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E and I both like to read something inspirational leading up to a big race. It doesn’t have to be about running, but any story that captures the journey of chasing a goal, overcoming a challenging situation and accomplishing something spectacular. As I train for my upcoming ultra, I’m enjoying a book called “The Ultra Mindset” by Travis Macy, a very accomplished endurance athlete. This book is all about changing your attitude, and is not just geared towards athletes. I’m only about halfway through, but I’m enjoying the various exercises that he has you do to rethink the obstacles you face, such as negative stories you tell yourself that can be reframed, all in the context of his own story about becoming the athlete he is today.

One tidbit that motivated me through some tough long run miles is something Macy wrote while narrating his solo race across Zion National park. He was pushing to the finish and said to himself, “You can do it. The harder it is, the stronger I get.” That last sentence resonated with me – a great new mantra – and it is also very true! The last two weeks have been my biggest mileage weeks in a long time – 45 and 41 miles, respectively. Granted, that’s nothing for most ultra runners, but for me recently and especially while rehabbing my hamstring, I’m pleased! It certainly hasn’t been easy, but I feel myself getting stronger. Strong enough to run 40 miles in the mountains? Not so sure about that yet, but I have a few more long runs and trail excursions to work that out.

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Over the last two weeks, I’ve been including a longer midweek run on the East River to boost my mileage. The run pictured above right is one such morning – it was gorgeous out and the miles flew by. The following Saturday, I ran 16 miles on Summer Streets NYC, which if you’re not familiar with, involves closing Park Avenue to traffic from 72nd street down to the Brooklyn Bridge for runners, cyclists and everyone else to enjoy. It gets a little too crowded for my liking but if you go early in the morning, it’s pretty cool. Part of this run was spent coaching the Gilda’s Club team, which is going well with two coached runs under our belt. We enjoyed many of the “rest stops,” including the coconut water station complete with a hammock (dangerous – I almost didn’t get back up).  I won’t lie – this was a tough run for me. My body was not feeling great after mile 12, but I managed to finish and thankfully recovered well for the next day’s adventure.

We are trying to do back to back runs each weekend to practice running on tired legs, with a long run Saturday and if able, a trail run/hike outside of the city on Sunday. Last weekend, E and I ventured back to the Appalachian Trail, but this time to Bear Mountain. We took Metro North to Manitou and ran along a quiet road (Manitou Station Rd –> Manitou Rd –> S Mountain Pass Rd) that intersects the AT after about 1.3M. We could have gone along the main road (9D) to the bridge like everyone else on our train, but we wanted to get away from the cars and people, while maximizing our trail time.

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Like in Vermont, this section of the AT was rocky and technical, but that was short lived. We soon hit a long stretch of road – 9D and the bridge (above) that takes you across the river to Bear Mountain and into the park along a paved path that hugs a lake and eventually leads to the trailhead. It was a gorgeous day, but we were still surprised by how many families were having huge loud BBQs by the lake. Everywhere smelled of smoke and kerosene. It looked fun but it’s a shame that they permit it in what could be such a peaceful place.

The trail to the top of Bear Mountain is essentially a stone staircase that turns into a trail and crosses a road 3 or 4 times. The trail and the top of bear mountain were PACKED – all in all this excursion was not the escape to nature that we had envisioned but the view was nice and we certainly had a great workout!

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Trains are infrequent from Manitou and when we realized that we would just barely be able to make our train with the next one several hours later, we booked it down the mountain. Nothing like racing 5M on a hot day after a big mileage week! Flying down those steps was SO fun – and great practice. I’m working on gaining confidence on steep downhill running and we were MOVING.

We had 3M and less than 30 minutes left on rolling hilly road when we both really started to feel it. At one point E said “I don’t think I can make it,” to which I responded, “we WILL make that cutoff.” He perked up and that suddenly became our motto – make the cutoff! It sounds silly but we are running the 65km race together and being able to motivate one another and work as a team is really important. Also, cutoffs really are a concern if you are a slower runner (as we will be in this race given all the hiking we’ll be doing), so it was a good motivator! We made the train with two minutes to spare – ending the run at 11M, tired but feeling very strong. After eating the healthy lunch I packed for us on the train, we beelined to Davey’s Ice Cream in the East Village (one of my fav spots) for a well-deserved summer treat. Dietitians need dessert too and this stuff is seriously worth the calories!

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Gear update: I’ve been using Saucony’s Omni Progrid as my road show for years and have been on the hunt for a good trail shoe as my feet were not happy after I ran the 50k in my Omni’s! I tested out the cliftons by HokaOneOne. Those are road shoes too but E swears by them protecting the legs over long distances. They were super comfy at first but they had to be returned as they were too narrow for my feet, causing a gigantic blister to form after just an hour. Ouch. On Sunday, I tested out the Brooks Cascadia 10 pictured above. This is a popular trail shoe with much more structure than I am used to, which means more protection from rocks. They held up well during our part trail part road run. Much better traction on rocks for sure, although still trying to decide if they are comfy enough with the structures upper. A longer run will surely tell! I’m grateful for the awesome return policies that these two companies have, as it’s impossible to tell if a shoe will work until you’ve done a long run in them, and shoes are really expensive!

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As for this past week, I threw in some cross training to mix things up. On Monday, I participated in a super fun Ironstrength group workout with Dr. Jordan Metzl aboard the Intrepid with 1000 other people! I’ve done one other Ironstrength class before in Central Park and love that it’s free (usually), open to anyone, and takes place all over the city. It was a gorgeous night, and although E and were sore from our big weekend, we had a great time working up a sweat in such a unique location. On Wednesday, a co-worker and I tried out a spin class at the Peloton Cycle studio in Chelsea with Robin Arzon, a fellow ultra runner (E and I saw her at Endurance Challenge DC) and all around bad-ass and inspirational athlete. She is gorgeous and her energy is infectious! The studio and the bikes are amazing too. Obviously I’m a huge fan of Peloton and will be back! I did a short shakeout run after the class and ran into E on the river – I wish I could run commute home from work!

This weekend, E and I ran 18 miles yesterday, partly on Summer Streets. We managed to run at least 6 miles on trails, between the bridal path and north woods in Central Park, and a dirt trail that ran all along Riverside Park! Pretty cool. This run was tough but overall I felt better than last week, and the tape on my hamstring still seems to be helping, as I didn’t feel any pain throughout. Our experiment of the day was testing a new nutrition strategy, as we are still trying to nail down our plan for race day. We used Tailwind Nutrition endurance fuel naked flavor in our 16oz handhelds. We ran for ~3hrs and used 1.5 scoops per bottle x 3 (450 cal). It tasted great – not too sweet, especially with all the ice we used in that first bottle – but after 2-3 hours and with warmer water I found myself craving plain cold water, even though I had been drinking a lot (we were filling our bottles at fountains along the way). Also, I’m not sure how I would use it during the ultra, given we’ll be running for 10+ hours with only 5 aid stations. I could put it in my hydration vest bladder, but it’s much harder to gauge how many calories you are drinking this way compared to a handheld. Overall it’s a great product that I would like to experiment with more, and I wonder if in colder weather I would have had a different reaction. It could be useful in conjunction with food and/or gels, although I realize that their motto is “all you need, all day, really.”

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Today, we opted to stay in the city and hit some “hills” on the Williamsburg bridge for 8M rather than do another trail excursion out of the city. It was hot, but overall I felt quite strong, which gave me a confidence boost.

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On the cooking front, I’ve been making all kinds of good stuff lately that you can check out on my Instagram page. I’ve included a few photos here too.

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I’m in the process of setting up my new Eat for Endurance nutrition counseling website (finally!!!) so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to get in touch (thefightandflightresponse@gmail.com) if you wish to work with me, either for nutrition counseling or run coaching, in person or online. Have a wonderful week!

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Happy holidays everyone! It’s been a very busy year in running, school and work, and I am quite happy 2014 is coming to an end. I’ve adjusted to my new job at Montefiore as a clinical dietitian, all my big races are behind me, and I can FINALLY see the light at the end of my never-ending grad school tunnel (i.e. May 2015). E and I are heading to Europe over the holidays for a MUCH needed break – our first real chunk of time off in a year. It will be a cold, wet and not exactly relaxing big city tour, but we’re excited to see E’s family in Amsterdam and visit some of our favorite spots in London and Paris.

My 2015 race calendar is pretty much empty, which is a strange yet refreshing feeling coming off of Spring and Fall marathon training as well as E’s late November ultra (during which I ran an impromptu almost marathon). I’m a firm believer in enjoying some unstructured no pressure runs after a training cycle – for me, that has translated into 4 mostly easy paced runs per week, including one longish run to maintain endurance. It’s still hard to get out of bed for those 6am pre-work East River runs, especially on dreary wet days like today, but with the right music and warm, reflective gear, it’s not so bad.

That said, without any big races to motivate me, I’m starting to feel a running rut come on, and that means it’s time to mix up my fitness routine. Usually I opt for cross training classes (spin, boot camp, pilates, etc), but this past week, I signed up for Ironstrength, a combined running/strength training workout led by Sports doctor Jordan Metzl that I’ve been meaning to try for ages, and “The Distance” class at Mile High Run Club (MHRC), the so-called “Soul Cycle of running” that recently opened in NYC and piqued my curiosity. Note to self – DO NOT try these classes on consecutive days. I honestly did not realize that Ironstrength involved so much running, and that the “distance” class was mostly hill repeats and intervals. Oops. I could hardly move yesterday.

Let’s start with Ironstrength. It’s a fun, usually FREE group workout that incorporates running and strength training in various outdoor and indoor locations around NYC. All you have to do is join Dr. Metzl’s email list on his Ironstrength page and you will receive information regarding upcoming classes, which occur on a fairly regular basis. As stated on Metzl’s website, Ironstrength “teaches athletes of all ages how to build strength and reduce the aches and pains of every life in the process.” Or perhaps the pain you’ll feel during and after the workout will make the rest of your life feel less painful by comparison… 🙂

My understanding/assumption is that the specific workout changes based on location (outdoor parks, indoor studios etc) and that day’s focus (i.e. yoga for runners vs the type of class that I did). I like that variety is built into the class in both location, time/day and workout, though I suppose that makes it more difficult to go regularly. For some reason, I thought our class would be mostly strength training based, even though E said he had read otherwise. Having skipped our planned Saturday long run, I convinced him that we should run the 5M from our apartment up to Central Park to squeeze in some cardio.

We met up with a large group at the Delacorte Theater, along with many regulars and other newbies like us. Dr. Metzl arrived with a gigantic Santa-like bag of Thorlo socks, which he promised we would receive if we completed the workout. Bribery with awesome free socks for finishing a grueling but awesome free class – right up my alley!

We quickly discovered that the first half of the 1hr+ workout would involve hill repeats. E gave me his best “not impressed” with me face. Oops. At least we were very warmed up! The running segment was about 30min/3M, as follows: Skip up the hill (harder than it sounds on uneven, sandy terrain), jog down; sprint up, 10 push-ups at top, jog down; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 2 with another set of push-ups; skip up/jog down, sprint up/jog down x 3 with another set of push-ups; then skip up/jog down, jog up and over to the strength training area a few minutes away. Given how cold it was, I was glad we ran beforehand – though I think 1-2M would have sufficed!

With 8M under my belt and months of being a delinquent in the strength training arena, the next part was very challenging, but Dr. Metzl made it fun. He blasted some great music, including holiday favorites while we warmed up and Baby Got Back for the jump squat sequence, which amused many passers-by. Then there were scissor lunges, planks, two variations of burpees, core exercises, and other things I must have mentally blocked out. We got very dirty as we were doing all of this on the ground – thankfully my gloves protected my hands and I wore dark clothing.

When we finished, Metzl dumped the socks into a pile on the ground and it was like dozens of brides at a sample sale swarmed in to find their size. People really wanted those socks! I don’t blame them – they’re great and quite pricey. I snagged a neon green pair in my size. In return for hooking us up with free gear, we had to take a photo with the Thorlo logo at the end showing off what we got (I’m all the way on the right). Good deal if you ask me.

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The verdict: E and I will definitely be back for another Ironstrength class, though next time after a shorter warm up so we can push ourselves harder and get more out of the class. Good vibe, adjustable to most levels, and often free (if not, it’s for charity).

Now let’s turn to the Mile High Run Club (MHRC), which is on the other end of the class spectrum. It’s indoor, high end, smaller group (up to 30 runners per class) and definitely not free. Well, to be fair, I had a promo code that made my first class free, but they run $34 a pop or less if you get a 5/10 pack.

MHRC has two types of classes – “dash 28,” which includes 2-3M of running plus strength training, and “the distance,” which includes at least 5M of running. I chose the latter thinking it would involve fewer intervals/hill repeats, but I was very wrong. That was pretty much the entire class, which makes sense. No one would pay that much for an easy treadmill workout.

As a mostly outdoor runner, I was really curious about this studio when I heard about it. I once again convinced E to come with me. I’ve never tried Soul Cycle, but I often do speed-work on the treadmill and enjoy spin classes, so I understand the appeal of challenging group indoor workouts, particularly when the weather turns cold and nasty. The concept of a treadmill club is pretty brilliant, given the success of spinning studios and the lack of a running counterpart until now. Just like with spinning, you have control over how hard you push yourself on the treadmill in the context of whatever your instructor is telling you to do, thus allowing for some flexibility. I do feel, however, that there is a higher risk of injury with running classes, especially in a group (potentially competitive) setting, making it important that the coach help runners find that balance between challenging themselves and going too far.

The facilities are very new and pretty – a welcome area out front selling running books, accessories, clothes, drinks etc, small but lovely changing rooms with showers and lockers (great toiletries, towels, hair dryer etc provided), more lockers outside near the studio, a foam rolling area (which I didn’t get a chance to see) and the studio itself, with mirrors and special lighting lining the walls, a soft type of material on the ground, and 30 Woodway 4Front treadmills, which I’ve been told are the best machines out there.

I expected the studio to be packed based on when I signed up online (you can choose your treadmill and they were mostly booked), but only about 10 people showed up. The studio was dimly lit, and the music was loud. I really did feel like I was in a spin class – except I was running on a somewhat intimidating treadmill. Michael (a Lululemon ambassador and head coach of Team Lipstick in NYC) was our coach and before class started, he introduced himself to each runner, asked if it was our first time, and reviewed various effort levels/speeds (they have “jogger” and “racer” categories for levels 1-4, with each level specifying a speed range), which I thought was nice.

As a group, he started us off with about 9min of warm up, during which he explained the workout ahead, essentially hill repeats and “follow throughs” (running at high incline and then lowering slightly while speeding up), intervals at various effort levels (mostly 1-2min), and at the end, a mini “race” that simulated a 4 miler in Central park and the various ups and downs along with it. All the while, music blasted and the dim lighting shifted to the beat, but not so much that it was distracting. I really liked that Michael picked a race to tie into the workout – for me, it was a reminder that the whole purpose of treadmill running is to help me prepare for outdoor running/racing, even if that’s not true for everyone. It was a tough session in my opinion – but again, you make it as easy or as hard as you want. E took it fairly easy, I pushed myself a little but definitely not as much as I would in a true speed/hill session on fresh legs.

Our main issue with the entire experience involved the treadmills. I expected a really smooth ride based on everyone raving about them, but instead these machines bounced furiously with each step. I felt so unstable at times that I held back for fear I’d fly off (my towel and shirt kept doing so), and the added movement made my stomach uneasy. E said it hurt his feet. I was especially worried given how dark it was. E was more turned off by the treadmills than I was, but I agreed that I would not want to run on those machines again with that much bounce.

Michael and I chatted after class and he informed me that they’re replacing the soft flooring (which is causing the bounce) with a harder surface in the next few days, which will hopefully resolve the issue. I’d add to this the recommendation that they place glow tape along the edges of the treadmill to make it a bit safer. Michael and I also talked about the variation between classes, and he explained that every coach does something different, so I’m curious to go back and try someone else’s class, once the ground is fixed.

I thought Michael did a great job – good energy, good music, and he circled about the room the entire time to dole out encouragement and running tips. I’ve never taught a group class like this one, but I think I would have fun doing it – something to consider for the new year, as they said they’re still looking for coaches.

The verdict: Cool modern space and great concept that just needs a few tweaks, as you might expect from a new business. It’s pricey, but they have promotions and offer student discounts. Personally, I would probably only go on occasion, but that’s mainly because I prefer outdoor running and sometimes would rather do speed-work alone. I would love to try another class once the treadmills become less bouncy, and I may even submit my resume to become a coach at some point.

Interestingly, Metzl taught an Ironstrength class at MHRC not long ago, and I was told he would be teaching once a month next year. So perhaps that means the best of both? I’ll certainly sign up and report back!

Happy Holidays!

Happy (belated) New Year! I just finished up another wonderful California visit with E, who flew in from London on New Year’s Eve and returned this past Sunday. It’ll be my turn to fly in four days, when I move to NYC and begin grad school shortly thereafter. Starting a year filled with so much change – for both of us – wouldn’t have felt right without him by my side. I’m grateful that we were able to take full advantage of my last moments in Santa Cruz and kick off 2012 with a few more adventures!

As usual, our days were packed with beautiful trail runs and hikes and tons of amazing food, with a bit of relaxation thrown in here and there. Every day or two I experienced something special that I wanted to share, such as our blissful New Year’s Day in Santa Cruz, our exhausting but EPIC trip to Yosemite, our 14 mile run in Nisene the following day, our day trip to St. Helena (Napa) and many unforgettable meals throughout the week. However, the incredible (January?!) weather and the fact that we were constantly on the go left very few opportunities for computer work, and those spare moments were better spent enjoying each other’s company. Anyone else who is in a long distance relationship surely understands that!

In other words, I have a lot of catching up to do on FFR! I’ll power through the highlights, and for those of you who don’t feel like reading, I’ve included plenty of photos for your viewing pleasure.

After a fun, low-key NYE spent at my friend’s house, E and I woke up to one of the most beautiful days we’ve had in months – 70 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. It was hard to believe it was January 1st! I had done my long run the previous day, but Sunday still meant pancakes were on the menu. My Dad made a delicious batch of his gluten-free banana pecan pancakes, which we enjoyed out on the deck.

  

It would’ve been a crime to be indoors, so we all went for a 4+ mile walk on my local beach in the afternoon, and returned later in the day to catch a colorful sunset. I also took E for a relaxing 6M run the next morning at low tide. I love my beach – can’t get enough of it – and E was in heaven after many months of sun deprivation!

Since we had already visited Big Sur and San Francisco in September, we decided to spend a couple days in Yosemite and join my family for a day trip to St. Helena (with an overnight in Concord) later in the week. E had never been to Yosemite before as an adult, while I’ve been twice – once in June about 11 years ago (peak season, packed with tourists, and extremely hot – stayed in a platform tent in Curry Village), and another time in September about five years ago (slightly off season but still busy, mixed weather – backpacked and camped along the trail but had to leave early to escape an unexpected blizzard). Both trips bring back great memories, but my visit with E was particularly unique due to the unseasonably warm and dry weather and the lack of crowds. We certainly got the best of both worlds!

Temperatures were a bit chilly in the mornings and evenings, but they peaked in the high 60s and felt even warmer in the sun. Nearly all the roads and trails were open (except for Half Dome) because there hadn’t been any rain or snow for over a month. I realize that this isn’t good for the park, but the sunshine and perfectly clear blue skies made for incredible hiking conditions – great views and no slipping on ice! Because it was off-season, we were able to book the night before we left (usually, you have to reserve months in advance) and the lower prices meant that we could stay at Yosemite Lodge. I love to camp but it was a nice change to sleep in a warm, clean bed! Our hotel was full, the restaurants were relatively busy and there were a fair number of people roaming around the valley, but you could hardly call it crowded compared to my previous visits. There weren’t many cars in the park or on Hwy 140 and we saw very few hikers on the trails, so at times it felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was refreshing to finally experience Yosemite as it should be experienced – without tour buses, traffic and hordes of hikers everywhere you turn!

   

We arrived in the early afternoon after 4+ hours of driving and decided to continue all the way up to Glacier Point. I had forgotten just how far away it was, but I thought it would be a lovely picnic spot for lunch (it was – very quiet, spectacular views) and once we had already committed 30 minutes we didn’t want to turn back! We checked out Bridal Veil falls (very little water) in the late afternoon on the way to checking into our hotel, then relaxed by the fire in the Awahnee hotel (the main room is beautiful) and had a nice dinner back at the Mountain Room near Yosemite Lodge. FYI, food is very overpriced in the park, so if you visit I recommend bringing things for breakfast (I brought instant oatmeal, bananas and almond butter) as well as snacks and lunch for hikes if possible (I brought sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, fruit etc.). The cafeteria at the Lodge has hot water and utensils, and rooms have fridges, so it is really easy to save money this way and ensure you have something healthy and nutritious to eat!

  

Our hotel was a ten minute walk to the Upper Yosemite Falls/Yosemite Point trail head, so we opted to make this our main hike of the trip. We set out at 7:15am – it was cold but given that this trail involves nonstop climbing for several hours, we warmed up very quickly, particularly once the sun started to shine in the valley.

We stopped at the Yosemite Falls overlook (we found a nice flat rock, set away from the railings with insane views) for some lunch in the late morning. My avocado and cheese sandwiches on honey whole wheat bread were pretty tasty after all our hard work! We had passed a few people on our way up, but we didn’t see anybody for the 30-45 minutes we spent at what is usually one of Yosemite’s busiest attractions. By this point, the sun was quite strong, and we enjoyed a nice long sunbath before continuing our journey. Simply amazing.

   

Last time I hiked up here, I turned around at the falls. It was blisteringly hot, extremely crowded and sticking my feet in the cool river just beyond the overlook seemed like a good ending point. Yosemite Point is an additional mile (bringing our total to about 10 miles roundtrip, with 3,000 ft of elevation gain, probably double in net gain) and was well worth the additional effort. We hit an icy patch across the bridge, which was the only tricky, wintery part of our hike. I decided to slide down on my butt and nearly fell into the bushes/partially frozen river, but thankfully E caught me at the bottom. The rest of the trail was forested and beautiful, with patches of ice and snow on either side until we reached the actual point, which was all stone, exposed and extremely warm.

 

We would’ve loved to have continued further towards North Dome, but we were running low on water and thus decided to end our hike here. We found this amazing rock towards the edge of the Point (slightly scary, but not dangerous) with two big holes that made the perfect seats! We sat in our little holes, which secured us safely into the rock, side by side for at least 45 minutes, enjoying the silence (there was no one up there – only one person passed by briefly), the sunshine and the views.

   

This was by far my favorite part of our trip – I’ve been pretty stressed out lately, but up on that rock, my stress melted away. All that mattered to me in that moment was spending time with the man I love, feeling the sun on my skin and staring out into the valley. Next time I feel anxious, I am going to close my eyes and imagine I am back at Yosemite Point with E, sitting in that rock. It’s my new place of calm. Problems become insignificant when you’re up in the mountains, so far removed from everything and faced with so much natural beauty.

It took awhile to motivate ourselves to get up, but once we did, we checked out the other side of the Point to get some different views. I made a little rock pile to celebrate our wonderful start to 2012 and all of the challenging but exciting things coming our way!

   

The way back down was pretty challenging – the trail was practically all downhill on rocks (too technical to run down, for the most part), and it was very hot. We didn’t bring nearly enough water, so we were feeling dehydrated and tired. Nevertheless, the views were amazing and we had a great time – I always love my adventures with E! We really are incredible travel companions. The best part was getting to the bottom and having beer, hot chocolate and ice cream sandwiches, followed by hot showers, passing out by the Awahnee fireplace and a nice big dinner! I know camping is a bit more authentic, but it was pretty awesome returning to a comfy bed and some trashy TV after such a long day.

   

Our day two hike was slightly less strenuous, given that we had to check out of the hotel at 12:30pm and drive back to Santa Cruz. However, we still managed about 8 miles of hiking and 2,000 ft of elevation gain (far more in net gain) up to Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. I was dying to do a loop – out on the Mist Trail and back (slightly longer route) via the John Muir trail, but given our time constraints, we decided to do an out and back instead.

  

We drove to a parking lot near the trail head and started our hike at 7:45am – it was even quieter than the previous day! We saw one guy for only a couple minutes throughout our entire ascent – it was so dead it was almost creepy, especially since the entire hike was shaded – but then small groups of hikers started to emerge as we made our way back down. As with Yosemite Falls, it was a strange and wonderful experience to be able to enjoy what is normally a VERY crowded trail in such a peaceful way!

   

It was also pretty amazing to see Vernal Falls – a wall of water during my last visit – so dry. As a result, the “Mist” trail was not only fully open, but it was not misty at all! I was actually very grateful for this, since it was colder our second day (so cold at the top of Nevada Falls that we turned around almost immediately) and I was afraid that the stone steps, which are normally wet, would be very icy. Thankfully, every inch of the trail was dry, although there was plenty of snow and ice in the rivers and around the falls.

   

Coming back via the Mist trail meant that we had some extra time to take photos (we were going pretty fast on the way up, since we weren’t sure how long it would take us). We also ran the last mile or so back to the trail head given it was on pavement and felt easier on our legs, which by this point were feeling pretty trashed! It was fun to speed past various hikers giving us crazy looks.

After a nice hot shower and some hot chocolate, we left the park and had a lovely lunch in Mariposa at the Deli Garden. I highly recommend this place – super cute, friendly owners and a wonderful patio if the weather is nice! We enjoyed a sun bath as we devoured our sandwiches – felt good to relax for a bit before the long journey back home.

 

The photos above are only a fraction of what we took (and I got some really great shots) – check out the rest of my Yosemite album here.

Although we woke up feeling somewhat broken on Friday morning, we decided to head to Nisene Marks around noon to go for a run. I know, crazy right? But after all that hiking, we were actually craving something long and slow, and the weather was far too nice not to be outside. We were only planning to do do 10ish (we drove into the park to cut out the relatively boring initial miles) but the trails were so awesome that we became fixated on reaching Sand Point overlook. I had only been there once back when I did a long NYC marathon training run, and was dying to show it to E. It ended up being slightly further away than I remembered…whoops! E was a bit grumpy in the last miles but was a real trooper.

 

Surprisingly, we had an awesome run – 13.75M in 2:22 – and finished feeling strong, perhaps aided by the fact that two lovely rest days awaited us! I wish I had a photo of the trails towards the top and in particular, the views of the redwoods and the ocean from Sand Point, but we opted to leave our cameras behind. All I have is two tired, sweaty but happy runners back at the trail head – and our post-run lunch!

 

I made this pizza using Trader Joe’s whole wheat dough (which I had always wanted to try), mozzarella and a variety of grilled vegetables. It was cheap, delicious, healthy and easy to make – this is definitely going in my poor grad student cook book!

On Saturday, we left Santa Cruz early in the morning with my parents to pick up my sister, brother-in-law and niece in Concord and drive up to St. Helena, in Napa Valley. We were celebrating my sister’s and mom’s birthdays with a day of wine tasting, a bit of shopping/wandering around town and two incredible meals (lunch at Market and dinner at La Condesa). It was a lot of time in the car, especially having just done Yosemite, but we had a lovely day together and I’m glad I was able to spend some time with my family before moving to NYC. Elisia looked like a little doll in her French outfit! It’s impossible not to be obsessed with her when she is around.

   

Check out my full set of NYE, Santa Cruz and St. Helena photos HERE.

We stayed the night in Concord, which gave us some much-needed time to relax before E caught his flight Sunday afternoon. It was sad to say goodbye yet again, but our fabulous week together will carry us through until our next visit. We’re aiming for NYC or London sometime in early/mid February…

Now that my blissful week with E is over, it’s time to bring my focus back to my upcoming move. I still can’t believe that it’s all about to happen! I’m excited but it’s also overwhelming, particularly dealing with all the logistics. Thankfully, everything seems to be coming together, albeit slowly. Last week was a good reminder that when I start to stress out, I need to step back and put things in perspective! I’m so grateful to have such a loving family and so many friends to support me through this next phase of my life.

A frightening number of changes are coming my way, but if the first eight days of January are any indicator, this year is going to be epic! My Jan. 1st SF Chronicle horoscope, at least, seems to be on the right track…

Last Sunday, E and I attended an all-day running workshop that my coach, Sam Murphy, held at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in South London. I had been in contact with Sam over email for many months, but it had been quite some time since she had seen me run. I thought it would be the perfect time to check my progress, and in particular my technique, as I launch into my next marathon training cycle. I also figured it would be a great opportunity to observe her in action, given that I admire her coaching style and will soon be a coach myself! Lastly, I was excited for E to work with Sam – he had only met her briefly before one of my sessions, and I knew that he would benefit from her feedback.

The title of the workshop was Running Well, which also happens to be that of one of Sam’s books. Principal topics of the day, which was divided between classroom presentations/discussions and outdoor practical sessions, included technique, injury prevention, drills/warm-ups, running-specific strength exercises, different types of runs, how to structure a training program and stretching, among other things.

Given my previous coaching sessions with Sam, and the fact that the workshop would surely be geared towards runners of varying levels and experience, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when E and I arrived at 9:45am. Additionally, Sunday was predicted to be one of the hottest days of the year (and it certainly was) – not ideal for either spending time in a classroom or performing various running activities in a crowded park, including a mid-afternoon threshold interval session! However, we survived, and everything Sam covered turned out to be extremely relevant and useful, in addition to being presented in an interesting and fun way. E and I left at 4:30pm feeling wiped out, but enlightened and pleased we attended!

Our group consisted of 15 runners, myself included – a good size! Sam obviously led the workshop, but her husband Jeff, a lovely guy who also happens to run a 2:29 marathon (!!), as well as another coach named Suzy helped her throughout the day. Having, effectively, three coaches was awesome and in my opinion, a huge selling point of this workshop. Not only did it help Sam lead the group more professionally and efficiently, but it was great to have the additional support and feedback to ensure that each of us received a substantial amount of personal attention within the larger group setting. So – £55 for a six-hour workshop with three coaches? Not bad at all.

Sam kicked off the day with a video analysis – each of us had to run for a short distance at a normal pace while she recorded it with a camcorder. She would later play back and analyze each person’s recording frame by frame, together with a second video taken later that morning. She had done a video analysis with me about a year earlier in a one-to-one session – it can be shocking to see yourself run, particularly for the first time, but is crucial to becoming more aware of your technique and discovering what you need to improve. It’s quite common to think you’re doing something a certain way when in fact you’re doing quite the opposite!

For example, E and I both thought we had moved away from heel striking, but then later saw clear evidence that we had not. Even worse, we were overstriding – our feet were landing in front of rather than directly below our bodies. E seemed pretty surprised – he insisted he had corrected this after completing a series of sessions last year with some running specialists who focus on biomechanics (recommended by Sam, in fact). I think it’s quite easy to slip back into old habits, though – it can take awhile to retrain your body! For me, I had a feeling before watching the video that I hadn’t fixed my heel strike, but I really thought I had improved my stride/foot placement! Sigh. At least Sam confirmed that the rest of my technique was looking great, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my kick is actually relatively high. I always feel like my heels hardly leave the ground, compared to other runners I observe.

We moved into the classroom around 10am. After introductions, Sam addressed in detail how to warm up properly before a run and why this is important, as well as how to instill good technique (as well as what defines good technique) by performing a variety of specific drills. Sam had taught me some of these before, but they have been missing from my routine for quite some time, so it was good to jog my memory as well as learn some new drills. Hopefully those images of my feet landing way too far forward will make me more disciplined about incorporating drills into my training on a more regular basis.

Our classroom time was followed by our first outdoor session, which gave us an opportunity to put what we had just learned into practice under our coaches’ watchful eyes. It was only 11am, but already the temperature was very uncomfortable – we were sweating buckets after a simple warm-up!

The hour covered technique drills, which included (just to name a few, and including language borrowed from Sam’s handouts) things like jogging to a metronome to encourage a higher cadence or faster leg turnover, “elasticity bounces” or quick jumps on the spot to bring focus to the foot strike, “pick-ups” or kicks up to your butt to help avoid overstriding and “exchanges,” where you stand on one foot with other foot raised in a “number 4” shape and switch to the other foot in one swift movement (pictured below). Obviously these are better explained in person or with photos, but hopefully you get the idea.

Sam discussed a specific technique goal and demonstrated the corresponding drill to achieve it, which the group then attempted either in place within two lines (pictured above – I’m in the pink top across from Sam) or moving forward and around a set of cones (as in the below).

  

So what did Sam define as elements of good running technique, supported by these drills? Some key points from her “Running technique” handout include the following:

  • Body posture – head up; eyes forward; torso upright (not bent forward at the waist – slight forward lean comes from the heels); pelvis in neutral (think of it as a bucket of water, that you don’t want to spill); and shoulders relaxed;
  • Arm position – elbows bent to at least 90 degrees and kept relatively close to the body, but rotated slightly inwards; movement from armpit not shoulders; and hands relaxed;
  • Legs/feet – land with the foot under the pelvis with bent knee, rather than in front of body; lead with the knee not the heel (as I do!); increase cadence to 180 steps or higher; bring the foot off the ground more quickly; pull the leg through more quickly with a strong knee bend; and move away from a pronounced heel or toe strike and towards a flatter landing.

Here we are, below, determining our cadence (steps per minute), which you can do by running for 60 seconds and counting how many times one foot lands (easier than trying to count both feet!), and then multiplying by two. We did this twice, and I hit 196 both times! This is a definite improvement since I first started to train with Sam.

After drills, Sam had us do a short run, where we ran at an easy/steady pace but concentrated on a specific aspect of our technique for one minute at a time. Because of the heat, this was cut short slightly, so in total we only ran about 1.8 miles in the entire morning session. We had to save ourselves for later, so we were told!

On our way back to the classroom, Sam did a second video analysis, to see how much of what he had learned had seeped into our technique. Obviously no one changes these things dramatically overnight, but it was still impressive how many of us, myself included, made some small improvements.

The air conditioning felt incredible when we went back inside for our short break. I had a big snack (half of my packed lunch, an amazing cous-cous salad I had cooked the day before), knowing I would struggle with my sensitive stomach to eat lunch and do speedwork in the heat less than two hours later. Sam then launched into her “talk and practical on running-specific strength” – like with the drills, she explained and demonstrated each exercise (things like the plank, bridge with knee lifts, lunges/squats etc., as well as slightly more obscure running specific exercises), and we then tried it on our mats. Much of this Sam had shown me before, but it helped to go through them and check with the coaches to make sure I was doing them all properly, since I had a few questions from when I used to do these more regularly.

Lunch was a “working lunch,” where we gathered into small groups and received feedback on our running videos while eating. Sam clicked through each frame (the clips were only two or three seconds long), showing us what we were doing well, and what we weren’t doing correctly. It was interesting to learn from others as well as from my own video – many of us were guilty of the same mistakes – primarily, heel striking and overstriding.

I was excited for the next segment – training programs – given that I still need to create my own Portland marathon training plan. Sam explained the various types of runs – recovery, threshold/tempo, VO2 max, long etc. and stressed the importance of ensuring that you go into each run knowing what purpose it serves in the context of your training. This was nothing new, but as with some of the other material, good to hear again.

I did, however, have many questions about preparing my own program and got some clarification on several things, including tempo runs (continuous running at a comfortably hard pace) versus threshold interval runs (also run at this pace, but as you would imagine, broken down into shorter periods of time with short recoveries). Although Sam only gave me the intervals to do during my two training cycles, which I had always wondered about, she said that I can alternate between the two in my upcoming program. She also provided me with other tips that I will think back on while building my own marathon schedule for the first time.

By this point, it was around 3pm and not only an oven out there but also a complete zoo in the park, with TONS of people, animals, vehicles and everything else you can imagine all around the place. In other words, it was the PERFECT time for a threshold interval session!

There I am at the start line of our loop – don’t I look thrilled to run 3 x 6min at 7:25 – 7:40 pace, with 90sec recoveries?! E obviously was equally excited. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but I’m happy to report that I somehow managed to hit an average pace of 7:27, despite the heat, crowds, a very unhappy stomach and slowing down at the end when I felt like I was going to die. Sam, Jeff and Suzy were each positioned at different parts of the loop to announce the time and, more importantly, encourage us to keep working hard in such tough conditions. That is where having a coach present during a training session can make a huge difference. Okay, and I confess that my competitive self managed to escape and ensured that I maintained my position at the front of the pack – but only because I had to hit my goal pace! Check out my Garmin entry to see how I did in more detail.

Finishing this session was a massive relief, not only because I wasn’t sure I would hit my target, but also because all that was left for the day was a nice long stretch session in the shade. It felt awesome, and it was also great to get feedback from the coaches on something that is so important, and yet far too often neglected after a run.

We returned to the classroom for some Q&A, said our goodbyes and then E and I made our way back home. We were exhausted, hot and hungry – but also feeling slightly ill, not only from the physical exertion but also from the mish-mash of foods we had eaten throughout the day (gatorade, flap-jacks, banana, cous-cous salad etc). Exercising in that type of heat really messes with you if you aren’t used to it, and if you aren’t careful about your nutrition and hydration. I think mostly, we were just tired.

But it was SO nice out by this point in the day, and everyone we knew had spent the afternoon lounging in the park, that we couldn’t help but stop for some pear cider in an outdoor cafe, which of course went straight to our heads. We then were suddenly starving and cooked up some Ostrich burgers. Turns out the whole combination was NOT the best idea and we spent the next hour lying on the floor (literally) curled up in a ball not feeling very well. Eventually it passed, and by perhaps 10pm it finally stopped feeling like a sauna outside, and we were able to look back on our day with a sense of achievement, as well as a new awareness of what we must improve going forward.

To check out Sam’s comments on how the workshop went, as well as to read about future workshops, click here.

Yep, it’s time for another travel adventure already! I can’t say that I’m excited for the 3:45am cab to the airport tomorrow (those early morning flights always seem like a great idea when booked months in advance), but I can’t wait for some proper summer weather while exploring the Amalfi Coast for four days!

A friend of E’s is getting married in Ravello – I’ve been to Sicily and all over Italy, but never to Naples and the Amalfi Coast, so of course I had to tag along. Also, technically speaking, my Portland Marathon training begins on Monday June 20th, so what better way to prepare for my next big effort than a bit of R&R, plenty of great food and wine (I’m going to a Jewish/Italian wedding…enough said), sunshine, swimming…

…And HILLS. My running shoes go pretty much everywhere I go, so I hope to fit in a short run or two. Given that we are essentially staying on top of a mountain, I can be pretty certain that any route I take will involve lots of hills. And guess what I just discovered? If I enjoy running down there, I can enter the Amalfi Coast Marathon, which this year will be held on December 18th. How convenient, since E and I are looking for a December marathon to do together. Check out this crazy course profile – it looks like a roller coaster!!

I commented that at least the entrance fee would be cheap (25 euro if we enter by the end of June) – to which E replied, “Yeah it’s cheap – if you don’t count the helicopter evacuation.”

Good point, E…So I’ll just go back to focusing on this weekend – and Iceland – and Portland – first. 🙂

I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a certified running coach ever since I started marathon training with my own coach, Sam Murphy, in 2009, and in particular, since I created this blog in December 2010. Usually, I’m not the type of person who signs up for personal training or coaching, primarily because it’s quite expensive and I can’t justify the cost. I love to run/exercise, I work hard and I devour running/general fitness articles, so it’s not like I need the motivation!

However, training for my first marathon was daunting, and although I’m sure I would have performed well had I simply trained and researched on my own, I wanted to make sure that I pushed myself as hard as possible without injuring myself. As many of you know, that’s a fine line!

Sam gave me the specific knowledge, structured training and support that really helped me reach my goals. Having someone there for me throughout the ups and downs of my training, armed with incredibly useful, tailored advice, was crucial to my success and in my opinion, worth every penny. So I guess it’s not that surprising that I would want to learn more and help other runners, after having had such a positive coaching experience of my own!

As some of my running buddies can tell you, I already act as an informal coach of sorts – dispensing various information when relevant, and often taking the lead as motivator in a more structured run. It would be wonderful to deepen my running knowledge not only to benefit my own training, but also to allow me to formally coach other runners safely and with greater confidence. Additionally, a coaching certification program would, of course, fit in VERY nicely with my current nutrition course!

Over the last week, I finally started to research how I could become a full-fledged running coach – both in the UK and the US, as it’s best to explore both options!

In the UK, United Kingdom Athletics offer a wide variety of coaching qualifications, including a Leadership in Running Fitness Award, which would qualify me as a UK Athletics level 1 coach. This course serves as a prerequisite for the level 2 Coach in Running Fitness Award, which is the qualification my coach holds and that I would like to achieve. Unfortunately, the timing isn’t ideal – the next LiRF course is in June, but there’s a possibility it may be cancelled due to a lack of interest and there isn’t another one that I can attend for awhile. Even if it isn’t cancelled, I must wait three months after completing it until I can enroll in the CiRF course, but there isn’t one currently scheduled anywhere close to London later in the year. I was told, however, that additional courses may be added, so I will keep checking the website.

Also, although the CiRF course is technically only three days, there is a period of several months in between the second and third day so that you can apply what you’ve learned before taking the final exam. This makes perfect sense, but that takes me to early 2012 if I’m lucky, and who knows where I’ll be then! Slightly more complicated than I had originally hoped, and I am kicking myself for not having looked into this sooner, but I obviously can’t let this discourage me.

Lastly, I need to consider the consequences, if any, of becoming qualified in the UK and ultimately coaching in the US. I suppose it would make more sense to study in the US if that is where I will eventually settle, but I’m not sure if it really matters with something like this. What do you think?

The Road Runners Club of America seems to be the UK Athletics equivalent in the US, and the best resource for a running coach qualification. Unfortunately, there aren’t many courses currently scheduled that have availability, and the only one that does is in Minnesota! No thanks. Apparently I can host a course in my area (I’ll be in CA in September, so that would be ideal), so I might look into that. I am a master organizer, after all! Anyone in the San Francisco or Los Angeles area interested in becoming a RRCA qualified running coach?! Otherwise, I’ve signed up to receive further information for additional courses that open up…fingers crossed!

So, I guess for the time being it seems that I cannot begin my coaching training as soon as I had hoped, but at least I have started the research process. I could perhaps just take the LiRF to jump start my training and leave me with the basics of coaching groups and in particular, beginner runners, and see where that leads me. I think I’ll sleep on it…

If anyone has any advice on this topic or anything else to add, please let me know!

I did!

I had a great 45-minute/5.75M fartlek run earlier today on the river. I hadn’t done fartlek training in ages, and was reminded of how liberating and fun it can be.

Unfamiliar with fartlek training?

Fartlek means “speedplay” in Swedish and is a type of interval training that was first established by coach Gösta Holmér in 1937 for his team of cross country runners. It is now a very popular technique among all runners, as well as athletes who practice many different sports.

Unlike a speed session at the track or on the treadmill, a fartlek run is characterized by its lack of structure and subjective nature. A typical run might last 45 minutes (or more), starting out with a warm up and then following the whims of the individual runner, who may choose to practice a variety of faster paces (ranging from steady to sprinting) for varying lengths of time or distances with slower recoveries interspersed throughout. A session can be relatively easy, extremely hard or somewhere in the middle, depending on what the runner wishes to do on that particular run.

What’s the best way to try out this technique?

A fartlek run can of course be done on the treadmill, but I believe it’s better (and more fun) to do this outdoors.

Start out your run with an easy or steady pace until you feel warmed up. If you’re outside, choose a landmark (a tree, bench, etc.) and run at a challenging pace until you reach it, then jog for a few minutes. Pick another goal – perhaps closer or further away, relative to the last one – and run to it (at the same, faster or slower pace, entirely up to you), then jog until you are recovered. If there are no good landmarks on your route or you are on the treadmill, then go by time.

The whole point of this run is to break free from routine, explore a wide variety of paces at different distances and to have some fun! If you’re training for a specific event and want to make your fartlek run more relevant, then you might want to include short, sharp bursts for 5/10k races and longer sections at your tempo pace for 10-milers and half-marathons.

What are the benefits of fartlek training?

I find the flexibility of this run incredibly appealing for many reasons. Firstly, fartlek gives you an opportunity to tailor your workout to how you are feeling, which is important because you should always pay close attention to any signals your body sends you. You have complete control over your speed and distance – no rules, no pressure!

It also gives you a mental break from training plans/other forms of routine without sacrificing your fitness goals (ie. if you want a tough workout, then make it challenging!). If you normally do your speed work on a treadmill or at the track, fartlek training can provide a change of scenery, which is important in preventing boredom and burnout. You’d be surprised by just how quickly the time flies when you’re constantly mixing up your pace and making it all up as you go along! It’s like playing a game – even better if you have a running partner, in which case you can take turns deciding what’s next, increasing the surprise factor.

Lastly, it’s a great way to ease into speed work if you are relatively new to interval training and would like to experiment with faster running, or if you’ve been taking a break from structured training (as I have) and want to squeeze in some speed without pushing yourself too hard too quickly.

What did I do today?

I hadn’t intended to do a fartlek run today, to be honest. I set out for what I thought would be an easy 5 miler along the river at lunchtime, but then five minutes into the run I hit a mass of obnoxious French students clogging up the pathway (a downside of lunchtime running – hordes of young kids, mostly foreign, everywhere). As I tried to get around them through a narrow passage, a kid who couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 years old nearly burned my leg with his cigarette as he stealthily held it by his side. Ah, the French.

I couldn’t deal and saw that we were approaching a bridge, so I sprinted up the stairs, over the bridge, down the stairs and around the front of the pack and left them in the distance. Whew. Then I thought – haven’t done speed work in awhile – that actually felt quite good! Maybe I should do that again…And so I did, followed by a series of strides, tempo intervals, steady intervals, and slow pacing all mixed up. It was quite challenging but really fun, and before I knew it, I had done nearly 6 miles!

So give fartlek a try if it isn’t already a part of your training regime – the name is a bit silly, but I bet you’ll enjoy it!

Now that I have finished training for the Fleet Half Marathon, perhaps you’re wondering what’s up next in my running calendar. To be perfectly honest, not all that much, which is both strange and liberating after such a race-filled year!

At the moment, the only event I have entered is the 17km Kentmere Challenge on June 4th in the Lake District, which I am running with a group of friends. I’m not planning on doing any structured training for this event, although I will obviously be doing a fair amount of running to stay in shape. I’ll probably have to throw in some hill training too, because based on my last trip up there, the trails look something like this:

I also hope to enter the Reykjavik half marathon on August 20th, as part of my desire to do more destination races. E did this race two years ago and we had hoped to run it together last summer, but the dates didn’t end up working out. I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland, so should be a fun long weekend if I can get the time off to go!

Other than that, I’ll probably do a local 5k park run and 10k, as well as a 10 miler (I’ve never done one!) and another half marathon somewhere in the UK (Canterbury perhaps?) to keep myself fit, but chances are no other “big” races for awhile. I had originally wanted to do a fall marathon – Berlin, Chicago or something more exotic like Kauai – but with the birth of my niece in August (and the fact that registration is now closed, for Berlin and Chicago at least), I’m going to postpone my next major marathon (ie one that I train for seriously) until next year. I need a break from PB-driven training, and that’s why I’m turning more to trail races and other “low key” events (as designated by me, that is) for the time being.

E and I are actually toying with the idea of entering an ultra over the summer, although we haven’t found one yet that is suitable in terms of location, distance and date that still has spaces. He is obsessed with running an ultra, and I told him I’d join but only if we start with 50k – it’s been awhile since I’ve run over 15 miles so I’d prefer not to dive right into a 50 or 100-miler! Hopefully he’s not still considering doing this crazy 50M trail race in the Lake District that he decided to enter awhile back. The race requires navigation skills (potentially in the dark), and given that he can hardly find his way around cities (remember my Effing Forest post?), I’m not sure it’s a good idea for him to attempt a solo 50 mile race in the mountains!

I’m also still clinging to my .01% chance of getting into Boston – if not, there’s always Big Sur, London, Napa or a number of other great races! We’ll see how it all shakes out…

So it’s going to be less fight and more flight for awhile. I’ve replaced my packed running schedule with an increasingly crazy travel schedule. It all kicks off with a long weekend in Morocco bright and early tomorrow morning…because the week after a big race wouldn’t be complete – to me at least – without a celebratory trip to cap it off!

Good luck to all you spring marathoners – hopefully the lovely weather will stick around to inspire your last weeks of training!

I had an interesting run yesterday. I was supposed to do some speed work, which normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but it had been two weeks since my last interval session and, as you know, I’ve been struggling a bit with my training recently. As I hopped on the treadmill, not exactly thrilled about what I needed to do, I asked myself whether I wanted to run my first interval slightly slower, to ease into things, or if I wanted to dive right in and trust that I could do all five reps at my usual pace. Something within told me to just go for it.

Since writing about the ups and downs of my recent relationship with running, I’ve been trying to make a greater effort to follow my own advice. On this occasion, the goal was to listen to my body rather than drown it out with music or other distractions. I had my ipod with me because I can’t survive the treadmill otherwise, but I didn’t use the music to dissociate, which is all too easy to do. Rather, the music was more like white noise, muffling the other sounds around me so that I could focus entirely on my own workout.

I’m really into using psychological techniques to push myself, as you may have read in some of my other posts, because they have worked well for me in the past. I am particularly fond of when I realize that I’m in the midst of a spontaneous, new mental exercise, which is what happened yesterday morning. I’ll try to explain my thought process, and hopefully won’t sound like a complete nutter in doing so.

While halfway through my first interval, I found myself thinking about the “Running” character I created. I imagined that “Running” was a real person on the treadmill beside me, morphing into various runners and non-runners in my life who inspire and motivate me. They each took turns sprinting by my side, commenting on how I felt and pushing me to each interval finish.

By the fourth interval, “Running” suddenly became less of an actual figure and more of an idea, a faint reflection in the glass in front of me. As I stared blankly ahead, my legs growing heavier with fatigue, my mind kept gravitating towards the word Trust. The word repeated over and over again in my head with every other step as I looked at my reflection – Trust. Trust. Trust. Trust.

It’s a very powerful and loaded word – particularly, I believe, when you’re talking about trusting yourself, whether in the context of running or any other challenges you face in your life. Having faith that you can attain your goal, get through a tough situation, or whatever else you are grappling with is crucial to succeeding. It often takes time to genuinely trust in your abilities, but even saying the words “Trust” or “Faith” to yourself when you’re struggling can help you in the process. It worked for me, at least.

Without actively thinking about any of this, “Running” suddenly asked me, “Do you trust me?” I hesitated but then replied, “Yes.” But this only prompted a more pressing, “DO YOU TRUST ME?” I felt an incredible energy surge through my body. “YES. I DO. I TRUST YOU. I TRUST YOU” I looked at the clock – only one more interval to go. I watched my hand increase the pace.

“Good. Let’s do this.”

As you may know, I am currently training for a half-marathon in mid March, as well as a 10K in early February. I hope to achieve PBs in both races.

I also am FINALLY going on vacation to Zanzibar later this week – seven days of much-needed relaxation and sunshine await me! I am beyond excited.

In light of my upcoming travels, I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss running and traveling, and how I enjoy one without sacrificing the other!

After my passport, camera & wallet, my Saucony's are my most important travel items!

I LOVE to travel – but I do not love coming home feeling like my fitness has suffered a severe setback. Thankfully, whether I’m enjoying a relaxing vacation or an intense city break, I can take my sport with me – I just need my running shoes and a sense of adventure! And as an added bonus, I get to experience my destination in a unique way.

When I’m not training for a specific event, I try to balance out my (inevitably) indulgent holiday eating with easy runs and/or other healthy activities, depending on where I am. I avoid the gym if possible to escape my routine, instead opting for more interesting things like climbing a monument or a hill for nice views; going on a hike or a self-guided walking tour; swimming in the ocean; or exploring my surroundings by bike – all combined with plenty of downtime, of course!

If I’m preparing for an important race, however, my exercise plans are slightly more rigid because I’m trying to squeeze in specific, and often more challenging, runs. Finding suitable and safe routes that suit my training needs can be a bit tricky when my location is unfamiliar, and in some cases, not runner-friendly. However, with a bit of advance research and planning, I have always been able to stay on track. Sure, I have had to adjust my plans slightly at times (i.e. I should forgo a late night of partying and have a drink or two at a bar instead, so that I can run 15 miles early tomorrow morning), but any compromise I have made has been worth it.

The benefits of packing your running shoes on your next trip

Running in foreign places, either close to home or very far away, is extremely GOOD for you as a runner, as well as a tourist, because you are exploring new routes (and perhaps, new terrains), taking in your surroundings with a fresh perspective, and subsequently, pre-empting that burnt-out, bored feeling that can emerge towards the end of a training cycle when you have done too much of the same thing for too long.

I HIGHLY recommend spicing up your training by taking it on the road. While I was training for the NYC marathon this past July – November, for example, I did my training runs and races not only all over London, but also in the following cities:

  • Trieste – 7M, mostly along the water (Very pretty, but hot!)
  • Dublin – 8M, through city center & around Phoenix Park (Not a very runner friendly city, but park was nice)
  • Stockholm – 7M & 9.5M, through city center & around Djurgården (incredible running city!!!!)
  • Burnham Beeches (South Buckinghamshire) – 13.1M race (Awesome, but hilly course)
  • San Francisco – 14M along the water & across the Golden Gate Bridge (Gorgeous!) ; 6M hill repeats on California Street (This is the city to do hills properly – nearly died!)
  • Santa Cruz –16M, Nisene Marks trail (Beautiful run in the mountains/redwoods); various shorter beach runs (good to mix up the terrain!)
  • Berlin – 17M, Tiergarten (Weekend before Berlin marathon, awesome! So many runners out and about!)
  • Brighton– 20M Jog Shop Jog (A grueling but literally breathtaking trail race in the South Downs)
  • Salisbury – 13.1M race (Another great, undulating half marathon)
  • NYC – 7M loop around Central Park, and of course, 26.2M on the marathon course!  (BEST. RACE. EVER.)

So as you can see, I certainly did not sacrifice my love of travel because I was preparing for a marathon – rather, all the variety actually inspired me to stay motivated throughout the 18 challenging weeks of training. For a few of these trips (i.e. the races), running was obviously the main purpose of my weekend away, and the travel/sightseeing was built around the event. But for the others, running was simply a fun (and productive) part of my summer and fall getaways, and most of my runs turned out to be highlights of my trips!

Not training for an event?

Who cares – bring your shoes anyway. It’s such an amazing way to explore a foreign place, or to get a new perspective on somewhere you’ve already seen. Even without an event on the horizon, mixing things up will still help stave off boredom in your general training!

One of my favorite running while travelling memories  is a 12M leisurely run that I did early on a gorgeous Saturday morning in Paris. I mapped out a circuit in advance to take in all the major sites – including Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. I had been to Paris many times before, but never had I seen it in this way! Given the hour, the streets  were completely deserted – it was so peaceful and quiet, without the hordes of tourists and normal hustle and bustle. It also proved to be an important run because only seven months later, I would run much of that same route as part of the Paris marathon!

Tackling the Logistics: Where to run

I often do some research in advance on running routes, particularly if I need to do a specific type of run.

1) Hotel concierge/B&B owner/local friend: Call or email the concierge or owner in advance of your trip for running advice and to find out if you have access to a treadmill, if necessary. The help I’ve received has ranged from practically nothing to speaking with the hotel’s “running specialist,” so it never hurts to ask! If you’re visiting a friend, then hopefully you can get even better advice. If possible, I try to stay somewhere that is close to a park or elsewhere nice to run, or I make sure I can get to a good running spot via public transport.

2) Online resources: In addition to the above, I consult Map My Run, either to plan my own routes or to check out the saved routes of other runners in the area. I also do some google searches on running where I’m going, including research on local running clubs that may be able to provide advice or even running partners. Run the Planet is another good resource.

Once you find your run

When I’m running in a foreign place, I always carry ID, a cell phone (if it works), some cash, a credit card and the hotel business card or contact info of a friend. Ideally, I’ll run with someone, or if I’m alone, I don’t listen to music so that I’m extra aware of my surroundings. I also only run when it’s light out, but early enough in the morning to avoid the crowds and experience my destination in a special, peaceful way. Obvious stuff, really!

If you still don’t know where to run

If after all my searching, I discover that my destination is not runner friendly and/or I need to do a specific speed session that cannot be completed successfully outdoors, then I turn to the treadmill, if I happen to have access to one. That is of course the most convenient option, and solves the issue of safety/getting lost/bad weather etc, but it’s also the least fun!

If I can’t find myself a treadmill…well, then I guess I’m out of luck, and instead enjoy myself doing other active things! If I’m training for a big event, however, I would have done all this research before booking the trip, and thus if it’s an option, would choose to travel to this destination at a later date when I don’t have to run. Or, if it’s only a relatively short trip, I’ll just rearrange my schedule so that I do my important runs before or after I travel.

Last but not least, the Destination Race

This is my favorite option – not like you need an excuse to travel OR race in a particular place, but why not combine the two to get the best of both worlds? I can’t think of a better way to experience a city than to OWN its streets, temporarily, and take in the major sights as hundreds, thousands or even millions of locals cheer you on, followed by a big celebration of your achievement!

Make a list of your top travel destinations – I bet that each one hosts a marathon, half marathon or other race at some point in the year. I also am in the process of populating my 2011 race calendar with races that I, at least, think sound fun! Choose one (or several), and plan a trip around that the event – you certainly won’t have to worry about the route, safety, or anything else other than enjoying yourself and getting to the finish line!

My Zanzibar running plan

Apparently there is a Zanzibar triathlon and marathon that takes place in November, so surely I can find somewhere to run! I know that I’ll cut back on the mileage and intensity of my runs while I’m away – it is a vacation afterall – but I will still try to run 3-4 times, since my 10K race is right when I get back. Most likely, I will train on the beach (because I’ve been warned that African drivers are “a bit special” by our hotel manager) and will recruit my boyfriend to join me. I just checked the weather – even at 7am it’s still in the high 80s – so that will be a challenge, but it will be good for me after so much winter training. I will also naturally get some cross training in by swimming in the ocean and going on walks.

But for the most part, I’m going to lie on the beach, soak up the sunshine, eat a lot of food and RELAX!!

Welcome to FFR

Hi, I'm Claire! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RD, CDN) and a Road Runners Club of America certified coach. This is where I share my latest adventures in running, racing, food & travel! If you'd like to work with me, please visit my professional website, Eat for Endurance.

My PRs

Marathon (Chicago): 3:33:18
Boston Marathon: 3:36:14
Half-Marathon: 1:37:21
10M: 1:14:52
10k: 44:52

My latest photos

This morning's breakfast bowl isn't exactly pretty, but really delicious and filling! Two fried eggs in a pan with black beans (I used 1/2 cup = 1 serving), a little feta, a few spoonfuls of ricotta, some pesto (random but had some leftover and tastes great with eggs), and 1/4 avocado. Cooked all together for a high protein tasty breakfast! Awesome @onepeloton endurance ride earlier today with my buddy @mattwilpers before enjoying some family time outdoors on this beautiful day. Arielle came to visit afterwards and clearly is a big Peloton fan too! Speaking of which, check out the latest episode of the Clip Out (a Peloton fan podcast) - had such a great time talking all things nutrition and Peloton with @clipoutcrystal and Tom, who are hilarious btw! (Link in bio - my segment ~20min in). Wishing everyone a very happy first day of Fall! 🍁🍂 It's my favorite time of year to get out into nature and go for a run. L'Shana Tova to those who celebrate! We started the New Year with some apple picking at @wilkloworchards on our way back to NYC yesterday. Was so much fun, and Arielle was a great little helper! We don't have much food in the house after being away so these crisp local apples with almond butter will be our tasty, healthy snacks today. Getting ready for the loooong drive back to NYC after unplugging in Lake Placid for my bday! Fueling with a bowl of 5% plain Greek yogurt, bananas, peaches, and apple cinnamon granola. Not much of a view from our balcony this morning of Mirror Lake - swipe right for our view yesterday! So beautiful and peaceful here - minus screaming baby, of course. 😂 #Tbt to earlier this week, when one of my awesome @nutritionenergy clients surprised me with a @levainbakery cookie after we talked about them at our last session. I had planned to save half for my husband (those cookies are seriously dense!), but it was so delicious, I changed my mind and had the second half later in the day. Did I feel bad about it afterwards? Did I end up skipping dinner or working out more to compensate? Nope! I had already eaten a healthy balanced lunch, and it's not everyday that I enjoy such a decadent treat (although you will find me having smaller treats quite often 😀).

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