check-in and how my training is going so far. For those of you who don’t already know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 states and am getting down to the final ones.

Later this month I’ll be running my 49th half marathon in Nebraska, state number 47. My last race was Star Valley Half Marathon, Thayne, Wyoming- 46th state, which feels like an eternity ago even though it was just a little over two months ago. I like to take a full two weeks off of running in-between half marathons and I had just enough time to do that before I began my current training cycle. However, I was hiking in the mountains of Wyoming the week after my race so my legs didn’t get much of a break until the following week.

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Hiking in Wyoming after the race

It’s always kind of strange when I have time off from running and I feel a bit out of sorts at first. The break is always useful, however, and one I know my body needs. Now that I’m only running races three times a year (one in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall) I also end up taking an extended break at least from training but not from running entirely in the winter. However, that won’t happen until after this race, and I digress so back to my training.

So, how has my training been going through this hot, muggy summer we’ve had? Pretty good, really. I tend to adjust pretty well to hot, humid weather and although I wouldn’t say it was easy because by no means was it ever easy to run through the high temperatures with high humidity on top of that, I was able to hit my target times when I did speedwork.

With the training plan I’ve been using for the last few half marathons I’ve run, I have one day a week where I incorporate fartleks and one day a week where I have a tempo run. I also have two days a week where I run anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes (longer towards the end of my training cycle) and finish with 20-second strides. One day a week I have my long run that starts at 6 miles and goes up to 14 miles. Twice during the training plan I run 14 miles and a few times during the plan I run 11 or 12 miles. The 14-mile runs are meant to be slow and easy and the 11 or 12 mile runs are meant to be partially at race pace (the latter half).

There were a few days this summer when it reached near 100 degrees where I live and on those days I ran on my treadmill at home but on other days when it was upper 80’s or low 90’s, I sucked it up and ran outside. On some days I would run in the morning but the real issue with summer running in the south is even if you run in the morning, it will still be humid and it won’t exactly be cool. So you may be running in 75 degrees with 70% humidity in the morning, and you’re still soaked with sweat after a few minutes of running. The humidity tends to drop a bit as the temperature goes up, so you can choose if you want it to be a bit cooler but higher humidity or ungodly hot and less humid. Either way sucks but then again we get rewarded with mild winters, so there is that at least.

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I loved standup paddle boarding this summer as one of my cross-training exercises!

I managed to run every day I was supposed to so far, although there were one or two runs that I remember I had to cut short a bit due to other time constraints (job, family mostly). The one area that has slacked off, especially lately, has been my weight training. It’s been difficult to run five days a week, go to the gym for weight training, go to yoga class, stretch, foam roll, and cross-train (standup paddle boarding on Sundays during the summer, bike riding when the lake house is closed in the fall) in addition to working full-time and having time for family obligations. Usually it’s not an issue to get to the gym for weight training but when my daughter went back to school, things got busier in our house, and that’s one thing that fell to the wayside for me lately.

Last weekend it actually started to feel like fall and those few days of cooler, less humid weather were fantastic, but unfortunately it didn’t last. Just this week, the temperatures were back in the 90’s, so I guess summer isn’t over yet here. I do still have a few weeks to go before the race, though, so I should have at least a couple of weeks of cooler weather to run in before the half marathon. I can’t wait for that!

How about you guys? Are you training for a fall race? How has your running been going lately?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Some Areas in the United States to Enjoy Fall Foliage

The end of September is when fall foliage starts to appear in the eastern states in the US, beginning in the more northern states and moving down south as time passes. If you can plan a visit to the New England states for the upcoming weeks, you should be able to see some of the colorful leaves before they fall off the trees for the winter. As you might imagine, some places fill up quickly in the autumn months, so make your plans now while there’s still time.

Growing up in West Virginia, I always loved when the trees turned from green to wonderful shades of yellow, red, and orange, but on the flip side, I somewhat dreaded it because that meant winter was coming. Nonetheless, regardless about how I feel about winter, West Virginia is a perfect place to enjoy the fall foliage. Many people flock to Bridge Day, which is West Virginia’s largest festival held on one day and one of the largest extreme sports events in the world. Bridge day is held every year on the third Saturday in October on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County, coinciding with peak fall foliage in the area. Thousands of people come to this festival to watch as BASE jumpers from around the world jump off the bridge and rappellers go up and down the catwalk. There’s also plenty of things for spectators to do including run a 5k starting on the bridge and ending in Fayetteville. This is just one of many areas in West Virginia you can visit in the fall to experience fall foliage. Others include Huntington, Charleston, or one of the state parks would be a great option as well!

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This was taken in Huntington, WV, when I ran a half marathon there in the fall.

North Carolina also has plenty of places to visit if you want to see some gorgeous fall foliage. For those of you that don’t know, North Carolina can be divided into three basic parts:  the mountains on the west, the central area known as the Piedmont with the capital of Raleigh, and the coastal region on the east. Most people that want to see fall foliage will focus on the mountains in the western part of North Carolina. Western North Carolina is an outdoor-lover’s paradise, with many fun cities to go camping, hiking, fishing, and whitewater rafting. Some of my favorite cities in western North Carolina are Asheville (see my posts:  Camping in Asheville, North Carolina;and Christmas at Biltmore Estate and Exploring Asheville, North Carolina), Boone, and Blowing Rock.

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Gorgeous fall foliage in North Carolina

I’ve visited all of the New England states for half marathons, and I have been to three states in the fall, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. I was in a small town about an hour outside Boston, called Newburyport and loved that part of Massachusetts. The nice thing is you can still do plenty of things in Boston and easily pop over to the quieter areas like Newburyport when you want a break from the traffic and congestion. Rhode Island is one of my favorite states I’ve ever been to and I feel like it’s one of the most under-rated states. I went to Newport and we drove all over that area, stopping in some tiny towns to visit art galleries or local shops. There are also mansions such as The Breakers and Marblehouse that you can tour plus gorgeous beaches all around that area (although it’s definitely not peak beach season there in the fall but that just means they aren’t as crowded). We were in some tiny towns in New Hampshire for the half marathon that most people wouldn’t come to visit, so I can’t speak as much about that, but if you’re in the northern part of the state like I was, it’s a short drive over the Canadian border to Montreal, which I absolutely loved (see my post:  Montreal, a City Unlike Any Other).

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Yellow leaves everywhere (and a little orange) in Newburyport, Massachusetts

Some other states you might not think of when you think of fall foliage are Indiana and Arkansas. I visited both of these states in the fall when I was running a half marathon there, and found I enjoyed both places more than I expected I would. Most people think of Indianapolis when they think of Indiana, home of the famous Indy 500 races, but I was in a small town on the border with Kentucky and the Ohio River called Evansville. The Evansville Half Marathon perfectly coincides with the West Side Nut Club Festival, now in its 98th year (!) and also more recently a taco festival and music festival also occur around the same time in October. Here are links for more information:  Evansville Half Marathon and Nut Club Fall Festival.

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The race start at the Evansville Half Marathon with the fall foliage all around

For my half marathon in Arkansas, I ran the Cotter River Half Marathon, which I absolutely raved about. This was in November, which is a perfect time to enjoy the fall foliage in Arkansas. Although there are some options for things to do and places to stay in the Cotter area, I decided to drive to Hot Springs after the race and spend a few days there. Hot Springs can be a bit touristy in parts, which I usually don’t like, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Hot Springs much more than I thought I would. My family and I went to one of the local bath houses and had several extremely affordable treatments done and we hiked all around the National Park there. For more on the race, see my post, White River Half Marathon, Cotter, Arkansas-44th state and for more on Hot Springs, see my post, Hiking, Bathing, and Admiring Holiday Lights in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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The back of some of the bathhouses in Hot Springs, Arkansas

I know I left off some places to enjoy fall foliage in the United States because that would be way too long and I haven’t been everywhere, so now your turn, where are some of your favorite, perhaps off-the-beaten path places to enjoy fall foliage that I didn’t mention here? Do you live in a state where there is no substantial fall foliage? Do you travel to see fall foliage?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

 

How to Be a Faster Runner- It’s Simple, Run Faster

True story:  when my daughter was on the track team at her middle school, she saw after a while that her times weren’t getting any faster. She ran the 800 and 1500 meter, two notoriously hard distances to run. Getting frustrated, she asked her coach how she could get faster. His response was, “Run faster.” She asked how exactly to do that because she was trying to run faster. He wasn’t able to give her any more information. Ultimately she reluctantly finished out track season at about where she was when she started, but with a bad taste for running with a school team or a group, although she continued to run on her own.

When she was starting high school, I encouraged her to try out for cross country. My daughter had run several 5ks, a 10k, and two half marathons at that point, and she preferred longer distances over shorter ones that track runners do. Although she was hesitant because of her experience with track team, she began running the unofficial morning runs before cross country official practice started. Even though freshmen didn’t have to have a qualifying 3k time like the older kids, everyone that wanted to be on the team ran 3k time trials.

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With my daughter after a run together in the Canary Islands

My daughter ran two 3k time trials before school started and did so well she was invited to run the team’s first off-site race that only 48 kids were invited to (unfortunately she couldn’t attend because we already had plans for that weekend that couldn’t be broken). I should also mention that there are 180 kids on this cross country team, which I’ve been told is one of the biggest in the country, and which also means more competition regarding who is able to attend meets at off-site locations (they can’t take everyone since they only have one bus). So far, my daughter’s times are gradually improving, I’m sure due to several reasons and I have no doubt her times will continue to improve over the next few years.

I’ve noticed that my own times have also been improving over the last few years, despite the fact that I’ve been running races for the last 22 or so years. I actually got a PR (personal record) at a half marathon in Wyoming this summer, a race that was even at  altitude. Most people would think they were well-beyond reaching a PR after they hit 40, especially if they’ve been running since their 20’s, but I’m proof that that’s not always the case. Miracles can come true.

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After my fastest half marathon in Wyoming

So, how does one improve their running times other than the simple answer of just run faster? As everything else running-related, it’s complicated. Looking at my daughter’s experiences, she has benefited from running with a group that has no doubt pushed her a bit more than if she was running on her own. She has also benefited from running 6 days a week, versus the 4 days a week she was previously running. I know the trails where the cross country team mainly practices and the park is full of hills, twists, and turns, which has undoubtedly made her a stronger, fitter runner. Finally, being forced to stretch with the team after every run has likely benefited her more than the minimal amount she stretched on her own previously.

Examining my own background for the past couple of years, there are also several factors that have likely enabled me to be a faster runner. Looking back at my stats from Strava, it looks like I ran more than double the amount of miles (some months it was triple) during the beginning months of 2019 compared to the first few months of 2018. I ran half marathons in May, August, and November of 2018, and similarly I’ve run half marathons in May and July so far for 2019 but I ran much more in the spring of 2019 than spring of the previous year. By the time 2019 ends, if I keep on track with what I’ve been running, I will have run around 150 more miles in 2019 than 2018.

I changed several running-related things in 2018, most of which worked out to my advantage. You can read about them all in-depth here, but basically, I switched my half marathon training plan from one I had been using for races to go from running three days a week to a different plan that called for running five days a week. I began doing more trail running. I did some heart rate training. I ran a 5k, which I hadn’t done in many years. I switched up my running routes. I tried new running shoes (that one didn’t go so well but I learned what does and doesn’t work for me when it comes to running shoes).

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A not-so-great photo of me running trails

Not everything that happened in 2018 was to my advantage, however. I also developed anemia again. I have a history of it and was able to recognize the signs fairly quickly and get an appointment with my doctor for a diagnosis and begin treatment. Surprisingly this all happened a mere couple of weeks before I ran one of my fastest half marathons in years, in Arkansas. How I managed to run as fast as I did while severely anemic is still beyond my comprehension. I started treatment and was able to start feeling like myself after a few months, and my sub-2 hour half marathon streak continued at the half marathon in Delaware in May of 2019, and that was topped with my PR at the half marathon in Wyoming in July of 2019.

Another important thing I did that I believe had a part in my PR was I hiked all over Peru at very high elevation in May just after my race in Delaware. As I mentioned in my post, Is Hiking in the Mountains Good Cross-Training for Runners?, I truly believe that those two weeks were enough to boost my red blood cell count and give me a bit of an advantage when it came to running. I referenced a paper in my post that states that two weeks at high elevation is enough to get your body to start producing more red blood cells, which helps you deal with the elevation better, and those lingering benefits of having more red blood cells can last a couple of months. I was also at high elevation in Wyoming in July but not as high as I was in Peru so I’m not sure if it was enough for my blood to be effected or not.

OK. So I have several things that I changed in 2018 that continued into 2019:  changing my running routes so that I wasn’t running the same path more than once a week, changing my half marathon training plan to go from running three days a week to running five days a week which also meant I increased my weekly mileage, and occasional trail running. I also have the extra boost from hiking at high elevation in May of 2019 which may have effected my race time in Wyoming in July.

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Hiking in Peru

Now let’s see how all of this translates to numbers. In 2017, I ran three half marathons, all of which were over 2 hours (although the last one was by less than one minute over). In 2018, my race times for the half marathons in May and November were sub-2 hours (1:59:51 and 1:57:31) but my finish time for the race in August was 2:01:06, which I attribute to an uphill literally at the very end of the race and I of course struggled with. In May 2019, my finish time was 1:58:34 and in July 2019, I finished the half marathon in 1:53:00. I would say all of the changes I made in 2018 are definitely working to my advantage.

Back to the original question of how do you get faster as a runner, the answer seems to be (at least in the cases of my daughter and myself) by increasing your weekly mileage, run with others that may be slightly faster than you, add in some trail runs, vary your running routes, and if you’re able to visit a high elevation place (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming would all be great places within the US) for a couple of weeks or more, do so. You may notice I didn’t even mention speed work. Of course doing speed work is important to get faster. However, for me, I was doing speed work prior to 2018 and I continued doing speed work after that, but for me that alone wasn’t enough to get faster. I needed the other changes as well to see faster race times.

Everyone is different, too. What works for one person may not work for another. Experiment with making small changes and see if that seems to make a difference. If you start to feel like it’s too much and you’re not recovering from your runs, back off. Likewise, if one thing just doesn’t work for you, cut it out of your routine and move on to something else that might work.

What about you all? What changes have you made in your running routine that have made you a faster runner?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Funny, Strange, or Just Memorable Things That Have Happened or I’ve Seen on My Runs

I was listening to a Marathon Training Academy podcast during one of my long runs (as I often do) and the hosts Angie and Trevor were answering questions posed on their Facebook page. One of the questions asked was, “What’s a funny thing that happened to you on one of your runs?” I started thinking about some funny things that have happened to me during my runs, and my thoughts just kind of spiraled after that.

I began to think about not only funny things that have happened during my runs but also strange or maybe just things that stood out to me on my runs. I couldn’t think of a lot of things that I would call funny but I have seen some strange things on my runs. I’m lucky enough to have run in all but four states in the United States plus several countries in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Europe. Over the years I’ve seen my share of some bizarre things.

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Shoe Tree in Grand Cayman Island

Last year when I was running in Grand Cayman Island, I came across the famous shoe tree, which I snapped a photo of and also an interesting statue in front of house I ran by. I also had to get a selfie with one of the “Caution- Iguanas on Road” signs, which I found amusing for some reason. I never saw an actual iguana on the road, whether I was running or driving, if you’re wondering but I suppose they must be on the roads to warrant the signs (probably more so at night).

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This was in front of someone’s modest-sized house in Grand Cayman Island

In the town where I used to live, I came across a woman who came running out of her house and yelled at me to not run on the side of the road but to run on the sidewalk. This actually happened a few times since I often ran by her house. Once I even stopped to yell back, “The road is softer for running than the concrete sidewalk and it’s perfectly safe here!” but I doubt she heard me or even cared if she did hear me. I was running facing traffic, which at the time, there was barely any traffic anyway.

Regarding animals, I’ve seen the usual horses, cows, and so many deer, some with babies, plus way too many dead animals on the side of the road I would ever care to see including cats, dogs, squirrels, snakes, lizards, and birds. I’ve also been chased by dogs on runs (mostly in WV) but only bitten by one when I was a kid; never as an adult. Fortunately I’ve never run upon an animal that could do real harm to me like a cougar, bear, moose, or elk.

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Mama and baby deer I recently saw when running. Not surprising but still beautiful.

Once, near my home, I ran past a single adult-size running shoe, which really struck me as strange. Sure, I’ve seen many infant or child-size single shoes, presumably from children riding in strollers who kicked one off unbeknownst to the parent pushing them, but one adult shoe? This was on the corner of a sidewalk near a busy intersection but not really close enough that it could have fallen from a car passing by. I never figured that one out.

Certainly not strange but definitely note-worthy to me was when I was running along the beaches (not actually on the sand but on walkways overlooking the beaches) in Hawaii and Gran Canaria and Tenerife (Canary Islands) and regularly saw dozens of surfers out in the early morning hours. That was so much fun to watch them as the sun was rising in the sky.

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There were so many surfers in the Canary Islands!

Another favorite memory is running along the part of New York City where the chanceries (embassy buildings) of consulates from other countries are, known as Embassy Row.  I loved comparing the buildings for all of the different countries. Of course I had to run in Central Park the first time I went to New York City, which I’ve done a few times since the first time. I’ve seen many parades in Central Park and so many other runners; it’s a popular spot.

Earlier this year when I was running through a neighborhood I’d never run in before, I started smelling a strange smell, kind of like burning plastic. Suddenly I came upon multiple fire trucks, police cars and other emergency response vehicles parked along a cul-du-sac. It turns out there was a house fire but luckily everyone in the house got out in time and no one was injured, as I gathered from a couple of neighbors who were out talking about the fire.

When I was in Key West, Florida, I ran past the southern-most point in the continental United States, or at least the buoy-shaped marker for it.

One day several years ago when I was running on a Saturday morning, I saw a police road block ahead. Suddenly a car came up beside me and made a sharp u-turn to avoid the road block, coming so close to me they almost hit me. I had to jump as far as I could off to the side to avoid getting hit. I’ve always wondered why they were in such a hurry to avoid the road block.

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I saw these skeletons in front of a house in July. I believe it must be a year-round display.

This summer I ran by a display of multiple skeletons that you would normally see displayed for Halloween, in someone’s front yard. I don’t know if they leave them up year-round, but since it was so many months past Halloween and too early for them to be for this year, this must be a year-round display for these people. Strange. I wonder what their neighbors think. I’ll also have to remember to go by when it’s close to Halloween to see if there are even more decorations out.

I’m sure there are others but that’s all I can think of for now. Your turn- what are some funny, strange, or just memorable things you’ve seen on your runs?

Happy running!

Donna