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.)


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.


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 ( 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: A Regular Routine With A Bonus Rant For Summer

Summer-Wallpaper-3With my area (at least) jumping headlong into summer with warm and sunny days, I find it important to talk a bit about setting up a regular running schedule. I admit the idea has an ulterior and completely girly (*ahem* I mean female) motive behind it which you can read about further along.

Now when I wasn’t training for anything in particular I mixed my runs between early morning and later evening. When I was in marathon training, 90-95% of my training happened in the earlier morning hours between 4-7AM. Only the longer runs of 18+ miles potentially went later into the morning and might last until 9AM. Generally speaking I liked both of these methods, but leaned more towards the mostly early morning.

The biggest reason for this being that you could get anything from a 4 miler to a 20 miler done and still have most of your day to go. That made it much easier to get more done in a day and not feel like I was rushing to get my run in before the end of the day.

Likewise, it felt better for my body to be on a largely regular schedule. While this may make it harder to run in certain conditions, the bulk of races occur earlier in the morning. Depending on the race length, it could start anywhere from 5-6AM (usually marathons and half marathons on occasion) to the 7-9AM range (mostly 5-15Ks). Training in this time range therefore made racing in this time range feel more natural and part of my regular routine.

Of course there are some races that don’t follow that standard like dusk, evening, and night races (some towns do a midnight race for the 4th of July). Not to forget things like ultras or relays which will spread your running across one or several days and could be at any time of day.

At the moment I’m not doing very well at sticking to a routine and I need to work on that. I run pretty much during any time of the day. Early morning if I wake up to do so, if not anytime after that from midday to the early evening. This is bad on my part as I’m sure I’ll do better if I settle into a more regular routine (preferably in the morning).

The benefit of setting this schedule, especially if you lean towards the obscenely early or late time frames, is to make the best of the temperatures in each time of day. I’m still learning this area, but in Florida hitting those early runs made it so your run was complete before the temperatures got too crazy. 90 degrees by itself might not seem so bad, but throw in crazy humidity and it’s safer to just avoid it. My running group shifted Saturday morning long runs up by at least a half hour during the summer months to help avoid the heat.

So as the season changes and the warmer temps settle on us, be smart about your routine.

So that’s the end of the actual tip portion, now onto the girly and completely silly rant…

Rant time! As it gets warmer and sunnier, especially if you’re running at a time of day when the sun can beat down on you, this means tan lines. And unfortunately, running clothing tan lines don’t match up (at ALL) with summer friendly clothes. By that, I mean shorts, tank tops, and most importantly, beach wear!

This is one pro of running in the early morning or late evening; you can avoid the bulk of the strongest summer rays. Or if you’re like the current me running whenever, you have to take some kind of action to counteract looking silly when you hit the beach.

And no, the suggestion of running in my bikini is being vetoed. That only happens, potentially, if I’m running on a beach. Truthfully, I’m too lazy to more than consider hanging out by the pool. I just accept that runner tan lines are part of being a runner.

This post brought to you by some awesome raspberry iced tea.