5 factors to consider when signing up for a marathon

As a former employee of Runner’s World Magazine, I had the privilege of running my very first marathon through the Runner’s World VIP Program (formerly known as “Runner’s World Challenge”). I was able to gain first-hand experience and extensive knowledge on how to properly train for a marathon with the help of my colleagues along with our robust amount of published content within the magazine.

Being that it was my first marathon, I took it very seriously. I made sure to allow myself the proper amount of time for training as well as dedicating myself to following a specific marathon training program (In this case, it was Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 Marathon Training Program)

Although I had no expectation for a specific goal time, I did want to ensure that I gave it my all and was as prepared as I could be.

I finished in a time of 4 hours and 7 seconds, with a decent amount of energy left over afterwards. In hindsight, now knowing that I was well-prepared enough, I wish I had aimed for a time of under 4 hours, but that’s besides the point.

After running Big Sur Marathon, I had never felt more accomplished in my life. I had assumed that since I had one marathon in the bag, every marathon following this one would be a piece of cake. Little did I know, that’s completely untrue.

Just because you ran one doesn’t mean it will get easier or that it will be a similar experience for your next. Just like any job or any relationship, you never have the same experience twice. There are many factors that go into running a great race. One thing is for sure – Never lessen your efforts or level of integrity.

Here are some of the major factors that can make or break your marathon experience:

  1. The Course. Some people don’t like to research the course beforehand. I personally think that’s ridiculous. Knowing the course can play a huge role in how you train. Knowing whether or not it’s hilly and knowing where the hills are located can help you both physically and mentally. Being prepared for running up or downhill will affect performance and fatigue in the long run (no pun intended) based on your training. Other factors in the course include altitude, scenery, and terrain.
    • Altitude falls under the “hilly or not” bucket. Running a race in Colorado versus New York are two completely different experiences because of the altitude levels, which ultimately affects your breathing.
    • Scenery can psychologically affect your performance. Visually stimulating courses may or may not improve your running pace, depending on how affected you are by your surroundings. If you want to see more trees, sign up for a race in a more remote location. If you want to see more buildings, sign up for a race in a larger city.
    • Terrain is in reference to pavement versus dirt. Depending on where you primarily train, your legs, and more specifically your knees, can be severely impacted by the texture of the course. Pavement tends to put more strain on your joints as opposed to dirt trails.
  2. The Crowd. Similar to the way people are affected by running with music, running a marathon that has great crowds can aid performance. One of the things that I loved most about running the New York City Marathon was amount of support you received from the local communities as you are running through the different boroughs and neighborhoods.
  3. The Training Plan. Not all training plan works for everyone. When it comes to running, everyone has different levels of expertise and physical fitness. Some training programs cater specifically to elite runners, while others cater to beginners. In addition, people also have such varying schedules throughout the week that not every program fits their daily routine. However, when it comes to marathon training, you do have to be flexible as well as dedicated. Skipping out on long runs or refraining from speed workouts can really hinder performance.
  4. The Season. In the United States, primary marathon season takes place in the Fall. Most of the major big-city marathons occur between September and November (and they fill up fast, so make sure you sign up early!). Fall in the United States can be wildly unpredictable. Temperatures tend to fluctuate and so do the chances of precipitation, high-wind factor, and humidity. If you are running a race in the Fall, be cognizant of the fact that a majority of your training takes place in the Summer, so the temperatures will not be nearly the same. You also must consider the chances of rain, high winds, and high humidity. Be properly dressed and well-hydrated.
  5. Size of the race. The size of a marathon can widely vary from a range of a couple hundred to thousands among thousands. I’ve run three marathons thus far, which include the Big Sur Marathon, New York City Marathon, and Marine Corps Marathon. Of the three, New York City and Marine Corps were very large races that took place in larger cities, with participants upwards of 30,000+ runners. The Big Sur Marathon, on the other hand, only had approximately 6,000+ runners. The size of the race can affect your performance depending on your preference of running alongside more people or fewer people.

From my personal experience, the best marathon I have run still remains the Big Sur Marathon, my first one. And this is because of the fact that I was so adamant about training.

So my advice is this – You get what you give.

The amount of preparation you set aside will not be in vain. Give it everything you have and it will come through in the end.

Advertisements

Happy Anniversary, Big Sur Marathon

The 2014 Big Sur Marathon took place in Monterey, California today. Waves of nostalgia have been flowing in and out of my brain for the past few weeks. As I’ve watched the seasons change from the bitter Winter to the slow immersion of Spring, I’ve been trying to think of the things I’ve accomplished so far in 2014. My immediate response: “Nothing”

We already have 4 months of 2014 under our belt, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve been on cruise control for the past few months. This past Fall, my life had undergone some drastic changes. I was in a very uncomfortable place between settling into a new apartment as well as a new job. Now, I’m on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I’m craving for some kind of chaos. Some kind of challenge.

With the 2013 Big Sur Marathon being my first marathon last year, I can’t help but look back and think about the training that I did last year in comparison to my training this year. My next marathon is the San Francisco Marathon coming up in July and I’ve been starting to worry about how calm I’ve been towards it. I feel less anxiety, less excitement, less seriousness, less motivation. I don’t know what happened between last year and this year, but my fire has been going out in terms of running; not even just running. I’ve also felt my steam running out in terms or writing as well.

Maybe all of the drastic changes that were happening to me in the Fall were actually a good thing. Maybe it’s exactly what I needed to keep me on my toes.

When we feel like we’re losing our fire, our motivation, our drive, how do we get it back?

I know I shouldn’t be complaining because this is the calmest I’ve been in quite some time. But as they say, there’s a calm before the storm.

I guess I’m just waiting for the next storm to come in my life…

RACE REPORT: 2013 Big Sur International Marathon

I have been counting down the days until the Big Sur Marathon ever since the very minute that I signed up for this race. I had a countdown app downloaded on my iPhone just to keep track and even had a written countdown on my dry erase board at work.

I officially began training at the end of January/beginning of February and was worried that I didn’t have enough time to prepare. Big Sur Marathon marked my first full marathon ever and I had only recently ran my first half marathon in October of 2012 at the Runner’s World Half Marathon.

A week ago, I ran my second half marathon at Rutgers University and set a personal record with a time of 1 hour and 45 minutes. As ecstatic as I was, I still had to remind myself that the race that really mattered has yet to come.

My training had many ups and downs as I was continuously getting sick due to the inconsistent weather, making poor food choices, and wearing improper winter apparel. Fortunately, my body pulled itself together in my final few weeks before the race.

Once I got on the plane to Monterey at 6AM on Friday morning, I was finally accepting the reality that I was about to run 26.2 miles. The longest distance that I ran for my long runs was a mere 15 miles, and that only happened once. Naturally, I was freaking out about the fact that I was shy of 11 miles. Regardless, I kept reminding myself that there wasn’t really much else I could do at this point and that I just had to go with how my body felt on race day.

Big Sur Marathon weekend was primarily a working weekend for me, so it was difficult to get into the mindset that I was actually racing. It ended up being a good thing because I occupied my mind with work instead of pre-race jitters. I didn’t have time to be nervous. On Saturday morning, we had an 8AM shakeout run with the Runner’s World Challengers. I didn’t participate because I was making sure that everything was prepared for when the Challengers returned. Once everyone got back, I had my own private shakeout run by myself which is what I’m used to anyways because I run by myself all the time. At this point, I was really getting in the mindset that race day was tomorrow.

Later on Saturday afternoon, we held a Strategy Session where the Runner’s World Editors gave race tips, advice, etc. This was the first time that I actually had to pay close attention since it actually applied to me. Our editors couldn’t have given better advice. From Jen, I adopted the phrase “Run relaxed” and from Amby, “Every mile is a gift”. I took these words with me to the start line.

20130430-094007.jpg

On Saturday night, I couldn’t sleep (no surprise there) My eyes finally shut around 12AM and I woke up on Sunday morning at 3:15AM. All of the emotions that I was unable to feel prior to this day were finally catching up to me. As we boarded the bus, I felt the crumbling sensation in the pit of my stomach. It was hard to breathe. I looked out the window and tried to distinguish the oceanic views that were hidden in the darkness. The drive took approximately 45 minutes (How I wish it was that short of a time to run)

Lining up at the start, all of the Runner’s World girls came together and we anxiously waited until the race announcer gave us the ‘go ahead’. I kept looking at my watch every 30 seconds and once it was race time, the nervous feeling in my stomach disappeared and I was just happy.

As I started my first few miles, everyone was passing me. I couldn’t have gone any slower. I kept telling myself, “Stay slow”.

I made a friend in the beginning of the race and stayed with her for the first 7 or 8 miles. It was nice to have someone there for me to keep myself grounded. We were going at conversation pace and that’s exactly what I needed. At mile 9, we parted ways and I picked up my pace as I was finally getting into race mentality. I knew that Hurricane Point was coming up, but I didn’t want to psych myself out. I just absorbed the scenery and kept myself calm.

20130430-093109.jpg

20130430-093205.jpg

20130430-093314.jpg

Once I passed Hurricane Point, I realized that I was already halfway done. I heard the piano player at the 13-mile mark and I couldn’t believe I was already there. My legs felt great, my body was relaxed, and my mentality was still positive. Up until mile 20, I felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could stop me and I only had 6 miles left. It wasn’t until miles 22 through 26 that my legs finally started giving out. The rolling hills in the Highlands put my legs to shame and I had a persistent burning sensation in my quads for the remainder of the race. Once I saw the mile 26-marker, I had to channel every remaining bit of energy I had left to finish this race without walking. As I heard the distant sounds of people cheering and saw the finish line flags, I forced myself to open my stride. I just wanted to be done. I broke down in tears just seconds before I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t hold them back. My co-worker congratulated and comforted me, but I couldn’t speak. I just cried.

20130430-093548.jpg

20130430-093635.jpg

The race volunteers gave me my medal and in that very moment, my whole life changed. I took one look at it and realized what I had just accomplished. It was quite possibly the greatest moment of my entire life.

20130430-093716.jpg

20130430-093751.jpg
(EXTREMELY proud to say that I stayed true to withhold drinking alcohol for SIX WEEKS. Here I am enjoying my post-race beer. Quite possibly the most satisfying beer I’ve ever had)

I can honestly say that this was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. It was a humbling experience that provided me with a new respect for running. I am honored to say that I am a runner. I am honored to say that I am a marathoner. I feel invincible, confident, strong, empowered, brave.

I am eternally grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience a race filled with such beauty and such struggle. As cliche as it may sound, running truly is a metaphor for life. The mantra that kept me going during the marathon and will continue to keep me going is, “Never give up”

Life gets hard. Bad things happen. There is pain. In the words of Haruki Murakami (author of “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”) Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

In conclusion to this very LONG race report, I’d like to thank the people that made this marathon happen for me. They were my support, my team, my family. Thank you to my co-workers at Runner’s World. I couldn’t have done this without them.

20130430-093832.jpg

20130430-093858.jpg

Official Finish Time – 4:07:58

20130430-094115.jpg

Going out without going all out

I did it.

I survived my first week of April without consuming a drop of alcohol.

To preface this entry to those who are new to reading my blog, I am NOT an alcoholic. I repeat, I am NOT an alcoholic.

To get some of you up to speed, I recently hit my point of absolute misery when it came to drinking with friends on the weekends. Going out until 3AM in New York City while you are in training mode for a Half-Marathon and Marathon do not mesh well at all. I learned this the hard way, therefore recently vowed to give up drinking any type of alcohol for the entire month of April in lieu of my Spring races

I must say, it’s actually a lot easier than I thought it would be. However, here are the down sides:

  • Going out to a club and/or bar in New York City while you are sober and everyone else around you is intoxicated is pretty weird. You notice how stupid everyone actually looks as opposed to everything being funny. It’s definitely not as funny when you’re sober…
  • Regardless of whether you drink or not, certain places still require a cover charge to get in. So even though you’re not buying drinks, you still have to pay to go to a place that is dimly lit with random spurts of blinding strobe lights and ear deafening music blasting , all while watching people act like morons
  • If you’re tired and not having fun, it’s better to just go home instead of being out and forcing yourself to stay awake when you don’t need to be

Regardless, I felt really good about myself at the fact that I didn’t succumb to peer pressure.

On a more positive note, here are the up sides to not drinking

  • You really do spend less money when you don’t have to buy alcohol
  • You wake up in the morning remembering EVERYTHING
  • You save yourself empty calories and extra pounds
  • You’re not extremely susceptible to getting sick

There are definitely more up sides than that, but I chose to shed light on the obvious ones.

I had a great weekend despite my lack of alcohol consumption which ultimately proves that you don’t need to drink to have a good time.

I was able to get a (slightly) long run on Saturday afternoon in long-awaited, beautiful Spring-ish weather. I only was able to get in 10 miles in 1 hour and 27 minutes, but it still felt great.

I went back home to New Jersey for the second weekend in a row. I got to hang out with friends from home and spend time with family for my Mom’s birthday, which is always a good time in my book.

Moral of the story: Drinking is not all it’s cracked up to be. If anything, it’s less.

Back on my feet

Surely, it was only a matter of time before I started running again. And yesterday was when that time came. All day yesterday, I had a battle going on inside my mind about when I should finally get my legs moving again. It was the fear holding me back. My lungs felt strong again. My cough was dying down. I could breathe through my nose. But the fear of sickness rushing back terrified me. I couldn’t stand another day of stagnancy though. The more I started at my calendar, the more it taunted me, showing the few days that I had left to train.

Once I got back to my apartment after work, I sat for a few minutes, contemplated the consequences of running too soon, changed into my gym clothes, and sprinted out the door. Just knowing that I was going to run again made my heart flutter. I repeated to myself, “Take it easy, take it easy, take it easy” I didn’t want to push myself too hard after just recovering from being sick.

I got in an easy 3 miles in 29 minutes yesterday. I didn’t care about the time. It just felt good to get back in the game again.

Today, I ran again. It was not in my original plans. I was going to take today as a cross-training day where I would just go to Zumba to get some form of cardio in. My eagerness overcame me. Just knowing that I was well enough to exercise again made me excited to get out the door and move.

I got in another 3 miles today in 28 minutes. It felt amazing. I felt invincible. Suddenly, the misery and pain that I had experienced from being sick completely left my mind. My mindset had completely shifted back to training mode.

As I continue my countdown to my Spring races, I realize that I am now officially 17 days away from the Rutgers Half Marathon and 24 days away from Big Sur Marathon.

I don’t know how time went by so fast, but I’m starting to get the butterflies finally. These races are coming and they’re coming soon.

Big Sur Countdown

Since I acknowledged the one month mark for my upcoming Half Marathon at Rutgers, it’s only fair that I bring attention to the one month mark for the Big Sur International Marathon. Today begins my 1-month countdown to Big Sur. The more I stare at my calendar, the more I can’t believe how fast time has gone since I began “officially training”

To add to my post yesterday about the importance of rest, I’m now beginning to worry if I got too much rest during my training. I’m sick, yet again, and can’t afford losing any more training days as I’m getting closer to my races.

Yesterday, I attended a great event at the Super Runners Shop located on 3rd Avenue, Uptown, between 71st and 72nd street. The shoe company Hoka One One teamed up with my awesome team at Runner’s World and together, we hosted a Fun Run to test their line of shoes. When I woke up yesterday morning, I knew that I was in no shape to run outside, let alone run at all. My throat is sore, I can’t smell, and I’ve had the chills on and off all day.

I disobeyed my own rule of thumb in regards to taking rest when you’re not feeling well, but I really wanted to join in on the fun. I took the shorter route of only logging 3 miles yesterday, and even then, I still felt awful.

I look forward to this weekend though, which starts today for me as I will be on “vacation” from Friday through Monday. Originally, I was anticipating getting in a longer distance run of around 16-17 miles for my Saturday long run, but now, I’m going to actually take my own advice and rest. I’m going back to good ol’ New Jersey to visit my family for Easter Weekend and hopefully, I’m fully recovered when I return to the city.

Time is tickin’! 30 DAYS!!!

One month away

Yesterday marked the official first day of Spring, which is a very exciting day for some people. Today, however, marks a very exciting day for me personally.

Today, I am exactly one month away from my first big race of the Spring Season, the CGI Unite Half Marathon, at no other than my Alma Mater, Rutgers University (Ru Rah Rah!)

Long before I knew that I was going to run the Big Sur Marathon, (or before I even contemplated running a marathon in the near future) I had my sights set on a half marathon. I wanted to dip my feet into the waters first before diving an extra 13 miles deeper.

As I’ve been documenting my training, I have been emphasizing my focus on Big Sur because it requires much more time and dedication, but I never emphasized the significance that the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon holds in my heart.

During the middle of my junior year at Rutgers, when I really started getting back into the mindset of being a dedicated runner, I had made it a point to run the Rutgers Half before I graduated. Essentially, I only had one year to complete that. Clearly, I’ve failed.

However, the fact that I officially signed up for 2013 compensates for my guilt. Although I’ll be running as an alumni, I’d still say that’s quite special. I would have liked to actually run for a PR in this half, but I also have to keep in mind that I’m running double the amount of miles in exactly one week from then which is why I’m using the half as my last long run.

I’m in crunch-time mode right now, and as I’m getting closer to these big races, I’m doing nothing but filtering out any negative thoughts about how I will perform.

The countdown has officially begun!

Saying goodbye to alcohol

As you may have already noticed (if you read multiple blog entries of mine), there are two things that I often write about which generally go hand in hand for me. These two things are:

  1. My love for running
  2. My love for food

Which do I love more? I couldn’t tell you. Let’s just say that when it comes to these things, I like to have my cake and eat it too (both figuratively and literally speaking)

I fight an endless battle between how much I eat and in turn, how much I then have to run or exercise to compensate for my overindulgence.

If you refer back to two of my past blog entries titled, “A pie of pizza and 10 miles to go” and “A sleeve of thin mints and 13 miles of satisfaction” you may see a pattern when it comes to my eating and exercising habits.

Disclaimer: I do not have an eating and/or mental disorder.

We’re all human and we all get those pesky cravings for a certain not-so-healthy food from time to time; some, more than others. Naturally, we sometimes slip and give into temptation and go for that extra-gooey chocolate cake that we see in the bakery window. It just calls out our name.

Personally, when it calls out my name, I come running with open arms. You could even say sprinting.

Nonetheless, I consciously make note that I have to burn off those calories right away

The weird thing is, you’d think that a person who is as into fitness and running as I am would have a strict diet to match.

That is ABSOLUTELY not the case. And I’m not just saying for me. I’m saying this on behalf of a majority of runners and fitness-enthusiasts who I know personally.

You wouldn’t think that a person of my size could take down an entire pie of pizza by herself in just one sitting, but you better believe it. I have quite the appetite. May I add, I stand at a mere 5’0 feet tall, weighing in at 108 pounds. It’s quite a remarkable feat for someone so tiny

Now, the reason why I am blogging today about this particular topic is because of a different type of over-indulgence which seems to also be common amongst runners and fitness-enthusiasts.

What is that, you might ask?

Alcohol.

Have you ever noticed how much beer is served after an event like a marathon, half-marathon, mud run, heck, even a 5K?

Beer is the perfect carb to refuel with after burning hundreds of calories from running a race.

For some people, the post-race beer may be their favorite part.

But here’s the catch:

Often times, we often overestimate how many calories we actually burned and tend to overindulge in food as well as alcohol. We feel like we owe it to ourselves, to our bodies, after putting it through such hard work.

That’s a big no-no.

So, last night, I had a few more beers than I would have liked to consume. To give you an exact number: It’s 4. And that’s 4 more than I should have had because I’m telling you, I felt awful afterwards.

If you have not already noticed, I am currently training for two races at the end of April; The CGI Unite Half-Marathon at Rutgers followed by the Big Sur International Marathon exactly one week later.

As I get deeper into my training, I’ve really tried to limit the amount of alcohol that I consume. Of course, it’s a bit difficult when you’re in your 20’s, live in New York City, and have friends that always want to drink on the weekends.

Last night, I hit my limit.

This morning, I went straight to the gym before work and ran a quick 4 miles on the treadmill due to the guilt that was overcoming me after those 4 beers. During that run, I made a pact with myself. Once April 1st hits, I am abstaining from consuming any alcoholic beverages until after the Big Sur Marathon is completed. This won’t be easy, but I know that it will pay off in the end.

In closing: A while back, I was deeply impacted by an article published in Women’s Health which hit pretty close to home for me (click the below link if you are interested in reading)

Exercise and Alcohol

To summarize the article, it discussed the irony of how runners and fitness junkies also tend to be the heaviest drinkers.

Moral of the story: When a craving calls, sometimes it’s better to not pick up the phone.