Running Training


The number 20 has a lot of positive connotations in my book.

It’s the perfect sized bill to stash in your pocket for a long-run emergency. It’s the age after which it’s no longer appropriate to wake up spooning a jar of peanut butter. It’s the number of questions it takes to guess which item your friend is picturing that’s larger than a breadbox.

It’s the birthday at which we threw the best darn party a November baby and her friends could ask for.


From the maximum field of the Kentucky Derby to the international calling code for Egypt (thank you, Internet), “20” as a figure is good for a whole lot of things.

What it’s not good for, I’ve decided, is weeks’ worth of marathon training.

Let me put it a different way. Begin training for a 26.2 mile race FIVE MONTHS before you’ll actually toe the starting line, and you’ll maybe start to go a little bit crazy. Jack Torrance crazy. You know: All run and no play makes Anne chase you around a snowy hedge maze with an axe. The usual.

When I first committed myself to this 20-week running schedule, it didn’t seem so unbearable. By stretching the length of training from the more tradition 16 or 18 week plans to a full 20, I would be able to squeeze in more races, more pull-back weeks, more two-a-days and more overall training. It sounded like the perfect plan.

And it was, at least at first. But once the sun started to rise later and I found myself running 6 days a week in the pitch black cold, I started to itch for the finish line. Fast forward to this week, when dozens of well-meaning friends have reached out to wish me luck in the NYC marathon on Sunday – which I’m not running – and it’s like salt in the wound.  My race, which I started training for in early freaking July, is still nearly four weeks away.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m all of a sudden feeling sick and tired of this dammed training cycle. This, my friends, is my peak week – or the week in which I run my longest long training run all season long. Tomorrow, I’m waking up early to log my last serious bout of athleticism until I arrive in Philly. And it’s only appropriate that the number of miles on my schedule is none other than our man of the hour: 20.

And while I’m positively dreading tomorrow’s long run, at least I can take comfort in the fact that when it’s over, I get to put these last 17 weeks behind me and spend my final 3 weeks doing something I do extraordinarily well: tapering.

The end is in sight, folks. Let the carbo loading begin.


The Heat Is On

If you looked up to DJ Tanner as much as I did circa 1992, you know that doing something just because everyone else is doing it can never end well. Case in point: you shouldn’t cut school just because everyone else is doing it. You shouldn’t stairmaster until you faint just because everyone else is doing it. You shouldn’t execute a Chinese fire drill in Kimmy Gibbler’s sweet ride on a San Francisco incline just because everyone else is doing it.

The lessons of my childhood continue to offer sound advice today. I shouldn’t skip a workout just because everyone else is skipping it. I shouldn’t drink tequila just because everyone else is drinking it. I shouldn’t get a haircut just because everyone else is getting it.

Yes I should.

So why, oh why, when I see other runners bundling head to toe to counter this week’s inaugural fall weather do I get the urge to jump on the bandwagon and do exactly the same thing, even though I know I’m a much more hot-blooded runner than 98 percent of the population? Because DJ Tanner taught me nothing, apparently. And because I’m a glutton for sweaty, blistering, uncomfortable punishment.

If you ran Central Park this morning as the temperatures grazed 40 degrees for the first time, you probably saw hundreds of exercisers in layers and sweats and gloves and caps and Tauntauns trying to stave off the early chill. And I can understand why. After a positively balmy October to date (if only there were some science to explain this strange rise in temperatures…), waking to an honest-to-god autumn climate probably shocked some runners into hauling out their winter gear.

Heck, even Runner’s World’s interactive “what to wear” guide suggested I don tights, gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, a light jacket and a winter cap for today’s 5-mile easy run in 40-degree air. They even drew a picture.

Why yes, I DO have a ponytail, you smart machine, you.
Why yes, I DO have a ponytail, you brilliant machine, you.

I didn’t go that far, but I did trade in my usual shorts for long pants and layer a compression Under Armour jacket over my tank.

And my god, I was miserable. Sure, the first five minutes were toasty warm and a nice counter to the 5:50 a.m. chill. But by the time I got to the park, I had practically sweated through my winter gear, making my two loops of the reservoir hot, stuffy and uncomfortable indeed. After 2.5 marathon training cycles and thousands of miles on my feet, I know that I prefer to run in too little clothing than too much. So why did I choose to bulk up just because everyone else was doing it?

Luckily, today’s unpleasantness only lasted 45 minutes, but it’s a good lesson as the marathon fast approaches. On Nov. 23, I need to remember not to overdress just because everyone else is doing. I need to remember not to start out sprinting just because everyone else is doing it. I need to remember not to skip the water stations just because everyone else is doing it.

In short, I need to run my marathon, not anybody else’s. If I can do that, I know I’ll make Uncle Jesse proud.

What are you targeting as your fall marathon nears?


Bending the Rules

I’m not the most flexible woman in the world.

Hello, understatement of the century.

Let me rephrase. I’m probably the least flexible woman in the world when you really break it down. The last time I touched my toes, Balki Bartokomous was still on primetime. My range of movement caps out at the Cha Cha Slide. At yoga, my downward dog looks about as comfortable as Keira in a straw hat.

Fact: I wear the same hat to yoga.
Fact: I wear the same hat to yoga.

With long legs, short muscles and joints that surely have the consistency of cement, I have never had an ounce of flexibility in my body.

Which is why I’ve been extra proud of my marathon training so far this fall: in terms of flexibility, it’s been downright elastic. (I realize bodily flexibility and scheduling flexibility aren’t the same thing, but let’s just go with it for the sake of this post. Cool? Cool.)

In past marathon training cycles, I followed prescribed workouts to a T, afraid to reorder my scheduled workouts for fear I wouldn’t reach my 26.2-mile goal. But with two races that distance now under my belt, I trust myself to get flexible with my training and still cross that finish line. And good thing, too: in terms of scheduling, this fall has been a bonafide obstacle course.

I knew going into autumn that my schedule was going to be busy, with several planned weekends away and at least one Yorkville dog costume parade already on my calendar. (You’re welcome.)

But as that has spiraled into literally four weddings and a funeral (I don’t appreciate the reference, Richard Curtis), I’ve had to juggle my scheduled workouts more than ever before. From moving long runs to weekdays to logging miles at lunchtime to splitting workouts into pre- and post-work halves, I’ve been more creative than ever with my marathon scheduling this time around — and I’m so glad of it.

Why, you ask? Because instead of running a 12-miler scheduled for the last Saturday of September, I attended a gorgeous wedding in Upstate New York that culminated in me belting Little Mermaid lyrics on a school bus home (i.e. “the usual”). And because instead of running an 18-miler last Friday, I was able to sit back and toast a special woman with a martini she would have loved. And because instead of running a 15-miler this weekend, I’ll be watching my friend Fran walk down the aisle and then toasting my newly engaged brother and his fiancé during a weekend home in Baltimore.

Guess which of these ladies he's marrying. Nope, guess again.
Guess which of these ladies he’s marrying. Nope, guess again.

It’s not that I’m not doing the runs — I’m just doing them in my own order, when convenient, and not letting them get in the way of the things that matter even more than crossing that finish line in less than 4 hours. Sure, I’d love to clock another 3:50-something time come Nov. 23. But even more so, I’d like to finish these 20 weeks of training not feeling like I’ve missed out on my life.

So far so good.

How flexible are you in your marathon training?