Running Training

Rest for the Weary

There are a number of things in my life I arguably take too seriously — goldendoodle photo shoots, every article that deems chocolate a superfood, my firmly held belief that Rafael is, in fact, the true leader of the Ninja Turtles — but nothing more so than my strict adherence to a training schedule in the weeks leading up to a race.

A classic Type A personality, I thrive on the structure a formal training schedule provides me. It tells me to run five miles? Consider it done. It tells me to run the entire circumference of Manhattan? Count me in. It tells me to replace my normal skincare regimen with a daily slather of au jus and milk bones? Looks like someone’s been editing my schedule again on the sly.

When it comes to training, ticking off each scheduled run makes me feel accomplished and in control, and I love knowing that if I follow my plan to a T for 18 straight weeks, I’ll arrive at the starting line mentally and physically prepared to tackle those 26.2.

But if following a schedule makes me feel strong, missing a single workout can leave me feeling unfulfilled, unprepared and unsure of my abilities come race day. Multiply that feeling by five — as in the five scheduled runs I missed this week due to painful chest congestion — and today I’m feeling downright down.

Deep down, I know I was right sidelining my marathon training this week, especially that day I went to bed at 8 pm wearing two wool sweaters and a fur-lined cap. With the exception of two easy 20-minute jogs for the sake of sanity, I did little this week but go to work and watch the entire Molly Ringwald collection. I canceled all my social plans, remoted in on the worst day and subsided mostly on feel-good foods my wonderful boyfriend risked delivering into the hot zone.

Knowing I did the right thing deep down inside, however, doesn’t change the fact that my running log this week looks more like the Plains States than the peaks I’ve grown used to. It’s hard to look at those measly two bumps in the shadow of last week’s 18-miler and not feel like a bit of a fraud.

But maybe I’m wrong in looking at the glass half empty, even if my current glass is completely full of Alka-Seltzer Cold. Sure, last week’s 41-mile week was replaced by this week’s whopping 5.5. But according to my training calendar, this was supposed to be a pullback week — a somewhat reduced mileage stretch to help prepare me for the 19- and 20-mile long runs that are coming up soon. Sure, I wasn’t supposed to reduce my mileage so drastically — I was only scheduled to cut it down to about 35 miles before ramping back up stronger. But if the goal of this week was to relax my muscles before climbing the next peak, you could technically say I went above and beyond. Maybe instead of thinking of it as a terrible running week, I should try to see it as having had the best darn rest week Manhattan has ever seen.

A little perspective — like a little au jus perfume — can go a long way.

Were you more successful this week at running or resting?


Crazy Coincidence

I like to think I’m a pretty rational human being, but I’ve been called crazy more times this week than Amanda Bynes on a good day. Case in point:

  • When I told my boyfriend I ran 41 miles last week, he said I was insane.
  • When I told a friend I’ll be busing nine hours for a Third Eye Blind concert this Saturday, she said I was a lunatic.
  • When my brother skimmed my iPhone during my recent stopover in Baltimore, he said the copious still frames of his goldendoodle reminded him of Jack Torrance’s “all work and no play” manuscript in The Shining.

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Touché, Thomas. Touché.

Normally, at the utterance of the word “crazy,” I launch into a spiel about the word’s blatantly sexist connotation and try to pass off well-constructed arguments about the “nasty tradition of pathologizing female emotion” from this wonderful Jezebel article as my own. But today, that won’t be happening because – to be honest – I am behaving crazily, at least if you’re going by Einstein’s designation.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Let me explain. On Sunday, I concluded my eleventh week of marathon training with an 18-mile run. It was tough, but the weather was gorgeous, the trail was practically vacant and I returned home prepared to recover on the hammock all afternoon long with my very best friend.


Fast forward to the next morning, and I’m all-but-bedridden with the worst cold I’ve had all year. Stuffy nose, sore throat, sinus pain, anchovies: the works. On a side note, never order that on a pizza.

As I nursed a cup of soup during my lunch break, I started thinking about the blog post I would write tonight. Something along the lines of: “No matter how good running is for your overall health, run for three hours straight and your immune system starts to break down.” At least, that’s what I thought I was going to write tonight … until I happened to look up the blog post I published on the same date last year, in which I wrote EXACTLY that. Let me read you an excerpt. (Actually, you’re going to have to read it yourself, but feel free to imagine it in my voice.)

“I spent this week all-but-bedridden with a crippling sinus infection. It hit the day after I completed an 18-miler, my longest … workout to date.”

Apparently, “all-but-bedridden” is my favorite phrase two years running. More importantly, apparently my body is absolutely fine with 15 or 16 or 17 miles, but hit that magical No. 18 and suddenly, I’m spreading rhinovirus all over Manhattan for a second year in a row.

Normally, I’ll end a blog post with a plea for advice from the more seasoned runners who kindly read my ramblings and set me straight. Should I take off training until my nose stops running? –  I might ask. – Is it true you can still work out if your disease is above the neck? How many grilled cheeses a day can a sick woman really justify? But really though. Four?

But this time, I can just refer to my September 16, 2012 self for the answers. If I trust my year-ago post, I discover that, in fact, three days off during recovery isn’t going to flat-line my fitness.

That is, assuming history continues to repeat itself. But hey, crazier things have happened.

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I lied, fellow runners: I’m totally still going to ask for your input. Do you power through a cold or let your training take a breather until you’re well?

Races Running

Fun Run

Close your eyes and picture yourself doing something fun.

What do you see?

I see myself picking crabs with seven of my favorite people on a screened porch on Labor Day. I see myself watching a Harlem youth choir back up the Lumineers while I’m knee-deep in mud at Governor’s Ball. I see myself drinking a cold beer with friends on a Brooklyn rooftop watching the sun set over Manhattan.

I see you opening your eyes and reading this text even thought I explicitly asked you to keep them closed. Cheater.

Now close your eyes and picture yourself doing something fun – as a nine-year-old. How does the line-up change?

I see myself barreling toward safety on the other side of the flagpole during a summer camp evening of capture the flag. I see myself racing up an alley during a neighborhood-wide game of tag in my Sunday best because my sister and I wanted to play more than we wanted to change. I see myself sprinting down a Delaware beach dragging a kite behind me that – just at the right moment – will catch the breeze and lift off.

There’s nothing wrong with either set of memories, but I can’t help but wonder: when did enjoying ourselves go from an active activity to a stationary one? When did lounging with friends surpass chasing them down in terms of entertainment? When did running stop being “fun?”

As a two-time-marathon hopeful, I can tell you I still enjoy running immensely and for a whole host of reasons. Take Friday’s 17-mile long run, for example. Taking me across a cool and breezy Central Park, down the West Side Highway at sunset, past the World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty, and back up the East Side, I returned to my neighborhood feeling accomplished and strong and refreshed and prepared, not to mention ready to eat a sandwich in bed.

But while my weekend run was a lot of things, would I call it “fun?” Was it “fun” to pace myself with a Garmin for three hours, especially once my legs grew tired? Was it “fun” running past all the outdoor happy hours and live music concerts without stopping? Was it “fun” having the same Barenaked Ladies song stuck in my head from mile 2 to mile 17?

Fortunately, Friday night’s long run wasn’t my only scheduled run this past weekend. I was also slated to run 3.1 miles on Saturday morning, and Saturday’s run wasn’t just any run: it was a color run.

Color runs – untimed events where volunteers throw powered color at you every kilometer, culminating in a tie-dyed 11 a.m. dance party – are a new addition to the racing scene and have garnered mixed responses from the running community, including more revulsion than I’d expected to find. “They aren’t real races,” runners post all over online forums. “They don’t time the race course. They let you bring dogs and strollers. Some people walk the entire thing.”

I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t treat Saturday’s 5K like a “real race.” In fact, I hardly followed any of my pre-race rituals.

Usually, I don anti-chaffing wicking gear to stay cool and enhance my performance. On Saturday, I raced in an all-cotton t-shirt – and a tutu.

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Normally, I fuel before a race with a banana and peanut butter. On Saturday, I ate pre-race ice cream.

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Traditionally, I keep moving through the water stations because I know stopping for even a second will derail my progress. On Saturday, I spent more time sitting on the race course than running on it.

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And you know what? As my friends and I crossed the finish line holding hands, covered in paint and laughing our heads off, we turned to each other with the exact same observation on our lips: “My god, that was fun.”

The Color Run organizers are adamant that there are no medals at the end of their event, but reverting to a nine-year-old version of myself who revels in the sheer joy of running sure sounds like winning to me.

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How do you keep running fun?

Running Training

Running on Empty

If you’ve ever seen a Tom Hanks film, you’ve probably come to believe that all the best things in life happen when you’re supposed to be sleeping.

(If you haven’t seen a Tom Hanks film, sign offline immediately, rent BIG, hop the NQR to 59th St. to play the giant piano, and then we’ll talk.)

Case in point:

  • If you’re Joe Fox, all the best e-mails from your dial-up pen pal arrive when your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend is sleeping in the next room.
  • If you’re Forrest Gump, the only time it stops raining in Vietnam is after the stars come out.
  • If you’re Sam Baldwin, well, I’m not sure on this one. I think something transpires during a bout of insomnia in Seattle, but I couldn’t be sure.

Tom, as he’s asked me to call him, isn’t the only one romanticizing sleepless nights. “We stayed up all night talking” has become a telltale description of the perfect first date. Ask a friend what he did last night and he’ll tell you he stayed out ’til dawn like it’s a badge of honor. Spend a month in a coma as Peter Gallagher and watch your possible future wife fall in love with Bill Pullman right before your (closed) eyes.

What’s that? You haven’t seen While You Were Sleeping either? That’s it. Get out.

But while rom-coms coast to coast may be idealizing sleeplessness, the truth is a good night’s rest is just as key to marathon training as your weekly long runs. How do I know, you ask? Because, until this weekend, I hadn’t had one in a long, long time.

Is it naptime yet?
Is it naptime yet?

As I’ve mentioned once or twice in recent pity party posts, I’ve had a busy summer, complete with 30-mile weeks, a new job and so much travel I can almost justify having not yet unpacked my suitcase – from June. It’s been a blast, but it’s also been exhausting, and one of the first things to go this season was my coveted eight-hour sleep cycles. “It’s fine.” I told myself. “Seven is totally the new eight.”

Unfortunately, seven is not quite enough for my body’s needs, nor is six and a half, which seven usually becomes by the time I finish trolling the internet for lists of top 25 camels in rollerblades. Every hour I save not sleeping is another hour I can get things done, I thought, but instead, I find myself groggy, unfocused and shorter than usual with the people I love. My running has suffered, too, with my tired self crossing the finish line at last month’s Battle for Brooklyn at 1:23.07 – not a shameful finish by any means, especially considering my fatigued mind had left my Garmin watch at home, but nowhere near my 10-miler PR of 1:17.45 logged in Philly last spring.

It turns out, Runner’s World is right: “Sleep isn’t a luxury – it’s a training tool. Running on empty won’t get you far.”

But running isn’t the only thing that suffers when you push back your bedtime. Your eating habits also go by the wayside, according to both this unfortunately factual New York Times article and my chocolate consumption this past week.

The research showed that depriving people of sleep for one night created pronounced changes in the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. On days when the subjects had not had proper sleep, fattening foods like potato chips and sweets stimulated stronger responses in a part of the brain that helps govern the motivation to eat. But at the same time, the subjects experienced a sharp reduction in activity in the frontal cortex, a higher-level part of the brain where consequences are weighed and rational decisions are made. … A sleepy brain appears to not only respond more strongly to junk food, but also has less ability to rein that impulse in.

Or in other words, a lack of shuteye can cause even the most rational individual to eat everything in sight.

I'm getting some nutty undertones.
I’m getting some nutty undertones.

I’ve set a lot of goals for myself this year – get a new job (done), set a new marathon PR (in progress), wake up just once without crumbs in my bed (it’s best we don’t address this one) – but here’s one more to add to the mix: work harder at prioritizing sleep. Starting right now. Or, more likely, starting right after reading “10 Llamas Who Wish They Were Models.”

How do you find sleep – or lack thereof – impacts your performance?