Running Training

Novice No More

Since retiring my XL lounge-pants three years ago and committing myself to the sport of running, I’ve run 37 road races, two sub-4:00 marathons, thousands of miles and nearly out of goldendoodle photos to populate this blog.

Just kidding. I’ll never run out of those.

I wouldn’t call myself a running expert, per se — I only claim expertise in such indisputable areas as Upper East Side bagel shops and Cory and Topanga’s teenage love — but I would go so far as to claim that when it comes to running, I am no longer a mere novice.

Why, then, is it every single time I begin training for a long-distance running event, I choose to download and follow one of online coach Hal Higdon’s novice training plans, rather than one of his more advanced workout regimes?

Because I’m a scaredy cat, that’s why. And that’s the worst kind of cat, which — believe me — is a designation this dog-lover doesn’t award lightly.

I’ve been following Hal’s online training programs for years, starting three years ago to the month with his novice 5K training plan, which had me jogging less than five miles a week as I learned the basic mechanics of putting one foot in front of the other. I finished that eight-week plan with a base level of fitness and immediately dove into Hal’s novice 10-mile training plan with the goal of running the entire 2011 Broad Street Run without stopping once.

As many of you know, that race ignited my passion for racing, and two short months later, I found myself doing the previously unimaginably and downloading Hal’s novice half marathon training schedule in anticipation of my first ever 13.1 mile event. Fast forward a year, and I was using his novice marathon program to prepare for the Marine Corps event.

When it came time to train for the New York City marathon the following year, it felt somewhat disingenuous following the same novice marathon plan again, since I already had one marathon under my belt from using that identical training schedule. So I mentally prepared myself to leave the comfort of novicity behind, went online, clicked on Hal’s library of marathon plans — and found that he’d added a second-tier notice plan to the offerings. “A slight step upwards in difficulty from Novice 1,” the description read. “It is designed for people with some background as a runner.” The Novice 2 marathon plan still offered me two rest days and less than 35 miles a week on my feet, plus the familiarity and security of a novice plan. Done and done.

But as you already know, even though I followed the schedule nearly to a T, I still crossed the finish line in New York some seven minutes slower than my marathon PR. I know a whole host of outside factors can dictate a race pace, from the elevation (hilly) to the weather (cool) to how many times your eyes well up with emotion along the race course (I plead the fifth), but I couldn’t help wondering deep down inside if my plateaued fitness had anything to do with the fact that I was still training as a novice, despite my growing experience.

Proof I ran the marathon. Also proof I didn't buy the $80 marathon foto.
Proof I ran the marathon. Also proof I didn’t buy the $80 marathon foto.

So when I recently signed up for this March’s Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon, I decided to step out of my comfort zone once and for all and put the novice training plans behind me. With that aim, I’ve opted to follow Hal’s intermediate half-marathon training program, intended for “individuals who have left their novice roots behind and who want to improve their performances.” The description of its target audience might as well have had my headshot posted next to it: “You should be capable of running 30 to 60 minutes a day, five to seven days a week, have competed in at least a few 5-K and 10-K races, if not a marathon, and at least be willing to consider the possibility that some speedwork might help you improve. Better yet if your name is Anne and you love Zac Efron films. Also, don’t forget to pick up your dry cleaning.”

Ugh. Speedwork. I prefer to pretend that word doesn’t exist, much like cockroaches and the Kardashians. Running hard and fast outside of a racing environment is never fun, but my real apprehension when it came to the intermediate schedule had to do with the letter X.sched

As in, my schedule read “8 x 400 5-K pace,” and that terrified me. What the hell does an X mean in a workout? I associate Xs with dreadful things, like X-rays and Vin Diesel’s American action XXX and the totally unnecessary Goldfish cracker remake, “Goldfish® Flavor Blasted® Xtreme Cheddar.” No, thank you, Pepperidge Farm. The regular blasting of cheddar was just fine.

But leisurely jogs in the park does not a competitive runner make, so I finally went online to ask the running community what “8 x 400 5-K pace” meant. Turns out (as most of you may already know), that means running 400 meters (i.e. a quarterish mile) at your 5K race pace (for me, 7:30ish) eight times, with a slow jog or cool down in between each repetition. Ok, I guess I didn’t really need to look that up, but I was secretly hoping the internet would tell me it was something significantly lazier, like eating 8 packs of 400 donuts while sitting cross-legged. No such luck.

So yesterday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, went to the gym, cranked the treadmill up to a blistering pace … and surprisingly enjoyed myself. Maybe it was the House Hunters International marathon on the gym TVs distracting me, but I actually found myself smiling every time I hit a rhythm at that faster pace. I haven’t pushed myself hard in entirely too long a time, and while I don’t pretend I could run an entire 5K at my “5K pace” at this specific juncture, knowing I have it in me for even 400 meters at a time is still an accomplishment indeed.

An intermediate accomplishment, dare I say.

How are you pushing yourself this January?

Food Recipes

Reality Bites

In most of life’s situations, when it comes to choosing between real or unreal, reality wins out. In today’s 24-hour reporting cycle, for example, the most successful news is real time. One of the best things about your late 20s is knowing who your real friends are and taking real (i.e. non-megabus) transportation up the Eastern seaboard. People buy real estate, watch Real Housewives and use the real unemployment rate to discuss the state of the economy. And let’s not forget soccer. There’s a reason everyone loves Real Madrid. (Spanish jokes!)

But for all the time we spend pursuing authenticity in our friendships and love lives and day-to-day existence, there’s one major component of many of our lives where we don’t strive for reality – our food.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to go on some healthy-eating rampage or try to convince you to make your own yogurt. Heck, just today, my boyfriend and I shared a family-sized box of knock-off cheez-its and called it lunch. For years, I thought the word “organic” was little more than a punchline, and even now, some of the violent opposition to genetically-modified agriculture can come off sounding a bit like a Portlandia spoof.

But at the same time, in the years since I’ve cleaned up my diet and started thinking more critically about my nutrition choices, it’s become glaringly obvious that much of our food intake has gotten far more complex and unnatural than it ever needed to be.

Take, for example, a loaf of bread. When made from scratch, bread requires little more than flour, yeast, water and salt. Now go to your kitchen and check out the ingredients list on your store-bought loaf. Even if it’s boasting buzzwords like “whole wheat” or “multigrain,” odds are good the ingredient list is dozens of items long, and some of the additions – from corn syrup to soybean oil – don’t sound like necessary add-ons at all. Despite what every locally-sourced menu in Brooklyn might lead you to believe, the vast majority of the food that passes through our lips is complicated and processed and anything but simple.

And this is especially the case in the lucrative world of so-called healthy items. When I was trying to lose 30 pounds in 2011, I remember I stocked my drawers full of 90-calorie Special K cereal bars because, well, that’s what the commercials told me to do. I’d inhale one every morning and another every afternoon, and while I’d successfully keep my calorie count under the 1,500 goal I was targeting, I was never, ever satiated.

The more I learned about nutrition, the more I began to understand why. Sure, the bars were low-cal and tasty, but they had virtually no protein or fiber, and the ingredient list was longer than a Saturday night wait at the Meatball Shop:


I soon realized that for nearly the same number of calories, I could have a string cheese (7 grams protein, four ingredients) and a handful of cherry tomatoes (lots of fiber, just one ingredient), simplifying my diet and leaving me feeling full. With that realization, I started swapping out increasingly more processed “health” foods for fresh fruit, roasted nuts and “clean eating” choices, and by that summer, I was out of a size 14 and training for my first half marathon.

Clean eating has been a goal of mine in the three years since, but between my long working hours and the hundreds of delivery options on every New York City block, it’s easy to let home cooking and other good habits go by the wayside. And it certainly doesn’t help that my office stocks its free-food pantries with all the processed deliciousness a hungry employee could ask for.

Fudge stripe cookies = the elixir of the gods.
Fruit snacks. Neither fruit nor snacks. Discuss.

But January is about recommitting yourself to the things that are important to you — and about changing your stance on snow from amused to infuriated — so I’m vowing here to recommit myself to clean eating, at least when the option is available.

And I’m going to brag here for a second. I got off to a pretty good start last week. On Monday night, I roasted my own chicken.

No big deal.

The following night, I simmered the bones to make a homemade stock.

Mildly big deal.

The night after that, I used the stock to make homemade Brussels sprout risotto.

Big F-ing deal.

And then I ate aforementioned box of cheez-its for lunch today and undid a week’s worth of toxic-free eating. But what the heck. Cheez-its are delicious.

The truth is, I know I’m not always going to choose the “real” food option, especially with Cadbury Crème Egg season so fast approaching, and at least a good portion of the time, I’m still going to choose convenience over health. But at least trying to keep these goals in mind in the months ahead might help me choose the fresh fruit over the crab chips during my next trek to the office kitchen. Hell, even if we go best out of three, I’ll still be moving in the right direction. (And, as much as it pains me to admit as a Baltimore native, away from the crab chips is probably the right direction.)

photo (94)

How does clean eating fit into your lifestyle?

Races Running

Talk is Cheap

In most situations, talk is a good thing. Peace talks are the first step toward armistice in the Middle East.  A pep talk is generally the best way to talk some sense into someone. Pillow talk is one of my favorite things to do in bed besides sleep and eat crackers. What can I say? I guess I’m just a romantic.

But while talking is generally a positive pastime, there are of course a handful of situations where that’s simply not the case. Sitting next to a chatty stranger at the movies? Not so fun. Getting asked about your summer plans mid-teeth-cleaning? A gritty mess. Building the tower of babel?  I rest my case.

There’s at least one more place where talk isn’t a good thing: in describing my fitness and nutrition routine so far this year. Or, let me put it another way: despite all my good intentions, when it comes down to it, my getting in shape this new year has been nothing but talk.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly entered the new year intending to run more and eat cleaner and sleep better/in fewer cracker crumbs, and to some degree, I’ve been successful. I’ve been to yoga twice since the Times Square ball dropped. I’ve brought my lunch to work at least a dozen times. I even donned my sweet new Maryland socks with short shorts and not an ounce of embarrassment in my first road race of the new year.

Another fun activity to do in bed: take photos of your running socks.
Another fun activity to do in bed: take photos of your running socks.

But if I know anything about myself other than the fact that I’ve never correctly squeezed a tube of toothpaste in my life, it’s that I will never REALLY push myself unless there’s a tangible goal in the not-so-distant future. Which is why I’ve gone and done the unthinkable in an effort to trick myself into putting my money where my mouth is: I’ve signed up for a March half marathon.

But you ran a full marathon in November. You might be thinking. How could a half be unthinkable?  Also, how does one do toothpaste wrong? It’s unthinkable, folks, because I haven’t run more than 15 miles a week since early November. And because I’ve recently discovered Freaks and Geeks on Netflix and would rather ogle teenage Jason Segel than lace up my Asics. And because the specific race I chose is hands-down the hilliest course on this side of the Hudson River: the Sleepy Hollow Half.

Oh, you wanted the second question answered, too? Because I squeeze the tube with my fist like a monkey with a banana. Don’t judge me.

I’ve never before run the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon, but I did complete a 10K race on part of the same course in October 2012, and it was a downright monster of a stair climb. Sure, I got to wear a Halloween costume, but I also missed my 10K PR by more than three minutes that day – and I was in the best shape of my life at the time. I can only imagine what shape I’ll be in when (if?) I cross the finish line on March 22.

Then again, I’ll be in far worse shape if I don’t even try. So let’s do this thing.

Who’s with me? 


Resolution Revision

I could come up with a whole host of excuses why my first race of the new year was nearly six minutes slower than my 10K PR. The roads were icy. The humidity was harsh. I’d stayed out too late the evening before drinking cider, playing Jenga and forcing my friend Davy to wear a surprise t-shirt claiming he “had a ball” at his own 30th birthday.

I hope we don't run into any bulls.
I hope we don’t run into any bulls.

But while any of those factors could have contributed to my leaden legs at this morning’s Joe Kleinerman 10K Classic in Central Park, I know deep down inside that the true root of my newfound sluggishness requires a little more number crunching. So, mathletes, grab your calculators and follow along.

  • 849.9: Miles I ran in 2013.

That’s about the distance from here to Milwaukee. Sounds pretty impressive, huh? That is, until you crunch this number:

  • 18.9: Percent fewer miles I ran in 2013 than in 2012.

Or how about this one?

  • 11: Races I ran in 2013.

Also a solid performance. That is, until you compare it to this:

  • 21: Races I ran in 2012.

Now don’t get me wrong. The year 2013 was a downright wonderful year for me, full of new love, new jobs, new countries and all the smooches a lady could ask for.

Oh how rude of me. I don't think I've ever introduced you to my brother's dog Keira.
Oh how rude of me. I don’t think I’ve ever introduced you to my brother’s dog Keira.

But while I was busy enjoying my 27th year to its fullest, I was also committing all lazy runners’ favorite fitness fallacy: believing I could get stronger and faster and better without actually training stronger or faster or better.  We all want something for nothing in this world, but unless we’re talking about syphilis or the guy giving free hugs in Union Square (these two things are possibly related), I know in the bottom of my heart that that’s simply not the way things work.

I started the new year on this blog by writing out a list of my top five new years resolutions, but there’s one more I meant to include: I resolve to train more intentionally in 2014. With the exception of triathlon training last June and marathon training in the months leading up to November, my running strategy in 2013 was of the simple variety: lace up your shoes and go. It was flexible and it was fun, but “easy” miles with no set goal does not a faster runner make.

That’s why in 2014, I intend to be more mindful and goal-oriented every time I hit the road. I’d like to run at least three days a week on average in the 12 months ahead, but instead of simply logging miles, I’m going to challenge myself to the following:

  • One tempo run each week at an 8:30 pace or faster.
  • One long run each week (of 6+ miles, which, sure, isn’t long by some standards but – well – I have notoriously low standards. Just kidding, Ben!)
  • One speed workout each week, be it hills or sprints or intervals or fartleks. Tee hee. Fartleks.

Are these goals going to help me achieve one of my other 2014 resolutions of running a new PR? I hope so, but even if they don’t, at least I may feel like my running has a purpose again. And after a year without direction, that would be a welcome change.

So here’s to the real resolution of 2014. May the rest of the year be as glorious as the evening that rang it in.

photo 2 (31)

Two weeks in, how are you maintaining — or editing — your own resolutions?


January Firsts

The year 2013 brought a lot of firsts for me.

I traveled to India.

And experienced my first Indian-wedding-caliber hangover.
And experienced my first Indian-wedding-caliber hangover.

I started a new job.

The view from my new building is the pits.
The view from my new building is the pits.

I taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force.

Er, taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force I did.
Er, taught a goldendoodle the ways of the force did I.

I went to my first NBA game, ran my first color run, went on my first pirate booze cruise and marched in my first New York City parade. And let’s not forget that epic birthday weekend in New Orleans, a city I visited this year for the first time since my conception. Thanks for that piece of information, Mom and Dad. Really made the trip special for me.

Unfortunately, 2013 also marked another first for me: It was the first time in recent history I failed to achieve my New Year’s resolutions.

I’m sure there were plenty of years in the not-too-distant past when my January resolutions also went unfulfilled, from that time I resolved to meet Harrison Ford to that time I resolved to marry Harrison Ford to that time I resolved to have my restraining order lifted by Harrison Ford, not to mention every single year prior to 2011 when I resolved to lose weight in the year ahead — and failed.

Not keeping my resolutions is nothing new for me in the long term, but at least during the past few years, I’ve been on a bit of a successful streak. In 2011, I resolved to lose 30 pounds and did; the following year, I wanted to run a marathon and accomplished that, too. I also vowed to floss in 2012, and — against all odds — have managed to keep that dream alive.

It helps when your niece goes in to get whatever you missed. Wait, was that joke too gross? Yes? Ok, delete it from your memory.
It helps when your niece goes in to get whatever food particles you missed. Wait, that joke was gross. Let’s forget I said anything.

But 2013 was different. Although I never actually put in writing  my New Year’s resolutions, I know what I wanted to achieve in 2013: a marathon PR in New York City. And not just any PR. I wanted to finish in 3:45.

Looking back now, I realize how silly that resolution really was. I’d finished my first marathon in just over 3:51, and while shaving 6 minutes off a multi-hour race may not sound like much, finishing in 3:45 would have required me to maintain an 8:35 pace the entire race — or almost 20 seconds per mile faster than my first marathon in October 2012. Add to that the fact that I trained less this year, with fewer long runs, virtually no speed training and a couple extra pounds on my frame, and hitting that elusive — and very arbitrary — 3:45 mark was simply not in the cards.

This. Is. As. Fast. As. I. Go.
This. Is. As. Fast. As. I. Go.

So with last year’s unresolved resolution in mind, I’m setting my sights on more achievable and measurable goals in 2014. Rather than setting up one lofty target for the new year, I’m going to target a series of self-improvements that I should be able to squeeze in even with my more demanding work hours and my rediscovered passion for sloth.

So without further ado, here’s what I’m aiming for in 2014:

Run a new PR. It doesn’t have to be a marathon or a half marathon or even a double-digit race. It could be a new 5K or 5 miler, or even a new distance or type of race altogether. Takes some of the pressure off each individual event if I have 12 whole months to achieve this.

Attend one group fitness class a week. Ideally, this would be yoga, but if I can’t get out of work in time, any strength training or even cardio class will fit the bill. This should help keep my cross training alive during racing season and make my $80 a month gym membership feel slightly less like a farce.

Eat five fruits or veggies a day. Let’s be honest, all five are probably going to be fruit. Chocolate-covered doesn’t count.

Stop ripping tags out of clothes instead of walking three steps to get the scissors. I mean, seriously. How many holes do I have to rip in new pairs of underwear before I realize my lazyman’s approach to tag-removal should probably be retired?

Go to at least one cultural event a month. Despite the plethora of museums and shows and art in this city, it’s easy to spend your entire weekend at the gym, at the bar or, let’s be honest, in bed with your sister’s Netflix account. At least once I month in 2014 — and hopefully more — I’ll step out of my comfort zone with a gallery visit or Broadway performance or musical act. It doesn’t have to be highbrow, as evidenced by my January activity that’s already lined up: bull riding. Stay classy, New York City.

What are your 2014 resolutions?