Friday, April 14, 2017

Tips For Building Muscle While Distance Running

I am often asked by fellow runners what is my secret to building muscle while running so many miles?  It seems like an anomaly to many a runner, but I can assure you, it most certainly can be done!  Just like achieving any other goal you have in running (like a new distance or a big PR), it takes some hard work and dedication.  But with consistency in a well rounded strength and conditioning program, as well as proper nutrition and realistic goals, any runner can build strong, lean muscles while logging in high mileage.

Here are some tips that have worked for me as well as the athletes I work with...

Lift Heavy
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to runners, especially female runners, is what type of weights to lift...if at all.  I have encountered so many athletes that use the same light weights for years wondering why they are not getting results.  And I've also encountered many an athlete who shy away of weights altogether, and are wondering why all the running, squats and push ups are not building the body of their dreams.

The only way to build lean muscle mass is to challenge your muscles. They only way to challenge your muscles is to get a little physically (and mentally) uncomfortable and push yourself in the weight room.  I tell my athletes, the last few reps of any set should be bit of a struggle, if it's too easy, then you're not going to get results.  Of course form is always key, so do not compromise form for an insanely heavy weight, but do not be afraid to go up in weights when you're no longer feeling challenged!  (And I wanted to add because it's always asked, the chances of you bulking up and looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger is slim to none, so don't worry!)

Amp Up Your Cardio
So I know this sounds a little silly.  You're distance runner, how could you possibly do more cardio!?!  I'm not necessarily suggesting your run more days, miles or even do more cross training.  What you do want to consider incorporating into your regimen if you're trying to build lean muscle mass is more challenging cardio like interval training.  Interval training (short hurts of high intensity followed by recovery) is what really kick starts your metabolism, burning fat and building lean muscle mass for up to 36 hours after a workout!

Yes, you are getting some interval training if you are doing speed work, but it is strictly through running.  Our bodies adapt to what we constantly do and we need a variety in order to achieve results.  Some ways you can amp it up include taking a spin, kickboxing or boot camp class, try a HIIT or MetCon workout, or simply just add in things like jump rope, squat jumps, mountain climbers, etc. at the end of your lifting sets to shoot your heart rate up.
KB Swings are a great exercise that builds strength and power while getting the HR up
Don't Be Afraid of Carbs
When it comes to building lean muscle, protein gets pretty much all the love.  Understandably so, protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your muscles and body.  Without them, it would be impossible to build, repair or even maintain muscle tissue.  But in order to get energy for anything from running to lifting weights, to day to day activity, you need energy.  And that energy comes from the glycogen stores you get from consuming carbohydrates.  Since carbohydrates and protein work hand in hand (they work together to fuel and repair muscles), you should consume and equal amount of both (1:1 ratio).

As awesome as it would be to fuel up on chips and beer, not all carbs are created equal.  In order to achieve great, healthy results, you will need to take in good, natural carbs.  Some sources of good carbs are from fruits and vegetables, beans and legume and whole grain.

Consider Your Goals
We all have our own personal reasons why we run.  Some run for fitness in an effort to lose or maintain weight.  Some run to relieve stress and/or just stay active.  And some run to really push themselves and chase big PR's.   Regardless of your reasoning to run, you still most likely have some sort of running-related goal you are looking to achieve in the near future.  So if you're looking to build muscles for ascetic purposes as well, you will have to consider what is your bandwidth for training and your ultimate goal.

So what I tell my athletes is to train for performance and not for perfection.  You are first and foremost a runner and you have goals you want to achieve in that realm.  Yes, you want to look good and you certainly can and will.  Building muscles doesn't mean you have to ditch your running goals and focus on strictly weights, but you are going to have to carve out time during your week to dedicate to lifting, which will make you stiff and sore at times.  So why not make that time work for not just your appearance but more importantly your performance.

Having a well rounded strength and conditioning program in your training regimen will help to make you a better runner who is stronger, leaner, less likely to get injured and an over all better athlete.  The lean muscles you build from that program are then the added bonus!

Don't Be A Slave To The Scale
Along those same lines of training more for performance than just on how you look, is to not be so caught up on a number on the scale.  We have heard that muscle "weighs more than fat."  The truth is muscle is more dense than fat, meaning it takes up less space than fat while weighing about the same amount.  So if you're adding strength training into your routine but not seeing the scale budge, do not get discouraged.  If you're being consistent with your training, taking in the appropriate amount of nutrition and pushing yourself, you are going to achieve results regardless of what the scale says.

These results will be more of how you feel and look, not so much your weight.  You may notice some muscle definition starting to show or your clothes feeling a little looser, and your running pace getting more effortless but fore the scale even (or ever) moves!
I weight the EXACT same in these two pics!
Get Some Direction
There are several ways you can incorporate strength and conditioning into your routine in order to build lean muscle mass while running, ultimately making you a better athlete.  Body weight exercises are a great place to start, but as I stated above, you will need to learn to challenge yourself.  Taking group exercise classes and/or adding in interval training is also a great to get stronger and leaner.

But one of the best ways to take the guess work out of the how, what, when, where and why of strength and conditioning is to enlist the help of a coach.  A trained professional, like myself, can design a program specific to your goals and needs while considering your run training as well.  For more information on my training services, check out my services page and/or contact me today from a free, no obligation consultation.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A New Reason To Run

Project Purple
I have ran marathons for several different "reasons" over the years.  Of course the majority of them have been in effort to catch that elusive unicorn, but I have also ran them for fun, training miles and of course as a pacer.

My first marathon experience, back in 2010, was essentially just to see if I could even do it.  I had no time goal, I just wanted to cross that finish line.  So I chose a race that would have a special meaning for me (in case I never did another one lol) and ran the Marine Corps Marathon.  My parents were both marines and I had lost my father a few years prior, so this race would hold always hold a very special place in my heart.

Fast forward almost 7 years and 8 marathons later, it has been quite a distance running journey to say the least.  One filled with every emotion from pride to disappointment, happiness to heartbreak, and defeat and perseverance.  Though I have yet to reach my ultimate goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (I've come super close), I press on and continue to find new meaning and reasons to run.

This Fall, I had planned to run a marathon like I do every Fall.  Realizing it would be my 10th marathon, I wanted to make it an extra special experience because, well 10 seems like a pretty exciting number to celebrate.  Feeling a little burnt out on all this BQ chasing, I wanted a different perspective on a training cycle and a race.  I thought what better way to do that run for charity!?!

The thought of running for a charity always interested me.  It seemed like a great way to give more purpose and meaning to a race than just running for a PR.  When you have a special cause you hold near and dear to your heart, why not support that cause through your passion.  So my mind was made up, running for a charity would be how I would spend training for and running my next (and 10th) full marathon.

It was pretty quick and easy for me to decide on a charity.  Of course there are several great causes out there and if I had not had my heart set on one already, it would have been rather difficult to decide which cause to choose from.  But I already had my mind made up on one particular cause that has affected my family, and I wanted to honor an incredibly special person and run in memory of him.  That of course is my dad, who lost his battle to Pancreatic Cancer in 2003.  He was such an amazing and loving husband, father and friend, who's life was cut too short but such an ugly disease.
Daddy and me, circa 1983
I ran my first marathon in memory of him when I chose to run with the Marines, and I'm dedicating my 10th marathon to him as I work to raise funds and awareness for the awful disease that took his life 14 years ago.  I will be taking on the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul as I run with Project Purple at the Twin Cities Marathon this October.  My hope is to not only exceed my minimum fundraising goal of $1000, but to also raise awareness for this deadly disease and of course make my family proud as I run in memory of my dad.

And one of the best parts about running in the Twin Cities is that my dad was originally from that part of the country and some of our family will be there to cheer me on race day!

To learn more about my father's story, my fundraising efforts and how you can donate to help me reach my goal, please check out my Project Purple page.  Feel free to share and spread the word.  I, of course will be continuing to post on my marathon training as well as fundraising efforts in the coming months, so stay tune!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Actually Excited About My Time Off

I always say I'm going to scale back and take break.

"After this race, I'm done for a while..." are my famous last words.  Then when I miss my goal, I'm rushing to the computer, pulling out my credit card and signing up for my next one.  And just like that, when I said I had enough, I'm lacing up to go for another 20 miler training run the next weekend.

My husband would just roll his eyes whenever I tried to convince him (and myself) that this race would be my last for a while.  But who was I kidding, I already had another one in mind shortly thereafter.

What can I say, it has become an addiction.  There should be a support group for people like me but I'm sure we'd spend the whole time talking about our favorite races and agree to run them with each other.

In the past almost 10 years, I can only think of two times I have actually taken a full blown break from the pressure of training and racing.  The first was during my back to back pregnancies (my sons are 14 months a part).  Though I ran throughout and shortly after both, I did not race or do long distances for close to two years.  It was strictly to stay active and healthy, I obviously wasn't trying to PR at anything while preggers.  The second "break" I took from training was when I was injured about a year and a half ago.  I had to take about 6 weeks off of running, but was luckily able to swim, bike and lift during my recovery.

So yeah, pretty much other than that, I have been go go go.  Except for now...

I'm (FINALLY) taking a bit of a break and you know what, believe it or not, I'm perfectly ok with it. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm already having total race FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, in case you didn't know), and some anxiety over "losing" my fitness (which I know will come back).

But I am REALLY looking forward to this much need little break, and here is why...

I Need It
I really just need a damn break.  I need a break physically from training.  I need a break mentally from all the stress and pressure I put on myself.  And I need a break emotionally from the disappointment of continually missing my one big scary goal (to BQ).  My body, mind and soul (as well as pocket book) will appreciate me taking this much needed break.

I'm Doing Something For ME
I am not ashamed or embarrassed to discuss why I will be resting over the next month.  It will be a little obvious when it's all said and done any way.  After losing and gaining close to 70lbs in my teens and 20's, then back to back pregnancies in my early 30's, my body has been through quite a bit of changes to say the least.  I have worked very hard on my fitness and body throughout the years and am very proud of how far I have come.  With that being said, we all have insecurities and I have chosen to do something about one (well a pair) of mine.  I've been wanting to do this for a while now and I am excited to be going through with it.  Plus now I have a great excuse to head over to Lululemon for some cute new tops and bras!

There's An End In Sight
Unlike an injury or illness, I know my timeline for recovery and when I can return to workouts.  Granted I will have to re-introduce running and lifting slowly back in, and it most likely will be a little humbling at first, at least I know when I can do it.  I should be (hopefully) back to my old self before I start marathon training this summer.

I Plan To Come Back Stronger
When I started racing again after having my sons, I was faster and stronger than ever before.  I made huge strides in such a short period of time and felt unstoppable.  Then a few years later, I endured my first major setback when I suffered an injury.  After almost two months off of running, it was a slow and daunting process to build my fitness back up.  I felt like I would never get back to where I was then BAM, I went out and rocked my first race back and every subsequent race after that Spring!  I was back again and this time stronger than before.  Keeping those two comebacks in mind, I'm heading into this rest period hoping to come back stronger than ever!

I Will Have Time To Prepare
I have been very open about my desire to BQ and how difficult of a journey it has been for me.  With ever failed attempt, I am left heart broken and defeated.  Yet I never seem to make any significant enough changes to my training plan, nutrition or even mindset in order to accomplish my goal.  I know that I am capable of so much more, I just can't seem to figure out how to make it happen.  Well now that I have some time to take a step back and reflect on my past, I feel I will be able to better prepare for the future.  So with three whole months before I began training for my next marathon and seven months before the big day, I have plenty of time to really focus on what it's going to take to go out and crush it this time.

Ya'll Will Get FREE Stuff
Since I won't be able to make all my obnoxious, self promoting gym mirror selfies, double thumbs up shots or runfies, I figured I would stay active on social media with running and training tips, throwback pics and of course GIVEAWAYS!!!  So stay tuned if you like free stuff!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dealing With Pre-Race Jitters

My aunt was down visiting this weekend.  We rarely get to see each other but she is a lovely person and we pick up right where we left off every time we do.  The last time I saw her was in Chicago.  She had planned to come watch me race to begin with, but when a hurricane came to Orlando, she was gracious enough to let me come stay with her a few extra days to avoid getting stuck down here in the storm.  This was the first marathon weekend she had ever experienced with me, or anyone for that matter.  So I'm sure it was quite interesting for her to say the least.

I'm planning on heading back up that way this Fall for another marathon and was discussing with her if I should come spend time with her before or after the race.  She (politely) insisted that I come see her after, that way I would be "less stressed."  I think that was her nice way of telling me she didn't want to deal with me before the big day. <insert laughing cry face here>

Makes sense though.  I'm typically a bit of a mess leading up to a race.  I could see why someone who's not used to that not wanting to deal with me.

Let me say I am not ALWAYS a total wreck (in my opinion).  Like when I'm pacing or running a race for fun with no major goals.  But other times I can be a bit of a disaster, like when I travel out of town for a race and/or have a big scary goal in mind.
No matter how many races I do and what I'm doing them for, one thing holds true there is guaranteed to be some pre-race jitters to some extent.

So here are a few things I like to do to help alleviate my insanity in hopes to have an enjoyable race weekend and of course, a great performance...

It's Totally Normal 
Whether I'm racing or pacing, if it's in or out of town, or it a marathon or 5k, I am not immune to race day nerves.  No one I know seems to be either. Getting the jitters before a marathon (or any other race for that matter) is totally normal.  So don't feel weird or bad because you find yourself a little on edge the days, or even weeks leading up to a big event.  Recognizing that it is normal to be a little frazzled helps remind me that I am not completely losing my mind and that I will be ok.
Seriously about to cry, barf and scream all at once while picking up a race packet. That poor guy helping me!
Use Them To Your Advantage
No matter how prepared I am for a race, nerves always creep up on me some point during the taper and of course on race day.  But I tell myself "the nerves are there because I care."  I've trained hard for this and it means a lot to me.  I put in the work and I want it to show on race day.  Like I said above, race day nerves are normal, so why not use them to your advantage.  Of course you don't want to be balled up in a corner rocking back and forth talking incoherently to yourself (not normal).  But feeling your heart racing, needing an extra potty break or too, and wanting to screech out in a nervous excitement are all good.  Those nerves mean this is important to you.  Let those nerves fuel your adrenaline when you toe the line and throughout the race!

Trust Your Training
It's as simple as it sounds.  I tell myself and all my athletes this before every race.  You've trained for this, you are prepared for anything and you will give it your all.   Don't let your nerves overshadow all the handwork, dedication and recuperation you put in during your training.  Trust you are ready and go prove it.

Reference Your Training
Speaking of training, tap into some of your best workouts throughout your training.  What was it that made those particular runs click for you?  I like to scroll back through my old posts (blogs and Instagram) to remind myself of those times.  How I was able to power through a particularly tough workout, what it took to get through and how proud I was to accomplish that.  Reference those workouts to help remind yourself that you are capable, you can do it.

Seek Help 
No, I'm not suggesting you need professional help for your pre race jitters, but some "group therapy" may do you some good. Seeking the advice, help and comfort of fellow runners can help ease your mind heading into a race.  I have a few friends I met through my MRTT group who I probably drive a little crazy leading up to a race.  They are my sounding board and the ones who talk me off a ledge when I fear I may lose it with my nerves!  I also always like to try and make a new friend or two while at the event.  Small talk with a stranger, learning about their running journey and experiences as well as getting to share yours is a fun way to take the edge off.
My MRTT chapter helped me and everyone else to calm our nerves before the Space Coast Marathon.
Find A Mantra
When I ran Chicago last Fall, I had to leave three days early to elude a category 4 hurricane, leaving my family, home and business in its path.  This meant flying into a different state to stay with family for a few days, then make a 7 hour drive down to the race weekend.  I.Was.A.Mess!  But my husband kept reassuring me that everyone was ok (fortunately they were) and to give the race my all.  He told me in one particular text he sent that I was UNSTOPPABLE, and boom there it was, my race day mantra.

One little word or phrase can make all the difference in a race.  Having some words that hold a special meaning to you to repeat to yourself when your nerves get the best of you can really give you that extra motivation to push you through.  Find something that really resonates with you, write it on your arm, order a bracelet with it, and/or just repeat it to yourself when the going gets tough.

Just Breath
Yoga is a great form of exercise for runners of all levels and distances, at any point during training. But yoga also offers some great mental benefits leading up to a big race.  The breathing and relaxation tools are tremendously helpful during taper madness, not to mention the great stretch your body needs to relax too!  Consider taking a yoga class or two (in a studio, live stream or dvd) during your taper and of course use those breathing techniques on race day to help calm your nerves.

Enjoy The Ride
And last but certainly not least, have fun!  We're not professionals, this is not our career, we will not lose a sponsorship or contract if we do not PR.  Don't get me wrong, our races mean something to us and we want to do well.  We use running as an outlet in our hectic lives.  It is our escape, our "me time" and a great way to push ourselves and test our limits.  But don't let the pressure of it all get the best of you.  Running and especially the races are so much fun.  The crowd, the energy, the camaraderie, the pure awesomeness of it all is an experience like no other.  So soak it all and enjoy the ride!

Once you get rolling, it is INCREDIBLE!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Not All Water Is Created Equal

Despite living in Florida (aka the land of the endless summer) I have to admit I struggle to make hydration a priority and it often shows.  Don't get me wrong, I like water and I do drink it, just no where near as much as I should for my activity level, especially in this heat and humidity.

And probably one of my biggest hydration mistakes is assuming all water is created equal.

So when I was contacted by Eternal Water to take on the 24-Day Hydration Challenge, I jumped on the opportunity!  I took it as a sign to not only increase my water intake, but learn what a difference all natural, electrolyte water could make in my daily life and performance.

Before agreeing to the challenge and receiving my water, I was provided with the following information...
  • While other bottled water companies are artificially enhancing and adding electrolytes to their water, Eternal Water is 100% All-Natural with nothing added or removed. Therefore, no ingredient label is needed. Eternal Water was discovered not ‘made.’
  • Naturally Alkaline Water (pH 7.8 – 8.2) sourced from naturally alkaline underground springs (U.S. based).
  • Naturally Occurring Electrolytes including Calcium, Magnesium, and Potassium. Electrolytes are key to hydration and vital to physiological function and athletic performance. Electrolytes act as chemical messengers in the body carrying electrical impulses from the nerves, which control all tissue function and movement.  Having imbalanced levels of electrolytes are detrimental to performance and health
  • BPA Free, Phthalate Free 
So as you can see I learned quite a bit about the water and was excited to take on the challenge.

Like I said above, I had never really put much thought into the water I was drinking.  I just figured water is water and never realized all the extra junk most "electrolyte enhanced" waters had in them.  Plus I had heard about the benefits of alkaline water, especially for distance athletes like myself, but again, I always just drank whatever water was available.  So I figured it would be a fun learning experience for me OR my suspicions that all water is the same would be confirmed.

My water arrived about a month ago.  The timing was perfect because I had just come off racing a marathon and was preparing to pace another one.  Also, the temps had been unseasonably warm, so hydration was of the utmost important at this busy time of training.

The challenge itself was pretty straight forward...drink a bottle of Eternal water each day for the next 24 days.  The most challenging part was keeping my husband from stealing all my water, lol.  He LOVES water.  I have never met anyone who drinks as much water as he does.  So I had to get him some too so he wouldn't feel left out!  Plus it was fun to get to do the challenge together.

I had never tried Eternal water before and my just from my initial experience I was very impressed.

The Bottle- It's light and sleek, and looks cool.  It's a big bottle (1L) but with it slender through the middle, it's easy to grip and carry.  Plus it's BPA and Phtalate free, so that's definitely nice!

The Taste- This is when I was schooled that not all water is the same!  The taste is so clean, crisp and refreshing.  Honestly, it was unlike any other water I had tried.  It had absolutely no taste (unlike the almost metal or salty like tastes other electrolyte waters had), it was just pure replenishing water!

The Quantity- The 1L (33.8 oz) bottle was the perfect way to step up my hydration game.  My daily goal is around 80oz, and I'm typically lucky to make it to 60oz.  But having a bottle of Eternal water handy made it possible to meet and exceed that goal (plus the challenge was just a great reminder of the importance of hydration).

And of course, The Benefits-

After staying consistent with drinking the water for a solid week, I already noticed some changes.  I could feel my energy levels increase which showed in my training.  I made sure to bring a few bottles of water with me up to my marathon packing gig.  Drinking the water before and after the marathon made a huge difference in my performance and recovery.  I felt great!

As the weeks went on, I felt myself doing better and better with increasing my water in take thanks to the challenge.  I continued to see improvements in my energy.  I felt as if my skin was a little more clear and my veins weren't as prominent (a common dehydration problem).  I also noticed I felt less hungry and bloated all the time.  Most importantly, I just felt overall better, inside and out.

I am so glad I took the 24-Day Hydration Challenge and will most definitely continue my daily Eternal water drinking.  In fact, I have a bottle right next to me as I type this!

If you have not yet tried Eternal water yet, I highly recommend it.  Trust me, I now know that not all water is created equal and I can say from experience that Eternal water is proof of that!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Race (Pacing) Recap: Snickers Marathon

I started officially pacing a little over a year ago, and it has quickly become one of my favorite ways to experience an event!  I just love giving back to the running community, meeting new people and getting to be a part of someone's (or several someones') running journey.

With several half marathon pacing gigs under my belt, I was ecstatic to be asked to pace the Snickers Marathon in Albany, GA this past weekend.  I have been considering running this race for myself and I figured what better what to check it out than to be a pacer, so I jumped on the chance!

Having not paced a full marathon yet, I had to admit I was somewhat nervous about it all.  It's a lot of miles and people would be counting on me.  But then I was a little relieved when I was asked to pace the 4:10 group.  This is about a minute and a half slower than my marathon goal pace and over two minutes slower than my half marathon pace.  So I figured this would be a great pace for me to make my marathon pacing debut.

The training for this event was pretty simple.  I had just come off a full marathon (the Celebration Marathon) about a month prior, so I figured if I could just keep up my mileage while slowing down my pace, I should be good to go.  Believe it or not, slowing down is harder than it seems so the majority of my runs, including my 21 miler, were all still under 9 minutes.  But I figured once I got out with the crowd, got to chatting and respected the job I had to do, I'd have it under control.

On a side note, I have to tell you how wonderful it is to prepare for a race without having any pressure on myself and my own goals.  Not worrying about speed work, tempo runs or even putting expectations on my long runs was so refreshing.  My body and mind really appreciated the break from the strenuous and stressful training I had been putting myself through for the past eight months!

The race is in Albany, which is a quaint little town in Southwest Georgia.  It was about a four and a half hour drive from Orlando, mostly on the interstate, so the trip wasn't too bad.  Because the race boasts it's flat, fast course, it draws quite a bit of folks from Georgia and its surrounding states who are looking for a marathon PR and/or BQ.  In fact, it was ranked 2016's second best course for Boston qualifying.  (I even met a girl from Chicago and a guy from Denver who made the trip in hopes to BQ.)

Being from Orlando and having participated in races in much larger cities like Chicago and DC, Albany was probably one of, if not the smallest events I have been to.  But there is a lot to be said about those smaller town races.  It's quaint, easy to access and the whole community really comes together to show its support.

The host hotel for the race was the Hilton Garden Inn, which was also where the expo was held.  With the race on a Saturday, the expo was held Friday afternoon/evening.  I rolled into town around 3:30 that afternoon and the expo was just getting kicked off.  Because the town and the event itself are both pretty small (about 1500 runners for the half and full), the expo was pretty tiny too.  It made getting my packet and finding the pacer table a breeze, so that was definitely nice perk.

I met up with the other pacers, learned I would be needed for the 4:15 group instead of the 4:10.  And since I wouldn't be needed to work the table until 5pm, I decided to check in to my room then check out the expo.

The front desk was super busy with runners checking in.  You could tell they were prepared with all hands on deck but it was definitely pretty hectic in there.  I got my room assignment, headed up to relax for a few and decide on my outfit (based on my new pacer shirt) for the morning.  Then headed back down to work the expo and enjoy the pre-race banquet.
 The pasta dinner was surprisingly good.  They had a variety of pastas with marinara and alfredo sauce, with meat and vegetarian options.  There was also salad, bread and cake, along with tea (of course we're in the South) and plenty of water.  I was a little disappointed in the attendance for the meal, but I'm sure everyone wanted to check out the popular BBQ and hometown joints around town.

I got to meet my pacer roomie, Julie, right before dinner and we really hit it off.  She came down from South Carolina and was pacing the 4:30 group.  She is a pretty seasoned pacer and gave me a lot of great advice, and she was really great company so I was happy to get to room with her.  We met back with the other pacers around 9pm for a quick meeting then headed up to our room for the night.  Knowing we had to wake up pretty early, we tried to hit the hay at a decent hour but spent a lot of time chatting before finally falling a sleep.

The race started at 7am and us pacers were to meet in the lobby at 6:20am, so we got up around 5:30 that morning.  With everything already laid out and ready to go in our room, it didn't take long for us to get ready and get going.  

The lobby was packed with runners not wanting to go out into the cold (it was about 36 degrees at the start).  We were able to corral the other pacers and get a quick picture before losing each other again in the crowd.
A nice perk to being in the host hotel right across the street from the starting line was being able to run up to my room for a quick potty break before heading over to the starting line.  Yey for no port-a-potty!!!

I got back down with just enough time to find my fellow pacers and head over to the starting line.  As soon as we walked out of the hotel lobby, I was hit hard by the cold air.  This Florida girl was FREEZING!  But I knew it would make for great weather as the race went on, so I tried to remain positive and keep moving.

The starting line was maybe 100 or so yards from the hotel lobby, so we were there and lined up in no time.  It didn't take long standing in my area to make friends with who was planning to run with me.  I first met some really sweet ladies from Alabama, who would actually run with me almost to the end.  I also saw two people I had met the day before at the expo and met a few others who planned to run with me as well.
The race started right on time at 7am, and we were off...

The half and full marathoners start off together but veer off within a few yards of the start.  Us marathoners took a right turn and made our way through portions of the Albany State campus, which was very pretty.  We ran on the outskirts of a couple of neighborhoods, where residents were already starting to come out and cheer us on, before heading out of town for a beautiful sunrise run on a two lane road.  Around mile 3, we were heading back towards downtown and it felt like the miles were just flying by as I chatted it up with my group.

We made our way back by the host hotel and up into town.  The crowd support at this point was incredible.  Several local high school students lined the right side of the road and they were hooting and hollering it up for us.  It was a lot of fun.

We made our way through part of downtown then headed back onto what seemed to be a highway for a good stretch.  I was a little disappointed we didn't run through more of the city, I love getting to see old office buildings and homes, plus I really enjoyed the crowd support.

The next several miles were a pretty straight shot with some slight inclines and declines but no major hills.  Shortly after mile 8, we wove through another part of the campus and headed back on to the major road.  Then we took a sharp right and entered the series of neighborhoods we would be running through for the next several miles.

The sun was fully up and it had warmed up quite a bit by the time we passed the 10 mile mark, but it was still really nice out. We had left the major roads, campuses and city buildings, and were running strictly through neighborhoods at this point.  The next few miles were through a beautiful golf community.  The homes were lovely, there were a lot of large old trees providing great shade and the residents were out to show their support.  Shortly after mile 12, we came upon the sneaky hill we were warned about, but it was short lived and we crushed it!

When we passed the half way mark, I had a few runners who I met at the start still with me along with several others who we had picked up along the way.  Passing that half mark gave many of them a sense of accomplishment and hope for the rest of the run, so we were rolling at this point.

For the next few miles, we ran through the golf community and into another neighborhood that skirted around a lake.  The people directing traffic and cheering for through these miles were Marines from the local base, so that made my day since I'm a military brat (both my mom and dad were Marines)!

Unfortunately, between mile 16-18 I could feel myself losing a few runners.  I did my best to encourage and push them, but the pace I was at was still a bit fast since I had built in walks for water stations, and it was obvious it was difficult for them to keep up.  On a positive, I did have a few runners start to break away from the pack and push ahead.  I was excited to see they ran conservatively with me and were ready to kick it up.

We came out of the neighborhood and headed back onto a major road by mile 20ish.

We were running directly into the sun for about a mile and a half (maybe even a little more) some time after mile 20.  It was a major road so we were filed into one traffic lane.  The sun was pretty warm at this point and there was a bit of an incline, but there was great crowd support being on a major road.  I had lost most of my core group but had picked up some new runners who had fallen back from their faster group and had hoped to at least stay with me at this point.

With about three and a half to four miles left to go, we left the main drag and made our way back through neighborhoods.  By this point, I now longer had anyone running with me and I started to become a little lonely!  As I passed by runners who were falling back, I tried to push and encourage them to keep with me.  A few did for a while, some were able to go on ahead, but most fell back behind.

With a little over a mile to go, we made our way back into town.  A volunteer had shouted that it would be mostly downhill from there.  I chuckled to myself because there aren't many times that's actually a good term to us, but it is definitely nice to hear the term "downhill" when finishing up a marathon.

We cut through some city streets as we headed back towards downtown.  I almost caught up with one of my original ladies when I saw her walking.  I shouted to her she was almost there and to push through.  She did and I was so proud of her!

With less than a half mile to go, we took a sharp left and were on a side walk.  We went through an opening between two buildings then through a gate that would take us along the river and to the finish.  I could hear the race DJ and the crowd (and of course knew how much further from my watch) and was excited I was almost there.
All alone (I lost everyone at this point), I crossed the finish line at 4:14:12, about 48s faster than the posted goal time and 18s faster than I was supposed to run.  All in all not too bad of a finish for my first full marathon pacing gig.

For a smaller race, the finish line area was really nice.  There was a large sign with a time clock, a race DJ and even bleachers for spectators.  There really wasn't much for food and entertainment, but the river and of course all the sunshine made for a nice post race relaxation and catching up on the days events.
The pacers had a small VIP tent with sandwiches so we all met up there to discuss how it went for us.  Most all of us met our mark and has some great stories to share from our group.  I was able to meet up with a few ladies I had started the race with.  Though we did not finish together, both met their goal time and a BQ.  I also found a man who had ran with me a good chunk of the middle miles but lost shortly after 20.  He came in not too far behind me for his first ever marathon finish.  He and his family were so proud!

With not a whole lot going on post race and the long drive I still head ahead of mine, I made the 5 minute walk back to the hotel to shower up and head home.

I'm glad I was able to experience the Snickers Marathon as a race pacer.  It was a great introduction to marathon pacing in a smaller, less overwhelming event.  The course itself was a pretty good one and the crowd really come out to show it's support.  I will definitely consider coming back to pace and possibly race this one myself in years to come.

Here are a few final pros and cons to the Albany Snickers Marathon...
  • Relatively flat, fast course
  • Small event, easy to access expo and race day
  • Good crowd support
  • Awesome pace leaders ;-)
  • Snickers candy in goodie bags
  • Cute medal
  • Host hotel walking distance to start and finish
  • Great for spectators
  • Smaller race in smaller town makes for a non-intimidating event  perfect for first timers
  • Half option if not wanting to do the full
  • There are a few hills (by Florida standards)
  • Course is mostly through neighborhoods and highways, so not terribly exciting but pretty
  • Expo is tiny
  • Not much for swag
  • Not much to see or do in Albany, GA
  • Small, lackluster after party

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Build Stronger, Leaner & Faster Legs

Building strong legs is vital for running performance.  Not only does leg strength help with gait and run form, it also helps with endurance during log runs, power in the shorter distances and of course helps aid in recovery and injury prevention.

Basic bodyweight squats and lunges are definitely a great way to introduce lower body strength and conditioning to your training program.  But as you progress, you will want to offer a wide variety of leg exercises to your strength training arsenal.  Working unilaterally, in different planes as well as learning to jump and land, will target all areas of the lower body, improving not just strength, but also balance, coordination, stability and mobility.

And let's be honest here... as awesome as it is to have strong legs that help us perform at the top of our game, it's also nice to have gorgeous gams for those race photos and runfies too ;-)

So how do you get started?  Well like I mentioned above, mastering simple squats and lunges is a great place to begin.  But if you're ready to kick your training up a notch and/or are looking for new ways to work your legs, here are a few of my favorites lower body exercises I incorporate in mine and my clients' training programs...

Goblet Squat
Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell like tightly to your chest, elbows tucked tight to your torso.  With feet hip distance a part, lower your hips down and back behind you, keeping your weight in your heels.  Drop your hips down (below parallel ideally), then squeezing your glute muscles raise back up and repeat.  Try 3 sets of 10 to get stated.
Modification: Bodyweight Squats, Stability Ball Wall Squats
Progression: Double Racked Kettlebell Squats, Barbell Front Squats

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Place one foot on a bench behind you (shoe laces on the bench, not toes or ball of foot).  Gripping dumbbells in each hand, begin to lower your back knee all the way down.  Track your front knee above your ankle.  Raise back up to start position and repeat.  Begin with 3 sets of 6-10 each leg.
Modification: Bodyweight Split Squat
Progression: Barbell on Shoulders

Side and Transverse Lunges
Unlike traditional lunges, these two variations work in the other two planes of motions targeting different muscles in your legs. For Side Lunge: Standing tall with feet together, gripping a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, step the opposite foot out to the side bending just that knee, drawing your hips down and back.  Bring the weight over to that opposite ankle.  Step back up and repeat on that side.  For Transverse Lunge: Similar movement for the side lunge except you will step out and back, opening up your hip to the transverse plane.  Front foot will stay pointing forward while back foot will be perpendicular to the front.  Draw your hips down and back and keep your chest up for both lunge variations.
Modification: Body weight, Light Med Ball held at chest
Progression: Weight in both hands and/or add a vest
Side Lunge (Frontal Plan)
Transverse Lunge (Transverse Plane

Single Leg RDL
Holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in one hand, plant the opposite foot firmly on the ground.  Lower the weight down towards the inside of the opposite big toe (not necessarily all the way) while drawing chest parallel to the ground..  As you lower the weight, extend the SAME side leg behind you, drawing the leg parallel to the ground.  Keep your back flat, shoulders pulled back and core locked in tight.  Return to standing position and repeat on that side for 6-10 reps and do on opposite leg.  Just to clarify, if the weight is in your RIGHT hand, extend your RIGHT leg behind you, and vice versa!
Modification: Perform with just body weight reaching for the toe
Hip Thrusters
Prop upper body on a bench or (soft) box with just shoulder blades and arms rested on bench.  Align feet about hip distance a part directly under knees.  With or without weight, squeeze your glute muscles to lift your hips up, making a straight line from your shoulders to hips to knees.  Lower back down and repeat.  Begin with 3 sets of 10.
Modification: Floor Bridge, Body Weight Hip Thrusters
Progression: Barbell or Sandbag on lap

Single Leg Take-Offs
Stand forward facing a 12-18" box, bench or stable, elevated surface.  Step one foot onto the box and using the power from that leg, accelerate the other leg up and into a 90-90-90 position for hip-knee-ankle.  Step lifted leg off the box and bring original leg down too.  Repeat 5-8 times per leg.
Modification: Single Leg Step Ups to Balance
Progression: Wear weighted vest

Lateral Hurdle Hops
Position yourself to the side of a 6 or 12" hurdle.  Jump up (as high as you can) and over to the other side of the hurdle landing softly.  Repeat 10 times in each direction.
Modification: Ditch the hurdle, just use the floor
Progression: Higher hurdle, Wear a weighted vest

These are just a few examples of the many lower body strength and conditioning exercises I use for myself and my athletes.  To learn more about how these and other exercises can make you a stronger, faster and healthier runner, contact me to today about my Strength2Run online coaching services!