Running During My Off-Season

I’m in-between half marathons currently, which means I haven’t been doing a whole lot of running. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active, though. My last half marathon was in New Jersey and was my 40th state. Given that my next half marathon isn’t until November, that leaves a big chunk of the summer with no training plan. I’ll start training for my next race in a couple of weeks.

Now that I’m down to the final 10 states on my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states, I’ve gone from running a race every season to a race in three out of four seasons. After my race in November, I won’t have another race until May, which means my off-season will be during the winter months for the most part. Last year, I was training during the winter for my race in Utah in February. I was cursing my decision when I had to run my long runs in the cold last January and February, but I’m sure next summer when I’m training for a half marathon in August and have to do my long runs in the heat and humidity I’ll be cursing my decision to do a summer race.  Oh well!

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Although I haven’t been running a ton, I’ve been having fun biking with my family- here’s my daughter on a recent family ride

OK.  Back to my point, which is it’s kind of different having such a long break off of serious miles. Sure, I’ve still been running here and there, but the longest run I’ve gone on since the race in May is 4 miles. I’ll run 5 miles this weekend, but still, this is what many of you runners are doing for your mid-week runs. I’ve been working on strength training and some other things as well during this time off of race training, so it’s been a good time to do some other things like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which I’ll ease off of when I’m in the double digits for my long runs.

There’s also a mental aspect of taking a break from half marathon training. Running is such a big part of my life, when I’m not doing so much of it, I have kind of mixed feelings. I’m enjoying having extra time in my day but I also miss my time out on the roads and trails. I’ve been running my long runs on the same trail for the past couple of years and it’s quite scenic and not crowded, so I feel a sense of peace when I’m running. Even though parts of the trail are close to neighborhoods, there are enough trees and wooded areas that you feel miles away from everything at times.

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I haven’t missed this hill from my long runs!

Until recently I didn’t really have an “off-season” from training. I’ve always taken a solid two week break from every half marathon I run, sometimes a little more if I feel like I need it, but my next race was never more than 2 or 3 months away usually. I suppose I could have ran shorter distance races this summer, but honestly the idea of running a race in the heat and humidity we have here in North Carolina doesn’t appeal to me. That could be an option for next spring during my long break between races, though. I haven’t ran a 5k by myself (I ran one with my daughter a couple of years ago) since I first started running races so it would be interesting to see how I’d do.

How about you guys? Most of the running blogs I follow make me look like a slacker when it comes to running races! Do you guys ever take an off-season from running and/or racing?

New Shoes!

And when I say new shoes, I mean NEW shoes! I did something I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do and I’ve never done it myself before. I bought a pair of running shoes online in a brand I’ve never ran in before, heck never even put on before.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing my long runs in Asics Nimbus. I remember having Nimbus 9’s and now I have Nimbus 18’s so it’s been at least 10-ish years given that they increase the number each year. These have been my go-to running shoes, my never-give-me-any-problems running shoes. Even though I like to mix up my second pair of running shoes, varying brand but lately sticking to fairly flat ones, I haven’t altered my long run shoes, until now.

So what did I go with? I bought a pair of Newton Fate II’s. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good shoe sale, and these were on sale for $69, while the new Fate III shoes are $135 and new Nimbus 19 shoes are $160. I thought why not? If they suck, I can always return them and buy some Nimbus 19’s. Probably the bigger question is why did I switch after all these years?

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After being pretty disappointed with my last two half marathons, the one in Utah but even more so my latest one in New Jersey I decided I need to make some changes. Sure, these courses were crazy hilly, but still, I felt like I should have finished stronger than I did. While I ended up 6th in my age group for the race in Utah, I felt like the one in New Jersey wasn’t representative of what I could really do. I felt like it was time to shake things up a bit.

I decided to do a 30 day plank challenge, but this was in-between the races in Utah and New Jersey and that didn’t help me with the hills in New Jersey. Even though I used to detest squats and lunges, I started doing them to strengthen my glutes and help with Dead Butt Syndrome. I read Runner’s World ‘Train Smart Run Forever’ and was reminded of other exercises I need to be doing, besides squats and lunges, plus other things in general I need to be doing, especially as a “masters” runner. The latest thing I’ve added into the mix is to do a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout once a week.

So back to the shoes. When I first put them on, I thought, “Wow! These really feel different!” Newton shoes have “Action/Reaction™ Technology” using five lugs across the mid foot that are supposed to provide quicker bounce back and lose less energy than traditional foam-core running shoes. I’ve never had any kind of running shoes with this kind of technology, so it was definitely new to me.

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I didn’t want to over-do it on my first run on them so I decided to just go out for a couple of miles and see how it went. The shoes felt pretty good, with plenty of room in the toe box but not too much, nice fit all-around, but they didn’t feel quite as “springy” as my previous Nimbus shoes, especially in the mid foot. This was a surprise to me, honestly, but not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve felt like I need to strengthen my feet and Achilles a bit anyway, so maybe these Newtons will help me do that.

Let’s do a little comparison of Nimbus 19 versus Newton Fate III shoes (don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief). The Nimbus 19 weighs 9.6 oz (size 8) and has a stack height of 32 mm (heel), 19 mm (forefoot). The Asics Nimbus cushioning system uses a silicone based gel and an injected top layer of lower density cushioning in women’s models. The Newton Fate III weighs 7.7 oz (size 8) and has a stack height of 27 mm (heel), 22 mm (forefoot). The Newton Fate has “Newtonium foam,” lugs as part of their action/reaction technology I mentioned before with P.O.P. 2 technology and air-filled chambers, and a biomechanical metatarsal sensor plate in the forefoot that allows you to feel the ground, for constant sensory feedback.

I think the sensor plate is why I didn’t feel like the Newtons are quite as springy as my Asics, because I definitely could feel the ground more in my new shoes, which I think is a good thing. I’m also interested to see how the difference in stack height effects my running. The Asics Nimbus difference from heel to forefoot is 13 mm but only 5 mm in the Newton, which is a considerable difference.

On my second run, I went slightly further out (about 3 miles) but ran on some trails that have some pretty steep hills. Everything seemed to feel good and I didn’t have any issues, with one minor little thing. One of the trails I ran on had some small rocks and apparently one of the rocks got wedged in-between the lugs. When I got back to a paved trail, I felt something stuck on the bottom of my shoe so I stopped to pull out the rock. Hopefully this won’t be an issue.

So far, I have high hopes for these shoes. Along with all of the other things I’ve been doing, I hope these shoes help me have a better race the next go-around in November!

Have any of you ever bought a new brand of shoes online without trying them on first?

HIIT Me Baby One More Time!

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist! I’ve been doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout once a week that I’ve been loving. It kicks my butt, but I feel like it’s a great workout for runners. I know this is nothing new, and I’ve done HIIT workouts before, but this particular HIIT workout feels different from others I’ve done in the past.

Here’s what I do:

warm-up

  1. Burpee
  2. Squat
  3. Lateral slide
  4. Reverse lunge
  5. Mountain climber
  6. Scissor kick
  7. Spiderman

I do each exercise for 20 seconds at high intensity then 10 seconds of rest continuously for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, I rest for 1 minute then start the next exercise. Exercises are only done for 4 minutes, so I don’t cycle through then repeat exercises. It takes about 35 minutes not including the warmup and I am thoroughly wiped-out when I’m done.

I’ve done this workout twice and I was sore for days after the first time. I was only a little sore after the second time. I figure I’ll keep doing this series of exercises until I feel like it’s getting easier, then I’ll change out some of the exercises for others. For example, I could swap out scissor kick for leg lifts or something along those lines.

I feel like this will help me with running hills and just running in general. It should also help with dead butt syndrome. I think this workout is definitely helping to strengthen my core and my glutes. After the first time, it hurt when I would sit down or get out of a chair in particular. I probably would back off of this intense of a workout in the final couple of weeks before a half marathon, but since I’m in-between training plans, it’s the perfect opportunity for something like this.

Here are links that show how to do each exercise:

burpee

squat

lateral slide

reverse lunge

mountain climber

scissor kick

spiderman

How about you all?  Do you have a HIIT workout that you’re loving/hating right now?

My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times

After reading Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (see my review here), I wanted to see how my age adjusted half marathon times looked. One of the main takeaways from the book is that although your race times will inevitably increase as you get older, particularly beginning in your 40’s, your age adjusted times should actually remain the same or decrease if you’re lucky.

Warning: this blog post is full of data and probably only for true data geeks. If it puts you to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those of you that are into this kind of thing, you’re in for a treat!

First I plotted all of my half marathons from the very first one in North Carolina to the  one I ran in Utah. I did not include my last race in New Jersey, however. This includes half marathons I ran over an almost 20 year span with 41 half marathons in 39 states, so there are a lot of variables here besides just age to consider. For instance, the terrain and weather varied greatly from one race to the next. Beyond that, I was anemic for a period of years, so there is a spike in my times due to that until I was fully recovered.

You’ll see my race times are in red and my age adjusted times are in black. Initially, the age adjusted times are the exact same as the race times, so you’ll only see a black square for the first few races. Only around my mid-30’s do you even start to see a separation between the red circles and black squares.

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There is also a spike in my times for the race in Colorado. Running at a high elevation really took it out of me so this was definitely one of my slowest finish times. I decided to take out the times when I was anemic and the points from Colorado, since I thought they were outliers from the rest of the data.

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OK. So now I’ve removed the points from when I was anemic and my race in Colorado. With these two graphs, I can get a better idea of the “big picture” of my running.  The obvious outlier in the first one is my first race ever. Even with that point included, however, the general trend for my age adjusted times are decreasing, as shown by the linear fit shown by the blue line. When I throw out my first race time, the trends are more consistent. My race times have averaged around 2 hours and a couple of minutes over the years and have slightly increased. However, and here is the main point of the whole thing, my age adjusted times, again, as shown by the blue line, have definitely decreased over time, which is what I wanted to see.

Another interesting thing is the very large degree of separation between my race times and age adjusted times in my 40’s. For my half marathon in Utah, the difference between these two times is almost 10 minutes!

My plots aren’t anywhere near as “pretty” as the ones in the book, but I think maybe a big reason for that is the author’s age spans over a much longer time than mine do. Perhaps when I’m in my 70’s (as one of the authors is) and I plot my race times versus my age adjusted times, I’ll see something even more linear, rather than what I see. Hopefully even though my race times will (inevitably) increase, my age adjusted times will continue to decrease linearly.

Here’s the link to the Runner’s World website where you can plug in your numbers to see your age-graded race times.

Book Review- Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever

I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.

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FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold  / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.

Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.

You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.

One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.

I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.

But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.

There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.

In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.

I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running.  I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?

Now to the real meat of the book:

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This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.

What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Superhero Half Marathon, New Jersey- 40th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. New Jersey was my 40th state.

When I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey three days before the half marathon, the highs were in the low 90’s, not exactly running weather. Fortunately the weather gods came through and at 8:00 the morning of the race, it was 54 degrees, more like my idea of good racing weather for a May race.

Packet pickup was as simple as it comes, simply pick up a short-sleeve technical shirt and bib at the local running store, Morristown Running Company. There were two days plus race day morning for packet pickup, which was very generous.

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My flat runner

Honestly, this race kicked my butt. The course description states there are rolling hills for “the first three miles but the last 10 are relatively flat.” I guess the term “rolling hills” and “relatively flat” can be subjective. In my opinion there are pretty continuous big hills for the first four miles then you get a little break before the hills begin again, and these are not “rolling hills” but steep, seemingly never-ending hills. I drove the course the day before the race so I knew it was going to be a tough race but even still I underestimated just how hard it would be.

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Quick- how many superheroes can you pick out?

The best part about the course, in my opinion, is when it goes through Loantaka Park. Although it’s a bike path, by the time you reach this portion of the race the crowds have thinned out enough that it doesn’t seem too crowded. This portion of the course is shaded pretty heavily, mostly flat, and scenic. Unfortunately the course only briefly goes through the park. The rest of the course takes you past many nice homes in what I’m sure are extremely expensive neighborhoods, but as beautiful as some of the homes are, it’s not nearly enough to provide a diversion from all of those hills.

So what do you get for your registration money? This year anyway, the first 3000 registrants got a bright yellow wicking t-shirt in addition to the medal, water and aid stations every 1.75 miles, personalized bibs, and photos at the finish (although I didn’t hear about this until after the race so I didn’t get one). Food at the finish was bagels, bananas, cereal bars, and water (alas, no chocolate milk).

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This shirt should be good for visibility when I’m running on the roads!

I did enjoy seeing other people’s superhero costumes even though I didn’t dress up myself. There were many Wonder Women and Supermen on the course. Some of the more original included Poison Ivy (from Batman) and Dr. Octopus.

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Captain America just barely beat Dr. Octopus

The only thing I can say to explain my slow slog to the finish is the hills just were too much for me. Even though I did my long runs on a hilly route, and even had a breakthrough  before the race, it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the hills of this race. My legs felt tired after the first two miles, and that was just when the hills were really getting going. I was doing great following the 2 hour pacer until the hills started getting intense, then the group got so far away from me I knew there was no way that was going to happen for me in this race. Usually I can make up some time in the last 5k of a half marathon, but by then I was so exhausted all I wanted to do was just to finish.

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My sad stats are as follows:

Chip time: 2:13:46

Gender place: 337/667

Age Group place: 36/82

All I can say is, these women from New Jersey are FAST!

If you enjoy hilly half marathons that are pretty low frill, this one would be for you. There is also a relay option for the half marathon.

Superhero Half Marathon

Also, just in time for the summer heat, I have a discount code for Nuun: hydratefriends2017 for 25% off your order. The code is good through June 23.

Nuun link

Call for Suggestions for a Half Marathon

For those of you that don’t already know, I’m running a half marathon in all 50 US states. My last one was in Utah, state number 39, which of course means I have 11 more to go. Yay!

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I have the following states to go:  New Jersey and West Virginia, both of which I’ve already got races picked out, so disregard them. That leaves Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Delaware, Alaska, Wyoming, Idaho (I’m thinking one in Coeur d’Alene just because it looks amazing there), Nebraska, and New Mexico. So I ask all of you reading this, do you have any suggestions for half marathons in these states?  I’m not repeating a state, so if it’s one I’ve already done, thanks anyway.

I’ll take suggestions either way, too. If you loved or hated a race, let me know which one it was and why you loved or hated it.

Even if you haven’t personally ran a half marathon in any of these states but you have a good friend or relative who did and they raved or ranted about it, please pass those my way! I’ll take any and all suggestions I can get.

People often ask me how I choose which races I’m going to run. For many of my races, I’ve had a particular race in mind then something happens and for some reason I can’t run the race I had picked out months or even years in advance, and I’d end up running another race entirely. Usually it’s ended up well, but in the case of Tybee Island, Georgia and Run the Reagan Half Marathon, that wasn’t the best decision. Honestly, since my daughter started school, most of the races I’ve chosen have fit around her school breaks (which haven’t always been during a traditional school year).

Since I’m down to these final states it’s going to take some planning on my part to make sure I reach my goal. I don’t think I’ll be able to just randomly choose a race without thoroughly thinking the logistics through. For example, while there are some half marathons during the winter in Minnesota, you can be sure I won’t be running in any of them. That’s one state I think I have to run in the summer or early (very early) fall.

Now that I have a blog and have connected with many other runners online, I thought I’d send out a call for suggestions here. I know many of you run primarily marathons or other distances than half marathons, but I also know if you’re a part of a running community, you often hear other runners talk about races and I was hoping to gain some of that insight.

However, I realize some of these states aren’t exactly in “hot spots” where people are dying to run a race, like Disney, New York, Chicago, etc. so if I don’t get any suggestions I’ll understand. Personally, I can’t wait to go to most of these states but I don’t think they’re high on most runners’ lists of places where they want to run, with possibly the exception of Alaska.

You never know unless you ask, right? Anyone? Anything?