Friday, September 28, 2012

What to Do the Days Before the Marathon: Chill!

Many of you are in the back-half of your fall half or full marathon race training and race day is starting to pop into your mind more and more. Many runners get antsy and on edge the days before their race and some seem to lose all ability for rational thinking. It's called the pre-race jitters. They'll start to obsess about their training. Did I do enough? Should I have done more 20-milers? Are my shoes too old? What should I wear?

Rest assured. That's all normal, particularly if it's your first marathon. The main thing you need to do the week before the marathon is enjoy your last week of the taper. Don't try to "fix" anything. You should be running very little. No need to worry that you've not been running much the last couple of weeks. If you've put in the training, you've done all the work. The taper is time for your body to heal, repair, get strong, and prepare itself for the upcoming race. As I tell my runners over and over during their training..."Trust in your training. Believe in yourself. And, you'll Conquer your goals." Self-doubt and second guessing yourself only does one thing....wear you down mentally. Your mind needs time to relax and prepare for the upcoming race too. So let it. Focus on the positive. Celebrate all that you've achieved.

Below are a few more tips to keep in mind before the big day.

Prepare the Family...

  • Taking the family along with you to the race? Family support can be an awesome thing at an endurance run like a marathon, but make sure everyone is on the same page, particularly if your race is in a touristy or vacation area. Sit down with your spouse and family and get everyone on the same page with expectations. You will not be able to spend 12 hours at the theme park the day before your race. Make sure your family understands that. Make sure your spouse or significant other is willing to do things on his/her own. This is particularly important to clarify if there are kids involved and your spouse may have to keep them busy while on the trip. Bringing along a grand parent, sibling, or good friend to help out might be a good option. 
  • Determine in advance good places for the family to support you along the race route and how they'll get there. This info is often provided on the race website. 
  • Determine in advance where you'll reunite with your family after the race. Some races have family reuniting areas, but others do not. Finding your family in a sea of 30,000 runners can be a nightmare if you've not prearranged where to meet.

Two Days Before the Race...

  • Unless the race is in your town or nearby, try to arrive two days in advance of the race. This gives you two nights to adjust to sleeping in a new place and new bed as well as time to acclimate to the area and find your way around. 
  • Visit the expo and pick up your packet. Expos of the larger races such as NYC and Chicago are huge. It can take a hour or more to check out all the vendors. That hour or two on your feet really isn't the best thing to be doing the day before the race. Speaking of the expo, if you buy something--clothing, gadgets, or food--DO NOT use it (them) during the race. Never, Never, Never use anything on race day that you've not used during your training. Also, be wary of all the free food samples given at the expo. Take all the pre-packaged items you want, but I highly recommend avoiding the taste testing. Save that for after the race. Don't risk eating something new that causes you stomach distress the night before the race or on race day. 
  • If you're with a group, this night is a great time for that group meal together. You'll be more relaxed, you'll still need to watch what you eat, but not as closely as the night before the race.

The Day Before the Race...

  • Chill. Relax. Enjoy the day. Mentally prepare yourself for the race. 
  • If you're in an area great for sightseeing, be careful not to spend the day walking all over town. Walking and standing all day can really fatigue the legs. 
  • Don't run. Rest.
  • Hydrate. Carry a bottle of water around with you and sip on it throughout the day. Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. Be careful not to over hydrate. This can flush out your electrolytes needed for proper hydration and preventing cramping. Try adding a little sports drink to your water or munch on something salty such as pretzels during the day. This will ensure you have good electrolyte levels for race day.

The Night Before the Race...

  • Lay out all of your race-day clothes and gear. Go ahead and pin your race bib to your shirt. Then place any other gear beside your outfit--hydration belt, ID, water bottle(s), GPS watch, etc. Don't forget to lay out your old sweats too. Many races have you arrive at the start hours before hand only to hang around in the cold. To avoid getting chilled, go to the Salvation Army or Good Will and buy a cheap pair of old sweats to wear atop your racing outfit. Then right before the race you can toss them. Many races collect these discarded pre-race clothes and distribute them to area homeless shelters.
  • Next pack your after race bag. Some large races will let you check in an after race bag with a change of clean, dry clothes, shoes, etc. If you're going to be hanging around any time after the race, it's a great idea to put a pack of moist towelettes in the bag for a quick wipe down. Don't put any money or valuables in this bag.
  • Get about 8hrs of sleep. However, don't go to bed too early. You may wake up and then have a hard time going back to sleep. If you have a hard time sleeping and only get a couple hours of sleep, don't fret. Research shows that if you routinely have a good sleep pattern of at least 8hrs of sleep each nigh, having only a couple of hours of sleep before the race won't hurt you. I've been there. It's true.
  • Eat your normal pre-long-run meal. Staying in a suite or hotel room with a kitchenette is great because you can take along (or purchase locally) the food you normally eat and prepare it in your room. If this is not an option, scope out on the Internet in advance local restaurants that may have the types of foods you normally eat. Many restaurants will have their menus posted on their websites so you can see the types of foods they offer and how they're prepared. Pasta is often a favorite pre-race meal. At today's restaurants, however, the portions are huge and many times loaded with lots of heavy sauces and meat. Don't hesitate to ask the wait person if you can modify your dish to suite your needs. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Amelia Burton's Marathon Recovery Tips

A couple of years ago, I was honored to do a live podcast on The Runners Round Table with fellow blogger and health & fitness coach Amelia Burton who lives in Sydney, Australia. Below is a recent article on recovery after a marathon that Amelia posted on her website

I thought it was so good, I asked Amelia if she minded a reposting on RunnerDude's Blog and she said, "Go for it!" Thanks, Amelia! 

Read on to learn from Amelia's great post marathon recovery  tips. 

Completing a Marathon – what an experience! Who ever thought running 42km (26.2 miles) could be exciting, fun and challenging all at the same time – but it is! The best feeling is that feeling of accomplishment knowing all those months of training and hard work have paid off. I would recommend it to anyone who can run 10km, to set themselves the challenge of training up to a marathon. To all my friends and colleagues who did set themselves the challenge, congratulations.

The biggest question remains, what next? And invariably the answer is ‘another marathon!’, so follow these recovery tips to ensure your pins are feeling stronger than ever so you can get back into training.

The First 24 Hours

  • Keep moving: As soon as you finish the race, cool down properly, 10min walk (or hobble). Don’t stretch if you are in too much agony or you might tear a muscle. If you can walk comfortably then you can stretch. If you can barely stand, let alone walk and you have to lie down, elevate your legs above your hips so that there is no blood pooling.
  • Re-hydrate: Warning! Drinking too much water (hyponatremia) can be just as dangerous as no enough. If you drink copious amounts of water during or after the race you can literally flush the essential salts out of your system. So when you re-hydrate after the race, use a sports drink such as Gatorade which has salts and sugars in it to replenish your system. If you weigh yourself before and after the race, drink enough fluid until your weight is back to normal, and your urine is clear.  The three champagnes I had went down way too easily but I don’t think that really counts as fluid…unfortunately!
  • Eat: Even if you don’t feel like eating, get something into your system. If it’s salty (like chips) even better! Every cell in your body will be depleted so the more essential vitamins, minerals, protein and sugars you can get into you, the faster your recovery. Eat whatever you feel like I say!
  • Ice, not heat: What!?! I hear you say, no bath? Not at first. Because these muscles are damaged, and swelling will occur, the best thing you can do for your muscles is ten minutes in an ice bath. If the idea of that is worse than running the actual marathon, then try icing the sorest bits for ten minutes at a time. This will reduce swelling and aid recovery. Wait 12 hours before you have a hot bath, and then have as many as you like! 

The Next 7 Days
  • Take the week off training: Definitely no running, and if you absolutely have to do something, keep it gentle and no more than 70% of normal effort. No overloading the system just yet, we’re in recovery mode.
  • Stretch: Put every joint in your body through its range of motion, paying particular attention to your calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, hips, lower back, shoulders and neck. If you are feeling good, join in a yoga or body balance class.
  • Get a massage: I would suggest waiting about 24hours or until you can at least walk down stairs properly before getting a massage. It should feel heavenly and make a big difference to your recovery.
  • Sleep: Your body does all it’s repairing when you are asleep so the more of that you do, the faster you recover.
  • Eat lots of protein and nutrient dense foods: Your body will be repairing and building lots of tissue, so feed it the building blocks it needs. I would suggest 1.5-2grams of protein for every kilo you weigh. If it’s got eyeballs, eat it! Also eat iron rich foods such as red meat and spinach as your iron stores may be depleted which makes you feel tired.
  • Gloat! Tell as many people as possible about your triumph, what’s the fun in being humble anyway!
The Next Month
  • Run no more than 4 days per week, start with 15 – 40min runs
  • No hard runs for a month
  • No hard strength training (so your legs get sore)
  • If you have an easy month, you will be able to build your speed and distance up much faster after that.
  • Focus on flexibility for that month
  • A massage per week for four weeks will iron out any deep knots and aid muscle recovery

You may feel like doing another marathon pretty soon, but I would suggest no more than 3 per year. So sit down with your diary, plan your races, slot in some sprint training to get you running faster and work out your training diary for the next 6 months. After a month of easy training, you will be rearing to get back into it!

Friday, September 21, 2012

10 Tips for Beginners to Ease Into Running

On the surface, running seems like one of the easiest ways to quickly jump into the world of fitness. Compared to most fitness related activities, it’s pretty inexpensive and all you need is a pair of shoes, some shorts, a safe place to run, and you’re good to go. Right? Well, ask any of the dozens of beginning runners I’ve worked with and they’ll probably tell you that it’s one of the most challenging things they’ve ever attempted.

Why? Well, going from a sedentary lifestyle to all of the sudden expecting your body to run a mile is pretty unrealistic. Even though it’s low cost and can be done most anywhere at most anytime, a beginning runner, needs to do a little planning to get his/her head in the game before beginning one of the most rewarding and challenging quests they’ll ever experience.
Below are 10 tips to help your ease into running, succeed, and actually enjoy your new life as a runner.

  1. Walk to build aerobic and muscular endurance. The month prior to beginning your new venture into running, go out for a daily walk. Try to walk at least 30 minutes each day. The first week, go for an easy walk. “Easy” is faster than a stroll, but just shy of breaking a sweat. For the next two weeks, up the walk to a moderate intensity. Now you’ll be sweating, but still be able to carry on a conversation. For the last week, increase the walk to a hard intensity. During the “hard” walks, you’ll be breaking a sweat and if you’re talking, it will be more like a one- or two-word conversation. This month of walking will help to open up the lungs, get you more in-tune with your breathing, increase your aerobic capacity, as well as start building some muscular endurance in your legs. It will also help by getting you into a daily routine of exercise.
  2. Strengthen Your Core. Running actually requires almost as much upper-body muscular endurance as it does lower-body. During your pre-running walking month, add in a bi-weekly core and upper-body workout. A strong core and upper-body will help maintain good running form which will help keep fatigue from setting in as quickly when you begin your running. No fancy equipment is needed. Some light dumbbells and/or med balls will do the trick. Click here for a great core workout for runners.
  3. Buy Running Shoes. This seems like a no-brainer, but starting your running with the right pair of shoes can help head off possible injury. The sneakers you’ve been knocking around in for the past two years are great for just that—knocking around in. The best thing to do is visit your local independently-owned running store and have them fit you for running shoes. Tell them you’re a new runner and you’re not sure what you need and that you’d like them to analyze your gate and determine the best shoe for you.
  4. Find a Beginning Running Group. Running with others is one of the best ways to succeed as a new runner. Having the support of others when it gets tough does wonders in helping you hang tough and persevere. You’ll also be breaking new ground and experiencing things you never thought you’d be able to do. Having someone who can relate to what you’re experiencing to celebrate the small gains with each week is a wonderful thing.
  5. Comparison Shop. Not all “Beginning Running Groups” are for beginners. I heard about one group that began with close to 100 runners, but it quickly dropped to about 15. Why? The group was doing 100m hill repeats during the second week of the program. That’s not a beginning running group. Look for a program that’s focused on endurance, not pace or distance. As a beginner you need to be building endurance not thinking about how fast or how far you’re going. Also check to see if the program includes learning about proper running form, breathing, and pre- and post-run stretching.
  6. Begin with a Run/Walk Format. I use a run/walk method with my beginning running groups and I feel it’s the best way for new runners, particularly new runners coming from a sedentary lifestyle to succeed at running. There are a variety of run/walk programs available. The beauty of the run/walk is the controlled progression that helps you gradually build a longer and longer running base over the course of the program. My programs originally began as 10-week programs started with five 2-minute run/4-minute walk intervals for a total of 30 minutes. Over the years, I’ve refined my program so that now it’s 14-weeks beginning with five intervals of a 1-minute run / 5-minute walk for 30 minutes. The longer program allows for a wider array of individuals to participate, acclimate, and succeed. Each week the run gets longer and the walk gets shorter until the group members are running a full 30-minutes by week 14. Keep in mind that “group” is a loose term. Remember it’s all about endurance not about pace. I encourage my runners to find their “natural” pace and stick with that. So, as the weeks go by, the group spreads out with runners way ahead, some in the middle and some pulling up the rear. And….that’s okay. They all have the same incremental time goals. Some just are naturally faster or slower. It’s all good.
For Tips 7-10 go to

Monday, September 17, 2012

RunnerDude Review: Awesome Running Gear

I'm always on the lookout for great new gear for runners. Cool and flashy is great, but I'm on the hunt for functional, dependable, and quality.

From shirts to shorts, to GPS watches, I constantly have my eyes peeled for something to help better the running experience. Recently I came across three products that I just had to share with you.

My favorite running clothing company, Lululemon, has done it again. Their Sprint Tech Short Sleeve Shirt continues their line of high quality, breathable, and comfortable running clothes. A unique technique of weaving silver fibers into the fabric helps prevent body odors from lingering in the clothing. This shirt also features a handy pocket in back to hold your music player. There's a small slit at the neck in which headphone wires can be inserted to keep out of your way while running. The lightweight fabric is preshrunk and the flat-seam construction helps reduce chafing. The Sprint Tech shirt sells for $68.00 which is a premium price, but well worth it. I have several Lululemon tops and shorts and they hold up run after run, wash after wash and look as good as they day I bought them. These are the most comfortable running clothes I own.

RunnerDude sporting Lululemon's
Sprint Tech shirt and Run: Response
Shorts Just Before his Blue Ridge Relay
10-mile \Leg up Grandfather Mountain 
Recently I was able to test the Sprint Tech Shirt during the Blue Ridge Relay (a 208-mile relay race from Grayson State Park, VA to Asheville, NC.) I wore the Sprint Tech shirt during my 10-mile leg up Grandfather Mountain. The shirt performed perfectly. Actually, I did something I always tell runners never to do....wear a garment in a race that you got the day before. I received the Sprint Tech shirt in the mail the day before leaving for Virginia and I didn't have time to wash it. I really wanted to test the shirt on the hardest of my relay runs, so I took the chance that it might not work for me. But, I've had great success with Lululemon in the past, so I felt confident it would work. Work it did. Unwashed, right out of the package, the shirt wore and performed perfectly for me.

Lululemon's new Surge Short is a great slightly shorter option for runners. Still a modest 7", the combination of the shorter inseam and V-notch legs provide for excellent leg movement when running. The lightweight technical material wicks moisture away from your skin and the 2-way stretch provides for multi-dimensional movement. Perfect for the road or trail. Like my all-time favorite Run: Response Short, the Surge also includes two side pockets, a zippered pocket perfect for key and/or ID storage, and the chafe-reducing flat-seam stitching. The Surge Short sells for $64.00.


Another great product that I was fortunate enough to test during the Blue Ridge Relay is the Soleus 2.0 GPS watch. About a year ago, I tested the Soleus 1.0 GPS and was very impressed with it's simplicity of use, dependability and affordability. The 1.0 version doesn't have the ability to upload data to your laptop, so I was eager to try the 2.0 version which does have the capability. Like the 1.0, the 2.0 is extremely easy to use right out of the box. The satellite search-and-find is quick and even in the mountains, I had no problem getting and keeping a signal.

Some of the new features added to the 2.0 version include interval timers and the data upload. With the training timers, you have the ability to set up to 5 individual training timers for your workouts. The data is easily transfered via USB and the easy-to-download Soleus software to our laptop or desktop.

The thing I like the most is the compact design. It's just a tad bigger than a non GPS watch. I find myself wearing it when not running. It holds a charge well. Two of my runs were in the dark and the easy-to-read dial and the bright night light made night-time visibility a breeze.

After the relay, uploading my data was very simple. Reading the cumulative data and splits was very easy. The Soleus 2.0 sells for $149. There's also a 3.0 version that sells for $199 that includes a heart rate monitor.


The Black UltraSport SeatShield at
work in RunnerDude's SUV.
Finally, the last product I have to share is very low tech, but one of my favorites. If you're a runner, particularly a runner in the summer, and a runner who sweats like I do, you're probably always having to keep a towel in your automobile to sit on to keep from ruining the upholstery. The sweat can leave stain marks on leather and no one likes the stench that that seep into fabric seats. SeatSheild is a great solution to this problem.

SeatShields are completely waterproof. Their patented design prevents odors. The cover is extremely easy to use and remove. They are comfortable to sit on and they're easy to clean. Not only are they great for protecting your auto seats from sweat, they're also good for protecting them from dirt, food, pet hair and a variety of other "gunk." I wish I had discovered these when my kids were little!!

I actually bought two SeatShields to keep in my SUV. One for me to use on a regular basis and one in case I have a sweaty passenger. The design of the SeatShield includes a pouch at the top that slips over the headrest and shoulders of the seat to hold it in place. The bottom of the cover is loose, and drapes over the seat. This simple yet effective construction and design makes it fit any vehicle.

The SeatShield  comes in three styles. The one I purchased and use is the UltraSport which sells for $29.95. It's available in Black, Beige, and Gray. If you're a sweaty runner and need an easy way to protect your auto seats, you need a SeatShield.

Notice: While Lululemon and Soleus provided the featured products for review, they in no way requested a positive review. My review is based on my personal experience with the products. The SeatShield was a personal purchase and was not provided by the company.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My First Marathon: Kristen's Story

I was hooked on running after my first 5k race I ran with my dad, in 5th grade.  Over the past fifteen years I’ve competed in running during middle and high school cross-country and track teams.  I also received a scholarship to run cross-country at the collegiate level at Erskine College.  I continued my running career by running my first half marathon on my 23rd birthday in the Uwharrie National Forest.  Needless to say, none of my previous training was anything comparable to training and racing a full marathon of 26.2 miles!  I wrote down goals for my life in 9th grade, and running a marathon was at the top of that list.  It wasn’t until I started running with the Blue Liners, Sole Sisters, and Thad’s RunnerDudes and Dudettees that I realized that I was a strong runner, capable of achieving this daunting goal.  

In the spring, I decided on the 2010 Rock-n-Roll Savannah Marathon for the beautiful city I had never visited, flat course, and the support of family and friends that would be able to attend.  After my first fitness assessment, I started training with Thad.  I remember the first day of training, receiving my packet of paces and workouts, but I will never forget the moment my stomach dropped seeing my goal finish time: 3:48.22.  I felt nervous yet wanted to give it my all.  The training was difficult with good and bad runs, but having my Garmin watch and the support of Thad I continually pressed through the tough and defeating times.  After several 20 mile runs, I began to visualize and believe I really could finish all 26.2 miles, and probably run every step.  After several months my training did become a little overwhelming emotionally and physically, and after consoling Thad and other running friends, I decided to move my goal to 4 hours.

The morning of the marathon I remember several vivid memories: a supportive long hug from my husband, Ryan, praying with the Sole Sisters, and wearing a thin trash bag in the cool morning walking to the start line.  My friends and I were in different corrals, so once at the start we said our good-lucks and split different ways.  This is when I realized it was now or never and only I had the strength to complete this race.  As the time progressed, corrals began their race, and we slowly moved up.  When it was our turn to start, I remember glancing around at the fans, and seeing my husband looking onto the mass of people lined up to run.   It was seeing him that gave me a burst of encouragement and energy before stepping across that starting line.  I had a good strong first 11 miles.  I was banking time, to get under 4 hours I would need to run 9:09 min/mile, and my range was 8:36-9:03.  I was enjoying seeing all the spectators, including my husband, mom, and dad.  Within the first two miles, I found it hilarious that there were lines of male runners along the tree line, using the restroom.  I guess they didn’t make it through the lines of port-a-johns on time!  There were also funny costumes along the way, and a new band at every mile.  After the first 6 miles, I started to feel pain in my toes, especially the middle toe on each foot.  Being an athlete, I knew it wasn’t anything to worry about and to just keep running.

After the half marathon mark in 1:55.48.  I knew I had this race “in the bag” it was just a matter of digging deep and keep on running.  I ran with an iPod shuffle, and plugged it in at this point.  This was a way I was mentally going to break up the race, and could zone in the last half when it got tough.  With each several miles, I was hydrating with water and Gu gels.  Despite my strong will, and perseverance, I could feel pressure in my toes grow with each mile.  My pace slowed down and between miles 16-23 my mile splits were between 9-9:38 min/mile.  Being a high school math teacher, I was calculating how much time I had banked, and if I were to complete it under 4 hours how fast I would have to run the remaining miles.  However, in my ‘equation’ I couldn’t account for the human factor and the pain I was feeling.  I debated walking, and that wasn’t an option.  I debated stopping at a medical tent, but going through the scenarios of what could be wrong with my toes, I didn’t think they could do much for me, and therefore wasn’t an option.  I remember reaching mile 23, and we approached an on ramp to a 2 mile stretch on the highway.  My mom started running beside me up the on ramp, and I started to tear up, while still running, explaining how I wanted to stop and how much my toes hurt.  She got choked up, but reassured me how strong I was, how much she looked up to me, and how I was going to be able to finish the race! That encouragement got me another mile, I then caved in.  I walked a few minutes up to the water stop, and was thinking about the ever growing pain in my feet.  

That mile ended up with a time of 12 min/mile, including the walking.  At the water station I looked behind and saw fellow running friends Arthur and Claudette, coming up.  This was my final encouragement.  I continued to run with them, explaining the pain I was having, and they helped me think about other things in order to just keep running.  With a half mile left, my friends said I needed to pick up the pace if I was going to make it under 4 hours.  I turned to them, and said I can’t go any faster.  I kept my same pace…at this point it was 9:30 min/mile.  I crossed that finish line, with a smile on my face, and a time of 4:01.44.  I knew I gave it my all, and was amazed at the accomplishment of finishing a full marathon!  So glad my husband, mom, and dad were there to watch and support me!  As far as my toes, I had huge black/blue bruises with blisters underneath, and ended up losing my toe nails weeks later.  It was a sacrifice I was willing to make and one day I hope to go back a second time, hence the blog name "My first marathon", and I hopefully will break that 4 hour mark! 

Friday, September 14, 2012

RunnerDude's Relay Rejuvenation

Some may think a 208-mile relay through the Virginia and NC mountains with 12 not-so-familiar individuals packed into two passenger vans for 36 hours would be anything but rejuvenating. But that's exactly what the Blue Ridge Relay was for me last weekend.

A Dude, a Mountain, and the Road
My profession is personal trainer and running coach. I have about 70 running clients and about 30 personal training clients. I'm currently a one-man-show. So, I'm a very busy guy. Sometimes it's hard to catch my breath. My day begins with my first client at 6AM and ends usually with running group wrapping up around 8:00PM and often includes 2-3 runs with various groups as well as seeing personal training clients all throughout the day.  Don't get me wrong. I love it!! Working with my various clients (ages 11 to 72) is the most rewarding thing I've ever experienced. But, I'm also human and need rejuvenating from time to time just like everyone else. The Blue Ridge Relay provided the boost I needed.

Back at the very end of July a running acquaintance, Nathan Daughtrey, who runs with a local running group called the Woo Hoo Crew contacted me to see if any of my runners might be interested in filling in three spots on his Blue Ridge Relay team. Three members had to back out for various reasons and Nathan and the Crew wanted to try to keep the team at 12 members. Most of my runners were in the heat of half or full marathon running so I didn't want to temp them into an endurance event like this during their training, so I volunteered. I figured it was a great way to check "Endurance Relay" off my bucket list.

Afterward, I though, "OMG! What did I just do!" But, a commitment is a commitment, so I tried to wrap my brain around the upcoming event. Because of my schedule, I wasn't able a attend any of the Woo Hoo Crew relay team meetings. Nathan did a great job of keeping me apprised of what was going on, but I couldn't help but feel a little like an outsider missing all the fun.

Pre-Relay Dinner with the Woo Hoo Crew in Jefferson, NC
Soon, Nathan contacted me with my three legs for the race--Leg 1 = 7.5 miles (rated Hard); Leg 2 = 10 miles (up Grandfather Mountain; rated Very Hard); Leg 3 = 4.5 (rated Moderate). Total mileage = 22 miles. My first thought was, "Okay, new boy hazing going here". LOL! But, after looking at all the legs, everyone had pretty challenging runs. Some may have been shorter in distance, but had crazy inclines like 11%+.

Shortly before the race, I discovered that my last Leg increased from 4.5 miles to just shy of 7 miles and the difficulty rating changed from Moderate to Hard. Road construction and safety issues caused a route change increasing the mileage. So, now my mileage was closer to 24.5 miles. "I've got this," I told myself. In the back of my head, I kept thinking, "You're gonna die!" But I'm RunnerDude, right?

The Woo Hoo Crew Plus a Dude
Travel Day finally arrived on September 6th. I met the rest of the crew and we packed the Vans for the trip to the NC/Virginia state line. The two other runners recruited to fill out the team were also in my van which was cool. I figured I wasn't the only new kid on the block. I could tell as soon as the van doors closed, that I was in for quite an experience. As the banter began and jokes started flying, I was a little overwhelmed trying to absorb it all, remember everyone's names, think about the upcoming runs, trying to t remember if I packed socks and Fabreeze, and on and on.

The Rainbow was so big, I couldn't get all of it in the frame!
A few hours later we stopped for gas and hopping out of the van we saw the most beautiful full rainbow. It was an awesome sight. I've never seen one so complete. Somehow it settled my nerves and I knew all would be well. It was a good omen.

That night, was full of tossing and turning. I just couldn't get to sleep. My brain wouldn't shut off. I do multiple runs in a day, but not quite at the distance I was to do this weekend. The group was all about having fun and just completing the relay, not about killing themselves doing it. So, the pressure was self-induced. I may have gotten in about 2 hours of sleep when the alarm rang around 4:30AM to get up and get ready for the trek to Grayson Highlands State Park in Virginia, the start of the relay.

Getting Ready for the Big 10-Mile Leg
My first leg was was the second run of the relay. So after group pictures and sending off Amanda with the first run of the relay, we hopped in the van and headed to the runner exchange zone where Amanda would finish her first leg and I'd begin mine. This first run for me had several turns and that had me a bit nervous. I'm a bit dyslexic with directions. But cue sheet in hand, Amanda popped the BRR slap band on my wrist and off I went.

As soon as my feet hit the pavement my nerves began to settle. The view was amazing! This route took me out of the park, across the state line and into some of the most beautiful mountain countryside I've ever seen. Most of the legs were along back roads, traveled mainly by locals. I got to run down curvy gravel roads through hollers with old farm houses tucked in the trees here and there. The roads winded up and down some rather steep hills but the view was a great distraction. I finished my first leg well under the goal time I had set for myself. A big confidence booster.

My view for 10 miles up Grandfather Mountain.
Leg #2 was the big one that had me a bit worried--10 miles up Grandfather Mountain at night. But just like the first run, once my feet hit the pavement, the nerves settled. The cue sheet showed a percent incline increase with each mile. I was expecting to become fatigued with each increase and just peter out by mile 10. But an awesome surprise resulted instead. I definitely felt the increase with each mile, but then my body acclimated and I would speed up. Almost felt like a downhill, but I was still climbing. That happened with each mile. It was an awesome and unexpected outcome.

Blue Ridge Relay Course
Nathan had asked the group to keep track of the number of runners we passed "RoadKill." If a runner passed us, we had to deduct it from the RoadKill total. On the Grandfather Mountain leg, I hooked up with about 5 other runners. We kept passing each other. Positive. Negative. Positive. Negative. My RoadKill count was a wash, that is until mile 9. This was the steepest incline of the run. I was at the back of our little pack. Quit a ways back. I noticed they were walking up an incline. I took a deep breath and trotted past them. My brain was telling me, "They're walking for a reason. You need to walk too, so you'll have energy left at the end." But my gut was saying, "GO FOR IT!" All five did in fact did pass me again, but then I looked ahead a few minutes later and saw that they were walking again. Yea! I dug deep into my inner Dudeness and somehow passed all 5 runners on the incline and kept it going till the exchange zone. I felt great! I was at my projected pace and had 5 road kills to boot. Happiness doesn't explain it.

Something happened after that run. A rejuvenation of the mind, soul, and body happened. My job has me running the miles of others. These miles I wouldn't exchange for anything. But along the way I'd lost track of my own abilities. The 10-mile mountain run reminded me that I still have a lot of "me miles" left in me. It felt great to be competitive, even if it was just with myself and 5 unknown runners (and one pesky bat) in the pitch black on a mountainside.

Moral to the story. When you feel like your mojo is no more, challenge yourself. Do something out of the ordinary. Push the limits. Think outside of the box.
Trust. Believe. Conquer!

A huge thanks to all the members of the Woo Hoo Crew Blue Ridge Relay team who motivated, inspired, and put up with me last weekend. You guys are awesome!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My First Marathon: Jeff's Story

First off let me start by saying I am now a Marathoner and I couldn’t be happier with that fact.  I am proud to join the approximately 1% -2% of people who will ever run a Marathon and I WILL Marathon again by the way!  On Saturday, October 15, 2011, I completed the Baltimore Marathon in 3 Hours 58 minutes and 4 seconds.  

A brief history, less than a year ago I ran my first 5k (I lie, I actually ran one about 6 years earlier but the time was so bad I won’t count that!).  Since that time, I’ve completed 6 5k’s, a 10k, a 10 miler, a ½ Marathon and now a Marathon.  I’ve logged over 1800 miles so far this year and I felt good going into the Marathon on Saturday.  My goal was to finish under 4 hours but my real goal was to finish with a sub 3:30 pace so I will admit I’m a bit disappointed with my time.  I made the classic rookie mistake – I went out too fast!  The Baltimore Marathon route is a challenging hilly course.  The weather was almost perfect temperature wise (high 50’s at start time) but that was offset by wind gusts up to 20mph.

When the race started I felt really good.  I had told myself that it was ok to go out a little fast and I typically do that when I race – I now realize that wasn’t the best strategy for a marathon.  As you can see by my splits at the bottom of this post I was moving pretty good through mile 11.  At about mile 6 I caught up with the Geico 3:20 pace group and actually ran with them for about 2 miles (I love running with those groups btw!).  I noticed my pace slowing a bit at mile 12 and was ok with that.
At mile 13 I began to worry a bit.  The ½ marathon starts 1 hour and 45 minutes behind the marathon and merges with the marathon course.  Entering this area is interesting.  As you come down the street you see thousands of ½ marathoners waiting to begin and there were also crowds of people on both sides of the course.  As I was running down the hill I saw my parents and Tamara.  To my surprise Tamara jumps in to run with me.  I immediately look over to her and tell her that I came out too fast and I’m hurting.  That was about all I could say – Tamara tells me I’m strong, keep pushing and she would meet me at mile 18 – “its only 5 miles away”.  As I begin to go up yet another hill I start to get passed by both marathoners and ½ marathoners who have now started.  This bothered me mentally more than I thought it would, for the first time in the race I was in the slow lane and getting slower.  I found it challenging to run with all of the ½ marathoners who were fresh into their run.  I was at mile 13 and they were at mile 1.
I continued to push up until around mile 17 and this was where things started to get challenging.  I never felt like I hit a wall but I was experiencing things I never have before on any of my training runs.  All of a sudden I became super thirsty and was drinking anything I could at the water stops.  Then I got hungry (I have been training with GU on all my long runs and ate the same exact things before race day and on race morning but something different was going on) .  Someone was handing out bananas (I ate ½ of one), someone was handing out miniature Snickers (I took one).  This was also where I began to walk at the water stops.  I’ve never walked before in an event and this was mentally tough for me to deal with but I also began to use this as a strategy.  I lost the 3:20 pace group at this point, the 3:30 pace group went by – my goal at this point was to finish under 4 hours.

Around mile 20 I started to get cramps everywhere – my quads, my calf and I also had a sharp pain on my right side – Again, nothing I have ever experienced on any long training run.  I wasn’t sure what was up with my legs but I figured the cramp in my side was caused by all of the snacking I did around mile 17.  I also told myself it was ok to walk a little if needed.  I was doing a continual calculation in my head watching my Garmin and calculating the mileage left and how long it would take for me to complete it so I could finish in under 4 hours.

At mile 24 I see Tamara – she is waiting for me on an overpass.  I tell her that I’m hurting and I think I worry her a bit because I never complain when we are running but she knows I’m in pain.  Bless her, she was so upbeat and kept cheering me on but I was a little grumpy at this point.  She told me I only had 2 miles to go and it was all downhill.  When I look up I see a hill and tell her I see a hill and immediately ask where is the downhill?  She assures me that there is one around the corner.  I also can’t stop looking at my Garmin – I needed to finish in under 4 hours!  Tamara keeps telling me to stop looking at my watch, I keep telling her that I want to look at my watch.  As you can see by my splits I finally get it together at mile 25 and begin to push – I want and need to finish strong and I really don’t have any time to waste.  Tamara runs out in front of me looking back constantly to make sure that I’m ok.  She runs with me past mile 26 and then tells me “Congratulations – You are a Marathoner!”  In my tired/exhausted grump I tell her that I’m not a Marathoner yet I didn’t cross the finish line!  She tells me congratulations again and tails off.  I push through the final .2 and finish under my stretch goal 3 hours 58 minutes and 04 seconds.  I am a Marathoner!

Tamara is amazing by the way!  She has been dealing with a knee issue for a few weeks but decided to run the 5k – came in 4th in her age group and then proceeds to run another 10 miles through Baltimore chasing me, running with me and helping my parents navigate the city!).  This is the first major distance race that I haven’t started with Tamara.  She was on the course with me up until a few minutes before the start.  I won’t lie, I was sad when she walked away.  Although I was grumpy at times I was so happy  and thankful to have her support and encouragement along the course.

I have some thoughts on what may have contributed to some of the issues I had during the Marathon, but bottom line – I’m a Marathoner!!

Monday, September 3, 2012

My First Marathon: Angie's Story

My first marathon experience started just shortly before 4:00 a.m. on a  Saturday morning in June 2006 after a restless night of sleep. I'd been awake since 3:00-- tossing and turning-- and when I finally couldn't stand it any longer, I got up and got going. The weather report during the week left me a little concerned: scattered thunderstorms with winds 20-30 mph. But considering the bulk of my training had been done in less-than-ideal weather, I didn't let myself fret too much. As it turned out, the weather could not have been better as the entire race was under cloudy skies with temperatures never above 80 degrees. And though the wind picked up a couple of hours into the race, itwasn't nearly the problem I'd feared it would be.

Another nice surprise was my lack of nervousness on race morning. I'd expected my stomach to be churning, preventing me from eating and drinking what I needed, but I was all business from the very start and only felt the excitement of just getting started. I caught a bus to the starting line at 5:30 and enjoyed the atmosphere of the other runners as we talked amongst ourselves. I overheard one runner who'd done a trail marathon only seven days before! This was a very small hometown event with about 85 full marathon runners and 24 relay teams (I noticed immediately that the women were far outnumbered by the men). After exiting the bus, I made two trips to the port-a-potty and spent awhile warming up and stretching. Before too long, it was showtime!

The first eight miles were as easy and enjoyable a run as I can remember in a long time. I was riding the adrenaline high and just coasting along (though still being very aware of my pace and starting off slowly). I ran the first mile and a half without taking a walking break-- mostly in an effort to let the crowd thin out a bit. Once I started the breaks, however, I took them regularly every five minutes or so, timing them well enough to walk through the water stations. The few trouble spots I'd been having with my legs weren't making any noise and I was gaining confidence with every mile that passed.

The course was absolutely beautiful, but it was definitely open and very rural. The sun was at my back almost the entire way, but it poked through the clouds just often enough to cast a shining glow across the farms and canals I ran alongside. The spectators were few, but those that came out made all the difference. There was even a para-glider floating across the sky! My parents and sisters traveled several hours to join my family and friends here in supporting me along the course. I outfitted them with things I'd need along the way and they followed through wonderfully. Except for the gal I rode next to on the bus, I was never struck up in conversation with another runner along the course, but I did make an effort to acknowledge those I passed with a "how're you doing?" or some other greeting. It took about 13 miles before the ranks really thinned out, but for the first half of the run I yo-yo'ed quite a bit with the same people, one fellow in particular who caught me at the end to congratulate me and thank me for helping him keep his pace.

I was particularly diligent in drinking and snacking often and along with the walking breaks, I know it helped my performance enormously. I carried my own Gatorade, but also drank cups of water that were offered at the aid stations. Bits of bagel, gummy bears, a whole banana, orange wedges and three energy gels sustained me through the entire 26 miles. I was a little concerned upon learning the port-a-potties were eight miles apart along the course, but fortunately didn't need to take advantage of them anyway.

I kept an eye on my watch at certain mile-markers and realized I'd set a PB time for the half distance when I crossed it. Part of me was proud of that fact, but another part worried a bit that I hadn't paced myself slowly enough during the first half. But what was done was done and I kept on trucking. At mile 15, the course passed by a small cemetary. I laughed to myself at the irony of it... which apparently was recognized by others as well with a sign on a post that read, "NO, you can't stop here!!" It was shortly after this that I passed a barefoot runner. I'd noticed him very early on and just shook my head in amazement. He passed me five miles or so into the race, but when I overtook him many miles later, he was still moving but looked to be in some pain. I asked how the feet were and when he replied positively, I told him he was amazing and wished him luck. Didn't ever see him again.

The real first hint of fatigue set in around mile 18. By this point, I was two miles into a stretch of the course that consisted of rolling farm hills. I'd trained very well for hills and felt strong doing them, but they were definitely a challenge so many miles into the run. My calves started burning a little during the hills, but only enough to gently remind me I was running a marathon. I forged ahead and was distracted nicely by more signs along the road ("This is fun... right?!" and "Just keep on breathing") and a small, bright red single-engine plane that passed overhead several times.

Before I knew it, I was at mile 20. A glance at my watch told me I was 12 minutes ahead of pace from my 20 mile training run and I made a quick mental calcuation of what my potential finishing time could be if I could keep up that pace. Though my ultimate goal all along was just to finish, I knew what I was capable of doing and the thought of beating that time was all the motivation I needed. I saved my last energy gel specifically for mile 20 and when I finished it and felt the subsequent "kick", it was time to kick my heart into gear and finish this thing off. I'd wanted to run the last 10K without walking and I did for the most part. Except for the last few aid stations through which I walked shortly, I kept running. As it reached miles 22, then 23 and 24 my pace slowed more and more. My body ached top to bottom, but I was still running. And amazingly, I still felt really good doing it. Finally, the last mile point two-- the homestretch!-- and I think I was just a tiny bit delirious. This stretch was on mainstreet in downtown with traffic on both sides, and even with people honking and cheering from their cars, all I could concentrate on was taking the small, slow steps needed toward the finish line. The last 300 yards were a blur, but when I heard the crowd start to cheer and I saw the finish line, I snapped to attention and picked up my pace. I heard my name called and held up my arms to cheer for myself when I crossed the gate. I did it!! My final time was 4:26:54... a time I didn't think I would even come near to achieving (and which was good enough to place me in the top half of the overall runners and 7th place out of 23 women). I felt utterly exhausted but absolutely triumphant. Once out of the way of the crowd, I fell to my knees, held my head in my hands and sobbed, knowing I had just accomplished something extraordinary by all standards. 
Angie Now the Avid Runner!

I'll never be a speedster and will probably always place somewhere in the middle of the pack, but whether it's a local 5K or another marathon, I'm always planning my next race. To date, I've finished 13 half-marathons and 4 full marathons... with many more to come! 

My family and friends are a huge support, of which I couldn't do without. But truth be known, I don't run for anyone but myself. I run to test my body. I run to clear my mind. I run to embrace my emotions. I run to celebrate my life. It's what I do. It's what I am. I am a runner!

Be Sure to check out Angie's blog, Tall Girl Running.