My Favorite Things: Wheat Berries

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s appropriate that I post about food on a day that most of us will be spending cooking up a storm in the kitchen. 

Growing up, I was never a breakfast person. As a matter of fact, I actually hated it. I was the kind of person who was perfectly content with skipping breakfast altogether, snacking, and then starting my day with lunch. My mom would try everything she could to get something in my system before heading out to school with little success. This continued into my adult life, until I began running and practicing yoga. I turned to food for extra energy as I ventured into the world of marathons, ashtanga, and (more recently) triathlons.

My least favorite breakfast option was always cereal. As I began to learn more about nutrition, I realized there are so many more options than just a box of boring cereal, or a packet of instant oatmeal. I discovered the Bob’s Red Mill line of hot cereal products, came up with some creative concoctions and added healthy, energy packed toppings. I still keep a few varieties of Bob’s hot cereals in my pantry, but I realized that all those cereals are just grains – something I always have an abundance of in my house.

Grains are a staple in my kitchen, and I cook them more than any other food. For example, I make a huge pot of brown rice every Sunday for use throughout the week. I started using my pre-cooked grains in place of my hot cereal – usually quinoa or brown rice. I’ll take whatever cooked grain I have, reheat it in a saucepan with some almond milk, and top with organic maple syrup, berries, nuts, seeds, etc. If I’m not into a sweets that morning, I can use grains to make a savory breakfast with things like eggs and avocados. Grains are versatile, packed with energy and keep me full for most of the morning.

As the title of my post suggests, I’m on a recent wheat berry kick. Before wheat goes through any kind of processing, it’s called a wheat berry. It’s a hearty, high-fiber, whole grain that can be used much like any other grain in your pantry. They are a tough little grain so be prepared for a longer cooking time when cooking these guys…but they are worth it. Panera even recently jumped on the wheat berry bandwagon and incorporated it into their seasonal salad.

I’ve been cooking my way through Mark Bittman’s book, The Food Matters. His recipes a bit bland and boring if you make them the way he writes them, but his ideas are interesting and serve as fresh inspiration in the kitchen. The book includes a recipe for wheat berries turned into a hot cereal, which sparked my interest. I’ve taken the recipe and adjusted it to my preferences.

20131127-080542.jpgWheat Berries with Berries
Serves 4
Adapted from “The Food Matters”, by Mark Bittman

  • 1 cup of wheat berries
  • 2 cups of unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 4 cups of berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc)
  • 4 tablespoons of sliced almonds (or your choice of nut)
  • Any other toppings you like (chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, shredded coconut, cinnamon, etc)
Combine wheat berries in a medium to large pot with almond milk, maple syrup, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer.
 
Allow to cook, stirring from time to time, until wheat berries are tender. This can take anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour or more – I often find that mine take over an hour. Wheat berries will swell and be tender but firm when done (they never get mushy like overcooked rice) and mixture will still be a bit soupy. If you’re making the grains ahead of time, you can cool them down and refrigerate at this point, gently reheating when you are ready to eat them. If I reheat one serving at a time, I usually add an extra quarter cup of almond milk to the saucepan when reheating.
 
To serve, place one serving of wheat berries in a bowl. Add your berries, nuts and desired toppings and enjoy!
 
Enjoy your turkey (or tofurkey, if that’s your thing) today! Maybe wheat berries will find a place at your table as a side dish tonight.

Recover, Build, Taper. Repeat.

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After successfully completing the Marshall Marathon and not feeling pain in my recently healed tibia, I decided it was safe to resume my training plan from before the whole ordeal began – sort of. My original plan was to follow Pfitzinger’s 55-70 miles per week plan through Marshall, then switch to his multi-marathoning plans to ensure proper recovery, training, and tapering for Rocket City.  After my run at Marshall, I really have no thoughts as to what a realistic goal would be for the upcoming marathon. On one hand, I just ran a good race but I was also just injured. I should probably run Rocket City to check Alabama off my list and have no expectations. On the other hand, I’ll  have several weeks of training under my belt that I didn’t have before and renewed confidence from my last race. After being forced to sit several weeks out early in the season, I’m feeling a bit like a bull in a china closet right about now.

Over the summer and before the whole stress reaction ordeal, I completed  6 1/2 weeks of Pfitzinger’s high mileage (for me) plan and loved it. To compensate for the missed runs as best as I could, I spent the next  5 1/2 weeks on my bike, in the pool and on my yoga mat. When I resumed running, I only had 6 short weeks to establish some base miles, increase speed, and squeeze in a few long runs without aggravating my tibia. I probably I did more than I should have, but I was determined to run Marshall. There was about a week and a half where I wasn’t entirely sure if I should even be running, but tracking my progress as I increased my mileage gave me the confidence to continue. Two weeks out from the marathon, I was back to Pfitzinger’s plan and logged three solid weeks with 40+ miles. During race week (including the marathon), my weekly mileage hit 47 miles. It didn’t all unfold the way I’d originally planned, but when do plans actually go the way they were intended?

So with Marshall behind me and Rocket City looming in the very near future, I find myself in a bit of a delicate place. I’ve been here before – recovering from a marathon while preparing for another one.  I always kind of thought I was invincible..that is, until this past year. I’m realizing that since I’m clearly not invincible, preparing for this marathon means being patient and allowing my body to recover from the last race. It means following the plan I’ve chosen and refraining from adding in extra 20 mile runs or unscheduled track workouts in lieu of recovery miles. The first two weeks (particularly the first week) are all about recovery, recovery, recovery – not about ramping up miles and intensity. My longest run last week was eight miles, and I only ran a total of 24 miles. Part of me feels panicked because I have to run a marathon in 25 days. Another part of me is realizing that I need to recover from the stress I just put my body through because I have to run a marathon in 25 days. It’s a balancing act between recovery and training, and I have to be careful not to tip the scale too far in either direction.

I’m already wrapping up week two of Rocket City training this weekend. My weekly mileage is back up to 37 miles, but my long run is only 10 miles. I am so tempted to wake up tomorrow morning for that 10 miler and tack on an extra 5-8 miles for good measure. It’s something I would have done in the past without thinking twice and the reason I stopped designing my own training plans. I have difficulty recognizing that recovery runs and rest are just as important as logging higher miles and fast paced runs, so I leave the planning to the professionals. It’s my job to listen to my body when it tells me to stop and to learn to slow down during recovery runs to avoid future injuries – something I really need to work on.

While I’ve been busy keeping my pace and overall mileage in check over the past two weeks, I started taking the routes I gravitate towards into consideration. All of my running last week was easy paced and on mild surfaces (flat, cinder trails and flat roads), just as recovery runs should be done. This week, I decided to challenge myself by continuing to run easy but varied my usual terrain and routes. I incorporated hills and refrained from formal speed work other than the 8×100 meter strides on my eight mile run yesterday.  On Wednesday’s general aerobic eight miler, I headed for the hills:

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I used to do a shorter version of this run on recovery days, and I would try to beat my time each time. Not exactly what Pfitzinger was thinking when he designed training plans and built in recovery miles (hill sprints for recovery? DUMB), and a definite red flag in my training habits. Hills are important and have their place in marathon training, so I’ll use this route once every week or so on general aerobic runs and keep the pace easy – no more racing the clock. As for those recovery runs, I’ll stick to more forgiving surfaces.

Regardless of the outcome on December 14th, moving forward and preparing for Rocket City has me thinking about some goals for 2014. I’m not talking about pace for distance goals – those will always be there. I’m thinking more in the direction of training smart to remain injury free so I can enjoy this sport with less interruption.

Hot (literally!) New Local Business: Lehigh Valley Bikram Yoga

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Over the past few months, my posts have almost nothing to do with the “inverted” and almost exclusively about the “sneakers” aspect of my blog. Mainly because I don’t have a whole lot to say about the current state of my yoga practice. I get on my mat, but it’s been a bit stale. Primary series, second series, and sometimes a few of the third series postures if I’m digging it that day. Since April, my practice hasn’t been in a place where I’m learning new asanas and it’s my own fault since I’ve been busy with other activities. I desperately needed something to freshen up my routine and reignite my interest. I was browsing the Groupon and Livingsocial deals last week and happened upon a Livingsocial deal for the new Bikram Yoga Lehigh Valley studio. The deal was pretty tempting: 10 classes for $39. To sweeten the pot, Livingsocial was offering their own promotion: another 15% off all purchases. For a whopping $33, I got 10 classes to the studio, which regularly would set you back $160. I’d say I made out like a bandit.

Let me back up for a second and tell you what Bikram Yoga actually is and why it’s considered a little controversial in the yoga world. It’s a 26 posture sequence selected and developed by a guy named Bikram Choudhury. His theory is that these 26 postures systematically work every part of the body and give all of the internal organs, veins, ligaments, and muscles everything they need to maintain optimum health and maximum function.  By the way that sounds, who wouldn’t want to do it? Well, that Bikram guy also put a little copyright on “his” sequence. I’m not really sure how you can copyright yoga poses that have been around for longer than he has, but whatever. The dude figured out how and is a millionaire, earning a lot of money each time someone uses his name and opens a studio…and by slapping  lawsuits on those who try to copy “his” postures. Needless to say, a lot of people don’t agree with “his” yoga and choose not to practice it. Me…well, I don’t knock something until I try it.

I knew the local studio opened somewhat recently and checked out their site, but wasn’t in a rush to get to a class. Partially because of the hefty price tag associated with Bikram classes, but mostly because I am (was?) a hater of all things Bikram given my less than desirable first experience with the style. Back in the summer of 2010, my ashtanga friends (Lauren and Dina) and I headed into NYC and went to a Bikram studio on the upper east side. After the class, I vowed it would be my first and last Bikram experience. 60 minutes into the 90 minute class, I felt dizzy and nauseous and had to stop and rest before joining the rest of the class. The experience left me cranky for the remainder of the day, with a lingering headache from dehydration and a new found hatred for Bikram yoga. I tried a few hot yoga classes after that (not the actual Bikram sequence) and always had the same complaints. It’s too hot. It smells. It’s hot. My water gets warm after the first 10 minutes. It’s too hot. I feel like passing out. It’s really hot. Is it over yet? IT’S WAY TOO EFFING HOT.

Lauren also happened to see the Livingsocial deal and bought a class card. She had the opportunity to check out the studio last week, and took me by complete surprise when she had nothing but positive things to say about it. We agreed to meet up for the 5:30 p.m. class this past Monday so I could see what it’s all about. I was able to sign up and register for the class right on their website, making my experience a pleasant one from the start. They have lots of different class times offered throughout each day, and it’s easily accessible from route 78. The studio is located in the industrial park in between Freemansburg Avenue and William Penn Highway in Bethlehem.

The studio is bright, cheerful and extremely clean. The lobby is spacious and they have an efficient system of signing in students. Even if you are a new student, you can register online and just check in at the front desk. They sell bottled water for $1 or offer towel rentals for $2 (something I had to do because I forgot my own). There’s a juice bar where you can buy fresh juices to re-hydrate after class. As you continue past the front desk, there’s a large room for shoes, a hallway that leads you to the locker rooms, the actual studio where the classes are held, and a eucalyptus steam room. Yup. A eucalyptus steam room. It’s a real thing (I haven’t tried it yet).

The locker rooms are clean, spacious and complete with ample showers. The actual room where the class is held is a great space. It’s a large, rectangular room with wall to wall mirrors and is dimly lit upon entry. When the instructor entered the room, she turned on the lights to create a bright and energetic environment for the duration of the class. The flooring is a giant yoga mat: it’s covered with large strips of yoga mat material, making it easy to disinfect and clean (the last Bikram studio I visited had a carpeted floor. Do you have any idea how badly sweaty carpet smells? I hope you never have to find out). The instructor teaches from an elevated area in the front and center of the room so everyone can see and hear the postures as they are called out. 

From what I understand, there are two owners. The class was taught by one of them, and the other was present and taking the class. The instruction was delivered effectively and was well received by it’s participants. She was very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and motivating. As expected, the room is HOT. The minimum temperature for a Bikram class is 105 degrees and 40% humidity so it was sweaty, but it never smelled nasty like the studio in NYC. The class lasts 90 minutes, and much like ashtanga you move through a specific sequence of postures in a specific order. The actual postures are not as challenging the ashtanga syllabus, but it feels difficult because of the heat. I felt like I was working hard during the class, but didn’t realize how hard until I woke up today feeling slightly sore.

I think what I liked most about it is that it was something different. Don’t get me wrong – I love my ashtanga practice and have no intention of abandoning it. But it felt really good to change it up, and the heat really loosened my muscles in ways my ashtanga practice hasn’t been lately. I’m glad I have 9 more classes to the studio, and plan to continue with the occasional class after my card runs out. It’s a welcomed addition to our local yoga community, and absolutely worth checking out!

Namaste ❤

Fact or Fiction: “Don’t try anything new before a race.”

20131118-081252.jpgIn my case, I’m going to go with: fiction. At least, it was for me last Sunday.

Marshall was my 25th marathon, so one would think I have my pre-race routine on autopilot. This is not the case. Everyone knows not to try anything new before a race. It’s the one rule you don’t want to break because it’s one of the few variables you can control. There are so many uncontrollable variables in distance running, but you can control your routine and choices. The problem is, I don’t always know what works for me. Pacing, race week tapering, hydration…there is always something that I’m not getting quite right. Maybe there isn’t a right answer, but this time I decided to focus on the entire week leading up to the race to see what I could fine tune.

It was a good time to experiment because I didn’t have a lot to lose. I took time off during training because of my tibia and was thankful to just be running, so I had no expectations. I had a lot to gain if I could be more comfortable and efficient on race day, making the Marshall University Marathon an ideal situation for experimentation. If I could control some of the temperamental variables (my stomach), I could eliminate some of the issues that slow me down on race day regardless of my training (multiple bathroom stops, tired legs, etc). So in the midst of my “taper”, I broke one of the most basic rules of distance running and tried new things.

Pacing

During any given training cycle, I have a training plan and key paces for each workout. I know what my goal marathon pace is at the start of a cycle and I use 5K, 10K, and half-marathon pace in my key workouts to train for it. Those paces are easy to determine because I have tangible times that I’ve run to use for reference.  If my training plan says “Lactate threshold run: 8 mi w/4mi @ 15K to half-marathon pace”, I know the ideal pace range to aim for. But tell me to run 5 recovery miles, and the inconsistency begins. Sometimes its a 7:50, other days it’s an 8:45. I realize that recovery miles should be run at a comfortable pace, and “comfortable” can vary daily. Regardless, if my training plan says “recovery” it should translate to “slow”. I need to get my legs moving, but I need to learn to make a conscious effort to keep the pace easy. In the week leading up to the race, I started to look at those runs more closely. When the schedule said to run hard, I ran hard. When it designated recovery miles, I kept it painfully easy. By race day, my legs felt fresh and ready.

I hate holding back when I feel good, but holding back is a large part of what you are training your body to do come race day. It’s necessary to train yourself to recognize the importance of saving your legs for a key workout (or, in the marathon, for the later miles). In a race, you usually feel good in the first few miles and want to speed up, but holding back will help maintain your energy through to the finish line. This principle holds true when following a training plan and is something I need to pay more attention to. I spend so much time trying to hit the paces on my key workouts but spend zero time worried about my recovery runs. It’s my hope that focusing more on holding back will help with injury prevention in the future.

Race Week Cross Training

Since 2013 was full of injuries that led to being reliant on cross training, I had to be careful not to overdo it with other activities in the midst of my taper. Tapering often leads to phantom pains and taper tantrums, and also anxiety that you aren’t doing enough to prepare for the race. I’ve come to enjoy cycling and feared I would do too much on my bike and wear my legs out. I got on my bike once earlier in the week and kept the pace moderate, but opted mainly for swimming as the week went on. In the pool, I did two workouts: one normal 3300 meter workout earlier in the week, and a workout on Thursday using a pull buoy to give my legs a rest. I get my swim workouts from the book Swim Workouts in a Binder, which I bought about five years ago and love. The workouts vary from categories like muscular endurance, anaerobic endurance, force, etc. I chose a workout in the “force” category, which focuses on pulling (the actual arm movement) – so no kicking. I did some easy swimming without the buoy that day, but nothing fast, intense, or long. Throughout the week, I also made sure to get on my yoga mat as often as possible – almost daily – even if it were only for an hour of light practice and stretching.

Food

It’s no secret that I have GI issues when I run. Every race report I write usually includes a review of the porta-potty situation. But if you read my Marshall review, there is not one mention of bathrooms. I actually have no idea if there were bathrooms on the course. I’m sure there were plenty, but this was one of the first times that I didn’t even think to look. My stomach, which is notoriously terrible, felt great.

I track my daily food consumption with My Fitness Pal. In light of my stress fractures in 2013, it’s helped me tremendously in monitoring my recent calcium consumption. Knowing my sensitive stomach, I turned my attention to the amount of fiber in my diet. I went back and looked at my diet before the last few marathons I ran and noticed that though my fiber consumption was the same as every other day, it was well over the daily recommended levels. I eat a lot of vegetables and whole grains, so this was not surprising. About three days out, I cut fiber out of my diet almost altogether. In instances where I eat brown rice or whole wheat, I chose white. I was afraid that cutting the whole grains out would reduce my energy levels, so I also focused on my protein consumption and chose foods higher in protein. Messing with my diet could have been the riskiest thing I’ve done yet, but it ended up being my best decision. I was smart about my choices and chose bland, boring foods, but I was eating things that I never really ate before running. Maybe I just had a lucky day, but my stomach was fine from start to finish. I realize this issue could have been addressed many marathons ago, but I never thought my diet and fiber intake was the problem. I always thought that since I ate healthy, my diet wasn’t the issue I was just destined to have GI issues.

Race Day Hydration and Nutrition

Before a race, I am conscious of my hydration in the days leading up to the event. During a race, I often feel like since I hydrated well before, I don’t need to drink much while I’m running. I barely drink anything during the 26.2 miles, but I often have tired legs in the last six miles. I knew my training was sub-par since I had to take time off during key weeks, so I turned my focus on hydration during the race. There were water stops every 1.5 miles on this course, so I took something at each stop this time. Usually water, but sometimes a little Gatorade. At some stops, I would only take a small mouthful and toss the rest, but I made sure I took something. There is a point where you can drink too much (hyponatremia) but I wasn’t overdoing it with my water consumption and was supplementing with GU and Gatorade.

I don’t often take Gatorade during a race because I used to think the sugar upsets my stomach. My stomach felt completely fine the whole time, and so I decided Gatorade would be safe. Between that and the GU, I usually feel a slightly nauseous by mile 20, but this was not the case last Sunday. I felt good, and my stomach felt completely fine. I also used a new GU flavor (the salted caramel pictured above), but my stomach usually reacts to all of their flavors the same way so I wasn’t overly concerned with that. I didn’t try a whole new brand, just a new flavor.

Last Sunday, I was lucky and had a great day. I’m not sure I can ever top that race or get any faster, but keeping track of what worked for me is clearly in my best interest. 19 states down, 31 to go!

Race Review: Marshall University Marathon

State  #19: West Virginia
The Marshall University Marathon

Sunday, November 10

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When you look at a map of the United States, West Virginia looks small, and relatively close. When you live in northeastern Pennsylvania and decide to drive to the western side of West Virginia, you’re in for an eight hour trip. It’s also one of the most beautiful car rides I’ve ever taken, and the fall colors just make it that much better. The trip down was one of the most interesting and unforgettable experiences I’ve had with distance running. We live in the same town as Bart Yasso, and he is very active with the local running community. He makes a tremendous effort to get to know the local runners, which is how my friends and I are acquainted with him. He also happened to be the guest speaker at the Marshall Marathon, where we were headed last Friday. Bart was aware of this and contacted my friends and offered us a ride down to the race. That’s an offer we simply couldn’t refuse. While the scenery was stunning, the company and conversation made the ride fly by. He told us stories of the Boston Marathon before the esteemed race became the focal point of many distance runners, and of his time spent travelling all over the world for running. He listened to us talk about our goals and our training but didn’t offer advice unless we asked, and even then it was in a motivating and inspirational manner. What an experience, and what a cool guy. We pulled up in downtown Huntington around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, but the eight hour ride seemed so much shorter.

The Expo

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The expo and the start of the race are closer to the Marshall University campus, but we were staying at the Holiday Inn in downtown Huntington. It was a bit of a hike from the hotel and we were glad to be able to drive there. I recommend using the Holiday Inn because they offer a great rate and a 2 p.m. checkout for runners, which is a rare luxury. The expo was held at the St. Mary’s Conference Center from 12-6 on Saturday, and it was slightly difficult to locate. Some people complained that the expo was unorganized, but I really didn’t find that to be the case. There was a line to pick up your bibs/gear, and the local running shop set up a display right at the entrance. While you were in line for your bibs, you could browse and purchase their merchandise. After receiving your packet you could continue down the hallway to find representatives from a few other races with tables set up to advertise for their event. There was Bart’s station for his book signing, and a table with marathon specific merchandise (mainly footballs and winter hats) for purchase. At the far end of the center, there were two double doors that led you into the conference room, where they set up the guest speakers and the pasta dinner. My only recommendation for the expo would be to have a few more volunteers working packet pick up, because there was a long line of people each time I was present. I paid less than $100 for the race and got an Asics jacket, a short sleeved tech tee, a full meal (the pasta party) and a sweet medal. No complaints here.

Pasta Dinner

The pasta dinner was held from 3-6 p.m and offered your standard spaghetti, tomato sauce, salad, dressing, bread, water and iced tea. It was free for the runners and the food was excellent. I’m new to the pasta dinner thing: I usually pass and go out to eat, but I’ve been to several of them now and this one was probably the best. It’s low key, but what more would you want before running a marathon? During dinner, there were several guest speakers: a physical therapist to talk about injury prevention, a doctor to talk about hydration, and Bart spoke about his experiences as a runner.

Race Day

This race met and exceeded all of my expectations. Out of the 25 marathons I’ve run, I’d definitely list it among my favorites. If you talk to other race participants, they might not agree with me. They may agree that the course is pretty cool, but there were some issues that people were really upset about. Sure – there were some hiccups, but it’s a small town race, not a big city marathon with a huge budget. I prefer small town races, because I find the hospitality is unsurpassed and you can really experience the area you are visiting. Part of the reason I started this whole “50 state” goal was to travel and see our country, and I find that small town races are the ticket to seeing what a city/state is all about.

The Start

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The start was near the stadium, and the complaint was that there was no official starting line due to some logistical issues. The race was chip timed and there were timing mats on the course and at the finish to record splits, but no timing mat at the start. I can understand why this might be an issue for some. In all fairness, if you read the race reviews posted on sites like MarathonGuide.com, you would know that this was also the case in previous years and could plan accordingly.The race director realized quickly that this was going to be more of an issue this year than it was in previous years since the race grew in size. He already issued a statement accepting full responsibility and is willing to work with people to adjust times if possible. I’m assuming you’d have to show your data from a watch or app of some sort, but I thought that was a nice concession. Bottom line: it’s a small town race, and mistakes happen. It was still an amazing day.

I started with the 3:25 pacer and we were relatively close to the front, so I wasn’t really affected by the starting issues. My watch was off at the first timing mat by less than ten seconds. But about those pacers: at the last minute, the 3:25 guy was told to pace our group. He was prepared to pace the 3:35 group. He was nervous about his “promotion” and verbally stated that he didn’t think he could do it, so I put my headphones in and just started running. By the half mile mark I knew I had to do my own thing if I wanted to run a 3:25. I looked at my watch; we were running a 7:23. A 3:15 marathon breaks down to a 7:26, so yeah. I’d say we were fast.  If I’m going to run a 3:25, I can’t be too excited in these first miles. I need to slow down. I took a breath, slowed my pace and ran the first mile at a 7:41. Still too fast, but I warmed up (it was chilly) and got my feet into a steady rhythm.

Miles 1-5

I knew the goal pace for a 3:25 was a 7:49, so I banked a few seconds on the first mile and controlled my pace from that point on: 7:41, 7:49, 7:45, 7:46, and a 7:47. The course is pretty flat, but the first three miles have a slight uphill “grade”. I thought I was imagining it but I later reviewed the elevation chart and confirmed my suspicions. By mile 3, the rest of the course is “flatter” (the whole thing is flat compared to what I normally run) and more even. The first three miles were nothing spectacular: you run around the stadium and in sort of an industrial type of area, but it was a necessary route to get you to the scenic parts of the course. Right after mile 3, you enter a park and run next to the Ohio River for a short distance. Between miles 3 and 4, it is scenic, but you hit the streets again and onto Virginia Avenue. It’s not as pretty there, but the streets are flat and wide.

Miles 6-10

This is where I really got into a rhythm and felt like I wanted to take off. I had to really keep an eye on my Garmin to make sure I was behaving, because I felt like I was flying. The only mile that was slower was mile 7, and it was because I caught up to the 3:25 pacer. He apologized for going out too fast, and then asked me to hold his sign so he could take an energy gel, and my pace suffered for it.  I wasn’t overly concerned because I was still ahead at this point: 7:46, 7:59 (with the pacer), 7:42, 7:49, 7:42. I had enough seconds banked at that point to even it all out. I handed him back his 3:25 sign, took my first GU of the race, and sped up a little so I didn’t get stuck with the pack. Mile 6 is where you enter and begin to run through a series of parks in Huntington. It’s a crushed limestone path, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s one of the most ideal running surfaces I’ve experienced in a marathon to date, but it isn’t very wide. The course takes you through Kiwanis Park around mile 6, and through Ritter Park around mile 8.5. The limestone path begins a little after mile 6 and lasts through the time you exit Ritter Park. It emerges in a historical neighborhood around mile 9.25, and you are back on the streets.I made the decision to  would run that segment of the course a little faster to avoid getting stuck behind the pacer and his pack of runners, since he was running a bit inconsistently. I made the right choice. I didn’t feel like my legs belonged to me, and wondered how long I could keep the pace up for. 

Miles 11-15

My legs still felt fresh and I was getting faster, knocking off the next five miles with a 7:37, 7:40, 7:36,  7:40, and  7:45. Around mile 13, we began the loop again and a strong headwind kicked in, so I took another GU around mile 14 to maintain my energy levels. I wasn’t sure if I should keep negative splitting because even though my legs felt good, the wind was so strong that I was afraid of burning out. I was still feeling very comfortable and we hit a stretch with a slight downhill grade, so I just went with my gut and ran those miles harder. Miles 11-15 was on the roads and looped you back towards the stadium to begin again, with a quick detour directly through Marshall University’s campus. I was surprised to find that there were zero students out cheering. 

Miles 16- 20

We were finally back on Virginia Avenue and heading towards the Ohio River once again for the second loop. The wind was stronger than ever so I stopped negative splitting, but still felt good enough to hold a steady pace: 7:49, 7:45, 7:47, 7:44, and a 7:43. From miles 17-19, I hit a bit of a wall. I was sick of the wind and began to wish the finish line was closer. That changed when we re-entered the parks and hit the limestone path at mile 19. The wind was at our backs and the change of surface made me feel like I still had life left in my legs and energy to carry me through the finish. I began to worry that the last six miles were going to be a struggle until I hit mile 20. I realized that all of my miles (besides mile 7 with the pacer) were below a 7:49, and I still felt good…which made me realize that even if I slowed down, I was going to run a PR.

Miles 21 -26.2

The realization of a PR was enough to keep me fired up for few more miles. Around mile 22, the struggle to hold on to the 7:49 pace began, so I negotiated with myself decided hang on to an 8 minute pace. For the most part, I did: 7:48, 7:57, 7:59, 8:02, 8:08, 7:53, and 6:48 pace for the .2.

Mile 26 is the one and only complaint I have for the entire race. You are running down a stretch and end up at the Marshall University campus. The half marathon finish is straight ahead, but the marathon finish turns right and loops through the campus. There were no signs, but there were some spectators and volunteers. The spectators yelled, “Marathon finish, straight ahead! You got it!” but the volunteer yelled, “NO! MARATHON FINISH RIGHT, THROUGH THE CAMPUS!” The race’s overall field size is relatively small and I was way ahead of any expectation I had for the day, so I stopped dead in my tracks. I stood there and listened to them argue over where to go for about 10 seconds, and then made the decision to listen to the volunteer over the spectator. It was the right decision. This problem could have been avoided if the race director had clearly marked signs posted. The volunteers didn’t design the course, so it isn’t even a guarantee that they were correct. I was already around an 8 minute pace so stopping really made the pace on my watch look slow, so I took off and sprinted until I dropped my pace below an 8 minute mile to compensate for the confusion. As soon as I left the campus, there were two volunteers telling me to finish left, or take a right for loop two – another place where a sign would have been extremely valuable. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I was going in the right direction and turned the corner to head into the stadium to finish.

The Finish Line

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Out of the 25 marathons I’ve run, I never really get too emotional at the finish (except for the finish line in Boston, but that’s a completely different story). I am always happy and excited (and very, very tired), but it was almost like I expected to be able to do it. Being injured and sidelined in 2013 taught me that I should never just “expect” a positive outcome, and that I need to be grateful for every experience I have. I’m not saying not to be optimistic – you have to be. The mental aspect of running marathons is often harder than the physical task, and you have to really believe you can do it to cross the finish line.

I rounded the corner and entered the stadium and sprinted across the field towards the finish line. Bart and his friend, Bill, were standing where the runners enter the stadium and cheered me on, along with the rest of the crowd. I had a huge smile on my face tears in my eyes as I ran across the field and towards the finish. I was way ahead of any expectation I had for this race and had to overcome a lot of set backs to even get to the starting line. Between the two bone injuries I had in 2013, I never in a million years thought it would be possible for me to get remotely close to a PR that day. But I crossed the finish line in 3:24:45, PRing by 7 minutes and 15 seconds. I finally broke 3:30, something that’s been a goal of mine for the past year and a half. My new PR was also a BQ -10:15, allowing me to not only register during week one for Boston 2015, but with the second wave of entrants. I was hoping to run a time at a future race that would allow me to register with the entrants that beat their time with 5 minutes or more. 10 minutes was a goal for another year. As I was crossing the finish line, what I didn’t know is that I just took 1st place in my age group, was the 6th female overall, and was the 48th overall finisher of the marathon. I am still on cloud nine. I feel very blessed, fortunate and humbled that I had the opportunity to run this race.

On to the really important things…there is a ton of food at the finish line: hot dogs, hamburgers, chocolate milk, bagels, bananas, etc. Awards were not given in a ceremony, but handed out individually.  If you thought you placed you had to check with the officials and claim your award, which I really liked. I was already over the moon happy with my time and winning my age group was just icing on the cake. It was still cold and windy so all I really wanted was a hot shower, some warm clothing and to hit the road to begin the eight hour trek home. So needless to say, I wasn’t bummed about the lack of an award ceremony.

Spectators, Volunteers and Water Stops

It’s a small town race so there aren’t a ton of spectators, but the ones that were there did an excellent job of motivating the runners. There were times when I was running the course that I felt  like I was doing a solo long run, but I didn’t care. I like small town races – I prefer them – and I know that comes along with the territory. There were water stops every 1.5ish miles, and no gels offered on the course (the race director told us that ahead of time). I made sure to force myself to drink at every single stop. I often skip a water stop here and there during a marathon. This time, I knew I was really moving and I would need all the help I could get, starting with proper hydration. The volunteers at the stops were all encouraging, pleasant and helpful. My only complaint about the volunteer situation is that they could use more volunteers at key turns in the race directing traffic, and more signs to avoid confusion. Overall, the race was well done, and is absolutely a race I could see adding to my calendar again in the future. The Marshall University Marathon was a success!

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These are a few of my favorite things…

When it comes to running, I’m a huge nerd (well, more of a nerd than usual). I’m the girl that makes spreadsheets. I make spreadsheets with my current training plan, complete with formulas to calculate total mileage and colors that indicate whether I completed the run or not. I make spreadsheets with pacing strategies, calculating splits and paces down to every last mile (also color coded). When Google launched Google Drive, I became even nerdier: all of my spreadsheets are on my Google Drive, and I have the app installed on my iPhone and iPad – you know, so I can have instant access to all of my information at any given time. On my Google Drive, I also have a packing list saved for each race I travel to. The items on my list vary depending on season, location and mode of transportation, but there are some items that remain constant on my list regardless of the race. And so, these are a few of my favorite (running) things…

Newtons

20131107-131015.jpgWho travels to a race and forgets their sneakers? That’s right: this girl. Before my Newton wearing days, I was a Brooks girl. I was driving to the Diva Half Marathon in Long Island, and as we were just entering New York we were talking all about our shoes and….oh SHIT. My sneakers were back in Pennsylvania, right where I left them after my last run. I had to buy new kicks at the expo and break them in on race day (and ran a 6 minute PR). It was fine, but needless to say my sneakers are always  the number one item on my list to pack. Most recently, I’m wearing the Newton Energy NRs. They don’t have as drastic of a heel toe differential as my beloved Distance Us, but they have an extra lug on the forefoot to help with my weird supination and don’t put as much pressure on my calves while I’m still recovering from my injury.

Garmin Forerunner 310xt

20131107-130812.jpgOf course my Garmin makes it to the top of my list. But the thing is, the 310Xt is absolutely my weapon of choice. It’s a large and clunky model, and I’ve entertained the idea of buying a smaller version. I’m sure there are other watches out there that are better than mine. There are plenty of newer models of Garmins out there, too. This particular model currently retails for $249.99 and is the multisport option, meaning it’s meant to be submerged in water. So come race day, I’m not too worried about a little rain and how it will affect my pricey watch. On top of it all, it’s super easy to use for running and biking. I’m still not that good at using to to calculate a swim, but I only really ever use the swimming feature if I do the occasional triathlon.  I heard that there is a recent software update that improved it’s swimming capabilities, but I’m not installing anything until after the fall marathon season. In triathlons, you don’t have to stop and reset anything – you can start timing your next leg (including transitions) as soon as you want. I’ve always liked it and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to venture into the world of GPS enabled watches.

Shuffle

20131107-131103.jpgAs in, my iPod shuffle. Yes, I run with music. I realize that many die hard runners think it’s lame. I consider myself to be a die hard runner, but I’m down with the music thing. I first started running simply because it was the one type of workout that I could completely just zone out and listen to song after song. Plus, the longer I run, the more music I can listen to. So a full marathon is a great opportunity to load up my shuffle with new albums and take in the surroundings. By the time I finish, I’ve not only covered ground in a new state, but I likely have a few new favorite songs that will always remind me of the event.

Starbucks 

20131107-131208.jpgIt’s no secret that I have a pretty severe Starbucks addiction. I’m fairly certain that my addiction to coffee has grown proportionally with my addiction to running over the years. I always like to have a cup (or two) of coffee before running a race. In the beginning, whatever the hotel stocked in the room was fine. Then, it was all about the Starbucks Via packs. Though they still don’t compare to a real cup of coffee,  were better than your average hotel room cup of joe. This evolved into bringing my own coffee filters and ground Starbucks coffee choosing hotels that had mini coffee makers in the room. Since most hotels now have the Kuerig – style machines (but not quite as nice), my most recent evolution in my pre race coffee routine is carting along the ground coffee and a mini french press . I could run the water through the instant machines or use a microwave if necessary to heat the water, and voila. I’m just one step short of hiring my favorite Starbucks baristas from Schoenersville Road along to all of my races.

GU

Though it always makes my list, I often buy it at the race expo. Honestly, as long as it says GU and has caffeine, I’m fine with whatever flavor I have that day. I prefer the GU Roctane –  specifically the Chocolate Raspberry – but any of the flavors are great. I’m is not so good with other brands, but I can easily stomach the GU and often think they taste pretty good…during a race, that is. I can’t look at them anymore by the end of a marathon.

Peanut Butter

I can’t remember running a race where I didn’t eat some sort of nut butter before, but all natural peanut butter is my personal favorite before running. Outside of running, I often prefer cashew or almond butter. All natural peanut butter has less fiber and more protein than the other nut butters, so it’s a better choice for my stomach before running. I put it on bagels, toast, bananas or whatever my pre race meal is at that time. Either way, it’s part of my day and makes my list every single time.

Lululemon Shorts/Capris/Tanks

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I’m not a snob when it comes to clothes, and I don’t care about brand names…unless it comes to running clothes (okay, or jeans). I can’t remember the last time I ran a marathon and didn’t wear something (or everything) from Lululemon. It’s easily the most comfortable and most practical gear out there. Their bottoms fit perfectly and have storage in all the right places (read: perfect sized butt pocket for GU and a little front pocket to clip my iPod onto). The running tanks are always made of breathable, comfortable material. Oh yeah…and all of their stuff is super cute.

Vaseline

In the event that my lovely Lululemon gear fails me, Vaseline is my backup. I realize that there is that great stuff called “Glide”, but I swear by good old vaseline. It’s always proven to be effective, and it’s never ruined any of my clothing. It’s been around forever, and it works. So it’s one of my staples.

There are so many variables that are out of your control when race day rolls around, but having my stash of my favorite things makes it just a little more manageable and a lot less stressful.

Race Week: Marshall University Marathon

It’s Wednesday, and reality beginning to settle in. It’s my 6th week back to running since I’ve made my comeback from a tibial stress reaction, and I’m running a marathon. Good idea? Eh, probably not. I’ve got a few successful tempo runs, a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon, 20 miler, and a pretty nice 15 mile run under my belt. Prior to my hiatus, I completed a solid summer of training and high mileage running. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on my bike and in the pool cross training to preserve my endurance. I might not be PR ready, but I’m as ready as I’m going to be for this one.

I’m still undecided as to how I want to attempt to run it. I feel like this is the same post I wrote back in June, right before the Vancouver Marathon. Sunday’s marathon is a two-loop course, meaning it should be similar to the experience I had when I ran the Long Branch Marathon a few years ago.  The upside: you’ll know what to expect in the second half of the race. The downside: you’ll know what to expect in the second half of the race. It’s good because you might be able to run a little smarter, but it’s bad because if you hated it the first loop, you know you have to do it all over again. You can spend the whole first half dreading it, and then the second half hating it even more than the first time around because you are twice as tired:

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The elevation profile is pretty sweet, and even the biggest “climbs” look pretty mild. The problem is that I’m not sure what I am capable of and much of what I decide to do will be determined by how I feel on race day.  After reviewing the elevation, I came up with a plan to negative split the first 20 miles as long as I can hold back in the first 13 miles. For the last six, it’s the same as always: 1) keep negative splitting, 2) hold on to whatever pace I have at that point, or 3) just survive. I didn’t have any idea of my capabilities and went into Vancouver post injury and had a great day. On the other hand, I also ran three marathons while training for it: Boston, Vermont, and Buffalo. So at this point, who really knows. Injury or no injury, there are always so many variables that can affect the outcome of a marathon so I’m not going to dwell on it anymore.

The race has an early start: 7am. I prefer starting early, but that means I’ll likely be up by 4am that day preparing. We are staying at the Holiday Inn, which is close to the start and offering runners a 2pm checkout. Bart Yasso is the guest speaker at the free pasta dinner the night before, and will be announcing the runner’s names as we cross the finish line. He lives in close proximity to me, so my friends and I are actually going to be traveling down to the race with him! The 2pm checkout will be nice, because we will have plenty of time to shower and clean up while Bart is announcing the finishers…or plenty of time for my friends to wait for me in the event that I completely blow up.

There is also a half marathon, a half marathon relay, and a 5K all on the same day. All of the races have a 7am start time. My thought is that the first loop will likely be more crowded than the second one. There is no bag check, but this was announced on the site so I know to plan accordingly. I’ll likely be bringing some throw away clothing for this event. The pasta dinner is free to registered runners and children under the age of 10, and guests pay something like $5 to join in. Since we registered early, our entry fee not only gets us our usual shirts and medals, we also get jackets.

I’ve got a few more shakeout runs planned for this week, but my last key workout is going to be today. Regardless of the actual outcome, I’m excited for the weekend. It will be fun to spend time with friends and knock another state off of my list.