5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Half Marathon

I was extremely naive when I ran my first half marathon. While I wasn’t new to running, I was most definitely new to long distance running. I feel like I have been running since I could as a child. The only time I took time off from running was during college when I experienced the worst shin splints of my life and had to practically crawl home during a run. I decided to take some time off to heal and for whatever reason (most likely school and studying) that time off stretched into years. Finally after I had finished graduate school, gotten married, and moved to a new state, I began running again.

When I began running again in my mid-20’s, I tried to do things “the right way.” I began to gradually increase my distance, first running a 5k, then a 10k, a 10-miler, and a 15k (although I don’t think the races after the 5k were necessarily in that order). When I took the plunge and ran my first half marathon, I felt pretty well-prepared. Pretty much the only factor during the race that really threw me for a loop was the weather. The race was on the coast of North Carolina in late November and it was cold and rainy, which turned to snow eventually. By the end of the race, I was frozen to the bone, but hungry for more.

The weather that day was extremely unusual for the area so I was counting on that not happening again the following year. I knew if I could do as well as I did at my first half marathon, I could do even better the next year. You can read about my first half marathon here. It’s the only half marathon I’ve ever ran more than once. Since then I’ve finished 43 half marathons in 41 states (I ran three half marathons in North Carolina).

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Not my first half marathon, but one of my first ones. What the heck was I thinking not pulling my hair up into a ponytail?! And no hat/visor/sunglasses?!

Many things have changed over the years in the field of long distance running. Some fads have come and gone but mostly we’ve been given more options from everything like what to fuel with to apparel and shoes. When I was training for my first half marathon, there wasn’t this multitude of options for fueling before, during, and after running. There pretty much was Gatorade or Powerade. There was no Nuun, Tailwind, or Honey Stinger. This brings me to the first thing I wish I had known before my first half marathon.

  1. Try out some snacks on training runs to make sure your stomach and gut agree with them. Now I run with Nuun hydration and snacks on all of my long runs including my half marathons but back then I just drank and ate whatever was offered on the course. Maybe some people are fine doing this, but if you have a finicky stomach like I do, it’s not a good idea. I also love Honey Stinger waffles for a pre-run snack and haven’t had any gut issues after eating them but experiment to see what works for you.
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My running belt and tube of Nuun for a recent race

2.  Don’t get caught up in the excitement of the race and start out at a pace you can’t maintain for more than a few miles or so. People hear this one all the time, and yet they continue to do it. It’s tough to make your legs go slower than they want to in the beginning of a race, but they’ll thank you later for it.

3.  Don’t let it get to you when you see older people or people that look like they’re not in as good of shape as you pass you. I eventually learned this one. When it comes to runners, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve been passed by runners of all shapes, sizes, and ages during races. Sometimes I’ve been able to pass them towards the final miles of the race when they were walking, but sometimes I never saw them again and they left me in the dust. That’s OK.

4.  Wear what you’re going to run the half marathon in during your long training runs. Just because a sports bra/socks/shorts/shirt doesn’t rub and chafe you on shorter training runs doesn’t mean it won’t cause chafing on 13.1 miles. I always wince when I see people running in the shirt they just got at packet pickup. I was pretty badly chafed by my sports bra after my first half marathon, most likely because I hadn’t worn it enough in long training runs to know how it would perform on race day.

5.  Do some push-ups and other arm exercises to strengthen your arms and shoulders as part of your half marathon training plan. I didn’t do this and could barely lift my arms over my head after my first half marathon. I had no idea my arms would be the most sore part of my body after running a half marathon, but they were. Since then I appreciate how hard my arms work during a race and have made sure I work on them in addition to my core and legs.

What about you guys?  What things about long distance running have you learned the hard way and wish someone would have told you?

Happy running!

Donna

 

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All the Ways I Recover from Running

It seems like the topic of recovery after a running or workout session has come up a lot lately in many different places from blogs to social media. As a 40-something runner, recovery has become more important to me over the years. When I was in my 20’s I don’t think I ever stretched and I know for sure I never used a foam roller or did any yoga.

Over the years, I also seemed to be plagued by running injuries, too. When I was an undergraduate in college I had shin splints that almost stopped me running completely, they were so painful. After picking running back up after a few years off, I had little aches and pains and minor running problems over the years but fortunately nothing serious.

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My daughter and me after going for a hilly run in the Canary Islands recently

One of the worst for me was struggling with a tight IT (iliotibial) band; this was around the time I started seeing a massage therapist regularly, which is one of the ways I recover from running (regular massage therapy). Massage therapy helps me to get rid of the knots and tight muscles that would otherwise continue to get worse and no doubt cause more serious issues. I get a deep tissue massage once a month and it’s one of the biggest reasons why I continue to run mostly pain-free.

I don’t remember exactly when I started going to the yoga class at my gym but I do know I was in my early 30’s. I had talked to some other runners who recommended yoga to me, so I naively went, not really knowing what to expect honestly. Over the years I’ve been a member of 3 or 4 gyms and have had probably around 10 different yoga instructors at these gyms. Yoga has undoubtedly kept my hamstrings and hips from just bunching into tight balls and refusing to do what I want them to do. I truly believe everyone would benefit from doing yoga once a week, whether you’re a runner or not. Believe me when I say not all yoga instructors are created the same, so if you go to a class and don’t care for it, try a different instructor and see if that changes your mind or try watching a show or DVD and doing it at home.

The foam roller and I have a love-hate relationship. I love how it loosens my tight IT bands, calves, quads, and hamstrings but I hate how painful it can be, especially on my IT bands. Nonetheless, I use my foam roller religiously after every run and have done so for years after my aforementioned problems with my IT band began in my 30’s. I also stretch my hamstrings and legs after a run, and have found it works best to stretch first then use the foam roller.

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My trusty foam roller after a recent run fueled by Honey Stinger and nuun

Another way I recover from a run is by refueling my body with carbs and protein. After reading Roar by Stacy Sims (you can see my book review here) I began to make sure I consume plenty of protein along with carbs after a run. In the book, Dr. Sims recommends women should take in protein high in leucine before exercise and within 30 minutes of  exercising to help maintain muscle especially when hormone levels are high.

The final and most important thing I do to recover from the stresses of running is making sure I get plenty of sleep. I think getting enough restful sleep is hugely important for everyone, whether you’re a runner, cyclist, swimmer, or if you never exercise; we all need to get enough sleep every night. Our muscles repair when we’re not working them so we need to make sure they have plenty of time for that. I think probably everyone understands the importance of getting enough sleep but a lot of people underestimate just how much sleep they need and don’t make sleep a high priority in their busy lives.

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My puppy sleeping

What about you guys? I’m sure I probably left something out. How do you recover from running or exercise?

Happy running!

Donna

 

Sometimes You Fall

Last weekend when I left to go out for my 10 mile run, I felt great! My legs felt good, I felt pretty well-rested, and the weather was absolutely perfect. I was ready! I had gone about a half mile down an asphalt pedestrian trail I’ve probably walked/ran/cycled about 100 times and then I fell. Hard.

I have absolutely no recollection of tripping but I assume that’s what happened. It felt like someone was literally pushing me forwards presumably because of the momentum I had going while running. I tried to pull back when I started to fall but couldn’t so I skidded along the asphalt about 5 or 6 feet until I finally rolled onto my shoulder, thinking that would stop me, and it did. Instinctively, I didn’t want to fall on my hands but I didn’t know how else to stop other than rolling.

There was a nice couple walking their dog who came to my rescue. They asked if I was OK, and handed me one of my water bottles still full of nuun that had flown out of my hydration belt. I was a little stunned, because like I said, I really don’t remember tripping, but I stammered something like I would eventually be OK, and I thanked them after they also handed me my sunglasses that had flown off me as well.

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I assessed the damage and realized nothing seemed broken at least. My shoulder felt like I had just ran full speed into a giant tree or something and it was rubbed raw and was bleeding. Both hands were bleeding on the fronts and backs. My left knee was gushing blood and my right thigh and right forearm were scraped but not bleeding.

In a daze, I walked the half mile home where I washed all of my cuts and scrapes (OUCH!), put on antiseptic cream and tons of Band-Aids, took a couple of Tylenol, and iced my shoulder and knee. After about 20-30 minutes I decided to go back out to finish my run. My thought process was I was probably going to just feel more sore the next day so if I waited to run then it would most likely be even more painful than if I just sucked it up and went back out then.

Surprisingly, I had a fairly good run when I went back out the second time that day. My times were pretty good and I felt pretty good overall (albeit sore from the fall). I’ll admit, I was a little tentative about falling again when I first started back out, and I decided not to go back the way I was originally going to run, which has cracks, gaps, and bumps all over the asphalt trail. I knew I would have to face that demon again eventually, I just didn’t want to do it quite so soon.

While I was out running I started thinking how sometimes it’s almost good to go through things like this when we’re training for a race (I’m running a half marathon in May). It shows me that if this happens during a race, unless it’s more serious, I can continue running and everything will be OK. A couple of weeks ago it was cold and misting light rain when I was supposed to run 40 minutes. I didn’t have the option of waiting until later that evening to run so I went out and realized it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was.

Although it’s not always been the case, usually I end up feeling pretty good at the end of a run, even if I didn’t feel so great in the beginning, or the weather was crappy so I dreaded running in it. The old saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” definitely seems true in the case of runners. I think this applies to the emotional and mental aspect of running as much if not more so than the physical aspect of running.

Have any of you had a bad fall when running? What happened? Did you feel like it made you a (mentally) stronger runner afterwards?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Some Things I Do Simply Because I Run

I was thinking about this when I was running the other day. There are a lot of things that I do simply because I’m a runner that I most likely would never do if I didn’t run. As I was running, I started making a mental list of some of those things. Some are maybe a little crazy to the non-runner, others are probably not so strange.

  • I keep track of my heart rate and VO2 max. Years ago this wasn’t so easy to do but now with my Garmin watch, I can just glance down and see these numbers along with a myriad of other numbers. If I wasn’t a runner, I’m sure I could care less what my VO2 max was and most likely wouldn’t even know what it is (maximum oxygen your body can use during an intense workout).
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Running in the Canary Islands was awesome!
  • I experience so much more of an area I’m vacationing in because I run. If I didn’t run, I’d just see places we drive by from the car until we reached our destination. When you’re outside running, you see and hear things you wouldn’t if you were in a car going from point a to point b.
  • I put much more time and thought into buying a new pair of running shoes than I do any other shoes I wear. I’ve bought every day shoes from consignment sales (meaning “gently used” for those who’ve never been to a consignment sale) but would never in a million years buy running shoes from a consignment sale.
  • I also have put much more thought into buying running socks than every day socks. Over the years I’ve tried so many different brands of running socks, on a quest to find ones that don’t leave my poor toes blistered and bruised. For my every day socks, I just buy what ever color I happen to need at the time. For the record, I’m a big fan of compression socks and am an ambassador for Zensah. When I get discount codes I can share, I will!
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I know I’m not the only runner who gets excited about new running shoes!
  • I’m not above quick meals for myself and my family for dinner. I work full-time. It’s extremely hard to work all day, drive home, run for 40-45 minutes, and make a home-cooked meal for three people. Because I’m a runner, quick meals are my friend, as are leftovers and crock pot dinners. Even if I wasn’t a runner, this one would still apply to me, I’m sure.
  • I often plan what I’m going to eat for breakfast and lunch around my run. Once I made the mistake of eating bacon and eggs for breakfast before going out an hour later for a run. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ve also had things that didn’t settle well in my stomach for lunch and have learned I can’t eat those before running (even a couple of hours later).
  • I’ve also consumed my fair share of runner-geared gels, gummies, packets (of jelly-like consistency), bars, and other such “snacks” designed to provide fuel during a long run. Some of these products are things I would never have eaten if I wasn’t a runner, and most of the aforementioned things I don’t eat now. Honey Stinger is a star in the field here; I’d happily eat their products even if I wasn’t a runner, they’re that good. Like Zensah, I’m also an ambassador for Honey Stinger and share discount codes when I get ones I can share.

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  • When I meet someone new, my first impression of them is better if I find out they’re a runner. What can I say? Runners are like family. We watch out for each other. If I wasn’t a runner, I’m sure I could care less if the person I was meeting ever ran or not.
  • I’ve been known to judge a city by how runner-friendly it is. If a city doesn’t have sidewalks anywhere or other safe places for runners, it gets a black mark in my book. Also, if a city is full of drivers that yell at you when you’re running or try to run you over with their car, that’s a definite black mark.

These are just a few of the things I do as a runner I probably wouldn’t do if I didn’t run. What about you guys? What are some of the strange or different things you do simply because you’re a runner?

Happy running!

Donna

P.S. If you’re running low on nuun hydration, here’s a code for 30% off, good through the end of the month.

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New Training Plan for my Next Half Marathon

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous post, I’ve started a new training plan for my next half marathon, which will be state number 42 and half marathon number 44. I’m in the fifth week and so far it’s going well. For my last several half marathons I had been following a plan that includes only “hard” runs, so no easy runs, and you only run three days a week. For me, I was cycling on Sunday, running tempo runs on Monday, lifting weights on Tuesday, yoga on Wednesday, either hill repeats or speedwork on Thursday, core work on Friday, and long runs on Saturday. So even though I was “only” running three days a week, you can see I was still doing a lot overall.

For this new training plan, however, things have gotten a lot tougher. I cycle on Sunday, run 40-45 minutes followed by strides on Monday, alternate doing tempo or interval runs on Tuesdays followed by weight training, yoga on Wednesday, fartlek runs 40-45 minutes on Thursday, run 30-45 minutes followed by strides on Friday and do core work, and long runs on Saturday. This plan is also longer than I used to train for before a half marathon. I used to train for 10-12 weeks, depending on how far apart my races were but this plan is for 14 weeks. I’ll be doing more long runs than I used to do but the beginning long run distance is the same. There are also no cut-back weeks, where I cut back on my mileage for that week, like I used to do.

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Taken after running with my daughter in the Canary Islands

So why the big change anyway? Well, last year I started feeling like I was stuck in a running rut so I started making some changes. I tried new shoes with a brand completely new to me and I’ve continued doing this since last summer. Another thing I did that was extremely hard but I was able to do is change my running gait. I also read “Runner’s World Your Best Stride” by Jonathon Beverly and reviewed the book here. This book is full of information and includes tips, suggestions, stretches, and exercises that I’m trying to incorporate into my daily routines. The final thing to add to my running repertoire is the new training plan. Oh, and I almost forgot I’m also doing Heart Rate Training.

My next half marathon isn’t until May so I still have some time left in my training before the race. I guess the true test will be how I do at that race, but honestly if my finish time is pretty much like it has been in the past, I won’t think it was all for nothing. I realize there are many factors involved in race day such as the weather, the course, and just how you’re feeling that day.

So how’s it going so far you may ask? Surprisingly very well. Honestly, I expected to be far more tired than I have been or have little nagging aches and pains pop up, but (knock on wood)I haven’t had any of that so far. I even managed to get in every scheduled run when I was on vacation in the Canary Islands recently. Running in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands was an adventure at first until I figured out where to run, but once that was done, I loved it, hills and all.

So until my half marathon in May, I’ll keep plugging along as I have been and enjoying the signs of spring all around me. I don’t know about you all, but I’m always happy when winter is over.

Oh, and I almost forgot, I still have one code left for 37% off Honey Stinger for anyone not part of the HSHive. I can send it to you if you just let me know. It’s good until April 1.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Dipping My Toes into Heart Rate Training

Many years ago I bought a Polar running watch with a chest-strap heart rate monitor. Honestly, I was new to running and really didn’t get much out of the whole experience. I think this is common to new runners, and for good reason. Heart rate training is complicated!

Recently, I decided to try heart rate training again. My TomTom running watch suddenly stopped working so I had to buy a new running watch. I decided to buy a Garmin and bought a slightly older model through Amazon, the Garmin 630 with heart rate monitor (a chest strap versus wrist-based). I opted for this model because I feel like chest straps are more accurate than wrist-based. You can read a whole article just about chest straps versus wrist-based heart rate monitors here. They both have their pros and cons. Knowing I never had any problems with my Polar chest strap before (as far as chafing, etc.) I didn’t think wearing one now would be an issue.

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Ok. So now you have your heart rate monitor, whether it’s wrist-based or a chest strap. Now what? To begin, you’re supposed to take your resting heart rate. That’s the easy part. Then it gets much more complicated. Unless you can afford a stress test, by far the most accurate way of getting baseline numbers for heart rate, it’s all kind of a guess from there.

There are calculations for determining your maximum heart rate, heart rate reserve, aerobic heart rate range, aerobic training range, anaerobic training range, recovery training range, and lactate threshold zone. Have I lost you yet? Runners Connect has some pretty good info on getting started with calculating resting and maximum heart rate here and there’s more info on Active.com for calculating heart rate training zones here. I’ve also seen the calculation Maximal Heart Rate (MHR) = 206.9 – (0.67 x Age). If I do the calculations for myself using the three suggestions, the final way of calculating MHR is right in the middle, so I’m going with that one.

Depending on the type of workout you’re doing, you want to focus on keeping your heart rate within a particular range. For example, if you’re doing a recovery run, or an “easy” run, you should try to keep your heart rate within the recovery training range. If you’re doing speed work, you should try to stay within the anaerobic training range. This is high intensity, where you can only sustain that pace for a couple of minutes at the most, and not where you want to spend the majority of your training, or you’ll just wear yourself down.

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As my title states, I’m just dipping my toes in at this point. By no means am I an expert on heart rate training. At this point, I’m exploring heart rate training, educating myself, and trying to use it to supplement what I’m already doing. I didn’t have a stress test so my numbers are a best guess. If I start to stray over my targeted maximum heart rate, I’ll back off a bit to get my heart rate to go back down a bit. I try to stay within my recovery training range on easy runs, and let me tell you initially it feels like you’re just crawling! My hope is that eventually my body will adapt and I’ll be able to go faster without my heart rate going crazy. We’ll see. I’ll try to keep you all updated after some time has passed.

Do any of you do heart rate training? What methods do you use? How did you figure out your target heart rate ranges? I’d love to hear any and all comments!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Shaking Things Up a Bit

Last winter when I was training for a half marathon in Utah in February and I had to run my peak miles during some of the worst weather where I live in North Carolina, I was cursing my choice of a race in February and vowed to not make that mistake again. If you want to read about my race in Utah, the Dogtown Half Marathon, you can find it here. For those of you that aren’t aware, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 United States and ran my 41st state in West Virginia last November, the Marshall University Half Marathon.

I should state that my husband and daughter always go to races with me and since my daughter is in middle school now, I plan my races around her school schedule. She’s currently in a year-round school, which means she’s basically in school for nine weeks and out for three weeks throughout the year. One of her current breaks is during February, hence my decision to run a half marathon in February last year. I’ve ran all of the southern states except New Mexico, if you consider that a southern state, and I refuse to run in a state like Minnesota or Nebraska in February.  Call me crazy or call me a wimp, but I’m done running races in February and all other winter months for that matter.

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Photo taken last January. For a southern gal like me, this isn’t good running weather!

This all means I’ll go from running a race last November to my next one which isn’t until May. That’s a pretty long time to go in-between races, but that’s the way it’s going to be as long as my daughter has this school schedule. When she’s in high school, she will no longer be in year-round school, so I’ll have the option of running during the early spring again, as long as I can find a race during her spring break, which should be possible.

Sooooo, what have I been doing during this long break between training plans? Well, I’ve still been running to keep up my fitness level, but it’s been more “run for fun” kind of thing. I haven’t been doing any speed work of any real kind although I’ve done a little bit of playing around with increasing my speed on some treadmill runs and doing some sprinting here and there. I’ve also bought some new shoes in preparation when I do start my next training plan next month.

As I mentioned in a post last year, I tried some new shoes in a completely different brand and style than I had ever ran in before and that worked out well for me. They were Newtons and while I definitely like them, my next pair of new shoes aren’t Newtons. See, for years I had been running in Asics Gel Nimbus shoes and really liked them so I kept buying them for many years. However, after reading Jonathan Beverly’s book, “Runner’s World Your Best Stride: How to Optimize Your Natural Running Form to Run Easier, Farther, and Faster–With Fewer Injuries,” I began to re-think some things. My full post on Beverly’s book can be found here.

For 2018, I plan on incorporating more of the concepts from Beverly’s book such as not always wearing the same shoes, not always running on the same routes, not always doing the same stretches, etc.. In other words, shake things up a bit. I know many runners have the mentality, ‘if it ain’t broke, why fix it’ but for me, I think I need to mix things up. My 20-something and even 30-something body didn’t need much variety and got by just fine without switching things up, but I feel like my 40-something body needs variety if I intend on running forever (which I do).

My last few years-worth of training plans have been the same, namely running three days a week, cross-training twice a week including cycling and yoga, strength training one day and core work one day. On the days where I ran, there were no easy runs but every run was either a tempo run, hill repeats, speed work, or long run. This next training plan I will start in a few weeks includes running five days a week, so I’ll have to double-up and go to yoga class for example after running earlier in the day to fit it all in. My plan is to at least try it and if it’s too much for my body (i.e. if I’m getting injuries) I’ll cut back to four days a week and try that.

Wish me luck! How often do you guys shake things up with your running?

Happy running!

Donna