Remember those days when I was a marathoner? Yeah, me neither.
For four solid years, there was hardly a day I didn’t run. I averaged a minimum of 30 miles a week, every week, and I ran a half-marathon every second or third month. And then I moved back to the South and I … stopped. Entirely.
Don’t get me wrong; for five years after returning to Tennessee, I did everything but run: Zumba, yoga, SUP, various HIIT classes. But I just couldn’t get back into the swing of running.
And then, on a whim, last fall, I signed up for a race, the race, in fact. The Oak Barrel Half Marathon in Lynchburg, Tennessee, known for its menacing hill that I would come to find was so much worse than I was led to believe. And if there’s anything that’s going to get my butt back into a routine, it’s having a date looming on the calendar, a race that I’ve paid for and can’t back out. So training time was on.
But still, it was far from easy.
For one, I have already traveled a lot this year, so my training time quickly became condensed. I’d run three days in one week while I was home and then not again for two weeks until I got back. Paired with the rainy, wet spring we’ve had in the South, and there just wasn’t as much training that went into the race as I would have liked. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time I went into a race in this condition.
But I survived, and at 2:08 (factoring in a five-mile hill), the end result wasn’t quite as awful as I expected. And now I feel like I’ve got my groove back and can train more for speed for the two (flat) races I’m plotting later in the year.
So how’d I do it? Well….
I started slow. Real slow. In San Francisco, I never ran less than five miles. This training plan? I spent a solid month in the fall just running between two and four miles at varying paces ranging from 8:30-minute 10-minute miles. And it took a long time for that to feel comfortable, too.
I went to the doctor. At first I thought it was merely the Smoky Mountain wildfires; after all, I started training when Tennessee’s air quality control was at the “don’t do any strenuous activity” outside level. But when in month two, my breathing wasn’t getting any better despite daily Zyrtec and repetitive use of my rescue inhaler, I forked over $500 to go to a new doctor of immunology and get everything tested (allergies, respiratory, the whole nine yards). The verdict? I needed a daily allergy pill beyond Zyrtec, a daily inhaler on top of my Albuterol and allergy shots. I’m still going through the build-up phase, but I hope that over time this lethal combination will finally help reduce the onset of my exercise- and allergy-induced asthma.
I didn’t beat myself up when my run time was less than ideal. In fact, unless I was running a longer distance and needed my Garmin for pacing purposes, I stopped timing myself altogether. I’m competitive to a fault—especially when my competition is myself—and I was constantly watching my watch to ensure I didn’t creep up above a 9-minute mile pace. Yes, I’m crazy. This is why I started leaving the watch behind.
I looked at my weekly runs as rare uninterrupted time when I do my best thinking. Story ideas for magazine articles and blog posts seem to crop up in my head while I’m running—the only problem is racing home to write them all down when I’m done before they disappear again! To combat this, I started running with my iPhone in hand and voice dictate notes to myself whenever I get a genius idea.
I got fitted for new running shoes. I’d long been an Asics brand loyalist, but an hour-long visit with a fit expert at Fleet Feet introduced me to the Brooks Ghost 9, and I have a new love. Getting fitted is something I’ve done since day one of my running, as it’s very important to measure both your arches and your pronation in order to get the best prescribed shoe for your feet.
Running is a good catalyst for weight loss. I’ve been struggling to maintain a weight that I’m happy with this past year with all the food and drink assignments I’ve been sent on. It’s tough to keep up a fitness and healthy eating plan when you’re gone six months out of the year (or more). Running helps keep my metabolism up and my waistline trim(mer). It’s an ongoing battle, you guys, but I’m getting there.
I saw it a fun way to see a new place. Though it wasn’t exactly my first visit to Charleston, when I was there last month, I ran a 12-miler with my San Francisco training buddy Sarah, a born-and-bred Charlestonian, and what a cool way to see a city in a different light.
I scaled back on the cross-training. In fact, the past few months, I stuck to running and yoga and backed out of my personal training and HIIT classes. A running expert told me to go light on the cross-training until I was back into running full-time and I listened for a change. I have missed strength-training, though, and can’t wait to get back in the gym after my next trip!
I cut myself some slack overall. Not feeling up to running? Fine, I didn’t run. After more than 25 years an athlete, I know that the quickest way to burn out is to force myself to do something I don’t want to. The days I didn’t feel like running, I quite simply didn’t. I went to yoga, worked on my handstands or—gasp!—didn’t work out at all.
Some other tips and tricks to follow:
Find a running buddy. Due to where we live, I’ve yet to find someone local that I can pound the pavement with, but the one day my cousin Rebecca was in town and we did a long run together, it was magic. It suddenly didn’t feel like work, and I wasn’t even winded an hour-and-a-half later. I wish I could run like that every day. Still, having Rebecca as my accountability partner from afar (in Memphis) was helpful as we’d text each other screenshots of our mileage to keep each other on track. My friend Justin also ran the half “with” us, in so much that he sped ahead and wound up placing second in his division. I’m telling you, misery loves company, and running races with friends helps ease the agony ever so slightly (even if Justin finished a solid 40 minutes ahead of me!).
Plan your training based on the seasons. First-timer and hate the heat? Definitely don’t train for your inaugural distance race in the summer months. An April race was actually perfect for me as the first part of the year is generally a bit slower for me on the work front, and Tennessee’s winters are mild enough that I don’t have to worry about training indoors (that gets a huge NO from me). And I am not a morning person, so you’ll never see me out on the greenway before 8am so long runs in the heat of July are also out. My next two halves will be in October and December so I won’t be really ramping up my mileage until around Labor Day, at least avoiding the bulk of the summer months.
My Workout Gear
I’ve always used a Garmin Forerunner, but I’m thinking of changing it up for my next race. I want a flat-screen fitness tracker that shows me pace, altitude, overall time, splits, the works. But I’m also torn: Do I just want to cave and get an Apple Watch so I can also listen to my tunes via wireless ear buds? What do you guys think—any recs?
I’m also a huge fan of my RunPhones (by Acoustic Sheep), which are essentially wireless earbuds that I listen to via a neoprene headband. Given that ear buds don’t stay in my ears, these guys have been my saving grace for listening to music for two hours on a long run. Here’s the rest of the gear I’ve found handy in my years of racing:
In terms of energy on long runs, I love me some Gu Energy Gel, the Chocolate Outrage or the Salted Caramel, not the fruit flavors. I’d eat this even if I weren’t running—it tastes like dessert! Runner friends swear by Shot Bloks but I’ve yet to try them. I like how easy Gu is to eat while running; no chewing required.
After a half dozen upgraded laptops and a whole lot of iTunes snafus, I said good-bye to my Apple library and bought an Amazon Music subscription instead. And I love it. I love that every song I’ve ever searched for is on there and that I can create playlists that I then download to my phone and listen to offline via the app while running. It also integrates seamlessly with my Jeep sound system. And at $79/year since I’m already a Prime member, it’s cheaper than Apple Music’s $120 annual fee, too.
I’m a huge proponent of carefully crafted playlists while running—a healthy mix of upbeat tunes that urge me right along and classics that still get me excited when they come on—and here’s what I listened to on my most recent 13.1:
- “Here It Goes Again” — OK Go
- “Starboy” — The Weeknd
- “Radar Love” — Golden Earring
- “Wild Things” — Alessia Cara
- “Hotline Bling” — Drake
- “I Want to Know What Love Is” — Foreigner
- “You and I” — Lady Gaga
- “Closer” — The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
- “Earned It” — The Weeknd
- “Stolen Dance” — Milky Chance
- “We Don’t Know” — The Strumbellas
- “Don’t You Cry For Me” — Cobi
- “Monkey Tree” — Mother Mother
- “Scared” — Delta Rae
- “Crazy in Love” — Beyoncé
- “Born This Way” — Lady Gaga
- “Party Monster” — The Weeknd
- “Ride” — twenty one pilots
- “Don’t Stop Me Now” — Queen
- “Dangerous Woman” — Ariana Grande
- “Bad Things” — Machine Gun Kelly feat. Camila Cabello
- “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” — Adele
- “Scars to Your Beautiful” — Alessia Cara
- “Black Beatles” — Rae Sremmurd
- “Mayday” — Cam
- “Don’t Let Me Down” — The Chainsmokers feat. Daya
- “Chandelier” — Sia
- “Bottom of the River” — Delta Rae
- “Payphone” — Walk Off the Earth (cover)
- “Don’t Stop Believin'” — Journey
- “Daddy Lesson’s — Beyoncé feat. Dixie Chicks
- “Long Live” — Taylor Swift
My Running Clothes
Several of you guys have asked where I buy all my workout clothes, and it’s almost always these three brands: Gap, Athleta, Zella. I’ve never purchased a piece of Lulu Lemon, nor do I believe in paying more than $50 for pants I’m only going to wear running (and even then, I usually get them on sale). Below are some of my favorite pieces that I’ve purchased within the last year, each of which I’ve found great for running or yoga or other types of working out.
If you’re a runner, what tips have been helpful for you to get back in the swing of things? If you’re not a runner, what’s keeping you from it?
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