Would you rather: Running edition

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Training for a marathon is a lot like playing a game of “would you rather.”

Playing the game of would you rather

I chose running outside in a thunderstorm. It still sucked.

Whether you’re training for a race in the middle of the summer or the cold depths of winter, all of your choices are bad—you just need to figure out which ones are less bad.

I get a kick out of it every time I get asked “you’re going to run in this? Which, with the mild heat wave we’ve been experiencing here in Boston, means approximately 90 degrees with 60+ humidity.

My answer is generally something like, “well it’s either that or six miles on the treadmill,” to which I get an equally perplexed and thoughtful look, as if the inquisitor can’t decide which one is best.

None of them. None of them are best.

These are the many “would you rather” choices I’ve been dealing with this training cycle, should any non-runners want to participate:

Would you rather… wake up at 5:30am on Saturday morning or sleep in and run when it’s already sunny and 90 degrees?

Would you rather… run six miles in a humid thunderstorm or run six miles on a treadmill?

Would you rather… run before work at 6am or run after work and skip plans with your friends?

The difficulty of training for a race is always the dedication it takes to complete your weekly mileage, especially when you’re faced with these decisions. It’s not a matter of “should I do this?” it becomes a question of “how should I do this?”

For me, I know what the answer is: I’d rather wake up at the crack of dawn, chance running during a thunderstorm or suck it up on a treadmill if it means avoiding the scorching hot sun.

What would you rather situation would you choose?

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Embracing discomfort

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There is little about marathon that is comfortable, and far more things that are uncomfortable.

But sometimes, an uncomfortable run gives you this incredible view.

But sometimes, an uncomfortable run gives you this incredible view.

It is uncomfortable to write letters and ask people for money.

It is uncomfortable to run in 90% humidity and 90 degree weather.

It is uncomfortable to push the pace when your legs are tired.

It is uncomfortable to log 20-40 miles a week.

It is uncomfortable to go to bed early, to wake up at the crack of dawn, and to forego all aspects of a social life because you’re in training.

These things aren’t all physically uncomfortable, but mentally tough as well. And yes, I am well aware that I signed up for this gig and am subjecting myself to what most of my friends would consider stupidity or torture, at best.

But what I’ve been learning, and trying to embrace, is that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. It’s getting to this place of discomfort that makes us better runners. It’s pushing ourselves, our pace, to a level that is uncomfortable, because it’ll feel easier the next time around. It’s realizing that I need to be uncomfortable in order to be better, to train stronger, that’s helping me through this training cycle.

Learning to embrace the discomfort has me feeling resolved. It’s what helped me wake up this morning at 5:30am, even though I had done two gym classes in less than 24 hours, my legs were sore, and I didn’t sleep well.

I chose to put in those miles, even though it might make me feel uncomfortable, because it’s okay to feel like that sometimes. I need  to feel like that sometimes if I want to be able to last 26.2 miles. To finish strong. To be stronger.

And when a tough week ahead is looming—all super hot, super humid days and 22 more miles to run—knowing that I’ll just have to deal with being uncomfortable for a little bit kind of helps.

So… when to fit in my six mile midweek pace run?

Summer running essentials

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I’m just gonna say it: I hate running in the summer.

Sweating.

Sweating.

The heat kills me, and the humidity is just plain gross. (There is nothing I hate more than the feel of my ankles sweating.) Timing of runs becomes crucial because of the heat, which is why I’m up at 5am on a Sunday ready for a 10-mile run.

I know that everyone is going to tell me to shut up because it’s better to train in the summer for a fall race when race day conditions are (hopefully) ideal: cool and breezy, whereas by then I’ll have adapted to the heat and race day will feel awesome—instead of the other way around.

While I know it’ll be worth it eventually, it still doesn’t make the heat and humidity any easier. And because I can’t just not run because it’s uncomfortable, here’s a list of things that make running in summer’s heat and humidity just a little more tolerable.

Shorts
I am really not a fan of running in shorts (I was not blessed with a thigh gap), but after a certain temperature I’ve learned I just need to bite the bullet and give in. These 8-inch compression shorts from Old Navy keep everything in place with no chafing, no riding up and a pocket for keys/feul—and they’re only $20. Mind-blowing.

Neutrogena’s Cooldry Sport sunscreen, SPF70
I’ve heard some mixed things about how safe Neutrogena sunscreen products might be, but I might be willing to compromise after trying out this stuff. It features a crazy technology that helps evaporate your sweat as it releases, meaning you can get through a 9-miler without getting completely soaked. Or burned—even though the SPF70 isn’t totally accurate. I’ll take 10 more spray bottles please.

Body glide
For those of you out there who have never experienced chafing, I envy you. For the rest of us, nothing creates more chafing or nagging blisters than running in the heat. A tube of this helps avoid both, and is small enough to fit in your fuel belt or handheld, which brings me to…

Portable hydration
Unless you’re running a route populated with water fountains or carefully placed water bottles, a handheld water bottle or fuel belt is a must for hot and humid long runs. I have a Nathan fuel belt that I wear for anything longer than 8, and a handheld if I’m going shorter and desperately need the water.

Wool socks
I’ve talked about these before, but wool socks are just as amazing for the heat as they are for the cold. I think they do a slightly better job of wicking sweat and keeping your feet cool on a run, which helps avoid extra blisters or sore spots.

A good mantra
Those of us who run know how much of a mental game it really is, rather than just physical. Sometimes, when the heat is beating down on you in the middle of a long run and you’re tired, sore and sweaty, there’s nothing else to do but talk yourself through it.

My favorite running buddy, Amy. The one who will get up at 5:30am with me to go run 9 miles.

Amy, the friend who will get up at 5:30am to run with me.

A running buddy
Like a mantra, a good running buddy keeps your head in the game (or at least completely distracted) for the entirety of your run. They can make a long run pass by effortlessly, and make it a whole lot easier to get your butt out of bed early in the morning. Plus, misery just loves company.

What are your must-haves for running in the heat and humidity?

One month down, 3.5 more to go

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I’ve officially completed my first month of marathon training, and I’m pleased to say I haven’t hated it yet!

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Cheerful and awkward after 9 miles.

Aside from pretty tired legs after 12 total miles this weekend—and my first “long” run since January—I am feeling no worse for wear (yet) and have genuinely appreciated the process.

Part of what I think has helped make the beginning of training a little easier is that, on top of having little expectations for the race, I made sure to start “pre training.” One of the hardest things about training for a race—half marathon or otherwise—is getting into the groove of running 3-5 days a week.

Before I even began my training plan I knew that I needed to be running about 15 miles a week, and made sure I was running consistently three days a week. I didn’t always get that many miles in (there were definitely some weeks where I only hit a measly four—total) or that many runs, but for the most part I was logging a few miles three times a week.

Making it a habit is what helps this running thing stick. So now that I’m running 4 days a week (plus one day of strength/cross training), it doesn’t feel all that different from what I was doing before. Sure, it’s a lot more miles and I really have to get those runs in, but it’s stopped feeling like a hassle and more like this thing that I do all of the time that keeps me sane.

That said, ask me how I’m feeling tomorrow morning when my legs hurt from squats, it’s 80 degrees and humid and I would rather be sleeping.

The beauty of no expectations

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I know it’s still very early in marathon training, but I just have to say it: I am experiencing something new, refreshing and somewhat blissful with this training so far.

It’s that I have absolutely zero expectations for my race.

I should clarify. I have some expectations, or goals, if you’d rather. They are:

A. Finish.
B. Finish well enough that I’m not cursing every step and would potentially consider running another.
C. Enjoy the process.

Every piece of material and every runner I’ve spoken to says the same thing—if it’s your first marathon, go in without any time goals. Respect the distance. You never know how you’re going to feel or adapt to running 26.2 miles, so go in with the expectation of finishing, nothing more.

That is a blissful, wonderfully freeing attitude to have.

As runners, we are all a little OCD. When we’re training, running is pretty much ALL we think about. “Did I drink enough water?” “Do I need a protein shake now?” “How am I feeling?” “Is that twinge normal?!” We become moderately (or majorly) obsessed with the numbers on our GPS watches, mentally calculating pacing, miles and focusing on whatever shows up on that little screen.

It can be overwhelming, and at times, defeating. It’s hard not freak out every time your run was kind of shitty and all of a sudden you’re running 30 seconds slower and it feels hard and what does that MEAN?!

But so far—and again, I realize I’m only in week 4 of 18!—it’s been a mentally peaceful process. I am not beating myself up when my runs aren’t great. I don’t care that I’m clocking what feel like the slooowwwwest three-mile runs around. It does not bother me in the least when one run that should be easy feels particularly difficult.

It’s because it doesn’t matter. My goal is to get to the starting line—and then the finish line—strong, healthy, in one piece. It does not matter how fast or how slow I get there. I have no concept for how long it might take me! Because I have no reference for what race day might look like, I am not going to bother worrying about it.

What I am going to worry about, what I can focus on, is consistency. I can focus on making sure I get enough sleep, that I am fueling myself properly, that I am stretching, foam rolling and strength training as much as I can. I am going to make sure I get those miles in, no matter how fast or slow they might take me to finish. Because at the end of the day, all that matters is I complete those miles—that’s what’s going to get me to the finish line.

And you know what? Not stressing about it is pretty damn enjoyable.