Crap Happens: Dealing With A Terrible Race Finish (Or Non-Finish)

Greetings from Michigan, where we are enjoying the lake and a newly walking 10 month old.  Yikes!

It has been nearly two weeks since I ran (or should I say, “attempted to run”) Grandma’s Marathon.  It was a pretty awful experience all around.  I knew by mile 5 that my race goals were out the door.  By mile 13 I was calling Rock to let him know that I was going to DNF.  At mile 16 I tried to call him and it didn’t go through.  I cursed him for the next three miles as I ran to the next drop bus.  I got to the bus and texted a friend to let her know I was’t going to finish.  The text failed to go through and that was what lead me to decide to finish however I possibly could.

Let me be honest and tell you that there were three other factors that made me want to finish.  I had a drop bag at the end that held one of my favorite pair of running shorts.  I didn’t want to lose them.  Grandma’s doesn’t give you a shirt at the expo, you earn it when you cross the finish.  Finally, I wanted that damn medal.  I trained, I paid a boat load for a hotel room, and I left my baby girl at home for the weekend.  I was getting that damn medal!

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So what happens when you have a crappy race?  First of all, it blows.  I called Rock on the course to let him know that I wasn’t going to finish and he had some great advice for me.

You probably know that I am a certified running coach.  But I likely haven’t mentioned that Rock is also an RRCA certified running coach.  Together we run a sports training business. We train young athletes but we also have trained hundreds of runners together over the years.

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When I told him what was going on, the first thing he mentioned was that this is humbling.  He has been there himself.  We’ve watched athletes fall apart in races or end up unexpectedly injured during a race.  It is absolutely humbling.  It certainly isn’t the way you foresee a race going.  It isn’t what you train for.  And in fact, it somewhat pisses you off that you trained that hard and that long, only to have this experience.

Next, he reminded me of some sage advice that Dean Karnazes gave a friend of mine after an ultra-marathon gone bad.  DNF=Did Nothing Foolish.  If you are hurting, or if it isn’t meant to be, it is wiser to stop when you need to, than to push on.  Many a runner has been in similar conditions and has pushed themselves to the brink, only to end up with serious injuries including heat stroke.

When I knew that I was going to press on,  I realized it was going to be a tough finish.  But I knew that I wasn’t putting myself in harm’s way.  I could drop out at any moment.  In fact, when they raised the black “Extremely High Risk,” flags I assumed I was going to be informed that the race was closed.

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What are your options when a race goes downhill?

Scenario 1:

•If you know that your health isn’t in danger, you can keep going.  Assess your situation.  Are you in danger?  Can you keep moving?

•Slow down, ignore your GPS and just finish the best way that you can.  For me, cramping set in and I had to walk, a lot.  At that point I was okay with it.  My only goal was to finish.  Sometimes we have to let go and forget what our original goals were and be okay with that.

•Stay hydrated and stay fueled.  Try to make the the best of the situation.  Enjoy the crowd support.  (I gave a shout out to a woman with a sign that said “Giving Birth Is Harder Than This” and it was also a great reminder!).  Misery loves company.  Chat with a fellow struggler and work together as a team.

Scenario 2:

•If your health is at risk, you have nothing left to give, or you are just plain over it, go ahead and get on that bus.  There is nothing wrong with calling it a day.   Don’t be a hero.  Know your limits.

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•Give your body some time to rest and recover.  And I mean A LOT  of time.  Let your muscles repair.  Let your mind recover from the trauma of a crappy race.  Let your body forget about the training it just went through.  And let your body fall back in love with running.

•Then you can reassess.  Do you want revenge?  Are you over it?  Don’t make any rash decisions.  Figure out what is best for you.

It is important to remember that running is tough.  It takes a toll on both your body and your mind.  Most runners need a break after a race; even a disappointing one.  Take some time and enjoy life and cross training.  Distances like the marathon will never be tamed and it is important to keep that in perspective.  You can train for months in the smartest and most efficient way, but the distance and the sport will always have a leg up on you.

My Favorite Injury Prevention Accessories

One of the hardest parts of training for any race is avoiding the pitfalls of injuries.  Even the most seasoned and wisest athletes end up plagued with some sort of ache or pain.  Whether it is just something nagging or an injury that leaves you sidelined for awhile, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.

I have been injured numerous times.  From nagging plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis to stupid little aches that won’t go away; I have seen my share of annoyances.  Regardless of how well thought out a plan is or how well your body handles mileage, these things happen.  And your best defense is a sweet arsenal.  Below are some of my favorites and the best part is, most of them are super simple and easy to have around:

Lacrosse Balls:

Lucky for us, we coach a lacrosse program and we always have these on hand.  Lacrosse balls work incredibly well to get at knots in your muscles.  During almost an entire marathon training cycle of 16 weeks I had horrible piriformis pain one year.  It was terrible!  The one thing that provided relief was sitting on a lacrosse ball.  In fact, I kept one in the car and sat on it during every ride home from a long run.

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Just make sure you buy the white hard balls that are used to play actual games with and not the soft practice balls.  Those won’t provide nearly the same relief.

The Stick:

This is one of those “hurts so good” tools.  We runners are gluttons for punishment and our pain management is no exception.  The Stick is like a rolling pin with little wheels on it which allow the tool to get deep into painful and sore muscles.  You can use it on any “meaty” area of your body.  Go ahead and dig deep or have a partner help you out.  This bad boy can get deep into muscles and break down knots and areas of painful buildup.  Just don’t use it on a hard area of the body like your shoulders or spine.  It won’t do anything to help you and it will hurt like heck!

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Dixie Cups:

Funny story here.  I cannot type this out without thinking of the song “Going To The Chapel” by the Dixie Cups.  When I was in 7th grade my buddy Anna and I were in math together and were a team for a stock market challenge.  She insisted this be our team name and we killed it.  So lesson learned, always look to the Dixie Cups.

Honestly though, these work super duper well for icing.  Buy the size cups you would use at the dentist’s office to swish with (small).  Fill them up and leave them in the freezer.  When you need to do an ice treatment just pull one out, tear away the top portion of the paper and use the bottom of the cup as your handle.  This allows you to work the ice around the actual injured area as opposed to an ice pack plopped down in a general spot.

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Compression Sleeves:

I cannot sing the praises enough for these things.  Skip them on the run because then you just have a sweat rag wrapped around your calves.  Instead, throw these on after your run or do what I do and wear them to sleep (ladies the men go wild for this kind of nightwear!).

Compression sleeves after a run will help speed up recovery and keep swelling and inflammation away.  If you are experiencing calf or shin pain, or tend to be prone to a slow recovery after long runs, these are perfect for you.  I also recommend these for athletes who know they are prone to aches and pains at certain points in training.  There is nothing wrong with a preemptive strike when it comes to compression.

Just make sure you buy the right size for you.  You want these to be very snug on you without cutting off your circulation.  And while these can be rather pricey (around $40 a pair) I truly believe they are worth every penny and recommend having two pairs if you can.  If you are on a tight budget you can also find slightly less expensive brands at stores like Target.  However, this is one that I don’t mess around with because I know it makes a big difference in my training.

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Coconut Oil:

This stuff is crazy awesome for so many reasons.  In fact, at some point I will do a post on the dozens of ways I like to use coconut oil.  But I have found this to be the perfect massage treatment.  It comes in a jar and tends to be hard at room temperature.  Just run it under some hot water and then pour a little out into your hands.  Apply to the painful or tight area and go to town with your hands and fingers.  The slickness of the oil allows you to really dig deep into muscles.  It doesn’t dry up too quick so you don’t have to apply it over and over again.  And a little bit goes a long way.  Plus you will have silky smooth skin after each use.

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While you are at it, wet the ends of your hair and apply some oil.  I like to do this and pull my hair into a bun and then go for a run.  Typically the sweat and sun dry the ends of my hair out.  So I use an hour long run as my hair therapy.  When I get home I just wash it out and condition my hair as usual and my ends look healthy and shiny.  This one might not make you a better runner but who doesn’t feel better running when they like how they look?!

Setting Realistic Goals

I love this time of year.  Besides the fact that the leaves are finally on the trees, you can smell the freshly mowed grass everywhere, and shorts are back in my running wardrobe, this is also the start of racing season.  Spring and summer get us all in the mood to run more and races can be found on just about every weekend.  Right now I am in NYC for a few weeks and you can even find weekday evening races too!

This is also the start of marathon season.  I have started hearing from a lot of athletes who are looking to run a summer or fall half or full marathon.  Nothing gets me more excited than sitting down with an athlete and mapping out a plan of action for their first, second, or perhaps even 20th marathon.  I really mean it when I say that having an endurance race to train for over the next few months is the perfect prescription to ensure you have an incredible summer.

When I sit down with athletes I often ask them several questions about their running history.  I want to know how many races they have done at various distances and what their results were.  I also need to know what their goals are besides finishing a race.  As you know from reading this blog, I am a big fan of Goal Setting.  It helps to keep us motivated and also maps out a plan of action for upcoming events.  Without a goal in mind we can be running blindly during training without a real direction to head for.

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There are of course all sorts of goals.  It is absolutely reasonable for first timers at a new distance to have a goal of simply finishing.  Many people hope to run the entire course without taking walk breaks.  The goal of not hitting the dreaded wall is a great one and requires that you focus on finding a reasonable pace along with a fueling plan that keeps you moving.

Time goals are excellent as well.  I think for first timers at new distances this can be tricky and you need to be careful that you don’t raise the bar too high.  The other difficult task with this is not using a previous race time from too long ago or a distance that is too short to reasonably measure a predictable goal pace.

I have been working with a lot of runners lately and there seems to be one goal that rings familiar with many athletes.  “I want to qualify for Boston.”  This is an absolutely fantastic goal and a pivotal one for many of us runners.  It is important to remember however that the BAA sets the bar high, especially for men.  Unfortunately, for many people I work with, their previous race times are often very far off from what is needed for Boston. I hate to be a bubble burster and I never want to be negative Coach Sarah.  Whatever your goals are, I am happy to help you reach them.  But I think it is important to keep a few factors in mind when you set race goals:

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Cutting slivers off is easier than chunks sometimes.  First of all, this rule does not count for dessert.  You should always cut chunks off of dessert rather than slivers.  But when you take previous race times, it is important to remember that finish times often shave off in slivers.  That is not to say that I haven’t had a marathoner improve his PR by 30 minutes or more.  That can absolutely happen, but it is not always the norm.

Generally speaking, you will need to plan on doing a lot of speed work to improve a race time by a large amount.  Other factors such as improved fitness level, weight loss, and experience will also help increase your odds of making a big leap.

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You can’t take a 5k pace and multiply it by 8 to get a marathon time.  This happens A LOT!  And sadly, this will lead to very unreasonable expectations.  You can take a 5k result to get a general idea of a 10k prediction and the same rings true for a half marathon vs. a full marathon.  But they do not completely translate by doubling the numbers.  It is highly unlikely that you will run your half marathon pace for a full marathon.  You are much better off using a race prediction calculator.  Plug in your most recent race time and it will give you a reasonable idea of where you would finish under similar course conditions.  This will not however factor in weather or terrain changes.

This is my favorite Race Time Predictor.

If you aren’t currently running a pace that is somewhat near a BQ pace during a 5k or even 10k, it will be extremely difficult to run that pace for 26.2 miles.  This is the hardest one for me as a coach to have to share with you.  I get many athletes who give me a decent 5k time and then say they want to qualify for Boston.  The problem is, running a 7:30 pace for a 5k and needing a 7:04 pace to BQ are very, very different things.  A 5k is a sprint for us endurance runners.  Sadly, maintaining your 5k pace alone would be nearly impossible for 20+ miles.

A training plan is a guide to help your body learn to handle the mileage and improve your pace over 16-20 weeks.  It is not however a miracle worker.  Be honest with yourself when you look at goal paces and make sure you really think about just how long 26.2 miles is to sustain that pace for.

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Don’t be afraid to change your goals.  Sometimes we get half way through training and realize that what we originally set out for might not come to fruition.  That’s okay and it is totally fine to readjust your plan.  Honestly, it is better to go into a race with realistic goals than to set yourself up for failure.  Nothing is more frustrating that getting 2 miles into a half marathon and realizing you are nowhere near where you want to be.  Goals are not set in stone and there is nothing wrong with making some game changes along the way.

A Lovely Spring Or Maybe Summer Weekend

Happy Monday.  What a beautiful weekend we had here in Chicago.  I hope yours was as warm and lovely as ours. A few weekends ago we were treated to something similar and I got a little excited but was later thrown back into cold and dark weather for what seemed like weeks.

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It was so wonderful to wake up on Saturday to sunny skies and warmer weather.  In fact, it was warm enough that I wore shorts and a singlet to our early morning group run.

Saturday was a big one for Team Momentum.  It marked our final (big) long run before the half marathon in two weeks.  We had 12 miles on the plan, the longest run during our training and for many their longest run ever.  There is something so exciting about helping athletes get through that last big hurdle whether it is the 20 miler before a marathon or this 12 before the half.  That first longest run for anyone is rarely ever easy and it often comes with many struggles.  But as someone who loves long training runs I really truly enjoy sharing those moments with newer runners and watching them transform over the course of their training.

Having warm and beautiful weather was the icing on the cake.  And someone brought donuts for the end of the run.  The pregnant coach also keeps a 12 pack of LaCroix in the car at all times these days (hey, you’ve got to hydrate!).  So we had a lovely donut and Passion Fruit LaCroix tailgate party after the run.  It honestly doesn’t get much better than that after a long sweaty training session.

My favorite way to follow up an early morning long run is with a nice long nap.  My buddy Louie has recently been given some freedom in the house and no longer gets caged up when I lay down for a little rest.  Funny enough, he likes to follow suit and hits his bed anytime I opt for a little afternoon nap.  I think it is the cutest thing to wake up to this.

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The rest of the weekend was complete with lots of walks with the dog and more incredible weather.  While Saturday stayed in the 70’s, Sunday jumped right into the 80’s.  It honestly felt like summer and I took that as my cue to throw on some summer clothes.  Hello shorts and tanks!

How was your weekend?  Any long runs or races?

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I’ve had several people ask where my pregnancy pics are and I just don’t really have any. I took a quick selfie before I left for church yesterday. I think Louie is saying, “Can you believe how big that belly is getting?!” This marked 23 weeks.

Congrats to all of the Team Momentum members who finished their final long run and are now tapering for their half marathon.  Way to go team!

Setting Race Goals

One of the best motivational factors you can use during your training is goals.  For most of us, goals help keep us going.  We runners are a driven bunch and we are often driven by numbers.  They can be a useful tool but it is key to set out towards achievable and realistic goals.  It is also important to have a back up plan or two.  As many of us know, even the most seasoned runner never knows what will happen on race day.  We need to plan on both the best and the even not so best situations.

Usually we have a time goal in mind for most events.  While this is great, it is important that you know what your abilities are and what a realistic time would be for you.  There are several resources, including websites that will help you figure out your projected finish time for a given distance based on a previous race or time trial.  These are extremely helpful but are obviously not exact.  However, I think this can be very useful to determine what a likely finish time would be for a race, especially a longer distance like a half or full marathon if you have never done one before.

I once coached a runner who had done a moderate 10k pace and expressed interest in running a 3:30 marathon.  This would be her first marathon and her former times had her running an average pace of 9:00-10:00 min/miles.  While this was a great long term goal for her to possibly work for, I felt that it was very unrealistic for her to believe that would be her expected finish time during an 18 week training session.  Using a resource to determine what her finish might be was helpful for painting a better picture of what we should expect.

While PR’s or certain finish times are great goals to have in mind, there are plenty of other goals you can set for yourself.  One of the most common I hear is the plan to not walk.  This is a great one and if you have been following a training plan, it should be relatively achievable.  Other things to aspire for might be to fuel properly so that you don’t hit a wall, to take in the sights of a particular race, or to just plain have fun.

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Whenever you set goals for yourself I recommend having an A, B, and C goal to aspire for; otherwise known as Best Case Scenario, Next Best Case Scenario, and Better Than Not Scenario.  By doing this you are avoiding setting yourself up for failure.

Say you set out to train for a particular distance and you have a time goal in mind.  After all of your training, race day arrives and shortly into the run you realize that your body is just not doing what you had hoped of it.  Two miles into a race you see that you are going to fall short of your goal.  If that is your one and only plan for that race, it will be a major let down.  In fact, it would be easy to let yourself give up.  Mentally, you need something else to fall back on.

However, by having a B and C goal to aspire for, all hope is not lost.  You can still make something happen with this race.

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The key to setting those B and C goals is to have a plan to make them work for you under almost any circumstance.  While  a PR is a great A plan, a good B plan would be to finish under a “next best time” or perhaps to jog the whole way and not walk.  Then you need to set a “less than desirable situation goal.”  Perhaps this one would be to smile the whole time, or to high five any kids you see along the course.  The C situation should be something that you will likely achieve, even under less than ideal circumstances.  And yes, finishing no matter what is an excellent goal.

By having a game plan with an A, B, and C scenario you are setting yourself up for a successful race that will help get you all the way to the finish and with a positive attitude.

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What kind of goals do you like to set before a race?

Deciding To Do Your First Half Marathon

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The half marathon is really a pretty unfair name.  Having completed both full and half marathons I can safely say that a half marathon is a whole heck of a race.  In fact for most runners, deciding to do a half marathon is going to be the first race that you are really going to have to truly commit some time to training for.  Running 13.1 miles for the first time is a challenge, but it is also fun.  It is long and hard, yet also attainable for most runners.

On the bright side, if you have already run up to 5 miles recently you are capable of finishing a half.  So if you have been making the training leap from 5K to 10K, you are ready for the next hurdle.

Now might be the time when you start considering adding in some speed training such as intervals or tempo runs to help pick up your pace and help to push you along the distance a little faster.  If you are not ready for that yet, you will still be just fine training for this distance.

The main commitment you will need to make is for the weekly long run.  I prefer to do my long runs on Saturday morning so that I have the rest of my weekend to enjoy, preferably with a post run cocktail and yummy meal.  That way I can still go out on Saturday night if I am feeling up to it and I have all day Sunday to rest and recuperate those tired muscles.

Your weekly long runs will likely build up for a few weeks and then slowly taper down.  For a beginning half marathon runner who has already run up to 5 miles, I recommend approximately 9-10 weeks of training.  You can find several useful tools online to help you create a training program.  Runner’s World is an excellent resource for finding training plans.  I also recommend Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway and Jack Daniels (the coach not the drink).

A few things to keep in mind when you are training:

It is ok to take walk breaks.  Hal Higdon strongly emphasizes in his training plans that it is ok to walk.  Jeff Galloway even creates his programs based on running and walking in combination.  If you need walk breaks, take them.  It is not going to ruin your chances of crossing the finish line.  If anything it will keep you from being sidelined with an injury before you get there.  Don’t worry, as you continue training you will become a stronger runner and those miles will start to fly by.

Every mile is different.  I am a running dork and I love running  long distances.  For years I have been taking my mileage to my own personal extremes and pushing myself to see how far I can go.    Yesterday I wanted to get one last long run on the hard packed sand of Florida.  The wind was working in my favor so I had my parents drop me off at a pier 10 miles from their condo.  It was morning, the sun was shining and there was a cool breeze at my back.  As I started I was feeling great.  I felt like I could run forever and each mile was getting faster.  By mile 4 I decided I was going to push it a bit and run a half marathon just to run a half marathon.  By mile 6 I was starting to think I was over this whole 10 mile run and ready to take a break.  By mile 8 I was feeling amazing again and flew down the beach.

I ended up stopping at 10 miles but the lesson learned is that just because you start to feel rough during your run doesn’t mean that feeling will last.  On the flip side, just because you are feeling awesome on a run doesn’t mean you should start running at a faster than normal pace because you might soon hit that dark side of the run.  Keep those long runs evenly paced and if things start to feel discouraging, remember this too shall pass.

Keep your long runs slow.  Long training runs are meant to be run at a conversation pace.  This is likely a full minute to a minute and a half slower than your normal pace.  The reason for this is because you are not logging those runs to make sure you cross the finish line at a certain pace but instead to train your body to be on your feet for long periods of time.  You are training your muscles, cardiovascular system and body to handle staying on the road for such a long and rigorous time.  If you are worried about finishing your race in a certain time limit that is where your speed training comes into play.  So keep those long runs nice and slow.

Finally, eat and drink like a champion.  This means lost of water and lots of healthy food.  In fact, as you continue to run you will start to find yourself naturally reaching for healthier foods because your body will crave it.  Pack in those veggies, fruit and healthy proteins.  Keep downing lots of water and avoid sugary drinks.  And don’t worry…even champions drink their wine and beer, just in moderation!

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The half marathon is a really fun race.  You will find runners of all ages, sizes, and abilities.  Take your time and have fun.  I personally love this distance because it is long enough to really make you feel like you had to work to get there, but you don’t have to train as hard or commit as much time as you would for a marathon.  Stick to your training and you will proudly come home with a shiny finisher’s medal around your neck.

A little side effect from the high mileage.  My poor middle toe has no polish on it.  So ugly but that's the way  running goes!

A little side effect from the high mileage. My poor middle toe has no polish on it. So ugly but that’s the way running goes! I fear its days are numbered.