I’ve debated even posting anything about what I am about to share with you, but I know future me will appreciate the record. It feels like I am making it some big deal, some emotional thing by posting, but it’s not really. I hope you will take it how I intend it–to be a snapshot of this moment in time for me. A record to reflect on in future days.
“Life comes first.” That’s what I tell my athletes and my designers. I feel strongly that training and work (when possible) should compliment your life. Sure, you will need to make sacrifices, but for the real important stuff in life the choice should be easy. Choose your family, friends, and yourself.
I’ve registered for three different 50ks since I ran my marathon in 2015. I was so excited and confident for the first in October of 2016. My training cycle was going really well when all the sudden I had pain in my shin on a long run and two days later was diagnosed with a tibial stress fracture and eventually had to make the hard decision to pull the plug on my training.
The second 50k was going to be an epic adventure with friends in the Grand Canyon last May. In April I rolled my ankle pretty badly and week later I developed some pain in my foot. Training went off the rails, but I decided I would attempt the race anyway. Then a week before I was supposed to flight out for the race, my 13 year old cat that I have had since she was just a few weeks old got very sick and spent a week in the emergency hospital. I just couldn’t leave her in the hands of strangers for a week, still on multiple medications, just a couple days out of the hospital so I cancelled.
After that second 50k training cycle, I quit running for awhile. Got a few MRIs and discovered bulging discs in my back and bursitis in my foot. Started working with my trainer and lifting. Towards the end of last year I started running again cautiously and by the beginning of this year had registered for 50k for the third time. This time it was the North Face Endurance Challenge NY at Bear Mountain. This race and Bear Mountain hold a special place in my heart so it seemed perfect that this would be my first 50k. Third time’s a charm, right?
Training at the beginning of year was going pretty well. I was getting in some good long runs and feeling confident. Since I was wanting to keep at least one session with my trainer a week and wanted to use up my climbing gym visits before I move across the country (more on that in a minute) I found myself not getting in all my runs during the week. Then one weekend while doing some moving prep I stupidly carried some bookshelves down three flights of stairs by myself and my back flared. I recovered pretty quickly, but then I was sick for a few days, we got a few snow storms, I started working later, and most recently we were without gas in our building for a little over week which just totally threw everything off as I had workers in and out of my apartment. I was still trying to get in long runs on the weekend, but with three weeks left before taper I haven’t had a week over 20 miles or a week with more than 2 runs in over a month. And I’ve started really dreading my long runs because they take up so much time and I know after them I won’t be motivated to do much else for the rest of the day.
But the bottom line for me is this: I’m leaving soon. I’m moving across the country to Washington state. 72 days from now to be exact. Training means sacrificing time from doing other things especially on the weekends. I want more time with my friends, more time with my trainer doing cool stuff that we haven’t been able to do because we are being sensitive to my training, and more time at the climbing gym. I want to be able to wake up on a weekend morning and make some coffee, make a few to-do lists, and dive right into moving prep projects. I don’t want to move across the country and regret not spending more time with my friends here doing the things I love to do and will miss most. (Which does include running, just maybe not as much of it as I need to run a 50k.)
So for a third time I am pulling the plug on my 50k. This wasn’t an easy decision, but I know it’s the right one. I know that when I am in Washington missing my NYC friends, my trainer, and my old climbing gym I’m not going to regret this decision for one second. Maybe one day I’ll finally make it to the start line of a 50k, but until then I’m not losing any sleep with my decisions to put my loved ones and my happiness first. And I’m about to embark on an amazing new chapter filled with new adventures on new (to me) trails. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Time and time again I will have athletes ask me about what running workouts they need to become a better, more successful runner. While I agree how you train from a running perspective is very important to your success, there are a few other factors that should be seen as important (or arguably more so) to your success.
First of all, let’s be clear. Running is not just running. Somehow, somewhere, along the way someone got the idea in their head that running is a simple sport because “all you need is shoes” and then spread that as the truth. #fakenews! What they neglected to acknowledge is that your body is literally your equipment when you run. Just like any other sport, if you don’t invest in good equipment or maintenance of that equipment, your performance is going suffer and eventually that equipment may completely fail you leaving you broken and disappointed. Sure, some people have more natural ability, but without cultivating that talent and a strong body to support it, loads of potential is going to be missed.
Building a sustainably successful runner
The average runner takes 160-170 steps per minute. For a 10 minute mile, that is about 1650 steps. Each step is essentially a tiny single leg hop forward in which a single leg takes the load of the entire body with a force of 3-5 times your bodyweight. Do that math for a second. Take your bodyweight and multiply that by 3 and then by 5. That is the force that just one of your legs needs to stabilize in an instant, while in motion. (And the faster you run, the more rapidly your body needs to respond to stabilize and propel you forward.) Shoes can help with the impact, but if your body isn’t properly conditioned and efficient you are going to end up with not just some performance leakage, but some pretty angry body parts from being banged up, as well. Your body needs to be strong enough to stabilize with good posture and propel you forward and you also need to have enough flexibility and joint mobility for your body to go through a full range of motion. It is a complex chain of events that happen structurally and responsively when you run.
So to be a sustainably successful runner, you need to be considering more than your running workouts. Here are the top things that you should consider and be working on:
Range of Motion (Flexibility and Mobility)
The first two are going to have an influence on the bottom two and vice versa. If you do not have proper form or range of motion throughout your stride, you are not going to get proper muscle activation and the strength that comes from those muscles. If your muscles aren’t strong enough or are not activating, you are not going to be able to maintain proper form or propel through the range of motion needed for an efficient stride and to protect your body from injury. To add insult to injury, every time you go out for a run your body is looking for shortcuts which could reinforce muscle weakness and activation issues. Long duration aerobic/cardio also increases the stress hormone “cortisol” which causes the body to break down of muscle of fuel as well as increases fat accumulation leading to less strong, “skinny fat” runners. (Not a fan of the term “skinny fat” but it is appropriate in this case.) A runner needs to in many ways counteract the damage they are potentially doing with their running to help support their running. It’s an important cycle that shouldn’t be ignored.
Making the investment
I hear it over and again…
“I haven’t had time to focus on my strength work.”
“I haven’t had time for stretching or rolling.”
“I don’t understand mobility work so I’m not doing it.”
“Things have been crazy so I could only get my runs in this week.”
First of all, if you aren’t getting in all this “other” critical work, you are not training properly. Period. If all you are doing is running, you are figuratively–and quite possibly literally if you have glute activation issues–half a**ing it. Let me say that another way. IF YOU ARE ONLY RUNNING AND SKIPPING THE REST OF THE WORK, YOU ARE NOT TRAINING PROPERLY. #toughlove If you want to be a successful runner with a sustainable “career”–recreational or otherwise–you must put in ALL of the work.
Now I know some are probably thinking “I don’t want to gain weight with strength training” or “I don’t want to add to my recovery time with strength training” or some other nonsensical excuse. As long as you are not training and/or eating like a bodybuilder, you are not going to bulk up. (Just think about all the effort that they put into that!) The importance of diet during training is a topic for another day, but adding muscle is actually going to help you be more lean by boosting your metabolism and helping to burn more fat. As for the recovery time, well, that is why periodization is important and you should definitely take into consideration how you approach strength training based on your training cycles. During base and off-season you should be focusing more on strength and as you get into peak training your strength training should be less of a focus and less intense, but also not completely ignored. During non-peak training you are looking to increase strength and build that engine stronger. During peak training you are looking to maintain strength and remain injury free. Mobility and muscle activation work will not have significant recovery time and should be a focus year round.
Successful runners are self-disciplined
We all know those runners who never miss a workout. Those dedicated and disciplined runners who get up before dawn to run in inclimate conditions. I define discipline as doing things you don’t want to do with as much consistency and drive as you put into the things you want to do. It doesn’t take any discipline to do something you want to do every day. It takes discipline to make the decision and follow through on all that stuff you like to de-prioritize then pass off as a victim of a busy schedule or compromise for/at a social event. For example, it takes discipline to get your run in when the weather isn’t ideal or your schedule is cramped or you are just so dang tired from all the work you have put in. It also takes discipline to get off the couch after a long day or avoid it after a long run so you can get in some mobility work or roll. It takes discipline to get your butt to the gym and do all that stuff that hurts and you hate. It takes discipline to skip that other more enjoyable activity for the time you need to dedicate to the work that you don’t enjoy as much.
At the end of the day, you have to be disciplined in all aspects of your training, not just your running workouts. And trust me, no one can motivate you day after day for any length of time without your commitment and drive–your own discipline. In my opinion, YOU have to be the one to driving your success 98-99% of the time. Your coach and support network can be there to help motivate you that 1-2% of the time that you are unable to do it for yourself. This type of self-discipline can be a very good indicator of mental strength. If you can’t push yourself to do 10 minutes of mobility work a day, how do you expect to push through a tough run when you are actually physically in pain? Learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable is so valuable as a runner and just in life in general.
DO. Or do not. There is no try.
In the grand scheme of things, the things you need to be focusing on outside of your running shouldn’t add much time to your calendar if you integrate wisely with respect to your periodization. In my opinion these things do not get de-prioritized because of lack of time. Excuses are made because you don’t have the discipline or don’t think it is as valuable as whatever else you are spending your time doing. #toughlove
For muscle activation, mobility, flexibility, and self care like massage and foam rolling, you don’t need much to see benefit–you really just need a consistent practice. For strength/conditioning work, sure, a couple of hours a week would be ideal, but if you are doing absolutely nothing now 10-20 minutes a day or even every other day of bodyweight exercises could have benefit as a start. Some of this stuff is stuff you can do on the floor in front of your TV, on a break by your desk, or you can incorporate it into pre and post workout routines. The key is spending your time on things that will benefit you most. If you aren’t sure what that is most runners could use work on their glute and hip strength and associated mobility. The core is also super important and a no regrets place to focus on. Ankles, feet, and calves can also be a good place to start. Create a simple routine (or find one online) and be consistent with it for 3 weeks before changing it up. This gives your body enough time to adapt and build strength.
I think the most important and challenging aspect of being a runner is learning, accepting, and embracing the need to stop solely looking to your running workouts on the track, your long run, or your weekly mileage for success. Whether you want to be a sustainably successful runner or just want to PR that next race, you are selling yourself short if you are trying to get there by only running. To train smart, train STRONG.
As athletes we know that the mind and body are capable of more than most realize or acknowledge. We know what it feels like to push ourselves when our body starts to ache and our mind tells us to quit. We pride ourselves on being able to just “suck it up” and get the job done. These are great qualities that help us to achieve our goals, but sometimes that same tenacity and perseverance can lead to trouble.
As a coach I often have conversations with athletes about the “niggles” that pop up here and there. It is important to be able to accurately assess the severity and determine whether it is just a little tightness that can be worked out at home or whether it is the start of something more serious that is or might turn into injury. I will say that the best defense is a strong offense, meaning focusing on prevention (pre-hab) is one of the best things we can do to help remain injury free. In cases where pain does arise, here are some tips to help assess and address the issue.
RICE is your friend
R.I.C.E. which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation is typically a good first line of defense for just about anything. Especially the rest part. Don’t push through pain. Try to manage initial inflammation (and pain) with ice, compression, and elevation.
Stretching and rolling is not a cure all
Stretching warm muscles and rolling is advisable for tightness, but NOT advisable for pulls, strains, and tears because it could cause more damage and inflammation. If you can’t tell the difference, see a healthcare professional before doing either.
Sharp pain, swelling, and numbness or tingling are red flags
For sharp pain, bruising, anything with significant swelling, or numbness and tingling you should see a healthcare professional as soon as possible. If you have pain during normal activities, pain that keeps you up at night, or pain that is significant enough that you need to take something for it, you should probably see a doctor sooner rather than later–meaning make that call within a couple days if pain isn’t subsiding.
Act sooner rather than later
If pain is not getting better with complete rest after a few days, consider seeing a healthcare professional for evaluation. Do not try to run through pain unless you are keen on adding time to your recovery.
Fool me once…
If you have pain that comes back after being “healed” by rest, see a healthcare professional. Don’t try to deal with a chronic issue yourself. See someone and figure out the cause. The more times you trigger the same injury the more likely you are to do permanent damage.
Don’t waste time
If you don’t start to see progress with a healthcare professional after a couple of weeks, get imaging, get a second opinion, or both. Don’t spend months with someone who isn’t helping you heal. Don’t worry about offending the doctor. This is about YOU and your recovery. You have to be an advocate for yourself.
They tried to make me go to rehab…
If you are seeing a doctor who treats structural injuries (ortho, podiatrist, etc) and not a movement specialist (physical therapist), make sure to see the latter once the former “releases” you. Your initial injury may be healed, but you most likely will need some attention to help with any muscle imbalance and compensation patterns that developed while you were injured. This part is the most often overlooked piece and the reason why many athletes will end up in an injury spiral, in my humble opinion.
Treat the cause not just the symptoms
Maybe most importantly of all, once the initial acute reaction has resolved be sure to figure out the cause and treat that. (Unless the cause was just some freak accident.) Otherwise you are very likely going to end up injured again. I see this over and over again with athlete friends. If you don’t treat the underlying cause you are just going to end up back in the same place over and over again. Again, the more times you trigger the same injury the more likely you are to do permanent damage.
As a coach it can be challenging to get an athlete to admit they need help from a healthcare professional and make that first appointment. Once they finally make it into the office, I typically hear from them “I wish I would have done this sooner!” Making an appointment to see someone can be challenging mentally because it can feel like you are admitting that something is really wrong and that you may need to cut back on training for awhile. Let me offer you this alternate perspective, though. The sooner you go to a pro (ortho, podiatrist, physical therapist) the sooner your recovery and rehab can start and the sooner you can get back to training. Worst case scenario you go and they immediately tell you to rest and that recovery period starts at that moment instead of being delayed for weeks because you were stubborn. Best case scenario you go in and they say it should heal on it’s own and you have the peace of mind of knowing that. It really is a win, win.
I’m not trying to say that you should run to the doctor every time you have a little niggle. What I am saying is that it is important to properly assess and to not delay that hard decision. Heading to a healthcare professional for assistance shouldn’t feel like defeat, it should feel optimistic because you are getting help.
Have you ever put off heading in to see someone for something and regretted it later? Would love for you to share your experiences!
It’s been over two months since I have run. Since then I have had a couple of x-rays and MRIs and found out a few things. I’ve DNSed a couple races. I’ve stopped training cardio entirely. One might think this has lead to some significant mental anguish, but the truth is I am happier than I have been in a couple of years.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why is this extended time off going so well mentally? (And physically, to be honest.) The answer that I have come up with is two fold: one is that I am training for myself which isn’t really different than before, but the second is that I am no longer needing to validate myself, to myself, in the same ways as I had been.
Exactly three years ago to the day, I ran my longest run to date at Bronx 10 mile. Just a 4 months before that I had run 5 miles for the first time. And the year before that, I had quit running entirely and would stage a slow comeback later that summer. Since that 10 mile run three years ago, I have run a marathon and trained for two 50ks. I’ve increased mileage on my long runs, weekly volume, and cumulative elevations. I’ve been chasing bigger and bigger goals with some physical, but no mental breaks.
I’ve never been one who cared about speed. Getting into the Boston Marathon is an amazing accomplishment that I have no interest in whatsoever. I have always been driven by endurance and strength over getting from point a to point b in the fastest way possible. Something about drawing out the run longer and making it more grueling is very appealing to me. This isn’t just about physical strength, it’s about mental strength–over an extended period of time. To me, the physical was always the limiter. I focused on getting stronger and trained right on the edge of my fitness a lot of the time. When physical limitations got in the way I would do everything I could to address them, but keep moving forward. I had to get to that finish line.
My last 50k training cycle was the most extreme example of this drive to get to my goal race. I did everything I could trying to work around whatever my body was cranky about. By the time I got to within weeks of the starting line I was mentally exhausted. I knew I was mentally strong enough to get to the start line and get it done, but I also knew once it was over that I was taking a break. Well, the start line didn’t happen and a few weeks after that I decided to pull the plug on running entirely for awhile.
So I here I am with no running goals and happy as a clam. I’ve decided that not just my body, but mind is going to guide me not a finish line on the calendar. I’ll know when the time is right both physically and mentally. In the meantime, I’ve been seeing a trainer twice a week who I really like and I am getting super strong. I’ve learned more about my body and am learning how to work around certain peculiarities. (Metatarsus adductus, hammertoes, tailor’s bunions, an angry adventitial bursa in my foot, neuropathy in my feet, and of course those two discs in my back) My back and the rest of my body excluding my foot feels better than it has in years. My foot (bursitis) is still getting inflamed and obviously needs some more patience. I am happy to oblige.
I’ve learned to appreciate the daily and weekly progress with strength training and focusing on nutrition. There is something rewarding about not just lifting heavy weights, but acknowledging the mental strength it takes to lift your body weight and more from the ground. That’s not just muscular strength, you have to believe you can do it. I’ve also learned to appreciate quick or simple wins like nailing my nutrition on a Saturday, getting an extra 10 seconds on my hang or handstand, or noticing my mobility improving in different joints. I feel like I am building a race car and am focused on making sure each and every part is performing at it’s best. Maybe less of a race car and more of a Peterbilt truck, all terrain vehicle, race car hybrid with a super smart dash, but you get the idea. I’m really taking pride in and appreciating the work. And to be honest, I’m not mad about having my weekends free to reconnect with friends and adventure in different ways.
I’ve been quiet lately. After my second failure to launch (DNS) 50k at the end of May, I just really needed a break both physically and mentally. I took some time off from fitness entirely. Sometime during that month off I decided that I wasn’t going to spend this summer training again. I’ve put in a lot of hard work in the past 3 summers, suffered through some disappointing setbacks, and I’m just tired. I’m tired of trying to fit in the miles during the week, tired of spending an entire day of my weekend training, tired of missing birthday parties, and other such events. I miss my friends. I miss being invited to things. I’m really over talking about training or my injuries and realizing as I am speaking that I am the most annoying and boring person on the planet when I talk about these things (and only these things). Anywho, I debated writing this blog, but I know that future Brandi is going to be pissed if I don’t. So here I am.
I got an MRI on my lower back on Friday and today I got the results.
L4-L5 and L5-S1 broad based central disc protrusions, moderate degenerative changes in associated facet joints, mild stenosis and decreased disc space.
Translation: The jelly donuts in my spine are a little squishy and about to spill their filling. The impending doom is compressing some of my nerves which could and probably does explain some if not all of the nerve issues in my feet.
So I have mixed emotions. I want to be so angry with myself for not getting an MRI back in the winter of 2015 when all this started. Who knows what kind of damage I have done with continuing to train for two 50ks. Who knows how much sooner I could have been recovered from this damn jelly donut situation had I only had a clear picture from the start. But the past is not something I can change so now I’ve said it and I’m not going to focus on it. It’s time to just move forward.
I’m also kinda bummed that this isn’t something that will heal. Like ever. While it is true I may be able to get strong enough to be asymptomatic, my donuts are forever screwed. They will be looming like that one grey cloud off the coast during your beach day. But we can’t let that grey cloud control us, right? Right. So we continue to barbecue and hope it doesn’t rain. As a Florida girl from a family of southerners, I do love me the beach and some barbecue.
But the good far outweighs those potentially minor negatives. As I mentioned, I am tired of training. I want to spend my summer with friends and not feeling pressured about getting out the door before it feels like I am running on the sun. I’ve started with a new trainer that I really like and am establishing good trust with and am really enjoying getting stronger and learning how to lift. He is also working with my awesome chiropractic doctor on my strength protocol. (I feel so super blessed to have such amazing, smart, and caring people taking care of me, btw.) I went back to the rock climbing gym last week and got to spend time doing something I love that I haven’t done in many years with a friend that I haven’t gotten consistent quality time with since before she moved to Berlin for a year. I’ve also been working with a nutritionist–also my chiropractor and voice of reason in big training decisions for over a year–to help me safely reduce my body fat and get me back down to a more reasonable weight. (I know weight can be controversial, but I have my own personal reasons based on health and injury prevention.)
The thought of spending the next few months getting stronger and leaner, lifting, and bouldering sounds like an amazing vacation to me. I think that when and if I go back to endurance running, my approach will be much different. And I’m really excited to take all that I am learning from my focus on nutrition and strength back to my athletes. I would love to run another a marathon some day and would love to tackle that 50k distance, but for the first time probably ever in my life I feel patient. Like Granddaddies says, “Time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things.” I’ve always struggled with the patience part, but I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.
“If I were to end up in the hospital on my death bed tomorrow, I would regret never seeing the Grand Canyon.”
I said that seven years ago during a discussion about life and direction. That moment snowballed and a year later my life was completely different. I was on my way to NYC–single and unemployed for the first time in 4 years. I’ve thought about that moment and those words a million times since then. It was a moment of clarity as much as it was a declaration of truth.
To be honest, I probably put too much emotional weight on this trip and this race. I made it into this monumental life moment. I even had this plan to get words from my Granddaddies’ favorite saying tattooed on me in his handwriting after I finished the race. Those words that have guided me most of my life, “time, patience, and perseverance conquers all things” will guide me again now. If only I had more time to be able to nurse my poor sick baby back to health before I had to leave. I can change many things, but not time–and patience has always been my hardest lesson. But I know it will all be okay because for some reason the perseverance comes naturally. Perhaps it’s all the practice I have had.
All of this is to say that I will not be running Grand Canyon 50k nor will I be taking the trip out there. It’s a large, tough pill to swallow letting go of not only the race after my second training cycle attempting to get to that distance, but knowing that I also won’t finally get to make that trip. I believe it is the right decision, though. I wish it didn’t feel so difficult or dramatic. But the fact is that this trip and this race have become so important to me that it feels like something that needs to be mourned. I will be patient and persevere, and know that in time I will eventually conquer my 50k. I will have my Grand Canyon moment.
I’m not even sure where to start. It’s been since November since I’ve written any kind of update about my own training. I was just starting with a new physical therapist then and starting to unravel the issues with my pelvis, sacrum, sural nerve, and starting back to running really slowly after a month completely off running.
The new physical therapist has been such a blessing and by February-March I was starting to get back to really training and focusing on Grand Canyon 50k. My training took a little longer to pick up than anticipated when I signed up, but I felt confident with how well things were going by March that I wouldn’t be undertrained. In Mid-March I ran NYC Half as a training run and felt strong pacing a teammate to a new PR. By the end of March it had warmed enough that I was able to head out to my local trail. I had some little twinges here and there–in my hip, my hammie, and my back–but PT was keeping everything in check for the most part.
The first weekend of April I went down to Georgia to crew a friend running Georgia Death Race. I did 2 runs in the Georgia mountains that weekend. I ended up rolling both ankles and my left ankle in particular pretty badly on the second run. I was able to run the rest of the run, but knew it was going to take some care and rehab. I made a plan with the PT to cut weekday trainings short and just focus on getting in my long training on the weekends which seemed to go okay. I had developed some foot pain in my left foot on some of the longer runs, but we assumed it was too tight shoes and made adjustments.
Five weeks to Grand Canyon
I headed out for my 20 miler at the end of April on a rainy morning and by mid-way through the five hour run the trail become very, very muddy. By the end of the run not only was my left foot aching, but my right ankle had gotten pretty aggravated from the mud running. I limped home and skipped my long run the next day.
In an effort to save my foot, ankle, and my training cycle I took 2 weeks off of training before my peak weekend of training which was going to be 22 miles on Saturday followed by Broad Street Run 10 miler the next day. My left foot was still a little tender by that weekend so I decided I would run for time instead. I got in 4 hours of training and had some slight shin and foot pain, but all-in-all I felt okay going into the 10 miler the next day. During the 10 miler my foot hurt a little and at one point I walked for a half mile, but I was able to finish it in under 2 hours and was feeling pretty good about being able to finish Grand Canyon 50k. I’d use taper to rehab my ankles and foot and hopefully line up at the start feeling healthy and ready to go.
On the way home from Philly, my right foot had a really sharp pain that came out of nowhere and it hurt a lot to walk. (The left was the one had been bothering me to this point.) I limped home and a couple days later my chiro popped my foot (cuboid) and while it didn’t completely calm it down right then, within a day the pain was gone. I again skipped my weekday runs and got in my 14 miler that weekend. Then I had to skip the following day’s 90 minute run because I woke up with a cold.
That was this past Monday and the plan this week was to run a few times at low mileage in some new shoes and incorporating a dancer’s pad to offload the 5th metatarsal joint on my left foot. But when I woke up Tuesday, one of my cats was very sick and my cold had worsened significantly. By Wednesday, my cat was at the emergency hospital. Long story short, I did not train all week and was under a lot of stress. I still planned to do Brooklyn Half Marathon and my 90 minute run on Sunday, though. And hoped that my kitty would recover in time for me to head out to the Grand Canyon.
One week to Grand Canyon
Yesterday I lined up at the start of the Brooklyn Half Marathon. I had taped my left foot in hopes of it holding together and didn’t really think about my right foot because it hadn’t bothered me since my chiro popped it. I noticed my right ankle felt a little sore and wished I had taped that ankle, too, but it was too late at that point. I crossed the start and glanced at the clock. 22:22. I took it as a good sign. I’ll spare the details, but by the 10k mark I was walking with considerable pain in my right foot and by mile 8 I had dropped from the race. Later that evening my kitty got to come home. She needs medication twice a day and I have to monitor her eating, drinking, a bathroom breaks. She is still showing some symptoms and if her condition worsens, she will need to go back to the hospital.
So here I am, six days out from Grand Canyon 50k with two injured feet and a sick cat. I can arrange for care for my cat, but will be at least 18-20 hours away from home if anything happens. I’m not sure if I will even be able to walk around the Grand Canyon much less run 33 miles with the current state of my right foot. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and this was going to be a bucket list trip for me made even better by the fact I have friends coming out, one of them I am coaching and this will be her first ultra, and I planned to stay a few extra days for adventuring out there and back in Vegas. To say I am conflicted about what to do would be an understatement. Staying home to take care of my baby and myself seems to be the most logical answer, but I’ve invested so much in this race and this trip. Not to mention not wanting to let my friends down. I have no idea what I am going to do.
As I have mentioned before The Sub-30 Club is like a family and races where there will be a good amount Subbers feel like a family reunion or party. This weekend was no different.
The expo and pre-race dinner
It all started on Saturday around noon when I headed to the race expo in the city. I met up with my girl, Jennie, and crossed paths with fellow Subber and NYRR coach, Daphne. We listened to Daphne give the course strategy talk a few times while other Subbers streamed in and out. Chelsea, Susan and her husband, Vinnie, and Nicole all stopped by to say hi and sign our black Sub-30 Club flag. It was about 2:30pm when my tummy reminded me that I hadn’t eaten yet and food became a mission. Jennie, Chelsea, and I headed out for a yummy brunch before parting ways for a few hours to run some errands. I hit Old Navy for a tossable sweatshirt, Jack Rabbits for some Honey Stingers, and Rite Aid to kill some time before heading over early to our dinner meet-up spot The Happiest Hour. Subber Sonyah was already there so I joined her at the bar. I typically don’t drink the day before a race, but since this was going to be a training run I decided to have just one. Jennie arrived and we joined Bill and Sandra at a big table. It wasn’t long before Nicole, Vinnie, and Chelsea joined us. We had a fun dinner and parted ways around 6. Somehow I had ended up spending the entire day in the city, didn’t get in my little 2 mile run, and when I got home I still had quite a bit to do to get ready for the next morning. I finally managed to get to bed around 11pm with an alarm set for 5:30am. It wasn’t an ideal amount of sleep, but again, this was only going to be a training run. NBD.
After an hour of being woken up every 10 minutes by the cats, around midnight I started to have some severe GI cramping and realized it was going to be a long night. After an hour and a half of pain, bathroom trips, and running out of toilet paper, my tummy finally decided to settle down for the night. It was around 2am by the time I was finally able to fall fully asleep.
The alarm at 5:30am came too soon after just 3.5 hours of sleep. My tummy seemed to be doing okay, but the thought of food was scary. I opted for a banana and protein bar that I have used before long runs. Out the door by 6:15am and at the Apple Store for our pre-race Subber meet-up and photo at 7am. It was cold out (in the 20s) and bag check was going to close an hour before our wave started so we were all dressed pretty interestingly. Kathy won best dressed in her robe for sure, though! A quick photo and hugs and then Erin and I headed off to drop our bags.
Bag drop was a little bit of a walk, but quick as was getting through security. The porta-potty line was super long, but went by pretty quick. I did end up in one of the grossest ones I have ever been in and for the first time ever forgot to lock it and got walked in on! Our pit stop done, we made the long walk to our corral. On the way, Erin mentioned that she was going to try to run a PR. Even though the pace was faster than my typical long run pace, I knew it was a pace I could run comfortably so I offered to pace her. We devised a quick strategy: take it easy in the park and assess the timing when we hit Times Square then shift if we needed to. Erin felt pretty casual about it and was okay not hitting the time, but in my mind we were getting her that PR!
After some shuffling of layers in the corrals, Erin losing a glove for the second time, and my bladder whining, it was finally time to start. I was a little sad to say good-bye to my super stylish layers, but I was optimistic the faster pace would warm me up quickly. The race starts right before Cat Hill so the warm-up was pretty quick! I was surprised how easy Cat Hill felt and a little sad to run past the bathrooms at The Boathouse. I definitely needed to go, but there was no way I was abandoning Erin so early so I just tried not think about it.
Miles 2-4 went by pretty quickly. We ran up East Drive north through Central Park past the Obelisk, Fred Lebow checking his watch, Engineer’s Gate, The Guggenheim, North Meadow, Lasker Rink, and finally out of the park for a series of out-and-backs that ran north, south, west, and east before finally heading south back into the park. Just before mile 4 we got our first water stop and we stopped to fuel. Then it was the long slog down the west side of the park, up and down the hills until we finally passed Tavern on the Green where the NYC Marathon course ends. As we hit the 10k mark and started to head out of Central Park and down 7th Avenue to Times Square we were feeling great and couldn’t believe we were practically half done!
Up until the point where we left Central Park, the course was super familiar. I’ve run Central Park so many times now for both races and training runs and while it IS my favorite place in the city, running it doesn’t feel super special. Like most other runners, the really exciting part of this course for me was running through Times Square. As soon as we exited the park and started seeing the lights of Times Square, it was amazing. There is something about being in the middle of 7th Avenue taking in that view that makes it feel even bigger. And the crowds were great. Nowhere near the crowds of the NYC Marathon, but plenty enough to make you feel like a rock star. There were also bands playing every few blocks so it had that same party atmosphere you get while running parts of the marathon course. It was a blast and we were feeling really good. We scoped out the photographers and did our best to get some good potential holiday card photos. 😉
As we turned and headed west onto 42nd Street, we talked a little bit about strategy again. Erin’s goal was still in reach, but we had a little time to make up. So the plan was to get past 8 and try to pick up the pace on the West Side Highway where we were hoping for a tail wind. We would reassess at mile 10 and if her goal wasn’t possible then I would find a porta-potty. My bladder was feeling quite full at this point, but I knew I could hold it since I did for 17 miles during my marathon. I wasn’t about to abandon her during this critical time in her race. Once we had a plan, we spent the run down 42nd Street having fun taking in the sights and waving and hollering “Good morning” to the cars stuck in traffic going the opposite way–which were close enough that we could high-five drivers. At the last aid station before mile 8 and our turn onto West Side Highway, Erin noticed there was no one waiting for the porta-potties, but I refused to leave her. She was getting that PR if I had anything to do with it!
As we hit the West Side Highway, a DJ played some familiar pop tune that I can’t recall, but we both knew the words and we sang aloud as we celebrated the fact that there was indeed going to be a tailwind for the next couple miles! Time to work the plan and knock off some of the time we had accumulated in the park at the beginning of the race.
During the course strategy they warned us that many runners find this part of the race boring. I’ve run along the Hudson River many times on long training runs and am familiar with the sights and didn’t think it would be so bad, but it did feel a little like a slog despite the flat course and tail wind. At this point, Erin was starting to feel some aches and I wasn’t going to tell her this, but I was starting to have some tightness in my right hammie. I also had to pee so bad that I really didn’t want to drink any more water, but I knew I had to. We would stop at every aid station to drink our water and let her stretch for a few seconds. I kept doing math in my head and had been letting her know where we were at every mile, but around mile 9 she let me know that she didn’t think she could keep the pace we needed. So I told her I wasn’t going to tell her anything about time anymore. The plan became she was going to push as much as she could and I would keep us moving and keep doing the math in my head. We would reassess at mile 10. At some point along the West Side Highway I started speeding up as we went into to the aid stations to bank a few seconds of time because I knew we would stop for a few seconds to drink and stretch. As I continued to monitor our pace, her breathing, and do the math in my head I knew the PR might be out of reach… but a second best finish was still a possibility.
When we hit mile 10, I gave her the news. We would need to make up 3 minutes over the course of the next 3.1 miles to make it a PR or we could try for the second best. She was giving all she had so the new plan was to shoot for second best, but I also really needed to pee. We ran what felt like forever (a little over a mile) before the next aid station. I told her I wouldn’t stop for water and would run ahead to the porta potty and try to find her after. So off I went at a slightly faster pace directly into a porta potty even worse than the one before the race. How you hover and get your BM all over the seat, I have no idea, but I was not waiting for another toilet. So I hovered cautiously and got out of there as quickly as possible which seemed impossible after 11 miles of holding it and hydrating every mile! Finally back on the course, I realized that I had to be at least a minute if not two behind Erin. How in the hell was I going to find her and catch up to her?!
Determined to catch up to Erin, I picked up the pace. I pushed for quite awhile questioning if I could even catch up to her when all the sudden I saw her little hat bopping in the distance. I tried to just keep the pace telling myself that as long as she was in my sights I would catch her eventually, but I lost my line of sight a few times for a few seconds and decided I was just going to push the pace until I caught her. My Garmin says that I was averaging ~8:50 for a half mile as I looked for her then chased her down. Definitely not long/training run pace! LOL. As I pulled up next to her casually, I was like “Hey girl, hey!” I couldn’t believe I made it back to her and I was excited to help her for the last miles.
The last mile
It felt like forever to get that second half of mile 12 done, but once we did I knew we were really close to sub-2:20 which would be her second fastest and a great little break of a time boundary. Most of the last mile is through a tunnel underpass around the southern tip of Manhattan. So we had a nice little decline going in and once we were down there, I picked up the pace and started weaving between runners. Erin stayed with me and I could hear her breathing shift. I knew she was working hard and I knew her body was in pain from the miles. I asked her if it was hurting right now and she could only nod. I told her that was good, she was giving it her all, and she was crushing this last mile and just needed to hold on a little longer. We were literally almost there.
Almost there, but not before what went down into the tunnel had to come back up out of it. Once we could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the incline out of it, I told her there was no hill. We were actually taking a ski lift up! There is no hill. There is no hill. There is no hill. You’re doing great! There is no hill. She kept pushing. She was crushing it. I was so excited I could scream. I just kept telling her how great she was and telling her follow me as I weaved us through runners. I would turn my head and holler behind me at her. Other runners would look over and I’d just smile. Yep, she has her own pacer and she is absolutely OWNING this finish!
We hit the 400m mark and I hollered it out to her. She hollered back, “Just one loop of the track!” That’s right! So let’s go! We turned a corner and could see the 200m mark… just one more turn to be able to see the finish. As we turned the last corner I swung wide out into the middle of the course and looked back to see her face. She was pushing it hard and the finish was in sight. I picked up the pace more and just kept hollering, “GO GO GO GO GO GO GO GO!” As we got close to the finish I reminded her to not hit her watch and SMILE through the finish for photo… HERE WE GO!
We sprinted right through the finish and after crossing the two timing mats hit the brakes abruptly to not hit the crowd of finishers. A volunteer was right in front us and told us we were awesome and as Erin caught her breath she hollered back to him, “YOU are awesome!” I told her our unofficial time–2:20:40–and took a mental photo of her face in the moment then gave her a big hug. She did it. Second best half marathon time. Official time: 2:20:23.
We walked through the finish area and I pulled up the tracker to check on our Subbers still out on the course. It looked like we had a little over an hour until they would finish so we decided to hit the post-race meetup spot to meet her husband who was already finished and to change into dry clothes. It was mid 30s and I was soaked! As we turned out of the finish area, our post-race meetup spot was not even a half block away. It was packed with runners, but I had made a reservation for 20 of us. We took turns hitting the bathroom and I ended up making multiple trips to change clothes.
One of my friends that I also coach had texted while I was out on the course that she had unexpectedly PRed by 2:34 so I was also texting with her and also sending texts to our Subbers still out on the course (including another of my athletes) encouraging them as I tried to get ready to head back out to cheer their finishes. But before I could head back out, other Subbers started to show up and after greeting them I checked the tracker and realized there was no way I could make it back down to the finish in time. (The finish areas for these big NYRR races are quite long.) So I shot a few more texts of encouragement and hollered out their finishes to the Subbers around me as they finished. As each of them streamed into the bar, they got group cheers and hugs and within a few minutes had a celebratory drink in their hands.
Somehow 3 hours passed in that place and it felt like 3 minutes. Subbers slowly trickled out and the final three–Sonyah, Chelsea, and myself–had one last round before heading back to the subway. Sonyah and I rode together to Union Square and I was so sad to give her a hug good-bye and head back to Brooklyn where my friends from inside my phone go back to living in my phone.
Recently I have had a few athletes mention to me that they are interested in losing a little weight while training. As a coach, my perspective is that athletes need to be cautious when trying to lose weight and train and my main concern is that you as an athlete are supporting your body for all the work you are putting in. Your focus should be health, not the scale in most cases.
Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor and none of this should be interpreted as prescribing a certain diet or supplements. You should always consult with your physician before beginning any supplementation or dietary regimen!
Okay, so now that we have gotten that out of the way…
The importance of calories
First and foremost, you need to be sure to be getting enough quality nutritional calories. You want to make sure that you are losing fat and not muscle which is what is going to happen if you cut your calories too much. One of the best ways to ensure you are getting the right amount of calories is to track your food. In my experience, this has been the most effective way for me to lean down. Using a platform like MyFitnessPal will also allow you to track you macros (protein, carbohydrates “carbs”, fat) and your micros (vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients). The amount of calories you need is personal to you and you can find many online calculators including in MyFitnessPal to help you determine what your baseline is and figure caloric expenditure for your different activities.
Once you get the calorie thing figured out, you are going to want to focus on your macros. There are many schools of thought on macros. I’ve done the standard USDA recommendations, high protein/fat and low carb, high carb. In the end, I think somewhere between 55-65% carbs, 25-35% fat, and 15-25% protein is where you will likely want to be. Focus on more protein when you are doing more strength, stamina, and speed so you can repair and build muscle. Focus on a little more carbs when you are in your endurance phase. And of course, don’t forget the fiber to keep things moving! For all of your nutrition it is best to be getting these things in the least processed form–meaning REAL food. And for your carbs particularly, you should be focusing on complex carbs–quinoa, beans, lentils, oatmeal, brown rice–not simple and refined carbs. And for the record, alcoholic beverages do not constitute a quality carbohydrate. Don’t validate your post-run beer as your carb replenishment. You still need quality carbs.
Okay, so now you know about macros. What about micros? Should you be supplementing? Well, that depends. I recommend tracking your typical diet for a few days then starting to make some changes to get your macros in the right zones. Then take a look at your micros. What are you deficient in on a rolling (few day) basis? Can you make some more slight adjustments to get you to where you need to be? If the answer is no–and it may be based on what food you are able to eat or have access to–then you may want to consider a supplement. If you do choose to supplement, you should be choosing quality supplements and discussing them with your doctor.
For micros, I want you to be paying particular attention to your minerals–calcium, magnesium, and iron–especially the ladies. Women tend to be deficient in these and they are super important for runners. Guys, you need to be aware, too. For iron, I eat a medium rare steak or burger once a week. You can also get iron from other sources if you aren’t into that type of thing. It is really important that you are getting your iron from food and not a supplement so pay particular attention to this one and adjust your diet. For your calcium, if you are like me and can’t do dairy it can be a challenge. I do supplement with a quality, nutritionist prescribed supplement. Calcium is super important because as we add more stress to your bones they are going to be doing something called remodeling. Your body needs calcium to do that. If you are not getting enough calcium, you are putting yourself at risk for a stress reaction or fracture!
Calcium has a best frenemy–magnesium. I say frenemy because you need calcium and magnesium in balance with each other, BUT you shouldn’t take them at the same time because they impact the absorption of each other. It’s super important that you are paying attention to this balance because while calcium is in there helping to build some bones it is also likes to party a little bit and can cause inflammation unless you send in magnesium to calm it down and to tell it is drunk and to go home. One of my favorite ways to send in some magnesium is through epsom salt baths. It is absorbed through the skin AND you get a nice little relaxing treat. Be aware that magnesium also likes to party a little–in your bowels. Too much of magnesium could have you catching up on some reading, if you know what I mean.
Are you still with me? We just have a little more to go… vitamins! A through K to be exact. You should be getting most of these with a balanced diet. One that you may need to supplement with seasonally is D. D is calcium’s best friend and is needed for your bones. It also helps keep your immune system strong which is important because your immune system becomes depressed as you accumulate training load. (Remember that cold you got during or right after marathon training?) You get vitamin D from sun exposure–10 minutes of direct high sun on your full body a few times per week is what you need. Unfortunately for those of us in places that get cold during the winter, we may end up seasonally deficient. D is actually what is responsible Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter blues.
B6 and B12 are also important vitamins for runners as they help with metabolism, energy, and play a role in hemoglobin / red blood cell production. RBCs/hemoglobin are the little guys responsible for oxygen delivery from the lungs to your body’s tissues so they are super important! B6 is available in a variety of foods, but B12 is found mostly in meat and eggs. It also found in seaweed and some fermented foods. If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat much meat you should be looking to fortified foods (cereals) for your B12 intake.
Lastly, I will say that anything you can eat to help reduce inflammation is going to be great for your runner’s body. I do a quality Omega 3-6-9 supplement and try to eat plenty of ginger. Turmeric can also be good for inflammation and it is recommended to take it with black pepper to help with absorption.
It would be remiss to not point out that the pounds on your scale do not tell the whole story. Lean mass (muscle, organs, blood, bones, skin), body fat, and hydration play a role in what your scale reads and are all important considerations. I’ll use myself as an example.
When I ran my marathon in 2015, I weighed 128 pounds and was about 24-25% body fat according to my body fat scale. This is about 97 pounds of lean body mass. Last summer while I was training, my weight was 135 pounds and again I was about 24-25% body fat. My lean mass was 102 pounds. This means I put on about 5 pounds of lean mass which we can assume was mostly muscle. My weight now is about 145 pounds and I am about 28-29% body fat. That puts my lean mass at 104 pounds. As an aside, on any given day my weight fluctuates between 143-145 based on when I weigh which accounts for fluctuations in hydration and glycogen stores. I always go with the higher number because that reflects good hydration and glycogen storage. So at 145 pounds, if I wanted to get back down to 24%-25% body fat and keep my 104 pounds lean mass, my target weight would be 138 pounds–10 pounds more than my marathon weight of 128 pounds. If I were just to take into account the scale and lose down to 128 pounds again, I would be giving up 7 pounds of hard earned muscle (lean mass)! And for those of you who are curious, I haven’t bought a whole new wardrobe since the marathon. I’ve sized up in some of my slim fit pants, but now if I get comments on my appearance they are about how fit and strong I look. #strongnotskinny
Consult with your doctor before you any supplementation or dietary regimen
Focus on health not the weight
Make sure to account for the calorie expenditure of your activities
Make sure you are getting the right balance of macronutrients including fiber
Be sure to be getting quality nutrition including complex carbs
Make sure you are getting enough iron from real foods
You need to be getting enough calcium AND magnesium
Consider supplementing with vitamin D during the winter according to your sun exposure
Keep an eye on your B6 and B12. B12 is especially a consideration for vegetarians who need to eat fortified or fermented foods to get this vitamin.
Anti-inflammatory foods can be a good consideration for a runner’s diet
I really did not want to run this morning. It started last night. I needed to get to bed a little earlier than usual because of morning calls being shifted to an hour earlier. I woke up this morning and my friend who was going to run with me bailed. I knew I had 60 minutes on my schedule and I really wanted it to be just 30 minutes. Or better yet, zero. Most of my run clothes are dirty and I didn’t feel motivated to hand wash last night so I ended up wearing my least favorite shorts, sports bra, and a pair of holey socks. I dallied around the house taking much longer to get ready than needed and almost cut it so close that I couldn’t get in the full 60 minutes. As I stepped out into the brisk morning, I realized that I forgotten my sunglasses. I put on my 80s playlist and walked towards my start.
My heart rate was high as I started. My performance condition indicator popped up and said “-7 Poor.” I almost used both as an excuse to turn around and go home or cut the run short. But I stuck with it at a painfully slow pace and slowly took in the morning. It was gorgeous this morning. Blue skies and 52 degrees. I made it all the way to the ball field which I have only done once or twice since my injury. I smiled to myself as I ran over chalked traffic lines with arrows that some kids had drawn on the sidewalk next to the playground. “New York kids” I thought to myself, “already know and trying to enforce sidewalk courtesy.” I was running in the Hasidic area of Williamsburg and there were lots of kids and men out. I passed a little girl sitting on a stoop and she stared at me I ran by. I love running by little girls. I am always secretly hoping that they see a woman running alone and free and it impacts them some positive way.
Got to my turnaround point then headed back. My legs felt a little lighter and my heart rate seemed a little easier to maintain. Peter Murphy serenaded me, “Can you feel the light? The air is wild, open…” I run passed some construction workers and not one make a comment. I own this morning. My turtle pace starts to feel empowering. I stop by a waterfront park for some water and there a bunch of dogs running free and playing.
As I start to head through a retail area, I can see the area is now bustling with people heading to work or to grab coffee or whatever it is that people do at 8am on Tuesday morning in the fancy part of the neighborhood. I see a woman in a Maserati pulling out from her luxury waterfront building. I realize how easy 45 minutes has passed. I’m so in my head that I don’t even notice that the man jogging towards me is Larry David. He passes me and I turnaround in disbelief. “Did that just happen?! Is Larry David a runner?” I think to myself. If it wasn’t him, he has a doppelganger. My heart rate goes crazy and then recovers. As I turn to head back towards my apartment, I think to myself about how gorgeous of a morning that it is and how New York City is so much more beautiful when things are green.
Last mile. I feel great. As I make my way through my last mile, across busy morning intersections I have a hard time slowing down. I’m so glad that I pushed myself out the door. I stop in the coffee shop to be greeted by my favorite barista. She confirms that I’ll take my regular–a decaf americano with 3 shots. She adds the 4th shot for me. ❤ I get back home just in time to get setup for my morning call. I dial in and greet my colleagues in India with a boisterous, “Good evening! It’s Brandi!” My energy catches even me off-guard.
As I take my first call of the day, my skin is buzzing. My head feels clear. I have a little bit of a run buzz going on. And I think about how I could have skipped my run this morning. I could have cut it short. But I got my butt out the door and I can’t say for certain, but I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t feel as amazing as I do now had I not.