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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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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Running Resolutions for 2018

New year= new goals, right? Well, I’ve compiled a list of my top ten fitness and running goals for 2018. Let me know what you think!

Number 1- Only runs that get posted to Facebook/Instagram/Twitter count as valid miles ran. If it’s not on social media, it didn’t exist.

Number 2- This year I will run farther. I normally run half marathons since I have a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, but this year I plan on running an ultra. 100 miles sounds about right.

Number 3- I will do more cross-training. I already do yoga, lift weights, do core work, and cycle each once a week, but I think I’ll add in the rowing machine at the gym because well, four days of cross-training doesn’t seem like enough.

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Cycling, yoga, and weight-lifting just isn’t enough!

Number 4- I will lose 20 pounds even though I really don’t need to lose that much weight. It doesn’t sound “bold” enough to just say I’ll lose a few pounds, so I’m going to go for 20!

Number 5- This year I will never skip a workout, even if it’s during a family vacation, funeral, wedding, graduation, or other “important” event. If it means running 3 miles through an airport, so be it.

Number 6- I will stretch even more. I already stretch after every run but this year I will stretch for at least an hour after every run.

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I’d better plan on doing lots more of these!

Number 7- Following up on number 6, I will do yoga even more. I’ll do yoga seven days a week, because I have loads of free time on my hands so I might as well do something productive with it.

Number 8- I will set a PR in 2018 even though I’m no longer in my 30’s and will most likely not PR again at my age, but hey, a girl can dream!

Number 9- To top number 8, I will win first place in my age group in a race. Maybe that will happen at the ultra I plan to do.

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My first in Age Group award. Think I could win at an ultra?

Number 10- I will not take myself so seriously when it comes to running and I’ll forget every single one of resolutions one through nine!

This isn’t to knock any of you that have set serious resolutions for 2018. It’s just my way of saying I plan on having fun this year and I’ll do the best I can and not beat myself up for not doing more.

Do any of you have any running resolutions for 2018? Serious or not, I’d love to hear them!

Happy Running!

Donna

 

10 Things Travel Taught Me in 2017

In 2017 my travels took me to Las Vegas,Washington, Utah, where I ran a half marathonZion National ParkBryce Canyon National ParkAntelope CanyonBest Friends Animal Sanctuary in February, and Grand Canyon National Park in March. That’s a lot right there, so what did I learn in the first few months of 2017 from these places?

1). I learned I love visiting national parks even in the winter months (and I don’t like cold weather and snow). Bryce Canyon has a special feeling when you’re admiring partially snow-covered hoodoos and you’re surrounded by utter stillness and beauty.

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Snow-dusted Bryce Canyon

2). It’s possible and fun even to have a short stay in Las Vegas  with children and not spend much money. We had fun just wandering around, going through the massive casino hotels, taking in the views.

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Vegas, baby!

3). Volunteering when you’re on vacation rocks! One of the highlights of our time in Utah was our time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I’d love to do more things like this in the future.

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Hiking with our little overnight buddy at Best Friends

After some time at home, we were back out on our next travel adventure, beginning with New Jersey in May. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon  in Morristown, and I finally got to visit the Statue of Liberty in person. From New Jersey we were off to our first visit to South America, beginning in Santiago, Chile. After spending the night in Santiago, we spent a few days in Vina del Mar, which we fell in love with, and spent a week in the Las Cabras Region of Chile. This final place in Chile is where I learned so much about myself in relation to travel.

4). Sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Not being fluent in Spanish, not having wi-fi (mostly for maps and things to do), and not knowing the area well will force you to interact more with local people and figure things out on your own. I found I was more resilient than I thought I was.

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Chile in all of its splendor!

5). I learned so much during my time in Chile, I made a list of 15 lessons I learned there. Probably the biggest thing I learned was to learn as much Spanish as possible before visiting the country. Don’t expect others to speak English, especially in more remote and smaller towns. This is a lesson for many other non-English-speaking countries as well.

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I loved hiking on this trail in Chile

6). I also learned Chileans are some of the warmest, friendliest, most helpful people I’ve encountered on my travels. We were blessed with the kindness of strangers on several occasions in Chile.

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Our little fox friend in Chile

In August, my family and I headed back to one of my favorite cities, Charleston, South Carolina. We were fortunate enough to experience the total eclipse and that was definitely the highlight of our time there. Even though we were only there for five days, I learned something.

7). Sometimes your family will get on your nerves when you’re traveling. My daughter hadn’t been sleeping well for many days before we even went on this vacation. That on top of not sleeping well because she was in a strange bed in a strange house resulted in one cranky eleven-year-old. She whined, complained, and I lost my cool on more than one occasion. I didn’t let it ruin my vacation, however. I know there will be days like this, even on vacation, when everything’s not all rosy.

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Morris Island near Charleston

In November, we had a little mini-vacation in Huntington, West Virginia when I ran the Marshall University Half Marathon. While we were only here for the weekend, I did manage to learn something.

8). Weekend or long-weekend getaways are a great way to explore small towns. You don’t always have to go away for a week or more and you don’t always have to go to exotic places to have fun. My family and I had more weekend getaways last year than this year and I had forgotten how nice they can be.

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Huntington, West Virginia

For our final vacation of 2017, we headed first to Malta then to Miami. I was very much looking forward to going to Malta since visiting the Gozo Salt Pans was on my bucket list. Malta exceeded my expectations as far as natural beauty of the islands (Malta is an archipelago of three islands), food, and just about every thing we saw and did. I have a series of posts about our time in Malta and there is one thing I learned during that vacation.

9). Mobile WiFi or MiFi can be a relatively inexpensive (roughly $10/day) but truly invaluable way to find your way around and stay connected when traveling internationally, especially if you’re driving a rental car. I have a post coming on this, so stay tuned!

Our time in Miami was spent a bit differently than many people would choose to vacation there since we were there to visit a dear friend of mine who lives there. We didn’t go to a single club or party at South Beach like many people would. Instead my friend took care of all of the planning for us and graciously took us to some of her favorite restaurants, on a tour of the Everglades, and to South Beach for the day to enjoy the ocean, play in the sand, soak in the sun, and thoroughly relax and enjoy ourselves. This brings me to the final thing I learned about travel this year.

10). Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do all of the planning for you and just sit back and relax. You don’t always have to try to cram in a dozen “must-do” restaurants or things to do.

What about you all? Where has travel taken you in 2017 and what have you learned from it?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

What my 40-Something Self Would Tell my 20-Something Runner Self

If only I could go back in time. How many times have any of you thought that? Well, if I could go back in time and specifically tell myself about running, there are quite a few things I could say.

I’ve always said I feel like I’ve always been a runner. As far back as I can remember, I remember running through my neighborhood and later running in college. Although I was on my school track and field team for a year, I usually just ran for fun on my own. As an adult, I didn’t even sign up for a race until after graduate school, but after that I was hooked on racing and began running longer and longer distances.

The sport of running has changed drastically since I first started running regularly in my 20’s. For the most part, things have improved over the years. Take running clothes for example. It was pretty common for people twenty years ago to run in cotton t-shirts, shorts, cotton socks, and whatever pair of athletic shoes you happened to already have. At least I wasn’t running in cotton, but I didn’t have a pair of athletic shoes specifically for running. I would just run in whatever pair of athletic shoes I currently was wearing. So I guess that’s where I would start, with what to wear.

1). There are a ton (with more coming all the time) of athletic apparel companies out there. Explore! Try them all out and find what really works for you and your body.

2). As far as running shoes go, definitely explore different brands and don’t just stick with the same brand for ten years. Mix it up and try different brands every year or so.

3). There’s way more out there than water and Gatorade for long runs. Look around online and pay attention to what other runners are fueling with. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If gels, gummies, and other similarly sticky substances aimed toward runners don’t suit you, no worries. Try, try, and try some more. Even when you’ve found something that doesn’t upset your stomach and gives you energy to make it through long runs, there’s nothing wrong with trying out something new. You never know; you might like it even better than what you’re currently using.

4). Don’t train for your first marathon by yourself. It’s one thing to run a 10 mile training run for a half marathon by yourself, but it’s an entirely different matter to run a 20 mile training run for a marathon by yourself. You’ll also want the advice and support from seasoned marathoners.

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I didn’t heed my own advice and trained for the Long Beach Marathon by myself. It didn’t go well, but mostly because of the extreme heat.

5). Join a running club. If you don’t fit in with one, try another and keep trying until you find one that’s like a second family. The support you’ll get from a running club will be invaluable.

6). You can get by with minimal stretching when you’re in you’re 20’s but later in life it will catch up with you. Join a gym where they offer yoga and go every single week. Buy a foam roller and use it after every single run. If you get into the habit of doing something early on, it will be easier to stick with.

7). Strength training is another thing that you can skip when you’re younger but it becomes more important as you get older. Focus on running-specific moves such as lunges, squats, and core-strengthening movements.

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Bridge is a great exercise for runners

8). Start a running blog and follow others. Similar to a good running club, the support you’ll get from your regular readers will be huge. Also, you’ll learn a ton from your  readers and the blogs you follow over the years.

9). Probably the biggest resounding theme for my advice to myself is to try new things when you’re training but not on race day. Be open to trying just about anything from what you wear, what you ingest before or during runs, and even who you run with. Just not on race day.

10). Finally, enjoy the ride! Don’t take yourself too seriously! You’ll still be a solid runner even if you don’t meet some goal time you’ve set for yourself. No one will judge you if you don’t finish a race in a certain time. You’re your own worst enemy when it comes to things like that.

What about you guys? What advice would you give to your younger running self?

Happy running!

Donna

What’s in my Racing (Running) Bag?

Similar to “What’s in my Family’s Luggage” post, I thought I’d write one up on what I pack for a race. Since I’m currently on my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states, and am up to 41 states, I have been packing a bag for a race for many years now. The contents of my pre-race bag have certainly changed as I’ve learned what works and doesn’t work for me.

To begin with, let me just re-iterate how much I love my packing cubes from ebags. I have the 3 piece set and love them so much I bought more for my daughter. If you are new to my blog, you may not be aware that my family and I never check a bag with an airline. Also, since I’m down to the last 9 states, there will be no more driving to a half marathon for me. I’ve already driven to all of ones that are within driving distance from my house and I’m not into cross-country driving before a half marathon.

I’ve always been able to condense all of my running gear except for my shoes, which I always wear on the airplane to the race, into a medium-sized packing cube. Almost always I’ll be running once or twice before the race as well, so I’ll also pack another running shirt, sports bra, socks, and shorts or other weather-appropriate bottoms in the cube.

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is in my running packing cube specifically for a half marathon?

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1. I always pack at least one sports bra and pair of socks, regardless of the weather and time of year. I learned the hard way at my half marathon in Missoula, Montana to pack a long-sleeve shirt and capris or pants even if it’s July and you think there’s no way you’ll need to wear anything but shorts and short-sleeves if you’re headed somewhere north of where you live. I consider these things my basics. I’ve been buying Zensah sports bras lately and really like them so I’m packing one of those for my next race. For socks, I’m packing Zensah Grit socks. My shirt is a short-sleeve from Arctic Cool that I reviewed and you can read that here if you’d like. My shorts are from Under Armour. The shorts and shirt obviously would be different if I was headed to a cooler race.

2. I always pack my running watch and charger. I’ve had multiple Garmins and more recently a TomTom over the years, but this is one piece of gear that’s always gone with me to my races.

3. I always pack sunglasses and a running hat. I’ll decide on the morning of the race if I actually wear the sunglasses and hat, depending on how sunny/hot/cold it is going to be.

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All my running gear neatly packed in a medium-sized packing cube

4. In more recent years I’ve started running races with my Nathan running belt. It’s got holders for two bottles, which I like better than ones that have a spot for one big bottle. I run all my races fueled by Nuun carried by me and have found that just works better for me. No surprises on what you’re going to get at aid stations, and if it’s going to settle well with you, and even better, no slowing down at aid stations to grab a cup and try to not slosh it all over yourself while still swallowing a few drops. Speaking of fuel, I also like Honey Stinger waffles. I have a finicky stomach on race day but I usually don’t have a hard time getting these down.

5. Also in more recent years, I’ve been running races with my phone and armband. After one race where the finish was an absolute mad house and I had trouble finding my husband and daughter because there were so many people (even though we agreed to meet in a specific spot ahead of time), I started just running with my phone for all races.

6. I always wear my running shoes to races where I have to fly to, so those don’t go in my packing cubes. My latest pair for long runs is the Newton Fate II, which you can buy directly from Newton here and I see currently they’re on sale. It looks like the Fate III’s are out now. Not sure if I’ll stick with Newton or switch brands. I’m debating switching brands just to mix things up.

7. I also have two things for after a race. The first one is compression socks. These are fantastic for long flights, whether or not you’re running a race. When you’re on a long flight, the blood in your legs tends to pool unless you get up and walk around the plane a lot, so compression socks help with circulation in your legs. I personally like ones from Zensah and you can buy them here. The rule of thumb when it comes to compression products is if they’re easy to put on and pull off, they’re not tight enough. These things should be difficult to put on and feel like a bit of a struggle, but in the end it’s worth it.

The second thing I have for after a race is new to me, but one I’m very excited about. I’ve just discovered Oofos sandals (thank you, Paula!) and couldn’t be more excited about a pair of sandals. If you haven’t discovered Oofos yet, they’re supposed to be great for recovery after running or just being on your feet all day. You can tell they’re supremely different than most other flip-flop type sandals the second you put them on. The support they give to your feet is incredible. I can see why they’re so popular with runners.

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I’m normally not a big fan of photos of people’s feet but I felt like my new Oofos deserved a photo!

So that’s everything. I feel like I’ve packed a bag for a half marathon so many times by now I barely even have to think about what I need to bring. It does make it a bit less stressful when packing at least.

Also, I have an affiliate link through ebags for $30 off your next order if you sign up for emails here.  I don’t often pass along links for ebags on my blog, but if you follow me on twitter @runningtotravel, I’ll sometimes post links there for discounts when they come along. I love their stuff, but I don’t want to seem like I’m too pushy (I wouldn’t be a very good salesperson).

What running gear or clothes do you all really like for half marathons or marathons? Any recommendations?

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

What I’m Thankful for in 2017

Normally I don’t do this kind of post, but this year, I was feeling especially thankful, and with it being Thanksgiving in the US, it seemed appropriate. I feel like so much happened in 2017 that helped me grow as a person. I’ve always felt like we Americans often take our privileged lives for granted and I have tried to not fall into that trap. My mother was a single mother who raised my brother and me by herself once my parents divorced when I was 8 years old and my brother was 12. We were poor by most people’s standards in the US, but once I was older and visited countries outside the US, I saw how lucky we really had it. At least we had a roof over our heads and running water, which is more than many people especially in less developed countries can say.

Now my husband, daughter, and myself are able to travel considerably, especially by American standards and I appreciate this deeply. This year we began our travels for the year in Utah, where I ran the Dogtown Half Marathon, my 39th state for a half marathon. I feel extremely fortunate I’m not only healthy and strong enough to run half marathons, but also that I’ve been able to continue this journey of running a half marathon in all 50 states as long as I have. I ran the Superhero Half Marathon in New Jersey for my 40th state in May and honestly I was thankful just to finish that one because it was so tough!

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After the Dogtown Half Marathon in Utah

In June of this year, my family and I was fortunate enough to visit the beautiful country of Chile. This was our first visit to South America, and we thought we would be fine with our limited knowledge of Spanish. Although we struggled to communicate with the people many times, we did figure things out and we found out we were resilient. In the end, we were thankful we were able to visit Chile and see all of the amazing things we saw including the Andes Mountains, which are even more beautiful in person than I thought they would be.

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This little fox in Chile was so friendly!

I’m also thankful that I’ve been able to change my running gait, and get back to the stride I used to have years ago. You can read about my journey for that here. It was difficult and took many months to do the exercises necessary to strengthen my glutes and hips, along with just the focused effort of not hyperextending my right leg when I was running, but I was able to do it.

I think my change in running gait is part of the reason I had such a fun race at the Marshall University Half Marathon in Huntington, West Virginia in November. After difficult races in Utah and New Jersey, I needed the mental boost I got from the race in West Virginia. I realize not every race will be a PR, especially when you’re in your 40’s like I am, so you take all the “wins” you can get when you’re my age!

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After the Marshall University Half Marathon in West Virginia

I’m also thankful for all of the friends I’ve made from the blogging community. I’ve learned so much from reading other blogs and from the comments I’ve gotten from others. If I would have known blogging can be so much fun, I would have started a blog years ago!

Most of all, I’m thankful for my husband and daughter. They’re my travel companions, my hill-running companion (my daughter), my friends, and most of all my family. They love and support me unconditionally even when they’re not too happy with me. I know I can always depend on them no matter what and honestly I can’t say that about anyone else in the world.

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Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US (I know no one else cares)! Even if you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving you can still be thankful. What are you all most thankful for?

Donna