What to Wear for your Spartan Race

While I won’t say that I’m an “expert” Spartan racer, I will say that I’ve put a few notches on my belt at this point. I’ve done at least one of each of the three primary races (Beast, Super, Sprint) in multiple different environments through different kinds of weather. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things.

One of the most anxiety-producing parts of learning to race, for me, has been the research phase of it. While there are a few great reddit threads about Spartan racing, there are very few long-form pieces of knowledge about the races. I spent a great deal of time fervently Googling as I researching, desperately trying to find someone who blogged about what to wear; what to pack, and what to expect. Since I’m now in a position to add to the communal collection of knowledge on these topics, I figured I would do so in hopes of easing someone else’s mind as they themselves prepare for their first Spartan. Discussing Spartans will not take up the entirety of this blog since I know Spartan racing isn’t the only thing my readers might be interested in, but at least for a little while expect to see one entry a week geared towards the Spartans among us.

Today, I want to tackle a great primary question: what should I wear to my Spartan race?

The short answer is: things you wouldn’t mind throwing out after the race, absolutely nothing that’s cotton, and something that will give you protection from the course.

While I haven’t ruined every article of clothing I’ve ever worn on the Mountain (indeed, going through my Spartan photos you might notice that I tend to wear the same shirt to every single OCR; there’s a reason for that and it’s a story I might get into at a later date), I have junked my fair share of clothes. Barbed wire (a mainstay of Spartan racing) is brutal on clothing, and I’ve seen many a racer (myself included) do a great deal of damage to their duds whilst crawling under it. My favorite pair of Spartan pants was ruined this way (may they rest in peace). Mud, rocks, abrasions, and even the obstacles themselves will all take a toll on your kit. On my Beast, I tore the front seam of my pants several inches

Taken just before the finish line on my Beast.  You can... not really see the wardrobe malfunction I mention (but trust me, it's there)

Taken just before the finish line on my Beast. You can… not really see the wardrobe malfunction I mention (but trust me, it’s there)

coming over the incline wall (luckily it was late in the race and my shirt covered most of the tear so this wasn’t as embarrassing as it could have been). I’ve worn holes in multiple pairs of socks (they get wet making the fibers of the fabric more delicate, and then the constant pounding of running just shreds them). I haven’t lost a shirt yet to the race, but I’ve seen plenty of people do so. My point: don’t expect to get anything back from the cruel mistress that is the Mountain.

Quick-dry fabrics are a MUST. You will get wet and muddy (unless you’re doing a stadium sprint, in which case you will probably just get sweaty). Quick dry fabrics will work to keep moisture off your body, and if it’s not a terribly humid day will even dry out most of the way as you run. This will mean that your body can more efficiently keep cool (since sweat won’t be stuck to your skin but will, rather, evaporate as nature intended); or even warm on a cold day (who really wants to be stuck in a sticky cotton tee shirt when it’s in the mid-sixties?). When I say wear quick-dry fabrics head to toe, I mean it. Quick-dry socks can be purchased at a running store; so can quick-dry underwear. Trust me; the last thing you want is for it to be swampy in the nether region while you’re trying to carry a bucket that weighs half what you do up a hill in the pounding heat. Also: dampness promotes bacterial development. Particularly for us ladies, it’s important to pay heed to keeping it as dry as possible where the sun don’t shine. I was on the Mountain for 8 hours to complete my Beast; I sure as heck didn’t want to be growing a veritable petri dish in my pants that whole time.

During a Spartan, you will be crawling on rocky, muddy ground. You will be climbing ropes. You will be using your knee pits to hang on to netting and lines. You want to wear something that will protect your knees, legs, and (if possible) elbows and arms from the various hazards of the course. It took me a few years to figure out that if I wore soft leggings, I could roll them up to capri length for most of a hot course, then roll down the

I wore layers on my Beast (the long sleeved top layer eventually got removed as it warmed up) but you can see that I wore long socks with my capris

I wore layers on my Beast (the long sleeved top layer eventually got removed as it warmed up) but you can see that I wore long socks with my capris

legs when I wanted full leg protection. This also means that the extra fabric acts as a bit of a cushion for my knees when I want it to. Rope climbs are not something to be done without a layer of fabric between your shins and the rope; trust me. If you must wear shorts, consider wearing long socks that cover your knees to give your poor skin something between it and the abrasive surfaces you will inevitably encounter.

I wear gloves on Spartan courses because I like to have something between my hands and the ground for doing burpees and barbed wire crawls. They also help save my hands on things like the Herc hoist and cargo climbs. I take my gloves off when I do the rope climb, monkey bars, or anything when I want to be sure of my grip. My gloves are great, but they do tend to get slippery when wet or covered in mud (which happens quickly on the course). I use batting gloves; they are unlined leather gloves, cheaply available online or in a sporting goods store. They are also quick-dry, and I’ve run mine through the washing machine several times now with no issues (they do shrink a little when you do this, but I’ll take that over the hassle of hand-washing).

My pink gloves are pretty distinctive; and as you can see from this shot kept my hands from getting totally dusty in this dust bowl

My pink gloves are pretty distinctive; and as you can see from this shot kept my hands from getting totally dusty in this dust bowl

Last, but certainly not least, shoes. When I first started doing Spartan runs, I wore old running shoes that I was going to get rid of anyway. This was fine for a while until I realized that 1) I was going through “disposable” shoes faster than I could make “disposable” shoes and 2) for a relatively nominal investment, I could get a pair of shoes built to handle Spartan trails that would wash off between races. Undoubtedly, the coin of the realm for Spartan shoes is the Inov-8 X-Talon (or the Inov-8 Mud-claw). Unfortunately, these shoes run extremely narrow and I have pretty large, wide feet. After doing much research and reading many reviews, I settled on the Salomon Speedcross 3. I have never looked back. These shoes are awesome because they have a cleat which sticks into the mud and lets you glide across it like a elf on snow. I didn’t realize how much I was struggling needlessly with the loose trails of a Spartan course until I picked up these shoes. If you’re even semi-seriously considering doing more than one Spartan, I would highly recommend a pair of trail shoes. Make sure they’ve got great drainage (again, you will get wet); and make sure they fit you well. Remember that for trail running you want a closer-fitting shoe than you do for road-running; no slipping and sliding in those puppies!

I’ve already been over my sunglasses thing so you know how I feel about eye protection (and how to choose a pair of sunglasses that will might survive the course.

And that’s pretty much it. My golden rules for how to dress for a day on the Mountain. I hope these are useful to you; and remember to keep an eye out for future Spartan-themed tips and tricks. I have a whole lot of them!

I wear my Sunglasses

If you follow my Instagram (and if not, you totally should!) you might have noticed that I wear sunglasses a lot. It’s true; I barely ever go outside without my trusty sunglasses. I’m pretty photosensitive; bright lights get to me very quickly and can even trigger some pretty awful migraines.

If we do a combo indoor/outdoor workout, I can even be spotted wearing them in the gym.

If we do a combo indoor/outdoor workout, I can even be spotted wearing them in the gym.

But I will admit that I have a problem: I lose sunglasses. Not just lose; break, destroy, and abandon. I am a cheap pair of sunglasses’ worst nightmare. I will love them and use them every singe day for a season until one day, they just crack under the pressure or go on a vacation and never return. I generally go through between 2 and 3 pairs of sunglasses in a year and because of this, I have some policies about my sunglasses:

I never spend more than $10 on a pair of sunglasses. My favorite pairs have been nabbed from a mall kiosk where I got a deal for buying like four of the same pair. I also stock up if I find a good price on them at the grocery story (I once scored a pair of sweet shades with Darth Vader on them from a Publix when my primary pair of sunglasses bit the big one while on vacation in Florida).

I only purchase sunglasses that have rubber edging on the ear hooks. This helps them stay on my face when my face is sweat (i.e. during a workout), and also makes it easier to wear them on my head when I’m not working out.

I only purchase sunglasses that fit perfectly. And I mean perfectly. They have to fit like a glove; not too tight, not too loose. As a result, I’ve taken sunglasses on long Spartan courses and not suffered a loss. It’s all about the fit people; shop picky and shop often.

I have a specific designated “sunglasses zone” where I always put my glasses down when I come back into my apartment. This means that they’re always available when I need them and that I always know where to find them. Every time I have accidentally deviated from this rule, it has resulted in a tragic sunglasses loss.

I don’t take them off when I’m out. They either go on my face, or pushed up on my head. If I don’t take them off, I can’t leave them somewhere never to be IMG_3616found again. This also means that my aforementioned “fit” rule has to apply to fit on my head as well as on my face. It’s important to try on your sunglasses in various permutations just to make sure you’ve achieved optimal sunglasses harmony.

This summer, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve managed to nurse this one pair of distinctive yellow sunglasses the entire season. They’ve been with me on two Spartan courses, countless half marathon-length runs and courses, errands, work trips, vacations, and more. I happen to love them because the distinctive color makes me easy to spot in group photos/race pictures. I realize that by blogging about how awesome they are, I am probably dooming them to some sort of ill-fated accident in the near future, but I’ll take my chances. I’ve had a backup pair on deck all summer because… well… I lose sunglasses.

Trifecta

This weekend, I finished the race that completed my Spartan Trifecta.

For those not in the know, the Trifecta is a series offered by the fine folks at Spartan. They

post-race beer with my medals

post-race beer with my medals

run three basic race lengths: the Sprint (3-5 miles with obstacles); the Super (6-8 miles with obstacles) and the Beast (10+ miles with obstacles). When you complete each race, you are given a finisher’s medal and a wedge of a second medal; one third of the Trifecta medal. To complete your Trifecta, you must complete one race of each type within one calendar year.

I ran my first Spartan race in 2014. It was a Sprint at Mohegan Sun (therefore a “stadium Sprint” and slightly less tough than your standard issue Sprint). I prepared hard for it. This race was the impetus to finally begin and finish my couch to 5K program. I cross-trained with an aerial acrobatic course to build strength. I thought I was ready.

Turns out, I pretty much was. I finished with plenty of gas in the tank and really excited to try it again. One of my compatriots had caught a massive cramp midway through the race, causing us to slow down dramatically. I was frustrated that I couldn’t perform to what I knew was my fullest, and really eager to try again and see where my limits actually were. At that point, I thought I might someday have a Super in me. I never thought I could complete the Beast.

By 2015, I had hit a point where I was flirting with the idea of a Trifecta. I was running regularly, I was set to complete my first half marathon midway through the season, and I was in pretty decent shape. I was still nervous about the Beast, and an injury sustained over the winter of 2015 (fractured clavicle) pretty much ruled out intense upper body work for the season. I had to rehab my shoulder before I could even consider something so grueling as training for the Beast. Trifecta 2015 was out; but I still completed a Sprint and a Super. The Super was grueling; 6 and change miles in driving rain up and down a ski slope. The mud was ankle deep over about 70% of the course. Obstacles were closed or modified due to safety issues. I hit the finish line of that race without much left, and was pretty glad I had made the choice not to push for Trifecta.

By November of 2015, I was re-examining my fitness goals. I had completed 4 half marathons between May and November of that year, and showed no sign in slowing down. I had discovered Crossfit and was attending classes regularly, seeing massive improvements in strength and general athletic ability. I was trying to figure out what the next step was.

It was pretty obvious at the time; it made me a little nervous, but I was reasonably sure that I was finally in good enough shape to begin training (and that I had the proper support to do so). I decided that 2016 was going to be Trifecta year.

Podium Finishing pose from my Beast

Podium Finishing pose from my Beast

I trained for my Beast all winter, and ran it in New Jersey on April 30th. It was grueling. 14 miles (the longest I had traveled in one clip to that date); up and down a ski slope. I hit the finish line mentally and physically exhausted. To make matters worse, I had chosen to run it alone. I have a very small number of fitness friends; and of those most are runners. There wasn’t really anyone who was crazy enough to do it with me; so I did it myself. It took me eight hours to complete, but I came off the mountain with the utmost certainty that if I could handle this, I could handle pretty much anything.

Since I completed the Beast first, the Super and Sprint were not really taxing at all mentally. My Sprint was over Father’s day weekend and I was set to run it with my fiancée, my sister, and my dad. We had run this race the year before and my dad had broken his ankle at about mile 2. We all rushed off the course to get him to the hospital and DNFed (my only DNF to date). As a result, my dad had a vendetta with the mountain. We arrived to find out that it was going to be a long one; 5.8 miles; almost a Super. Once again at about mile 2, tragedy struck; my fiancée twisted his ankle coming down off the 7-foot wall. When he

The whole gang at my Sprint

The whole gang at my Sprint

realized he wouldn’t be able to finish the race, he encouraged us to go on ahead. Since we were pretty sure that this wasn’t going to be a hospital trip, we did. My dad was a champ and finished strong; successfully beating that mountain into submission.

My Super was out in Barre, Massachusetts. This was a completely different race from any Spartan I’ve run before. I’m used to these courses being on ski slopes – hilly to the extreme. The course in Barre is on a dairy farm; it’s flat. The biggest ground hazard is from pockmarks in the field that can easily be ankle twisters if you’re not careful. Due to the aforementioned ankle injury, my fiancée couldn’t run this one; so we took it slow and walked. I’m not going to say that any Spartan race is “easy,” but compared to others I have run this one was a breeze. For that, the weather was against us. It was forecast to be 90 degrees with a heat advisory, and since the course is basically just running through fields there was minimal shade. Luckily, it didn’t quite get that hot; it was only around 82 (“only” being relative here).

Finisher's pose at my Super; sensing a theme here?

Finisher’s pose at my Super; sensing a theme here?

Finishing this series means the accumulation of my first ever fitness “super goal.” It’s the first thing I’ve found that I once though “I could never do that” and then proved myself wrong. It’s the most challenging physical thing I’ve ever done, and the second most challenging thing I’ve ever done (the first being getting my Ph.D.). I’m really proud of it, and I will probably be blogging more about it in the weeks to come because there’s a lot I’d love to gush about (and a lot I think would be helpful to other Spartans). But for now, I’m going to sign off and drink some more water or roll out my lats or something. Until next time!

Fueling Up

Here’s something I’ve heard out on the road: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Fueling!”
Person: “But you’re only running [a half marathon; 10 miles; w/e]!”

Okay, so first of all, let’s get rid of the word “only” when describing distance. Sure, there are people in the world who run crazy ultra-marathons (a hundred or more miles over the course of a day or two). Sure, there are people in the world who do triathlons and other endurance events that are way harder than a 6, 10, 13, or even 20 mile run. But using the word “only” implies that in order to be a “real” athlete, I have to measure up to these people. You know what? The only person I have to measure up to is myself. I work every day to be stronger than the previous day; who are you to tell me that the person I am today is “only” anything?

Alright, that little mini-rant out of the way, onto the next one: fueling is about time on your feet and calories burned, not distance. If I’m running for over an hour, I fuel. That’s just the way it is. Personally, I find myself most comfortable when I take in about 100 calories after the first hour and then on the hour after that. If I’m going very long, I will try to do 50 calories on the half hour rather than 100 calories on the hour because it keeps my blood sugar/insulin from spiking and then (subsequently) crashing.

I use a variety of fuels when I run. I started with just Gu but gradually I have moved to prefer cliff shots. I love the gummy candy texture, and the fact that they come in easily dispensed blocks allows me to control my intake a bit better. With a Gu packet, I pretty much have to take the whole thing or none at all (I have yet to master the “take half of your Gu now half later” trick that I know some runners use). Pro tip: tearing the Gu packet open with your teeth will keep you from getting sticky fingers when you’re trying to fuel yourself.

These days, I’ve taken it a step even further. When I can, I try to fuel with (gasp!) “real” food. I have to put “real” in quotation marks because there’s not much really real about the food I tend to use. I favor Rx Bars (pretty processed despite their wholesome ingredients) and Pop Tarts (come on, seriously? I can’t call this real food). Half an Rx bar has about what I need for an hour’s worth of going and it packs up pretty conveniently. These puppies kept me on my feet for my Spartan Beast which took me an unexpectedly long eight hours of trudging. Rx bars have a good protein/carb/fat balance so that you’re not just getting carbs, but I will say they are pretty chewy. They’re approximately the consistency of a tootsie roll, so I find I can’t really run through my Rx bar snack break; I have to stop and walk it off.

Pop tarts are a whole other beast entirely. I’ve had mixed reactions from people when I tell them I use pop tarts as fuel. Some say “Oh my god, Pop tarts! I love those things! They’re so good and they’re not terrible for you!” Others reel in horror at the disgustingness I’m putting into my body. Let me set the record straight: Pop tarts are terrible for you. One pastry is 200 calories of pure carbs/sugar. To make matters worse, they are packaged two pastries to a packet. This means that either you have to come up with some method of keeping your extra pop tart clean and uncrumbled, or be forced to eat two servings of this already terrible snack in one go. Not okay, sneaky food industry. Not okay.

Suffice to say the Pop tart conundrum is pretty annoying. I, personally, grab a Ziploc and stick the whole shebang in my camelback. Over the course of a long run, I’ll go through two pop tarts so it’s not a big deal. That being said, I now understand why my mom was so adamantly against feeding these abominations to us when we were kids. They are, however, great quick carbs for when your body is burning fuel so fast that it’s hard to stay on top of things. As a result: runners, crossfitters, weight lifters… pop tarts are awesome for us. I’ll eat a quarter of a pop tart every half hour and find myself doing great for the run. As an added bonus, if you’re running when it’s hot out the heat will give you a nice melty pop tart center just like a toaster oven. Yum? Or gross? I choose yum.

Anyway, fueling is one of those things that’s different for everyone. You’ll have to experiment for the best results. The only real hard and fast rule is that you probably shouldn’t criticize another runner’s fueling techniques mid-race…. Especially if the other runner is a complete stranger who just happens to be running next to you for a while.

Rules of the Road: Runner/Driver Edition

I do a lot of road running. I like it; it lets me get out and explore my neighborhood (or close by neighborhoods), it lets me run in places where I feel like I can get support (i.e. water, bathrooms, call for help) if I need it, and it provides an interesting urban environment to take in as I go. I find all kinds of new and cool things while I’m running; museums, shops, coffee stops. I really enjoy getting to know the places around me as a runner, and it removes obstacles between meand my run because I can just walk outside my door and go if I want to.

However, there is one thing about road running that can sometimes put me on edge: the drivers. I admit that I live in Massachusetts; a state notorious for its lack of etiquette behind IMG_3562the wheel. That said, there’s just a few pretty logical little rules that I truly wish drivers would keep in mind when they encounter runners on the road.

Distance

 I get it. Sometimes, the shoulder is narrow. Sometimes, you’re driving on a really cramped two-lane street. I, too, am a driver and have experienced these things. But for heaven’s sake, if you spot a runner coming towards you, do your best to give them a wide breadth (obviously not at the sake of safety or obeying the rules of the road). There is no reason to try and get as close to the runner as possible while you zip by. Such behavior is pretty much guaranteed to scare the pants off of the poor runner. I try to be as courteous as I can be when I’m running on a busy road (and, honestly, I try not to run on busy roads); but there’s only so much I can do when a driver decides that they absolutely must be skimming the curb even when they have plenty of space on the other side. Try to stay aware of this while driving. If you can give the runner space without endangering yourself or others; give the runner space! Trust me, we don’t want to be in your way, we will try our best not to be.

Honking

I really don’t know what people are thinking when they do this but here’s the deal: it is not cool to honk at a runner for no reason as you drive past. Is this some form of cat-calling? Is this some kind of weird show of support or solidarity? Or is this the driver’s way of ridiculing and playing a practical joke on the runner? I have no idea. All I can tell you is that it annoys me, it startles me, and it breaks my focus. It’s a safety hazard because it makes me think there’s something I haven’t noticed that I need to notice coming up fast (after all, why else would the car make such an alarming and sudden sound?). Please, for the love of runners, don’t do this. Say a semi-silent cheer of awesomeness if you must, or give a thumbs up as you drive past. That’s enough support. Trust me.

Crosswalks 

In Massachusetts, pedestrians have the right of way at marked crosswalks. That means that if a pedestrian is waiting to cross (and certainly if they are in the middle of the road!), it is your legal obligation to allow them to do so. Now I’m not going to lie and say that I have always done this every single time I’ve been a driver passing an intersection, but it’s definitely something to stay aware of. You definitely do not want to speed up in an attempt to “make it” before the runner, or cause the runner to try and dodge out of your way as you go by (true story; I wish I could say this was an isolated incident). Be courteous to the runners out there; they want to live through their run.

IMG_3571Almost as bad is trying to “let” runners pass against a light at a traffic-controlled intersection. Most of the time, intersections that have walk/don’t walk signs are intersections that need them. Complicated traffic patterns mean that even though you are going to let the runner go doesn’t mean the runner isn’t at risk from another vehicle who doesn’t know that you are vagrantly disobeying local traffic laws. Honestly? I never walk against the light when I’m out running even when a driver waves me by. The last thing I need is a traffic incident to land me in the hospital for however long. I’ve got races to run, people. I don’t have time to be injured because I couldn’t wait the extra sixty seconds for the light to be favorable to me.

On behalf of runners everywhere, I personally thank you considerate drivers for your dutiful attention to these noteworthy items. Small acts of consideration can definitely go a long way towards making my run more pleasurable.

Marathon FAQ

My experience so far in marathon training has been very engrossing. I hate to use a cliché, but I really do eat, breathe, and sleep the marathon. I eat to fuel, I sleep to run, and I huff and puff my way through every single workout. As a result, those who have attempted to make small talk with me in the past few months (and those who will between now and October) have noticed a trend: I can’t really keep it to myself that I’m training to do this GIANT THING THAT FEELS SO BIG AND IMPORTANT! I mean, it’s bad you guys. “Hey, how are you?” “Oh man, I’m good, but my hamstrings are so tight from my training run!”; “Nice to meet you! What do you do for a living?” “Well I’m just TRAINING FOR A MARATHON, HOW ABOUT YOU!?”

Anyway, since it comes up a lot, I get a lot of questions about it. Here is my attempt at an F.A.Q. for those who might encounter a marathoner in the wild.

Q: A Marathon, huh? And how long is your Marathon?

A: Uhm… 26.2 miles. Like all marathons. Actually a “marathon” refers to the distance, not the event. If I were running less than that, I might have said “Half Marathon,” “10K,” or “5K.” But nope. I’m running a marathon. Funny story (well, more of a legend really the origins of which are questionable at best but it’s still a good anecdote): the “Marathon” derives its name from the Greek city “Marathon.” This was the destination of the messenger Philippides when in about 490 B.C.E. he was tasked to run from Marathon to Athens (a distance of, you guessed it, about 26.2 miles) to announce Athenian victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. In the nineteenth century, the Olympic games were formed and since they were built to glorify ancient Greece, this story inspired the athletic event. So there you go. Marathon = 26.2 in case you were wondering what all those car stickers with numbers were about.

Q: Oh my gosh; isn’t that hard!?

A: Yes. And painful. Actually, I’m probably sore right now. Do you have a foam roller or lacrosse ball handy? Or maybe a personal masseuse? Since my marathon happens in the fall, I have to train in the summer which means I’m running outside in the heat for long periods of time. That, in turn, means I’m also probably a bit dehydrated…. Can I have a glass of water?

Q: Woah, you’re running in this weather!? That’s crazy! IMG_3497

A: Yes. It really is.

Q: How do you even DO that!?

A: You get up really early. Like…. Stupidly early. You cross your fingers and hope that it’s going to be not terrible out, and you just run until you’re done.

Q: Do you take water with you!?

 A: Yes, I have a special device that’s basically a bladder of water inside a backpack. It’s got a nifty straw the hangs out at my shoulder so I can sip on it when I want to. Incidentally, I also carry salt pills because in heat like this you need electrolytes to retain that water; running fuel because you can’t just run for four hours and expect your body not to need food of some kind; and generally a host of other gear designed to make it a tiny big more comfortable for me to be out there under extremely uncomfortable conditions. It all helps, but the task is still not exactly a walk in the park.

Q: You must be losing so much weight with all that running! 

A: Actually, no. I’m kind of gaining weight. It’s a phenomenon that most endurance athletes deal with; finding the right calorie balance and meal timing when you’re working out this hard and this often is extremely difficult. Additionally, my body just needs more calories because I burn so many of them. Once it gets them, it’s not really willing to let them go so quickly. Also I’m putting on muscle which, as we all know, will make the scale go up.

Q: Were do you even run that far!?

 A: I have a bunch of routes that I use; I try to find places that are very shady (it makes a huge difference in these kinds of temperatures), away from lots of traffic, but not entirely deserted so that in the off chance I need help I can find it. I also need to find places that have convenient bathroom stops/places to refill my water because… well… four plus hours is a very long time to go without relieving yourself. There are some very useful tools on the internet for route planning (one of my favorites being MapMyRun); and believe me the last thing you want to be thinking about at mile 14 of 17 is “do I turn Left or Right to get in my mileage and get home?”

IMG_3493Q: Cool! We should be friends! Do you wanna get together on Friday night?

 A: Do I want to? Probably. Can I? Absolutely not. I have to be in bed by 7 or 8 to make sure I get enough sleep to support my running habit. Saturday is also not really an option because I have to get up before the crack of dawn, run an obscene amount of miles, then come home and drool on my couch for a few hours before I feel sentient again. Sorry!

Alright; I should probably get back to running… or stretching… or foam rolling…. Or something….

Can’t or Won’t?

This weekend, we in Massachusetts experienced a much-needed break from the intense heat. That little ten-degree difference made ALL the difference to me on my long run this weekend. Rather than feeling like I was going to die and everything was terrible, I actually felt like I was running again (and felt like I felt good about running again!). It made for a very IMG_3498happy runner and a very pleasant run. It also made recovery a lot more manageable (though that might have been a direct result of me getting the correct mid-run electrolyte balance for once).

A lot of times, people marvel at this whole marathon training thing. If you bring up in casual conversation that you spend the weekends running double-digit distances, you’re bound to get a few gasps of awe. In my experience, you also get a fair share of “oh, I could never do that!”

Let me be the first to tell you: WRONG. You are WRONG. You can absolutely do that.

People who run aren’t special or super human, they’ve just worked very hard for a very long time to get good at something. If you’re reading this, you know by now that I’m not a fast runner; I’m just a persistent runner. It took me ages to build up the strength and stamina necessary to run for any period of time. I am nothing if not determined; the fact that I was having trouble doing something (and that I was tempted to say that I “couldn’t” do it) just made me want to do it more. As a result, I run. A lot.

Becoming an endurance athlete is not about some natural-given ability, or really anything you might be born with. Becoming an elite endurance athlete might have something to do with genetics, but that’s a whole separate ballgame. You don’t have to be going to the Olympics to consider yourself a runner. Becoming an endurance athlete is about discipline, will, persistence, and grit.

I get asked pretty regularly how it is that I fit these long runs in to my busy schedule; IMG_3495especially when it’s so hot out. The answer? Get up before the sun, go run, don’t stop until you’re done. But this has direct effects on the rest of my life; to get up before the sun, I have to go to bed before most reasonable human beings. I run on Saturdays, so I sacrifice my Friday nights to this. I need at minimum eight hours of sleep to maintain my level of activity, and when I’m forcing an early night I need to pad out an extra hour to make sure I have ample time to “shut down” before I can sleep. This basically means that at 7 or 8 PM on Fridays, I’m in bed. But that’s the trade-off; if you want to get up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier. No magic can fix or change that. There is no miracle cure for needing to sleep eight hours; you just figure out how to make it happen.

If you expect to see change in yourself, you have to be willing to change. In terms of training, if you expect to get better, stronger, or faster you need to be willing to adjust your habits to make that possible.

The moral of this story is: before you say “I can’t,” think. Really think. Is it that you “can’t,” or that you “won’t?” And if it’s the second, why not? Isn’t taking on the challenge really what life’s about?

Sandbagging Myself

This post is a cautionary tale. A tale whose moral is simple: always look carefully at your equipment BEFORE you hit the trails.

As I’ve previously mentioned, my coach has me doing sandbag hill repeats on Thursdays. I’m supposed to grab a 35 lb sandbag, throw it over my shoulders, and run up and down a nearby trail that basically consists of a mondo uphill for about 45 minutes. Honestly, this is one of my favorite workouts of the week. It gets me outside, the trail is really pretty and

As you can tell by this picture (taken post workout), I was none too pleased about the whole sandbag thing....

As you can tell by this picture (taken post workout), I was none too pleased about the whole sandbag thing….

has a lot of nature (chipmunks! Squirrels! Even the occasional snake!), and the duration of the workout is just about perfect. 45 minutes is long enough to feel like I’m going to die without feeling like it’s going to be interminable. It probably helps that this workout spikes my heart rate like (seriously) nothing else; so I burn a WHOLE BUNCH of calories which means I get to eat everything that’s not nailed down when I get home. It’s pretty much a win for all involved.

So I’ve been at my current box for about a year now. Some equipment, like the barbells, we use pretty much daily. Other stuff, like the sandbags, we almost never touch. As a result, there’s still plenty to learn about this equipment. Like, as I learned yesterday (the hard way), the sandbags come in DIFFERENT WEIGHTS! They all look exactly the same, but we have 35, 45, and even 50 pound sand bags that live in the same pile and are nearly identical.

On Thursdays, I swing by the gym to pick up my sandbag, throw it in my trunk, then drive out to my trail. Yesterday, I was having a hard time getting the sandbag off the ground (you’re supposed to clean it and throw it over your head so it lands on your shoulders). I was thinking that I was just having an off morning. You know how some mornings the bar just feels heavy because you’re tired/caffeine hasn’t kicked in yet/you’re sore from yesterday/whatever? I mean, as far as I knew there was no reason for this to be any more difficult than usual. So I sucked it up and told myself I was being silly. It was just a sandbag. Like any other sandbag. Like any other sandbag that I always trained with on Thursdays.

Threw the thing in my car, got to my trail, set up all my music and sunscreen and hydration belt, and went to pick up the sandbag to head out to the trail. That’s when I saw it. The label; sticking out of the side of the bag. Taunting me because I had been too stupid not to check it before I left the box. The darn thing was 50 pounds! Not 35 pounds; 50! No wonder it had been so difficult to clean!

IMG_3451I momentarily thought about swinging back to the box to get a bag of the correct weight, but the morning was already dragging on, it was hot (and not getting any cooler), and I had appointments scheduled for the afternoon. I really had to get my workout started. So I sucked it up. I sucked it up, picked it up, and the gods be damned if I didn’t kill that workout (slowly and with fewer repeats than usual because 15 pounds is apparently ridiculously heavy if you’re doing hill repeats).

I guess you can say I had my “Spartan up” moment for the week. I definitely felt like a total badass when I was done. I can’t say that it was a pleasant experience, or one that I will voluntarily repeat, but as my coach said when I reported back to him what had happened “well now you know you can do the workout with a 50 pound bag….”. Yup. I totally can. But I will definitely be back to my 35 pounder next week.

Any fun plans for the weekend?

Going Wireless

Have I yet gushed about one of the most important items in my running kit? My wireless Bluetooth headphones!

Okay, bear with me here. I know you’re all like “but I have wired headphones and they work just fine!” I was in that camp too for SO long. I was a cheap headphoner because I would always loose them, or they would break on me, or I would be out running in the rain and get rained on and they would get wet, or something. In April of 2015, I finally caved. I needed a new set of headphones, and for about $8 more than I would spend on yet another wired set, I could have these babies. I figured it was worth a shot to see if I liked them.

Let me tell you, folks; they have seriously changed my life. At the time I converted to

Here they are actually on my ears at the Twin Lights Half Marathon; 2015

Here they are actually on my ears at the Twin Lights Half Marathon; 2015

wireless I was just a runner. I didn’t take up Crossfit or the affiliated crazy training antics until a couple months after this pivotal moment in my fitness history. These days, wireless headphones are a must-have for me since I could never wrangle sandbags, sleds, or the assortment of weights and equipment that my current workouts require while still being worried about my cables snagging or pulling loose. At that time though, that simpler time, I was just a runner.

But even then I noticed a difference immediately. Now I could put my phone basically anywhere I wanted on my person (in my pocket, in my magnet pouch thing, in my camelbak) and not worry about how to run my headset wire. I could run without that annoying thump thump thump of the headset cable on my arm or chest or wherever the cable was running. Maybe most importantly, my phone became much easier to access; I could reach and grab it without having to navigate my way through a messy or annoying cable. Win on all sides.

Now that I’ve been running with the headset for a year, I can give you a pretty good idea about wear and tear. I’ve run through all seasons with this thing and it’s held up like a champ. I’ve run in rain, snow, sleet, wind, and everything in between. This headset comes with a variety of ear pads that you can mix and match to custom fit your ear and, once you find the right fit, it stays put. I have never had an issue with the headphones coming loose or jostling free. The only thing I have noticed is that they do require a tiny bit of Tetris if you want to wear them with sunglasses (which I pretty much always do). Nothing insurmountable, but definitely a little extra something to think about when donning your kit.

They hold up great against moisture and sweat. I am not a dainty runner girl; I exude much salt water when I’m working out. Despite having to sometimes wring out my hair, these little champs haven’t show any sign of being remotely bothered by my sweaty self.

They keep a charge for a good long while. I’ve done four or five hour stints with them and been fine; if I’m running a series of shorter runs I’ll usually be good for about four workouts. You can tell when they’re about to go on you because the “reception” between headphones and phone will start to fade; it will become harder and harder to establish the Bluetooth connection. About twenty minutes before full battery-induced shutdown, you’ll get an audio low battery warning. To avoid this, I just charge it up whenever I get home (unless I’ve seriously only done about a mile or two).

The only real sign of wear they’re currently showing is a bit of peeling on the top layer of plastic; but as I’ve said they’ve had some serious hard use for over a year. For the $20 I spent on them, I’ll take some cosmetic defects and count myself lucky.

As an added bonus: these headphones seem to confuse the heck out of casual

Beat the Blerch finish line; September 2015

Beat the Blerch finish line; September 2015

observers. When I’m not using them (but about to and/or have just), I wear them wrapped around my neck. I’ve gotten everything from “did you get a neck tattoo!?” to “what’s that weird nineteenth-century hairstyle you’re sporting?” I call them my Rorschach test; I always find it amusing what creative minds will make of them.

So what do you think they look like?

Narragansett Bay Half Marathon Recap

On Saturday, my honey and I ran the Narragansett Bay Half Marathon in East Providence, Rhode Island. Let me start by saying this: marathon training is tough; but it is FAR easier to motivate for a long run when there’s water support, a pre-planned route you don’t have to think about, a bunch of other runners there with you, a tee shirt, finisher medal, and ice cream at the finish line. Technically, I was programmed for 10 miles this weekend (pull back week; my training plan runs in cycles like this), but I decided it would be WAY easier on my sanity to get the half in and take it easy. So I did.

Obligatory start line selfie!

Obligatory start line selfie!

The race was well organized; packet pickup was a breeze and there were plenty of bathrooms (every runner knows this is key for a good long run; pre-race bathroom lines can get nuts at these things). I only realized when we arrived that there would not be free beer at the finish line, but there would be free ice cream…. So I guess that worked out okay. This is particularly true because it was a 7 AM start. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a very slow runner… realistically I was going to be in the 2:45 range for a finish in the kind of heat we were dealing with (this was about my finish time on the nose). As much as I love beer, drinking it before 10 AM on a Sunday is not really my idea of a good time. Ice cream was far preferable.

The start was on time (YAY!) and the first few miles were pretty hilly. It was not a closed course, but it was well executed; we always had a nice wide shoulder for running and there was an ample police/volunteer presence to ensure runner safety. The only kind of off-putting thing was the amount of road kill; at least one significant piece per mile for the first 4 miles. Ew. I was grateful that I was paying enough attention to where I put my feet that this didn’t wind up being a trip hazard.

There were 11 water stations along the way which was really good because we needed it! It was hot and muggy, and though a breeze did eventually kick up that wasn’t entirely sufficient to keep us cool. Gatorade and ample fuel (gels, chomps, and honey stinger waffles) was offered along the course. A+ on aid stations!

For the first several miles we were running through residential areas which was really nice because East Providence has some extremely cute houses. It was a sleepy Sunday

View of the bay from along the course

View of the bay from along the course

morning, so we didn’t see much by way of spectators (though those who were there were out in full force; always a nice thing to see en route). A couple of the members of the community, knowing their yard would be on the race course, even left their sprinkler on facing the street so we could cool off on our way through. That was so kind of them and we definitely appreciated it. Thank you, masked strangers; whomever you are.

There were at least three bands along the race route (I kind of lost count because… like I said… it was HOT). Live music is really cool to run to and can pump you up when you’re in danger of hitting that dreaded wall, so I was super happy to see them out there. Thank you for the music, bands of East Providence!

At about mile 7 the course diverted onto a nearby bike path, which was really nice because it had shade, was flat, and had basically all the amenities of a closed course. Bikers came by now and again, but they were very polite and always signaled (some even cheered!). The course took us past the local fire station and the firemen were out on the driveway giving high fives to runners and shouting encouragement; there are few things in life quite as awesome as being told you’re awesome by a fireman.

Triumphant at the finish!

Triumphant at the finish!

While the course is kind of an out and back, it doesn’t loop back on the same roads it uses to go out so there was plenty of fresh scenery as your ran. On the whole, the course was challenging without being impossible and had some spectacular views. There was a race photographer at the finish line, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing my official race pics.

This was a great little race. It was small, local, cheap (only $50 if you pay attention and register with the early early registration), had ample race support, and an impressive finish line spread. The course was safe and lovely with some beautiful views of the harbor. Despite the early start, I would run it again if I can finagle a night in Providence the evening before. In terms of summer half marathons, you really can’t get much better than this one.