5 Tips for Running Through the August Heat

For many runners with an upcoming fall marathon or cross country season, August is a month of intense training and base building miles. Having a great month of running in August can cap off your consistent foundation of work built through June and July and ensure you are ready for the racing season ahead in the fall. However, for many areas of the country, we are in the midst of what is also the hottest and most humid month of the year—the last thing any of us runners want is to have our training derailed by conditions that are beyond our control. (And, make sure you're taking in enough iron right now--training at a greater intensity in the heat can make you more susceptible for anemia issues in the fall.) A well-planned and commonsense approach to working out can protect us from injuries, but the same actually goes for dealing with the heat and humidity of August.

Stay cool and train smart to run your best through late summer with these five tips:

1.  Train during the cooler parts of the day, and schedule longer or more intense workouts around cooler days of the week.

If your schedule allows for any kind of flexibility in when you run, try to aim for the cooler parts of the day for your efforts, like early morning or evening. If that advice feels a little obvious, what might be less so is the idea of scheduling your whole week of training around the weather forecast. Look ahead to the upcoming week’s anticipated daily highs, and work around them if possible when planning your more intense or longer efforts.

In the summer, I’ve moved my long run from its normal weekend slot—which also happened to coincide with the balmy upper 90s—to a much cooler weekday morning. I’ve even spontaneously extended a regular weekday morning run into my week’s long run if I happened to feel good and the weather happened to feel cooler. Sometimes these spur of the moment, (literally) on-the-run decisions enhance your training through more chill temperatures but also a more “chill” and less stressed approach to training as a whole. Learn to be flexible with the timing of your week’s workouts. You also might find along the way that you enjoy the untraditional Thursday long run more anyhow!

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2.  Always pack an extra—preferably cold!—drink, and keep extra clothes for post-run in your car.

Again, this does involve just a little bit of planning, but it’s worth it! Throw your electrolyte-filled beverage of choice into the fridge the night before, but while you’re at it, toss a second drink in there too and bring both to your run. I never regret having that second drink! This is especially true if I’m driving to and from the trail—drink number two always comes in handy on the drive home. Alternatively if I’m running from home, I can always save the bonus drink in the fridge for the next day if I don’t get to it. Weather is extra warm? Throw some extra ice in there, or even better, throw your drinks in a mini-travel cooler so they stay chilled while in your warm car. If you are headed out for a longer effort, consider planting drinks along your route or carry some form of hydration with you. If driving or otherwise traveling from home to your running spot, pack an extra t-shirt or a light change of clothes so you don't get chilled on the drive home. I have a spare sweatshirt that I just leave in my trunk as my designated post-run wear (even more handy if you stop at the chilly grocery store!).

3.  Along the way, incorporate some heat training to better withstand the warm temps.

Of course, use common sense—don’t just jump into a 10 mile run in 95 degree sunshine—but a little training in the heat makes you a stronger runner. This can especially come in handy if you are planning on a race with a late morning start time or in a warmer location than where you live and train. The runners competing in Rio, especially those racing the marathon, have purposefully sought out warm and humid training conditions to better prepare for their race at the Olympics. Remember that your body adapts very well to whatever weather you regularly train in. Weather is very relative: what is hot for a Texan is relatively scalding for a New Englander, and what is hot for the New Englander will feel cool to the Texan. (Since living in Virginia, summer temperatures that fazed me back in Pennsylvania no longer do so.) Rather than always being the enemy, the heat is sometimes a useful training tool! Recently, research has suggested that training in the heat can be even more effective than running at altitude. Do a few short easy runs during a time of day when the air is a little warmer to start; this helps you adjust better to the heat when you might have to face it at a race, and to perform better when you are subsequently in cooler temps. Remember that for your hotter runs, go by effort rather than pace!

4.  When running in the heat, be safe by wearing sunscreen and running with a buddy!

Hydrating well may be the most obvious heat training tip, but protecting your skin and being sure you stay safe while running should also be high on the list. Save a drawstring backpack (or even a reusable shopping bag) and use this for running essentials like your drink and sunscreen to ensure you don’t forget them, and then establish a routine of always bringing your “running essentials” bag. Get a sunscreen that can handle all your sweat too! (My dermatologist recommends Blue Lizard.) Last but not least, be sure you have company on the track or (especially) on the trail if running while the thermometer reads sky high. Running buddies don’t let each other suffer heat exhaustion!

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5.  Run with wet hair!

If the weather is intensely warm and your hair type permits, try showering right before your run so your hair is wet during your workout. With really steamy temps, I like to rinse off and put my hair into a bun on the top of my head—this then feels like running with a cool sponge on my head and helps to cool me off. A quick braid also works well. Even if my hair is dry by the time I’ve finished, I’m glad to have started with this extra bit of coolness.

 

Training in the heat, when done smartly, can enhance your performance rather than harm the length and consistency of your runs. Get out there and enjoy the sunny trails!

 

 

Dreaming of a Summer Vacation? Go for a Workout!

Summer is my favorite season. The air is warm, the running layers are light, and sunshine predominates instead of snow. Summer is also synonymous with vacation; for students and teachers, summer means a break from the daily grind of school, and for many families, summer is a time to get together or to travel. Summer feels like a vacation from many things that can wear us down just a bit—the warm summer breeze means not just a change of the weather, but a chance to shake up our routines. Both summer and any kind of vacation offer a chance to break free of old, now commonplace paths of being, thinking, and movement, and find new ones that make us happier and put a bit more pep in our step.

Vacation is a state of mind that you can take with you anywhere. It is carefree, effortless, spontaneous, and relaxed. You may not immediately think “workout” when you think “vacation” but applying this more chill, “go with the flow,” adventuresome way of thinking to your workout is a great way to keep it a mini-vacation for the body and soul, instead of a chore that you have to do. Working out, like vacation, is something you do to stay healthy—don’t ever let it be something that weighs you down. I love my workouts. They invigorate all my other thinking, doing, and being that I have to do in my non-workout time. They make me happy—just like going on vacation.

Vacations are great privileges for the mind since you’re able to think about something besides work or whatever might be burdening you—or maybe they just give you a little extra time to daydream. Often when I run or practice yoga, I enjoy having a little quiet time all to myself. You can only be productive so many hours out of the day or so many days out of the year; both vacations and workouts allow you to take time to recharge, become more creative, solve problems or maybe enjoy thinking about nothing at all.

Now that we’ve reflected a bit on the beauty of vacationing and working out, and on how these two seemingly disparate activities are actually not as separate as you might think, here is a mini yoga workout, aka a “vacation,” for your quads. Maybe you think about your quads a lot, or maybe you think about them very little at all—wherever you fall on this spectrum, I hope this little workout allows for a little extra stretching and strengthening of these muscles outside of your usual routine.

1.  Set up your Chair pose / Utkatasana.

Begin at the front of your mat with big toes together and a little half inch gap or so between your heels. Bend your knees and lower your torso to the fronts of your thighs. On an inhale, sweep your hands back so fingertips are reaching towards the back of your mat. Reach our through the crown of your head as you reach through fingers. On an exhale, sweep arms forward, letting them carry your torso up. Sink your bum down as if coming to sit in an imaginary chair. Squeeze knees gently.

2.  Chair Pose / Utkatasana Mini Flow.

Staying in your chair pose, inhale onto your tippy toes. Bring hands into prayer at the front of your chest for support here. Exhale and stay on toes, but sink deeper through your hips. Repeat this: inhale higher onto toes, exhale deeper through hips for at least two more rounds. After you’re as high as you can go, release heels to the ground and stay low through your hips. Pause and breathe for at least three rounds. On your next exhale, press all the way up to standing.

3.  Transition to Lizard Pose.

As gracefully as you can, on your next exhale, step right foot to the back of your mat. Inhale to extend hands and arms tall, then exhale as you reach hands forward and all the way to the floor at the front of your mat.

Wiggle left foot outside both hands. Release right knee and top of right foot to floor. (Step back foot farther back if need be—just be sure you’ve got a less than 90 degree angle from front of your back thigh to the floor, i.e. not directly on top of back kneecap). Point left foot out 45 degrees, and roll to pinky-side edge of this foot. Use your left hand to gently press on your left inner quad.

4.  Lizard Pose Quad Stretch.

Now bend your back leg knee. Reach back with your left hand to grab your left foot—gently kick your foot into your hand, OR pull your foot closer to your bum, OR alternate between these two movements. If grabbing your foot is difficult, try wrapping a yoga strap (or even a scarf!) around your back foot so that you can use your hand to help with the quad stretch.

5. Switch sides!

First, release left hand back to the front of the mat, and release left sole of foot down.

Option A:l If you find yourself more on the limber side today, now step your right foot up to the front of your mat to a squat, then step left foot back to begin the lizard quad stretch on your second side.

Option B: Alternatively, step your left (front) foot back to downdog first, then step your right foot up to begin the lizard quad stretch sequence.

Give your legs a vacation by offering them a new yoga routine. July is a great time to get outside and let elements of summer vacation refresh all aspects of your life. If the snow makes us want to stay inside, the sun makes us want to go outside and play and move. Happy working out and happy vacationing!

(PART 2) Preparing for Race Day: 8 Tips for a Fast, Fun Race Day Experience

The sport of running is a great way to move and push yourself, explore a new city or trail, workout with friends or alone, and sleep more soundly and live with more energy. Running generally adds some pep in your step, so why not take it one step further and run in a race? Whether you’re a novice or veteran of the sport, a race of any distance can reinvigorate your running routine.  (If you need some further convincing, see the previous post "8 Reasons to Road Race".)

You’ve signed up for a road race. You’re registered, and are ready to run. Now what? While certain elements of your race day situation, such as the weather, may be out of your control, you can do a lot to ensure race day itself goes smoothly. The following has a lot of advice which will be especially helpful for new racers--and a tip or two for the pros.

1.  Set out your race day outfit and pack a race day bag the night before.

Look at the weather forecast and choose your outfit accordingly. This should ideally be something you’ve worn before, so you know you’ll be comfortable, able to move well, and won’t get any chafing (this last point is especially important for the longer distances!). Bring a spare set of race day clothing just in case. You never know—someone could spill a Gatorade all over you as soon as you get there; while this is unlikely, a backup set of race clothes will make you feel more prepared and as a result more confident. Set out your entire outfit in a good spot in your room the night before. I recommend keeping this near your race day bag just so you don’t forget anything.

If you might be dealing with rain or inclement weather, pack another change of clothes in your bag for after the race—this way you can change and head straight to post-race brunch without going home first. Regardless of the weather, include appropriate layers for warming up and cooling down. Even if the race will be warm, bringing a long-sleeved top and pants is always a good idea; you may up end staying around for post-race activities and you don’t want to be chilled from getting sweaty or if you end up at an air-conditioned restaurant. For winter races, inside my race bag, I leave a big plastic closeable bag full of bonus accessories like gloves, hats, and arm warmers just in case.

2.  Bring a water bottle with your favorite pre-tested workout beverage.

Don’t show up without a drink (or two) which you’ve used regularly before. While the race will nearly always provide water after the event, you don’t want to start dehydrated. If you’re traveling to the race, the bonus drink almost always comes in handy on the way home too.

3.  Know what and when you’re going to eat for your race day breakfast.

Once you find something that works, stick with it! You should ideally test out your intended breakfast for a morning run ahead of time. Keep in mind that everyone is different, so what works for your running partner may not work for you. Generally speaking, bananas and peanut butter are good foods to try, as are oatmeals, toast, and certain protein bars. Stay away from citrus fruit and apples which can upset your stomach. Have coffee if that is part of your typical morning routine. The golden rule of race day is to not try anything new, clothing, nutrition, hydration, or otherwise!

4.  Have your pre-race timing down! Know where you’re going and take the traffic and parking situation into account. Arrive with enough time to both warmup and pick up your race day packet if needed.

Maybe this race starts down the street from your home and the travel situation couldn’t be simpler. But, maybe it’s in a new part of town. Put the correct destination into a navigation app the night before so you’re not scrambling to figure out where to go.

Sometimes running events, especially the larger ones, have packet pick-up the day before the event. If this is an option and you can conveniently get your packet ahead of time, do that to make race day itself more straightforward. Otherwise, just be sure to arrive to the race with plenty of time to get your packet. (Most races will also advertise when packet pick-up opens on race day.) Your packet will have your race day bib, which gets pinned to the front of your shirt or shorts, and any other race day goodies like a t-shirt included with your registration.

(Occasionally, for large events, you should be aware that sometimes NO race day packet pickup is available; you can ONLY get the packet in advance. Of course if this is the case, definitely get your packet ahead of time and make sure you’ve got the hours of pick-up correct! The race organizers usually do a wonderful job of communicating all of these details to you through emails ahead of time, so this will all be information you have ready at hand.)

5. If your race has a bib number, pin it on diagonally for the best fit!

Pin on your bib by starting with one of the top corners. Then pin on the opposite bottom corner, pulling the bib taut as you do so. Finally, secure the remaining two pins. Presto! Your bib will be straight and not billow out awkwardly as you run.

6. Warmup! Cooldown!

If you’re running a marathon, you don’t actually need to warmup; instead just be sure to keep the first couple miles the slowest of your race since you’ve got quite a way to go. For all other distances, go for a little 10-15min. jog to get moving beginning at about an hour to 45 minutes from the race start time. Stretch after your warmup too.

Likewise, don’t neglect your cooldown; even 10 minutes of jogging around will go a long way towards decreasing any post-race soreness.

7. Know your race day goals.

Whether you want to hit a particular pace, negative split your miles (i.e. run faster as you go), finish, or win, have some idea of what you’d like to accomplish by racing. Just having this in your mind goes a long way towards actually achieving that goal.

8. Have fun!

Being able to complete and compete in any race is an awesome thing. Go you!

Part of having a successful race day is being flexible if something doesn’t go exactly your way—even athletes at the Olympics have to contend with interruptions to the perfect race day scenario. That said, just a little bit of planning and preparation can ensure you arrive at the finish line without a hitch. Have an outfit ready to go, know where you’re going, what you’re eating, and give yourself enough time. Don’t try anything new on race day, have a goal in mind, and go out there and get ‘em!

(PART 1) Why race? 8 Reasons to Sign Up for a Road Race

I love running, but I love running races even more. Having completed an average of 40 road races each year since 2013, signing up for and competing in a race feels like second nature. However, for someone just getting into running, the very idea of registering for a race may be understandably intimidating. A beginner may not know what to expect from the race day process or the race itself. However, if you never try, you’ll never know! And like the anecdote goes, we tend to regret the things we did not do more than the things we have done. While any sort of running routine benefits your health and spirit, completing a race—no matter what the distance—gives you a sense of accomplishment and joy that cannot be gained from daily runs alone. Whether you've never raced or are looking for that extra push to sign up for that 5k on Saturday, here are just a few of the reasons to add a road race to your calendar.

1.  You get your workout in early on a weekend morning.

The overwhelming majority of road races are on a Saturday or Sunday morning. Without a race, I would probably be sleeping in. With a race, I’ve just completed a quality workout and am ready to take on the rest of the day by mid-morning at the latest! This is a great way to “add” hours to your weekend—days that otherwise tend to go all too quickly. Having raced in the morning frees up tons of bonus time to do more fun weekend activities, not just because I’m up earlier, but because I then don’t have to take any other time out of my day to workout. If your race involves traveling to another city, this can also be an opportunity to see other places that you’d otherwise never explore.

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2.  You usually come away with some goodies like a T-shirt, post-race food, etc.

While this varies from race to race, most will give you at minimum a cool event t-shirt and some type of goody bag. Races of half marathon length or longer usually give you a finisher’s medal. Both t-shirts and medals can become a means of motivating you. Collect enough t-shirts to make a t-shirt quilt, or try to beat your medal total from the previous season. Other goodies are specific to each race and can become something to look forward to year after year. I still remember my green Shamrock sugar cookie from after last year’s Virginia Beach Shamrock Half. Another example: the Haven 8k in Charlottesville is famous for its post-race breakfast of homemade baked goods and an array of beverages…which brings me to my next point!

3.  You can benefit a charitable cause!

Lots of local races support local causes. The Haven 8k helps the homeless to get housing, but so many other races benefit other important causes too. Last year I ran the Tinkerbell Half through Team AFSP and raised more than $1000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Find a local 5k that gives back to your community; there’s no better way to get your rush of endorphins this weekend. Help yourself and help others! For longer races, you can often gain entry to a sold out race by racing to benefit a charity too.

4.       You get a more intense workout that you otherwise would have.

Even if you’re already a weekend workout warrior, a race is an excellent way to push yourself. Most of my regular runs are done at a fairly casual pace. A race shows me what I’m actually capable of.

5.       Races are a great test of fitness and a great way to goal set.

Once you’ve got a race or two under your belt, it becomes really fun to try to beat your previous times. There is a magic in going faster than your body has ever gone before over a specific distance. Year to year, track your progress over the same course. Racing conditions can vary year to year with the weather, which adds another element of intrigue to the whole racing experience. I ran a race this year called the Frostbite 15k in a snowstorm; the year before, we all raced in the worst rain I’ve ever experienced. Most races won’t involve a deluge of rain or snow, but when it does happen, you feel very proud of yourself for having braved the elements and experience a unique camaraderie with other runners.

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6.  You will have fun whether you go with friends or by yourself!

Even if you go to a race alone, you will end up making a bunch of great running friends! This fall, two men who were also out racing the same half marathon ended up collegially pacing me to a top three finish for women. The help from my new friends made that race and my good placing even more special. If you attend enough local races, you will end up seeing some familiar faces. Runners are a wonderfully welcoming community of people. Races also provide an opportunity to workout with your friends. Even if you don’t race side-by-side, you can still brunch together afterwards!

7.  You will almost inevitably run a new route.

A change of scenery is good for you. Sometimes I end up running the same old loops on the same days. Besides forcing me out of my comfort zone in terms of how fast I’m running, a race gives me an opportunity to explore new roads and routes.

8.  The actual process of race day is easier than you might think.

If possible (and it usually is), register online for the race ahead of time. Especially if you’re new to racing, give yourself a little extra time to get ready on race day morning. Plan on arriving an hour ahead of race start to give yourself adequate time to park, use the restroom, and pick up your registration packet. Your registration packet will most likely contain your bib number, which is the number you pin on the front of your shirt, and any other race goodies. With about 45 min. to start time, go for a short 12-15min. warmup. Stretch, and you’re ready to roll! Have fun and go fast!

Road races are a rewarding, fun, and an invigorating addition to the usual workout. With warmer weather upon us, you likely have lots of options coming up on the local race circuit. One of these would be a great place to start.

 

RLY Elite Team Feature: Holly Z.

At Runners Love Yoga, we want more runners to do yoga, but we also want more yogis to find running! Holly, a longtime yogi, ran her first half marathon this fall. Holly is a member of our RLY Elite Team as well as the Communications Manager for Project Yoga Richmond, which aims to bring yoga to the entire Richmond, Virginia community through outreach programs and pay-what-you-can classes.

She is a University of Virginia alumna--and she took my short course on the Global Short Story back in 2013! Wahoowa! Holly is also a creative and talented potter--you can often spot her making new pieces on her Instagram @hollyzajur. So much of the fun of both running and yoga is the sense of community you get from both--we're excited to feature Holly here as the first of our "meet the running yogis"!

Name: Holly Zajur

IG handle: @hollyzajur

Hometown/Current City: Richmond, VA

Favorite hobbies or things to do besides yoga and running: Ceramics, writing, coloring, and climbing trees!

What got you hooked on yoga? Any pivotal moments or experiences in particular?

Stepping onto my mat for the first time made me feel like I was dipping my toes into something that I could become fully submerged in. I remember that at the end of my very first class I was so entranced that when I came out of savasana, I was siting up facing the back wall, instead of the instructor! I unrolled my yoga mat for the first time in high school and in that time of teenage angst, yoga allowed me to connect with my true self, while recognizing that we are all a part of something else. It continues to teach me to this day.

Holly in bakasana (crow pose), one of her go-to yoga poses.

Holly in bakasana (crow pose), one of her go-to yoga poses.

Do you have any go-to poses?

Bakasana always reminds me how to lift myself up and smile!

When and/or where do you like to practice yoga best?

I love an early morning practice. Just me, my mat, and the smell of coffee brewing. In that time, I am most able to show up for myself and slowly come alive.

A close second is in the sunshine under a tree after a run, those practices are always a little more playful and fun!

What is your favorite race distance and why? Alternatively: do you have a favorite race that you always do?

Honestly, I am pretty new to racing! I ran my first ever half marathon this fall, which I loved, but the running world is still pretty new to me!

Where is your favorite place to run and why?

My favorite place to run is Shelby Bottoms Park in East Nashville, TN because it was where I learned to love running. I moved to Nashville on a total whim, and towards the end, I knew it was time to go, but I did not know where or how to make my next move. I was feeling stuck, and all I could do was run. Running allowed me to take control and to explore, but it also provided a way for me to recognize my capacity to do anything. I always hated running before, so the fact that I was now doing it for fun and for long amounts of time really made me believe in myself.

What’s your favorite running workout?

Yikes, I think I need to find one!

Tell us about your most memorable long run.

My first half marathon was this fall right after the 2016 election and towards the end of training I was feeling discouraged both physically and emotionally, but running through the streets of Richmond, Va that crisp fall morning, I felt hope. Running and yoga are seen as an “individual” practices, but to me, that could not be further from true. From signs to live music, and SAG stops, the entire city was working towards a common goal, to support one another to the finish line. When you are running, at some point, a voice inside your head is going to want you to quit, but the people around you are what get you through the doubt at those long distances. Running that race demonstrated the ways your community can help you push through when you don’t believe in yourself and the beauty that happens when community comes together to support one another.

What season do you like running in best? Tell us why.

Spring. You get to your environment come to life through trees and their blooming leaves, and even in the smiles you see on the faces of people you pass on the streets. There is a sort of magic to start running outside and seeing the way everything, and everyone, slowly de-thaws and comes to life! Plus, springtime is when I first started running, so there is this special nostalgia to it.

Run and practice yoga to connect with your community like Holly, and check the RLY blog soon for additional features as we connect the running/yoga community online too!

All photos of Holly courtesy of J&D Photo (website, Facebook, Instagram).

Growing Your Vrksasana / Tree Pose

Whether you’re in a time crunch or just in need of a one-minute yoga break, look no further than tree pose. This is the perfect asana to sneakily do while brushing your teeth or taking a break at the water cooler. Most yoga poses reveal interesting complexities when broken down into their essential elements—tree pose is no exception. Upon first glance, vrksasana may appear relatively simple, but it’s also a pose that can really wake up your sense of balance. As I tell my students, some days you’ll find a bit more wind in your branches than others! Additionally, vrksasana can illuminate differences between the left and right side of your body which you otherwise may never have noticed.  

Spring is now upon us—the weather is warming, the trees are beginning to bloom, and the seeds of the May flowers are being sown. What better time to root your own body in a new variation of tree pose? Whether this is the first or hundredth vrksasana you’ve planted, here are a few tips and variations to make this your most solid tree yet. Read on for tips to ground your tree, and variations for your leg, arm, and gaze placement within the pose. Here we work from the roots up!

Legs:

Start by shifting weight into one foot. Gently bend opposite knee, then pick this leg off the ground. Bring the sole of this foot to…

a. Anywhere on your lower shin (NOT on the knee). Notice if the knee of this leg is pointed more forward, and try to send it straight out to the side to help open up your hip. Concentrate on pressing the sole of your foot into your standing leg, but also gently pressing leg into sole of foot.

b. Anywhere on your upper thigh (again, not on the knee!). Just as before, try sending knee out to the side and concentrate on mutual pressure between sole of foot and standing leg.

c. Your opposite hip for half lotus. Only do this variation if you don’t have any knee issues or you know you’re comfortable in a seated half lotus. Wedge your heel towards your opposite hip bone, keeping the foot slightly flexed. Your knee of this leg should be able to remain pointed down towards the floor with leg fairly relaxed.

 

Arms:

Once you’ve got your vrksasana roots planted, it’s time to grow your branches. The hands and arms present many opportunities for creativity in this pose.

a. Try bringing palms together into prayer. Let the thumbs rest lightly against your collarbone.

b. Grow your tree branches by extending palms to the sky and reaching through your fingers.

c. Bring palms behind your back for reverse prayer hands. Here, the pinky-side edges of palms are against the back. This is also a great stretch for the wrists.

d. Eagle arms. Take an eagle and throw it in your upper branches! Combine the arms for eagle pose with the legs of tree. Cross right elbow under your left, then (if possible) continue to wrap right palm around to connect with left. Here, press elbows gently away from you to get a nice stretch through the upper back, between the shoulder blades. Switch sides after a couple breaths; unwind your arms and wrap back up by sending left elbow under right, and wrapping left palm around to connect with right.

Gaze:

The gaze is a way to make your tree pose more progressively challenging.

a. Look down at a spot on the floor to help stabilize your tree. (Avoid looking at other windy trees!)

b. Send your gaze up.

c. Finally, perhaps close your eyes just for a breath or two.

Just like the many species of trees on Earth, you can create so many different variations of vrksasana by playing around with different options for your legs, arms, and gaze. Similarly, just like the natural trees change with the seasons, so too might your own tree pose. Remember that every day is different, and that “windy” days are fine when they happen.

In your next tree pose, feel the stability of your grounded foot. Let that base help you to be strong and grow tall through the rest of your pose. Breathe and enjoy being a tree!

5 Ways to Spice up Your Plank Pose

Holding a plank position may be a well-known and effective way to strengthen your core, but it doesn’t have to be as boring as you might think. Sure, a certain appeal exists to holding a plank for new length of time, and it’s hard to not feel strong when you’ve just held a plank for a minute longer than usual. (In college, I held my forearm plank for a personal record of 6:22. Before you get too impressed, my little brother regularly holds 30+ minute planks.) Whether you are trying planks for the first time or adding more time to your already stable plank, here are ideas to spice up this go-to core move.

I recommend doing planks on your forearms with hands clasped, rather than on your palms, as this helps take stress out of your shoulders and lets you concentrate more on your core. Be sure your bum is low and in line with your shoulders. Use a mirror or a friend to periodically check on your form.

1.  Leg lifts.

From your forearm plank, gently lift one leg then the other to “walk out” your legs. No need to lift your legs super high—even just a couple inches is very effective. Prioritize quality of movement. Repeat 10-20 times or for up to a minute.

 

 

 

2.  Dolphin plank.

In your forearm plank, inhale to send your nose over your clasped hands. Keep hips low. On your next exhale, send hips up and back, sink back and press through your heels, coming backwards into the starting plank position. Continue this motion of inhaling nose forward over hands, exhaling hips up and back to return to start. Notice that this is one plank where your hips do come up, rather than remaining in line with the rest of your body the entire time. Repeat for 5-10 rounds, or up to a minute.

3.  Dolphin plank with leg lift.

This is a more advanced variation of a regular dolphin plank. As you inhale forward, reach one leg high to the sky. As you exhale back, return your leg back to the plank position. With this leg lift, try extending leg as high as you can. Repeat 3-6 rounds per side, alternating legs. Be sure to use your breath to help you move.

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Ninja plank.

This plank is usually more accessible on your palms just since you’ll have more room to move your legs towards your arms.  Begin on your palms, being sure to keep good form with hips in line with the rest of your body. On an exhale, bring your right knee to gently tap your right elbow. Inhale to send leg back to starting position. Repeat on second side. Prioritize quality rather than speed of movement. Repeat for 10-15 rounds per side. This is a great “grande finale” to your plank series, but it also works well when integrated into the “plank on palms” segment of the series below. Enjoy!

 

5.       Combine your plank skills for a mini yoga flow!: begin in forearm plankà cycle: [sphinx pose --> forearm plank with hands unclasped --> plank on palms].

Plank, while a relatively simple exercise, offers plentiful options for introducing creativity into your ab and core routine. Once you are comfortable with dolphin plank, you can even add that to the concluding plank-based yoga flow described in number 5. Planks and other core moves are also a great add-on to the end of a cardio or strength workout. Next time you come in from a run, try one or all of these!

 

Practical Advice for Making Time to Workout

Where there’s a will, there is most definitely a way. No matter what your job, you can always carve out a little slice of time for yourself to exercise. Planning your workout ahead of time, no matter how short or long it may be, is half the battle of actually doing it. Leaving a workout up to chance allows excuses to creep in—“I’m too tired,” “I should really do X, Y, or Z instead”—while mapping it out dedicates a specific space and time to YOU, which is just as important for your long-term health and success as nearly anything else you could be doing then anyways.

Plan out your week in advance. Take 10 minutes whenever you have it, but preferably on the Sunday before the work week starts, to map out your workouts. Take a piece of printer paper, a page in a journal, or whatever you’ve got, and draw yourself a chart with a box for every day of the week. Know that this Thursday is going to be especially busy? This lets you work around that—move your longer workout to a different day. Commit to any fitness classes you want to attend before or after work, or write down which days you’ll head to the gym, track, studio, or trail. Be sure you’ve got a little variety in the intensity of your routine—i.e. don’t schedule your two longest runs of the week on back-to-back days. Have a rest day or active recovery day which includes easy cross-training. Put your weekly schedule in a special place where you can find it and see it.

Find what you love and mix it up! Be sure your workout is something you actually enjoy! Find an activity you truly love, whether this is a Zumba class, lifting weights on your own, or going for a walk during the lunch break. Also be sure to give each activity a chance! (Everyone out there who says they hate running has not run consistently for a long enough period of time—or they need orthotics or better running shoes!) Variety can prevent your routine from ever being monotonous, as can having a friend accompany you to the gym. Figure out what works for you—whether this is a balance of fitness classes and nature trails, a room full of fellow exercisers on spin bikes, or being peacefully alone on the track after a long day of work.

Make the most of your time. When constructing your weekly workouts, know when you’ll have bigger and smaller chunks of time available and make the most of these accordingly. Plan bigger workouts when you have more time, or plan on tacking on bonus core work on the day you know you don’t have to be home from the gym by a specific time. Alternatively, on your busier days, do what you need to do to still get a workout in—sometimes this might just be 15 minutes of yoga right when you wake up. Make your workouts a reward within your week. For example, if you know you especially dread Monday mornings, plan a Monday workout that you’ll really enjoy. If you are working with a somewhat unpredictable schedule, have a set of workouts from which to draw during the week—come up with a bodyweight or medicine ball circuit to do in your living room. Figure out what the limitations or strengths of your particular schedule are, and find a way to work around or with them.

Have a goal in mind. Know why you’re working out, whether you just want to lead a healthier lifestyle or are training for a specific half marathon in April. You don’t necessarily have to write this down, but know within your heart what you’re training towards.

Log your workouts. A training log can be a really satisfying tool! I love writing down my workouts—it almost feels like the act of writing them down is part of actually doing them, or makes them real. It is also very enjoyable to look back on a month’s worth (or more!) of workouts to see what you’ve accomplished! Make this fun. Use some cool pens or markers, and include as little or as much detail as you want. Buy a nice journal that you find writing in pleasant!

Life is too short to waste time! Plan your workouts so they can make you happier and healthier and enhance (and probably lengthen) your life. With a mindful and creative approach to your individual schedule, you may find that your jam-packed weeks actually allow for a good bit of exercise. Along the way, you may also find your newly planned workouts give you more energy and zest to handle the rest of your crazy non-workout day too.

 

Thankful for Backbending: Heart Opening Yoga Poses to Do Everyday

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The majority of modern people spend a lot of time in a forward-fold, whether they realize it or not. When sitting at a desk or in a car, people naturally tend to round forward through their torsos and shoulders. This slumping increases tightness in muscles across the front of the chest, shoulders, and neck. While most people recognize the need to undo the monotony of sitting through exercising regularly and taking short breaks for general movement, they seldom do any movement specifically to counteract their persistent forward folding. The energizing solution here is to add backbends into your daily routine. Even one can make a difference!

Backbends are like hip openers in that you can often feel an immediate change in your body after exiting the posture. After a backbend like wheel pose, the front of your chest suddenly feels more spacious. Lots of little muscle fibers suddenly have more room! Breathing may feel deeper and easier. Backbends open up the front of the body and for this reason are often also called “heart openers.” In this regard, they work well to ward off the last of these winter woes, which may have us otherwise assuming a more protective forward-folding huddle. Shake off the early spring chill and energize your body by incorporating one of the following backbends into your day:

 

1.  Backbend by laying off the edge of your bed.

Say you’ve gotten to the end of your day and forgotten to backbend; here’s one to practice which lets you stay warm under the covers. While face-up, drape your upper body off one side of your bed, gently reaching fingers towards the floor. Breathe and relax.

 

 

 

 

2.  Bridge pose.

Begin at seated; plant both feet on the mat before you. Check that outer edges of your feet are parallel (i.e. feet are slightly pigeon-toed). Beginning this way may help your knees feel more comfortable in the eventual backbend. Roll yourself down to your mat, keeping knees bent and feet solidly planted. Now press the small of your back down into the mat to begin picking your hips up. Gently roll up bottom to top of your spine. Tuck shoulder blades under your back and clasp palms under your body. Press clasped palms into the floor in order to press your hips up. Round up in all directions; not only are you pressing hips to the sky, you’re also pressing your chest towards your chin. Pause for 5-10 breaths here, then roll back down, top to bottom of your spine. Roll back up for a second backbend. In this one, send one foot then the other towards the sky—if trying this variation, be sure to keep hips up while reaching through the extended leg.

3.  Restorative bridge pose.

This posture works great after an active bridge pose. Begin just as in our previous pose, but now place a yoga block just under your sacrum. (The sacrum is lower than your lower back. Find the big bones right above your hips. You should feel very supported with the block here.) Tuck shoulder blades under your back and let palms rest up towards the sky. Close your eyes and let your whole body rest down, rather than sending anything up. Pause here for a full minute. Once you are more comfortable in backbends, keep in mind that you can flip your yoga block to a higher level, or stack two yoga blocks (set on their lowest level) on top of each other.

 

4.  Backbend at the wall.

This is an excellent way to learn how to drop back into wheel pose from standing. Be sure to start at least 3 feet away from the wall. (You will know if you’re too close as you start to walk your hands down the wall. If this is the case, you can always walk your feet farther away from the wall as you go too.) Face away from the wall, inhale to reach tall through your arms and fingertips. Exhale as you begin to lean back—remember your gaze has to travel backwards too. This won’t work if you keep looking forward. Keep pressing strongly through your feet. Once your palms are planted on the wall, firmly press into your hands and “walk” them down the wall as far as is comfortable, perhaps ending up in a wheel pose at the wall. Even if you are very comfortable in wheel, wheel pose at the wall is a great way to get a little deeper into the pose. Press your chest into the wall, and continue to breathe. Walk your hands back up the wall to exit the pose.

Take a moment to scan your body after your backbend and see how you feel. Enjoy the feeling of expansion in your chest, and thank yourself for taking a little time out of your day to backbend.  

Only a few poses are on my mental checklist of ones to do daily: these typically include both pigeon pose and wheel. I need that daily urdhva dhanurasana! There's nothing like the first few moments after exiting wheel to show you how tight you really were through the front of your body.

I also try to do a wheel pose before every race--I swear this helps me to breathe better. Wishing you all happy backbends and better breathing for faster, happier runs.

5 Restorative Yoga Poses for Runners

  Wide-legged seated forward fold / Upavistha Konasana.

  Wide-legged seated forward fold / Upavistha Konasana.

You’ve just finished an intense long run or race. Your post-run protein smoothie was gone ten minutes ago—what else can you do to ensure you recover as fast as possible? Yoga is a great way to recharge, but the thoughts of heading out to that heated vinyasa class might not be particularly appealing when you don’t really want to move. Never fear—here is a sequence of five restorative yoga poses that target your legs, and best of all, you don’t even have to stand up. Read on for an efficient, relaxing post-run routine that will have you sleeping like a baby by the end even if you haven’t raced today.

1.  Wide-legged seated forward fold / Upavistha Konasana.

Bound Angle Pose / Baddha Konasana.

Bound Angle Pose / Baddha Konasana.

In a seated position, use your hands to carefully pick up one knee from underneath and send your leg out to the side. Repeat on second side. Once in the general wide-legged position, press into your palms behind you to gently pick up your body and send your legs a little wider. Remember that you should not be stretching to max capacity here; just go until you feel a good overall leg stretch. Keep feet a little flexed. Inhale tall; exhale and keep your spine long as you walk your palms away from you. You might find that you get a deeper stretch just by pausing on your forearms for a more extended period of time, perhaps 1-2 min. Otherwise, on your next exhale, gently round your upper body into the pose. You might also rest your forehead on a cushion or yoga block.

2.  Bound Angle Pose / Baddha Konasana.

Pigeon Pose / Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.

Pigeon Pose / Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.

From your upavistha konasana, gently pick up one knee from the inside edge to bend your knee and bring your foot towards the center of your mat. Repeat on second side to connect soles of feet. Press your palms behind you to pick up your body, bringing body as close to your feet as is comfortable. Especially press pinky-side edges of feet together. Follow the same breathing pattern as our first pose; on the first inhale and exhale, get taller and fold keeping length through your spine. On your subsequent exhale, round into the forward fold. This pose is extremely restorative with a yoga block under the forehead. Remember that if a yoga block doesn’t offer enough height, you can stack up a bunch of pillows to rest your forehead comfortably.

3.  Pigeon Pose / Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.

From baddha konasana, cross your feet at the ankles and press palms in front of you to come onto hands and knees. From hands and knees, tuck toes under and send hips up and back to transition into downdog. From downdog, inhale to send one leg high into the sky; exhale to plant this foot outside its corresponding front palm. Release your back knee and the top of your back foot to the mat.

You should now be in a low lunge with both palms on the inside edge of your front leg. Press your forearm into shin and shin into forearm gently. (Be sure that your back leg is far enough back—you should not be directly on top of your kneecap.) Pause for a few breaths here. Then, continue to stay here, or if comfortable, drop to your forearms (or as an intermediate spot, you can always rest your closer forearm on a block). Pause for a few more breaths here, continuing to press arm into leg, leg into arm.

Now, pick up your palm/forearm closer to your leg or remove your block to “heel-toe” your front foot across the front of your mat. The more parallel your leg is to the front of your mat, the deeper your stretch will be. You can angle your knee more forward if needed. Important: go with whatever angle of the front leg allows you to keep your hips square to the mat (i.e. avoid rolling to your outer hip, but press down evenly into both). Inhale tall, then exhale to walk your palms out and let forehead rest towards or on the mat. Pause for 1-2 min. This pose alleviates IT band tightness and is especially great to incorporate into your routine after running track or hill workouts.

Yin Yoga Ankle Stretch.

Yin Yoga Ankle Stretch.

4.  Yin Yoga Ankle Stretch.

After completing pigeon on your second side, do roll your weight to your outer hip to swivel your back leg up to the front of the mat. Cross feet at ankles to come back to hands and knees. Bring heels and knees together to line up lower legs; on an exhale, walk hands back to sit onto your heels. Bring palms behind you to lift knees off the mat, shifting weight to your feet. Keep chest lifted—you can think of this as a slight backbend. This is a great stretch for the front of your shins, which normally don’t get a lot of attention. Pause here, continuing to breathe for 1-2min.

5.  Legs up the Wall / Viparita Karani.

Legs up the Wall / Viparita Karani.

Legs up the Wall / Viparita Karani.

Sit sideways next to a wall—this allows you to get your body close to the wall. Swivel legs up the wall as you let upper body come to rest on the floor. If your body is not quite against the wall, scoot one side then other side of your bum until you’re closer. Tuck shoulder blades gently under your back, letting palms rest up towards the sky. Relax here 3-7 min.

Even a short period of time dedicated to yoga can go a long way towards speeding your recovery from your last big track workout or road race. The above can be completed in 15 minutes, but if you have even less time, I recommend just going with pigeon pose (also known as the "pose which can singlehandedly cure your IT band woes"). Of course, if you do have a little extra time, let yourself pause in the poses that feel best or most productive at that particular moment. Let yoga complement your running and find your way back to the starting line with fresh legs in no time at all. 

Find more yoga for runners to stream online, anytime and anywhere, right HERE!

 

4 Reasons Runners Need to Do Yoga

Runners love running; they usually don’t require much convincing when it comes to increasing their mileage. Supplementing those miles with a regular yoga practice, however, can greatly improve running performance. Here are 4 reasons runners need to do yoga—making all that time spent on the road, track, or trail more fluid and efficient.

1.  Injury prevention through increased mobility and strength.

The worst part about being a runner is being an injured runner. Most runners become injured at some point with their sheer enthusiasm for training: we’ve all been there. You are on your commute to work, injured and unable to run, and a group of runners enjoying an invigorating morning workout passes you by. That can feel like an agonizing moment.  A regular yoga practice can keep you from experiencing the pain of not running; yoga can prevent nearly all common running injuries from plantar fasciitis to IT band tightness. Yoga corrects imbalances in your body from old injuries or new ones, and makes you more mobile and strong so injuries never crop up in the first place. Yoga enables runners to train more consistently without taking unplanned breaks for an injury, and—what most runners do not consider—it can also help them to recover faster and train harder. With the help of yoga, I was able to complete an average of 40 races in 2014, 2015, and 2016. On Mondays, I run to and from teaching yoga. I quite often have raced on the weekend and am a little sore on the run to class; without fail, I always feel looser and stronger on my run home.

2.  Improved speed and efficiency from a stronger core.

Yoga gives you a stronger core, which makes you into a more efficient, faster running machine. Yoga core workouts tend to be more interesting than pumping out a thousand crunches so you are more likely to stick with your routine—and the yoga comes with great mental benefits too.

3.  A deeper belief in your own abilities.

Yoga lets you trust yourself and be more confident and calm come race day. Besides helping to reduce overall stress, yoga offers a competitive time-out from running’s emphasis on speed and place. This lets you to be more competitive when you do toe the line because you’ve allowed yourself space to relax and recharge. There’s also nothing like that first time you balance in a new pose like bakasana (“crow pose”)—this feeling of empowerment carries over to your running too.

4.  Better body awareness.

Yoga coordinates your movement with your breathing; after practicing yoga regularly, you learn to do this intuitively. A runner who practices yoga has much greater, more nuanced body awareness than a runner who does not. With yoga, you can grow to understand in a much more specific way what your particular body needs at any certain moment. In other words, yoga allows you to understand when you feel just a little off, or when one hip flexor is a little tighter than the other, or alternatively, when you feel really good. This allows you to figure out what you need to give yourself workout-wise and stretch-wise at any given time to maximize your training—even if this means backing off from a particular pose. Yoga teaches patience in the long-term; the fun of the yoga journey is that new poses are always there waiting for you.

Adding even a little yoga to your running routine can go a long way towards aiding your running. Whether this is 15 minutes of stretching before you go to sleep or a couple yoga classes spread throughout the week, a consistent yoga practice leads to consistent running—and that makes for a happier, faster runner.

Listening to Your Body

I think most of us listen to our minds (sometimes too much, as when we worry about things we can't change)--but we would be a lot happier if we also listened attentively to our bodies. During my yoga classes, after I teach pigeon pose on one side, I have my classes move and shake out their now stretched leg to compared it with the one we've not stretched yet. Nearly always, we find an extremely satisfying difference in the efficiency and mobility of one versus the relative stiffness of the other; I then tell my students to imagine how they feel before and after their whole yoga class. This is part of the magic of yoga, that you didn't quite know how good you could feel until you actually do some yoga. With the greater body awareness gained from yoga, you can more easily fine-tune your the intensity of training, but also just feel all-around better. Until yoga, you didn't even know how great you could feel.

Yoga helps you as a runner through keeping your body limber, mobile, and efficient. It keeps your body balanced from side to side to keep your gait even, and it counteracts the stress of the repetitive motion of running to keep you from becoming tight, stiff, or developing overuse injuries. However, one of the more unexpected ways that yoga helps running is by enabling you to better listen to your body’s cues. As you practice yoga for a longer period of time, you also learn to understand your body better. You know where your arms are in your triangle pose, you understand how to more firmly ground the back hip in your pigeon pose. You have much greater, more subtle, awareness of how your body feels and moves when in different yoga poses. The typical modern day does not require us to stand around in vrksasana/tree pose; yoga makes you think about your limbs and all the rest of you in a more thoughtful, detailed way than other activities. You become much more perceptive about how you feel.

As I discussed in my TEDxUVA talk “Do Yoga Run Faster,” this translates to better run training because you are more likely to feel any developing imbalances in your body, and then given—through yoga—the tools to correct them before they become anything that could harm your training. Yoga gives you greater awareness of your particular body. (In other words, yoga isn’t just about becoming more flexible. You just flat-out know your body better.) In yoga class, you soon learn to listen to what your body can and cannot do at any given time, and that every day is different. This lets us be more accepting of ourselves no matter how we are feeling.

As a runner, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers: weekly mileage, how many minutes I’ve cooled down, how much did I beat/miss my PR by, etc. Information like this is useful and important but it shouldn’t override your sense of how you feel when you’re doing all those miles or running your cooldown…your body will give you lots of information if you learn to pay attention to it which will let you adjust your training accordingly. Train hard, rest hard. Be flexible, in more ways that just your physical body; don’t get caught up in the grind of what you’re doing without paying attention to how you are actually feeling.

This idea of being sure to pay attention to how your body is feeling—in addition to all the numbers we love—is also easily relatable to why we run to begin with. Don’t let the numbers interfere with the joy of running for running’s sake; be a little more chill, don’t be so hung up on following the plan so exactly, that you lose sight of the awe of the movement of running.

Ultimately, we run for many reasons: for exercise, for the joy of movement, for the thrill of competition, to push and challenge ourselves, to accomplish goals, for an escape from life, to spend time with friends, to spend some time alone in nature, to see what we can do, to enjoy the sunshine--and the rain, and the snow! Along with paying attention to how your limbs and body feel, pay attention to how your spirit feels too.

Here a little one-minute sequence to recharge your day. See video below for full movements.

1.) Begin in downdog.

2.) Inhale to your toes, exhale to tap knees to floor. Inhale knees up, exhale heels down.

3.) Repeat your knee taps as often as desired. On your next knee tap, release knees and then toes fully to mat.

4.) Go through a few rounds of cat-cow: Inhale to round up, gazing up and sending your tailbone up. Exhale to round in, looking towards your belly button.

5.) Tuck toes under to send hips up and back to come into downdog. Inhale forward, shift weight to left hand and foot to come into side plank. In your side plank, try lifting your top leg and sending top arm forward.

6.) Let top lifted leg drop behind you to drop into wild thing. Press into your right foot and reach through your fingertips. Flip yourself back over to regular plank, and then repeat the side plank to wild thing movement on your right side.

More yoga videos and sequences for runners here!

Kiawah Island Marathon 2016 Race Report

Running this full marathon, as opposed to the half, felt very risky. Honestly, all fall, I was telling people that I may or may not do the full, depending upon whether I actually got my long runs in. Well, I didn’t do any long runs, and still went with the full, and it went VERY well for my utter lack of training and mileage, and general insanity involved in this fall. (We will get to that in just a bit.)

Below: 1) the sky on the drive to SC, 2) pre-race yoga, 3) packet pickup, 4) race day gear ready to go.

I only actually decided on Wednesday Dec. 7 to commit to the full, instead of the half. This was the last day I could have changed my race online. Though you can still change your race at packet pickup, I very much didn’t want to do that. On Monday of last week, I was feeling a little anxious about actually figuring out what race I would even be doing: I wanted to figure this out to mentally gear myself up for whatever race it was. Phillip had already told me he thought I should do the half. If I went with the half, I wanted to PR and break 1:20. If I went with the full, I still wanted to PR, but also faced the very real possibility that I might implode at some point past mile 16, as I hadn’t run further than that for all of 2016. (This was, as I deemed it earlier, “The Year of the Half Marathon”…I’ve raced 10 of them this calendar year.) I didn’t want to unhappily drive home from Kiawah having missed my sub-1:20 or having run an above 3:00 marathon. I looked back at the training log from fall of 2015, and saw I had only actually run three 15 mile long runs between the Steamtown Marathon in October, and CIM eight weeks later in December. Of course, I had a bigger LR base from Steamtown that I figured probably helped me come my final December 2015 ‘thon.

Anyways, at some point, I decided, what the heck, let’s do this thing. My mom was helpful in pointing out that at least this would give me more marathon experience, which might help for my long-term goals over that distance. On one hand, this all made me a little more relaxed, because, hey, I didn’t even train for this! On the other hand, this all made me a little more nervous, because, sweet Jesus, what did I think I was doing trying to run a full? A few other points that led me to choose 26.2 over 13.1: 1.) my training hasn’t been horrible—just lacking in long runs, 2.) I’d get a bigger break, perfectly timed for colder weather, 3.) the weather for race day itself looked great.

Getting my award for 2nd! Hurray!
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This fall has been more busy than normal—you don’t know how much work, planning, communication, and coordination is involved in designing and producing your own clothing line until you actually do it. This has just been a “side project” along with my full-time job teaching writing and literature at UVa, working a freelance gig on the side of that, teaching yoga and spin classes, planning a wedding (did most of that in the summer-phew! Good planning, self!), running a growing RLY, and trying to run decently fast and train. So, at the risk of sounding like I am bragging, I’m going to give myself a BIG PAT ON THE BACK because I am very proud of / can’t believe I just pulled off a PR in the marathon.

The Saturday before Kiawah, I had raced a 5k and felt kind of horrible. This certainly wasn't a good confidence booster heading into marathon week, but I talked myself into thinking this was a result of grading 36 long papers and getting not that much sleep that week. For marathon week itself, I tried to give myself as big of a mental break as I could and get more sleep.

MY TRAINING THIS FALL:

From August 1 to the week of Nov. 28 (the week before the week of the race), I averaged 32.1 miles. I raced 4 half marathons, all of which I also ran a short warmup and cooldown to get around 16 miles total. For my last half (the Richmond half), I also raced a 10k the next day in an effort to make this count as a longer long run. (Maybe it worked?) Besides this, I think I ran one 10 mile LR—this was on Sunday Nov. 20 with my new running buddy Courtney, who I normally run with every Wednesday now.

Training for and racing a marathon requires a great support system. On the drive down to SC, I told Phillip how thankful I was for him coming with me and for having a new friend to run with in Courtney. He replied with something along the lines of "you're the one running 26 miles, not me"--I still think that even knowing you have people out there supporting you, whether this is someone waiting for a gel for you out on the course, or a friend to laugh with on runs, is so key to success.

THE RACE ITSELF:

Before this, I would readily admit that I don’t even really like marathons. I thought they were too long, you feel like your whole body just might break at some point over those last 6 miles, recovery takes forever, and it takes too long to get back to racing.

This race may have changed my mind. I actually never really hit a wall, and felt relatively good the entire time. According to my Garmin, I actually ran the last half mile as my fastest one in the entire race. (See pace chart below.) Phillip also commented that I looked actually good the whole time, instead of like I was going to collapse sometime in the last 5-6 miles.

I took this race out in a 6:44.1, and my average pace was a 6:44.6. I have, over my lifetime of running, always more naturally been a distance than a speed girl. I also tend to get “locked into” a pace. (Looking back at CIM, I had wanted to drop my pace down over the first three miles, but similarly got “stuck” at whatever pace I started at.) For my next marathon, I think I will—as always—be very very careful to not begin too fast, but I also may just click right into whatever my overall goal pace is. For me at least, this seems to work. My fastest mile was a 6:27.6 at mile 10, and my slowest was a 7:07.2 at mile 25.

During the race, I just tried to stay very relaxed. When you get to mile 10, you have 16 miles to go…. That’s quite a ways to run still. It was immensely helpful to know Phillip would be out there and that I’d get to see somebody. I also greatly enjoyed the change of the marathon course from previous years. Early on (I believe until 2011), the marathon course was simply the half course run twice. I thankfully never had to do this, which sounds unpleasant. From 2012 to 2015, the full course covered different territory than the half for the back end of the race, but unfortunately, this meant:

1.)    You had to make approximately 5 U-turns in the last third of the race. These were painful and somehow demoralizing.

2.)    You were in utter no man’s land, running alone, for a good portion of the second half.

3.)    The last 3 miles followed a golf cart path which included curbs to step up/down. (No further comment needed on that.)

This year, the course changed to eliminate the U-turns! This was also one point in favor of choosing the full over the half! One point of annoyance was that the course does merge with the half course, so the fast 26.2 runners literally run into the 13.1 walkers, many of whom were being quite leisurely about the whole experience and were wearing headphones or walking three abreast. (I was almost taken out by a woman stretching out her arms to their greatest length to take a photo of her mile 11 sign.) So, that was frustrating, but it also gave me something to be annoyed at to distract myself from the possible pain of running 10 miles further than I had all year. I just wanted to be past these people! The ending 5-7 miles were much more visually interesting than those previously part of the course, as the new route wraps around the Sanctuary Hotel, loops around a neighborhood of pretty houses, and is generally more entertaining than running a straight golf cart path with curbs! I actually enjoyed this section!

While running, I first just tried to zone out and stay calm for the first few miles. I later divided the course into segments—get to Phillip at mile 6 so I could toss my half zip upper layer and grab a GU, get to mile 12, get to 17, get to 20, etc.

TIMING: GOING FOR PRs

I knew my PR of 2:57:17 from CIM was 6:45 pace so I kept eyeing my Garmin to stay on track to PR. I knew I was in the range of a 2:56 of some kind heading into the last 6 miles, as long as I didn’t crack and start running 7:30s or something. I also knew the first place girl was not too far ahead, so if she cracked I could get her. I ran 7:04, 7:01, and 7:07 for miles 23, 24, and 25. I knew I was still okay as I had enough miles racked up in the 6:30-something range to still PR. My last mile was a 6:50.3, and my Garmin had me as sprinting into the finish at a 5:47 pace (see chart to the right with the steep peak upward at the end).

Officially, by the clock, I was a 2:57:25 (:08 off my PR)—as I headed into the finish, my first thought on seeing the clock was that it had to be wrong, since it was already a 2:57, and I was going faster than ever rather than dying. My Garmin also had the whole course as 26.3; I assume the course didn’t quite take into account the windy golf cart paths we covered that parallel the road, and which are definitely a little longer than the road, so I’d be willing to bet the whole course is just a teeny bit too long. (This may sound like I’m going to great lengths to give myself a PR, but I KNEW I was on track for it during the whole race!)

The first 13--fastest mile 6:28.0, slowest 6:54.5 -- felt very smooth and consistent.

The first 13--fastest mile 6:28.0, slowest 6:54.5 -- felt very smooth and consistent.

The second half--fastest mile 6:35.6, slowest 7:07.2 -- didn't stop my watch right away at the end but remembered to press the button around the time I got my medal.

The second half--fastest mile 6:35.6, slowest 7:07.2 -- didn't stop my watch right away at the end but remembered to press the button around the time I got my medal.

I was a 2:55:40 at exactly 26.0. Covering the last 0.2 in 5:47 pace (which my Garmin says I did) adds another 1:09 to give a 2:56:49 total.

Alternative calculation: if I maintained my average pace of 6:45.411 from the first 26.0 for the last 0.2, that still gives a 2:57:09, which is still a :08 PR--though I know I was very much faster than my average pace at the very end.

As I was at a full-fledged sprint for the last quarter mile, this race equates to a PR, even if the official time doesn’t show it. Regardless, I am so happy, relieved, and grateful to have had this marathon experience go so well! This definitely won’t be the last marathon I run—this race showed me that this distance can actually be a lot of fun!

Below: slideshow of just a few of the post-race adventures around Charleston.

9 Insider Tips to Make Marathon Race Day Go More Smoothly

Come marathon race day, only so much is under your control. The miles are already in the bank, but you can’t stop a sudden snowstorm, surprise 90 degree heat, or a train that gets in your way. There are, however, a few small steps that I’ve found to make marathon day go a little more smoothly, can easily be done ahead of time, and can help you get those little details right to help you on your way to a great race experience.

Bonus: carrying mini water bottles for any kind of distance is much easier than toting around a big size one!

Bonus: carrying mini water bottles for any kind of distance is much easier than toting around a big size one!

1.  Use the small plastic bottles meant as fuel belt refills as mini stand-alone bottles.

Especially if you are lucky enough to have someone out there on the course for you, these mini bottles are the perfect size to carry as you run—a standard bottle can be awkward to hold, weighs more, and can be a little on the obnoxious side to tote around when it is halfway empty and the liquid sloshes around a lot. (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to carry anything unnecessary and/or that makes a sloshing noise around on those 26.2 miles!)

For both Steamtown and CIM last fall, I brought a bag full of 7 or so of these mini bottles, filled them with my preferred beverage of choice the night before, and gave them to family members who would be stationed along different points along the course. You can even put two mini bottles in a plastic baggie, and then carry one in each hand for a bit if you know you’ll have a stretch without much support for a while. Bonus: sometimes handing off a plastic bag is easier. I’ve put my single mini bottles in individual baggies before, and this ensures I don’t have to slow down or risk a missed bottle.  Have your course support hold the baggie by one corner so you can easily grab it.

I marked the bottom of each bottle with their respective mile markers—so the bottle marked “5” would be doled out near mile 5, etc. Marking gave me some extra piece of mind because my now-fiancé Phillip just flat out forgot about meeting me at mile 20 of Kiawah in 2014. (Yes, he will probably hear about this occasionally for the rest of his life… he has since much more than made up for it with excellent course support and keeping me company for 4 of the 5 marathons I have ever run up to this point). The extra bit of planning involved here was well worth it come race day, because I knew I’d have a drink exactly when I needed it. For Kiawah 2016, I just make sure Phillip knew 6, 12, 17, 20, and "wherever he could find me" in the last 4 or so miles.

Another benefit of this is that refills for a fuel belt are often fairly inexpensive and sold in multi-packs.

2.  Practice with the drink that will be at the course’s aid stations, and practice with the particular GU or nutrition supplement that you plan on using.

You can’t really overemphasize how important hydrating is over the course of the marathon, hence this is also the subject of tip #1 as well as #2. Nearly every marathon will advertise ahead of time what drink besides water will be out on the course. Don’t just assume that your body will respond fine to whatever flavor of Gatorade/Powerade/nuun is out there—get your body ready ahead of time by using the same flavor if possible. This may be more important for the relatively exotic drinks like nuun, than more commonly found drinks like Gatorade, so that is also something to keep in mind. (Kiawah 2016 served at least 3 different Gatorade flavors which was actually kind of a nice surprise as I ran along!)

Likewise, this is not the time to suddenly go for caffeinated gels if you’ve never tried them, nor should you be reaching for that limited-edition Pumpkin Spice flavor if you’ve not tested it. Be sure you’ve tried the flavors of GU that you plan on using; mile 22 is not the time to discover you can’t stand the smell of it. If possible, stash an emergency GU somewhere on your body—in your shorts pocket, etc. This might especially be something to consider for the smaller marathons, where there might be different nutrition stations but only one or two for gel. (This, of course, assumes you will have some gel of some kind!)

Addendum: At my most recent marathon, I had never actually had the GU Roctane Lemonade flavor before. (I went with Chocolate Sea Salt, Pineapple, Chocolate Sea Salt, and then my last one was Lemonade.) This was actually DELICIOUS! So, if you know generally what you like flavor-wise, maybe a little experimentation is ok!

3.  Have a plan for when you’ll eat and drink during the race, and don’t skip your nutrition and hydration early on just because you feel good. After the race, make notes as to what worked so you know what to do for next time.

Know when you plan on having your energy gels (or whatever nutrition supplement you’re using) down to the miles. Running 26 miles is no joke; anything you can do ahead of time to make this mentally easier on yourself, like knowing when to have a GU, is a great idea. Don’t bypass early gels or aid stations or water just because you don’t feel like you need it. Even if you feel great, that energy or water you take in early on will help you in the latter stages of the race (when sometimes it can be more difficult to eat a gel or drink some Gatorade even if you had planned on it).

One awesome thing about having marathon experience under your belt is that you know what has worked for you in the past. At CIM last year, I had a GU at miles 6, 12, 17, 20, and then opted for a drink instead of a GU at mile 23. (Of course, I had been drinking nuun, etc. the whole time before mile 23.) I essentially just repeated this plan for Saturday's 26.2.

4.  Attach any GUs to your mini water bottles by screwing the edge of them into the cap!

Phillip, my cyclist fiancé, taught me this method, which evidently cyclists use for nutrition handoffs all the time! When you screw your water bottle cap on, put the edge of the top of your gel in there—then, when you grab your water bottle, you’ve also got your GU! Don’t underestimate how tricky it can be to grab something from someone while running; you want to make this as easy as possible so you don’t drop anything and you only have to reach out once! For my most recent marathon this past Saturday, we did this four times and it worked great—I grabbed the drink/GU combo, detached the GU, temporarily stuck the water bottle in my sports bra (one more reason to use a smaller one!), ate the GU, then drank my drink. Presto, energy!

This also works well because it really helps to have some liquid to immediately wash down that gel. Even with the aid stations along the course, taking in some more substantial hydration (i.e. more than a sip or two) is really helpful.

5.  For goodness sake, know which shoes you’ll run in and make sure you are comfortable with them for the 26.2 distance.

My smarter, wiser self knew to go with more supportive NB flats for this go-around....not my 5k flats, because...duh!

My smarter, wiser self knew to go with more supportive NB flats for this go-around....not my 5k flats, because...duh!

Probably most runners just go with their regular training shoes for the marathon distance—in many ways, this is an excellent idea because that cushioning can helpfully stave off legs cramps or other issues that would only appear over the second half of the race.

If you do choose a lighter shoe, make sure your body will be used to it and that they are not too light. I made the mistake of wearing my 5k flats for my first marathon and was greatly impeded by calf cramps beginning around mile 18 or so—I was pretty much running on tip-toe for the last 8 miles and no amount of willpower can will away calf cramps.

Know your shoes and know that they’ll work.

6.  If you’re meeting family or friends after the race, plan a meeting spot ahead of time.

….nothing like running a marathon and then feeling like a lost (and very very tired) child unable to find her family. This is a tip that might be equally useful for the half marathon, or any kind of distance with the potential to really tire you out. After the Kiawah Half one year, I couldn’t find my mom, had walked back and forth for a while, and finally just gave up and found some kind of lounge chair under shelter near the finish to lay upon. With my eyes closed, I very possibly silently cried a few subtle tears from sheer fatigue, and also because once I lay down I could not very well have gotten up, and meanwhile, I was picturing my mom worriedly unable to find me or thinking that I had just passed out somewhere (which, actually was sort of true, though on a decent lounge chair). Laying there, exhausted, I just figured I’d stay put, possibly for forever, and eventually my mom would find me. (She did, and I don’t think she had been worried at all yet...) Anyways, illustrative story aside, have a good meeting spot mapped out ahead of time, preferably one close to the finish without being so crowded that you’re unable to find your people!

7.  Pack some compression socks AND A CHANGE OF CLOTHES for after the race too!

Most people plan out their race outfit ahead of time with thoughts of what is both most comfortable and helpful to your performance. But what about after the race? Add a pair of extra compression socks to your bag, so that you have a fresh pair for post-race. No time is too soon to start the marathon recovery!

Likewise, if you can, throw some comfy postrace clothes in your bag. This way, if it rains, you are insanely sweaty (pretty much a given), or have to wait on awards, you won't be shivering.

8.  Bring your own pillow if your marathon involves an overnight trip.

Some of you may totally not care about your pillow, but I sure sleep a lot better with my own. (I’m also allergic to down, so often sleeping on a hotel’s available non-down pillow means sleeping on an annoyingly poofy overstuffed pillow that puts my neck at a highly unnatural angle.) 

I've never regretted bringing my own pillow, even with the space it takes up. Sleeping well before a marathon never hurt any runner.

9.  Bring good company with you!

With Phillip at the bai5 photo tent this fall at Wanderlust Philadelphia, which involved another road trip that I couldn't have done alone - can't beat Phillip for company!

With Phillip at the bai5 photo tent this fall at Wanderlust Philadelphia, which involved another road trip that I couldn't have done alone - can't beat Phillip for company!

I've brought Phillip with me to 4 of 5 marathons and he is great, not just in terms of course support, but just general company too. He keeps me calm and knows a lot about endurance events. Just now....

Ann: (to Phillip) Do you have any tips to add?

Phillip: After the race, treat yourself to...ice creams, cookies, ....candy.

He also suggested that you eat a "safe meal" that you know will work in your stomach the night before. (VERY good idea.) Finally, he adds, have mental checkpoints along the way--so know that you're going to get a GU at mile 7, etc.

The more marathons you run, the more tips of your own you'll discover along the way. In the meanwhile, I hope these get you through 26.2 a little faster!

 

And, up next: the Kiawah Island Marathon 2016 Race Report, that was very nearly a 13.1 race report!!

 

 

 

Richmond Half Marathon Race Report

While my time itself was not great, I still had a great time at the Richmond Half Marathon. As explained in my pre-race blog post, I’ve run this this particular half three times before, but it has been three years and I’ve run 24 other halfs since I last ran Richmond. Going into this race, I tried to use my experience of the course to my advantage, but was also curious whether this would feel a whole lot better to race this one in better shape than the past. 

Below: 1) all my race, warmup, and cooldown clothes the night before, 2) switching into my racing flats for my 2nd half in as many weekends

Above: 1) post-race, already stretching, in warmer clothes with my finisher hat, 2) love the shiny race medal! The VA part is awesome.

Of my four Richmond Halfs, this one was the most windy and cold. In particular, at least for this go-around, I take back what I said about the first 3 miles being quick—the headwind made this section rather rough and slow-going (perhaps all the more so because I was expecting it to feel a little better than it was). I knew the Bryan Park section in the middle might be rather uncomfortable—and it was—but knowing that this hilly, twisting, uneven portion would be over in two miles was quite mentally beneficial. I was surprised but relieved to discover I enjoyed everything on the course after Bryan Park the best. Maybe it just took me forever to warm up on Saturday, but I felt better as the race went on, and got into a good cruise over the last few miles. Maybe all my half marathon experience kicked in, but I didn’t feel like I was dying as I rolled back into downtown Richmond. At 1:23:58, I was quite glad to be under 1:24 because 1:23 just sounds a heck of a lot better, though I have been ready to take down that sub-1:20 for a while now. I’m going to cut myself some slack, as I’ve got my eyes on the marathon prize in a month from now, and raced significantly less than normal in October with traveling. If I didn’t feel quite great yet, I was happy with my consistent pacing—this bodes well for the 26.2.

With the marathon in mind, I actually also raced a 10k on Sunday—I won this and raised $250 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital along the way.  That was a great cap to the weekend as a whole! For 19.3 miles of racing spread over 26 hours, I felt great! I don't often do two longer races in two days; how well I felt while racing again on Sunday is something to take away as a definite positive!

I just got a new Garmin 630 which is amazing--so much lighter than my old touchscreen Garmin (which was so big it didn't quite fit my wrist and so heavy that I'd finish long races with a big mark on my wrist)! This was the second race I've worn this; going to get a new mile "record" as soon as I race a shorter distance, but a record is satisfying nonetheless. 

I just got a new Garmin 630 which is amazing--so much lighter than my old touchscreen Garmin (which was so big it didn't quite fit my wrist and so heavy that I'd finish long races with a big mark on my wrist)! This was the second race I've worn this; going to get a new mile "record" as soon as I race a shorter distance, but a record is satisfying nonetheless. 

I'm new to this abundance of data, but that looks pretty even I think!

I'm new to this abundance of data, but that looks pretty even I think!

My PR pace is 6:13...not really that far off. This race I felt pretty average rather than good...so if I race and feel good, I'll be all set!

My PR pace is 6:13...not really that far off. This race I felt pretty average rather than good...so if I race and feel good, I'll be all set!

Notice the downhill at the end! Again, don't know how the marathoners manage that! Ouch!

Notice the downhill at the end! Again, don't know how the marathoners manage that! Ouch!

3 POINTS OF OPTIMISM BESIDES THE RACE ITSELF:

1. I got the best parking spot ever. This offered an unobstructed escape route out of the city after the race. This was a great relief to my mind the night before. In the past, I have definitely driven around in little circles of traffic due to closed roads.

2. Never underestimate the awesomeness of a mini one-day vacation. Holy moly, in the week before this race, I graded something more than 1000 pages worth of work in midterm portfolios. (I remember now why in 2014 I opted for the 8k rather than the half! Ha!) Man, was it awesome to just be in a hotel with a fluffy comforter and feel like I was getting away from the routine for a night…I was wishing that I could have lived at my hotel for a few days. I somehow managed to be on the club level, and got a mini breakfast there post-race.

3. This was no surprise as I've run this one before, but the whole event was very well organized and full of camaraderie and energy. The volunteers at the plentiful water stops were great--for both the half and marathon, water and Powerade are offered every 2 miles for the first half of the course, and then every single mile over the last sections. This finishing area on Brown's Island felt like a party. I was very happy with my post-race pizza AND my green and white finisher's blanket (given to all who complete the half and full)! Thanks to Sportsbackers and Richmond, VA for being such welcoming and supportive hosts! Before Thanksgiving, I was thankful already for this chance to get away and run 13.1 in an environment as happy and vivacious and supportive of runners as this one.

Below: 1.) Racing flats, warmup/cooldown shoes, and post-race shoes, 2. postrace, happy having retrieved my warm clothes from bag check

Above: 1. postrace Starbucks banana chocolate smoothie, 2. my awesome Richmond Half finisher's fleece! Excited to wear this running!

I am sure another Richmond race is in my future! I appreciate how this weekend offers such a variety of distances too, from the 8k to half to full -- this is such a great way to include more of your friends and family in your weekend racing adventure, or to just have more options yourself as to how sore your legs will be come Sunday morning.

4th Richmond Half -- check!

Great weekend -- check!

Already thinking about next year -- you bet!

Thanks again to the city of Richmond, Sportsbackers, and all the runners and volunteers who helped to make this weekend of racing so fabulous.

Right: checking out the finish line clock at the end of the downhill.

Racing 13.1: Tips for the Richmond Half Marathon

The half marathon is a beautiful distance—just long enough to still really use some speed, just short enough that recovery takes far less time than a full. I raced 3 halfs in just 4 weeks this past spring, and am set to go 2 for 2 on consecutive weekends this November. When I line up for the Richmond Half on November 12, this will be my 33rd half marathon.

I’ve run Richmond three times before (as my third, sixth, and eighth halfs respectively), but have never run this one while in decent racing shape. All of my other Richmond halfs were during some fairly intense years of my Ph.D. program. I would sign myself up for this, and then early November would roll around and…surprise! Time to go race 13.1 miles! Eeek! Tackling this one in relatively much better fitness than my most recent Richmond Half will be quite interesting—and is honestly a little scary!  (When I think that I’ve done 24 halfs since my most recent Richmond Half, that just sounds crazy! ...and you know that it’s been a while.) I’m hoping to create faster memories on the course this year—along those lines, I started looking at the course map, reminiscing on past RVA halfs, and gathered up a few Richmond Half specific tips that may help you too:

GET THERE WITH PLENTY OF TIME TO SPARE ON RACE DAY. The last time I ran this, in 2013, was a near terrifying traffic situation where I almost missed the start of the race. I drove in from Charlottesville the morning of the race and had allowed plenty of time to get there, but had not really thought about the bumper-to-bumper traffic moving into downtown Richmond. (In previous years, I had stayed in Richmond the night before, but the whole “broke grad student” situation was really kicking into gear that fall, and I didn’t have my sister to share a hotel room with me.) I had made terrific time on the actual drive to Richmond, but getting into Richmond itself added a whole new level of pre-race nerves. Add to this my less-than-perfect sense of direction and not quite knowing where to park, and I was already pumping full of adrenaline and I hadn’t even started running yet. I ended up in the very lowest floor of this parking garage which miraculously materialized at the right minute, in some possibly semi-illegal “compact car only” spot but it was either leave the car right there right then or miss the race start! I parked with my heart practically pounding out of my chest, and with quite a few nervous glances at my watch, switched into my flats, threw all my extra clothes in the trunk, and sprinted to the start with about 5 minutes to spare. Whatever you do, don’t do this! This was possibly the closest I have ever come to missing the start of the race. (Exceptions: 1.) The 2014 Monticello Classic 5k which I did indeed miss, but won in 18:54 minus about a :45 handicap! 2.) The Myrtle Beach Half in 2013 which I decided to do as a long run the day after PRing in the 5k…almost missed the start there too but was approaching that in a more relaxed fashion anyways.) In sum, find somewhere to stay downtown the night before. If you cannot do that, be sure to have a very good plan and idea of where to park in the morning! Talk to the folks at the very helpful Expo and have an agenda of where exactly you’ll go as roads will be closed.

Another slightly less important point: have an “escape route” for the drive home after the race—the traffic can be rather intense. A lot of roads won’t be open yet, so don’t try to rely on your car or phone’s navigation systems. Again, the Expo Information Booth should be a good help here.

Ok, now on to the actual race itself.

A FEW POINTS ON THE COURSE WHICH STAND OUT: (course map from Richmond Half official site)

  • The first three miles or so go very quickly. These are flat, and it could be easy to go out a little too quickly.
  • Just past mile 3, you hit a small out-and-back section of the course, where you can get a good look at people both in front of and behind you. Near the end of this straight shot out-and-back is mile 4. This part can be energizing since you see lots of other runners around you and get cheers from your friends!
  • From this little out-and-back, you’ve got about a mile until you hit Bryan Park. In the park, you’ll go over a timing map which registers your 10k time—and I remember there being a photographer near there so smile! Bryan Park, which goes from approx. mile 5.5 to 7.5 is the most hilly section. If you can come through here feeling relatively good, you should be all set. Stay calm here and save some energy for rolling over the later sections.
  • In the past, I’ve found the long stretches of road from miles 9-12 to be the most challenging. We’ll see what I think after this year; I may be remembering how this felt as my less well-trained self… These sections of road are flatter, more open, and have less dense cheering sections than a few other points, notably Bryan Park. Don’t let yourself mentally go into la-la land. Stay focused here, and try to pick it up.
  • At the very last half mile or so, be ready for a very downhill finish. It will be fast, but also probably kind of hurt because it just keeps going and going and is a bit rough on the quads. Just be ready mentally for a long downhill. (It could be worse! It’s not uphill!)

A FEW MORE GENERIC HALF TIPS FOR FIRST-TIMERS (OR REMINDERS USEFUL FOR EVERY HALF)

  • Take liquid of some kind at every aid station. By mile 10, you’ll be glad you did!
  • Stay calm in the early couple miles. By the time you get to mile 8, if you feel good, kick it into another gear—you only have 5 miles to go from this point.
  • Have a general idea of what you’d like to aim for in terms of a 10k split. Even if you don’t run with a Garmin, the Richmond course will have that split very visible for you.
  • Be ready for the weather; dress in layers that you can toss if need be. Have the right accessories, whether arm warmers, gloves, and/or a headband or hat.
  • If you have friends spectating, have a plan for where they’ll be. Sometimes it is enormously helpful mentally to know you’ll see these people at certain points along the course.
  • Have fun! Enjoy running!
  • And, or course, do some recovery yoga afterwards!

Good luck to everyone running the 8k, half, or full! I'll see you bright and early in Richmond on Saturday!

Traveling to Richmond for the race! Find a cool place to explore afterwards! I love traveling to races to find new adventures--whether this means checking out a restaurant famous to the area or a local attraction. Above, the Blandy Experimental Farm after my most recent half.

Traveling to Richmond for the race! Find a cool place to explore afterwards! I love traveling to races to find new adventures--whether this means checking out a restaurant famous to the area or a local attraction. Above, the Blandy Experimental Farm after my most recent half.

7 Variations on a Traditional Shoulderstand (Salamba Sarvangasana)

With a little regularity, your personal yoga practice develops all of the best of both routine and creativity.

Inevitably, your body will consistently need and crave specific poses (for me, those are undoubtedly pigeon pose and wheel). The familiarity and routine of these poses creates a sort of "home" space for you within your practice--it can be quite relaxing to settle into a pose which feels natural, like your body just belongs there. ("I've been here before" tends to evoke feelings of calm, not anxiety.) As a student, you likely had "your" chair in any given classroom: this wasn't something assigned to you, but you just laid your claim on the 3rd desk from the left a few days into the semester, and then never had to think about where to sit again. This provides a similar comfort to putting your body into a yoga pose which it has been in many times before. (Yes, some days you feel a little different than others, but the more you practice, the more comfortable and at-ease you become.)

However, from this comfortable pose, you might find yourself thinking "but what if I do that other pose from here?" or "what if I reach my arm over there?"--often, from within a familiar pose, I find myself spontaneously thinking of a new variation or modification.

Shoulderstand is one of those traditional poses that offer a plenitude of possibilities once you feel safe and comfortable there. Here are 7 of my favorite variations to help launch you into your own creative yogic path!

If shoulderstand is new to you, please do read my recent blog post for lucy activewear first: safe yoga is happy yoga! Even if you regularly practice shoulderstand, consulting “Tips for Practicing Shoulderstand” may be a helpful refresher! Remember: no looking around or turning your head! Bad for your neck! Keep your neck happy! Here's also a short video so you can see the full shoulderstand to plow to fish pose (to flying fish) sequence.

Once shoulderstand is like an old friend, you can have a lot of fun playing around with a variety of exciting variations! Begin in regular supported shoulderstand with legs to the sky to start, then try any of these to add a bit of spice to your practice. Especially as shoulderstand is such a regularly practiced pose, I enjoy having ways to vary my routine:

1.       “Candlestick.” Cross one foot over the other. Press gently through the ball of the top foot and slightly squeeze your legs. Pause for a few breaths and then switch sides.

2.       Eagle (Garudasana) Legs. Cross right thigh over left. Continue wrapping right leg around left to send toes around the back of your calf, or, just point your toes where you’d like them to go. (FYI: whether you can fully wrap your toes around your calf is highly dependent on leg length so don’t worry if it’s not working for you!) Gently squeeze legs. Pause and breathe. Unwind legs, then wrap back up the other way with left leg on top.

3.       Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana) Legs. Connect soles of the feet, then mindfully lower heels towards your bum.

See 1 (candlestick), 2 (eagle), and 3 (bound angle) pictured below:

4.       Middle split. Be sure hands are supporting back well for this one. From your usual position with both legs up, let both feet drop directly to either side. Let gravity help you out! This one can be a fun alternative method to work on your seated middle split too!

5.       Side splits. Keep one leg in the air in its usual shoulderstand position. Exhale to mindfully drop one leg over your head (as if it were coming into plow pose). Only go as far as it comfortable, maybe lightly tapping or resting toes on the floor. Inhale leg back up and repeat on second side. Once my foot is as low as I want it, I also like to bend my top leg knee to let toes drop to the floor--this can be a nice, subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) quad stretch.

See 4 (middle split) and two different angles of 5 (side split, with bent knee option) pictured below:

 

6.       Lotus (Padmasana). You should be comfortable in lotus in a regular seated position before attempting an inverted one. (But if you’re not, you should keep reading on to number 7 listed here!) Bring one heel towards your opposite hip. Wedge it there, keeping foot slightly flexed. Now bring other heel towards opposite hip, crossing over other leg to again wedge foot in place. Keep this foot slightly flexed too. As always if you feel any knee discomfort, just don’t do this one! Be sure to practice both sides if possible. If lotus is more accessible on one side than the other for you, just work with what you’ve got—no forcing into lotus! A little bit of practice on the tighter side can go a long way towards evening you out. This is also why it’s helpful to try to practice both sides evenly, perhaps before you begin favoring one side over the other.

7.       Half Lotus (Ardha Padmasana). If you’re working towards full lotus in shoulderstand or dealing with one tighter side, you can also practice half lotus. Just keep one leg reaching tall while you fold the other in as described above. This can also be a nice alternative to full lotus, even if that one is part of your repertoire. Think of pressing knee away from you so that it points more towards the ceiling than towards your head. Listen to your body.

Yoga is a wonderful way to unlock how great your body can truly feel. It is also a means to being more creative. One of the wonderful things about yoga is that there’s always somewhere else to go: here are 7 of many variations of a shoulderstand. If we’ve got this many options for just one pose, how interesting and energizing might an entire practice be!? You may have heard from those who don’t practice yoga that they think don’t practice because they think it is likely boring; show them this post—yoga is anything but!

Post-Race Recovery Yoga: Reboot Your Legs in Half the Time It Took to Run Your Half

Ah yes, I am all too familiar with that feeling after a long race: you get up out of bed the next morning, and your next few minutes of walking are marked by a particularly distinctive baby-step shuffle/hobble. This period of time, the day or so after a long race, is one in which yoga can highly benefit your post-race body, but when your post-race body does not perhaps feel... inclined to do very much yoga. Rest is undoubtedly very good, but just a short amount of movement can go a very long way towards getting you back on your next starting line, or regaining that regular bounce in your step on a run.

1.  Begin with a yoga sequence that requires you to flow and move through poses, rather than remaining static.

Remember that speed does NOT matter here, but getting through a greater range of motion does. This helps loosen you up and discover any spots that have been secretly tightening up on you! As always, listen to your body, pause and breathe in any particular pose as you need. Your goal here is to get your blood flowing, to warm yourself up in order to settle into some nice restorative poses with less restriction.

One simple idea for a warmup sequence:

A.      Cat-cow: from hands and knees, inhale to send gaze and tailbone up, exhale to round back in. Repeat as needed.

B.      Downdog: tuck toes under to press into heels and work legs towards straight. Bend one knee, other knee to loosen up your calves.

C.      Standing Sequence: step right foot up to Warrior I, pressing outer edge of back foot towards the floor. Open arms to face left side of mat, adjust back foot to 60 degree angle (be sure toes are still pointed in) for Warrior II. Keep the bend in your front knee as you send right hand up and back for Reverse Warrior, allowing left hand to rest on back leg. Now straighten front leg, tilt upper body forward and down for Triangle. Bend front knee, allow right hand to rest outside front foot (can place on yoga block if needed), and then sweep left hand all the way down to rest on inside of front foot for Low Lunge. Step back to downdog and repeat with left foot leading. After you do at least 1 round on each side, add a quad stretch in after your low lunge: bend your back leg knee, reach back with opposite hand and grab your foot (modification: grab a yoga strap wrapped around your foot). First kick your foot into your hand, then pull your heel towards you. Breathe and repeat this kick/pull motion as you feel. Be sure to keep sinking forward into the lunge throughout your quad stretch; this helps ensure you’re not stressing your back leg kneecap. Here's a video of the whole sequence described above!:

 

2.  Now that you’ve taken your time through your warmup, pause and rest in a few restorative poses.

Going through a more full range of motion first will help you get more out of your restorative yin poses here—and make them a little less painful to settle into as well. Here are a few of my favorites to do post-race; they form a nice sequence so you can even do them in the order listed here.

A.      Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana): Connect soles of your feet, especially pressing pinky-side edges together. Stack up a few pillows or yoga blocks—inhale tall, then exhale round forward to rest your forehead on your props. Pause up to 5 minutes. As you relax, remove a prop or two to get a deeper stretch.

B.      Wide-legged Seated Forward Bend (Upavistha Konasana): Carefully pick up one knee from the inside edge—use your hands for support as you extend this leg straight. Repeat for second leg. Don’t go for the maximum intensity stretch here; instead just go for a medium stretch. You’re going to pause here for a while and you’ll feel it get deeper the longer you’re here! Press into your palms behind you to pick up your bum and then plant it back down; this helps make sure your weight is evenly distributed side to side. Now inhale tall, then exhale forward, keeping your spine tall. Just rest your forearms on the floor. If forearms can’t comfortably rest on the floor while maintaining a tall spine, place a folded blanket or two under your forearms. Just as in bound angle pose, use pillows/blocks to support your forehead and allow yourself to now round into and rest in the pose. Keep toes directed towards the ceiling. Pause 2-3 minutes.

C.      Head-to-Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana): Carefully pick up one knee from the inside edge. Bend this leg to connect sole of foot with your extended leg. Square yourself off over your extended leg. Inhale tall through your spine, exhale to fold. Take hold of whatever is convenient here: your foot, your shin, or just rest palms on the floor. Pause for 6-10 breaths. Before repeating on second side, go to Marichyasana I described below.

D.      Marichyasana I: Carefully gather up bent-leg knee—plant the sole of this foot on your mat with heel close to your bum. Plant opposite hand behind you for support. Reach up with other hand and inhale tall, then exhale and fold to reach forward. Now wrap reaching hand around your bent-leg knee, either taking hold of wrist of opposite hand or grabbing your shirt for support. Pause and breathe for 6-10 rounds, then carefully inhale back up and repeat C and D on second side.

E.       Legs-up-the-Wall (Viparita Karani): No restorative post-race sequence feels quite complete without this one! Scoot sideways next to the wall first, then drop to forearms for support as you swivel your legs up the wall in one smooth motion. Wiggle your bum closer against the wall if need be. Tuck shoulderblades under your back so your chest is a little more open. Let palms rest up towards the sky. Relax, breathe, close your eyes for 5-10 minutes.

I wrote and tested this entire sequence the day after running a half marathon (10th lifetime half win!), so I hope it helps speed you along on the way to recovery just as it did for me! For additional yoga videos, Find a Workout right here. Enjoy! I'm sure I'll be coming back to this sequence a few more times this fall, especially after racing the American Family Fitness Half in Richmond this November. The more hills in that 13.1, the more recovery yoga you need!

4 Hip Strengthening Exercises to Help Your IT Band

I once traded my old physics textbook to my college roommate for a foam roller; you just can’t put a price on a healthy, loose IT band that doesn’t interfere with your running. I’ve said more than once how my own very tight IT band during college track season was what got me even more hooked on yoga (see my TEDxUVA talk “Do Yoga Run Faster” here for more!). If I mention rather frequently how yoga helps you towards a better IT band, it’s because I understand from experience how absolutely aggravating this band of fascia can be, and feel tremendous empathy for anyone whose IT band is actively interfering with their training. I can remember just lying in bed, trying to go to sleep, and having my IT band just throb! Yoga, especially my nightly pigeon pose, eka pada rajakapotasana, was essential in keeping my IT band in the back of, rather than at the forefront of my mind.

While injured in college, I searched far and wide for everything and anything that could get my IT band healthy—here are the four best exercises that I used for strengthening my hips while on the road to recovery. For more IT band help, see the new RLY 40min. Hips/IT Band Yoga Workout too, which is chock full of all of my favorite IT band loosening and hip strengthening yoga exercises!

1.      Side Walk with Strength Band.

Setup: Find a strength/resistance band loop made out of some fairly sturdy material—you want some substantial tubing or thicker rubber rather than the really thin, flat stuff that PTs cut off a larger roll. Ideally this loop should be about the right size to go around your ankles if you’re standing a foot or so wider than hip-width, which equates to something like 3 feet of tubing or so. Step both feet into the loop of tubing, then step as wide as you need to get the tubing taut just about your ankles.

Movement: walk sideways (straight to the right) for 30 to 60 seconds. Yes, you’ll probably need a decently large space, but if needed you can totally wind your way through different rooms in your house! As you walk to the right, keep the band taut—don’t let it get loose as you move the left foot back closer to the right. Next, do the same thing in the opposite direction, straight to the left.

2.      Side Leg Raises.

Setup: No equipment needed except a clear wall at least as long as your body. Lie with your back against the wall, using hands and arms to support your head as needed. Once you’ve gotten pretty proficient at this exercise, try adding a 1-3 lb. ankle weight.

Movement: Using the wall as a guide, move your top leg up and down the wall. Slightly lead with your heel (toes pointed slightly down) so that you target all the muscles surrounding your IT band.

3.      Clamshells.

Setup: No equipment needed! Lie on your side with the underneath leg just slightly bent. Now, bend your top leg to tuck the toes of this leg behind your bottom, slightly bent knee. (Some people will instruct you to do clamshells just legs both bent and stacked on top of one another, but “anchoring” the top leg behind bottom leg knee really helps you control the movement and have your leg at the correct angle to target your hip.) I usually lie with my head on top of my outstretched bottom arm, and then place my top arm/hand as needed elsewhere for support and balance.

Movement: taking your time, slowly lower top leg knee towards the floor, then bring back knee up towards the ceiling. Aim for 25-50 reps, then switch sides. Prioritize form over speed.

4.      Hip Step Raises.

Setup: Find some stairs! I literally would go out into the stairwells of Pasquerilla West (my dorm at Notre Dame) so that I got these in—they really help that much to get all those little hip muscles stronger. Face the railing of the stairs, standing with left leg on the step so that the right one hangs in the air, hovering over the right step. Form is really key here to get the most out of this one.

Movement: Keep left leg straight. Lower right foot a couple inches towards the bottom step (it won’t actually touch it). As you lower your foot, let left hip drop out to the left. Be sure the movement is coming from your left side; in other words, focus on using those muscles to drop that hip to the side and raise it back up, as this is what is actually lowering/raising the right foot. Take your time, and repeat for 25-50 rounds. (Don’t do 50 for your first time!) Then repeat, this time sending right foot forward for a similar amount of reps. Lastly, repeat, sending right foot slightly backwards for the same reps. Before you switch sides, try walking around for a few steps; you’re doing something right if you can really feel that you’ve worked the muscles in your one hip.

Good luck with your healthy hips! Do let me know on Instagram if you try any of these out, as I love hearing that other runners have found a solution to their IT band woes! A loose IT band doesn’t happen overnight. Be very patient with your body, and be sure to do both sides even if only one is giving you trouble. The right combination of stretching and strengthening really doesn’t have to take much time—a little bit of directed effort can go a very long way.

Here's a few helpful links too!

Enjoy!

2016; or, The Year of the Half Marathon + Returning to the Richmond Half!

I love the half marathon distance.

It is long enough to capitalize on my endurance, but not so long that I'm unable to use any speed. The half marathon lets you get rolling and into a fast rhythm, but then bust out a few quicker miles at the end (or anywhere else) that might be needed to hit your time. In this regard, the half marathon can be a little more gratifying than the marathon—in my experience at least, during a marathon, I’m really just happy to be hitting a somewhat similar pace to what I was hitting at mile 12 when I’ve finally made it to 24. I’m not exactly negative-splitting that last 5 miles or so of the marathon. Alternatively, in the half, I’ve had some of my fastest miles at the very end of the race. For at least two halfs I’ve run in the past year, I’ve run in the 5:50s for the last mile, which is nearly a respectable mile during a 5k or 10k for me! Yes, you could argue that a marathon, run appropriately, can be negative-split too, but this is more rare—there’s a reason why all that talk about “the wall” is reserved for the 26.2—and the marathon itself is definitely more unpredictable in terms of what might happen, how you might feel, how your nutrition/hydration hits you in the last 10 miles. Marathon pace is just a little slow, whereas half marathon pace still feels like it can be speedy!

My last Richmond Half medal -- they always have pretty ones! I liked the blue water here.

My last Richmond Half medal -- they always have pretty ones! I liked the blue water here.

The half has additional advantages over the full; recovery takes far less time. I don’t really enjoy the necessary time off after a marathon where your whole body just hurts and weird aches and pains come and go. (I try to do all my marathons in early winter so I’m out of commission at a time when road racing takes a break anyhow, haha.) Most people can only really race 1-2 marathons per year, which doesn’t exactly give you a lot of chances at a great race. A benefit of racing more often is that you are more accustomed to racing (instead of experiencing the amplified nervousness of doing only a couple races per year). You also have more chances to do well or to race quickly again in order to “redo” a race with which you may have not been satisfied. I ran a full marathon last October which was just frankly a rough experience—I would not wish quad cramps at mile 13 on anyone—but it was more annoying to know I had not run as fast as I was able AND that I’d have to wait a while to try again. For many runners, the half is right around their typical long run distance, so jumping into a half marathon for a long run workout also works really well! Some halfs I’ve raced harder than others, but even the easier ones made me a stronger runner and allowed me to get a great workout which also included hydration stops, a finishline medal, and probably a few other goodies too.

At the end of 2015, I ran two full marathons eight weeks apart. In the first, I was highly unsatisfied with a highly painful 3:03 over a deceivingly difficult course. In the second, I was much happier with a more relaxed, conservative, but still challenging (as I was probably not entirely recovered) 2:57:17. I got the sub-3:00 which I knew I could do, but I had had my fill of marathons for a while. Past January of this year, there was no qualifying for any sort of Olympic Trials marathon, so I was in no rush to attempt another one…Somewhere along the way, 2016 became the year of the half marathon. I’ve run 6 halfs this year alone, and will probably add a few more to the count by the time I race the Richmond Half on November 12.

The Richmond Half was one of my very first halfs back in 2011, and I also ran it again in 2012 and 2013 (less intensely those years due to grad school). In 2014, I also had a great experience racing the 8k, racing 28:51 in what was and still is my 8k PR. Since I actually have starting thinking of 2016 as the “Year of the Half Marathon,” I think we all know what I’m running at Richmond this fall!

Above: before and after the 2014 Richmond 8k, a super fun race and PR....also one of the coldest races I've ever run at somewhere around 20 degrees. Come November, you have to be ready for the cold! Richmond is usually not quite this freezing; November 2015 was the coldest month of racing that I've had yet.

I am happy that I’ll be familiar with this course, and that I’ve gone through the routine of going to this specific (very good!) Expo, and that I’ll know where to go on race day and at what points of the course I’ll have to be more alert to my pace, etc. But rest assured, newbies to Richmond! Even if you have not run the marathon, half, or 8k before, you are in good hands. The Richmond Marathon/Half/8k events are extremely well organized. As an added benefit to me at least, Richmond is quite conveniently located near Charlottesville. For those elsewhere , RVA is also close to DC (2 hrs.), Baltimore (2.5hrs.), and Raleigh, NC (2.5 hrs.). While this course is more challenging (tips forthcoming in a subsequent post!), the crowd support is fabulous, the air tends to be ideally cool, and the water stops are well stationed. If you need a great fall half in VA, look no further! I enjoy running in Richmond as a little escape from Charlottesville (I love Cville but a change of scenery is sometimes nice), and to use this as an excuse to go to one of the many good brunch spots there or to visit Short Pump. Besides being a fun race opportunity with a variety of distances, Richmond is a welcome pre-Thanksgiving getaway—the timing seems just right before the more hectic holidays commence!

This is probably a good time to tell you that I’m an official blogger for the race, so expect more race tips, thoughts on why I think the half marathon is the most fabulous distance ever (WHY is it not in the Olympics, by the way? The jump from 10k to marathon never made sense to me), and of course, come November 13 or thereabouts, a hopefully very happy PR-filled race recap! And should you want to run too, here's a referral code so you stay up to date on special events/promotions leading up to the race: AnnRunsRVA.

Until then, off I go, running into this 86 degree summer day! November’s coolness sounds comparatively like very refreshing running weather right about now.