Category Archives: lessons

What’s the Point?

No, I’m not having a runner tantrum or questioning the meaning of life. Training is going really well and I’m looking forward to a solid Phase III. Asking “what’s the point” however, is one of the most critical questions an athlete can ask of a coach and of themselves.

Every run should have a purpose. As such, every run has an appropriate length and pace and (spoiler alert) as hard as you can doesn’t count. I just came out of Phase II, where I was focused on getting my long run to 2:30 and on building the strength to do some big workouts in Phase III. This strength came from a steady diet of intervals with 90% rest, tempo runs and most importantly, recovery runs. Early on in Phase II, I almost derailed myself because I started to push the pace on my easy runs. I should know better but my foot called me out on the behavior and I’m back to running my easy runs somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00 pace. Yup. I race over two minutes per mile faster than I do most of my mileage.

One of the biggest challenges as a coach is convincing athletes to slow down on their recovery runs. People want to push, want to rush the acquisition of fitness or recovery from an injury. They get about two weeks out of this approach, three if they’re lucky. Think I’m being dramatic? Just read a few running blogs and look for the trend. People celebrate the return from an injury or pick a goal race, pop up their mileage way beyond the 10% rule, start hammering workouts and low and behold, just don’t know what happened when they are totally out again three weeks later.

Last year, I decided to start telling my girls about the point of each workout and run and found that in so doing, I was able to alleviate anxiety. I think we have a natural tendency to assume that a particular run or workout “determines” our future success. In reality, a goal race depends on workout stacked on workout stacked on workout and showing up every day and asking ourselves what we’re aiming to accomplish that day and then executing that. One run does not a training cycle make.

How do you make sure that all of your runs have purpose? How do you structure training cycles? What are your tricks for not pushing it too far, too soon?


Throwback Thursday: My First Marathon

I ran my first marathon in 2008 and I had no fu**ing clue what I was doing. I followed this plan loosely. I never did any long runs over 20 miles because I did a little research to learn that there was really no physiological benefit to runs over 20 miles. Other than that, I ran 6 days a week, did 800s on the cinder track near my house in North Carolina and arrived on marathon morning with no idea what to expect. I knew I needed to go out slowly but beyond that, was clueless.

I had no idea what was coming my way...

I had no idea what was coming my way…

From what I remember, it was actually one of the least painful marathons that I’ve run. I actually managed to start slowly and spent much of the race by myself. They’ve changed the course in recent years, but the year I ran it, City of Oaks had about 8 miles in Umstead State Forest, which is dirt and extremely hilly. I loved it from start to finish. I ran a 3:17, finished 7th and got to go up on stage to get my prize package which included a cell phone. In hindsight, it was actually a pretty amazing prize! I still carry the tote bag everywhere.

What was your first marathon? Did you finish and swear to never do one again or start looking for your next fix?


Happy National Running Day, a Run Bell and a Weird Sports Bra

First, Happy National Running Day! That’s a holiday I can really get behind. Ask me again when I finish a workout in the hot-humid-welcome-to-summer-weather we’re currently experiencing. National Running Day is a day to declare your passion for running and offers discounts on races and gear but also opportunities to raise money for charity.

I came across two truly bizarre gear items this week. The first was posted by This Running Life and is a “running bell” to let other pedestrians know that you’re coming up behind them. Granted I’m not a gear person anyway, but this seems insane. A simple “excuse me” or “on your left” should work for most people. For the people who have headphones in and music blaring, a bell isn’t going to get their attention any better.

I can barely find the battery for my heart rate battery daily, so this has no chance.

I can barely find the battery for my heart rate battery daily, so this has no chance.

If the bell seems absurd, hang on because I found the one item that might be more bizarre. The following is slightly NSFW on account of it comes from Victoria’s Secret. For those that can open the link, can someone please explain to me why I would WANT a sports bra that zips over my regular bra. Although I’m not always successful at this and have a run or two a month where I realize my regular bra is still on under my sports bra (#runnergirlproblems), I cannot come up with reason why I would need or want this item.

Moving on to more substantive issues, here’s an incredible article on what happens to our brains when we exercise. I’m currently in Neural Science, so we talk a lot about clinical syndromes associated with the brain but perhaps unsurprisingly, not a lot about what to do to prevent those clinical syndromes. The key takeaway from this beyond the already-accepted exercise makes you happy is that the happiness benefits of exercise extend beyond the day when you get that exercise, making another case for lifelong activity.

Tina Muir is a Saucony athlete who writes a blog that masterfully blends the art and science of running and coaching. She recently wrote an excellent article on the reasons you need to take breaks in training, my favorite part of which was this abstract, which talks about muscle damage and recovery after the marathon. I’ve learned a lot of things in medical school, one of the biggest being what words = bad in terms of clinical outcomes. Pro tip = necrosis is bad. I try not to criticize other runners (outloud), but in the week after VCM, I’ve had to use extraordinary self-control as I’ve watched numerous runners insist on starting to run again with almost no time off after the full marathon. My biggest pet peeve with the marathon is when people don’t respect the distance, whether that’s in training for the event or recovering from the event. Stepping off my soapbox now…

Two more doping stories are presented without much comment beyond looking for a noise to express how fucking frustrating it is to keep hearing these as a clean athlete who panics every time she files a TUA for her inhaler (that I’ve had since age 4). Adrienne Herzog has more excuses as she gets caught for the third time and an insider gives some perspective on the line between innovation and cheating.

Maggie Vessey made an interesting fashion statement at Pre this year. She’s currently unsponsored and went with the outfit below. I’m impressed that she got through the 800 with no mishaps, but not sure this would work for a marathon.

Image from Getty Images

Image from Getty Images

In the video of the week (well, from last week), Katie Mackey LIT UP the runner from Australia at the World Relays when she wandered out of her lane after the handoff.

Finally, USATF may never issue a statement on the SNAFU that was Indoor Nationals this year, but don’t worry, they are policing Instagram!

Fail Again. Fail Better.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

By and large, most of us will fail in our lives. Some failures are catastrophic and can change the course of someone’s life. Some are smaller but can still hang with us for days, weeks or even years. Medical school is one big experiment in failure, at least in my experience. Just when you think you have a grip on something, more knowledge gets layered on and the expectations and stakes get higher. Inevitably, your first try is an absolute disaster.

In the last two weeks, I’ve had two friends sustain what they deemed as failures and have had a front row seat to the pain of failure. One hit a major career bump. Over the past couple of years, they struck out on an adventurous career path and opted to choose their own adventure instead of walking along the traditional career path. To me, this takes extraordinary courage. I’ve certainly taken an unconventional path to medicine, but my paths here have all been relatively conventional. To step off the beaten path and try it your own way takes courage. And it almost guarantees some temporary failures along the way.

Another friend had a running failure. As I wrote on Saturday, Laurel was starting her first marathon yesterday. Unfortunately, her stomach had other ideas and she was seriously sick by mile 7 and made the smart choice to stop at 13. Understandably, she feels pretty awful today. The marathon is like that. You can survive a 5K or a 10K or even sometimes a half with something going wrong. The marathon, however, is an unforgiving beast. In talking to Laurel last night, I encouraged her to lick her wounds for a couple days then look at the option of trying again in 2 week at Vermont City Marathon. Perfect? No. But getting back up when we get knocked down is how we learn and grow.

Failure is relative too. By most people’s measures, my performance at VCM last year would be a success. For me, it remains a source of pain that I’ll carry until I try the marathon again. Yes, 2:58 is “good.” But when you are trained for 2:50, it stings. Bouncing back from it can be so difficult. Failure may motivate but it also introduces doubt and fear when you start to try something again. As I’m picking a fall marathon and starting to train again, the little voice still frustrated from VCM last year is back on my shoulder as I’m working through workouts that would have been a breeze a year ago, telling me that it isn’t going to go well, that my goals are ridiculous. My job over the next few months is to progressively silence that voice and strengthen the one that tells me to try again.

How do you handle failure? What is your biggest running-related failure?

Can’t even walk

Hi I’m Tim, I’m stepping in to blog for Sarah for a few months.  I met Sarah this year at a GMAA team race where I finished 3 seconds behind her (net time) at the New Bedford Half Marathon in March.  Going into the Vermont City Marathon we had a friendly match to see who’d beat who and Sarah won again, by 13 seconds.  And even at a fun 5K this summer at the Clarance DeMar, Sarah beat me again by 9 seconds.  So we kinda got a little rivalry going.  Sarah owned me in 2012 but I’m determined to beat her at least once in 2013.  So when I read that she was stepping away from her blog for a while I sent her an email asking if I could sub in with the hope that maybe I could steal some Mojo for 2013.  So here I am.

And this morning I couldn’t walk.  The past two weeks I’ve been teased with a mild pain in my Plantar on my right foot and this morning it was on fire.  It’s humbling to have to put all my effort not to fall over and create a racket as I limped around the house in the early morning, trying not to wake my wife and kids.  Even after the PF has warmed and stretched a bit I can’t walk without pain in every step, which is not good.

But as bummed as I am, given that I’m 9 weeks out from the Hartford marathon, I see these painful steps as my first steps in my new journey with running.  What will happen I can’t predict, but I plan on being optimistic, listening and finding expert help to get me through this and come out stronger.

Cherish your runs everyone, do you realize how lucky you are!!!

Finding Solid Ground

There’s no doubt the last 18 months have been hectic for me. Between finishing up prereqs for med school, the MCAT, coaching, working, training and applying, I’ve increasingly felt spread too thin. It wasn’t until recently, however, when someone very important to me told me that I’d failed to make them a priority that I realized I need to stop this slide towards chaos before I start med school. I think what hurt most about the comment is that he was right. I don’t prioritize the people in my life well; this was confirmed by my mom who gently shared that she felt the same way.

I’m career driven and not apologetic about that, but it saddens me that people I love dearly feel that they aren’t important to me or getting enough of my energy. Now that I recognize that I haven’t done a great job over the past year, I’m also realizing that I stopped prioritizing myself as well. It’s a bitter pill to realize you’ve been an accidental asshole to people who deserve better, and I’m trying to figure out how to improve on it. Running helps; I solve problems when I run and clear my head so that I can focus on all of my other tasks and on strengthening the relationships in my life.

The other realization I’ve had recently is that I’m distracted a lot of the time both because of all of my commitments and because I spend too much time on my phone and social media. To quell that, I’m taking a social media hiatus and making a rule that if I’m out in public or with a friend, I’m not on my phone. Life is short and I don’t think I’ll look back at the end my life and wish I’d sent more texts. That hiatus includes this blog; in the past, I’ve loved writing about running adventures and stories, but recently it’s felt less joyful and more obligatory, so it’s time for a break.

From now til December, I’ll be dark on here but rest assured out there sharing the roads and trails, screaming for my girls and working on heading into 2013 a more present, grounded person.

Run on.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Running Shorts

There’s no doubt in my mind that I would not be successful at and love running like I do without the women I’ve trained with over the years. From my teammates in high school to my training partners now, I am surrounded and supported by amazing female runners who push me along.

Watching the Women’s marathon yesterday was a blast. The definition of “ain’t over Til it’s over,” the best women in the world came to play and put on a gutsy show on a rainy, technical course.

I had to laugh as Shalane and Kara finished, however, because it was reminiscent of Christine and I after VCM. Both in a bit of a fog, I crossed the line where Christine was waiting with an impatient official who wanted her to keep moving. Through my pain I heard her say, “no! I’m waiting for my friend.” Our hug was pitiful and hunched over, but the only reaction after countless training runs and a 26.2 mile test. When I saw Kara pick up Shalane today and wrap her arms around her, I knew just what they were feeling.

Shalane and Kara, we are all so proud.


Connecting the Dots

Fell in love with this quote today, in the midst of a seriously tumultuous year. From Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford a few years back.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something–your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever–because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”

Error Analysis

One of the frustrating parts of the marathon is that there are so many moving pieces, you can execute a flawless plan and still encounter the unexpected. While I am by no means disappointed with my performance at VCM, I am still naturally inclined towards the error analysis, the “what happened.”

Training Cycle

By the time Christine and I had showered and made it to the barbeque, we’d both come up with the same conclusion about our training cycle: not enough miles at MP and not enough tempo work in general. While we were good about adding marathon pace into our long runs, we weren’t doing enough miles at the pace (maximum of 6) and we stopped doing tempo runs right around the time of New Bedford.

From a mileage perspective, I had consistent mileage, but no real peaks and cut back weeks. Because of school and MCAT preparations, I never got the 3-1 ratio that I typically follow. Instead, I ran a consistent 55 to 60 miles a week for almost 16 weeks. In the next cycle, I want to focus on ramping up miles for 3 weeks, then getting a true cutback week instead of steady mileage.

Race Day

The only controllable error on race day was my pace. While the first mile was right on, I think the overall pace in the first few miles was a tad too fast. I averaged a 6:47 pace through mile 10, when the goal pace should have been more like 6:52 to 6:55. While this doesn’t seem like a major difference, I suspect it was the reason things fell apart in the later miles. The slight increase in effort between a 6:52 and a 6:47 likely taxed my legs just enough to introduce me to the wall. Perhaps a more telling statistic is that my average pace went from 6:47 to a final 7:05, most of which occurred over the last 6 miles.

Ain’t Over Til It’s Over

I was walking through Centennial Field with Ava on Saturday after my long run, when I walked past one of the gates to the field where a Yogi Berra quote was painted on the wall: “It ain’t over til it’s over.” The phrase struck me as particularly apt after a long run that went well just a few short days after considering scratching from VCM.

As I mentioned earlier this week, things did not feel good after last weekend. I was in pain, my stride was a mess and running 8 miles seemed difficult, let alone race 26. But after an amazing massage that moved out a ton of swelling and a great test run on Thursday, I found myself back and feeling good by our Saturday run. I was landing normally, driving my knees and generally feeling like my old self, which was a welcome relief after being in tears last Monday.

Yogi’s wisdom can also be applied to the marathon itself. As I said to the Rookie the other day when he asked about what to expect from race day, there are good miles and bad miles in a marathon. There will be moments when you actually think you can’t go on and then twenty minutes later, you think you could run forever.* A competitor may blow past you at 13 but fall apart at 21. The hardest part of the marathon for me is accepting this uncertainty. I have an impressive track record of unraveling myself if I have a bad mile. One of my goals for VCM is to try to stay mentally tough even when a mile (or 3) feels awful. Perhaps recalling Yogi’s words will help…

Happy Taper, everyone.

*For a hysterical interpretation of the marathon, watch this improv video.