Book Review- Footnotes How Running Makes Us Human by Vybarr Cregan-Reid

I have to start out by saying this book is one of the most unique books on running I’ve ever read. Unique isn’t necessarily bad, just different. Cregan-Reid is a literature professor and runner who decided to write a book about biomechanics, psychology, and the environment in the context of running and literature. I’m quite sure I’ve never read another book that combined all of those things together before.

The book is divided into four parts:  sensing, reasoning, earthing, and roaming. I’ll discuss some of the things that stood out to me from each part. In the first part, Sensing, the author describes how he became a runner and his experiences with the early stages of running. He spends a great deal of time discussing running shoes and the history of running shoes. He also goes into detail about barefoot running and how he became to be a firm believer of barefoot running.

There is also a large section of part one of the book about Cregan-Reid’s visit to Boston to meet with Dr. Irene Davis at the Spaulding National Running Center. The author has an assessment of his running biomechanics and there is a lengthy part on ‘natural running’ and how shoes effect that. One quote that stood out to me from part one of the book is, “Running changes who you are and how you see, feel, and sense the outside world- how can you still be you if you run?” I like this quote a lot and think it sums up how much running changes a person.

Part two of the book, Reasoning, like the other parts of the book is filled with literary references and detailed personal runs by the author. One quote from this section I liked is “Put simply, running makes you smarter,” and he continues, “If performed in a softly fascinating (more on this later) and natural environment, running can make you better at your job, more independent, a more attentive friend or partner, care more for the environment, enhance your concentration levels, improve exam reports, and feel more attractive to whoever it is you want to attract.” Cregan-Reid backs up these claims with numerous references, which I’m not going to get into here but it is a weighty quote!

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 10.37.47 AM

Also included in part two is a discussion on “runner’s high,” with scientific studies and the author’s personal experiences with it. The author even has specific requirements for runner’s high:  the run will be longer than 40 minutes and the run takes place in a green space, plus some others mentioned in the book. Cregan-Reid also discusses a meeting he had with environmental psychologists from the University of Michigan, Dr. Avrik Basu and Dr. Jason Duvall. They discuss how distractions negatively effect our attention spans, among other things. Dr. Duvall has a study on the effect of ‘awareness plans’ on outdoor exercise. Basically, the groups that were aware of their senses had significant improvements in their well-being.

Cregan-Reid also discusses how running should be neither work nor exercise but more like play. He traces the history of exercise back to the 18th century and notes author Jane Austen’s references to exercise. By the 19th century, exercise is more commonly seen in what the author calls “leisured classes” of society. Poor people were working in the fields and doing other types of manual labor so they had no time nor need for exercise on top of this. Finally, the author says, “Running, like literature, like art, helps you to remember and re-experience some of the impossible strangeness of what it means to be who and what we are, of what it means to be human.”

Part three of the book, Earthing, discusses humans need to connect physically with the earth for our well-being. There are parts where the author discusses running in the fir and redwood forests of California. From this, he segues into a discussion on a review paper from 2010 that concluded forest environments lowered blood pressure and pulse rate among other things compared to city environments. Other studies have concluded that forest time “improved nocturnal sleep conditions for those with sleep complaints.”

Also in part three is a discussion on the treadmill as a torture device beginning in the 18th century. William Cubitt invented the treadwheel or ‘Discipline Mill,’ which soon became known as the treadmill. Beginning in 1818, prisoners of ‘Her Majesty’ who had committed more serious crimes were sentenced to hard labor, including put to work on the treadwheel. Oscar Wilde is one of the most famous victims, who spent as much as six hours a day on the treadmill in prison and was basically physically broken because of this. One interesting claim by the author is that he says he remembers nearly every outdoors run he has done in the last 12 months, but only a couple out of a hundred runs on the treadmill.

Screen Shot 2018-04-10 at 10.43.30 AM

Part four, Roaming, is basically about how exploring new places by running can be exciting and wonderful or it can be frustrating and disheartening. Cregan-Reid of course gives personal examples of this in this section, along with other sections of the book. There is also a discussion on wildness, freedom, and trespassing. Possibly the most famous author on this subject is Henry David Thoreau, who wrote Walden. The author visits the replica of Thoreau’s hut at Walden Pond but is disappointed to find the area fenced off in places and finds the area not so natural but rather touristy.

The final chapter is about the author’s experience running the London Marathon. This was the author’s first race since school, so there were no 5k’s or other distances leading up to this marathon. Cregan-Reid, who is an asthmatic, applied for a charity spot, was accepted, and began raising money for Asthma UK. Four days before the race, Cregan-Reid’s asthma worsened after he caught a cold. Concerned about running a marathon when he was ill, he told everyone he wasn’t able to run. When he went to formally withdraw from the race one day prior to the event, he had missed the deadline that would have allowed him to run it the following year.

The morning of the 2012 London Marathon, Cregan-Reid awoke before 6:00 and debated whether or not to run the race. He decided to wear his heart-rate monitor and run so slowly that his heart rate wouldn’t exceed 130. He walked the mile from his apartment to the race start with his partner. The author made his way to the back of the 35,000 people at the race start, with the agreement that he would check in with his partner along the course to make sure he was OK. Ultimately, he finished the race and says that “at mile 26.2 I find that, almost by accident, I have run a marathon.”

There are several references to the author running in cities around the world, including the places I’ve already mentioned, as well as Venice, Paris, the Cotswolds, California, and Boston. Being a runner who loves to travel, I found these sections interesting, as I too love to explore new cities by running. Finally, the author states that running has made him more “self-reliant, resilient, and free.” I would concur with this statement about myself personally.

While this book may not be for everyone, especially if you’re put off by the many literary references, I found it refreshingly different and enjoyed it. At 293 pages, it’s not what I’d call a “quick read,” but it’s not meant to be. If you enjoy running and would like to read a book about the history of running, biomechanics, and psychology involved in running, written in a unique way, I recommend checking this book out.

You can find this book at your local library or on Amazon here.

How many of you have “accidentally” run a marathon? Do you enjoy reading books about running that aren’t full of advice but more about the history of running and other aspects of running like psychological effects?

Happy running!

Donna

Spreading the Love for my Fellow Bloggers who Run

During this time of year where we’re surrounded by heart decorations in stores everywhere and commercials filled with products to buy for our loved ones, I would like to spread the love in a different way. I would like to send out some admiration to some bloggers I follow who, among other things happen to be some pretty amazing runners, and they inspire me for different reasons.

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 12.41.48 PM

First, Paula at neveradullbling. If you don’t already follow Paula, you should know she’s on a quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states like I am. In addition to all of the half marathons she’s already ran, she’s training for Marine Corps Marathon, which will be her first marathon, in October. What I find most inspiring about Paula isn’t even related to her running, though. Paula also works for a wildlife rescue place and her love and dedication to animals is palpable in her posts. She seems like one of the kindest, sweetest people you’ll ever have the pleasure to meet. Just don’t piss her off though because she also seems like there would be hell to pay if you screwed her over. Just my kind of friend. Follow Paula at neveradullbling.com.

Paula’s husband James also deserves a spot here. James is on a quest to run a marathon in all 50 states. James manages to run several half marathons a year in addition to the marathons he runs, which is impressive. James had a back injury in 2017, however, that set him back and he was unable to run at all for months, which meant he had to cancel plans for some of the races he had planned. He did end up running a half marathon in San Antonio, Texas, however, in November of last year. I loved how he said it was the slowest, best half marathon he had ever ran. Not surprisingly, James also seems like a kind, caring person who would do anything for a friend. You can find James at 50in50marathonquest.com.

Helly is one of those people who I wish loved near me so I could run in a running group with her. Although she would kick my butt and I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her for long, it would push me to see how long I could run at her pace and would be good motivation for me. Helly is trying to qualify for Boston at the Phoenix Marathon which just happens to be on my birthday, February 24. I have no doubt she’ll qualify for Boston, if not this month then later when the time is right. Send her some love and best wishes for a BQ if you don’t already follow her at hellyontherun.com!

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 12.30.34 PM

Elle is the kind of person the more I get to know her through her blog, the more I feel I have in common with her. Like me, she loves to travel and goes to beautiful places every chance she gets. Unlike me, Elle is super speedy and qualified for Boston 2018 at the California International Marathon last December, a race she told no one she was running until after the fact. I always learn so much from Elle’s blog and feel like she’s always two steps ahead of most people. Follow her on her blog afastpacedlife.wordpress.com and I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two!

Jodi is the social butterfly of the bunch here. I’m always amazed at how many fellow runners and bloggers Jodi knows when she posts photos to Instagram. Then again she runs more races than anyone else I know, so I guess that’s part of the reason she knows so many people, the other part being how genuinely nice of a person she seems to be. Jodi went through a pretty scary time last year and had to deal with some health issues that went undiagnosed for a while. She openly and honestly shared her experiences on her blog and I admire her for that because I know it’s not always easy to share such personal experiences with others. Follow Jodi on her blog if you don’t already at mykindoffit.wordpress.com. She’s the one with the huge smile on her face!

Finally, Mai, the youngest of the bunch here. Mai is a woman on fire and the type of person who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. Mai is a fairly recent PhD graduate so of course she’s highly intelligent and she’s also a fast runner. I’m always amazed at all of the things she does (and I don’t mean just running) and posts to the blog. In January she completed the Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World, which means she ran a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and marathon in the span of four days. Enough said. Follow Mai at if you don’t already at ifijustbreathe.wordpress.com.

Who are some of your favorite bloggers? Feel free to post links to their sites here and of course tell everyone what you like most about them.

I also would like to share the #nuunlove with a code for 30% off through February 11 with code NUUNLOVE30 at nuunlife.com and nuuncanada.com.

Happy running!

Donna

 

Running a Women-Only Race

It seems that women-only races are becoming more and more popular and for good reason. For many years women weren’t allowed to run long distances races. To even be typing that seems absurd to me but I remember when doctors would tell women they shouldn’t run. Going on absolutely no real findings, doctors believed running was somehow bad for women and/or that women couldn’t run long distances because we were too frail and our periods somehow interfered with running. If you even attempted to run while pregnant, you would be condemned by everyone you knew.

Flash back to 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with a numbered entry. She registered under the name “K.V. Switzer” and was almost thrown off the course while running by race official Jock Semple. Kathrine is a legend in the field of running and an inspiration to all runners but especially female runners. It took another five years before women were officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon in 1972.

The field of female runners has increased over the years and gradually more and more women have been entering races but women are still out-numbered by men at most marathons. So why the draw to a women-only race? Well, I can tell you my first-hand experience. I ran a women-only plus “one lucky guy” half marathon in Massachusetts a few years ago. The race organizers allowed entry for one guy (I’m not sure how he was chosen from the other males that entered or even how many males entered for that matter).

dsc01732
Some of the fall foliage from the All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon

The All Women and One Lucky Guy Half Marathon I ran in Massachusetts was one that sticks out in my mind, of all of the half marathons I’ve run. Yes, the course was beautiful with all of the fall foliage in peak season and running past farms along country roads was lovely but that’s not what makes the race memorable. The race stands out in my mind apart from the rest because of the camaraderie at the race simply because it was an all-women race. It’s difficult to explain but it had a different kind of vibe than the usual male/female mixed races. You can read my full race report here.

I know there has been some backlash from some women’s only races, namely some of the Diva races, which include the half marathon and 5K in many cities in the US, Puerto Rico, and Canada. These races are all about the stereotypical feminine bling like pink boas, tiaras, tutus, and pretty much all things pink. I think it’s all meant to provide a fun atmosphere and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Personally, I’m not a diva in any way, shape, or form, but I feel if some women want to be, that should be their choice. I have a friend who has run in some of the diva races and she said they’re “kind of silly” but also “kind of fun.” I say if it takes that kind of thing to encourage some women to run a race, so be it.

One important note, not all women’s only races are like the diva ones or the ones you hear about firefighters handing out jewelry to finishers at the end. The race I ran wasn’t handing out chocolates, roses, or anything frilly. The medal did have a pink ribbon but it wasn’t anything too over the top. In general this race was like any other race, except it happened to be all women and one guy running the race, and like I said earlier, there was a different kind of vibe.

dsc01730
Women in the All Women and One Lucky Guy at the start- not much pink here!

Finally, my thoughts on men running in women’s only races. While these races are geared toward women and providing a safe, encouraging space, sometimes men will sign up. Sometimes their wife/girlfriend/friend/sister will ask them to run the race with them, and sometimes they just want to sign up and run it on their own, although I think both cases are pretty rare. There’s nothing to stop them. I don’t think we would ever have a role reversal like the Kathrine Switzer attempt to throw a man off a women’s only course. I think most men understand that women enjoy having their own space to run a race and they’re fine with that.

Want to try your own Women’s Only race? Here are a few to try:

See Jane Run Women’s Half Marathon & 5K – San Francisco Bay Area

Her Madison Half Marathon & 5K- Wisconsin

Bridge of the Goddess Half Marathon & 10K- Oregon

Queen Bee Half Marathon & 4-Miler- Cincinnati, Ohio

Unleash the She 5K & 10K- Minnesota

Phoenix Women’s Half Marathon, 5K, & 10K- Arizona

Cocoa Half Marathon, 5K, 10K, & 1 Mile Family Fun Run- San Antonio, Texas

Savannah Women’s Half Marathon & 5K- Georgia

Thelma and Louise Half Marathon & Relay- Utah

National Women’s Half Marathon & 8K- Washington, DC

Disney Princess Half Marathon, 10K, & 5K- Florida

Tinker Bell Half Marathon- California

Shape Women’s Half Marathon- New York City

Diva Running Series- multiple locations

How many of you have run in a women-only race? Any you’d recommend? Please share your experience here. Do you hate the very idea of women’s only races? Share those opinions as well!

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

Race Raves Review

I recently discovered a website I’d like to pass along to all of my fellow runners, Race Raves. As someone who’s got the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states, a website like this is always a great find. I’m always looking for half marathons and reading other runners’ reviews of the races, so a site like this is perfect for me.

The website is completely free and you input all of your previous races (or all the ones you want to). Honestly, this is about the only downside I see, having to put in all of your own races. I know some other sites like this do it for you, but the downside to that, at least for me, is my older races aren’t included. With Race Raves, if a race you ran isn’t on their list, you can click to add a race. I requested five races be added to my “staging area” and less than 24 hours later (less than 12 hours really) I got an email saying those races had been added so I could now add them to complete my racing profile. Talk about quick turnaround!

I was able to add all 41 states I’ve ran half marathons in during a lunch break at my desk, so it’s not really as big of a deal as it may seem to input your races. You could always break it down into smaller chunks and just add a few at a time also. Having a blog definitely helped with this, though. I could easily check dates and finish times from my blog and enter those into my personal staging area.

Screen Shot 2018-01-11 at 1.19.01 PM

There are several features I really like about this site, one of which is the cool map you generate when you input your races. They’re color-coded so half marathons are orange, marathons are light blue, ultra marathons a darker blue, and other is yellow. There are even colors for states where you ran say a marathon and a half marathon. For an aspiring 50-stater like me, this is one cool feature.

Another thing I really like about Race Raves is the link to find a race. I’m always looking for and comparing half marathons in states I need to run. This allows you to look for races ranging from a 5K to 100 miler and most distances in-between, including relays, which I find most search engines like this don’t have the option for. It will search around the world, as well, not just the United States. Another option is to search by terrain/type including “OCR” and “synthetic.”

In addition to find and discover races, rate and review races, and organize your races, you can also follow other runners, which they call “Lunatics I Follow.” Nice. So far I’m only following a couple of people, but I need to work on that and follow some other runners. If any of you do end up setting up a profile on Race Raves, be sure to follow me there! I’m listed as “Donna S.”

Finally, I do realize this is pretty much in direct competition with Bib Raves, which I know many of you are avid members of the community. If you’re already active with Bib Raves, you may not care to join Race Raves, but I always like passing along info like this in case anyone is interested. I look at Race Raves like another tool in my tool belt of running information!

Happy running!

Donna

 

Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach (Or so They Say)

After reading an article on Active titled 13 Milestones Every Serious Runner Should Reach I started to think about it. For those of you that don’t want to read the article, I’ll break down the thirteen steps.

  1.  Finish your first 5k
  2. A double-digit run
  3. Your very first gel
  4. Your first black toenail
  5. Completing your first half marathon
  6. The sub-2 hour half marathon
  7. Your sub-7 minute mile
  8. Your first run in bad weather
  9. Hitting 40 miles in a week
  10. Your first 20 mile run
  11. Your first race bonk
  12. Crossing the finish line of a marathon
  13. A BQ (Boston Marathon qualifying time)

I’ve done all but the last one, earn a BQ. My one and only marathon was a disaster and by no means was I anywhere close to a BQ. I also had no desire since then to run another marathon. My body just isn’t made to run marathons, nor do I have the time nor am I willing to make the time to train for a marathon.

Does it make you any less of a runner if you don’t run a marathon or even a half marathon? What if you run for an hour five days a week faithfully for years but never enter into any races- are you not a serious runner?

What does “serious” runner mean anyway? Apparently to the author who made up the above list, a serious runner is only one who runs marathons and runs them fast at that. Or do you have to only complete some of these from the list to qualify as a “serious” runner? Maybe if you’ve done most of them, you’re a serious runner. But then that would mean the slower runners wouldn’t be serious. I’ll bet if you ask anyone who has run a few marathons but hasn’t finished even close to a BQ, they would tell you they’re a serious runner for sure!

I guess I consider myself a serious runner. Running is a big part of my life and like I said, while I’ve only ever ran one marathon, I run a few half marathons a year and am approaching my 43rd half marathon. When I was training for my marathon, I ran 40 miles in a week, ran 20 miles in a training run, and bonked because of the extreme heat at the marathon, but I did still manage to cross the finish line. Now that I train for half marathons, I don’t or won’t ever do the last five items in the list. I don’t think that makes me any less of a serious runner.

Long Beach Marathon
My one and only marathon, the Long Beach Marathon

Many of these items on the list are possible “one and done” kind of things. Does simply completing a 5k, half marathon, and marathon (which means by default all but numbers 6, 7 and 13 would likely also happen and quite possibly number 3 as well) make you a serious runner? Does that mean once you’re a serious runner and you can tick off the majority of items from the list, you’re always a serious runner? Or does that status go away if you’re not running half marathons and marathons and qualifying for Boston?

I know I’ve asked a lot of questions and haven’t answered many of them. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what my list would be for a “serious” runner. I think it varies for everyone. Some people are never going to run sub-7 minute miles and that’s just a fact. I don’t think that makes you any less of a serious runner because of that. Likewise, many people are never going to run a sub-2 hour half marathon and even more are never going to run a BQ marathon.

I think if you just finish a marathon, you’re a serious runner (assuming you’re not walking the entire race of course). It takes huge amounts of effort and time to just train for a marathon and anyone who doesn’t agree has never trained for a marathon. Also training for a half marathon takes huge amounts of time and energy.

So no, I don’t agree that every runner “should” reach these milestones to be considered a serious runner. I agree that these are indeed milestones that some runners reach over the span of their running careers, but I don’t agree every runner needs to do these things. I think to say that somehow makes the efforts of people who are out there running, doing the best they can, but not running 6 minute miles or going out for 20 mile runs seem less worthwhile than runners going faster or further. It says what they’re doing isn’t good enough. I’ve always said, you’re racing against yourself and that’s all that matters. I use the term “racing” loosely too, meaning, training runs, during a race, or even just out by yourself for a run with no race in sight.

However, I can go the other direction, too, and agree that most people wouldn’t call someone who goes out and runs for a mile or two at a light and easy pace a “serious” runner. So I guess you might say “serious” to me at least implies someone who goes a bit above and beyond the everyday runner. Still, I don’t want to demean someone who goes out for short easy runs and never runs a race. Just because you’re not a serious runner doesn’t make you any less of a runner. Certainly not everyone should be or in some cases is able to be a serious runner.

Milestones should be very personal for each runner. A milestone for one person may not be a milestone for another. So I ask you all:  what are some of your running milestones?

 

 

Racing (Running) Mishaps

So far I’ve ran 42 half marathons, one marathon, two 5k’s, one 10k, one 10-miler, and one 15k, all over a roughly 20 year span. Mishaps are bound to come up if you run enough races. Over the years, I’ve been pretty lucky, though. There really haven’t been that many mishaps come up.

One of the biggest racing mishaps to happen to me was just before the Allstate New York 13.1 Half Marathon. I was staying within a short cab ride in Queens from the start of the race, but my taxi driver couldn’t seem to find the race start at the National Tennis Center, even though I told him where it was. Hello, Google Maps? At the time I didn’t run with my phone and my husband didn’t have his on him, so we couldn’t just punch it in and tell the driver. After about 10 minutes of the driver circling the park, I just got out and ran toward the start, completely in a panic. I managed to make it to the start in time, and all was well in the end.

DSC01881
I thought I wasn’t going to make it to the start of this race in New York in time!

Another thing that happened that was almost a racing mishap was I didn’t pack running pants or even capris for my the Missoula Half Marathon in Montana, and a cold front moved in, making it much cooler than the predicted weather I had checked before flying out. I thought I would freeze if I wore the running shorts I had packed. I tried to find running pants but was unable to do so, not surprisingly since it was July. One running store had one pair of capris that was really a size too small for me, but I squeezed into them, and was glad I had them when it was in the low 40’s at race start.

IMG_7163
Finish area of the race in Missoula

I hadn’t planned on running the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon until a few weeks prior. In fact, I had planned on running a completely different half marathon for my one in Oregon. This is a big deal because I don’t live anywhere near Oregon so I would be flying cross-country with my family to get to this race. Knowing it was a small half marathon, I didn’t feel pressured to sign up early and there were no breaks in price so I had planned on waiting until a few weeks out to sign up. I had already made hotel and flight reservations and I thought I was all ready to go, until I emailed the race director with a question before I signed up, only to find out the race had been cancelled. Luckily she suggested another half marathon in Eugene, only instead of being the Saturday I had planned on running, it was the next day on Sunday. That was almost a huge racing mishap!

1459094519254
I was glad I made it to the McKenzie River Half Marathon in Oregon

Can you believe I’ve only had three mishaps out of almost 50 races? I can’t! The best part is everything worked out in all three cases before the half marathons took place so my races weren’t even effected. I’ve heard of people go to races only to realize they’ve forgotten their watches, shoes, or other running gear. There’s the famous Seinfeld episode where the guy flew in from another country and overslept before the New York City Marathon. That would be the worst!

What kind of running/racing mishaps have you all had or almost had?

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.

20170424_211005

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:

20170424_211437

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.

Planning a Racecation

Racecation, while not in the dictionary (yet), is when you combine a race with a vacation.  Racecations have become fairly common, especially with the longer distance races like the half marathon and marathon.  Since I am running a half marathon in all 50 states and am up to my 38th state, I have planned my fair share of racecations.  Obviously I love racecations but I know many people may be anxious about running a race that’s far from where they live.  If you’re one of those that’s on the fence about it, read on.

Why should you do a racecation?

If you choose your race within a reasonable drive of a scenic area, you can follow up a race with a fun vacation, a sort of celebration or party if you will.  While you can do it in reverse, with the vacation first then the race at the end, I don’t advise that if at all avoidable.  I have had a few racecations this way because of my daughter’s school schedule (she’s never missed a vacation, racecation or otherwise with my husband and me), or a holiday that I didn’t want to be traveling during, or some other logistical reason.  One thing to know about my family’s vacations are they are rarely the kind where we lounge around in hammocks for half the day.  We have active vacations that include hiking, swimming, taking walking tours, etc. Not exactly the kinds of things you want to be doing right before a race, though.

img_20160606_143741115
My racecation in Colorado allowed me to catch up with a long-time friend

It’s not the best idea to follow up a week of hiking with running a half marathon or marathon, but it can be done.  The best way to plan this kind of racecation where the race is at the end of your vacation is to make absolutely sure you stay off your feet as much as possible the day before your race (two days prior is even better).  So if your race is at the end of your vacation, go hiking, swimming, playing with your kids outside but then watch a movie and lounge by the pool the day before your race.

How to Choose Where to Run

Assuming this isn’t your first race (I’m not sure I would recommend a racecation for someone’s first race ever), you hopefully know by now what kind of races you enjoy.  Do you like big races?  Choose one of the Rock n Roll Series races or see my post on one of my favorite big races, Shamrock Marathon, Virginia-24th state.  Although I have not done any of the Disney races, I know they are hugely popular. Prefer small races?  One of my favorite small races was Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.

Unless you are running a race in all 50 states, I would say just choose a place where you’ve always wanted to go (or go back to) and see if there’s a race at that place.  If there is, do a little more research to see if it’s one that’s doable, which brings me to my next point.

Do a Little Research on the Race

I have some websites I go to for choosing races.  They are halfmarathons.netrunningintheusa.comhalfmarathonsearch.comcoolrunning.com for starters.  If I’m looking for a specific race in a specific area, I would just google it and find information that way.  Also remember that races come and go, so a link could be outdated.  I signed up for a race that was last spring from a website that was outdated, only to find out the race had been canceled after I had already made my travel plans.  In place of the canceled race I ended up running the McKenzie River Half Marathon, Oregon- 36th state.  In my case, there was no way to know the website was outdated without contacting someone from the site and getting a response back, which fortunately happened to me.  I think this is rare, however and it’s the only time something like this has happened to me.

img_20160402_171205660
Horsetail Falls in Oregon

Before you hit click to enter a race electronically, do some further research first to avoid disappointment or at least know what you’re getting yourself into.  First see when the race is going to happen.  Is it in Florida/Georgia/Mississippi/Texas/Louisiana in July or August?  You should pass on that since that’s one of the hottest months in the south and you’d likely be miserable running anything longer than a 5k at the crack of dawn.  Minnesota in February?  No thank you.  Personally I’m not a glutton for punishment.  Rhode Island in October?  Now you’re talking.  Perfect weather and peak foliage for the leaves in the New England states.

Check out the day and time of the race.  If it starts at 5:30 am and you can barely drag yourself out of bed to run at 8 am, you might want to think long and hard before signing up for an early-morning race, especially one that early.  Remember, that’s start time, which means you’ll have to be up and at the race way before then.  Also, if it happens to fall on a day when you or your family have plans, that won’t work for a race that’s in another state.

Click on the elevation chart (if there is one).  If you despise running hills and this course is straight up a mountainside and back down, I wouldn’t advise running that.  Or, conversely, if you really enjoy some small to moderate hills to break up a marathon and this course is pancake flat, it might not be the best choice.  Often, there is no elevation chart or it’s misleading more often than not, de-emphasizing the hills along the course.  That’s happened to me more than once where I checked out an elevation chart of a race, only to find it loaded with many more hills than I thought it would or the hills were much steeper than I thought they would be.  All you can do is make the best of it if that happens.

dsc01028
My half marathon in Knoxville, Tennessee was one massively hilly race but we loved the sidewalk chalk art displays afterwards!

Look at the race course.  While it likely won’t mean much to you since it’s in a place you’re not familiar with, it’s still a good idea to see where you’ll be running.  Sometimes you can gain a little insight like if you’ll be running past ocean views which will help pass the time and keep you preoccupied with the view.

Racecation Packing List

For a racecation, your packing list is a bit more complicated but doesn’t have to be daunting.  Yes, weather is often unpredictable, more so in some parts of the country than others.  My best advice is to pack for what you expect the weather to be like (shorts if it will be warm, pants if it will be cold) and then add in a couple of extra items “just in case.” For instance, if it’s supposed to be warm where you’re headed, pack shorts, short-sleeve shirt or tank top, and running capris or a long-sleeve shirt (your preference), just in case it’s cooler than predicted.

As a minimalist packer who hasn’t checked a bag with an airline in years (Never Check a Bag with an Airline Again), this may seem contradictory, but trust me, it works.  I learned the hard way at Missoula Marathon, Montana-22nd state that the weather can change drastically the day before your race.  Better to have an extra shirt or pair of pants than be miserable when running your race because you didn’t pack enough.

When I was packing for my Missoula racecation, I checked the weather for Missoula, Montana and the forecast called for warmer temperatures so I packed shorts.  However, a cold front came in the day before the race and the weather the morning of the race was supposed to be much colder than predicted.  I had to find a running store and attempt to find running pants during the middle of summer, which of course they did not have.  Instead I had to squeeze into capris that were a size smaller than I normally would have bought and run a half marathon in clothes I hadn’t trained in.  Normally you don’t want to run in anything you haven’t previously trained in but given the circumstances I felt it was a better option than freezing during the race.

img_7421
Kayaking in Missoula, Montana

Your packing list should include:

clothing (as mentioned in the previous paragraphs pack an extra item or two just in case but don’t pack more than one of the same item, such as two pair of shorts)- short-sleeve or long-sleeve shirt, shorts, capris, and/or pants, sports bra, socks, jacket and gloves if it will be cold

running belt and bottles (if used for races or at all)

hat (weather-appropriate)

sport sunglasses

running watch with adapter for charging

sports supplements (Gu, Gels, Nuun, etc.); don’t rely on whatever the race has if you currently train with something specific

wear your running shoes on the plane if you’re flying (pack one pair lightweight shoes); do this going to the race.  Doesn’t really matter coming back home.  This is really about worse-case scenario to me.  My shoes are the one thing I really don’t want to be without.

Choosing a Place to Stay

I learned years ago to try to find a place to stay the night before the race (and also after the race unless you’re moving on to somewhere else for your vacation portion) that’s within walking distance of the race start.  This saves you grief in a myriad of ways.  For one, you can sleep in a bit longer instead of having to get up earlier to take a shuttle or drive to the start.  Also, often a nearby hotel will have a code for runners staying there that will give you a discount.  This information should be readily available on the race website.  If it’s not, contact the race director for suggestions of where to stay the night before the race.

If you are going to stick around in the town where the race is after the race, it is nice to be able to go back to your hotel after the race and take a shower and nap rather than having to check out in a hurry to catch your flight back home.  Even if the race is in a location that’s say a two hour drive from where you planned the vacation part of your racecation, you might want to stay in the city of the race for the night before and night of your race, before moving on.

If You’re Flying to Your Racecation

One thing to be aware of when you’re flying back home, I have been stopped twice at security for having my race medal in my carry-on luggage.  If you check luggage, this wouldn’t be an issue, but if you don’t check luggage like me, this can be an issue.  Believe it or not, I was stopped at Boston Logan Airport after the All Women & One Lucky Guy Half Marathon, Massachusetts- 29th state.  I would have thought that of all places, the security staff at this airport would have seen a medal or two, with the Boston Marathon and all of those medals going through after the race.  My bag was stopped and my family (and everyone else in line behind me) had to wait while the security person pulled out my bag, called for a supervisor, who didn’t respond for quite some time, then a supervisor finally came, pulled out my medal and verified that was the object they were looking at on the x-ray screen, and sent me on my way again.

This happened again at my most recent race in San Diego Silver Strand Half Marathon, California-38th state.  I asked the security agent what I was supposed to do with it and he said, “Wear it around your neck proudly!  You earned that medal!”  I’m pretty sure it would have set off the alarms going through the metal detector, but I guess he meant put it in one of those small round containers for wallets and jewelry before I went through the scanner.  Hopefully I’ll remember to do that the next time.

dsc03833
Does this medal look like a weapon to you?

If you’ve never done a racecation before but have been thinking about it, my advice is to choose a race that’s about 2 or 3 hours from your house but somewhere you would actually like to spend a few days after the race (and the night before the race).  This way you can drive to the race and not have to worry about the extra logistics that come with flying to a race but the drive won’t be too bad.  Work your way up to farther ones from there once you feel more comfortable.  Racecations definitely require more planning than running in local races, but I find them much more interesting and I’ve gotten to where I enjoy the planning that’s involved.

For those of you that have done or do racecations, what are some of your favorites?  For those of you on the fence about doing a racecation, which one(s) seem most interesting to you?

Happy running!

Donna

Top 5 Running Memories

Recently I started thinking about my running and racing history.  To date, I’ve ran two 5k’s, a 10k, a 10 miler, a 15k,  40 half marathons and one marathon.  This is all within the last 20 years.   I ran on my elementary school’s track team but after that only ran for fun until I finished graduate school and had settled into my life as an adult.

My first race as an adult was a 5k.  There was certainly nothing particularly memorable about it, even though it was my first race, but I do remember certain details about it.  It was on July 4 and it was in the evening but it was still hot and humid, as one would predict. Probably the biggest thing I got out of that race was the desire to do more.  I began running more and more races with longer distances.

I wanted to run a marathon by the time I turned 30.  I ran the Long Beach Marathon when I was 31 years old so I wasn’t off by much.  Just training for the race was like having a part-time job, with all of the time I spent running.  After I would run for my longest runs of up to 18-20 miles I would be totally wiped out for hours afterward.  The worst of it was I felt like I was always either sick or injured.  My immune system was being compromised and my body just couldn’t take all of the pounding on the roads.  The Long Beach Marathon leads me to my top five most memorable running experiences.

1. The day of the Long Beach Marathon in California was unseasonably hot when I ran it.  It was in the 80’s and people were quite literally dropping out of the race all around me, passing out from the extreme heat.  I must have been severely dehydrated myself because I experienced tunnel vision, where I had no peripheral vision; I could only see straight ahead of me, with only blackness in my periphery.  When that started, I did what any stubborn runner like me would do and walk.  I knew if I stopped moving that would be the end and I would drop out. I did not want my first marathon to be a DNF (did not finish). Somehow I managed to keep it together and crossed the finish line.  The first words I said to my husband were, “I don’t ever want to do that again.”  And I didn’t.  Instead I choose to stick to half marathons.  While the Long Beach Marathon may not be a pleasant memory for me given the race conditions, I still felt a sense of accomplishment just for finishing it and it’s definitely one of my most memorable races.

2. My fastest half marathon was at Spearfish Canyon Half Marathon, South Dakota- 34th state.  By this point I thought I had probably peaked as far as my finish times but I proved that even someone in their 40’s can still PR!  The course was slightly downhill but not so much that it felt pounding on my quads.  The race began at the top of Spearfish Canyon and finished at the bottom, basically.  I remember running through the canyon thinking, “This is so amazing that I get to run through this!  How many people get to do this?”  Running that race felt like a privilege indeed.  Perhaps my positive attitude effected my time as well.

dsc02930
The top of Spearfish Canyon

3. Vermont was my first foray into the New England states and I was instantly in love with the area.  Covered Bridges Half Marathon, Vermont-9th state.  This was a hilly race for sure but it was one where the people running around me gave off such positive vibes that it was one of the most fun and memorable races I’ve ran.  I remember many times during the race that people would crack jokes and everyone around would laugh out loud. Vermont is one of the greenest states I’ve ever seen as far as the trees and grass. The course runs through lovely green pastures and fields and is truly beautiful.  Plus, as you might guess from the name of the race, you get to run through or past several covered bridges.

vermont_010
One of many covered bridges in Vermont

4. The only time I’ve won first place in my age group was at the Roller Coaster Half Marathon, Missouri- 32nd state.  The course wasn’t particularly scenic, but it wasn’t bad.  It was two loops, which I certainly wasn’t crazy about but in hindsight it was kind of good to know exactly what I was in for the second time around.  When I finished, my husband (who is not a runner and is my photographer and support crew along with my daughter) said, “I think we should stick around for the awards ceremony.”  I said, “Really?  OK.” When they gave the award for second place in my age group, I said to my daughter, “I remember passing her.”  My husband replied, “What does that tell you?”  Tears started to well up in my eyes.  As I type this, tears are starting to well up again, honestly.  Then the announcer called my name as the first place female in my age group and it was all I could do not to cry like a baby.  I was shocked.  I was elated.  I felt so incredibly proud and yet humble at the same time, if that makes sense.  This was definitely a highlight of racing for me.

dsc02233

5. When I signed up my daughter for Girls on the Run (see my post on that here Girls on the Run Interview), a running group that introduces girls to running and healthy lifestyles, culminating in a 5k, she had a love/hate relationship with running.  She would say she’d want to go running with me but when we got out, she’d whine and complain how hard it was until ultimately we ended up walking or just going back home.  I always told her we would go completely at her pace, too, so I definitely wasn’t pushing her.  The frustrating part of it for me was I could see the potential in her as a runner.  She’s a natural.  She’s one of those people that just looks like a gazelle when she runs.  However, she could not see the potential in herself, that is, until she started running with other girls in the Girls on the Run program.  I could see her confidence gradually gaining and by the time of the 5k she had completely changed her attitude.  I remember being so proud of my daughter when we ran the Girls on the Run 5k together and thinking that someday we may even run a half marathon together.  How cool would that be?

DSC03339

 

What are your most memorable races?

 

 

Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon, South Carolina-4th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. South Carolina was my 4th state.

At this point, I still hadn’t set the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. The whole reason I was going to Kiawah Island in the first place is because I got a good deal on a place to stay on a condo in the golf course community of Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Of course, I checked to see if there were going to be any half marathons in the area when we’d be there, and (surprise!) there was, so I signed up for the 2004 Kiawah Island Half Marathon.

I knew someone who had ran this race and she said she set a personal record (PR) on the course, so I was excited about the possibility of that for myself. I knew it would be pancake flat and the weather would most likely be good since it was in early December. The biggest unknown factor was the wind, since the course is notorious for strong winds. The winds that day turned out to be extremely brutal, up to 20 mph that morning.

The race course went primarily past huge beach houses in private neighborhoods and was extremely flat. Despite the extremely strong winds, I still set a PR (personal record), breaking the 2 hour barrier that plagues so many runners who want to finish under that time. When I ran it in 2004, there were an estimated 1200 people running the marathon and 2300 running the half marathon.

My finish time for the Kiawah Island Half Marathon was 1:58:54.

Kiawah Island is a small community about 45 minutes from Charleston, South Carolina with huge homes in a private gated community, the Sanctuary Hotel, as well as the Kiawah Island Golf Resort. It is a quiet, relaxing family-friendly place perfect to relax after running a half marathon or marathon.

This area is known for its white sand beaches with palm trees, marshes, and maritime forests. If you’re running the marathon or half marathon, there are packages available with discounted rates on accommodations the weekend of the race. This is a nature-lovers paradise with fishing and paddling tours, bike rentals, a nature program, walking tours and much more.

Kiawah Island Marathon and Half Marathon