Spring Racing Season

While my summer and fall racing schedule is pretty barren (for good reason), I also left my spring wide open to accommodate the Dark Side Challenge in April. After running the Rebel Challenge in Anaheim in January, I learned how much training and recovery time I need around a 19.3 mile race weekend and didn’t want to overload myself too much with NYC on the horizon.

But now that the spring is nearly here – and I’m feeling stronger than ever before – I’ve added a few races to my calendar that I’m excited to talk about now.

The NYRR UAE Healthy Kidney 10K – April 9

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Having run this one last year, I was looking forward to it but didn’t know when the timing would shake out. Last year it was in late May, but a schedule change this year means it falls in early April – conveniently on a day when I need to run 12 miles! So I’ll head in to run 6.2 on the race course then add another 6 miles with my medal to complete my long run. I’m looking forward to returning to racing in Central Park as I haven’t been since the Marathon Kickoff in October – bring on that hill training!

The Dark Side Challenge 10K and Half Marathon – April 22 & 23

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I’ll be posting more about the prep I’ve been doing for this weekend soon, but a Spring Racing Calendar list would be incomplete without it.

The Newport 10K – May 6

This one I’m super excited about: I’ve heard of this race before but it’s almost always around the same time as the Asbury Park and NJ Half Marathons, so I was never able to make it. But thanks to my newly cleared calendar, this year when race organizers reached out to see if I’d be interested in becoming an Official Blog Partner, I jumped at the opportunity. So now I’m stoked to be taking on the “fastest course in the Tri-State area” on Saturday, May 6th, along the Hudson River Waterfront Walkway!

Now, I don’t know how quickly I’ll recover from racing 19.3 miles 2 weeks earlier (in January it took me a good two weeks), but I may even gun for a new 10K PR here. Based on what they say about the course being fast and flat, it sounds like I’ve got a good shot at it, so fingers crossed!

Front Runners New York LGBT Pride Run 5M

After running this one last year not too long after the attack in Orlando, I vowed to add it to my “never miss” list. It was one of the most supportive, meaningful experiences I’ve had at a race, and I’ll never turn down the opportunity to show my Pride.

So far that about wraps it up for my upcoming races – how about you, what does your Spring Calendar look like? Have you ever run any of these races before? Sound off in the comments!

How Bootcamp is Changing My Game

Since the reality finally hit me that I will be running 19.3 miles over 24 hours in less than 6 weeks (and 26.2 miles around the City of New York in less than 12 months!), I’ve decided to step up my fitness game, one month at a time.

This month, I joined Bulldog Strength and Conditioning for a month of bootcamp/ Crossfit-style classes, with the goal of upping my overall endurance and strength training game in the home stretch before my next half marathon and spring race season.

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My friend Kevin found this place about a month ago to get us ahead of the holiday weight gain by taking a drop-in class the Saturday after Thanksgiving with our friend Angela. I’ll admit: I was hesitant. I’ve done a few month-long boot camp style memberships at other gyms and while they were good workouts, I wasn’t a fan of their mentality and sometimes condescending attitudes. In some cases, the instructors cared more about socializing with the members than helping them get a good workout. Too often I’d see people sacrifice form for time and just flail around without the personal attention they should have been getting for $150+ a month – or worse, they’d get injured!

Having an injury-prone body to begin with, I like to focus on form and doing things the right way for the maximum benefit and to keep myself healthy. And it’s important to me that if I’m working with trainers, I make a personal connection with them about my fitness history and don’t feel too intimidated to ask them for help. So I went into this class with a grain of salt. But from the beginning, the owner Keith was super helpful – asking me about where we found him, what our goals were, what we were currently doing to stay active, etc. When I brought up running, he was psyched to hear about my plans for a half in January and asked me smart questions. Before we even started, I was impressed.

The class size was small; about 10 people, which was great – no crowding, plenty of time for personal interaction, and room to move. We kicked things off with a warm up that included 200M sprints, and Keith and his co-trainer were quick to point out that I should find this part easy, calling me out in front of the class – this was fun! After the warm up, they started cranking some old Alice in Chains and Nine Inch Nails music to get us into the groove, and we were off onto interval training, two workouts that we repeated two times each. The moves seemed simple at first, but after one minute on and only 15 seconds to move to the next workout, we were MOVING. My one friend had to tap out because it was so intense, and I don’t blame her – I had to pause a few times to keep my breakfast from coming up to make an appearance!

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After just over 40 minutes, we finished completely spent, sweaty and shaking, and I was hooked. I hadn’t pushed myself like that in months, and it felt great. I’ve been so scared of overdoing it and not being able to run that I’ve been shortchanging myself. No more.

On the spot I decided to commit to a month with Keith and his crew. But because he’s a smart businessman and a good trainer, he was open to discussion. He understood that I couldn’t commit to a full 5x/week schedule simply because the gym is 30+ minutes away and I need to spend more time running for now, and was able to work with me on a plan that fits my schedule and my budget.

Last night I took my first class of the month and I already can’t scratch my nose without that soreness in my arms and shoulders – and I screamed when a sneeze earlier this morning made my abs work unexpectedly. But I’m pumped to see where these workouts take me in my running. Tomorrow I’ve got 7 miles to run, and another class Sunday.

It’ll be a tough schedule to stick to this month to get all of my miles in AND reap the benefits of a month of bootcamp too, but I’m committed. If I’m going to do this 26.2 thing, I’ve got to do things I’ve never done before and work harder than I ever have in any training cycle – but I’m ready!

Running is the Worst (and the Best)

Depending on my latest run, I’ve noticed that I flip flop between calling running the best and THE WORST thing in the world.

It [sometimes] costs a lot.

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I love when people say “running is such a cheap sport”! Sure, all you really need is sneakers and your legs, buuuuuut…. sometimes those sneakers can cost $100+. And then you can’t run without knowing how fast you’re going, right? So add on a GPS watch or smartphone with tracking apps. Then there’s the cute tech fabric gear that makes it so much more comfortable (why oh WHY do the cutest Nike tights have to be $100+??). And when you race, it adds up even more! Registration fees, travel costs, parking, etc… I’d get a part time job to pay for all this running if I weren’t spending all of my free time running. Which reminds me…

It’s time consuming!

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Granted, this is more for distance runners or folks who are training for a half or full, but sometimes running takes up a LOT of time! When I’m in the thick of training, I can spend basically a whole day preparing for, running, and recovering from a long run of 2+ hours. It’s kind of a drag. Also…

It’s physically uncomfortable.

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It may seem obvious, but let’s face it: running is not easy. I mean, we can call something an “easy” pace, and yes, some paces are easier to maintain than others, but putting one foot in front of the other at an accelerated rate, jiggling everywhere, pushing yourself forward, sweating, chafing, grinding away under the hot sun or in freezing wind – none of that is comfortable.

But even though it’s expensive and it hurts and it’s super time consuming, we KEEP DOING IT. Why?

It’s cheaper than therapy.

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I’m not going to lie – if I didn’t get to work my issues out in my head while logging my miles, I’d look like Miss Owl up there. Running is my time to analyze, process, and sort through everything bouncing around in my head on a daily basis, and without it I might go batty. But while running alone is good for the soul, running WITH people is sometimes even better, because…

It connects you with amazing people.

I used to be a strict loner. At the back of the pack I trudged along because I was ashamed of my pace, didn’t want to slow others down, and spent probably more time in my head than was healthy. Then I discovered the joys of running with other people, and haven’t looked back. It’s one thing to be friendly, but runners are a whole other breed, and I love them. I’ve never met a more supportive bunch of people, and am endlessly grateful to running for bringing such amazing folks into my life. Alongside some of these people, I’ve logged miles and crossed finish lines and done things I never thought possible, which leads to my favorite reason why running is the best:

It helps make dreams come true!

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I know, I know… it’s supremely cheesy. But it’s true! If you told me 10 years ago that I’d lose a  bunch of weight, run these amazing races, win awards, work with brands I love, and eventually take on the NYC Marathon in 2017, I would have called you a liar. But running has made all that possible. And I wouldn’t trade it all for the world.

How about you: why do you think running is the worst – or the best? 

Things I Wish I Knew About Running (Before I Started)

It still amazes me that after almost 6 years of running, I’m still learning new things about this sport every day. Some of these things I wish someone had told me about before I started running. Not to deter me, but to warn me, in the gentlest way possible that…

You’re going to want talk about it. A LOT.

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You’re going to find yourself really excited about something running related: new sneakers, conquering a new distance, registration opening up for a race you’ve been dying to go to… BUT. Try to refrain from going on and on about it (much like I do here on this blog!). I’ve learned the hard way from some friends that talking about nothing but running all the time can be exhausting for those around you. I’ve actively tried to get better at this in the past year, but I’m still a major PITA with it. Just this morning I got all worked up over being assigned my Rock n Roll Brooklyn bib number and corral assignment…. and had to refrain from shouting it from the rooftops. I’m SUPER excited to take on this race. But my coworkers? Are not.

You’re going to chafe. A LOT.

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Do you see that girl up there? Do you know how CHAFED she is in that moment? I used to think I had the chafing game figured out: just keep the skin covered, go for longer length shorts in warm weather, use some chafe guard products when needed, boom. Problem solved. Then I ran an 11K race in a total monsoon and discovered that there are OH SO MANY MORE SPOTS to chafe in when it’s raining or you’re wet all over. Like your butt. And your lady parts. And… you get the gist. Let’s just say I screamed so loudly when the water hit my newly chafed spots during my post-race shower that housekeeping knocked on the hotel room door to make sure I was OK. I found myself at a corner bodega later that day desperately searching for diaper rash cream to smother basically my entire bathing suit area and allow me to walk without looking like I rode a horse across country. Something similar happened during the NYC Triathlon when I was running under firehoses and dumping cups and cups of water over my head to completely soak myself and stay cool on the run course. Lesson learned: water (in any form) + running = chafing.

It makes you hungry – but don’t use it as an excuse to eat!

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You’ve no doubt seen the articles out there about “runger” and how you’re going to want to #eatallthethings while you’re logging lots of miles. Being firmly in the “I LOVE FOOD” camp, this is one of the major reasons running first appealed to me: if I’m running all the miles, I get to eat all the food, right? WRONG. For a while I was all “I get an extra glass of wine at dinner and maybe dessert. Then I do it again Monday on a rest day, you know, for refueling purposes. And Tuesday I get dessert because I ran again!”And so on and so forth. Then I wondered why I couldn’t lose weight! Thanks to MyFitnessPal, I learned that all those extra calories weren’t necessarily being burned off, especially during rest days. Now I stay conscious of what I’m eating, what I’m burning, and pay closer attention to how certain foods affect my body and my performance. It’s trippy, but a good mix of veggies and fruits throughout the week really DO fuel you better than McDonald’s and Burger King all week. Go figure.

Cut your toenails.

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Before I ran, I was big into pedicures at the spa: sanding down my feet to baby softness and sculpting each toenail to beautiful perfection then walking away with a beautiful French pedicure? Ahh… Now? I’ve got to hack away at my feet in the privacy of my own home or else I pay the price. On the rare occasion I get a real pedicure, I have to tell the nail tech to put the sanding stick down – trim my nails next to nothing and leave the callouses please, I’ll end up with blisters if you sand them off. And don’t judge me for a third black toenail in 3 months. I picked a darker polish on purpose, just paint it. Oh and that pinkie toe where the nail fell off? Just paint the skin and give me the illusion of a toenail please. Don’t look at me like that, just paint it! Or if you don’t want to, paint 9 and give me a 10% discount for using less polish.

How about you – is there anything you’ve learned about running that you wish you’d known before? 

How to Prepare for a Half Marathon (or any race, really)

When I first started running I had NO idea what I was doing. I showed up way too early to my first 5K in a cotton tank top and shoes I bought because I liked the colors, I didn’t eat enough before the race, and I had a miserable time. Ask my husband: after that race, I said “I don’t think racing is for me.”

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Clearly, I AM A LYING LIAR WHO LIES.

Fast forward 6 years and here I am nearly 9 half marathons and countless 5Ks, 10Ks, and other distances later, and a lot smarter about how to prepare for race day. Whether you’ve run one race or 1,000, here are a few lessons I’ve learned that will hopefully help you get to the finish line with a smile:

1. Make a list

I am super Type A. I love order and planning and preparedness and lists. I will legit write something I’ve already done on my to-do list just to cross it off and get that feeling of accomplishment. Should I probably see someone about that? Perhaps. BUT, this character trait (flaw?) has served me well in my 6 years of racing, and it’ll help you too.

Make a list of everything you will possibly need for race day – and I mean EVERYTHING – like a week in advance, and start gathering it in one space like the dining room table or a box in the corner of the bedroom. Check the list often. And while you’ve probably got a handful of your own things that you know you’ll need on race day, here’s a list to get you started:

  • sneakers
  • socks (no cotton – spend the money on good running socks and your feet will thank you!)
  • top (tank, tee, longsleeve, layers, in tech fabrics – no cotton!)
  • sports bra
  • bottoms (capris, shorts, tights – same tech fabrics)
  • underwear (if you don’t run commando)
  • headband/hat/ponytail holder/bobby pins/any hair/head gear you usually need
  • headphones & music player (if your race allows them)
  • GPS watch or phone
  • anti-chafing gel or vaseline
  • lip balm
  • deodorant
  • sunblock
  • sunglasses
  • race belt
  • extra safety pins
  • fuel (Gu, energy gels, etc – 2x what you normally need just in case)
  • race number (if you already picked it up)
  • toss away water bottle
  • toss away top layer (if it’s going to be cold at the start)
  • garbage bag (if it’s rainy)
  • phone holder
  • any good luck charms or jewelry (I’ve always got to have my MARSOC Foundation bracelet and an inspirational wrap)
  • dry top & bottoms (and underthings) for post-race
  • flip flops or a second pair of sneakers & socks for post-race (because trust me, you will NOT want to put the ones you ran in back on after you take them off)

I love to lay out a Flat Runner the night before to keep track of all my gear and double check that I’m ready – and it helps to post on social media so that folks at the race know who to look for and can cheer you on in the comments, too!

2. Figure out your race day fuel plan early

Depending on your speed, fitness level, what your stomach can handle & what you prefer, race day fueling strategies vary from runner to runner. My best advice is to treat your long runs like race day and figure out what works for you by testing out your options every run.

It took me a while to perfect my plan, but on race morning I have a slice of whole wheat bread with chunky peanut butter and a banana, and half a cup of coffee. Then I’ll take a chocolate Honey Stinger gel about 10 minutes before the race start with a few sips of water. During the race I’ll drink water as I feel I need it (every 1-2 miles depending on the weather), and take a gel every 5 miles or 50-55 minutes with a cup of water. For some people that’s overkill, and for others it’s not enough.

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Not a wise choice: fueling entirely on Reeses. Although I’ve  never tried it…. brb, eating 5 lbs of Reeses and running a half marathon, will let you know how it goes.

It’s worth noting that I can’t take other gel brands – even other flavors of Honey Stinger! – without getting stomach cramps, so don’t give up on something if it doesn’t work the first time. I used to think that ALL gels gave me cramps, but after experimenting with different flavors and brands, I figured out what works for me and you will too.

3. Fuel your body right ahead of time

I’m the first to admit I’m not the best role model when it comes to food. I don’t deny myself wine and cake if I’m craving them, but I also do it all in moderation too. So what works for me might not work for you.

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And I love pizza. Did I mention pizza?

But the week before a race, I cut back on cheese and greasy foods and load up on water and carbs – not pasta twice a day every day, but just a little more than usual. And the night before a race my go-to meal is a serving or two of regular pasta with plain tomato sauce and simple grilled chicken.

Just like you should use your long runs to find day of fuel, treat the day before your longer runs like the day before a race: drink lots of water throughout the day, find a pre-race meal that keeps you satisfied and doesn’t weigh you down – and get PLENTY of sleep!

4. Pace yourself

This may seem like common sense, but for me – and many others that I’ve talked to about it – it bears repeating: throughout your training, be honest with yourself about your pace and know what to expect on race day. You can’t run at a solid 12:00/mile for most of your training and expect to run a sub-2 hour half.

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Not unless your name is Meb and you were phoning it in your ENTIRE training cycle. But I doubt you’d be reading this if you were.

It’s also easy to get caught up in the excitement of race morning and take off at an 7:30/mile pace with the folks around you at the sound of the gun, only to burn out like a tenth of a mile in because your usual pace is almost double that.

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This is important especially if you’re just starting out. In addition to your GPS watch or tracking app, whatever you prefer to run with to track your pace, they make these neat little wristbands or tattoos that you can wear on race day. They’re a great way to stay on target and save yourself a bunch of mental math out on the course. I’ve used them at a few of my races and really like them!

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5. Get there early, have fun and smile!

 

On race day, things get hectic very quickly. Plan to get to the start at least 45 minutes before you need to be there (or before your corral closes). It may seem like overkill, but the last thing you want to do is stress yourself out by running late. And once you’re there, remember that the hard part is over! You’ve already done all the work. Now you get to celebrate your hard work on the course with thousands of your fellow runners – and you’ll probably get a medal at the end of it!

Have fun, make small talk with the folks around you (if they want to), soak in the atmosphere, high five spectators on the course for extra energy (I pretend every high five is like a Super Mario Super Star), and enjoy the ride. Keep an eye out for photographers and throw up the devil horns or peace signs or wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, and cross that finish line with a smile – you did it!

 

There’s plenty of stuff I’ve probably missed and could write more posts about, but do you have any other advice to add here? Let me hear it in the comments!

A Redemption Run & A New PR

After Saturday’s race going about as badly as a race can possibly go, I’m ashamed to say the rest of the day took a nosedive too, mostly because I stupidly spent the next 11 hours reading & watching the news about the developing story, overthinking everything instead of going about my business and getting out of my own head. By the time the news reports about the explosion in Manhattan broke, I was a basket case.

But I woke up Sunday ready to run and met up with my awesome coworkers in support of the Hannah Duffy Foundation. My co-worker and his wife lost their 14-year old daughter, Hannah Duffy, to brain cancer in 2013, and each year the Hustle 4 Hannah is held to raise funds for local scholarships, to give back to the community, and to support cancer research.

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Team Gort ready to hustle for Hannah! L-R: NYC Tri teammate Chris, Nico (co-worker visiting from Uruguay), me, Sathya, John (Hannah’s dad), Alex (who was at Seaside with me on Saturday), and Joe

By the time we lined up to start at 9AM it was already warm and humid, but the 6 of us were having a good time chatting and laughing. Alex and I had planned to run together on Saturday so she could pace me to a 5K PR, and at the start she asked me if I still wanted to go for the PR. I all but laughed in her face (sorry, Alex). There was NO way I was in the right mental space to gun for a PR…

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… she said a half hour before sprinting to a new PR.

ANYWAY… We took off at 9AM from the high school and wound our way through the neighborhood streets, almost immediately up the first hill at a pace of around 11:20. Alex and I stuck together and passed one or two of our teammates while a few took off ahead over the gently rolling hills through the first mile, at around 10:5x.

We were getting increasingly faster as we warmed up, and a little while later I glanced at my watch and called out our pace of 10:2x. When I asked Alex if we were going too fast, she responded, “Nope, you’re pacing me here.” That’s when I felt the pressure – she was supposed to be my pacer the day before, but now she wanted me to pace her?

I had a pace of 10:19 in my head as my PR, so when I saw we were at an average pace of 10:3x  and felt really good, I thought “wouldn’t it be funny if…?” We went down the next hill and Alex remarked that I was flying down it. Downhills are just easier for me, I said – and she admitted the uphills were easier for her. That’s when we figured out our plan of attack: I’d push our pace on the downs and she’d drag my ass kicking and screaming up the uphills. Unsurprisingly, it worked.

The sun was getting hotter and the humidity was scorching, but when mile 2 clicked by and our pace hovered around 10:20, I realized this PR was entirely possible. We didn’t talk for much of the last mile – there was a lot of cursing when I realized we were going WAYY too fast a few times (8:57? WHAT?), and even more cursing when I spotted the school ahead, meaning we were near the finish.

As we entered the parking lot at about mile 2.6 at a 9:5x per mile pace, I suggested we sprint when we got to the track for the final stretch. That’s when I spotted these guys:

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Yeah, those are horses, chilling behind a school. I had a bit of this going on:

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But when Alex told me to go ahead and sprint as we neared the entrance to the track, I said goodbye to the horsies and went for it. Coming around the final corner I dropped the hammer and spotted Mike in the bleachers, gave him a wave, found Chris cheering me in on the sidelines and gave him a high five as I passed, and crossed that finish line at 33:02.

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I was shredded – when I realized I’d gone down to a 10:01/mile pace and nailed a new PR, I felt like crying but had no liquid left after sweating buckets for 3 miles. So instead I grabbed a bottle of water, Chris found me, Alex finished a few seconds later, Joe found us and we all had to sit down on the football field for a break.

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and some Snapchatting, because yeah.

That’s also when I realized that the 10:19 I had in my head as my 5K PR was really my best 5M PR – my 5K was a 10:28 pace, meaning I’d blown BOTH records out of the water. Soon after, Mike came out to give me a big ol’ sweaty hug, we cheered Nico and Sathya on as they finished, and we snapped some more pictures.

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After we toasted each other with pretzels and apples and hung out for the kid’s races and a beautiful butterfly release in memory of Hannah. By that point I was an emotional wreck, but I had to get home and add on 7 miles to my day for my first long run in two weeks.

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I wasn’t in those 7 miles mentally until the final 2. I couldn’t focus on anything. My pace, my form, my breathing: while it wasn’t difficult, none of it felt right. My legs were tired from pushing in the 5k but it wasn’t impossible to keep going, just… boring. I even took a few walk breaks and told myself my pace was shot, psyching myself out. But when I added up my times I was shocked to see I still averaged at 11:28/mile.

It was the perfect way to end a crazy weekend. By bedtime Sunday night (at 8:45pm, I’m not ashamed to admit) I was exhausted, proud, and drained – and most importantly, my running mojo was restored. The past few weeks have been rough and training had to take a backseat, but now I’m back on my game and ready to rock the fall of 2016.

Thursday Thoughts

So now that I’m properly caffeinated this morning – and I’ve had some time to unload the past 2 months of photos from my phone – I realize that it’s high time I update here! But because I’ve had a LITTLE too much coffee and not enough sleep, here’s a photo-heavy update on what I’ve been up to and what I’m looking forward to (in no particular order):

I ran another race in the city! 

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Back in July I ran an (uneventful, hence no recap yet) average 4 miler with NYRR at the Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe. This was smack in the middle of my “off” period between spring racing and pre-fall training, so I purposely went out just to run, take in the sights of Central Park in the summer, and earn another race in my 9+1 for the 2017 NYC Marathon. Speaking of:

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I’m only one race away! On October 30th I’m taking on the Marathon Kickoff 5M to earn my final credit for entry into the marathon! My first full, my first NYC… it’s getting real.

Training for the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon has ramped up.

With my next half now less than a month away, I’ve been killing it on the mileage front – and my paces just keep getting better too. All of my long runs have been under 12:00/mile and I’m even gunning for a 5K PR at one of my two races this coming weekend.

But it’s taken a lot of work. As a result, my weekday nights are filled with post-work crosstraining and treadmill runs (because it has been HOT in NJ this summer), meaning I’m not getting home until late most nights. And on the weekend when I’m running long, I spend one full day prepping for, doing, and recovering from my long runs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m SO lucky that my husband supports me in all this ridiculousness and cooks and takes care of the house while I’m out running, because otherwise we would be eating a lot of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets and pasta. I mean, we ARE eating that a lot, but if not for him, we’d be eating it ALL the time. Plus the lawn would be a jungle. Thanks, babe.

I got a new bike!

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After struggling through two sprint triathlons last summer on my beat up old mountain bike, I finally caved and got myself a new, speedier bike. I noticed an IMMEDIATE difference – I’m so much faster and lighter, it takes virtually no effort to get going once I get on the bike. In my first tri on it, I shaved nearly 15 minutes off my time from last year to this year. And while I’m not 100% ready to make the jump from two legs to two wheels (I’m still Jess RUNS Happy, after all), this new toy has been an invaluable part of my training and fitness plans this summer.

I hung out with the Brooks team in NYC.

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A few weeks ago I had the chance to participate in a fun little video shoot with the Brooks folks in NYC. While I can’t spill the beans about it just yet, I promise you guys are going to love what’s in store.

While this is just a quick peek (I still owe you guys a recap of my triathlon!), there’s how my summer has gone in a nutshell. How about you? Tell me everything!

Back to Training and Lumo Run Review

I officially kicked off training for the Rock n Roll Brooklyn Half Marathon (my fall goal race) earlier this month, and I’m following roughly the same plan I used for the NJ Half Marathon where I set my current half PR. The addition of a few more 9+ mile runs during that training cycle (5 or 6 vs my usual 3 or 4) made a huge difference and helped me clinch that 15 minute PR, so I’m hoping to see similar results this time. Well, maybe not another 15 minute PR, but you know what I mean 😉 With 6 weeks to race day I’m already up to 9 mile long runs, and my pace is still pretty on par with where I was back in May, so yay for that.

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Training began uneventfully with 3-4 mile runs twice during the week and a long run on the weekend, and I was super stoked to try out a new training tool: Lumo Run.

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A little sensor you clip onto the back of your waistband, Lumo Run isn’t just a tracker; it’s a tiny trainer that observes five key metrics during your run to help you improve your running form through real time audio feedback via an app on your phone.

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Full disclosure: the folks at Lumo Run sent me this sensor to test it out in exchange for my honest opinion, but I will say that I was interested in a tool like this even before they reached out to me. I don’t have the luxury of being able to work with a personal running coach, so this little tool is the next best thing.

To start, it had me run a 10 minute calibration run to see what my form and mechanics looked like, so I went out for a 5K with a friend on a hot sticky night after work.

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During the first 10 minutes we covered .87 miles while the pleasant trainer voice (Australian?) coached me to keep my posture straight and told me I was doing great. Once the calibration run was done, however, the real work began. And this woman made us WORK.

The first thing she suggested I work on is cadence, meaning the number of times my foot strikes the ground in a minute. My steps per minute were around 156 during my calibration run, so Lumo had me work on getting up to 163 SPM. To help us stay on track I played a song with a beat of about 168 BMP and the Lumo Run trainer immediately saw that we were hitting our goal. A happy little chime sounded, with the voice explaining that I’d hear the chime when I was successful. In addition to checking my cadence, the trainer also offered reminders to keep my posture straight, and announced my pace and time at the half mile and mile marks. You can change the settings on how often you hear feedback, which is a nice feature.

Once the song ended, we almost immediately slowed down without realizing it and were treated to a sad trombone “womp womp” and the instructor telling us that we weren’t meeting our cadence goal. After 2 miles of chugging along at this new rhythm, we were shredded – but ultimately we hit our goal. To help me improve my cadence after the run, it offered some post-run exercises, complete with explanations and videos too. Very helpful.

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One of the exercises to help me work on “Bounce”

After that run, I wanted to run again to keep improving. So I took it out a few days later and quickly learned just how hard this thing was going to make me work.

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Hello, little Lumo Run!

At the beginning of the run, the trainer announced my new goal was now 172 SPM. But, I turned on some music with a faster beat and set out from my house up the crazy hills of my neighborhood. And there was my first mistake. Up a small hill: Womp-womp. Flat: Ding ding! Yay! Up another larger hill: Womp-womp. Dammit! Finally after a mile of struggling to avoid the sad trombone of failure, I stopped at a red light and discovered the one minor thing I don’t like about Lumo (and can’t figure out if it’s a setting I haven’t discovered or what): even though I “paused” my run on the app, it automatically ended my run after about a minute of waiting! It was frustrating: now that the run was “over”, it marked me as not meeting my goal even though I wanted to keep working towards it, and even if I restarted, my distance and other stats would restart at 0. Overall not a dealbreaker, but kind of irritating.

Because I was now obsessed with nailing a full workout at 172 SPM the whole time, I had to take it out for another run last night – and while it was a struggle, I did it!

Even though I stacked the deck by running on an almost entirely flat course, it was still hard as anything to maintain that cadence without hearing the womp womp. A few times I even cursed out loud at the sound because I was so sure I’d been nailing the goal but wasn’t!

In short, Lumo Run is a ridiculously good motivator. I’ve only run with it a handful of times and worked on ONE metric with it, so I’ve still got a ways to go. But with a tool that’s so clear and immediate with its feedback, for the first time I’m actually looking forward to putting in the work because I know it’ll pay off. It’s like having a tiny trainer in my ear at every step, and the results are right there in my run.

And in addition to having this really cool tool, Lumo is also currently hosting the #ThisIsMyCoach Instagram contest: simply submit a photo or video of your coach using the hashtag #ThisIsMyCoach explaining why they are an inspiration, and you could win a grand prize VIP trip for two to the Kona Ironman Championships! For more info, visit their site and be sure to enter by 5pm PST on September 1 for your chance to win. 

Have you ever used a training tool like this before? What do you think? What’s your current cadence (and if it’s over 172, HOW??)

Peek a Boo!

Hey, strangers! I bet you thought I disappeared, didn’t you? Well, I’m still here, just a little busy, you know how life goes.

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Here’s a picture of a scenic lake to denote the ambiguity of life. Or because I thought it was pretty.

How have you been? The summer has been moving along quite quickly over here, with lots of exciting updates and races and training to talk about – so let’s jump right in, list style!

I’ve (re)started using My Fitness Pal

About a month ago, I had a wake-up call when I saw a photo someone had snapped of me after a BBQ. I could say it was a bad angle and I had just eaten my weight in delicious goodies (and had a few bloat-inducing beers), but it was proof of  what I’d been denying for weeks: I’d been slowly gaining the weight I lost at the beginning of the year. Even though I was working out like crazy and getting faster with each run, but my tighter clothes and the scale clearly indicated that something needed to change.

About 4 years ago I used My Fitness Pal to keep track of my food and exercise and found some success with it. But after 6 months I convinced myself that I didn’t need it any longer. “I’m a smart person, I know how many calories are in everything, no app needed!” Well that lasted for a while, but clearly things change (and so did I)!  At the suggestion of a friend, I fired up the app once more, started logging my food and exercise… and I was shocked at how grossly inaccurate I was at counting calories all this time!

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But I was grateful for the wake up call and kept at it, logging my meals, snacks, and workouts every day for about a month now, losing just about 5 lbs as of last week. I’m feeling stronger, things are fitting more easily, I’m not as bloated, and in general I’m glad to be back in the My Fitness Pal swing of things. Have you ever used it? What are your thoughts?

I booked my final NYRR 9+1 race!

That’s right, the 2017 TCS NYC Marathon is in my sights, and I’m not letting up.

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I’m volunteering at a long run next month, registered for their weekday evening Fun Run, and decided to have the Marathon Kickoff 5 Miler be my final NYRR race of the year to earn my 9+1 for entry into the 2017 marathon!

Speaking of NYRR…

… I ran two Road Runner races in the last three weeks! I’ll have more pics and full recaps soon, but I finished both the FRNY Pride Run and the Run to Breathe, remembering halfway through each race why running in the middle of summer is a friggin nightmare.

We tried our hands (arms?) at kayaking – and survived!

My brother and sister-in-law like to go kayaking and because it’s something to do outside that looked like a pretty good workout, I wanted to get a piece of that action. So they took  us to one of their favorite spots and wouldn’t you know, we freakin loved it!

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It was a REAL workout – and not just for the upper body, either! I was shocked to find different parts of my body aching even 48 hours after – like my butt and hamstrings, from holding myself upright in the kayak! I never would have thought it could be so total body, but it was, and I loved it. Thanks for introducing us to a new adventure, Mere!

I completed ONE of my outfits for the Star Wars Rebel Challenge!

This one I’m really excited about, you guys. ICYMI, I got into the Rebel Challenge in Disneyland next January, which means I’m running a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday, and both races are STAR WARS THEMED! I don’t think I have to elaborate on why this is pretty much the 2nd or 3rd coolest adventure I’ve ever embarked upon, next to marriage and maybe interning for the NJ Devils back in college.

A lot of thought went into this costume, too: because it’s a themed Disney race, I knew I HAD to go in costume. It’s all a part of the fun! But because this is my first challenge-style race with back to back mileage, I didn’t want to get too crazy with stuff I normally wouldn’t run in, especially for the half marathon. Which made it pretty easy to decide on who I’m going to run those 13.1 miles as:

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BB-8!

Because he’s fast and sarcastic and round (kind of like me), BB-8 was a natural choice.

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As for the 10K the day before, well – I’ve got some ideas for that costume, but I need to find AND test some gear out to see how feasible it would be to run in. I’m about 90% sold, because it’s a shorter distance and I can do anything for 6+ miles, especially since I plan on taking it easy and stopping for lots of pics during this race (so I won’t need to stop as much during the half). Stay tuned!

That about does it for me – I’ve got some other posts and recaps coming up this week too, but in the meantime, how’s it going by you? What have you been up to during these dog days of summer? Tell me!

NJ Half Marathon Recap: A 15 Minute PR!

Spoiler Alert: I ran the NJ Half Marathon on Sunday, and I PR’d by 15 minutes!!It was honestly the best half I’ve ever run, even in pouring rain and chilly temperatures. Let’s jump right in!

The weekend of the race was crazy busy: my dad’s birthday Friday, my friend Tina’s bridal shower Saturday, and race day Sunday. To keep myself sane, I took off on Friday and headed down to the expo to get my bib (and Tina’s bib too, she was racing despite having her shower the day before!).

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I’m used to expos being insanity, but at 2PM on a Friday, it was perfect. The process was a little disjointed: walk to a table for your bib, then another table for shirts, and another table for pre-paid parking tickets. But because it was so empty I can’t really complain, I didn’t wait more than 5 minutes at each area, and was able to relax, meet the pace team, and talk shop with other runners with no pressure.

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The following day I went to Tina’s shower, came home, cooked myself my new pre-race go-to dinner of grilled chicken and pasta in light tomato sauce. After laying out my outfit & relaxing with some coloring and a Melissa McCarthy movie, I headed to bed at 9PM.

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My eyes opened up at 3:27 entirely on their own before my 3:30 alarm, and I was ready to go. One cup of coffee, one banana, and two pieces of bread with a bit of peanut butter later, we headed out at 4:45. The race morning weather reports didn’t look promising: much like the Atlantic City April Fool’s 11K, the forecast called for rain, the only question being how much. After picking up Tina and heading to the start at Monmouth Racetrack, I was grateful we had a warm building to hang out in (even if they closed all bathrooms but one, leaving a HUGE line). There we met up with Meredith who had decided to race as well, and the runner girls hung out while the guys hung back and caught up on their own 🙂

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We waited on line for the bathroom to kill time, but by the time we got to the door a half hour later we had to go again! This worked out great though – we got out at 7:20, leaving us just enough time to head out into the cold mist and into the corrals where I almost let my nerves get the best of me. I had talked up this race to anyone who would listen to me, and I set a big goal for myself by publicly aiming for a new PR. The cold and the rain made me start to doubt myself, even with all the extra training I’d done.

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You are looking into the eyes of a woman who wants to run.” Run back to the car where it’s warm and dry and she doesn’t have to run 13 miles.

It’s funny how karma works though, because right before getting behind the gate and being left along with my frayed nerves, my local running friend Tracy spotted me and gave me the best good luck hug ever! She was such a trooper coming out in the pouring rain to cheer us on – it meant a lot to see her, especially just when I was getting so nervous!

Back in Corral J (as usual, near the end), I spotted pacers for a 12:45 half marathon and a 12:24 full marathon. Initially I’d planned on going with the 12:45 pacer for the first 10 miles and saving myself for a final 5K kick, but having never run with a pacer before I was afraid that if I lost them at a water stop or fuel break, I’d never catch back up. So I decided at the last minute instead to run by feel at around 12:00-12:30 just like I’d done in training, and if I had to pick up the 12:45 pacer towards the end, they’d be there.

After a quick selfie, a good luck hug and kiss from Mike, and 17 minutes of waiting while the faster corrals took off, Corral J hit the start and we were off! The mist turned into a light rain as we rounded the parking lot and went up a slight hill to enter the little towns we’d be running most of the course through.

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Miles 1-4ish felt good – a little warm, a little fast at 11:24-11:45, but good. At mile 3 I actually told myself, “Too fast!” after checking my watch. I’d done one 10 miler at 11:39 per mile ONCE, but could I pull it off again on race day? I got my answer at mile 5 when I felt my watch beep and thought it was only mile 4.

For the majority of the race I took in the crowds of runners around me and got all the high fives I could from the spectators. Seriously – every other house had some kind of race action going on. My friend Dan (above)  was cheering on his girlfriend Michelle and gave me the strongest high five EVER at around mile 5.5! Other folks brought out their lawn furniture and umbrellas to sit and cheer, while others set up tables filled with water bottles or orange slices.

Even though they had official aid stations every 1.5 miles or so (which I grabbed water from without stopping every time), my rain-proof layer had me overheating and I felt paste-mouth creeping up after my mile 5 gel. As if on cue, we passed a house who had left a case of 36 water bottles on their front lawn. The best! I grabbed a bottle and it became my good luck charm until mile 12.

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I’m glad I got a picture with my lucky bottle 🙂

At the halfway point, I still felt good but had a brief flash of anxiety: “I have to repeat what I’ve already done? There’s no way I’m going to feel this good much longer. Impossible.” And again – as if on cue – we passed a stretch of spectators who’d set up posters with inspirational quotes. One from the Matrix was just what I needed to see at that stretch:

“What are you waiting for? You’re faster than this. Don’t think you are, know you are.” – Morpheus

As I passed that sign I read it out loud to myself. I repeated it twice: You’re faster than this, Jess. Don’t think it. KNOW IT. And just like that, my legs felt fresher and I attacked the second half of the race with renewed energy… just as the skies opened up and it began to POUR!

Seriously, those last 7 miles were in basically a downpour. But we motored on! I grabbed an orange slice at one house, thanking the woman and her daughter who were standing in the pouring rain cutting oranges and cheering us on. At what I thought was mile 8 I told myself “5 more miles, not bad!” – then I brushed the rain off my watch and realized it said Mile 9, and I laughed again: I seriously didn’t notice another mile go by!

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No one deserves to be this happy at mile 12 of a half marathon in the rain.

I took my second gel, and for the next 3 miles we wound through downtown Long Branch past some shops and headed for the boardwalk. At this point I was deliriously happy. No, really: at mile 11 Shake, Senora came on my iPod and I started singing and run-dancing, getting some WEIRD looks from the folks I passed. #sorrynotsorry I’m feeling better than you, sir!

By the time we got to the boardwalk at mile 12 I was practically bursting – my watch’s average pace of 11:45 meant I was well on my way to beat 2:50. With about a half mile to go, Formation came on my iPod and I floored it. I felt like I’d just started Mile 1, weaving around people left and right, the finish line in sight.

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PRs aren’t pretty.

I passed Mere, Damian, and Mike all standing at the sideline in the pouring rain, screaming my name, and waved with a deranged smile as I glanced at my watch just before the finish: I was going to cross at 2:35!

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And that’s exactly what I did, throwing my arms up in the air and completely breaking down in tears. Final Time: 2:35:13, avg. pace of 11:51/mile.

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The best part: I ran the second half FASTER than the first!

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According to my Garmin the course was long, so my watch time is much better too. But either way, I ran a 15 minute PR in the pouring rain, and I felt like a million bucks.

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I met up with everyone past the finish line, crying my eyes out, and had the best hugs and celebration I can ever remember having! Meredith was especially excited; as a fellow runner, she knew just what it meant to crush my time by 15 minutes and jumped in the air squealing with me over it!

After some thought, I think this race felt so easy for a handful of reasons:

  1. It was a new (to me) course so I was seeing everything for the first time, which took my mind off the fact that I was running 13 miles in the pouring rain.
  2. It was a bigger race AND I was running 1:00+ faster per mile so I was surrounded by more people, making me feel less isolated than I usually do at the back of the pack.
  3. I created an entirely new running playlist with music I hadn’t run with before.
  4. Lastly – and most importantly – I put in a LOT of hard work! I didn’t take any time off after my last half and kept up my endurance with shorter distance races throughout the winter (the Joe K 10K in January, the Gridiron 4 Miler in February). Because I was already running 6+ miles when my “official” training started, I was able to work up to double digit runs faster and run more of them too. 5 long runs of 2+ hours (instead of the usual 2) massively improved my confidence in being able to cover the distance without bonking.

I won’t lie: four days later I’m still flying high on this one. And it didn’t stop on race day: I came in to work Monday to find a tiny little PR cake that my friend had customized with my shiny new finish time in icing!

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It’s safe to say this is my new favorite race, and barring any conflicts I will definitely be running this one again next year (hopefully in better conditions)! To everyone who cheered me on virtually here or even out on the course, THANK YOU! Your support has been a huge motivation for me, and I can’t thank you all enough. Even though most of us have never met in real life, knowing that you’re out there rooting for me fuels me to push harder in my training and leave it all on the pavement, and this race was no exception. Cheers to an amazing race – and all the great things I have yet to accomplish thanks to running!