Stop Lights & Running- It’s A Love/Hate Relationship

Last week I did one last final long(ish) run in Florida before we headed back north.  I started out feeling great.  I thought this was going to be the one where I took on the world.  Four miles into my 10 planned miles, I knew it was going to be another  struggle.

I spent the past few weeks really looking forward to my time in warm weather.  However, like clockwork, anytime my husband has to go away for work in the winter, we get hit with illness and a storm.  We got nailed with two of each!  With two sick kids and a driveway full of snow, I opted to shovel while they napped.  Unfortunately, the snow banks got so high that I had to kick the shovel up over the drifts to make any progress.  All of this culminated in a doozy of a tight glute/hamstring.

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Repeat picture.  I will continue to whine about it until it is gone!

My first few runs in Florida were frustratingly slow, not only due to the heat, but also because my right leg literally dragged on the ground with each stride.  My shoe was even worn down on the heel!  By the end of the trip I had stretched and worked the muscles out enough that most of my runs were endurable, but they still tightened up as my miles progressed.

On that last run, I was nearing the end when I saw a stop light up ahead.  In the past, I would normally plead with the light to stay green so I could keep going and maintain my pace.  This one was a little different.  I actually spent a quarter of a mile watching the light change, trying to figure out if I would be lucky enough to get the red light.

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I laughed at my whiney, miserable self.  Look at me here, begging my muscles to pound out a few more miles, pleading my sweaty self to go just a little further.  At the same time, I was hoping fate would force me into a break.

This made me think of marathons where courses run across train tracks.  There have been instances where runners have been forced to stop to allow a train to cross.  We have all heard of the runners who were on par for a PR or a BQ who were forced to stop and were furious with the race and their results.   But I had to question, how many runners secretly thought, “Thank goodness.  I’ve been dying for an excuse to stop!”  Then they can also later say they ran a X:XX marathon, but that would have been much faster had they not been forced to stop for a train crossing.

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This may have been more accurate.

Those stop lights can be a funny thing.  You can use them to your advantage, regardless of whether you want to keep going or you need an excuse to stop.  I have a new appreciation for those annoying red lights.  At least for now.

Red lights- nay or yay?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Colds & Flu- To Run Or Not To Run

Many runners ask me if they should continue running when they have a cold.  The answer isn’t always easy, but it certainly is if you have the flu.

I’ve touched upon this subject in the past, but I wanted to take a look at this topic again, because we were visited by both in the past few weeks.  Firsthand knowledge is always helpful.  Or at least, that is the positive spin I am trying to put on this situation.

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The whole family got hit with a bug!

Several years ago I attended a fantastic presentation given by Matt Fitzgerald, one of the leading experts in the sport of running.  One of the attendees asked Mr. Fitzgerald his opinion on running with a cold.  He firmly replied that if you have a cold and are not running a fever, it is fine to run.  In fact, some research shows that running might help shorten your cold and ease some of the symptoms.

Running releases adrenaline, which not only boosts your mood after a workout, but it can also work as a decongestant.  This can help break up some of that stuffiness you might be feeling.

Many runners ask me what they should do when they have a cold and are training for races and I always recommend that you listen to your body.  If you are feeling achy or really under the weather, skip a workout and enjoy the rest.  However, if you are experiencing a runny nose and nagging cough, a slow and easy run might give you that boost to feel better for the rest of the day and get rid of some of that stuffiness that is making you feel so miserable.  Just plan on bringing along tissues or turning into a snotty mess.

A few weeks ago, I started the weekend out with some annoying stuffiness and chest congestion.  I used my runs as a way to get things moving along and generally felt better.  By Monday morning, I woke up feeling like my stomach was on fire.  I chalked it up to eating a lot of crappy food that I normally don’t consume over the weekend.

Two days later, my stomach was still feeling awful.  I was lethargic and my muscles felt wiped out.  I tried going for a run, hoping a good sweat would help, but ended up doing run/walk intervals to get me through.  It was then that I realized, I wasn’t just dealing with a cold.  Something had hit me and I needed to graciously bow out of the running game.

Later in the week, we got a call from school.  Our 3 year old came home with a sick tummy.  After several days of fevers, she was on the mend.  Her good friend Daniel Tiger gave the best advice she needed, “When you are sick, rest is best.  Rest is best.”  Thank you tiger friend for giving our wild 3 year old the understanding that sometimes we just need to slow down.

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Rest really is best. Two days later!

When it comes to the flu, or times when you have a fever, muscle aches, or lethargy, it is time to rest.  Skip the run and spend some time on the couch or back in bed.  We runners know all about recovery when it comes to our training plans.  Sometimes our health has other plans.  If you have the flu or other symptoms that sideline you, push the training plan aside and opt for rest.

Don’t fret that it will hurt your training.  In fact, if you try to push through with a plan while you are truly sick, you are going to delay your recovery.  A few days or even a week off, if carefully planned, will not sideline you.  Take a look at your plan or chat with your coach and find a way to adjust.  You can almost always find a way to make things work.

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Listen to the expert.

If you have a cold, ease up on your runs.  It might be a good idea to skip speed work.  Slow your runs down and focus on quality aerobic workouts.  These are your base, the foundation, of your training.  In the long run, you aren’t going to get faster by pushing the pace when you are run down.  Instead, focus on building that base of your training by slowing down and just getting in some miles.

Never underestimate the power of a healthy eating plan and hydration.  Drink plenty of fluids when you are feeling under the weather and avoid dairy, which might worsen your congestion.

What do you prefer to do when you aren’t feeling well?  Do you find that you feel better after a run when you have a cold?

Legs Feel Like Lead When Running- It’s Normal and Not

After blogging for over five years, the most viewed post on my website is about Legs Feeling Like Lead When Running.  Check out the link if you want to read some of my older content.  Then continue on for some updated information.

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I still remember the inspiration for that initial post.  It was our first winter in Chicago and I was determined to not let the weather get the best of my running.  I spent a few days trapped inside during our first Polar Vortex.  After one snow storm, I headed out for a nice long run.  I had to run through snow hills and many sidewalks that hadn’t been shoveled (shame on you non-shovelers!).  It was miserable.  After a few days of this my legs just felt so heavy.  The extra effort it took to get over hills or through slushy paths, reminded me of marathon training.

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At the same time, I had several runners training for various spring half and full marathons and they were asking me if it was normal for their legs to feel tired.

The answer is Yes.  And No.

The marathon, by nature, is meant to build you up and break you down.  You take your body to places you haven’t been before.  You run more miles than you normally would.  You often do training runs that push paces beyond what you are used to.  All of this will cause your legs to be tired.

Your legs will feel tired and heavy. That is normal at times.  But there are also ways to help combat that constant heavy feeling:

Run your slow runs slowly.  If your training plan calls for slow training runs, do these as planned.  They allow you to run faster and longer on your other training days.

By running faster on your planned slow days, you are not making yourself faster or stronger.  You are delaying recovery and defeating the purpose of your run.  Slow runs train you to become more aerobically efficient and allow your body to recover.  If you ignore these paces, you risk injury.

If you run too fast on your slow days, you also make it harder to run fast on the days when your training requires these paces.  By running slow on required slow pace days, you will be able to run faster on the days where workouts push the pace.

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Treat your body well.  Recovery is essential to training.  Fuel with carbohydrates 30 minutes after a training run.  If your body is aching, pull out the foam roller.  Take a soak with epsom salts.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

What do you do to combat those heavy legs?

Minutes Vs. Mileage In Training

To become better endurance runners, we need to utilize different types of runs.  One of the most important workouts is the long, slow run.  Obviously, if you are going to do a longer race like a half or full marathon, this is important for building up mileage.

However, we often neglect the most important factors of these long runs, that occur at the molecular level within our bodies.  The long run is where our bodies learn to utilize glycogen more efficiently.  We are only capable of holding small amounts of glycogen within our muscles and liver, but through long runs, we teach our bodies how to empty these reserves more efficiently.

The long run trains our bodies to use fat as fuel, which delays the need to use carbohydrates.  This allows you to run longer with less fuel.

Long runs break down muscle fibers and our bodies learn to rebuild, creating stronger and healthier muscles.  This is necessary for the demands of longer endurance races.

Running longer also trains our bodies to become more aerobically efficient.  As we create a greater demand for oxygen to be pumped through our bodies, our hearts become stronger.  Blood begins pumping harder and in larger quantities throughout our body.  Oxygen rich blood reaches our muscles and allows us to run longer, and faster.

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Our bodies comprehend time.  They do not comprehend miles.  Your body knows that you have been running for 60 minutes but it doesn’t recognize that you just ran 5 miles.  This important to understand, because your body needs that 60+ minute run to achieve all of the benefits of aerobic endurance training.  However, 5 miles is quite arbitrary.  Some runners can complete a 5 mile run in 40 minutes, while this might take over an hour for other runners.

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The point here is that it is important not to get caught up in the number of miles or your pace when you are working to become a more efficient endurance runner.  Your body needs time more than miles.  This is why you need to go slowly on your long runs.  When you run slowly, you allow your body to get through those longer miles.  When we try running too fast, we begin asking too much of our muscles and aerobic system, making it more difficult to complete your necessary miles/time.  If the number of miles seems daunting to you, aim for a time goal.  This is what your body is relying on anyway.

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The pace is not what creates these molecular changes.  Time is what creates change.  Allow yourself to slow down so that you can complete your longer runs and reap all the benefits.

Long Slow Runs = Fast Races

Why Races Aren’t About Being Competitive (and Why They Are)

Years ago when I got back into running, I signed up for a local 15k.  I “trained” for it and had an absolute blast on race day.  There was no pressure, because I had no idea what to expect.  I was just excited to be out on the course with other runners and to see what the experience would be like.  I got hooked.

I was dating my, now husband, at the time and suggested that we sign up to do a spring race together.  Having been a high school and collegiate athlete, he had no desire to go back to those competitive days.  He just wanted to enjoy his running.

I absolutely understood this sentiment, but tried to explain that races aren’t necessarily about the “racing.”  It took some convincing, but he signed up for his first two races, a 15k road race and a 10k mountain trail run.  Not the best choices to ease him into the sport, but after his first race, he told me to start finding more.

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Our first race together!

My First Race!

Why Racing Isn’t About Being Competitive

It wasn’t the “race” that hooked us.  It was the experience, the opportunity to find that inner athlete we had tucked away after our competitive days in sports.  Being among other runners, pushing ourselves to see what was our very best, and having strangers cheer for us on the side of the road, only made the experience better.

While I have had some varied success in my running, I’m almost always behind many runners who are far faster than me.  More often than not, I am not there trying to win the race, but instead to run for myself.

Part of what makes races exciting is the process.  From choosing which race and event you will be doing, to finding the right plan, it is the total package before the race even starts that makes it so fun.

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When I was competing in track and field, my dad was my coach.  One thing I will never forget was him telling me that I wouldn’t remember most of my races.  Instead, what I would remember most was the training.  He was 100% right and that still holds true today.

The process of preparing for your event, the excitement of the process, and the experience of the race itself is what makes “racing” fun.  People will be cheering you on, and they certainly don’t care what place you finish.  In fact, most people will be far more inspired by the person who finishes last than the speedster that came in first.

Why Running Is About Being Competitive

I’m not talking about coming in first.  The competition is rarely between you and the person who will win.  Instead, it is about setting goals and seeing what you can do.  Maybe you want to simply finish the 5k, or perhaps your goal is to finish without taking walking breaks.   You might have a time goal that you are working for.

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The great thing about races is that you can always set a goal, whether it is something really lofty or a smaller goal to get you through an event.  These goals can be for any distance.  The possibilities are endless, and this is what can help you to find a little competitiveness in your running at any level without taking the fun out of the sport.

Having an event or a goal to look forward to can be an extra motivation for your running.  It’s not always about getting faster.  It can simply be to make your experience better.

Why do you like to race?

Are you hesitant to try a race?  If so, I’d love to hear what holds you back.

Be Kind To Yourself- Running Edition

We have one big rule in our house.  “Be Kind.”  We emphasize this rule with each other, when we are heading to school or the sitters, and even when we watch TV.  As parents, our biggest goal is to raise kind human beings.  I truly believe that the world could use a lot more kindness, and I hope to start by helping my two little ones to learn to treat others with love.

Several of my friends are training for the Boston Marathon and I have been enjoying watching their progress on social media.  One of my friends mentioned how she had been really struggling with her training but on one particular run, she embraced being kind to herself.  She mentioned that she had forgotten this important rule for running and by bringing this back into her training, everything changed.

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I discuss this a lot.  It isn’t something revolutionary.  We all know that running is hard.  Many people don’t run because it can be difficult.  Even seasoned runners have moments of struggle.  This is an essential part of the sport.  To become a distance runner you have to embrace these struggles.

If you choose to be negative, your runs will likely be hard.  Negativity will also impact your perceived exertion.

On the flip side, when we become kind and positive minded runners, everything gets a little better.  Perceived exertion lessens and longer runs can feel less daunting.

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Can you imagine spending a long run beating yourself up?  I certainly would want to quit after a few miles of contemplating all that was going wrong.  But with endorphins from exercise pumping through your body and some kind thoughts about yourself and your activity, time spent running can actually be enjoyable.

Even better, the feeling lasts beyond your run.  When you spend miles thinking positive thoughts and keeping a kind inner dialogue, you will leave the run with a positive outlook.  More endorphins and happy feelings will carry you through the day and even into the night.

It is so great to think that even when the world can be less than kind, you can take positive action and be kind to yourself on a run.  The kindness will pour over into the rest of your day and it might just rub off on those around you.

It’s Contagious- Try This If You Are Struggling With Running

I’m not going to lie, running has been a drag for me lately.  During the two months we were in NYC, I was using running as a means to get back and forth from work.  I often ran four miles home from work in the morning, walked with the stroller back for four miles in the afternoon, and then ran home again each evening while pushing the stroller.  Running became more of a means to get from Point A to Point B and less about exercise or enjoyment.

Once I was home again, I was looking forward to just running.  But I was bummed when I got on the treadmill and realized I had lost my motivation.   It was frustrating.

As a coach, I often discuss with runners how there are times during the year when running will be less appealing.  It is normal to fall in and out of love with the sport.

Winter is often a time when running becomes more difficult.  If you live somewhere like we do, it is freezing outside and at times too dangerous to head outside.  Running on ice and snow can be difficult, scary, and can even change your gait which might cause injury.  Treadmills can be a great alternative, but sometimes monotonous.

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When you find that you go for several days or weeks without motivation to run, it can weigh heavily on your mind.  I have to remind myself that this too shall pass.  It really will.  Often, changes in the weather can bring new light and warmth to push you out the door.  Or perhaps a little break can make things more exciting.

Last weekend we took a trip to Chicago to visit family.  We had been locked inside during the Polar Vortex in Michigan, and Chicago had it even worse.  Fortunately, by the time we arrived in Chicago, temperatures had risen by 60 degrees and we were able to get outside for a run.

Saturday I logged 8 miles on snowy sidewalks.  It was a bit of a struggle, but it also felt so great to be running outside again without dozens of layers.

As I got deeper into my run, more and more runners were flocking to the sidewalks.  It was a lovely scene.  Everyone looked both relieved and so happy to be outside again.  In fact, every time I ran by someone, we locked eyes and smiled.  It felt great!  We were sharing a happy moment with each other, even if we were struggling with our miles.

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With every smile, my feet felt a little lighter.  I noticed that I wasn’t just smiling as I passed by another runner, but instead I was just smiling for the sake of running.  It was contagious and I felt happy!

It makes sense, when we smile we send chemical signals up to our brains that we are happy.  Our muscles relax and endorphins start pouring through our body.  When our muscles relax, our running economy improves.  This actually makes you a better and more efficient runner.  Endorphins make you feel good and can lessen your perceived exertion.

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I find that smiling when pushing the stroller makes things MUCH easier!

Isn’t it crazy to think that all you need to do to become a better runner is put a smile on your face?  Take a few moments to smile during your run and you will likely enjoy your exercise more and even find it to be a bit easier.

I’m (Finally) Back!

Where do I begin?  Happy New Year?!  My apologies for the delayed return.  I had planned to get back to blogging earlier, but as usual there were some unexpected twists.

Our late fall/early winter in New York was absolutely wonderful.  The weather cooperated for the most part and our family had great adventures in the city; a big change from our very rural life in the off season.

Our 3 year old, Mary, figured out how to get up off of the ice on her own and that was a huge game changer.  While I taught lessons every day at the ice rink in Central Park, she was able to skate around and join classes with us.  She decided that she was going to be both a figure skater and a hockey player!

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Helping mom string a hockey net for class.

Lucy, our now 16 month old, even got in on the fun and tried marching around in skates that were much too big for her.  She only wants to do what big sister does and I can’t blame her.

Where Did I Disappear To?

I had big plans to get back to blogging and running adventures in the New Year, but I kept seeing information about a very intriguing certification course for running coaches.  I decided to skip the blogging (and basically anything else) for the next few weeks to pursue a new coaching certification.

Revo2lution Running is a 4 week training course that delves deeply into the science of running.  While I have my RRCA certification along with my ACE Health Coaching Certification, I am always looking to learn more about running and health and wellness.

What I loved about this course was that it combined these two areas of interest on a deeper level that I have been looking for.  Understanding more of the science behind running as well as the differences in training for men and women was exactly what I wanted.  By passing this test, I also received certification to teach treadmill classes in facilities.  I’m really looking forward to starting these classes up soon.

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As a coach, I am always interested in broadening my knowledge of running and coaching.  I enjoy listening to other coaches and experts and bringing these new tools to runners who choose to work with me.  I’m looking forward to sharing some of the information I have learned and posting more in the next few weeks.

What are you goals for 2019?

Brings Me Back-NYC Marathon

Hello from New York City!  You may have noticed my absence the past few weeks, or perhaps not.  I know that I have been pretty quiet around here lately.  The reason for silence is because I have been busy working 7 days a week for the past few weeks at the ice rink in Central Park.  I used to work there years ago.  It was how I worked my way through college when I first arrived in New York and where I met my husband, on my first day of work.

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Six years ago, we left New York and moved to Chicago and later to Michigan.  We continue to work here in the spring and fall and last winter I got a text from a co-worker asking if I could work her maternity leave this winter.  Knowing the struggles of becoming a mom and then the next struggle of being a working mom, I gladly obliged to a return to Wollman Rink for a few weeks.

The work isn’t easy.  The hours are rough.  I’m up well before the sun rises each morning and I run home to meet the girls after a few hours on the ice.  I return to the ice later in the day to work some more, before running the 4 miles back to get our children fed and to bed.  We’ve suffered colds, sinus infections, and ear infections.  But we are finally on the mend and despite being exhausted, we are having a  great time in the city.  So please excuse my absence over the next few weeks, I have great plans for a big return after the holidays.

Until then, I want to offer a huge congratulations and thank you to all of the runners of the New York City Marathon.  Anyone who dares to run and anybody who dares to train and finish a marathon is a super hero.  It is an incredible process that requires months, and weeks, and hours of diligence.  There are days of exhaustion and times of injury.  But there is nothing more incredible than crossing that finish line.

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That time Mary was a few weeks old and we went to cheer on the last of the runners on their way through Brooklyn!

I ran for many years leading up to the first time I really had a chance to admire the New York City Marathon.  It is always hectic trying to get in and out of the rink in Central Park, as it is very close to the finish line.  Most years I worked all morning and afternoon and missed much of the race.  When I finally got my own apartment situated in East Harlem, right by the 19 mile mark, I had a sunny afternoon to myself and I went to watch the runners.

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Spectating a marathon will change even the hardest of souls.  You will witness humans at their absolute greatest.  People are drenched in sweat and struggling.  Some are beaming and smiling.  Others are grimacing and crying.  Along the sidelines you will find people of all backgrounds, coming together to cheer on family and friends, and strangers.  It is amazing!

Watching those runners who spent months training for this big event, that year, touched me.  I felt chills listening to a band up the street, and the cowbells ringing.  There were dozens of languages being spoken around me and people were calling out names of strangers whose names were taped across their bibs.

The marathon was a uniting force!

I went home feeling like a changed person.  I commented on what an incredible experience it appeared to be, but that I would never do something so crazy.  Yet, that moment stuck with me, and was the reason I have run several marathons and helped hundreds of others cross their own finish lines.

There is something very special about the New York City Marathon.  A city that can be so busy rushing to and from work and other occasions, finds the time to slow down to cheer for tens of thousands of strangers for one magical day.

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This year was extra magical because I got to take my girls to cheer on the runners near that same place that forever changed me.  Mary made a sign and was quite the hit waving and cheering on the runners.  At one moment she asked me why people were “stopping.”  I tried my best to explain to her how hard those last few miles are for so many of us.  I choked back tears as I held her and watched people passing by and said, “You run when you can and walk if you have to.  We all just keep going.”

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Congrats to everyone who ran New York and Indianapolis this weekend!

Post Race Recovery-Avoid Injury And Sedentary Craziness

Many runners just completed some major races this last weekend.  Others are getting ready to complete their final big races for the year.  What do you do after the race?  When do you come back?  How do you properly recover?  Remember that old rule that said you should take a day off for every mile you ran?  That is now a thing of the past and for many runners that is great news.  Can you imagine taking 26 days off after a marathon? Then again, maybe you can!

While there is quite a bit of science to running, there isn’t a set plan for recovery after an event.  There are several important factors to consider with your recovery:

How Long Was Your Race and Training Cycle:

Did you just complete an 18 week training cycle leading up to your marathon?  Were you running 50-60 miles per week during your plan?  You will likely require more rest than a runner who did a 12 week plan for a 10K.  The longer your training plan and the more miles completed might take a harder toll on your body and mind than a shorter race and mileage.

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How About a 5K to Couch Plan!

How Do You Feel?

This is a two part question.  While you need to consider how your legs and muscles are responding, you also need to assess how you are feeling mentally.  If you are experiencing tiredness and a loss of interest in running, go ahead and give yourself some time to fall back in love.  What is the point of hitting the pavement if it is no longer enjoyable?  This can be a normal feeling as you come off of training and the excitement of your event.  All runners go through this.  We need a break at times from all things we love and running is no different.

Some of the mental symptoms of Overtraining Syndrome are feeling sluggish, emotional, overly tried, sad, and just plain down in the dumps.  We all know that running is 90% mental, so it makes sense that we might need a break in this arena as well.

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Are You Dealing With Any Injuries?:

One of the hardest parts of any training cycle is avoiding injuries.  They are almost inevitable.  Most often, we train through these injuries.  Or perhaps you sustained an injury during the race.  It goes without saying that you need to give your body time to fully heal.  Sure, you can push through an injury to some extent to get through training.  But after the race is over, it would be unwise to continue with this approach.  Now is the time to rest and recover before you return.

There are so many different ways to approach injuries and I recommend you find what is most helpful for you and your needs.  Options range from traditional doctors and physical therapists to massage, acupuncture, yoga, and cupping.  Many facilities offer an array of different recovery techniques.  When you find an approach that you feel most comfortable and confident with, you are more likely to stick to a prescribed plan.

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Take Some Time To Reflect:

How do you feel your training went?  Are there things you would change?  What about the race?  Was it enjoyable?  Did the experience ignite a fire or inspire you to do something else?  Do you feel like this was a negative experience?

All of these questions are important to consider for your future.  Maybe you need a revenge race.  If that is the case you need to consider what went wrong and how you will change things moving forward.  Perhaps something went wrong in training.  The actual race might not have been the right one for you.

If you had a great experience and are ready to repeat or up the ante, you need to think about what went right in your training and how you can repeat that or make it even better.  Will you repeat the race or find another one that is similar?

Is is time to put racing to the side and just run for fun?  That is okay.  Some people love running for the sake of running and don’t need races or events to keep them content.  Think of different ways to help keep things exciting and motivating.

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Races and endurance events can be a great experience.  It can also take a mental and physical toll.  Your first goal should be to take care of you.  Rest and recovery are important.  This doesn’t mean you need to become a couch potato.  Active rest can be a perfect way to get back in the game healthy and happy.  Go for a walk, bike ride, swim, or play with the family.  Keep moving and take care of you!

Did you race this past weekend?  How was your experience?