Training for Boston? Here are Six Myths About the Race You Should Know

Before you ask, no, I’m not going to Boston this year.

But we have so many athletes we coach at Runners Connect training for it that I thought it would be helpful to share some tips and advice and bust a few training and racing myths that come up.

Myth #1: The best training for Boston is hill repeats.

Hill repeats are awesome for any marathon, no matter what the course.  You run up a fairly steep hill at a hard effort for 30-75 seconds and then walk or jog down as your rest and then repeat.  The number of sets you do depends on your experience and ability.

Hard, short hill repeats build leg strength, develop neuromuscular connections, and get your heart pounding hard.

Because you are fighting gravity, you cannot run as fast as you would on flat.  That means you can work harder at a slower speed which lessens the chance of injury.

But sprinting up a hill over and over again is not specific enough to what you will face on your way to Boston.  Hill repeats are great to sprinkle into the beginning of your training cycle (January and February) about once or twice a month, but as you get into the thick of training, you’ll want to get more focused.

Myth #2: Heartbreak Hill is a beast so training on uphills is essential.

Despite its reputation, Heartbreak is not a steep hill.  It’s only about a half mile long and a 4.5% gradient.  It also is not a continuous incline so you have small breaks of more flat road as you ascend.

So spending a ton of time training on uphills would not be the best use of your training.  All hill work will make you stronger, but Heartbreak Hill is takes up less than 2% of the Boston Marathon, so while you shouldn’t ignore uphill training, it shouldn’t be your primary focus.

The first reason why it’s so hard is because it’s at mile 20 which is a rough point in any marathon (and that’s after you’ve been working the rest of the Newton hills for 3 miles).

But the real reason is all the downhill that comes before it.  Running downhill is fun and freeing and it’s easy to get carried away because of how effortless it can feel.

But you pay a big price in your quads for all that descent.  Running fast downhill creates 54% more impact force on your legs than running on flat and 75% more breaking force.  And you likely won’t feel a thing until you have to change gears and go uphill.

Myth #3: Since most of the race is downhill, you need to train mostly on downhill.

Please don’t do that!  Yes, you absolutely need to train on downhills.  But again, because of those high impact forces, you have to be judicious about it and the risk of injury is higher.

Treat downhill running like any hard workout.  You wouldn’t spend all of your training cycle running only marathon pace, would you? (please say no!) You also shouldn’t spend every run, or even most of your runs, going downhill.

Slowly increase your volume and intensity on the downs over time.

I recommend in January to start incorporating rolling hills into your easy runs every week.  If you are not used to running hills at all, try once a week.  If you run them regularly, you can do most, if not all of your easy runs on gentle hills, being careful to keep the effort easy.

Be sure that your shoes are cushioned enough to take the extra pounding that downhills require.

Take your headphones off and listen to your footfalls on downhills.  Do you sound like a ninja or Godzilla?  Quiet, light steps are less pounding which will make a big difference in the race.

In February, start adding some downhills to any of your marathon-pace workouts, but avoid any speed on downhills that is faster than about 5-10 seconds marathon pace.  You don’t want to spend mile after mile going downhill fast–a little goes a long way.

In March you will have some of your longest runs.  On the easy-pace long runs you ideally want to approximate the course as best you can by  running a mostly downhill route with flat or a slight hill at the end.

I don’t recommend that you run every single long run on a downhill course because the injury risk is too high and the delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that can result can increase recovery time, which can interrupt your training.

Myth #4: Once you get over Heartbreak, it’s all downhill from there.

This is mostly true in terms of elevation loss, but I find the last 10k of the race to be the most difficult.  Let’s face it, the last 10k of any marathon should be hard, but this will feel like nothing else.

If you went too fast in the first half, your quads will feel like they have been shredded like hamburger meat at this point.  After they’ve been given a 3-mile uphill break, they will have a very tough time getting back into action.

There are also a couple of sneaky little uphills to contend with as you come into Boston, so don’t forget to save a little mental energy for powering through those to the end.

Myth #5: Once you take the right on Hereford, and a left on Boylston, you’re done!

You know those well-meaning but cruel spectators that cheerfully yell, “you’re almost there!” at mile 19?  That’s pretty much the feeling you’ll get when you take the right at Hereford and see that it’s two blocks all uphill.  No, it’s not long or steep, but it’s right at the very end, so it will feel very hard.

Once you crest the top, you turn on Bolyston and it is absolutely amazing!  The crowds are going nuts and you can finally see the finish line.

But what no one tells you is that the finish line feels like a watery mirage in the desert.  It looks like it’s just steps away but it’s nearly a quarter mile, so plan your sprint to the finish well!

Myth #6: Boston is overrated.

I’ve run the Boston Marathon twice and both races were some of the most memorable experiences of my life.  Yes, Boston is crowded, expensive, and a logistical challenge, but I promise you, it lives up to the hype!  So train smart and have fun!

 

Simple Smoky Roasted Carrot Lox

When I first saw this recipe from the Olives for Dinner blog for salt-roasted carrot lox that supposedly tasted exactly like smoked salmon, I printed it out, put it in my recipe binder, and ignored it for years.

I meant to make it a million times, but what stopped me was the salt.

Using two cups of salt to cocoon just three lonely carrots in a cozy salt blanket while they softened and seasoned perfectly in the oven sounded super cool.

And wasteful.

And a big mess.

And then you still have to wait two days to eat it!

But seeing the recipe in my binder again, I got a craving for bagels slathered with cream cheese, salty salmon, dotted with sour capers.  It gave me the urge to try it again.

So I followed the recipe as written and it was divine!  Everything a bagel is meant to be.

It tastes just as delicious on toast as a bagel!

My omni husband tried it and declared it was as good as the real thing (that’s saying a lot!).

Then he said, “you must make this again!  Make it for Christmas!”

But I knew when I dumped a giant brown cake of salt in the trash that I didn’t want to do that again.

So I started looking into other methods and it turns out that salt roasting was all the rage in the culinary world a few years ago.  Which naturally got people wondering if it was worth the trouble, mess, and expense.

Turns out, it’s not.

The salt acts like a blanket to trap in moisture.  The same thing will happen with aluminum foil.

(And though I haven’t tested it yet, it would probably work in a covered roasting dish.)

I tested out the theory for Christmas and, the critics were right!  My next batch was every bit as amazing with far less effort.

The carrots were perfectly roasted, steamed, and salmon-y soft.

Without all that salt.

You still have to wait a couple days for the flavors to develop marinating in the fridge, but believe me, it’s worth it!

The marinade is super simple.

The marinade is three ingredients: olive oil, liquid smoke, and apple cider vinegar.

Of course, most people are probably wondering at this point, but what about the cream cheese?  Surely that’s not vegan, right?

Yup, it is.

I’ve used store bought vegan cream cheese from Trader Joe’s, which is pretty good, but not nearly as awesome as homemade.

It’s really simple to culture your own at home using plain non-dairy yogurt (store bought or homemade) and cashews.  And you can control how sour it ends up as you like it.

The cream cheese recipe I like the best comes from an awesome vegan cheese making book called This Cheese is Nuts!: Delicious Vegan Cheese at Home (affiliate link) and it uses aquafaba as the liquid and makes the cheese turn out incredibly creamy.

And if you’d prefer to have instant gratification, you can skip the culturing step and just make this version.

These carrots turned out so amazing that I can’t believe that I waited this long to make them!

Let me know if you try it!

Yields approximately 3 cups

Simple Smoky Roasted Carrot Lox

5 minPrep Time

1 hrCook Time

48 hrTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 large carrots, peeled but left whole
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Place carrots on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to create a loose cocoon around them and sprinkle with salt.
  3. Loosely seal the carrots in their foil cocoon, place on a baking sheet and roast for 45-60 minutes until very soft.
  4. When cool enough to handle, slice carrots thinly in slightly irregular shapes to resemble smoked salmon.
  5. In a glass dish, mix remaining marinade ingredients and add carrots.
  6. Stir gently to coat.
  7. Marinade covered in the fridge 24-48 hours. Best flavor and texture is after 48 hours.
  8. Check and stir occasionally to be sure the carrots are still coated with marinade.
  9. When ready to serve, be sure to bring the carrots back to room temperature so the oil is shiny again.
  10. Serve on cream cheese with capers on bagels, toast, or crackers.
  11. Will keep refrigerated up to one week.

Notes

Adapted from Olives for Dinner Carrot Lox.

7.6.6
30
http://theplantedrunner.com/simple-smoky-roasted-carrot-lox/

 

 

Healthy Banana Blueberry Bread

I buy a lot of bananas.  I can’t help it.  When the lonely onlies are bagged up and on sale, I stock up.

Last week I got 42 bananas for $4!!!

I freeze them, dehydrate them, and bake with them.

There’s always a banana bread recipe on the back of the bag giving you ideas of what to do with all those bargain bananas.  And those recipes usually include a stick of butter, a bunch of eggs, and cups of sugar.

Not exactly what you want to be putting in your body every day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love banana bread, most of the recipes you’ll find are more like cake than bread.

Not that there’s anything wrong with cake, mind you, but I really don’t want to eat cake everyday for breakfast.

(I mean, I do want to eat cake for breakfast every day, but I really don’t!)

So I set out to make a version of banana bread without eggs or dairy, of course, but also without any sugar or oil.

Sounds dreadful, right?

I promise you, it’s far from it!

My version ends up with a crackly, crumbly crust and a soft interior busting with luscious blueberries.

If you think about it, regular whole wheat bread is typically sugar-free (or close to it) and is easily made without oil, eggs, or dairy.

I want a healthy banana bread that tastes more like bread than cake, but is still slightly sweet, and a good vehicle for a healthy smear of nut butter for protein and good fat.

And it can be made using just one bowl for easy clean up!

The trick to the one bowl method is to add the baking soda, powder, cinnamon and salt while you are mashing up the bananas.  They get evenly distributed throughout the wet ingredients and the flour gets added last.

And if you are already going to the trouble of making fresh banana bread (and it’s really not much trouble), you might as well make two loaves and freeze one.  Once they are completely cool, simply slice, put the loaf in a bread bag and freeze.

You can either remove a couple of slices at a time each day to toast up or plow through an entire loaf in a couple of days like my family does!

But I know what some of you are thinking.  Banana bread with no sugar?  You can’t be serious.

The browner your bananas are, the sweeter your bread will be naturally, but I did add an unexpected ingredient to make sure that the bread still had a hint of the classic sweet flavor:

Apple cider.

Since it’s fall, we happen to have a gallon of cider in the fridge, but feel free to sub apple juice or applesauce instead.

With only 125 calories for a 2-slice serving, you could eat 4 slices and still have room in your breakfast budget for a banana and a good spread of almond butter on each one!

And if you really, really, want a traditional, sweet and cakey banana bread, go ahead and sub the juice for sugar or maple syrup.  (I won’t tell anyone!)

Serves 2 slices

Healthy Banana Blueberry Bread

A healthy and delicious banana bread to be enjoyed everyday!

15 minPrep Time

1 hrCook Time

1 hr, 15 Total Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 very ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup apple cider, juice, or applesauce
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 2 cups frozen blueberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray two loaf pans with oil or use silicone pans dusted with a little flour.
  2. Mix the lemon juice into the non-dairy milk and set aside to curdle a bit.
  3. In a big bowl, add the peeled bananas, and all the dry ingredients except the flour and blueberries.
  4. Once the bananas are well mashed (some small chunks are fine), add the cider and the non-dairy milk mixture and stir a bit to incorporate.
  5. Next add the flour to the wet mixture, stirring just until no dry flour is visible, but taking care not to over mix.
  6. Fold in the blueberries.
  7. Divide the thick, chunky batter evenly into your prepared baking pans.
  8. Bake for 60 minutes until the top is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Try to resist eating the warm bread right away and allow to cool completely before cutting and serving.
Cuisine: American | Recipe Type: Breakfast

Notes

Inspired by Fat Free Vegan Kitchen Blueberry-Banana Bread http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2009/06/blueberry-banana-bread.html

A two-slice serving has 125 calories, 25.8g carbs, 0.7g fat, 3.8g protein

7.6.6
29
http://theplantedrunner.com/healthy-banana-blueberry-bread/

DIY Treadmill Desk: Because Runners Should Walk!

So I bought a treadmill.

But not for the reason most runners buy treadmills.

It’s not a very good one.  It’s not new and it’s out of warranty.

It’s so basic that it won’t even convert miles per hour to minutes per mile.

And the fastest it will go is ten miles an hour, which, after being forced to use my brain instead of having the machine do it for me, is a 6 minute mile pace (that’s 3:43/km for my metric friends).

That means I won’t be able to use it to run hard intervals, strides, or faster speedwork.

But that’s okay with me since I live five minutes from the gym and if the weather’s so bad that I need to run that kind of pace indoors, I can just use the fancy machines at the gym.

So why on earth did I buy a gently-used, low-budget treadmill when I live five minutes from the gym?

To walk.

More specifically to walk while I work.

 

Walking is one of the most-underrated cross training activities there is and most of us don’t do enough of it.

Walking, especially at the slow pace that you need to walk to be able to type at the same time, is the perfect aerobic activity that burns fat calories, increases blood flow to muscles to assist recovery, and builds endurance.

Add some incline and you help build strength while you answer emails, check out Facebook, or watch cat videos.

But most importantly, walking prevents you from sitting.

Well, duh, right?

A study of 218 marathon and half marathon participants done at the University of Texas School of Public Health found that while the recreational runners would run almost an hour daily, they also would sit for 7 to 10.75 hours per day.

“These results suggest that recreational distance runners are simultaneously highly sedentary and highly active,” the authors concluded.

So even if you train for an hour or two of exercise each day, you are still not undoing the damage of sitting down the rest of your day.

I am fortunate to work mainly from home and while I consciously alternate between sitting, standing, and balancing on a wobble board, I still feel like I’ve been sitting way too much.

And that’s where the treadmill comes in.

With the help of a piece of plywood and some straps, I now have a not-so-fancy treadmill desk.  A box of tea props up my laptop to a comfortable height.

When I do decide to run on it, I can simply take the board off.

And I may decide to make it look a little prettier and use hooks on the side and bungee cords underneath like this woman did, but I probably won’t bother, since this works just fine for me.

So far, I’m just starting with 30 minutes a day, but I will likely add more.  I feel better after a walk than I do when I sit and work and I know the walking not only helps my overall health, but my training as well.

(And now, I’m off for a run!)

White Bean and Kale Chili

When cooler weather sets in, I want comfort food.  Steamy bowls of something hearty and filling where you wipe the bowl clean with a hunk of toasty bread.

And preferably it’s easy to make and easy to clean up.

That’s where this white bean chili comes in.

Inspired by a traditional White Chicken Chili recipe I found on a can of Bush’s Beans, my version skips the chicken of course, and relies on a little help from my Australian friends.

Seems a little weird, but it’s great!

I found these non-chicken, “chicken style” bouillon cubes in the soup aisle of the grocery store when I was looking for veggie stock.  Normally, I’m not the type to buy things that are trying to be something they are not, but I was too curious to pass it up.

And the ingredients are pretty normal so I gave it a go:

But if you don’t have any Massel’s 7’s in your cupboard, substituting veggie stock or broth works just fine!

My version of this chili turns out to be very mild, so for our family, hot sauce is a must!  So feel free to adjust the spiciness to your tastes.

This chili is also high in iron, calcium, and potassium, which runners need to perform at their best.  (But if you are watching your sodium intake, you will want to cut back on the salt added.)

Another cool thing about this recipe is the complementary proteins with the white beans and corn (over 21 grams of plant protein per serving!).

In case you don’t know what I mean, all whole plant foods have some amount of protein, but the amino acid profile is different.  Grains and beans complement each other just like nuts and seeds.

You don’t have to get complementary proteins together in every single meal (your body is smart enough to grab what it needs whenever it comes in!), but it’s always nice to cover your bases!

Yields serves 4

White Bean and Kale Chili

A hearty, thick chili that can be made mild or hot. I like making this in the pressure cooker, but it's quick to make on the stove as well!

20 minPrep Time

20 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup of diced celery
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies (mild or hot)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (omit/adjust if your broth is salted)
  • 3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 4 cups home cooked Great Northern or Navy beans, or 2 (15.8 oz) cans
  • 2 cubes Massel's 7's Chicken style cubes (optional, can sub veggie broth for bouillon and water)
  • 2 cups water (if using bouillon, omit if using broth/stock)
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 cup defrosted frozen corn
  • 2-3 handfuls of chopped kale
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Hot sauce and/or salsa for garnish (optional, but highly recommended!)

Instructions

  1. Cook the onions and celery either in the pressure cooker or on the stove in a couple tablespoons of broth or water for 5 minutes or until onions soft and transparent
  2. Add garlic, chilies, cumin, salt, and flour and cook while stirring for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the beans, bouillon and water (or broth/stock), and corn.
  4. If you are using the stove, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes.
  5. If you are using a pressure cooker, cook on high for 3 minutes and let the pressure release naturally.
  6. Add kale and almond milk and stir until kale is wilted.
  7. Taste and adjust spices as necessary.
  8. Serve with a dollop of salsa and a thick slice of toasted bread.

Notes

This only serves four so double for leftovers!

Each serving (without salsa or hot sauce) contains 361 calories, 66.1g carbs, 2g fat, 21.4g protein, 1227 mg sodium, 1516 mg potassium, 19.4% RDA of Vitamin A, 110% RDA of vitamin C, 36.2% RDA of calcium, and 46.4% RDA of iron.

7.6.6
28
http://theplantedrunner.com/white-bean-and-kale-chili/

So What’s Next? Phoenix in February!

When you are dating someone seriously, the question people always ask is, “So, when you are getting married?”

Once you get married, they ask, “So, when are you having kids?”

Once you have a kid, they ask, “So, when are you having another one?”

And when you finish a race, naturally the first question is, “so, what’s your next race?”

I had purposely not had any plans for after my October 1 marathon.  I wanted to focus on the race and depending on how it went, make a decision after that.

I had joked that if I got my sub-three time I was shooting for, then I could die happy and never have to race another marathon again.

But I didn’t quite get there…

Like I mentioned in my race recap, I’m thrilled with my 6.5 minute personal record, but it really is just a little bittersweet to be just thirty seconds away from cracking the big three.

It feels like unfinished business.

So I have chosen to build on my fitness and race sooner rather than later and I picked the Mesa Phoenix Marathon on February 24!

The road to Mesa

Here’s why I chose this one:

  • February is far enough away that I can recover from Milwaukee and have time for another good buildup.
  • My dad and his wife live in the Phoenix area so it’s a good excuse to go out for a visit
  • It’s competitive enough that I will have a good challenge and shouldn’t be on my own too much
  • It’s point-to-point, which I love, starting at a similar altitude (2082′) to my hometown, and dropping to about 1200′.  It’s a net descent, but not ridiculously so and most of the loss is in the first quarter of the race, with a mostly flat second half so it shouldn’t be too pounding on the quads (I hope!).

Here’s a very quick video of the course:

But I do have to admit that I had a few hesitations signing up for this one.

I had this nagging voice inside my head telling me that running a downhill race for a PR is cheating.

It’s not, of course, since downhill courses are not automatically easier for everyone.  While gravity makes running easier on your lungs, downhills beat up your quads, especially if the descent is early in the race like this one, which makes the finish tougher than an entirely flat course.

And this course is not simply falling off a mountain like many of the big downhill courses like my first BQ in Utah at Big Cottonwood which dropped 4000′ from start to finish (the new course drops 6000′!)

Mesa Phoenix only drops less than 900′ over 26.2 miles.

But it’s enough of a drop that this course, while a Boston qualifier, could not be used to qualify for the Olympic Trials.  No course with a drop of more than 3.25m/km (about 447 ft) counts.

I did consider racing the Rock N Roll Arizona race in January in Phoenix instead, however, just so I wouldn’t have to  wrestle with the “fairness” of a downhill course in my mind.  That course is nice and flat and is an OTQ course, so I could have gone with that one.

But January just felt too close to be able to fit in the training.

Ultimately, I decided that this is really a non-issue. 

While I like to think my talents are limitless, I’m not foolishly optimistic to think that I can chop 15 minutes off my marathon time in four months and qualify for the trials.  I like to set big goals, but that’s just a little too big for even me!

(For now..)

26.2 miles is still 26.2 miles and it will be challenging no matter what the course.

But unlike Milwaukee, I will promise that I won’t sign up for another marathon right after this one.  Perhaps something for the fall of 2018, but no spring marathons.

It will be time to switch gears and try something new.

Like what, you ask?

I’ll let you know after this one…

Rest, Recover, Eat, Repeat

Now that my goal race is over, I’m getting serious again.

About doing nothing.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’m getting serious about eating.  A lot.  And often.

Vegan cupcakes from Milwaukee’s Comet Cafe.  Sooo good!

And after not having a single alcoholic drink for the entire month of September, I’m drinking a glass of wine every night with dinner and if I’m feeling overly ambitious, I might even have two!  (Shocking, right?)

Ten days after the marathon, I gained over 5 pounds, which is almost 5% of my bodyweight.

And I’m happy about this!

You see, I was very careful about what I consumed during training and while carb-loading before the marathon.  I made sure that I ate enough to fuel my training, but not enough to gain weight like I tend to do while marathon training.

So while I recover, I’m making indulging mandatory.

Thankfully, there’s never been a better time in history for vegan junk food!

I just found the most amazing and accidentally vegan sorbettos by Talenti.  The peanut butter fudge was incredible!

This accidentally vegan sorbetto is worth every single decadently delicious calorie!

In the past, I’ve indulged some during the recovery period, but I don’t think I’ve taken it this far before.

So this time, I’m taking the idea of polarized training to its fullest by eating and recovering as much as possible!

I took the first seven days after the race off from running completely.  I floated a bit in the pool, and walked some, but no running or cross training.

Week two is just a few short jogs and maybe a swim.

And lots of eating.

Is gaining weight and barely running for two weeks going to make training harder when I start up again?  Sure, but that’s the way it should be!  It’s impossible to peak year-round so it’s best to embrace the seasons of training as they come by going all in.

Yes, I’m still eating a few healthy things here and there, but my normal off-limits foods are all on the table.

Literally.

To be honest, I’m starting to get sick of eating family-sized bags of salty potato chips and drinking gallons of wine straight from the box.

But I’m committed and I’ll keep up the indulging for the full two weeks.  And maybe a little longer.

Because this too is training!

It will take persistence and dedication, but I know I’ve got it in me somewhere.

Pass the potato chips, please.

Race Report: 2017 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon

I am finally a three-hour marathoner.  Not a sub-three-hour marathoner, but a three-almost-on-the-nose marathoner.

I imagine I now know how Eliud Kipchoge felt when he didn’t quite break the two-hour barrier last May coming in at 2:00:25.

My official time was 3:00:29, 6.5 minutes faster than my best race in January. Sooooo close!

While I still don’t have that 2 next to my name, I’m still so happy and proud.

The runners’ ritual laying out of race clothes the night before.

When I heard that the forecast called for mid-50s-60s and a 20mph headwind, I have to admit, I was nervous.  The temperature was a little warm for good racing, but not terrible.

But the headwind?  That’s like running through molasses. (Here’s how much the wind will affect your pace.)

Then I remembered that the race planned to have a 3-hour pace group.  Those are a bit hard to find in smaller races since you have to be a lot faster than that to be able to lead a group comfortably, so I hoped I could just tuck in behind the pacer and draft.

Turns out there was a big pack of us and we stayed in a tight formation for 23 miles.

Early in the race feeling great! The dude behind me in orange mentioned how well we coordinated.

Before the race, I was careful to eat and drink everything exactly the same way I had done in January at the Charleston Marathon since it worked so well.

I had prepared two bottles of my lemonade starch fuel but this time, I used 60g of tapioca starch instead or corn starch and added 10g of corn syrup for glucose with 5g of powdered fructose.  Each 8oz bottle contained 275 calories and 67g of carbohydrate.

But just like Charleston, I ended up only using one.

Miles 1-5:  6:44, 6:42, 6:54, 6:45, 6:52

When I found out that Thomas, our pacer, was a 2:35 marathoner, I decided to ignore my watch and just blindly trust him.  I knew I would need a pack to brace against the wind as well as the mental relief of not having to worry about pace.  He told me at the start that he planned to run even splits which is what I wanted.

This is a flat course with a slight downhill so aiming for negative splits (second half faster than the first) had a big risk of backfiring.  Not to mention, I’ve never, ever run negative splits, so I wasn’t going to start now.

I occasionally checked my watch, but mostly ignored it.

The pack of 20 or so runners was so tight that we occasionally bumped elbows or clipped each other’s heels.  As I bumped the guy in the navy singlet next to me for the third time, I said, “I’m just going to apologize now for the whole race!”

Miles 6-10:  6:54, 6:54, 6:49, 6:49, 6:51. 10k split: 42:24 (6:49/mile pace)

This stretch of the race weaved through cornfields with dairy cows mooing at us in the early golden light.  We crossed the 10k timing mat and Thomas said we were right on target.

I try to avoid doing any kind of math when I’m running hard, so I took his word for it.

The pace was feeling fine and I was taking sips of my drink every other mile or so.  I was sure to grab a cup of water at each aid station and it turned out to be like a well-choreographed dance as each member of our pack held out an arm to grab a cup from a volunteer.

Miles 11-15:  6:55, 6:49, 6:54, 6:44, 6:40. Half marathon split: 1:30:05 (6:52/mile pace)

Coming through the half with nearly perfectly even splits was certainly reassuring.  As a coach, I so often talk about running negative splits, so there was a little twinge of wondering if the pace was too fast, but I let that thought evaporate as quickly as it popped up.

Looking at it later, wow, mile 15 was fast!  Good thing I wasn’t looking at my watch or I would have slowed down!

Miles 16-20:  6:47, 6:43, 6:53, 6:45, 6:54. Twenty Mile split: 2:16:58 (6:50/mile pace)

At this point we were winding through oak-lined neighborhoods of beautiful historic homes.  Our pack had grown smaller, but was still about 10 people.  The two other women that started in the pack with me had faded.

The pace was still feeling fine for me at this point, but the wind was picking up.  I allowed myself to wonder what would happen if I could speed up in the last 10k.  But I knew I didn’t want to lose the wind protection and the mental boost of the group so I stayed put.

My biggest goal was to stay strong where the race really begins–the final 10K

Miles 21-26.2:  6:52, 6:56, 6:49, 6:44, 7:23, 7:17, 7:10 (pace).  Final time 3:00:29

I was really happy that I felt as strong as I did after crossing the 20 mile mark.  I warned myself not to get too excited because there was a long way to go.

“If there is any day that you can do this,” I thought, “it’s today.”

At mile 23, I even started wondering if now was the time to leave the pack and speed up.  I didn’t want a 3 hour time, I wanted a sub-three!  But I knew as we left the protection of the neighborhoods and headed down to the beach, the winds would be in full force and I didn’t want to be alone for that.

Little did I know…

At some point Thomas mentioned there would be a good downhill at mile 24 before the flat beach and that last year he had taken the group 30 seconds too fast through it.  I quite liked that idea, but just before we got there, the pack started pulling away.

I thought that I was slowing down, I had no idea that they were speeding up.

I lost contact with them even though I was running a sub-three-hour pace.  I just didn’t know it.

So by the time I got down to the lake, I was all alone.

All by myself in front of Bradford Beach, Lake Michigan. The guy in the background would eventually pass me.

The full force of the 20mph headwinds hit me like a brick wall.  One of the bike support volunteers (you can see her shadow in the picture above) told me that I was in third place.

Convinced that the pace group minutes ahead of me was on pace and I had fallen behind, I struggled to run as hard as I could the last two miles.  I was not giving up and I do not think I could have run any harder than I did at that point.

I asked the biker if there was any woman behind me.

“Nope,” she replied, “this is all you.”

Oh, how I wish she had said, “Yes!  She’s right behind you!!”

As I entered the finishing chute, I gave it everything I had and I was shocked to see how close I actually was to three hours.

What? So I wasn’t that far behind after all?
So surprised and happy! The finish line clock was a few seconds behind the official time.

When I talked with my coach, Jeff Gaudette, I told him I was worried that not taking in enough fuel played a big factor.  He said that probably wasn’t the case.

“80-90% of the time you lost was due to the wind,” he told me. “But more importantly, what slowed you was mental.

“When the pack pulled away from you,” he said, “you thought your goal was shot.”  I subconsciously slowed down, even though consciously I was fighting as hard as I could.

Obviously, had I looked at my watch, I would have seen where I was, but at that point, I felt it didn’t matter.  If I was running as hard as I possibly could go, what did the time matter?

Apparently, a lot.

Had I realized that I was not only on pace, but under pace during mile 25, Jeff told me, I would have gotten a shot of confidence and adrenaline that could have taken me to the the finish line just a little faster.

I’m also not in the habit of looking at overall time on a run.  I look at pace, mile splits, and distance and ignore everything else.

Heck, if I simply had just the time of day showing, I would have known how close I was!  Something to remember for next time.

But overall, I am thrilled with this race.  I ended up finishing in 3rd place and I also have the swanky new title of being the 2017 Wisconsin State Female Master’s Champion!

“Don’t cha wish you coulda run 30 seconds faster, Mama?” asked my 8-year-old son the moment I got home.

Yes, of course I do.  But this is still pretty good.

 

Is Less Really More? My New Approach to Marathon Training

Every marathon I’ve run is a completely different experience than the last.

It’s the same distance and the same drama, but yet each one is unique.

I’ve been over-eager to “prove” my abilities and I’ve been hopeful just to finish well, whatever that meant.

This time, yet again, is different.

While my mileage overall ended up a bit higher than I’ve ever done, I dramatically changed the structure of my training.

Gone were the soul-crushing, almost-guaranteed-to-fail cut down workouts (where even mile is supposed to get progressively faster), as well as some big gear-changing runs that drop down to 5k pace at mile 9 that I was rarely be able to accomplish well.

Instead, I played to my strengths and chose workouts I was good at.

I spent more time at the track doing what most runners would classify as 5k work: repetitions of 200 meters or 400 meters at no faster than 5k pace but with quick jogging recovery periods.  This allowed me to spend a good chunk of time at high speed in one workout, but without struggling mentally or physically.

If you’ve never run 200 meters at your 5k pace, it feels very easy, even after the 24th one! I highly recommend this workout if you are also feeling drained from long, tough tempos or threshold work.

The other thing I did differently is I dropped a workout per week most weeks.

I have been running two workouts a week plus a long run for several cycles now.  It just seemed like this was the thing to do.  Sure I was beat down trying to run a tempo on a Thursday after a hard day at the track on Tuesday, but this is marathon training, right?  You are supposed to be tired and sore!

Actually, no, you are not.

First off, only allowing one easy day in between workouts was not enough time to recover for me.  I was not able to run to my full ability on Thursday, but I never connected that it was the lack of recovery time.

I thought it was just me not being “good” enough.

Then one week, I shifted the second workout to Friday to see if I would feel better.  And it worked.

For a while.

Later I learned from some of the (much faster!) runners that I look up to that some of them only do one workout a week with the long run instead of two when they are deep into marathon training.

Really?  That sounds almost blasphemous!  How could you possibly get in all the stimulation that you need for a solid build up on only one hard day a week?

Then I tried it.

Basically, I ran less hard overall, ran the workouts that made me confident instead of defeated, and let the easy miles flow.

Now I’m not saying I just took it easy or did not challenge my limits, however.  I worked hard and ran hard when I needed to.

What I didn’t do was buy into the “one-size-fits-all plan for marathon success.” 

And I have never felt better or stronger in my life.

No makeup, no Photoshop, no filter. Heck, not even a shower! Just ready as I can be.

My key workouts in the last few weeks have gone really well and I feel fresh and well-rested.

Marathon pace is feeling achievable (yet still a touch scary!).

The other thing that I’ve learned this year is that time goals are like bars of wet soap:  the tighter you hold on to them, the easier they slip away.

Of course I’d love to break three hours in the marathon, but that would be just the cherry on the sundae. (Okay, who am I kidding, that would be a huge fu@&ing cherry, but go with me here.)

What I really want to do is run a brave last 10k.  After more than two and a quarter hours of running, I want to be able do what I have trained for, no matter what the weather brings or what the clock says.

The time is important to me, but what matters even more is that I show up for those last 6.2 miles with the same determination and hunger that I have now writing these words.

If I am brave and focused and leave everything I’ve got out there then I cannot fail, even if the minutes click past the magical, yet ultimately arbitrary, three hour mark.

Although one small setback happened today that I hope does not affect race day:

Ahhh!!!

I was five miles into a ten mile run and I had to pee.  As I slowed to a stop, I wasn’t paying attention to my feet and my right ankle just gave way.  Nothing tripped me or got in my way, I just landed wrong and down I went.

I’ve injured my right ankle many times before, so it has been weakened in the past, but it’s been a very long time since it’s given me any issues.

It certainly hurt, but I was hopeful that it was mild.  I jogged a bit further and while it wasn’t excruciating, it didn’t make any sense to run 5 more miles home.  So I called my mom who lives in the neighborhood and she picked me up.

Five hours later as I write this, it still hurts some, but happily (and weirdly) there is virtually no swelling, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign.  I will baby it as much as I can over the next few days and my fingers are crossed that it’s minor and heals quickly.

I guess that’s one way to force rest during taper week!

I’m planning on taking it day by day and staying positive.

Assuming the ankle is good, will my less-is-more approach be successful on race day or should I have worked harder to “conquer” the workouts that I’ve struggled with in the past?

I suppose I will find out in a week, but in a way, it might not matter.

I have already succeeded in creating a way of training that works for me.  I feel better, faster, and happier.

And feeling better most of the time seems like a more holistic approach to both training and my life no matter what happens in the few hours of the race.

So maybe the difference this time is not so much about how I changed my training.

It’s about how it has changed me.

 

The Science-Based Plan to Fuel the Plant-Based Athlete

I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole again.

An innocent browse through social media and before I know it, I’m reading scientific nutrition papers well past my bedtime.

What caught my attention this time was this paper outlining specific, scientific guidelines on how to fuel vegan athletes.

YES!!

No more guessing or cobbling together various bits and pieces from all over the internet.  This is a comprehensive analysis of what the best science says now about how to fuel a vegan athlete for health and performance.

Written by David Rogerson and published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this long paper takes all the available data out there and sifts through the good and the bad, the praises and the pitfalls of a plant-based vegan diet and how it specifically applies to athletes.

I’ll give you the highlights and my take on them.

Greens, legumes, and plant-based fats are keys to a nutrient-rich vegan diet

While I like to think that I’m doing everything right when it comes to eating well for my health and for my training (and those can be very different things), I’m always open-minded  to learn something new that could make my nutrition just a little bit better.

And it looks like I need to make a couple of changes!

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of scientific research specifically on vegan athletes, so Roberson admits that some of the information has to be extrapolated from non-vegans.   Sure, vegan athletes are becoming more visible, but it’s not like there are enough of them yet to conduct widespread, double blind, replicable nutrition studies.

But even without perfect studies, the plant-based movement is becoming popular enough that athletes and sports nutritionists are looking for answers.

One issue is that the word “vegan” can mean a huge range of eating styles.  Some believe that if it didn’t come from an animal, it’s fair game, while others, myself included, base their food selections on whole, unprocessed food, free of artificial ingredients. In other words, “junk food vegans” and  raw, microbiotic herbivores (not me!) can’t all be lumped together.

So let’s assume that the vegans that are being referred to in this analysis are less the Oreo-cookie-and-French-fry vegans and more the whole-foods variety.

This triple berry nut and seed mix includes walnuts, dried cranberries, dark chocolate, almonds, dried cherries and blueberries, cashews, and pumpkin seeds.  The perfect snack with lots of protein, good fat, and micros.

The author does not seem to think that vegan athletes have an easy road.  He states that “while little data could be found in the sports nutrition literature specifically, it was revealed elsewhere that veganism creates challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet.”

Well, sure, eating just plants can be challenging in the sense that you do need to make sure that you are getting in beans, greens, seeds, nuts, fruits, whole grains and veggies each and every day, but once you get in that habit, I’d hardly call it a challenge at all.

This hearty, high protein vegan bolognese sauce stars kidney beans and walnuts in a classic tomato basil sauce

Nearly all nutrition guidelines seem to claim that just about everyone is missing some kind of nutrient, no matter what diet.  Omnivores need to pay attention to their micronutrient needs just as much as plant based eaters so a lot of the information in the paper is fairly universal.

Roberson points out that vegans and vegetarians do need to be mindful of several nutrients, specifically “the sufficiency of energy and protein; the adequacy of vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, iodine and vitamin D; and the lack of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in most plant-based sources.”

I personally have zero trouble getting all my calories in, so I’m not deficient in energy (aka calories).  I love to eat and love to eat big portions, so I rarely ever have the issue of eating too little.

“Achieving a high energy intake is difficult in some instances,” Roberson writes, “owing to plant-based foods promoting satiety.” In other words, plants make you feel full and satisfied!  In fact, this is one of the great benefits of eating plants. You get to eat a lot and you get to feel full!

But if you are new to plant-based eating, you might want to track your calories for a little while to be sure you are eating enough.

Let’s take a deeper look into the recommendations that vegans need to pay attention to.  Come down the rabbit hole with me!

Protein  

From the studies cited in the article, many vegan athletes tend to fall short of optimum protein levels.  Furthermore, fewer plant proteins contain all of the 8 essential amino acids required by the body.  A glass of cow’s milk, for example, will be a complete protein, while a glass of almond milk will fall short.

But this fact is easily rectified by eating a variety of sources of protein throughout the day (it doesn’t have to be the same meal).  Grains, legumes, nuts and seeds while provide all the protein needed to support recovery and adaptation from training.   Aim for 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes, 1.8-2.7 if you are trying to lose fat.  I easily reach this target without protein powders or a ton of soy and tend to come in somewhere around 1.75 and 2g/kg a day.

 

Carbohydrates

 This is where plant-based athletes shine. “Vegan diets tend to be higher in carbohydrates, fibre, fruits, vegetables, antioxidants and phytochemicals than omnivorous diets,” Robertson concludes. “The consumption of micronutrient and phytochemical-rich foods is an important benefit of any plant-based diet. This might help to mitigate the effects of excess inflammation and promote recovery from training.”  Endurance athletes should aim for 4g to up to 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight depending on training load.  I easily reach 6-8g/kg a day or 55-65% of daily calories.

 

Fat

Roberson notes that fat intake needs to focus on quality intake instead of quantity and admits that the relationship between fat consumption and athletic performance needs additional study.   It’s almost too easy to  meet the fat guidelines with avocados, nuts and seeds.  Endurance athletes should consume 0.5–1.5 g of fat per kilogram of body weight per day (or 30% of daily caloric intake) through avocados, nuts and seeds.  I’m generally in the 25-35% range and well over 1g/kg.

 

ALA, EPA and DHA

 Unless you’re eating salads of seaweed and microalgae, vegans are not getting many dietary sources of the omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, EPA, and DHA.  You can consume ALA in walnuts and flaxseeds, but as little as 0.5% convert in the body to DHA.  This may have important performance implications as omega-3s play an big role in cardiovascular health.  

Fish aren’t the only living beings in the ocean that supply omega-3s.  Supplementing with microalgae oil combined with whole-food sources of ALA might benefit health as well as performance.  The recommendation is 500-1000mg DHA to EPA in a 2:1 ratio or 2-4 commercially available capsules a day.  Yep, I need to get some of these!  I just ordered this brand.

 

Micronutrients

 Vegan diets tend to be higher in micros than omni diets, but attention does need to be paid to a handful of them:  B12 (vegans should supplement), iron (get a blood test to determine if you need to supplement), calcium (greens, broccoli, beans and fortified foods are great sources), vitamin D3 (“further research is warranted to determine optimal vitamin D doses for athletes”), zinc (beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to the rescue again!), and iodine (choose iodized salt over sea salt).

My favorite afternoon ritual: A matcha latte made with calcium-fortified almond milk supplies important phytochemicals and antioxidants

And now the really interesting part, ergogenic (or performance enhancing) aids:

  • Creatine: The classic bodybuilders’ supplement may actually help endurance athletes and its effect may be more pronounced in vegans and vegetarians who have naturally lower muscle stores of creatine.  “Creatine supplementation might also lead to increased plasma volume, improved glycogen storage, improved ventilatory threshold, and reduce oxygen consumption during submaximal exercise.”  But before rushing out to your local GNC, creatine has also been shown to lead to weight gain, so be sure to think about how to time that appropriately for your training, if you choose to try it.
  • Beta alanine: If you are racing at high intensity for longer than 60 seconds, your performance might benefit from this beta amino acid, which is mainly found in meat and poultry.  Because vegans’ muscles would be low in this amino acid, supplementation would theoretically help vegans even more dramatically than omnivores who might have larger reserves.  (The article was not as clear about whether or not this would apply to the marathon distance which is not at high intensity.)

I’m not sure if I’m ready to experiment with creatine and beta alanine just yet, but it’s certainly something to think about!

The paper ended with the following conclusion:

Through the strategic selection and management of food choices, and with special attention being paid to the achievement of energy, macro and micronutrient recommendations, along with appropriate supplementation, a vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes satisfactorily.

All athletes need to pay attention to their diets, just like they pay attention to their training.  Perhaps plant-based athletes need to focus on things a little differently than omnis, but it’s great to know that the science is starting to catch up with us!