At the end of each December, I like to look ahead to all the things I want to accomplish in the upcoming year and quietly proclaim “[next year], you’re gonna be my bitch!!!” This usually results in me looking back at all the things I did not accomplish in the past year, conveniently forgetting that one year ago, I also said “[this year], you’re gonna be my bitch!!!” This time, I’d like to look back in a more positive way and appreciate all the learning experiences, the positive, and the good that took place over the past 12 months. Most of it will be running-related because that is the topic of this blog. But maybe some of it won’t. I’m not sure, I’m writing this as I go. Let’s see what happens!
Eat Breakfast Before the Run
This is one of the most important things I changed in 2018. For the longest time, I didn’t eat before my morning runs. When it started dawning on me that I always felt sluggish on my runs, I started eating a little beforehand – a couple dates, or a handful of dried apples, or half a granola bar. My runs got a little faster but still, I couldn’t wait for them to be over so I could EAT.
While marathon training last summer, I started watching a lot of videos featuring elite athletes to see how they trained. Guess what all of them do? THEY EAT BREAKFAST BEFORE THEY RUN. And not just a handful of something – we’re talking a big bowl of oatmeal with banana or a whole bagel with peanut butter. They need fuel, so they eat. What a concept.
So I started eating my morning oat bran first thing, sometimes with banana, sometimes with peanut butter, lately with just a soft fried egg on top (the yolk MUST be runny or else I am sad). Fortunately, I also walk a dog in the morning, so I do that next for about 45 minutes, and then I do my warm-ups and go for my run. I feel SO much better now. I rarely feel sluggish on runs and I don’t have that impatient feeling like I can’t wait for it to be over. After the run, I have a protein shake so I’m fueling afterward too, which is important. It’s basically a full breakfast, just split in half around my activity.
Warm Up Before the Run
I mentioned warm-ups above. This has been a crucial change in how I prepare for a run, and for years I wasn’t doing nearly enough of it. I think for a long time I just did some basic (ya basic) stretching. Last year, I started taking it more seriously, usually doing 10 lunges and 10 squats before heading out the door.
As last season’s marathon training pushed me to higher levels in lots of ways, I began doing about 10 minutes of dynamic warm-ups before each run. I was also going to physical therapy where I was taught a few mobility exercises. I incorporated some of those, and kept adding a few more dynamic warm-ups as the weeks went by.
These days, I spend 15-20 minutes before each run doing 7 PT exercises (10 reps on each side) and 12 sets of dynamic stretches (5-10 reps on each side). All this after walking my dog for 40-50 minutes. So by the time I start running, I am more than good to go. And I haven’t had any soreness, aches, or pains since last fall, knock wood. I’d like to think my new routine has helped.
I’ll write a whole post about my warm-up routine soon!
For the Love of God, Don’t Run When in Pain
Some fatigue is normal, especially when you’re training for a marathon. A dull ache is sometimes common at the start of a run. I’m still getting a feel for the difference between soreness and pain. But a big lesson for me this year was don’t run when you’re too sore to run.
I had two major ache-related issues in 2018: the end of February / beginning of March it was my inner right knee, and through most of July (and even through the summer), I had an almost constantly sore right inner calf. I’m not calling them “injuries,” as they were both more just annoying sorenesses. I was so cautious about the one with my knee, I took an entire month off running until I got an MRI and learned it was, to quote my doctor, “nothing terrible.”
In both of these situations, I was not warming up or stretching enough, I was not doing mobility exercises, I was increasing my weekly mileage too quickly, and I wasn’t resting when hurt. July was particularly frustrating, as I had just started marathon training. You see, in June, I had this brilliant idea to start running not only in the morning, but home from work twice a week, thereby immediately adding 7-8 miles and 1-2 doubles a week. I remember starting one run home in Central Park, my calves so sore I literally said “ow, ow, ow, ow” with each of my first steps. Did I stop? No. I just adjusted my form. This was wrong and bad, and it only made things worse in the weeks to come.
I spent a lot of the summer wearing calf sleeves, going to PT, embracing acupuncture, and becoming fast friends with foam rolling, icing, and stretching. I’m glad to have learned what I did, but I wish I had been smarter to begin with and not pushed so hard so fast. I’ve learned my lesson.
Embrace Running in Every Type of Weather
I used to never run in the rain. Never. I really hated wet shoes. And also, it was just uncomfortable, and who wants to be uncomfortable? Uncomfortable is bad!
This all changed on May 19, 2018, when I ran the Brooklyn Half in the rain… and didn’t mind it. I even… liked it. My shoes were wet. My clothes were wet. Everything was wet. But I enjoyed myself. This was partly due to my friend Scott, who kindly ran alongside me the entire time even though he could have easily finished well ahead of me. I wrote about that race here if you want the full rundown.
In 2018, I ran in all sorts of weather. Bone dry and 14 degrees. Through a Bomb Cyclone. In a downpour (sans hat, a rookie mistake). Extreme humidity. Heat. Oh god, the heat. Fierce winds. Recently, I even ran through a bit of hail.
And you know what? I’m still alive. I’ve come to especially embrace running in the rain. I’ve accepted that “wet” is just another physical state – like dry, cold, or hot. I don’t associate a negative quality to it anymore. It’s just a temporary state. And I know that waiting for me at home is a hot shower, fresh coffee, and a bathrobe.
I’m More Capable Than I Think
I can’t even begin to think of all the times in my life when I didn’t think I could do something, only to prove myself wrong. When it came to running, for years this barrier was distance. I didn’t think I could run far. In 2018, I proved that I could. And for the first time, I also proved that I could run faster than I ever thought. Almost every race I did surprised me. I didn’t think I could run a sub 8:00 5K, and then I did. I didn’t think I could hang on to to a 7:45 pace for a 10K, and then I did. I hoped to run an 8:30 pace in the Brooklyn Half, and Scott pushed me to an 8:08. Before 2018, I would never have thought any of that was possible.
The more I attempt to push the pace, the more I realize I can hang on. And I can run longer than I used to think I could. I do have a runner’s body (because, you know, I am running). As long as I’ve properly fueled, warmed up, gotten enough sleep, and taken care of myself, I’m a more capable athlete than I’d ever thought I was or could be.
I hope I can keep surprising myself going into 2019.
I think I’ll stop there. Learning five things in one year is good. Let’s not get crazy here.
I hope anyone reading this is inspired to look back at 2018 and realize you learned a thing or two. Feel free to let me know!