Run For The Hills

During the summer months, I tend to do a LOT of hill training. Even when I’m not training for anything in particular, I love to run hills, and this summer is no different. I was excited to learn that our new neighborhood is extremely hilly — but that excitement turned to dread the first time I actually went out for a run around here.

Hills are a strange phenomenon — as much as I love them, I also hate them while I’m running them, because I’m pretty sure they’re one of the worst kinds of torture. But although tougher workouts don’t always mean better workouts, hills offer a whole lot of good and very little bad. So, why do I have such a love/hate relationship with hills, and why do I think you should be running them too?

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First things first, let’s talk time commitment here:

Hills are efficient. 

You can get just as much work in during 20 minutes of hill repeats as you can in a 30-40 minute run, depending on the pace and elevation of your run. Since we all seem to have way less time than we actually need, replacing a steady state run with some hill repeats or hill sprints can cut your workout time in half while still giving you an incredible workout, both for your lower body and for your cardiovascular system.

Now, let’s talk about YOU:

Hills make everyone a sprinter.

Sprinting, true sprinting, is not for everyone. It can be dangerous for someone who is undertrained or over-fatigued, and many of us are just not trained to create that level of force and power in our lower extremities. Yes, we can all run “hard”, but true sprinting is not for the faint of heart (or your beginner fitness client).  Hill sprints, on the other hand, can be done by anyone. Because of the incline, the potential speed and power is much less, decreasing the chance of muscle strain or other type of injury for someone who is not a professional athlete.

On those same lines…

Hills equal less stress.

Yes, the stress on your lungs and the burn in your legs might feel impossibly hard, but the truth is, when running on an incline, the stresses to your knees, ankles and feet are much less. The incline leads to less forces at the point of impact when compared to flat surface running. Dealing with achy joints when you go out for a 4-5 mile run? Try a few hills instead (and also pair them with some strength training — it’ll help, just as long as you’ve been cleared and do not have a serious musculoskeletal injury.)

And for those of us who are feeling a bit lazy…

Hill training includes breaks.

Yes, you heard me right. When you are running hills, whether it is just repeats or sprints, I highly encourage you to take a specific rest time in between each rep. The idea is to let your muscles recover enough so that you can put full effort into the next hill run. And you know what? If you stick with this, over time, you won’t need those breaks to be as long. But remember to always listen to your body — there are some days when I can fly with only 15 second breaks in between sprints, and sometimes I need a full 30 seconds to a minute. Remember that we are not robots, we are humans, and our physical performance is influenced by so many factors in our lives.

So who’s ready to run some hills? Here’s a couple of sample hill workout that I do near my house. The hills that I run these on are pretty long, about a quarter of a mile up and back. Find a hill near you that fits your fitness level and your goals, and go! (And if you happen to live in an area without any hills — that is so foreign to me — these can always be done on a treadmill as well. Although the scenery won’t be quite as good!)

Basic Hill Repeats:

This one’s not too tough to figure out. Run up the hill at a challenging pace, though not a sprint, and jog back down. I tend to take about 10 seconds at the bottom before heading back up again. Do as many reps as you can — your last hill should be extremely challenging but you should still be able to complete it. Last time I ran the hill near my house that is about .3 miles up and back, I did 6 reps, or about 2 miles of repeats.

Pseudo-Sprints:

Find a long hill near you. Run as hard as you can for 30s, then without pausing, keep walking to the top of the hill. As your fitness improves, you’ll be able to get a little bit farther in those 30s, and you can increase the time to 35s or 40s as 30 gets easier.

Sprint Ladder:

This is one of my favorite ways to do hill runs. Run 6-8 reps at a “hard” pace, but not a sprint. Jog/walk back to the bottom, and recover for about 30s between each one. Then, over a shorter distance, sprint for 15s, repeat for an additional 6-8 times. You might be thinking “15 seconds? That’s too easy!” Well, give yourself a good enough hill, and those 15 seconds at a full sprint are all you need. Recover for about 45 seconds between these.

One of the main reasons I love running hills is because it’s really easy to see progress — can you do an extra rep? Is your speed better at the top of the hill? And I don’t know about you, but progress is what motivates me, and what makes me hungry for more. Do any of you do hill runs/sprints regularly in your workouts?

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Finding Motivation: Marathon Monday

Yesterday was Marathon Monday, truly one of, if not the best day of the year in Boston. The city comes alive with such energy and love on this day every year, and this has only been amplified since the horrific bombings two years ago.

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Before the rain… getting ready to cheer on the runners from Mile 24!

In my 15 years in Boston, I’ve missed the Marathon only a handful of times due to work. I’ve been a medical volunteer at the finish line, and I’ve cheered my butt off for the runners along the route both at the finish line and a few miles out. Every year, I’m amazed at the perseverance it takes for people to reach these points. How do you run 24 miles and then push yourself to run 2.6 more when your legs are screaming and you’re having pain in places you didn’t even know existed? These are the types of things I may never know, but I love watching it all the same.

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This year’s marathon was a rainy, dreary, chilly day, but this didn’t stop thousands of runners from crossing that finish line. And that is the reason that the people of Boston and visitors from around the world were still out there cheering, still holding signs and ringing cow-bells. Because if these people, after training through the worst winter in history, could run 26.2 in pretty miserable weather — well, we could cheer in that same weather.

And the wonderful thing is that the rain may have soaked the city and every one in it, but it didn’t dampen the spirit of the day in any way. 

Watching a marathon is truly a magical experience if you pay attention. There are people of all ages, all sizes, all skill levels all completing the same goal. The elites are awe-inspiring to watch because of their grace, speed, and efficiency.  But the people at the back of the pack are just as inspiring, because they have put in just as much of a grind to get to that point.

Pushing yourself beyond what you previously thought your body is capable of — that’s inspiring. Running the course in fatigues and combat boots– that’s inspiring. Trekking through the wind, cold, and driving rain to reach your goal? That is inspiring. Pushing someone in a wheelchair who wouldn’t be able to complete that course on their own — that’s beyond inspiring.

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The lead women’s pack at about Mile 24. Love that there is 1/6 feet on the ground here! 

The truth is, even as someone who may never run a marathon in her life (I’ll never say never, but it’s pretty unlikely I’ll admit), watching a marathon is one thing that motivates me the most to be better. It doesn’t even necessarily motivate me to run more, as I’ve found a pretty great balance between running and lifting over the past couple of years. It just acts as a reminder that sometimes there are goals that seem bigger than us, goals that seem insurmountable, that we can reach if we just push beyond our comfort zone.

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One of the lead males. The stride is amazing! 

The marathon is a reminder that we all have a little bit more in us when we feel like we have nothing left. It’s a reminder that heartbreak (hill) is not a reason to stop, but a reason to push further. It’s a reminder that we all can come together for a common goal, in support of each other, and find motivation from thousands of strangers.

And now for my favorite shots of the day…

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Hometown hero Shalane Flanagan… Photo credit here goes to my good friend Todd!

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Meb! Winner of last year’s Marathon. Had a tough race this year but finished with his head and hands held high! 

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Uzo Aduba.. AKA Crazy Eyes from Orange Is The New Black! Yes, I was tracking her, Yes, we screamed her name, and YES, she waved at us 🙂 

What Am I?

I like to put myself into neat little categories. In fact, I like to put everything into categories. Ever since I was little, I’ve been putting things into lists (no joke, one of my favorite pass times when I was little was writing lists… ask my mom), into compartments, separating things.

I’m an athletic trainer. I’m a Mainer. I’m a Northeastern Husky (Husky pride!) I’m an Emerson Lion (Rawr). I’m an athlete. I’m a blonde. I’m a 30-something. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter.

I get frustrated when I can’t put myself into a category, like realizing that I fall somewhere in the middle of being introverted and extroverted. Why don’t I fit neatly into one or the other?

I’m a weight lifter.

I’m a runner. (*cough, cough*)

But I can’t really be both, can I?

I’ve been lifting weights seriously for about 4-5 years now, and I love it. I love everything about it, from the anticipation of a big lift to the feeling after completing a dead lift PR. I love the weight room, the strength progress, and the powerful feeling that comes from lifting almost twice my body weight from the ground. I love the feeling of the barbell in my hands, the weight of a heavy set of dumbbells. This summer, as I was running and training for Falmouth, I missed the weight room dearly. I was able to do some strength workouts with the equipment that we have at home (Kettlebells, pull up bar, rings, sand bag), but it just wasn’t the same as hitting the weight room.

And then this month I finally got back in there. I eased in with some upper body and full body lift days, nothing too heavy as I was getting closer to my race and needed everything in me to finish seven miles. Last weekend I finally put the bar across my back for some extremely light barbell squats, and I could hardly walk the next day. The pain was both exciting and humbling, as I was finally lifting again, but my work sets were done with a weight that is less than 50% of my max. (Yikes).

And then what did I do the next day? I went for a run. I am no longer training for a race; I no longer have to run during my free time on the weekends. Yet this past Sunday, I woke up and headed out for a 4 mile run, because it just felt natural and felt like what I should be doing. What I had been doing all summer. I’ve realized that I kind of like running, to a certain extent. I like getting out there on a beautiful day to run 3-4 miles. I find it calming and energizing at the same time, which is pretty awesome. I’ve developed a new appreciation for it — maybe that will last, and maybe it won’t, but for now I’m enjoying runs every now and again.

And then this week at stadiums, I crushed my PR for a full-stadium run by almost 3 minutes. That was all due to the run training I’ve been doing all summer. I feel lighter, I feel faster, and I feel good. But I don’t necessarily feel strong right now, and I miss that.

This has all left me with a bit of a fitness-identity crisis. I’m not quite sure where I fit in, or where I want to fit in. I know very well that distance running takes away from muscle and strength gains, an I don’t want that.  But I also know that going back to just weight room workouts (which I pretty much need to do if I want to train for a powerlifting meet) may leave me feeling slow and labored at stadium runs, and I don’t want that either. So there’s got to be somewhere in the middle, but I’ve spent so long on the strength training end of the spectrum, it’s difficult for me to creep back toward the middle.

I’m never going to be a distance runner, training for marathons and casually going out for 10 mile runs, but as a weight lifter/future power lifter, is it ok if I occasionally want to go out and run 3 or 4 miles? I know that it’s okay, that there are no rules governing what I do for my workout, but this is a different mind set than I’ve had for the past few years. For me, running has been hill sprints and stadiums, that’s it. And I do love both of those, but I’ve had some fun adding in traditional running as well.

And as I said before — this feeling may not even last, not when the roads turn icy and my safest option is the treadmill. At that point, 4 miles probably won’t seem quite so appealing.  So while I’m not really sure what exactly I want to do at this point, I know that what I don’t want to do is pigeon-hole myself into one category just for the sake of it. I am a weight lifter. I also enjoy running sometimes. And until one severely takes away from the other, I think I’m ok with being somewhere in the middle.

I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’m a strong woman. I’m competitor.

One of these days, I may compete as a power lifter. And at that time, I might have to stop running to compete at my highest level. Then again, maybe next summer I’ll train for Falmouth again, and lean more toward the running end of the spectrum. I’m okay with leaving things up in the air, because in the end I think the most important part of fitness is doing what makes you happy. Doing whatever feeds my hunger for competition and success is what I will stick with. For now, that’s a combination of strength training and running. And that’s ok.

 

 

 

 

Race Recap: Falmouth Road Race

So… I did it! I ran a gorgeous seven mile race.. and actually enjoyed it! Last Sunday was the New Balance Falmouth Road Race, as I’ve mentioned on here a few times lately. Will and I were able to spend a beautiful weekend down on Cape Cod before the race, a perfect end-of-summer get away before the craziness of the fall season starts.

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The beginning of the weekend was spent resting my legs, enjoying the beach (you can’t go to The Cape and not hit up the beach!), checking out the race expo, eating lots of great food, and even enjoying a surprise late-night swag bag delivery to my room!

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Thanks for the swag NB! Race day outfit — Absolutely in love with these running shorts, despite being nervous at first to run in them! After buying them (I bought them in 2 colors), they quickly became a regular in my running outfit rotation. 

Race day began with an early start.  With 12,000 runners, I knew I would have to get to the drop-off area for shuttle buses to the start nice and early. I was up at 5:30 am for coffee, some breakfast, and a little walk along the beach to get my mind ready. My biggest problem here was timing– eating my breakfast at 6 am with the race at 9 left a much bigger gap between eating and running than I’m used to. I made a rookie mistake with this one, not bringing a snack with me to the shuttle bus to have about an hour before start time. Because of this, I was hungry before the race even started. Womp womp. If I do this again next year, I’ll know that even if I feel full after breakfast, I should bring a small snack with me to the start line, as sitting around hungry for an hour before race time does not bode well for a good race time!

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The gorgeous area around the starting line 

Anyway, the starting area of the race was absolutely beautiful, which was a perfect preview of the rest of the course. The first three miles of the race were pretty shaded, along narrow streets with repeating rolling hills, plus a gorgeous stretch up to a classic New England lighthouse. The final four miles opened up along the coast and made for some breathtaking views — there were a few times I just wanted to stop and take a picture! Starting out, I felt pretty good despite being hungry. It was hot that day, about 80 degrees and mildly humid. The shade throughout the first few miles helped though, and I actually felt excellent throughout the hilly section. My splits were a little bit slower than I wanted at that point, but I figured that I would speed up a little bit once I got to the flatter section of the race.

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One of the first wonderful views, heading up to the light house — and the only time I took my phone out to snap a pic. 

Boy was I wrong. Once the course opened out onto the flats along the coast, the shade was 100% gone, which left the sun beating down directly onto the runners. It definitely could have been worse, but the sun was not my friend that day. Throughout almost the entire race, my legs felt good and strong, I just could not physically make myself move any faster. I saw Will and my good friend Amanda at about Mile 5.5 which did give me a bit of a boost, but I nearly hit a wall about 5 minutes after seeing them. Around the 10k mark, the heat really started to get to me, but I was able to finish strong, and my legs even felt pretty good with the final big hill that sits right before the finish line.

I ended up with a time that was not what I was hoping for. At 1:10:44, I was a little disappointed seeing as my best training run time for seven miles was 1:05. Despite the slower time, throughout the race I was confident that I had trained well — my legs felt great on those hills! I really think it was the sun, heat, and my food mistake that did me in. I’m still proud of my time, since I’m a very inexperienced runner, but I know that if I do this race again next year, I can do better!

Overall, the race was awesome. The course was beautiful, and the fans along the course were full of energy which definitely helped me through some rough points. There were people playing live music, some great signs, and just a ton of positive energy to help the runners through. If I get the opportunity to do this race again next year (and I hope I do!), I will definitely jump at the chance. And not only was the race itself awesome, but the entire weekend was great as well. The town of Falmouth had an adorable little downtown area where Will and I enjoyed some wonderful meals, and New Balance had some great events set up throughout the weekend to keep runners pumped up for race time. The best thing about the Falmouth Road Race is that it’s not just a race, it’s a whole community event with a lot of history and pride surrounding it, and it’s something that I’m proud to say that I’ve been a part of!

And now it’s time for a photo dump. 🙂

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5:30 Sunrise on race day! 

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Pre-race beach selfies of course 

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Will took these pictures along the course (I’m not in here). Look at that view! 

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Done.. and happy to be done! 

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Mile 5.5… A happy High Five, a creepy blown kiss to Will, and some smiles! 

Disclaimer: New Balance provided me with my bib number and provided lodging for the weekend, as well as the goodie bag mentioned above. I was not otherwise compensated by New Balance for this event or for my training. The decision to train and race was my own, as are all opinions about this event. 

Random Thoughts: Race Edition

Well here we are, finally at the weekend of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race! I never thought I would say that I’m excited to run a seven mile race, but I really am. After dedicating myself to training for the past 8 weeks, I’m excited to see how much my hard work will pay off. Do I expect it to be easy? No, I know it’s hilly and probably has little shade, but I feel ready and that’s all I can ask for, right? It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, if not a little on the warm side, so I’ll do my best to stay hydrated and keep from over heating. My goal is not to run super fast — because that would just be ridiculous — my goal is to run and enjoy it, plain and simple.  With my excitement for race day though, I do have a lot of random thoughts running through my head (some totally unrelated to the race itself). Read on for a glimpse into my brain:

One day doesn’t matter.

Remember a couple weeks ago when I said I had a struggle of a 6 mile run when I was getting sick? Well the weekend following that, I ran a heavenly seven miles, and it was the closest thing to a runners high I’ve ever accomplished. The run felt like a breeze, my legs were light and springy, and I felt like I could have gone on for days. Talk about a confidence booster for race day! Then the next week, following a 500 mile drive the day before, I once again ran seven miles. This time it was hot. This time it was tough. This time I finished, but five minutes slower.

But you know what? It was that day that I realized that one day really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. One day’s run could be thrown off by sleeping too little the night before, not eating well the day before, mental stress, dehydration, over heating — the point is, there are so many factors that can affect one day of training. It’s so easy to beat yourself up about one bad day, but the truth is that it’s just one day. And when it comes down to it, the outcome of my race isn’t going to rest on that one bad training day, it’s going to depend on the 8 weeks of training that I’ve put in. So despite my tough run last week, my confidence is high going into this weekend, and I only hope I get that springy feeling back on Sunday morning!

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I’m so excited for this gorgeous finish! [Source]

I need some crickets.

Yep, you read that right. I recently heard a story on NPR about companies that are making products (cookies, protein bars, etc.) out of cricket flour. As in ground up crickets. At first it sounds really gross, but I really think as long as I’m not seeing them in “cricket” form, I would be totally okay with eating these products. There were a couple of companies mentioned (Exo is the only one I can remember off hand)who make these products, and I really want to get my hands on some. Cricket flour is apparently a very high quality protein source, and it just seems like something that you, readers of my blog might be curious  about, no? I’m more than willing to be a guinea pig and eat some cricket flour cookies if it means introducing you all to some new, healthy (and crazy) foods!

I’m running with Meb!

Ok, so I’m not really running with Meb, because he runs approximately 10x faster than I do, but it’s pretty cool to be running a race with some of the world’s most elite runners, even if I’ll never see them. 🙂 Especially after Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon this year, the fact that he’s here to run the Falmouth Road Race is pretty awesome. Despite not being a marathon, this race attracts some of the best runners from all around the world, and I’m excited to be a part of it! I may not be  as fast as Meb, but maybe running in his (super fast) footsteps will give me a little bit of race magic.

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Here’s Meb about a mile away from winning the 2014 Boston Marathon! 

I guess I should stop saying I’m not a “real” runner.

Because if I’m not real, and this race isn’t real, than all of this training has been for nothing, right? Running may not be my passion, but I really have gained an appreciation for it through my training this summer. And I guess that running 3-4 times per week for the past 8 weeks means that this summer, I have actually kind of become a runner. I am anxious to get back in the weight room, but I have really enjoyed training and proving to myself that I can do something that I never thought I’d be able to do. I may not run marathons or even half marathons, but after all of the miles I’ve logged this summer, and the fact that I’m heading into a seven mile race means that I think I can actually start calling myself a runner. Temporarily at least. 😉

Readers: Are any of you heading to Falmouth this weekend? Have you ever/would you ever try a food made out of cricket flour?