Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Hurdles, Highlights and High Fives: How I Prepare for Races

When I ran my first marathon back in 2010, I didn't put much thought into training other than following the beginner plan in Jeff Galloway's book, Marathon: You Can Do It.  At that time, I was working as a fitness manager in a ladies only gym, personal training and teaching up to four group exercise classes a day, leaving little time for much else other than running.  Despite being a fitness professional and knowing the importance of cross training, I simply ran.  Of course, having never done that type of distance before, my biggest goal was just to finish.  Eighteen weeks of training, several lost toenails, nagging knee and hip pain, a ten plus pound weight gain and a time of 4:42, I was officially a marathoner!  It certainly wasn't pretty but I accomplished my goal of finishing a marathon and that was all that matter...at that time!

Since then, I have learned so much.  I recognize I still have quite a bit to learn, but each event, from 5k's to marathons, I go in feeling much more confident because now I am much more healthy, physically stronger and mentally prepared.  Now I have much better finish times, experience much less pain/injuries during training and performance and I recover much quicker than I did when I first started.  Not to mention I also have a lot less anxiety and jitters race week and day.  Of course a lot of this comes with time and experience, learning how to train smarter and being better prepared over the years has helped tremendously.   It will continue to evolve, but here are a few key things I focus on to prepare for each race.

Like I said above, in the beginning it was all about running and running only.  All that mattered was getting my miles in.  Pace was an afterthought, recovery was ice, pizza and a beer, and if anything hurt, I either rested it or just ran through the pain.  Over the years, I have learned the importance of better preparation and of listening to my body better.  I run events year round, but now I am selective about what distances I do when.  I also place a lot of emphasis on cross training, especially spending time in the weight room.  And last but not least, I recognize the importance of proper nutrition.

As gym owners and performance coaches who work with a variety of athletes ranging from youth to professional, my husband and I have designed a strength and conditioning program for me that revolves around my races.  I focus on increasing overall strength, power, speed and of course mobility and flexibility.  My programming involves a variety of exercises including Olympic lifts, functional movements, body weight exercises, power and plyometric movements.  I also incorporate Yoga into my training regimen at least once per week.  I love getting in the weight room and getting after it, pushing myself hard and seeing what my body can do.  I am the strongest I have ever been and it translates into my running performance.  And just like any good running program, as race day approaches, my workouts, especially in my lower body, begin to taper so that I will be ready to perform at optimal condition.  The days leading up to the race I spend much of my time in the gym foam rolling and focusing on mobility.

Hurdle Squat Jumps
Nutrition is an aspect of my training I am still learning quit a bit about, but I am much further along in my understanding that I have been in the past.  I use an app to make sure that I am taking in enough calories and the appropriate macro-nutrients.  I have always had a finicky stomach (I suffer from IBS), so the week leading up to an event, I keep my diet super simple and stick with foods I know and trust.  The day before the race and especially race day is not the time to try new foods, that's for sure!  I am a big fan of HoneyStinger products and LOVE their waffles as pre-race fuel.  Another must-have before a race is AdvoCare Slam.  The caffiene, aminos and B vitamins give me a great kick right before the gun goes off and throughout the race!

Race Week Essentials Recap: Tapper strength exercises to ensure muscles are rested and ready to go for the big day.  Focus on flexibility and mobility as well as rolling out any hotspots with a foam roller or lacrosse ball.  Keep my diet clean and simple, making sure I have enough protein, carbs and fats for optimal performance.  The day of the race, I am sure to have all my pre-race fuel ready to go.  NEVER try anything new the day of the race!

I continue to struggle with my mental game.  I have a tendency to put a lot of unnecessary stress on myself for each race, regardless of the distance.  I try to get a good night's rest before, but anxiety not just for the run but for all the race day logistics keep me up.  I know what I am capable of, and I set my goals accordingly, but I still expect to push myself even harder the day of.  It is important that I remind myself that it is just running, and running is something that I am passionate about, but most importantly, it is something I truly enjoy!  So I always have a little talk with myself, reminding myself of my goals, and remind myself my most recent training runs and workouts.  And I always take a few moments to remind myself of how far I have come and how lucky and privileged I am to have the opportunity to go out and get to do what I do.  I am so lucky to physically be able to run, and to make the time to do so with my insane schedule.  I also feel lucky that I can afford this allegedly "free hobby" and am able to pay for the races, the running clothes, the fancy GPS watch, special running shoes, and so on!  Keeping all that in mind helps keep things in perspective and keep me focused.

In the week or so leading up to an event, especially a long distance one like a marathon or half marathon, I spend time figuring out the logistics of race day, making sure I know where to pick up my packet, where to park race day, what time to get there, etc.  A couple of days before the race, I start getting my gear together, making sure I have everything I want and need before, during and after the race.  The afternoon/evening before race day, I double check my "race bag" (the backpack I always keep my race gear in), take a flat mama picture to post for my Moms Run This Town page, and make sure my alarm is set for the first of many times before I go to bed!

The night before the race, I like to watch football highlights with my husband, who is the strength and conditioning coach for Apopka High School.  The Blue Darters of Apopka have been to the State Championship game for the past three years and have one it twice.  This football program is nothing short of amazing and is a true inspiration.  Despite facing so much adversity, these young men come together and put EVERYTHING out on the field each and every time they play.  Witnessing the relentlessness, undying will, determination, drive and heart these boys play with each and every game truly inspires me to go out and perform.  I know me running a half marathon pales in comparison to what these guys have accomplished, but getting to watch highlights of their amazing victories over the years certainly gets me so freaking fired up and ready for race day!

When the alarm goes off race morning, everyone is still asleep so I am careful not to disturb them.  I like to look in on my peaceful boys knowing that no matter how the race goes, they are still so proud of their mommy.  Coming home from an event and hearing them shout "Mommy, mommy, mommy!  Did you win, did you run really fast, can we see your medal!?!" always melts my heart.  They are my motivation and inspiration.  I continue to work hard and push myself in hopes to motivate and inspire them too!

Last, but certainly not least, one of my most absolute favorite things to do before a race is meet up with my lovely Moms Run This Town ladies.  I love the hugs, high fives and well wishes everyone has for one another.  My MRTT ladies are the most encouraging and awesome group I have ever been a part of.  Since joining MRTT two years ago, I have made so many amazing running friends and have learned so much about how amazing and supportive the running community truly is.  Our goals and paces all differ, but we all share a passion not just for running but a love for encouraging and cheering on fellow running mamas.  Once I get a high five and good luck from someone, I am officially ready to take on the race!

MRTT Seminole Co. Chapter before the Winter Park Road Race 10k and 2 miler
Pre-Race Essentials Recap: It's super important that I have everything prepared, if you plan to fail you fail to plan and that jacks up the pre-race jitters!  I remind myself that I am physically prepared, that everything I have done in the weight room, out on the trail and on the treadmill has prepared me for this event and I have to trust in my training and my abilities.  I remind myself how lucky I am to even be able to do this and that I actually enjoy doing this!  I remember all the greatness from my highlight watching and make sure several of those songs are ready to rock on my iPod!  And of course I have to get up with my MRTT gals for some pre-race pep talks and high fives!

We all have different ways of preparing for a race and it evolves over time.  The important thing is finding what works best for you, both physically and mentally.   Find the things that you know are going to help you preform at your absolute best, what is going to give you the confidence going into race day and what keeps you going when things may not go your way.  Recognize that we are lucky enough to get to run and embrace each run as a special gift we are giving to ourselves.  Happy running everyone!

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