Apr 27

Monday Motivation

ayrton senna

~ Ayrton Senna (Formula One Driver)

Apr 17

Picking a Marathon Pace Plan

Picking a marathon pace plan may seem really simple and straightforward on the surface. You have a goal time and a goal pace. What’s so hard about running that pace every single mile until you get to the finish? For anyone who’s run a marathon, any marathon, that strategy, is quite difficult. There are elevation changes to consider, congestion at the start line and the fatigue of 20 miles behind you in the last 10K. You also have to think of personal race style and comfort level. There are really endless variations to get you to the finish and I exhausted ALL of them. Picture this – race plans with scribbles, notes, past race splits, the course map, the elevation map, my hair all disheveled, my eyes wild from looking at a bazillion numbers and pace options. Yeah.This process literally gave me a headache. I needed a nap after this one. Way too much thinking.

Back when I started my training, I picked a race goal to work towards. I built my training plan around executing that goal. I’m much more in the habit of picking several goals now, so if I do have a bad day, or I fall behind, I still have something to work for. Here are 4 goals that I have for May 3rd, in order.

Goal A: Qualify for Boston, and actually get an entry into the race. Not everyone who runs a qualifying time gets to go. This year, for example, you had to run at least 62 seconds below your qualifying time to actually get a bib. Growing popularity in distance racing is to blame for this one, and the competition to get in has grown with it. A comfortable goal time for me, taking this into consideration would be a 3:53:30.

Goal B: Qualify for Boston. Plain and simple, just secure that qualifying time and at least have the opportunity to register for the race. This time is a 3:55 or below.

Goal C: PR. If I’m at mile 22 and I don’t think I’m going to hit either of these, I can’t just give up (been there, done that) so I’ve implemented a third goal to keep me motivated. This would be a sub 3:58 which beats my time from last year. A very respectable accomplishment.

Goal D: Finish in under 4 hours.

I started this process very simply, I went to MyMarathonPace.com and purchased the marathon pace plan spreadsheet that INCLUDES the elevation changes of the Pittsburgh course. I put in my goal race time and click enter. The paces magically appear. Simple right? Not quite. NOW, I have to take into account MY racing style because the spreadsheet actually gives you some options to tweak the paces just a little. Do I want an even effort, do I tend to fade a bit towards the end, and how aggressive of a negative split do I want to run?


With all my options selected, I’m done right? Except I need to account for

The dreaded .2!!!!

The Pittsburgh course “runs” 26.4 miles. Anyone who’s run this course, or any course for that matter will watch the miles on the clock slowly get out of sync with what your watch says. This gets so painful when your watch clicks mile 25 (only 1.2 to go) and the freakin mile marker for 25 is ahead in the distance – WAAAAAY ahead. WTH? It’s a mental killer if you aren’t ready for it. Since I know better, I’m taking this into consideration and building a time buffer. Yes the course is a certified 26.2 course, but it’s virtually impossible to run the course exactly as they measure it. Even the runners with the best success at managing the tangents will tell you this. What does it mean? It’s only another .2 right? That extra distance, when you’re trying to qualify by the skin of your teeth, like I am, and probably thousands of other runners, is HUGE. It’s another lap around the track, it seconds that add up to potentially another 2 MINUTES! So the initial time I put in of 3:53:30 turns into a 3:55:30.

Back to the drawing board. 

Lets give 3:51:30 a shot and see what the paces look like. That allows for an additional two minutes and gets me into Boston. The paces come up and I look like a deer in the headlights. This seems too aggressive. These paces on the front are too fast – too many paces under 8:20 on the back, no, this isn’t going to work. Here’s the thing. I may very well be able to run the paces outlined on the 3:51:30 sheet, but I am not going to the start line confident that I can do it. And confidence is KEY!

Back it down to 3:53:00. 

This gives me my qualifying time of 3:55 with the additional 2 minute buffer, the paces look attainable and if I feel really good, I can push them a little on race day. I even played with this further because the negative split was more aggressive than I was comfortable with. Looking at last year’s race, I was at a 9:01 pace at mile 20, and although I didn’t gain any time beyond that point, I was able to maintain the 9:01 pace to the finish. So, I was a little conservative on the front, picked it up after the halfway point to 20, and then just hung on for the last 6 miles (6.4 to be exact). With that said, I accounted for a conservative start, a manageable negative split with a “slight” fade. This seems to be the sweet spot for me.

Wow, see, now I’m tired. A lot of thought goes into this. I may be a little more overboard than most runners, I’m not sure. And to be honest, I’ll print this pace band and slap it on my wrist and it will serve as a guide. Anything can happen on race day. I may have a few really slow miles and lose some time or I may feel absolutely fantastic at mile 20 and be able to make up time. I really don’t know.

I gave my plan the final once over and I did see a few “fast” miles in there, so after this planning session I ran a great 5 miles, implementing some of the paces that will be demanded of me on race day. It made me feel better, and when I’m in those miles during the marathon I can say to myself “you’ve run this pace, you can hit this mile no problem”.

Don’t you love the “Personal Best” socks?

 Question: Do you carefully map out your marathon strategy? do you follow it on race day? 

Apr 14

The Final Long Run and the Confidence it Brings

2015_GOP_Blogger_BannerFor most people training for Pittsburgh, last week marked the last really hard week of training…the peak mileage week. I haven’t talked about my training week to week as I normally would because I spent a lot of this training cycle discouraged. I’ve had to overcome some pretty rough weeks so I knew I had to make last week count.

Let me back up a bit. I had a couple of lower mileage weeks in February due to a vacation so when I came back was determined to make up the miles. It’s a lot easier said than done. With the added miles stacking up I was getting fatigued. But really the biggest problem I was having was with my breathing. On most of my runs, for about 3 weeks, I was gasping for air through most of them. Having a hard time getting oxygen was really having a negative impact on my speed and over performance each and every week. Muscles don’t respond well to a lack of oxygen. It got so bad that I decided to see a doctor. I had a chest x-ray to rule out anything serious and did a full allergy work up. Everything came back clear. Since the doctor couldn’t find anything visible, she diagnosed me with Exercise Induced Asthma! Say what? Seriously? I got an inhaler and felt defeated. I mean, how can I be a distance runner with this affliction? This problem cost me several good marathon pace runs and forced me to quit a 20 mile run at mile 12. I was devastated.

Since I am so conscience of diet and how it impacts the body, I decided to look at my diet and figure out what I had been doing differently and the only thing I could pinpoint was a huge increase in dairy. Cheese on my salads, Greek yogurt every day for breakfast and snacking on cheese when I felt like it. This coming from a girl who completely eliminated dairy for 2 years. So I decided to do an experiment. I have been without dairy for over two weeks and guess what? No problems at all! Dairy is known to cause a lot of excess inflammation in the body and could have been the problem. It will take more time to see if this was really the culprit, but it seems pretty conclusive. I should tell my doctor – thanks for the inhaler, I’ll hang on to it in case I want some pizza. :)

Two Sundays ago I ran my first 20 (it should have been my forth) and I was able to finish, but I was disappointed with my overall pace of 9:50. These long runs are so important to me because they are what I build my confidence on. If I can feel good after 20 miles, I know I will be fine on race day. This past weekend was my second a final chance to get it right. I approached Sunday’s run as if it was a race. I stopped drinking alcohol 2 weeks ago, so I didn’t have to worry about not drinking. I ate exactly what I would normally eat the night before a race – Ravioli (Arugula and Portabella mushroom – no cheese) and I was sure to get a solid night’s sleep. I woke up and ate my pre-race meal – an english muffin (or bagel) bagel with peanut butter and a banana.On my way to North Park, I snacked on some saltines.



I packed 4 GUs and ate them at 5, 10 and 15 with one spare in case I needed it AND I was sure to drink enough. The weekend before I really shorted myself on water and I think it really slowed me down towards the end. Dehydration is no joke and will ruin your training run or race. What works for me is about 8 ounces every 5 miles. I have my Nathan quick shot bottle that I carry and I finished one with each loop.  I felt way better than I did last week. They key is to figure out what works for you as far as water consumption, but as a general rule during the race – I would drink at every mile. If you feel light headed, dizzy, fatigued, have muscle cramps or feel “hungry”, you may need more water. I also take one salt tablet with me that I typically take 1/2 way through the marathon. This seems to have helped my random nausea I used to get on longer runs.



The weather was a huge plus on my side this past weekend. When I started it was about 39 degrees and sunny. It was chilly and I started off wearing a jacket. Knowing it was going to warm up fast, I dressed in layers that I could drop off at the car with each loop. I took the jacket off at mile 10 and just had on a light long sleeve shirt which was perfect for the rest of the run. In the shade it was still chilly. It was great not to have to wear gloves and a hat and a million layers. So much easier to move. I even pulled out the new Lululemon Pace Pusher crops. The park was crowded which is to be expected on a nice spring sunny day and there were tons of runners out. I saw many regulars as well, people I see week and week out.

My pace plan was carefully mapped out – 9:40 for the first 5, 9:30 for the second 5 and 9:20 for the third and so on. I ended with more of a 9:38, 9:28, 9:18 which was fine. After 15 miles I felt really good. I hit a couple of 9:10, 9:11 paces and then I started to slow. It was around the 17 mile mark. I don’t want to get too discouraged with this because my overall pace was still good. I also have to keep in mind that I had 24 miles right in front of this run and 18 of them were at marathon pace. The legs were tired and the whole purpose of the long run is TIME ON THE FEET. The toe next to my big toe on my right foot also started to hurt. I had on new shoes but the same ones I’ve been wearing for a couple of years and different socks. The shoes may need broken in just a bit and then should be fine. My feet always kind of hurt after 20 miles, so it’s not a completely new problem.


Truth is, I was supposed to run 22 miles and when I slowed at mile 17, I made up my mind that a solid 20 would be good enough. I could have compromised and gone to 21 – just another half mile past my car, turn around and come back. But I didn’t do it. At the end of the day, the extra mile isn’t going to make my race better – but pushing through that additional mile would have been more confidence on my side. It’s done now and I can’t change it but it’s a lesson learned. I also had a very minimal amount of stops on this run. Stopping to pick up water or a GU was about it.

Not stopping during my runs has been the biggest improvement in my running this year, and I use the continuous effort as another confidence builder. My final long run last April before the marathon was 18 miles. It was supposed to be 20, but I couldn’t make it. Top top it off, I stopped 38 times during that run. I’m still blown away when I look back at these runs and the amount of breaks I took. It’s really pretty amazing that I showed up on race day and did as well as I did. I’m a year smarter and miles stronger than I was in 2014. I have 62 more miles before race day. I’m feeling how I should and starting to get anxious. 19 days!

Apr 06

Monday Motivation


Mar 28

This Runner’s MAD – This Weather is KILLING me!

Yeah, I’m thinking of changing the name of the blog to This Runner’s MAD if the weather doesn’t turn around soon. I am done with it, all of it. It’s freakin’ March and I ran in weather today that was unseasonable for January. Seriously. I wouldn’t be so aggravated if this wasn’t the same old story every weekend. This morning I ran 10 “marathon pace” miles in freezing temps. Garmin said it was 19 degrees with a real feel of 11. However Weather Bug said it was 16 with a real feel of 1. Either way, it sucks. The OutSider App that analyzes how the weather will impact your run said this morning’s conditions were a 1, a 1 out of 10. You get the point.


Every…single…weekend during this training cycle has sucked big time! If it wasn’t 4-6 inches of snow, it was icy rain, below freezing temperatures or wind that could blow me over. Freakin ridiculous. I mean, we can’t catch a break. I’m sick of the million layers I have to put on every single time I want to go outside to run. I mean, here is what I put on this morning:

  • Jog bra, base layer tank, Level 2 Under Armour, Under Armour base layer, another layer for the hell of it, and a wind breaker. Underwear, Base layer thin pants, cold gear pants, wool socks, a hat, gloves, and hand warmers. And of course my shoes.

I had 14 things on. 14. when the sun came out, for the total of 4 minutes today, I felt warm, but as soon as it went in and the wind blew, I got chilled. The hand warmers did nothing. But of course, even in these temps, I sweat. So, these things get wet, and heavy. I actually came home and tried to weigh the pile. Then I got mad because my stupid bathroom scale won’t pick up that small of a weight, I needed a food scale or something. But trust me, the crap was heavy.


Trying to eat GU in this weather is like trying to swallow a golf ball. I gets really hard and thick and makes you gag. I attempt to hold it for a mile before I ingest it in my freezing cold hands to try and warm it up and make it more “liquid”. If you carry a water bottle, the water freezes and doesn’t help the cold factor when you have to carry around a block of ice.

I can’t breathe in this weather. The dry cold air cuts through my lungs, but I’ll save that for another post.

Here’s the thing, this is Pittsburgh and you know what happens here. It doesn’t gradually get warm. All of a sudden one day we’re going to wake up to run and it will be 78 and humid. Everyone will dehydrate because no one will know how much to drink, we’ll all be over dressed and then keel over because our bodies over heat, as soon as we open the GU, it’ll squirt out all over the place because it will be melted and we’ll all have to acclimate to the weather again.

Then we’ll all be complaing about the stinking heat.

Welcome to season round marathon training.

A cup of warm tea, that’s what I need. Ahhh.


Mar 27

What Marathon Training is REALLY Like

262You signed up for what? A common reaction when you share with people that you’ve signed up to run your first marathon. You’re excited, a little nervous, but most likely the event is so many months away that it hasn’t fully sunk in yet. That’s how I was when I signed up to run my first marathon, the Pittsburgh Marathon, in 2011. Just clicking “register” made me feel like such a bad ass. I was going to be one of “those” people, the few crazy enough to run that distance.

I didn’t know very many people that ran marathons and had no one to turn to for a training plan, hydration or fueling plans, or even anyone to tell me what to expect. I was flying blind on the simple desire to complete one. I downloaded the Runner’s World smart coach app, picked how many days a week I wanted to run, how many miles I wanted to max out at and hit “create plan”. It spit something out and I followed it. There was no speed work, no hill work, no easy days, I just ran. A lot.

6 marathons later, and training for my 7th, I’ve seen runners come and go. In other words many start the training, but not everyone finishes. I’m not going to say that running the marathon is the easy part, but it kind of is. The weeks leading up the marathon is where the true work lies. Here are some of my thoughts on what it takes mentally and physically to train for a marathon and the many, many road blocks along the way.


The biggest reason people typically back out of training for a marathon is that it’s so damn time consuming. If you’ve trained for a half before, you know it takes time. Training for a full marathon is a totally different beast all together. Here is a typical mid training cycle week:

  • Actual running: Let’s say I have a 45 mile week and I run those miles at around my average pace for the week – 9:15. The running alone will take 7 hours.
  • Stretching and rolling: 10 – 15 minutes a day for 5 days – 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Packing and unpacking my running bag 5 times a week – 1 hour a week
  • Driving to and from running twice a week – about 4 hours.

Total time: 13 – to 14 hours a week TRAINING!

To manage my training time, I typically look at my running plan for the week and block the time I plan to set aside for running on my calendar. Then, I guard that time. Early mornings typically work best for me, but some days I’m running in between meetings at work, after work or in the evenings to get fit in what needs done. Some quick time tips that work for me:

  • Always have your gym bag ready to go. I keep basics for running in there all the time and if I will be showering elsewhere, it’s just two additional toiletry bags to add.
  • I gave up cooking every night. I am bad at preparing meals ahead of time on the weekends (cause I’m always running) but I will bring dinner home. Most grocery stores today carry pre-made, healthy options that are worlds better then ordering a pizza or stopping for any other fast food.
  • Eliminate unnecessary tasks (like cleaning my house) LOL, just kidding, but not really. I’ve cut my expectations down on how clean things really NEED to be around my house and live with the new standards. I try to bulk errands together and/or do them on my way home from work to avoid having to go out again in the evenings.
  • Share your schedule with your family so they know when to avoid social outings. Its not that big of a deal to go out the night before I have to run 10 miles but if I have a 20 mile run on the calendar, I typically alert my husband to the fact that I would rather NOT go out the evening before.


I like to say that I love every run and can’t wait to get out there every day and kick butt, but the truth is, none of these runs are very glamorous. For winter training, it’s 4:30 alarms during the coldest,  darkest months of the year. It sucks getting out of bed, it’s the last thing I want to do most days. Then the weekends come and sleeping in is a distant memory. It’s up to run some ridiculous amount of miles that takes hours to complete. They say getting out the door is the hardest part, for me it’s just getting out of bed. :) If this is something you really want to accomplish, give yourself some time to get into a routine. The first few weeks may shock the system, no matter when you’re running, but after a while, running and training will just be something you DO


I’ve been training almost year round for 2.5 years now and honestly, it really has become habit.


The training cycle is called a cycle for a reason. If you’ve picked a good plan, and hopefully you did, you have a variety of runs that each serve a purpose. My most important runs are my speed sessions, marathon pace runs and long runs. The other two days are filler miles. Experts say it takes 7 days to see the benefit of a good workout. I can’t say if that’s true or not but what I can say is that one day things just start to click. This may happen several times during the 16 week cycle, but it does happen. If you’re struggling (and I know way too much about that), give it time. Stay the course and you’ll start to feel better, stronger and more confident.


Honestly, I remember feeling this way when I first started training for marathons, but I don’t notice it so much anymore. Either my appetite has just balanced out or eating a ton of food is just normal now. One critical thing to remember is just because you’re burning a lot of calories, doesn’t mean you can start putting a bunch of junk in your mouth. Make the calories quality calories. The better you eat, the better your body will process the food and perform. Stick to whole foods, lean proteins and keep your overall sugar intake to a minimum.



Yes, it’s true, I get cranky. For no other reason than I’m just really tired. All these miles start to wear you down. Packing and unpacking, piles of dirty running clothes, eating, stretching, rolling, ahhhhhh! Over and over every day. It gets to be one wild ride let me tell you. So, try to be patient with others – they don’t understand your journey.


I’m making it sound brutal. It’s not all roses and rainbows that’s for sure. So why do I keep doing it over and over? I do it because there are so many rewards that outweigh the difficulties:

  • An overwhelming sense of accomplishment and satisfaction
  • Working towards a goal makes me feel ambitious
  • I’ve built a fitness habit that should last a lifetime
  •  This practiced self discipline has been applied to other areas in my life
  • The running friends and network I’ve created is priceless
  • A time and a medal that says I accomplished something that many people won’t even attempt is mine forever.

So, congratulations on becoming one of the few who take the plunge and work towards a marathon finish. The journey is long and tough, but so worth it in the end.

Good luck, marathons are addictive! ;)

Mar 17

Count All Accomplishments – no matter how small

progressIn my last post I really pulled the running skeletons out of the closet. Admitting that I was mentally weak and stopping during my runs when they got hard wasn’t an easy thing to do, but it has really help me see the flaws in my running. Since then I’ve made an effort to push through the tough moments and bad miles and I have to say, I actually feel somewhat proud of myself.

When I look at my paces on paper, they are a little slower as a result. However, I know the reason they were faster before was because I was taking breaks, so I’m not upset about it. Comparing similar routes and distances this training cycle against last year and even this past summer, there’s really no comparison, I’m getting stronger as a runner. Every time I feel like stopping and I don’t, I consider it a small victory. I actually put myself in the marathon at mile 23 and remind myself “you will feel worse than this, but you have to keep going”. It’s been working so far, and I’ve been celebrating a lot. :)

Here’s an example: on Thursdays, I typically run in the mornings, but I saw the weather forecast and it looked like it was going to get so nice in the afternoon so I decided to push my run to the evening (thank you daylight savings). I ran from my house, around the high school a couple times and back to get 5 miles in. This has always been a challenging route for me in the past because the ENTIRE mile coming back is uphill. It is a 164 foot climb over one mile, or 3.1%.

To figure out % Grade: look on your Garmin or use Map My Run

Look at the Starting and ending elevation and the distance of the hill.

Use the Grade Percent Incline Calculator to calculate grade %.

I have NEVER run all the way up this hill.


It hurt, and I wanted to stop, but I didn’t. I know I’m making it sound like I ran some great distance or incline, and maybe I am celebrating a little too much, but these are the moments that make me love my sport. The moment I see progress, feel progress, and that all the work I’ve put in to this point is paying off. Thank the lord too because a few weeks ago I was ready to burn my running shoes. Trust the process. :) You would think after 5 consecutive training cycles I would get this concept.

I like the feeling of accomplishment so much that I decided I am going to set a small goal for EVERY run. Whether it’s hitting a 7:45 on one of my mile intervals, tackling another big hill, or running the last mile the fastest, I am setting a goal and trying to hit it.

I’m always so focused on the end game, the final result that I forget to celebrate along the way. That in itself is another goal.

Hope everyone’s training is going well!

Mar 09

Monday Motivation



 I sure hope so!

Mar 04

Building Mental Toughness – are you fooling yourself?



If you look at my Monday Motivation this week, it’s a quote about mental toughness. No matter how many miles you run, how many weights you lift, or how good you eat, if you’re mentally weak in the end, the brain will shut that finely tuned, well fueled body down. No….doubt….about….it.

The past few years I have been working on building a superb base. I’ve run more miles year after year, completed 6 marathons, 7 half marathons, gotten really good at the nutrition and fueling piece, but I’ve lacked in the mental toughness area. At this point, it’s the last piece of the puzzle that will get me the three extra minutes at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May needed to qualify for Boston. I have to believe right?

I’ve talked about what a slow start I had at the beginning of this training cycle. I talked about how I’ve struggled to stay motivated, pick up the pace and feel good about my runs. I was analyzing every piece of my training and even comparing it to last year’s training. I built a small table that tracked my weekly mileage against last year at this time and compared the average paces. I was upset to see that my average paces were a lot slower this year. I couldn’t understand how I could be going backwards after all these miles.

pace compare

I was talking to a running friend about it and expressing my disgust at getting slower. In an effort to see the whole picture, they took a look at the run history on my Garmin and exposed a shocking truth. Okay, I guess it wasn’t that shocking since I lived it, but it was definitely “exposure”. This is not easy to share.

I was completely fooling myself.

I was stopping a ridiculous amount of times during my runs. (You know you can see your stops on your Garmin run summary right?) Stopping to rest a minute, stopping to catch my breath, stopping for who the hell knows why. Oh, wait, I stopped because I was mentally weak. It got hard, uncomfortable, and I stopped.

So, taking the same number of miles this year, I tracked, once again, the amount of stops. Huge improvement. So, my paces are slightly slower, but I’m getting mentally tougher. I’m a stronger runner than I was last year. It’s right there on paper. I’m not stopping when it gets hard but teaching my mind and body to push through those uncomfortable moments. Now, my goal is to keep running no matter what. Slow down if I have to but KEEP MOVING.


This past weekend I ran 16 miles through snow, freezing slush and icy conditions. My feet were frozen, my face was frozen, I was miserable. I stopped twice. One bathroom break, one water stop. Twice. Last year, I would have stopped literally 33 times. I was exhausted and spent, but I kept going.


Yesterday morning I ran an 8-mile course that I’ve been having trouble with mentally. I run it all the time and typically stop a lot. I just didn’t realize how much.

Yesterday morning – NO STOPS average pace – 9:21


I took an old 8 mile run (same course) and compared it to this yesterdays.

March 14, 2014 – Did I mention you can see your stops on your Garmin history? Each of those white lines on the pace chart below are stops. There are 32. 32 in an 8 mile run. Unreal. What was I thinking? My average pace for this run was 8:52. But I mean, really, what is it worth?

March 14.2014

This is why tracking runs and reviewing them is so helpful. If I hadn’t really looked at the details behind what I was doing, I would have never realized how much I was fooling myself. And really, in the end just hurting myself, my training, and the potential to reach my goals.

If you’ve run a marathon, remember how you felt at mile 22? Yeah. Spent. If you haven’t run one yet, prepare for it. You will feel like stopping. Your body will scream STOP, but training your mind now to be mentally tough and push through will be worth it come race day. Your mind will take over the body force you to put one foot in front of the other until you cross that finish line.

My focus (or one of them) for the next 60 days is to train my mind as much as my body and teach it to get tough. Obviously, there may be times when stopping is necessary (use common sense here), but no more stopping to rest, no more giving up. Pain is temporary and it will pay off in May when it really counts.


Mar 02

Monday Motivation


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