WE PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE To Running Partners Who Never Make Excuses

Liberty_lifestyle-31.jpg

“Running is pretty unique in that we can each pursue a personal best, yet be completely supportive of our friends pursuing their own goals at the same time.”

On an early Saturday morning in June 2018, I was making an attempt to get myself out of bed and geared up to attend my first team run with the Miles for Miracles team for Boston Children’s Hospital in preparation for the NYC Marathon.  I wasn’t super excited about it (ew, running with other people), but I had listened to all the veteran charity runners at the kickoff event describe, “how quickly the team becomes like family” and “oh how wonderful it is to have running friends,” and on and on.

I wasn’t buying it.

Before you judge me, let me say that this was not the first time I had heard this theory.  In 2016 when I ran my first marathon, also as a charity runner, I went through the same series of events: attended the kickoff meeting, heard stories from veteran runners from the years prior, and received a motivational speech from the head coach.  I attended every Saturday morning long run with the team that winter.  There were a few fellow runners who I would see week to week.  We would chat briefly while warming up and waiting for that week’s rendition of the coach’s pep talk, but once we all go out to run, I kind of tuned into my own world.

So, you can imagine my hesitations going into this training series.

Obviously, you know where this is going.  I ended up meeting my running crew.   I’ll spare you the details of how our tribe came to be, but here’s a quick rundown of the sizzling six:  Me, 29, training for my fourth marathon and first with the Miles for Miracles team; Mary*, 24, finishing grad school and running her first marathon; Sam, 25, a veteran runner for the Miles for Miracles team, and at about 6’5” had a stride longer than some of us combined; Stacy, 29, a recent Wharton MBA grad and newly donned dog mom; Stan, 49, another veteran runner for the Miles for Miracles team and avid Boston sports fan; and Dave, 53, running his 6th NYC marathon (who knows how many overall), father of a son who is a direct recipient of all the wonderful care Boston Children’s Hospital provides and an avid New York sports fan.

At first glance, our group would appear to bare no common interests (other than running), but we became incredibly close over the months of training.  Believe it or not, we were all able to relate to each other’s life experiences.  Our long runs consisted of a wide range of topics, but our favorite banter consisted of Stan and Dan throwing shade back and forth about Boston sports vs. New York sports.  It was highly entertaining and made the training runs fly by.

What is also important to note about this crew is that we didn’t just stop after we all completed the big race in November.  We continued to organize our own group runs on various weekends into the winter.  We continued to hold each other accountable.  By late winter, all 6 of us were signed up or training for our next marathon. 

We’ve kept in touch regularly asking each other about races, reminiscing on NY training and planning our next group run (once life settles down, of course).  Mary, Stacy and I were so determined to stay in marathon shape after New York that we started signing up for treadmill classes once a week.  Work and school schedules have forced us to shift things around here and there, but we do a pretty good job at getting to those classes.  Stacy and I are both training for fall marathons again, so we’ve synched up our training plans for our Saturday morning long runs.

Dan and I meet up early in the morning once a week for and easy 3-5 miles before work.  We continue to run the gamut of conversation topics: golf, dating, travel, growing up, sports, etc.  Dan and I once spent an entire run going through the pros and cons of different job offers I had received.  It doesn’t always work out every week (life happens), but we’ve been pretty consistent week to week.  Although, he would be quick to point out the two occasions that I bailed on him (in my defense, it was snowing heavily).

I am very grateful for having met my running crew.  I’m not sure I would be nearly as motivated about my fall training this year if it wasn’t for them.  You don’t need to go to the team long runs or train with anyone, but my experience the second time around was totally worth it.

Here are a few suggestions on how to find your pack:

·       Run for a Charity – these teams almost always have coaches with training plans, including scheduled runs.  It’s a great way to learn a little more about your team and what you’re all running for.  Plus, once you start going to a couple, you’ll find those people that are at your same pace and eventually someone is going to say, “see you next week?” Then you get your pick of feeling guilty or having FOMO if you don’t show up next week.

·       Join a running group – These groups tend to have scheduled (casual) weekly runs and are often free. There’s typically multiple pace groups and varying distances depending on what everyone is training for.  It’s also a great way to “explore” if you’re new to an area, particularly a city.  Heartbreak Hill Running Company offers group runs, speed workouts and training runs all for free and based out of their different locations

·       Join a running club – different from a group in that you typically have to cough up some dough.  But it also offers a bit more than a casual group run once a week.  You usually get access to higher caliber trainings, coaching and classes.  Heartbreak Hill Running Company  also has its own club, the Heartbreakers, where for an additional fee you get access to top coaching, treadmill classes and some pretty exclusive events (like meeting Shalane Flanagan).

·       Force a friend – Most of my friends think I am absolutely bananas for training and running these things.  But if you can convince someone to sign up for a race with you, then it’s a built-in training partner and you can conquer the workouts together.

 

*names have been changed to protect privacy

An Average Runner's Tips and Tricks to Improve your (Marathon) Running Game

Photo by  Filip Mroz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

I started running marathons with the intention of it being a “one and done” experience.  This is a very common undertaking by many avid runners and typically leads to signing up for second marathon.  Then another. Then another.

It’s common for marathoners to finish a grueling 26.2-mile race and quickly recount all of the things that didn’t go right and what they would have done differently.  I think this is what encourages marathoners to sign up for that second (third, fourth, twentieth) marathon: there’s always something that could have been done differently.  Whether it’s the long run mileage, the speed workouts, the fuel plans, the water stop timing, the shoes, there’s always something to point to and say, “if I changed that then I probably could have had a better time.”

As an average runner (Marathon PR 4:00:19), I would say that I made a lot of mistakes in my first marathon (Boston 2016) and have changed at least one aspect of training in each of the marathons I have run subsequently afterwards (Chicago 2016, Baystate 2017, New York 2018).  

Like I said, I’m an average runner, so my tips and tricks are by no means tried and true and as I am going into my 5th marathon (Berlin 2019) I am still changing things up.  Many of these tips can be found in various other literature about running.  There’s plenty of stuff out there about the do’s and don’ts of training, but from an average person’s perspective, here’s some things that I have found to work.  Maybe they’ll work for you too.

Get a buddy

I know I know, you like running alone.  It’s time for just you. You like to put in your earbuds and blast your favorite high school rap playlist* and just tune everything out.

Trust me, I get it.  I’m the same way (and if you really don’t trust me, read the *link* Pledge Allegiance series blog: We pledge allegiance to running partners who never make excuses)

Having a running buddy does one thing very well: keeps you accountable.  Being accountable is half the battle in training for a marathon. Waking up to do those long runs on a Saturday morning can get pretty tough to do after a week’s worth of activities.  But for whatever psychological reason, scheduling time to run with a team or a buddy can help you get out the door. [link to Pledge allegiance blog]

*if you love throwback jams, Spotify generates a weekly playlist titled: #ThrowbackThursday with rotating throwback themes 

Time is of the essence

I was against this part of running in the beginning as well.  And really the only reason I got a watch was so that I could answer the questions “what did you pace at?” and “what was your time.”  Runners are highly competitive individuals (it’s a little sickening at times) and it’s a constant comparing game, whether it’s against yourself or others.  There’s always something to “beat.” Tracking your runs can help you tweak small parts of your training. If you’re really invested, you can journal your runs (we’ll talk more about that here *link)

Don’t want to purchase a piece of hardware? Here are some free apps that can help you track your strides


PT now, not later

Physical Therapy pretty much saved me prior to running the New York City Marathon (Fall 2018) and I’ve been taking it even more seriously as I’ve been gearing up for the Berlin Marathon this fall (2019).

I started having very unfamiliar knee pain in the beginning of training for New York.  The “fight through the pain” mentality starts to lose its power when you’re hobbling up and down the stairs after a 5 mile run.  Anyway, I worked very closely with a physical therapist and got back on track. 

Here’s the upside: you don’t need to be injured to benefit from it.  There are exercises, particularly focused around glute and hip strength (youtube!) that can help make you stronger and even prevent you from getting injured.  So, start that preventative work now!

Here’s the downside: in order for it to work, you have to put in the time to do the exercises.  Daily. Not just when you’re in their clinic using their fancy equipment once a week. It’s a time suck for sure, but it works.  So, add it to the list of everything else that’s keeping you from having a life during training season.

One of the physical therapists I worked with also introduced me to KT Tape which can help manage athletic injuries.

Practice makes perfect

If you’ve ever run for a team with a coach, you’ve probably heard this before.  Coaches LOVE to harp on this element of training. This was something I never took very seriously (you can probably sense a theme at this point) until training for my most recent marathon.

What this mostly applies to is what you’re doing before your long run.  Because you want your body to be as fully prepared as possible on race day, you want to practice all the things you’ll do until toeing the line, specifically when it comes to nutrition.  Starting with the night before. During training you should test out various “night before” meals and see how that affects how you feel during your long run. But don’t test out too many.  Pick one meal and then plan to prepare that every night before your long runs. Same thing applies for your breakfast and your fuel plan. Not only should you be eating the same things routinely, but the timing of intake should be the same as well.

It’s helpful to log and track all of these pieces of training.  Keep a journal to help you reflect and adjust your tactics!

Speaking of nutrition…

You have to eat right!  Admittedly, during my training for my first marathon, I used the fact that I was burning so many calories to basically eat whatever I wanted (including whole pints of ice cream in one sitting).  Now, yes, you are burning some serious energy during training, but the key is to make sure your caloric intake includes all the necessities to help you recover and re-energize. I am not a registered dietician, so I will not tell you what your carb to protein ratio needs to be on a daily basis.  Plus, its different for everyone.  
I highly recommend investing in both of Shalane Flannagan’s cookbooks, Run Fast, Eat Slow and Run Fast, Cook Fast, Eat Slow. These recipes are made for runners and are packed full of nutritious benefits.

What Does it Mean to Be an Athlete?

Photo by  Alexander Redl  on  Unsplash

What does the word ‘Athlete’ mean to you? I would bet that your answer is different than the next person reading this post. If asked, some might say an athlete is someone who competes in sport, while others might contend that an athlete is someone who has excellent coordination and is capable of explosive movements. Still others might evoke Supreme Court Justice Potter’s definition of pornography and simply say ‘you know it when you see it’. Despite us being constantly exposed to sports and athletics, ‘athlete’ is a surprisingly difficult word to define. Speaking from my own experience as an athlete, I can only define what it means to me. And hopefully my definition will resonate with you as well.

One thing that I’ve found exploring this question is that many people have preconceived notions about athletes being able to achieve an arbitrary level of performance. As if to say, if you don’t have at least a 30-inch vertical, you’re not an athlete. I find this definition ridiculous because it implies that athletic ability is innate and therefore cannot be learned. It says to the girl who didn’t make the basketball team in high school that her hopes of being an athlete died on the day her coach told her she was cut from the squad. I refuse to accept that. And I would bet that most people with an athlete’s mindset would refuse to accept that too.

So what is an athlete?

To me, an athlete is someone who is out there working hard every day, making improvements through training. It has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with mentality. It’s a way of thinking that pushes you to better yourself physically. The athlete’s mentality is a powerful force that permeates across all aspects of one’s life. It most directly affects training and activity, but it also has a positive effect on diet, sleep, and mental health.

Chris Carmichael, CEO of Carmicheal Training Systems put it best when he said, ‘When you identify yourself as an athlete, you act like an athlete. You eat like an athlete, sleep like an athlete, carry yourself like an athlete.’ This implies that being an athlete is a choice that is made with your head, not ‘talent’ given to you by winning the genetic lottery.

Democracy of Sweat was founded on this principle. Sport is better when everyone competes and anyone can embrace this way of life if they choose to. We also believe that the choice to embrace your identity as an athlete is worth celebrating, because being an athlete is difficult. Your short-term and long-term reward centers are often at odds with one another. Do I go out with my friends tonight even if it means missing my morning workout? Should I do another set of pushups or save my energy for another day? Dessert would taste great right now, but I know it’ll weigh me down on my run. These are thoughts that every athlete has before making the difficult decision in favor of long-term gratification.

But being an athlete is not all hardships. There are some amazing benefits that every athlete out there has felt before and strives to feel every day. One such benefit is the feeling that you’ve ‘earned your sleep’ when your head hits the pillow at night and you feel the self-pride that only comes after completing a hard workout earlier that day. Knowing that as you rest, your body is recovering and you will wake up the next morning a stronger person. Another benefit of the athlete’s lifestyle is that euphoric high you get when you accomplish something physically that you had never accomplished before. It’s the sense that you’ve achieved the impossible and if you were able to break this previously unbreakable physical barrier, what can’t you do? There are countless other benefits, but for the sake of brevity I’ll provide just one more that I think is particularly important, especially for me. All athletes get an outlet for one of the most basic human needs: competition. The instinct to determine where you fit into the pecking order is part of being human. We all crave competition with our peers, but everyday life doesn’t always present us with an opportunity to compete. As an athlete, that opportunity presents itself regularly. Not only does it help us to satisfy that basic need, but it’s what keeps many of us motivated to better ourselves.

Developing the mindset of an athlete will have a profound effect on other realms in life. The arena of sport is a fertile ground for the cultivation of life lessons that would serve anyone well in business, relationships, and achieving self-actualization. All athletes have faced difficult times in training and competition that have resulted in their understanding of some basic truths about life. Truths like ‘setbacks happen, but defeat is a choice’, ‘limitations are only as real as you make them’, and ‘seek progress over perfection’. These aren’t corny phrases taken from a $5 motivational poster, these are conclusions an athlete arrives to after years of experience in sport. Take the first one for example. Every athlete on the planet has experienced injuries that resulted in adjusting expectations for achieving peak performance. At that point, an athlete can decide whether to give up or mentally wrap her head around what happened and come up with a plan of attack for getting back on the horse and achieving her goals. This type of problem solving can be applied to countless situations in everyday life. Also consider the third truth, ‘seek progress over perfection’. Nothing in life is achieved overnight and anything of value generally takes years of deliberate practice to become proficient. Athletes are used to taking incremental steps to achieve big goals. It’s why the point guard does 30 minutes of dribbling drills before every practice or the golfer spends an hour at the putting green before every round. While ‘perfection’ may be defined as putting together that flawless performance in a competition, progress is taking the necessary steps to improve each facet of your game knowing that it will ladder up to your overarching goal.

As you can tell, being an athlete means a lot to me. It’s not just what you see when you watch someone compete, it’s everything in how that person conducts herself in training and in life. It’s applying all the lessons learned in competition in order to improve one’s self. While Marriam-Webster defines an athlete as ‘a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise’, those of us who define ourselves as athletes know it’s so much more than that.