Tips: Destination Races & Packing

I’ve briefly written in the past in regards to traveling and running, but  not so much racing. Now I’ve had the full on experience of worrying about having everything I might possibly need packed can write on it just a bit more.

To clarify I flew to D.C. for the Marine Corps Marathon, so no throwing tons of things into my trunk just because I have the space. (Like I did with the Miami Marathon.)

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Laying out my gear helped a lot.

Admittedly, when it comes to some items it wouldn’t be too big of a hit if you just buy it on location (like gels, socks, etc). There are others, like my Garmin or racing outfit that would be horrible to forget and aren’t exactly easily (or cheaply) replaceable. Didn’t stop me from being paranoid, making tons of lists, leaving sticky notes EVERYWHERE, and generally spazzing out as I packed.

Here’s a couple of tips sent my way via running friends and some lovely individuals from the Twitter #runchat involvees.

  • Make lists. Also, do not misplace your lists.
  • Have others look over your lists.
  • Have someone else (or several someones) make lists of their own for comparison. Some things they consider essential you might not, and therefore forget.
  • Ask other athletic friends & people you know who have run the race before for their recommendations.
  • Get your suitcase out early.
  • Place items you won’t need between now and leaving in your suitcase as soon as you think of it. That way, it’s already there.
  • And for the actual travel – if you are flying and plan to check your bags, consider taking what you consider race day essentials in your carry-on (like shoes and outfit). Just in case.

A few of the things I included as part of my travel are hopefully the norm.

  • My planned race outfit based on weather predictions.
  • Alternate outfits to compensate for any unexpected changes in weather such as dips or jumps in temperature or rain.
  • Throwaways (if the weather may be cold).
  • Extra sets of socks. (I wear Injinjis to run long distances/race in as my feet seem to take the least amount of damage in them, so I took a couple pairs just in case.)
  • A second set of shoes I’d be okay with racing in. If that first pair somehow got lost or damaged.

Two things I generally do besides just throwing clothes into the suitcase. First, I try to plan an outfit for each day based on what we’re thinking to do. This is harder for longer trips, but for MCM it was just 4 days. Include alternate race gear and an extra couple of shirts/long sleeves. Then, I set out every item I expected to wear or need for the race itself, as if it was the next morning. After doing these two things, I could tweak the outfits and extras based on weather as the trip got closer.

Between friends and family double checking, as well as repacking my suitcase 3 times against my lists, I managed to not forget anything. At all (yes, very surprising for me too). I think for long distance travel and destination races, it’s best to plan ahead as much as possible. While I did stress about it, at least in the end the technique worked and race day was able to happen smoothly.

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Tips: One Workout A Training Plan Does Not Make

This is probably THE concept that I struggled with the most while training for my first marathon. It was easy when I didn’t know what to expect to just assume that a bad workout could have a serious effect on my race performance. Of course, ignoring that it was 4 months of training.

Lesson learned: take the bad with the good.

In the grander scheme of things, a couple of bad workouts across a 4+ month training plan is not going to stop you from doing well on race day. It’s a mental battle you have to win. Sometimes there’s just bad days and miserable runs. There are too many ways that the preparation, the workout, and the recovery can go wrong.

I bring this up because a recent workout for me was just horrible. I felt miserable, the miles were a struggle, and my legs were tired. The tired legs I expected, but wanting to stop before I even really started was not. It can be hard when a big race is looming to just let go and say “I’ll try again tomorrow.” But sometimes that is the best thing you can do.

So this time around I have learned. I know better. I’ll try my best to complete my workouts – but if the variables just aren’t lining up one particular day I’ll cut it short. It can be more detrimental to force yourself through a bad workout & ultimately result in a longer recovery than to skip it. If you cut one short, it’s fine. Add a mile or two of the ones missed to other workouts when appropriate. Maybe rearrange your days that week so you can try that particular workout again. And other times you can just write that workout off as “it just didn’t happen.”

courageKeep in mind – this doesn’t mean make lame excuses for skipping workouts just because you’re feeling lazy. This is for the days when your mental or physical health will suffer more if you force yourself than if you miss it. And yes, the guilt can do you in sometimes.

A few workouts, spread across several hundred and a few months, will not seriously affect your ability to accomplish race goals. Now skipping 3 whole weeks of training might.

So don’t be afraid to change things up – to modify your days. Don’t guilt yourself into doing a workout that you know is going to hurt more than it helps. And remember that you can always make it up later when you are more physically and mentally prepared to take on this challenge.

Tips: Gradually Building Up

There’s the rule of 10% and then there’s the common sense of building up gradually. They both are pretty much in the same realm of thought.

the dayThere are many reasons to pay careful attention to how exactly you ramp up your mileage and workouts. Too quick of a jump in activity and you not only risk injury, but simply general health. It’s important to acclimate your body to the activity you are asking it to do. Building up slowly over time allows the body to adjust and make any necessary changes to habits, such as requiring more sleep.

So instead of jumping straight from 15 to 30 miles a week, spread that increase over a few weeks. Most running related injuries occur due to overuse – stress fractures, runner’s knee, all those sucky things are a result of too much, too fast, or over too long a time. This is why the rule of 10% is something I recommend following, even if you don’t usually follow the main schools of thought.

The idea is that from week to week, you don’t increase your mileage more than 10%. Run 20 miles one week? Just jump it up 2 miles to 22 the next week. Admittedly, on the lower end of mileage for established runners it may not be as big a concern. However, if you’re new to exercise or reaching higher mileage weeks for training it’s important to follow. I don’t just magically jump from 30 miles to 50 when I’m training for a marathon. That happens over 7-8 weeks.

Gradual increase is also a technique you can apply to new gear or forms. If you’re interested in taking up minimalistic running (whether through Vibram Five Fingers or the offerings of other shoe companies) the same idea applies. Run your usual miles each week in your  normal running shoes. But start slowly a couple times a week with the new ones – say a half mile to mile twice a week to slowly increase to 1-2 miles. Taking those small steps up each week over a 4-6 week period, spending additional weeks where necessary, can get you up to something like a regular run distance.

Of course, it’s important to know where you’re weak too. In the case of minimalistic shoes, if you feel additional strain running say 2 miles then spend an extra week at that distance instead of moving to the next distance up. Making choices like that can only help you, not hurt you.

I emphasize the idea of working your way to a higher amount of activity for several reasons. The first being that injuries are not fun and we all want to avoid them. For new athletes (regardless of sport) being a little too enthusiastic can result in pushing too hard, too fast. Yes, we all want to jump in feet first. But doing so not only risks injury, but has the potential to cause a bad experience that could easily turn you from a sport forever. For those of us jumping hardcore into training, the last thing we want to do is become injured and miss an event altogether.

On the opposite side, stressing our bodies too much will cause our workouts to suffer over time. And when you’re not meeting your goals—time, pace, or distance—it can seriously affect your mental outlook on the training, the event, and even the sport. I love running, but I know sometimes that I reach the point where I’m just plain tired of doing it. Not because I no longer love it; I just need a break. If I’m marathon training (which is when that usually happens), it would be exponentially worse if my training wasn’t going well.

That’s what prompted this piece. I’ve build up my weekly miles gradually and the next 6 weeks will be my highest mileage weeks for the plan. Not only will I be running a good amount of miles, but some will be specific workouts that will strain my body even more. That’s why I’m so glad for the 10+ weeks that build me up to this point. My body can handle all of the training because I’ve conditioned it over time to do so. It’s a hard discussion to have with newer runners at times. How do I properly explain it without ruining their enthusiasm?

It’s a tough balance too. We want to find our limits so we can push them and get better. To see how far we can really go. I do every day that I run! Without a doubt and maybe just a little fear (which isn’t a bad thing), we seek to challenge ourselves. I want everyone to do that and this post is not to warn you away from seeking out your limits. Just some advice to do so in a safe way so you don’t hurt yourself along the way.

To get a much better and more in depth explanation, here’s a Runner’s World article that fully explains the Rule of 10%.

Tips: Rest & Recovery

I feel the need to reiterate the emphasis on rest days and recovery after workouts.

Played the part of the irresponsible athlete over the weekend. Sunday was a full day at Disney World in the hot Florida summer with not nearly enough water to drink. I guarantee I was more dehydrated than usual. Then of course we got back and I went for a short run without really making sure to re-hydrate myself before or after the run the way I should have.

Jump to Monday’s workout in 90+ degree weather with some high humidity percentages. Again, the workout itself didn’t take as much out of me, but I once again failed to hydrate during the day the way I should have. Not just to recover from Sunday, but to prepare for the hot workout Monday evening.

As such I was in a much worse condition than normal for the Tuesday and Wednesday runs. More tired and I didn’t feel like the rest I was getting was enough to keep me going, much less support marathon training activity. I’ve been good friends with my compression sleeves and socks, even though the workouts themselves haven’t been that difficult.

So two big points. Rest! Slept a little longer, didn’t push as hard on the two 5 milers I did, and chose to opt out of the cycling I had intended to do. While I may want better fitness, I know that I had already strained my body in a way I shouldn’t with this heat. So I skipped the bike workout and focused on keeping a water nearby.

Finally, recover! Because I figured the workout on Monday wasn’t “that bad” I made the decision not to have my usual recovery drink. By the way, that’s the Nuun Hydration (http://nuun.com/) tri-berry drink for post-workout. I should have. Likely if I had, my Tuesday and then Wednesday would not have been quite as bad.

It’s important to pay attention to not only hydrating yourself, but having the tools to recover properly after a workout. Things like electrolytes are important. My favored recovery drinks are chocolate milk and a 16 ounce bottle of water with a Nuun tablet thrown in.

I’m not saying you have to empty gallons of water post run, but you need to recognize that hotter months require different needs than cooler ones.

Here’s a nice guide from Runner’s World that talks a bit about hydration and recovery drinks. They explain some of the how and why, so you have the theory behind the practice. Here’s another article from RW that talks about what kinds of drinks you should aim for based on the activity you’re doing. While they may reference it to running, you can make times and effort comparisons to other sports.

So just to reinforce: be mindful of your body and the conditions. Rest as needed (extra if necessary! Modifying a plan for how your body feels is perfectly fine) and make sure you’re taking the proper steps to recover. Especially if you are in training and have continuous weeks of workouts planned.

I’ve had the rough reminder that I need to be more careful. Now back to training.

Tips: Knowing When To Dig Your Heels In

After several discussions with a few others on this topic, I felt it was something worth mentioning. It ties into my last Tips post about finding a supportive community.

It can be hard sometimes to join a group or friends doing exercise of any kind (not just running) who you look at as being faster, better, or stronger. And sometimes, we easily get drawn into their pace. They’re lifting more weight? Well, you want to reach their level or just appear to be more on par, so you do the same.

Or on the opposite side, (especially as a beginner) you fall into letting them convince you to do more. Most often people from exercise or fitness groups encouraging you to do more, go faster, or try harder aren’t attempting to say ‘you aren’t doing good enough.’ Rather, they’re just trying to provide positive motivation. They want you to get better for yourself, and in some cases, giving a little nudge—an external push—is what some people need.

It can be hard to push ourselves at times because we don’t know our limits. We may even be afraid of finding them.

But that being said, it’s very important to let yourself be heard. Because the pushing from others is usually done with good intentions, these people will be accepting if you tell them no. It’s just knowing when to dig in your heels and say ‘I’d rather stick to my own plan.’

There’s nothing bad about voicing your thoughts or concerns. And if that day’s running group is going a bit too fast, just say “Hey! Go ahead, I’m gonna slow the pace down a bit.” Sometimes they don’t realize they’re going so fast and need a reality check (in a good way). Other times, they’ll realize they have someone still growing who isn’t quite at their level yet and will give you a quick okay and keep going.

They’re not intentionally leaving you in the dust, they’re just acknowledging that you, and them, are on different levels at this point in time. Nothing wrong with that.

But the fact is: it’s easy to feel pressured to perform the way others are. Especially in fitness. So don’t be afraid to speak up. Let others know when you’re comfortable with a workout and definitely when you aren’t. Part of learning to push your limits is knowing that they exist and that they will never be exactly the same as someone else’s.

If ever you feel that others are pushing you too far, too fast, then just dig in your heels and say so. Trust me, they’ll understand.

Tips: Find a Supportive Community

Whether it’s a running group, your friends on Facebook, a program like the recent What’s Beautiful by Under Armour, or a tracking community like DailyMile, finding a community that supports you is a way to help keep your head in the game and eyes on future goals.

Regardless of your plans or level of activity; regardless if you’re a walker, runner, biker, triathlete, or any other type of active person; having a support network can be so effective. You don’t have to be training for a race or trying to reach a goal weight. Though of course, if you are, support totally helps.

It’s that sometimes, especially when you’re just getting started, it’s hard to not fall back into old habits. To say I’ll work out later, or tomorrow, or next week. Being involved with a community doesn’t just offer you supportive words and knowledgeable coaches (potentially); engaging yourself with a community helps keep you accountable.

Outside of being horribly sick, I won’t skip a workout (no matter how tired I am or how much I don’t want to) if I’ve already committed to meeting someone for it. It’s easier now because I’ve made my exercise a lifestyle. But in the beginning it was easy to slip back into old habits. Not running one day turned into a week and then two weeks. By not just joining a community, but making friends with the members of it, I’ve created a network of people who not only want me to succeed at whatever I choose, but who will nag when me I start falling off the  path without good reason.

And it’s nothing against family members and friends who aren’t involved in their own fitness journey. It’s just that sometimes, the mentality these members of your normal social circle have is not what you need. There exists a fine balance between not pushing someone past their limits (most important when they’re first starting out) and allowing them to take it easy while making excuses for a lack of progress.

I’m reminded of a blog (which of course I can’t find now) where a women looking to start her fitness journey and lose weight made the decision for the first 6 months to not inform her family and friends of this new goal. Not that they would not be supportive to some degree, but were more likely to (in that family poking sort of way) put her down and bring attention to the lack of progress. She understood that and didn’t fault them, but made significant progress on her mentality and confidence, more so than her weight, before informing her circle of family and friends. That she wanted to focus on how far she had come with each month of her journey while those around her were more likely to focus on how far she had to go.

When I first started running again, I had absolutely no plans or intentions to run a half-marathon, much less a marathon. But like I mentioned above, it was easy to push running and working out behind other activities. It was easy to make excuses not to. So I was horribly inconsistent. But that’s not what I wanted to achieve.

Thanks to a friend, I was aware of the tracking website DailyMile (linked to at the top of this post). I joined and friended him. And I started to track what I was doing. I posted my workouts and tried to mention my next workout plans. Even if no one commented, it was on the internet now. Someone could. And that, in my mind at least, made me more accountable.

Because I feel horribly guilty when I say I’ll do something—especially exercise related—and then don’t.

Then, well over a year later, someone mentioned I should look for a local running group. Then, I wouldn’t just have friends and support via my computer, but also in person. Plus, competition is always nice in a friendly sort of way. Hopefully having running partners could help push me farther. By this point, I had decided to run my first half marathon. Having not just the support, but also others with more experience and knowledge of my chosen sport made it easier to address problems or ask questions.

While I love the internet, you can’t believe everything you read on it.

I can say without a doubt that while I still use DailyMile regularly (and love my internet friends), having a support group in the form of the Brandon Running Association has been amazing. Not only has it provided me with running partners, people of like minds, and coaches willing to help a newbie out, it’s broadened my experiences. I spectated my first triathlon thanks to them. I started cross training with cycling and swimming (even if I am kind of inconsistent and reliant on good weather).

I not only improved myself (in the first year of running with the group, I managed to cut 27 minutes off my half marathon time), but I also challenged myself. It’s thanks to them that I finally committed to doing my first marathon. After the first half, in my mind at least, I knew I would one day run a marathon. But it likely would have taken me much longer to work up the courage and determination to that without a group.

Me with fellow runner and training partner Caribbean Steve (left) & 5K walker Marty (right) on a race morning.

Me with fellow runner and training partner Caribbean Steve (left) & 5K walker Marty (right) on a race morning.

And I know that I can always hit up the group and find someone willing to go run with me. Knowing that they are there makes all the difference. So do yourself a favor and look for communities to support you. Google groups if you want something local, make a Facebook group if you want to do a challenge with friends, or even join a site like DailyMile where you can not only track your workouts, but also connect with others. And who knows, maybe it will turn into more than just those people you exercise with.

Tips: Nutrition

Previously I touched on the importance of hydration, especially as we’re running full on into summer. Another equally important part of your routine to consider is nutrition.

While eating healthy is always good, that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about here. It’s more in relation to making sure what you eat is fueling the activity level you maintain.

Post workout isn’t just your recovery drink, but how you enable your body to continue through the day. Sometimes I am horrible at this, but I’m trying to get better. Worst thing, especially when you’re busy, is to not fuel yourself properly and end up crashing hard.

Try to always carry some kind of small snack with you and plan meals ahead of time. Spontaneous decisions are okay, but you’re more likely to make the effort to cook and eat if you already have everything planned out.

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I keep a protein bar in whatever bag I have (gym, purse, etc) at all times just in case I get the munchies. I make a habit each week (or several times a week) to buy some veggies to chop up and snack on. My favorites are cucumber, green pepper, and tomatoes. I also visit the local farmer’s market that keeps a nice stock of nuts and trail mix items. Generally I go for raw almonds and dark chocolate covered espresso beans (cause I’m weird).

20130502_162544While I do NOT substitute any of these items for meals, I do use them to for snacking. Fueling myself in the hours between meals. If I have a smaller meal because I eat snacks, that’s fine. I’m still getting all the stuff I need.

It’s important to keep a regular schedule of consuming nutrients for the singular fact that you want them to feed your exercise and daily life. I don’t run or function nearly as well when I’m skipping meals or not eating properly.

Eating well not only helps keep your body in the right shape to exercise, but helps combat exhaustion and illness. Sometimes you can’t avoid them for many reasons, but maintaining your nutrition is a good way to give your body and yourself the upper hand.

20130507_212212I emphasize this topic because I’ve unfortunately felt the effects of bad fueling and nutrition while training. For the first few weeks of marathon training in 2011 my energy levels plummeted because not only was I not increasing my calorie intake to keep up with my increased exercise, but I wasn’t making sure it was the right things I needed to be eating. Once my eating schedule smoothed out and I was filling my vitamin and nutritional gaps, I had a better ability to handle my schedule of exercise and life.

I definitely advocate making healthier choices (and there’s so many ways to do it!) in your food, but make sure what and how you eat is set to help you be your best.