Taking on Your First Half Marathon

This post was inspired by my friend Steve, who after debating for a while….ok a long while, recently announced that this will be the year he runs his first half marathon! Since his decision, he’s been sending me text messages with all kinds of running questions…and I’ve been enjoying sharing in his excitement of the newness of all of this. It also got me thinking back to my first half marathon and wondering in hindsight what I wish I had known when I started training.

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Start with a proper base —  Before taking on half marathon training, have a good base  (running 3 days a week, at least 10 miles/week). If you don’t have this, get there before you dive into a training plan.

Find a plan — First timers are best served by following a training plan. A plan will help guide you to build your mileage slowly. It is important to recognize that not all half marathon training plans are created equal, so take the time to review a few to find one that fits where you are in your running and seems manageable with your other commitments (family, work, etc). For example, don’t pick a plan that has you running 5 days a week if you know that’s not going to fit into your life.

Recognize that life happens — Do your best to follow the training plan, but all is not lost if you miss a run or two.

Cross-training is worth it — Doing some low-impact cardio on your non-running days will help your overall fitness and keep boredom at bay.

Rest is not a four-letter word! — Those rest days in your plan are there for a reason; don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re only training when you’re physically active.  Rest and recovery is a critical part of your training.

Remember why you started — When you’re in the thick of training, getting out for you next run or pushing through a tough run can sometimes feel like a chore. Don’t lose sight of why you decided to take on this new challenge in the first place and celebrate milestones along the way!

What do you wish someone had told you before your took on your first half marathon?

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Friday Five – Ways to beat the heat!

We’ve seen temps in upper 80s and even 90 degrees this week and with the heat has come the humidity. Now while I promised after surviving the polar vortex nightmare that was this past winter that I wouldn’t complain when summer arrived, I just have to say that I’m not a fan of running in heat and humidity. Yes I know…a challenge given how much I like the fall racing season!

So I’m joining Cynthia, Mar and Courtney and sharing some reminders for how to “beat the heat!” dog_days

Hit the road early —  Quite simply, temperatures are much lower earlier in the day so why not get out before the sun’s rays become too intense. This one is a must do for me!

Get acclimated — As you make the adjustment to running in warmer temps, this is not the time to get hung-up on hitting target paces. Take those first hot runs slowly, focusing more on effort than pace. Your body will adjust within a couple of weeks.

Stay hydrated – While participating in a recent #Runchat on Twitter, I was surprised by the number of runners who proclaimed not to carry any fluids with them when they run regardless of the distance. For long runs,  I get that not everyone loves carrying a handheld water bottle but there are other options – a camelbak, fuel belt or just strategically stashing water along your route. For shorter runs, at least make sure you hydrate well before and after your run. Drink according to thirst!

Avoid cotton — I’ve said it for winter running and the same holds true for summer – avoid running in cotton clothing! All cotton does is trap sweat, stay wet and potentially cause chaffing (which of course always begs the question why any race shirt is cotton?!). Stick to light-colored, tech apparel…and don’t forget sunglasses and a hat or visor.

Be willing to head indoors — That’s right…I said it! Sometimes, it’s going to be just too dang hot to run – so be willing to switch things up. Either hit the treadmill or opt to make it a cross-training day — great days to head to an air-conditioned gym, yoga or Pilates studio, right? And if you’ve got access to a pool – lucky you!

Above all I think the biggest key to managing your workouts in the summer heat is to listen to you body! You can never go wrong with that approach, right?

How do you manage summer running?

For other tips, be sure to check out the DC Trifecta’s link up!

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Preparing for Cold Weather Running

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It was 19 degrees when I headed out for Saturday’s run – 9 with the wind chill factor! Yeah winter running is officially here, so it’s a good time to assess your cold weather running gear. Essentially, running outdoors in cold temps can best be summed up in one word – layering!

Layering your upper body, especially your core, will help to trap your body heat while protecting you against the elements. At a minimum you’ll want to consider three layers: a base layer, an insulating layer and an outer layer.

The base layer should be made of a wicking material to wick sweat and moisture away from your body to keep your skin warm and dry. There are a great range of wicking materials on the market today in the form of silk, DryFit and Thinsulate, just to name a few. Just please make sure to not use cotton for your base layer – cotton does not have any sweat wicking properties so once it gets wet it stays wet. Not what you want to have next to your skin.

The second layer, or insulating layer, should also have some wicking ability, but its main job is to help trap your body heat. Performance fleeces such as Polartec, Thermax or Microfleece do a great job of keeping in the heat without adding bulk or risking overheating. Depending on the weather and your tolerance for the cold, you may want to use more than one insulating layer.

Then, finally, there’s your outer layer. The trick with this layer is to find a jacket that is both wind- and water-proof, while at the same time allows for moisture and some heat to escape so you don’t overheat. Look for a jacket made of a fabric like nylon, Gore-Tex, or ClimaFit.

While your upper body will greatly benefit from layering, you’ll find that one good layer in the form of running tights or pants will be all you need for your legs. If you find that one layer isn’t enough, you can consider adding wind-proof track pants to wear over your tights. Again, you’ll want tights made of a wicking material – no cotton!

Beyond the body layers, you’ll need to round out your gear with a hat, gloves or mittens, and possibly a neck gaiter or balaclava. Did you know that you can lose as much as 40% of your body heat through your head? Keeping it covered with a fleece or wool hat can go a long way to keeping you warm during your runs. Body heat can also easily escape through your hands so you’ll want to keep them covered with moisture-wicking gloves or mittens. On extremely cold days, you might want to borrow a page from skiers and add a neck gaiter or balaclava to both protect your neck and cover your mouth to warm the air you’re breathing in. And, lastly, don’t forget wool socks – they provide the wicking you need along with added warmth.

Yes, some days it will be too bitter cold to be outdoors; but for the most part, with a little preparation, you will find that you don’t have to spend the entire winter tied to a treadmill.

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Thursday Thoughts – Hills Edition

I am once again pounding away through weekly hill repeat workouts, trying to prepare myself both mentally and physically for some decent inclines in next weekend’s Wicked Half and the rolling course that is the B.A.A. Half just a few weeks after.

On the plan today was 11 x 250 meter repeats plus warm up and cool-down. My legs now feel like jelly and as I fight the urge to just curl up in the fetal position for the rest of the day, I share these three quick tips to running hill repeats.

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of your am swing! When I start to flag half way up a hill, focusing on my arm swing really helps to keep my legs powering along. As your arms go, so will your legs.
  2. Maintain a short, quick turnover — Avoid the tendency to overstride in hopes of gobbling up the hill in bigger chunks, otherwise you’re tempting injury.
  3. Keep your head up! While I like to lean slightly into the hill, be careful not to bend too much at the waist – this will cause strain in your lower back and makes breathing even harder. Run tall with your abs engaged – such as you would running a flat straightaway.

What are your tips for taking on hills?

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Focusing on what works

The other day I came across a daily tip from Peaceful Daily that really struck a chord with me — to focus on what is right with you. How often do you stop and ask yourself that question – “What is right with me?” While I’m enjoying this journey I’m on to become the runner and healthy person I want to be, I do think I often focus on the the aspects of what’s not working. I obsess about my “angry” left leg or that my pace is too slow…and in the process I lose sight of all that is working, all that is right with me.

So yesterday when I went out for my run I tried to keep my focus on what was right with me. I focused on how easy my breathing was, on how powerful my legs felt, on just how far I’ve come as a runner since the Spring. When my left knee started to tighten up in mile 4, instead of agonizing over it, I shifted my focus back to what was right with me. I celebrated the fact that this was my second 6 mile run…not bad for the sprinter from high school who would never consider running more than 200 meters at a time! And when I was done I marveled at how good I felt…and iced the one part that didn’t feel so hot 🙂

Another week of training is in the books and new challenges lie ahead – and as I gear up to meet each one, I will remember to ask myself “What is right with me?” and focus on what works!

Happy Monday!

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In Praise of Yamuna Body Rolling

A few weeks ago in one of my many attempts to clean my hall closet, I came across my Yamuna Body Rolling balls tucked away on a shelf. I decided to put them to use again and now I cannot imagine why I ever let them disappear into the abyss of my closet in the first place!

Yamuna Body Rolling is a series of routines using 6 – 10 inch balls specifically designed for the practice. According to the YBR website:

“(it) works the way a hands-on practitioner works -only using a ball. The ball replaces hands as it moves on muscles to stretch them, dislodge tension and discomfort, increase blood flow, and promote healing. Lying over the ball, you literally roll your body out almost like dough, stretching and elongating your muscles. The YBR routines follow specific sequences that match the body’s own logic and order. Starting where each muscle begins, at its origin, you roll toward where it attaches to the point called its insertion.”

I was introduced to Yamuna Body Rolling by a couple of my pilates instructors (one of who also runs marathons) and took a few classes to learn some of the routines. But eventually, making time to do the routines became less and less of a priority….too busy rushing around….and lo and behold, the balls ended up in the back of the closet!

However, in these past couple of weeks, I have been making the time to do a couple of the routines, both the night before a morning run and following a run (much harder with the kids and the demands of the day calling), as well as after a weights workout. I’m finding the level of soreness in my muscles is diminished, and that alone is reason to continue to make time for it!

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Warning…I’m going caffeine free!

I’m getting ready to start the UltraSimple Diet on Sunday, and among other things I’m eliminating caffeine…a very BIG deal for me!  Seriously, I should have a sign around my neck warning people to approach me at their own risk!

I don’t really think the plan should be called a diet though (too many negatives associated with that word)!- it’s really a cleanse. Or, as Dr. Mark Hyman, the creator of the UltraSimple Diet, explains:

“I wrote The UltraSimple Diet because I wanted to give you an experience—one that would show you how much power you have to create illnesses or health and how much power your body has to heal itself when you stop eating foods that wreak havoc on your systems and start nourishing yourself with the real, whole foods your body was designed to eat.”

The UltraSimple Diet: Kick-Start Your Metabolism and Safely Lose Up to 10 Pounds in 7 DaysThis will be my second time doing the Diet – last time I lost 4 lbs, 1in off my waist and 1in off my hips. But the real payoff was in how I felt! I had great energy, slept soundly and generally felt terrific, while never feeling hungry! It was really interesting to see how my body responded without all the stuff (read processed foods, sugar, flour, alcohol and, yes…caffeine). Once I finished the week on the plan, I was feeling so good that I continued with the plan for another couple of weeks. Eventually I did start to miss some of my favorite foods (and coffee…and wine!) so I moved further and further away from the plan.

Of late I’ve started to feel like my eating habits have not been the best so I thought I’d do the Diet again to get back on track.  My husband’s going to do it with me again and a couple of our friends are going to try it too. I’m looking forward to how I’ll feel by mid-week. The first couple of days were hard for me last time, largely because of the coffee factor so I’ve tried to do a better job of tapering this week.  I also wasn’t running the last time I tried the Diet so I’m curious to see if there’s any effect there.

So here’s to a healthy week ahead!

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Maybe running in circles can move you forward

At the advice of some of my runner friends, I hit the track this morning. Left knee pain is one of the roadblocks I’m hoping to overcome as I make my running “comeback” (said with tongue firmly in cheek!) so I thought it was worth a shot to see if things would feel any better on a track.

Yes running loops on a track can be a bit tedious, but without the varied surfaces of the roads and sidewalks I usually attempt, I found it easy to fall into a nice, steady rhythm. And best of all…..no pain! The usual discomfort in my knee was gone before the first lap was completed! Now I wasn’t fast by any means, but without having the pain to focus on I did comfortably complete two miles. I’ll take that kind of progress any day! So I guess while I continue to strengthen my knee with weight-training, I’ll definitely be adding in some more time on the track. 

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