Running Training

Six Days a Week

A lot of good things come in sixes: players on a hockey team, muffins in a muffin tin, geese-a-laying, beer. Six is the motivation behind everyone’s ab workout, the number of good Star Wars films once December rolls around and the roll in obscure 1980s board game Race to the Roof that lets you pull an object card and potentially take home the gold.

I hope it's the top hat! Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.
“I hope it’s the top hat!” Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.

One area the number six shouldn’t have a place? The number of running workouts I do a week. Or in other words, my marathon training plan currently has me running a whopping six out of seven days a week, and, my god, I’m. So. Tired.

I’m a runner (clearly, welcome to this blog), so I know my training schedules are going to have me, well, running quite a bit. But given the choice, I prefer schedules with a more reasonable 4-5 days of required running a week. Fewer days pounding the pavement means more time for other cross training activities, like yoga and stretching and sleep, plus it makes every morning jog feel like a gift, rather than a chore.

Which is why my signing myself up to follow Hal Higdon’s “personal best” marathon training plan for the fall 2015 racing season may have been a foolish idea. And by may have been, I mean was definitely a foolish idea. Because I still have 18 weeks of training ahead of me, and I never want to see my Asics again.

According to my pal Hal, the plan was intended for experienced runners who have completed two or three marathons and would like to PR. He was practically pointing at me. The schedule is actually a combination of his 12-week Intermediate Spring Training Program with his 18-week Intermediate 1 Marathon Training Program, meaning the first half is intended to get runners in speedy, light racing shape with hill workouts and interval training, while the second half builds the necessary mileage to complete a grueling 26.2. I didn’t even do the first six or seven weeks since I only started this after the Brooklyn Half, and even these past five weeks of six-day-a-week runs have taken their toll.

How so, you ask? Well, yesterday I only did 4 miles instead of the scheduled 6. And today I’m planning on doing the unthinkable: I’m planning to skip my scheduled run altogether. Usually, I don’t lose my drive like that until tapering, or at least until the day after I eat a really big meal.

Nom nom nom.

At six days a week, I’m about ready to 86 running altogether. Luckily, this upcoming Monday is going to bring a welcome reprieve: the start of Part 2 of the training plan, which replaces my Monday run with a day of cross training. I’m hoping that by scaling down to five runs a week, plus taking off a few buffer days off in the interim, will be just the kickstart I need to get excited about training again.

That, or the next 18 weeks will be torture. Here’s hoping for the former.

How do you keep motivated when you’ve — quite literally, to quote Chris Traeger — run out of motivation?

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?

Running Training

Said No One Ever

There are a handful of phrases in the English language that I’d wager have rarely, if ever, been spoken aloud.

  • No thanks, I’ve had enough cookie dough for one day.
  • Franklin Pierce’s economic policies are worth emulating today.
  • No way, the blue ranger is my favorite, too!
  • Don’t you just love the smell of Manhattan in June?
  • I mean it! Your dog’s new haircut doesn’t look silly at all.
Back Camera
She knows the truth.

Here’s one more to add to the list:

  • I cannot wait until marathon training starts so I can finally have my life back.

Except that the aforementioned sentence has, in fact, been spoken aloud, and the speaker was none other than yours truly, and the whole exchange took place about 15 seconds ago. That’s right, folks. You’re livin’ through history.

As you may recall, I’m shaking up my running routine and spending the first half of the summer training for a beachside sprint triathlon scheduled for July 28 along the Rhode Island coast. For those of you unfamiliar with the sprint distance, we are talking a quarter-mile swim, an 11-mile ride and a 5K run in what I hope will take about one-third the time it takes me to run a marathon. Training should be a walk (/swim/bike) in the park, right?

Wrong. Not having much experience myself training for a multi-sport event, I (SURPRISE!) turned to my homeboy Hal Higdon for advice. There, I found his recommended 8-week workout plan designed for “runners who would like to test their fitness in a triathlon by adding swimming and cycling to their workout routines.” There might as well have been a headshot of me on the intro page. Plan selection = complete.

tri plan

I’m now on week 4 — why yes, I am writing this post from the comfort of a stationary bike — and let me tell you: training for a triathlon is not for the weak of heart. (Actually, your cardiologist probably could have told you that, too.)

Seriously though, I went into this summer thinking tri training would be a good way to ease my way into marathon training by building a base of core muscle groups while also allowing me more free time to enjoy all the perks a Manhattan summer provides.

Boy was I wrong. While it’s true my total weekly running mileage has been dramatically reduced since picking up two extra sports, the same can also be said of my free time. Unlike marathon training, when I tend to take two scheduled rest days a week, Hal now has me working out a full six out of seven. And many of those workouts involve more than one sport — say, swim 30 mins, bike 20 mins. But that’s less than an hour of training! — you say. — How can that be more time consuming than marathon training?

How? I’ll tell you how. My pool is on 92nd St.; my borrowed bike resides in Greenpoint. You do the math.

As a result, I’m breaking up most of my scheduled brick workouts and completing the first half before work in one borough and the second at night in another. I realize the expectation is athletes on tri plans will transition right from one sport to the next during training in order to simulate actual race conditions, but I also realize I don’t have a magic carpet to transport me over the East River during transitions. Pre-genie Aladdin, I feel your pain.

Now I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed pieces of triathlon training. My Friday night bike ride around Roosevelt Island made me feel like a real, multi-sport athlete, strength training has made me feel strangely stronger, and swimming at the 92Y has taught me to strategically sidestep 90-year-old women in swim caps.

But the constant stream of two-a-day workouts is starting to wreck havoc on both my sleep schedule and my social life. And that’s why I’m about to repeat myself:

  • I cannot wait until marathon training starts so I can finally have my life back.

marathon planThat, and I love the smell of Manhattan in June.

How is your summer training progressing?

Running Training

Life After 26.2

You know that feeling when you’ve been writing a blog about running for almost a year in anticipation of your inaugural marathon and then after running that marathon can no longer think of anything interesting to write about and consider just posting photos of your brother’s goldendoodle on the internet instead?

No, you don’t know that feeling? Uh, me either. Moving on then.

As many of you may be aware, 10 days ago, I ran my very first marathon. It was emotional, it was invigorating and –  apparently – it was proof that I don’t keep my eyes on the road.

Hindsight is 20/20.

As much as I rocked the race itself – coming in a respectable 3,198th place (no, you don’t get a podium slot for that) – I rocked recovery even more. For the first week after the race, I followed Hal Higdon’s “Zero Week” training plan like it was my job. That is, assuming my job is to sit immobile in a chair for 14 hours straight stuffing my face, which – oh yeah – it kind of is. Find an abbreviated version of his recovery recommendations below:

Monday:  No running today! No exercise of any kind! Take it easy. (If you insist.)
Tuesday: No running! (I might have fought this, but – hey look! – a hurricane. Guess I’ll stay indoors.)
Wednesday: No running! And don’t substitute cross-training in a mistaken belief that it will help you maintain fitness. … You earned this period of rest. Take it! (Fine. But I’m taking a walk around the block and you can’t stop me.)
Thursday: Okay, you’re cleared to run again, but don’t overdo it. (I didn’t.) Two miles of gentle jogging … sounds about right for Zero Week. (It was.)
Friday: Now is the time to cross-train. The best cross-training discipline for a recovering marathoner is simple walking. I recommend bringing your neighborhood goldendoodle along for the ride. (Wise words, Coach.)

Cheaper than a mink.

The week after the Marine Corps Marathon, I did exactly what I was told: I relaxed, I re-hydrated, I re-fueled, but now, I’m re-al bored.

I know I knew life before marathon training, but  life after it suddenly seems downright dull. Plus my blogging ideas are suddenly flowing slower than a Manhattan-bound L train. Oh. Too soon?

So, dear readers, help me out here. Assuming I don’t run right out and register for another marathon (odds are 60/40, but I’m not a betting man), what should I start doing to pass the time and maintain this new caliber of fitness I’ve achieved? Swimming? Yoga? Competitive eating? (The latter is something I could totally get behind. 26.2 chicken wings? Count me in.)

Running Training

Accidental Recovery

After four months of painstakingly disciplined marathon training, I had big plans to throw caution to the wind this week and disregard everything I’d ever read about post-marathon recovery.

Look! I’m stretching! In the middle of Wilson Blvd!

A tad hubristic, sure, but after 16 weeks of scheduled workouts and calculated nutrition and near-religious adherence to a calendar, I wanted nothing more when I crossed that finish line than to go off-book for awhile. Wise or not, I wanted to do recovery my way.

But the world had other plans.

Case in point: every trainer out there, including my cyber-coach Hal, told me to do nothing but rest in the first three days following the marathon. No running, no cross training, no nothin’.

Yeah, right. I laughed to myself. After four months without stepping foot in my gym, I’m going to start getting my money’s worth again this week. See you at kickboxing. And pilates. And in the spectator stands during the under-40 men’s basketball league practice. I mean, what?

Nothing was going to stop me from resuming my normal workout routine after Sunday’s race.  And then, oh yeah, this happened.

“Sandy, Sandy’s his name if you please. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone of the fleas.”

Stranding me in Maryland and forcing me to stay off my legs and inside the house for three days straight? Well played, Sandy. Well played.

Likewise, most marathon recovery guides tell you to continue refueling your glycogen stores in the days following the race with a high-carb diet, but after a couple weeks of taper-induced weight gain, I had other plans.

Celery! Rice cakes! Vodka sodas!

Foiled again.

Safari hat? 10,000 pieces of candy? Don’t mind if I do.

Putting me on the Halloween candy distribution committee was a clever way to force feed processed sugars back into this recovering body. You win this round, world.

How’s your recovery going? And any more tips to pass my way that I can arrogantly attempt to ignore and then end up accidentally following to a T?


Running Training

Is Marathon Training Bad for You?

“You’re training for a marathon? Isn’t that bad for you?”

It’s a question I’ve heard dozens of times, and it usually comes from the same lips that just smoked a pack of cigarettes or threw back three tequila shots or ate an entire KFC family meal, alone.

Go on, pinnacle of health – I think to myself – please share with me your extensive knowledge about marathon training.

“It’s bad for your knees,” they start. “Your joints will never forgive you. It strains your heart. Our bodies just weren’t made to do that.”

Is that all? I ask.

“I once knew a guy whose butcher’s pastor’s prom date died during a marathon.”

Normally, this is when I’d break out my long-form answer. Is marathon training bad for you? Absolutely not. Countless studies have shown that any short-term strain on your body incurred through marathon training is more than offset by subsequent gains in cardiovascular strength, lung capacity expansion and improved brain function, not to mention a significantly reduced occurrence of diabetes, depression and obesity.

But today, you’re not getting the long-form answer. If you asked me at this very moment whether I believe marathon training is bad for my health, I’m afraid I’d have to give you a rebounding ‘yes,’ followed by a resounding cough.

That’s because for the third time since beginning marathon training in July, I spent this week all-but-bedridden with a crippling sinus infection.* It hit the day after I completed an 18-miler, my longest (and most monsoon-like) workout to date.

*diagnosis courtesy of WebMB. It also told me I might have lupus and/or male pattern baldness.

Three Grade-A colds in as many months may not seem wholly out of the ordinary, but these recurrent bouts of illness came on the heals of 18 glorious infection-free months. Since first lacing up my running shoes in January 2011, I’ve been abnormally healthy, and a quick google search tells me why:

“A totally sedentary person is likely to contract a yearly average of two to three upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) – the medical term for viral infections of the ear, nose and throat, like colds, flu and sinus infections. But a moderately active person can expect to reduce that rate by almost a third, according to Mike Gleeson, a professor of exercise biochemistry at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, U.K.,” this article says.

Hence my glorious and unparalleled cold-free status throughout three half-marathon training cycles.

But amp up that moderate activity level to marathon-caliber exertion? Suddenly, you can expect two to six times as many URTIs during a year, Prof. Gleeson says. But don’t take his word for it. Just ask all the chicken noodle soup vendors I’ve run dry this week. Grilled cheese and naval oranges may also be experiencing a deficit on the island of Manhattan.


In the past, I’ve continued to train, albeit at a reduced speed and with a lot more pre-run whinging, when under the weather. But with my weekly mileage now grazing 40 and the prospect of an 8-mile tempo run too daunting to imagine through this week’s congestion, I did the until-now unthinkable: I skipped a workout. And then another. And then a third.

That’s right: from Tuesday through Thursday this week, I did not so much as even look at my wicking gear, opting instead to prepare for the fast-approaching Marine Corps Marathon by donning sweats, ordering in and watching romantic comedy after romantic comedy. Forget Hal Higdon’s Novice II program; his How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days fitness plan is much more my style.

By Friday, I felt well enough to hit the park again, but kept it easy and only did 2.5 of the scheduled 5. And by Saturday, having slept among the healing powers of my childhood home (it’s science), I was back to my full 13 miles. I took it slower that usual to be safe; in exchange, it took me to some gorgeous North Baltimore trails. Good trade, I’d say.


Now that I’m once again on the mend, I’m left wondering: if last week’s 18-miler knocked me off my feet for the better part of a week, what will next weekend’s 19-miler do to me? How about my early October 20-miler? Or, you know, the full 26.6-mile distance itself? Will my evolving body learn to adapt and better fight off the next rhinovirus that’s sneezed its way, or should I start buying shares in Kleenex now?

Either way, if I find myself off my feet, I promise not to again leave this blog untouched for more than a week. Though, to be fair, I did publish this past week – just not on my home site. If you haven’t already done so, check out (or this link, specifically), to read about my recent participation in a global running project. Per the rules of the assignment, I recorded a run in my home city, donated to a favorite charity and thanked my support system along the way. Oh yeah, and successfully disguised in no fewer than four photographs that I was running with an 101-degree fever. Ah, the wonders of lighting.

OK runners, answer me this: will skipping my mid-week workouts set me back come Marathon Sunday? Or, like fortune cookies and celebrity wedding vows, were marathon training schedules made to be broken?