A Year of Great Joy and Great Pain, But Worth Every Second

2 Jan

I turned 50 years old in 2013. That, in itself, is an exciting milestone. To celebrate this milestone year, I started planning for it in 2012. I decided for my 50th birthday, I would run a 50 mile ultra marathon. To do that, I knew it would take a lot of planning and racing to be ready.

I started my year by running the Disney Goofy Challenge in January. You run a half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. I had a great time, met some wonderful people and felt my journey was on track toward the 50 miler.

The months leading up to the 50 miler in April were filled with long runs. I was running 50-60 miles per week and 40 of those miles were on the weekends. The back to back long runs were the best way to prepare my body for the 50 miles I would run in Nevada. While there was no way to prepare myself for the high elevation of the course, I knew practicing proper fueling and hydration would be critical. I did that for several months. Then, race day arrived. As I wrote about in a previous blog, this race was perfect…the only perfect race I have ever run. It was perfect in the sense that there was nothing that went wrong, nothing I felt I could have done better or differently. I packed my drop bags with everything I needed (and a whole lot of things I didn’t need, but you never know), I fueled and paced well and because of that, my last three miles were my fastest miles of the entire race. I went to the hotel and took an ice bath so I could run the 10k the next morning and walk and run with my friends I’d met on the course the previous day that were completing the 100 mile race. It was an amazing milestone and milestone birthday.

A couple weeks later, I ran the 10k and the 5k back to back at the Flying Pig with the women I have been volunteering for the last three years. These women are a great joy and blessing in my life. They are all recovering addicts. Teaching them the importance of a healthy living lifestyle and watching them on their journey to sobriety and independence is inspiring. Over the last several years, I have spent every Tuesday training these women at the Y to help them improve their fitness. One Thursday each month I teach them about how to live a healthier life through nutrition and exercise and then I cook them a healthy lunch and healthy dinner so that they have healthy left overs for the weekend. I often say that Tuesdays and Thursdays are my favorite days of the week because these women mean more to me than words can adequately express.

In July, I launched the healthy cooking division of my fitness firm. As a public relations and marketing professional, I realized that marketing the cooking and the fitness sides of Abel Fitness Training separately was the best strategy for success. So, Abel Fitness Training http://www.abelfitness.com focuses purely on healthy and safe exercise education and training. The cooking division, Abel to Cook http://www.abeltocook.com, focuses solely on teaching people how to cook healthy meals that are fast, easy and figure-friendly.

In the summer, I ran a half marathon in Cincinnati as I prepared to run the Marine Corp Marathon in October. The Marine Corp Marathon (I wrote a blog about it too) was one of the most moving and meaningful races I have run to date. I was honored to run it.

In October I hit another major milestone. My public relations firm, Abel Associates Public Relations http://www.abelpr.com, celebrated its 20th anniversary. One of the most joyous parts of this milestone is that most of the clients who were with me in the early years are still with me today. I’m truly grateful for their loyalty and friendship over the last two decades.
People often ask me which of my two companies is my favorite. I tell them having two companies is like having two children. You love them both equally, but differently. Both of my corporate children bring me great joy and I’m grateful for both of them.

By the time 2013 came to an end, I ran a 5k, two 10ks, two half marathons, two marathons and a 50 mile ultra marathon. I ran a total of 1200 miles (ran, jogged and walked to be completely accurate) and spent more than 230 hours on my feet. That doesn’t include the more than 30 hours of cross training with swimming, yoga and weight training I did last year. I also celebrated 20 years in business with my PR firm and launched a new division of my fitness firm. That was the short version of the joy!

While the joys were exhilarating, the pain was poignant. Now, you may be thinking to yourself that pain is inevitable when you run 1200 miles in a year. This is true. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the emotional pain of 2013. Some of it ended well by year’s end…some didn’t.

In May, my father had a very serious heart scare. My dad eats healthy, walks three to five miles each day and works full time at 82 years of age. He does everything right. So as a fitness trainer to hear him say that one of his heart valves was only pumping at 30% was terrifying. While my mother is my cheerleader, my father is my rock. He’s my go-to person for advice on anything from business to life. The thought of losing him was one of the most frightening times of my entire life. Thank God, by July the doctors were able to treat the problem and get the value pumping at 50%. While that may sound very low, and it is low, you have to realize that valve had been operating at 40% for years and he was doing well. The goal was to get the value back to where it had been operating. To get it higher than that was truly a blessing we are grateful for and hopeful that the treatment will continue to sustain him at that level or continue to improve his condition.

In early August I lost one of the great loves of my life…my 19 year old cat, Cleopatra. Cleo was my warrior…a true fighter until the very end. Cleo had been diagnosed with kidney failure the previous year but she was holding her own, for the most part. In January, Cleo had this freakish situation that the vets still have no clue what it was. One very cold January morning, I was getting ready to head out for a run. As I was lacing up my shoes, I heard and saw Cleo hacking…getting ready to cough up a hair ball. I thought about leaving and cleaning up whatever she might heave up when I got back, but fortunately I decided to wait. Thank God I did! As she began coughing harder and harder, she collapsed. I was frantic. I called the vet. They told me to bring her in immediately. They spent quite a bit of time with us and couldn’t diagnose the problem. They wanted to put her to sleep, but I refused. I was so shocked since she’d been doing so well prior to that day, I couldn’t get my head around losing her. I told the vet that I wanted one more night with her at home and I’d call the next day to tell them how she was and what I was going to do. The short version of this story is that after that violent coughing incident, Cleo felt better that night. She began eating and drinking again. The next day she seemed much better. It was truly miraculous, but was bloated. Her body would fill up with air and she’d puff up like a balloon after this incident. I had to take her to the vet each day to get her “tapped.” The vet would inject a needle into her body and extract the air. Over a period of weeks, the tapping became less frequent and eventually whatever it was that was leaking inside of her, healed itself. Did I mention she was my warrior? After this incident, things went back to being normal…normal for her, which meant daily pills and IVs, but she felt like herself and for a 19 year old cat, my vets were amazed by her spirit and her determination. During 2013 there were several times where her kidneys crashed and the vets thought she wouldn’t survive it, but she did. She was tough, determined, a fighter. My vets learned never to underestimate my girl.

In early August, I went to the farmer’s market with my dear friend and running partner. We had a great morning. Cleo was fine when I left, her usual self. When I came home, she was a bit wobbly. This wasn’t unusual. She had bad arthritis, and she hadn’t had any treatments for that in about 6 weeks, so I watched her and just assumed I’d call the vet on Monday to get her scheduled for another series of laser treatments that helped improve her mobility. It wasn’t her arthritis. By 5pm, I was on the phone to my vet, calling him at home saying I need to know where to take Cleo now! She was in crisis and needed help immediately. My vet and his wife were heading to dinner with friends when I called, but they told their friends they had an emergency and would be late. They met me at the clinic. He ran some tests. We hoped it was something structural, like a bone fracture or that her arthritis was just getting much worse. It wasn’t that. It was full kidney failure. My vet looked at me and said, “We need to change her IV formula. We can keep her here on a slow IV all weekend or you can take her home and give her the IV twice a day. Either way, I don’t think the outcome will be any different.” Of course, I chose to bring her home and give her the IVs myself. Unlike in the past, where I was confident she would overcome her medical crisis, I wasn’t this time. I knew this was the end. I slept on the floor with her all weekend because she couldn’t get on and off the bed. Sheba, my 15 year old cat, slept with us part of the weekend and slept alone other times during the weekend, probably coping with what she already knew…we were going to lose Cleo. The hardest part of this was that Cleo was still trying to fight. Her eyes were bright, her spirit was strong…she wanted to live. But her body had given up and given out. Monday morning, August 5, I called the vet. I asked to have their last appointment of the day. I wanted just a little longer with my brave warrior. Putting Cleopatra to sleep was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My last two pets, both ferrets, passed away in their sleep. One of the most comforting posts on Facebook was from my friend who said, “I am so sorry, we have had to do that twice and it’s heartbreaking. Be at peace. It’s the last great act you can do for your pet. I’m thinking of you.” He was right. It was the last great and most loving act I could have done for her. And while my heart is still broken and I’m in tears typing this, I know I did the best thing for her. She was surrounded by love in her final moments…my vet and one of the many vet technicians that treated her over her 19 years on this earth were there and in tears, like I was. The last voice Cleo heard and the last face she saw was mine. That is the way it should be. She’s with God now. She’s at peace and in no pain.

In August, the triumphant trio became the dynamic duo. It was just Sheba and me. During Cleo’s illness, Sheba developed a new habit…she was expressing her distress over Cleo by acting out. The vet thought it was a medical issue. It wasn’t. It was behavioral, emotional. I knew that, but wanted to run the necessary medical tests to be sure. The behavior stopped after we lost Cleo. In the month after losing Cleo, Sheba was a bit lost without her friend who had been with her for her entire life. But I did everything I could to make her loss less traumatic. While I’d see Sheba lying in places Cleo used to lay, I felt she was adjusting to the loss of her life-long companion fairly well…much better than I was adjusting. That’s what I thought.

In October, when I left town to run the Marine Corp Marathon, I had a house sitter/pet sitter for Sheba. Every day, she would text me about how Sheba was doing. It wasn’t good. She was under the bed and wouldn’t come out. She wasn’t eating or drinking much and that’s not like Sheba. She’s my big eater! I got home from the race and she was eating a little better, but not much. A few weeks after I got home from the race, I headed to Kansas City to visit my parents. Sheba’s eating was much worse. She wasn’t eating at all the first couple of days. It got better by the third day and I was home a couple days later. I, of course, took her to the vet to make sure she wasn’t sick. I said to my vet with tears in my eyes, “I can’t lose them both this year!” The vet looked at me and said, “That wouldn’t be fair. We will do everything we can to make Sheba better.” I knew I had to have faith. Sheba’s blood tests came back and all were normal. Again, I had to assume her not eating was behavioral. It was, fortunately. Sheba had never been alone when I was away. Sure, I had the house sitter, but that’s not the same as her constant companion. Sheba was in mourning…just like I was. Once I was done traveling, Sheba started acting like her usual loving self and eating and drinking normally. That was the best Christmas gift I could imagine.

In November, I lost another love in my life, but this one wasn’t a complete loss. Joe, who I’d been seeing since June of 2012, and I had grown apart over the last eight months. I had hoped our trip to DC to run the Marine Corp Marathon would help us reconnect. It didn’t. While we had a great time together, I knew we didn’t have what it took to go the distance and spend the rest of our lives together. It was a tough decision, but the right one. I knew I had to walk away. But this story has a happy ending. We’re still great friends and I’m grateful for that. Many of my friends are in awe of how I’m able to maintain a friendship with my former husband and former boyfriends. My feeling is that if I cared enough about them to spend long periods of my life with them, I should care enough about them to maintain a friendship with them. While partner love is different from friendship love, it’s love. I’ve always felt that friendship love shouldn’t die when the relationship love does as long as there hasn’t been a betrayal of trust or respect. Trust and respect are the foundations of any good relationship, whether it’s between partners or friends.

The holidays got me back to a more joyful place. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with Greg (someone I dated for 5 years prior to meeting Joe) and his family. While people who don’t know me might think that sounds weird, it wasn’t. Greg and his family have always treated me like one of their family. His family knows we’re good friends and I’m also very close to Greg’s oldest sister. The three of us go to dinner every month or so, and it’s always a good time. Friends and family are what the holidays should be about, and I spent my holidays with my extended family and friends.

Last year was an amazing journey.  I know 2014 will be equally incredible.  I’ve set my goals for the new year and have them posted in my office and around my house.

The new year is when many people set fitness goals. As a personal fitness trainer, sports nutrition specialist and lifestyle fitness coach, I encourage you to start by setting small, achievable goals. Small changes lead to big success. For example, if you don’t eat breakfast (shame on you!), commit to eating breakfast every day. Studies show people who eat breakfast lose more weight, maintain their weight better and feel healthier than those who skip breakfast. If your doctor says you need to lose 30 pounds, set a goal of losing 10 pounds in three months. Losing one to two pounds per week is safe and sustainable weight loss. Losing 30 pounds might feel overwhelming, but if you break it down into increments of ten, it will seem less daunting. Get moving! Walk the dog 20 minutes each day. Park your car farthest from the entry door at your office, the mall, etc. Being more active will not only give you a mental boost, it will improve your health.

If you need help achieving your fitness goals,  I’m here to help. Wishing you great health, happiness and joy in 2014!


Adaptability Is Crucial in Training and in Racing

31 Oct

Anyone who knows me well would probably classify me as an obsessive planner, and I wouldn’t disagree. As a personal fitness trainer and public relations consultant, I understand the importance of proper planning. A well thought out and executed plan can mean the difference between success and failure. However, unforeseen circumstances that you cannot possibly plan for can arise. When that happens in business and in racing, the key to success is being responsive and adaptable.

The Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) is the third most popular race in the nation and the tenth most popular race in the world. It’s been on my dream list since I took up running seven years ago. Getting into the race is not easy. It sold out last year in less than three hours and many people were disappointed. I knew this year would be no different and it would likely sell out even faster.

Earlier this year, I found out that MCM would be one of the races for the Runner’s World Challenge. That meant registration for the MCM Challenge would be two days prior to open registration for MCM. I have done three Challenge races, and they were all fabulous experiences. Nobody spoils runners like Runner’s World. And knowing that I could hopefully secure my registration prior to tens of thousands of runners trying to register during open registration was an additional bonus. As soon as the MCM Challenge registration opened, I was online and submitting my information. A few minutes later, I had secured my MCM spot. Knowing that in two days, 30,000 people would have their registration secured, I thought planning ahead would be wise. I booked my flight and did my research on which hotels were closest to the start and the finish. The race start and finish are about two miles apart, so I needed to pick which one I wanted to be closer to on race day. I chose a hotel closer to the starting line and booked it because it was also across from a Metro stop. I knew from being in DC before, a car was not necessary because you could get just about anywhere you wanted to go via the Metro or on foot. By 5pm that evening, I had also researched restaurants, what was on their menus (to make sure they had the right types of food to fuel me well and not upset my stomach before the race) and made dinner reservations for each night I’d be in DC. I was set. With all the logistical details handled, I could focus on my training plan.

I have a number of friends that have run MCM and raved about this race. All of them gave me the same advice. They said, “Don’t run this race for a PR (personal record.) Take your time and experience every mile of this incredible race and course.”

So, with that trusted advice, my training plan was not designed for speed, but for endurance. While I did my usual hill and speed runs, my long runs were done at a slower, relaxed pace that would be similar to my race pace. I expected to finish the race in five hours to five hours and 15 minutes, which means I would average an 11:30 to 12 minute mile pace for 26.2 miles. I felt that pace would let me see all the landmarks on this course and also experience the many moving and emotional aspects of the race.

Everything was going as planned until October 1 when the government shutdown began. Keep in mind that a majority of the MCM course goes by or through parks, monuments and other facilities that were closed due to the shutdown. The race wasn’t until October 27. I was optimistic that the government would have this matter settled long before then. A week passed, then two weeks passed and there was no end in sight. Then I woke up on October 15 to see the following post on MCM’s Facebook page:

Dear Runners,
Since the government shutdown occurred, the Marine Corps Marathon continues its coordination with hopes of a conclusion in time to host the event without impact. Without a resolution to the government shutdown this week, the MCM as planned is in jeopardy of being cancelled.
While still considering and exploring all possible options, the MCM has targeted this Saturday, October 19 as the date to officially notify runners of the status of the event. It is sincerely the hope of everyone associated with the organization of this event that MCM participants can run as planned.
When I read this, I felt sick to my stomach. Runners often think about their race being derailed by an injury, illness or transportation issues such as bad weather cancelling flights, but we never imagined the government could potentially cause our race to be cancelled.

This was an unforeseen circumstance that nobody could have planned for…not the MCM race director and staff, not the Marines, not the MCM volunteers and not the MCM runners. All we could do was hope that things would be reopened by October 19.

All I could think about after reading that post was all the people who had worked so hard to make the 38th Marine Corps Marathon a reality on October 27. That group included the race director, race staff, civilian volunteers and crowds of spectators that were planning to come out and support the runners. The most heartbreaking group was the Marines who view volunteering at this race an honor. And, of course, there were 30,000 runners who had been training for months and their families who were looking forward to celebrating “Mission Accomplished” when their loved ones crossed the finish line.

On October 16, I pulled an all-nighter. I stayed up watching the news to see if Federal lawmakers would come to an agreement to end the shutdown and “kick the can” down the road again. They did.

On October 17, my training plan called for a 5 mile run at an easy, relaxed pace. I headed out the door as I had for the last four months to carry out my plan in the spirit of the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis…Latin for Always Faithful or Always Loyal. I was being faithful and loyal to my plan and hoping to hear good news upon my return from my run.

When I got back home, I checked the MCM Facebook page. A video entitled “We’re So On!” had just been posted. I watched it with joy and was sure I could hear the thunderous voices of 30,000 runners and everyone associated with the MCM shouting “Oorah” at the top of their lungs.

Now, there were just a few more training runs left and then it would be time to pack for the race. I had my packing list that I have used for several years so that I don’t forget anything I might need. My strategy when packing for a race is over pack vs. under pack. The best plan is to have everything you could need on race day because weather conditions can change quickly and that can impact what you wear, how you hydrate and fuel and ultimately how your race unfolds.

My friend and I left for Washington, DC on October 24. Everything went according to plan. The flight departed and arrived on time. Hotel check-in was quick and flawless and the microwave and refrigerator I’d ordered were waiting for me in the room. I headed to the grocery store that was a quarter mile from the hotel (another reason I chose this hotel ) to buy the food I eat each day for breakfast prior to a race because I know this particular breakfast fuels me well and doesn’t upset my stomach. Next we went to the Metro station to buy a Metro pass and headed into the city for dinner. Our table was ready and waiting. So far, everything was going as planned.

The next day, we ate breakfast, got directions at the hotel for dinner that night and took the Metro to the packet pick up location to arrive as soon as the Expo opened at 10am. Because we were with the Runner’s World Challenge, we were able to bypass the very long lines to get our race bibs, participant shirts and drop bags. The Challenge booth had all of that ready for us when we arrived. While at the Challenge booth, we got directions on how to get to the starting line from our hotel. We were told we could walk or take the Metro, but since you have 30,000 runners and their families all trying to get to the same place, it was recommended that we walk to the starting line and skip the Metro. There is nothing more stressful to me than not knowing where you need to be on race day. So, my friend and I took our race bags back to the hotel, grabbed a high carb lunch and headed out to find the starting line area.

We had the hand drawn map that we’d gotten from one of the Runner’s World staff members and followed it. Everything was going as planned until I stepped down on uneven ground and felt an old foot injury rear its ugly head. I hadn’t felt that shooting pain in my foot in quite some time, but I knew what it was immediately. We finished our journey to find the starting area and then headed back to the hotel. I put my foot on ice, elevated and rested it until we left for dinner. Dinner was a bit of a walk from the Metro stop, but my foot felt better after icing it. I thought it was going to be fine. We walked back to the Metro after dinner and when I took off my shoes at the hotel, my foot was sore and I repeated the procedure…ice, elevate and rest. As a personal trainer, I know this is the best thing I could do for the grumpy foot. Saturday, my friend went sightseeing. I chose to rest my foot and continue to ice and elevate it.

On race morning, I woke up, had my usual breakfast and got dressed so that we could walk over to the starting line. The race staff and Runner’s World staff recommended you arrive two hours prior to the race starting to get through security. My foot was sore on race morning, but not painful. I ran an ultra marathon with this same foot injury two years ago, so I knew it could be done. Because the injury is a deep muscle pull, I knew I was at no risk of causing permanent damage, so I was ready to take on the 26.2 miles ahead of me no matter how painful it became.

Another nice thing about the Challenge is that we had our own private tent with tables and chairs. That was a blessing! I knew I wouldn’t be standing on my feet for a couple of hours prior to the race. Being able to rest and elevate my foot really helped.

The race started just before 8am, so around 7:30am, we started walking towards the starting line so we could get in our corrals. The corrals are set up by estimated finishing times. While I had anticipated a 5 hour finishing time, I got into the 4:30 to 5 hour finishing time corral. The reason for this part of my plan is that I know from previous races that the first few miles are very slow due to the crowds and you’re not going to be running that pace until people start to settle into their pace and either surge ahead or drop back. I found I was in the right spot once we started running. I was running between an 11:15 and 11:30 minute/mile pace, which was about right. While running a negative split is ideal (you run your first half of the marathon slower than your second half), I knew that wasn’t likely with my sore foot.

MCM has time limits and there are two check points you must pass before a certain time or you will not be allowed to officially finish the race and you don’t receive a finisher’s medal. One check point, known as the Gauntlet, is at mile 17.5. The other check point at mile 20 is called Beat the Bridge. My plan was to run fast enough that if my foot started to hurt worse as the race progressed, I’d be past the bridge long before the time cut-off so I wouldn’t be in jeopardy of being pulled from the course and not finishing. That would be an unacceptable outcome.

I ran my plan and truly understood why my friends said to take my time and really look around on the course. There were so many things to see. The course begins in Virginia on Route 110 between Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon. You run through beautiful Georgetown with its elegant architecture and along the Potomac with the fall leaves bursting with color. You run by a number of memorials before reaching the Gauntlet. But what brought tears to my eyes was a memorial that only runners got to see. There were a series of signs along this one stretch of road. Each sign had the photo of a war hero who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Under each photo was the officer’s rank and age. The age was the chilling part. Almost all of the photos were of men and women in their 20s. All I could think was God bless them and their families as I could not imagine the loss their loved ones feel and the honor they feel through their pain. This moving memorial was followed by a sea of individuals holding giant American flags. It really put all the government craziness into perspective for me. While our nation has its issues, it is still the greatest country in the world to me. And I have never been more aware of how proud and honored I am to be an American as I was at that moment.

Other things I saw on the course that made me proud were the wounded warriors running with prosthetic legs, hand cyclists pumping up hills with all their might, groups of Marines running in full gear and many “Angels” running while pushing their physically challenged children in large running strollers. Their determination was inspiring.

Throughout the course, Marines lined the streets. Some had megaphones to shout out encouragement to the runners. Others high fived us and cheered us on as we ran by. This was one of the best parts of the race for me. It was my opportunity to try to thank every one of those brave men and women for their service. Their reply was often, “Thank you, mam, for your support.” Seriously…they’re thanking me? Their gratitude was so touching, yet it seemed unwarranted. I’d done nothing special. They have done so much and continue to do extraordinary things for this country. They are the ones who deserve our gratitude.

When I reached the Gauntlet, my foot was starting to hurt but I was an hour and a half ahead of the time limit for that check point, so I felt confident I was on track and the race was going according to plan. My reward for my efforts to this point was turning the corner and seeing the majestic view of the U.S. Capital. It was breathtaking. After that we proceeded to the National Mall where we passed a number of museums. I was now approaching the last check point.

At mile 20, I was ready to “Beat the Bridge.” My foot was really starting to give me some attitude, but I knew I had to push myself and get over the bridge to assure I’d finish in well under the time limit. Once over the bridge, I felt this huge sense of relief. I knew I was going to finish in plenty of time and now I could relax and enjoy the last six miles of the course.

There were so many beautiful things to see the last six miles, but they paled in comparison to what I was feeling…an overwhelming sense of pride. Not because I had run 26.2 miles, but because I was part of something so special, so unique…a chance to witness humanity at its best. Between the 30,000 runners cheering each other on, the Marines giving up their day to be part of our experience, the MCM staff and volunteers who planned for months to make sure we had a great race and the Marines we didn’t see who guarded the course by air and on top of buildings to keep us safe; it was an experience of a lifetime.
My journey ended at the Marine Corps War Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. As I ran through the finishers shoot, I was greeted by a Marine who presented me with my finisher’s medal, shook my hand, thanked me and congratulated me. I thanked her for her service and being part of the race. As the MCM warming jackets read, “Mission Accomplished!”

So what does this story teach us about training and racing?

A well designed and executed training plan is crucial to a positive racing outcome. But the best laid plans/courses can have unexpected bumps and detours. How we deal with unforeseen circumstances sets us apart. By being flexible and adapting our plan we can still reach our intended goals and learn some things during the journey’s detours. Those detours may offer opportunities for us to mentor and inspire others along the way.

In racing we are often so focused on our finishing time and the finish line that we fail to experience the joy and beauty of the journey. So, the next time your strategic plan doesn’t go exactly as planned, take a look around you. What you might find is that the detour makes the journey and the finish line even more rewarding.

In racing and life you need to find your happy pace!

28 May

Once again, this year, I had the honor of running the Flying Pig 10k and 5k with the Having the Courage to Change women. These women are on an incredible journey as they recover from a variety of addictions and emerge healthy, happy and clean. I have volunteered as their personal trainer and nutrition coach for three years, so I have had the opportunity to watch them grow and be part of their journey.

As we were running the 5k, I noticed a number of kids with shirts that said “Find your Happy Pace.” That made me smile because running, business and life are all about finding your happy pace.

For some runners, their happy pace is a fast pace and setting a PR (personal record.) For others, like the Having the Courage to Change Women, their happy pace is the one that gets them to the finish line, however fast or slow that might be, with a sense of accomplishment and pride. People’s happy pace for their personal and professional lives is quite similar.

In the past, my happy pace for running was the fast, PR happy pace. But over the last two years I have run races that were so spectacular, such as Big Sur with its incredible views and Labor of Love with its incredible 50 mile distance, that my happy pace has been to just run for the pure love and joy of it and take my time.

After running Labor of Love two weeks prior to the Flying Pig, my body was fatigued from a year of heavy mileage training and the race. It was nice to run the Pig races with the women at their pace…a slower, joyous, celebratory pace. That pace screamed of passion and perseverance. It was their happy pace and mine.

After running a 50 mile race, the rule is to take 50 days of recovery. That means you’re still training but at a more moderate pace and running moderate distances to let your body heal from the race and the year of training leading up to it. For the first two to three weeks after the Labor of Love, my body was enjoying the lower mileage runs with very moderate weekly mileage. My pace after the race was about the same as it was during race training…slow and steady

By the fourth week, things began to change. While I was still running short distances and low weekly mileage (5-6 mile runs three times a week), I felt my pace starting to pick up. My Garmin (which tracks my mileage and pace) confirmed that. There were several runs where my pace was close to my PR pace days. It felt good to know those days weren’t gone. On those runs, faster was my happy pace.

My next big race will be the Marine Corp Marathon in October. This is a race I have wanted to run since I began running about seven years ago. I haven’t decided what pace I will run…faster to possibly set a PR or slower to enjoy a race I’ve dreamed about for years. All I know is that whatever pace I decide to run, it will be my happy pace.

Strategic Planning Is Key in Racing and Your Business

28 Apr

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a planner…some might even say I’m an obsessive planner. I find a great deal of comfort in planning since I’m not a fan of surprises. And I also find that good planning leads to great success. My experience with the Labor of Love 50 mile ultra marathon was a perfect example of that.

About a year ago, I decided I would run a 50 mile ultra marathon to commemorate my 50th birthday this year. Prior to deciding to run a 50 miler, I’d run a 50k ultra marathon, a 30 mile ultra marathon, eight marathons, nine half marathons, a number of 15k, 10k and 5k races and a number of triathlons. So, I was very familiar with the importance of a good training and nutrition plans. But running 50 miles requires a much more detailed and sophisticated planning strategy. I knew I had my work cut out for me.

The first part of the planning process was to choose a race. As I started doing my research I found there are not a lot of options for 50 mile road races, compared to 50 mile trail races. I’m a road runner, not a trail runner. So, I didn’t have a lot of choices, but I felt confident that I could find a race I’d find challenging and enjoyable.

Some races automatically eliminated themselves from the running. For example, one race gave you a mug for running 50 miles. The standard finishing reward for 50 miles is either a medal or a belt buckle. I found it insulting to give someone a mug for running 50 miles and ruled that race out immediately, even though it was in driving distance, had a fairly flat course and a reasonable finishing time limit. As I continued to review the research, I determined one race was going to be way too hot, one was too tedious since you run a 2 mile loop 25 times, another could be in ice and snow, a fourth had a midnight starting time due to high temperatures and humidity and since I was a morning person, that might really send my body clock into shock in addition to the heat and humidity. Several other races had what I viewed as aggressive finishing times between 12 and 15 hours. Since I had never run a 50 miler before, I had no idea how long it would take me to finish. What I did know was I didn’t want to spend 50 miles worrying if I was going to finish in time and possibly not get a finishers medal and have my race results listed as a DNF (did not finish.)

Finally, I got to the information on the Labor of Love. Logic would say it was the worst possible choice for a number of reasons including the race site was in high elevation (which you cannot train for at sea level in Cincinnati), and it was a brutally hilly course which was by far the toughest of any of the races I researched. The good news was you had adequate time to finish this race, 32 hours. While this might sound crazy, I chose this race. I felt confident that I could finish it in well under the time limit as long as I planned strategically.

The first step of my plan, after doing my research, was to sign up for the race. I actually signed up for two…the 50 miler on Saturday and the 10k on Sunday because you got three medals if you completed back to back races. I thought that was a goal worth striving for, even if I was only able to walk the 10k the next morning.

The next step was to write my training plan. Ironically, I was in the process of getting my distance running conditioning specialist certification. The process for that is passing a written test and writing an essay which is a training plan. The test essay only requires you create a strength training plan for cross training days for endurance runners. But, since I’m the ultimate over achiever, I wrote a full plan which included the running workouts, strength workouts, yoga, swimming and other cross training workouts. The plan was color coded…red for races, blue for recovery weeks, yellow for taper weeks and black for everything else. The plan was 20 pages. It was very thorough. Did I mention I’m a planner?

My training plan included some “tune up” races. Tune up races are used to help you gauge your race pace for your “A” race, which was the 50 miler in my case. Tune up races are also used to help you nail down your race fueling strategy and your equipment needs. Yes, you test out nutrition and experiment with various food sources and equipment during training runs, but it’s not the same as testing during a race. Since my 50 miler was in April, I scheduled a 50k (31 miles) race for November and a back to back race in January, known as the Goofy Challenge. For the Goofy Challenge, you run a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday. The GC was the beginning of several months of back to back long runs. The purpose of back to back long runs is to get your body used to running on fatigued legs. Your legs get plenty fatigued running 40 miles each weekend for several months, which is what I’d scheduled in my training plan, along with two shorter runs during the week.

The 50k race was a water and Honey Stingers testing race. I needed to see if I could race that distance with just those two products and no sports drinks. Every race serves different fluids and race fuels on the course. It’s critical for racers to know what’s being served in advance and most races are very good about posting that information. This particular race was serving products I knew upset my stomach. So, this was a great opportunity for me to test products I’d be carrying for the 50 miler since I knew that race was also serving sports drinks on the course that didn’t agree with me. The race went great. My equipment worked well, fueling went well and I was able to try my run/walk pacing strategy. I walked up the really steep, long hills and walked up hills with strong head winds to conserve my energy. I ran up the easier uphill and downhill stretches. The weather was chilly, ideal running weather, so everything went well and I had a great finishing time.

The Goofy strategy was a bit different. I used the same equipment because it’s worked well for me for years. I carried water and Honey Stingers again too. And since the sports drink served on this course did agree with me, I mixed that in with my fueling strategy and drank both water and sports drink on the course. Even though the 50 miler wasn’t serving a sports drink I could tolerate, I knew I’d be carrying Gatorade with me in my fuel belt and drinking water on the course from the aid stations. The Goofy was the perfect opportunity to determine just how much sports drink vs. water I needed to stay well hydrated and fueled properly. For pacing, that was different too. I chose to run the half marathon at a relaxed pace. My goal was to finish in two and a half hours. I was a minute under that. So, I nailed my pace. By running the half marathon, I would have somewhat fatigued legs, but not fatigued enough to make the marathon a miserable experience. For the marathon, my fueling and equipment were the same as the half marathon. However my pacing was the run/walk strategy. I also wanted to take my time on this course because we went through some very cool parts of Disney World that are normally not open to the public or part of the marathon course. They were added this year because it was the 20th anniversary of the Goofy Challenge.

By the time I’d finished my tune up races, I felt good about my fueling strategy, but wanted to experiment with a few other food sources during the next few months of training. As a personal fitness trainer and sports nutrition specialist, I know every person’s body is different. With ultra marathons, you hear about flavor and texture fatigue. This is where you get sick of the same race fuel for hours on end and crave something different. So, I found a carbohydrate source I liked that was crunchy instead of chewy like the Honey Stingers, and it was something I could eat on the run that didn’t taste anything like my Honey Stingers. I knew that would be something I’d take with me to the race. I also know that many people need protein around mile 40. I tried adding it during my training runs in February and it was not pretty. I just couldn’t tolerate it. Because I’m a planner, I reached out to several of my seasoned ultra running friends and asked them about this. The best advice I got was from one of the best ultra runners in Cincinnati. His advice, “If your body says I’m craving a PBJ right now, eat it. But only eat a quarter of a sandwich and see how you feel. But if you’re not craving protein, your body doesn’t need it. Skip it. I never eat protein on ultra courses because it doesn’t agree with me either.” This was some of the best research/advice I got regarding fueling.

So, it’s the beginning of April. It’s time to taper. Taper is a three week period where you strategically reduce your mileage to let your body rest and repair itself after many months of hard training. It’s also a great time to deal with other race details, such as drop bags. Drop bags are personal bags that each runner fills with things they think they’ll want and need for the race. The bags are spaced strategically throughout the course.

While I felt good about my training strategy, fueling strategy and equipment strategy; I was not as confident about the drop bag strategy. Drop bags were something I’d never had to deal with and had no experience with. Again, because I’m a planner, I went to my ultra running friends for research and advice. One of the most common comments I heard was, “You will pack things you never end up using and there will be things you wished you’d packed and really needed, but didn’t have.” The second part of that comment puts fear in the heart of this obsessive planner. My goal was to be the exception to the rule and have everything I could ever want or need in all three of my drop bags.

After asking my ultra running friends what they thought would be critical for the drop bags, everyone said: a full change of clothes for day and night including shoes and several pairs of socks, fueling products you tested in training and a variety of foot/blister care and chafing products. If I had stuck with these three things, my drop bags would have been small. The problem was that everyone had other things they felt were “must haves” and those things were very different for each person. Since my goal was to have drop bags with everything I could possibly want or need, I decided to include everything on everyone’s lists. My drop bags were huge laundry bags. Two of them took up a huge suitcase. The third one took up half of a second huge suitcase.

When I went to the airport, I’m sure the agents thought I was going to Europe for six months. When I got to the race site to drop off my bags, I could see I over packed. Most of the bags were half the size of mine. But I didn’t care. The goal was to have everything I could ever want or need in each bag and I was hopeful that would be the case.

It was almost race time. The runners got to the starting area and the countdown clock began. There were three races going on at the same time: a marathon, 50 miler and 100 miler. Soon, we were all off and running. When it comes to endurance races, it’s all about pacing. If you go out too fast, you’re going to “blow up” and be miserable very early in the race. That makes the journey to the finish line painful and exhausting. My goal was to pace slowly, enjoy the desert and mountain scenery, adjust the best I could to the “thin air” and focus on running my own race. I had a race plan, but the key was to be flexible and listen to my body. If my body was up to going a little faster in places, so be it. If it wasn’t up to running in places, that was fine too. The race plan strategy was similar to the drop bag strategy. The goal was to feel good or as good as possible the entire time. I realized it was a lofty goal, but it was my goal and I hoped to achieve it.

The layout for this course is as follows: Drop bags at home base check point, midway and the far end checkpoint. The course is 11 miles out to the far end, 11 miles back to home base, 11 miles out again to the far end, 11 miles back to home base and three miles out from home base and three miles back to finish the 50 miles. From home base to the far point is mostly up hill, other than one very steep mile downhill. From the far point to home base is mostly downhill other than a very steep mile uphill climb. Nobody ran that hill. We all knew that using too much energy to run up it would come back to haunt us later. The last six miles were similar to the main course…miles 44-47 were uphill and the last three miles to the finish were downhill.

Race morning started out in the 40s but we knew it would get up to the 80s in the heat of the day. I wore a sweat shirt over my running halter and had a pair of thin gloves to keep my hands warm. I had long compression shorts and compression socks on, so only my knees were exposed, and they don’t get cold. At the first drop bag site I dumped my sweatshirt and gloves and headed on my way to the first check point. I was pacing slowly and my pace was on target with my race plan. It seemed that everyone else running the 50 and 100 milers were pacing slowly too. Prior to the race starting I had talked to several people who’d run this race before. When I asked them if they had any tips, they all said the same thing…pace yourself and go slow!

When I reached the first check point at mile 11, I felt great. That’s to be expected. It was very early in the race. I had used the run/walk pacing for the first 11 miles since they were mostly uphill. At the turn around, I took off and enjoyed the downhill for quite a few miles. When I got to “the beast” hill, I slowed to a jog and then walked up the hill. The next thing I knew I was at mile 22, the second check point and I still felt good. I was about 5 hours into the race which was right on track with my plan. I was also following my fueling plan strictly. I was taking Honey Stingers with water every hour. I was taking water at every aid station and I was supplementing once an hour with a few ounces of Gatorade that I was carrying in my fuel belt. I stopped at the half way drop station to refill my bottle with Gatorade that I had in my drop bag, grab some pretzels for a little extra salt and headed toward the third check point. Everything was going according to the plan.

At mile 33, check point 3, I knew I needed some foot care and sunscreen. I got into my drop bag to get some sunscreen and foot care supplies out of the beautiful first aid kit I’d compiled. I asked one of the volunteers to help me put sunscreen on my back and then sat down to check out my feet. I knew I had some hot spots (places on my feet that felt a little tender, but hopefully weren’t open blisters yet) and needed to attend to them before they became painful and more serious. When I took off my shoes and socks, I was pleasantly surprised. The hot spots were very minor blisters…nothing serious. I’d caught them soon enough that they would not impact the rest of my race. The volunteer at the checkpoint mentioned he had this great spray for blisters if I wanted to use it. This blister care product was a spray that dried like a coating of extra skin. I thought this would be much more effective than bandaids or mole skin (it’s like a little suede bandage with super sticky adhesive on it.) I had him coat every inch of both of my feet. The spray felt cool and protective. I let it dry, put my socks and shoes on and headed out again. At mile 38.5 I got into my drop bag for a long sleeve shirt, a reflective vest and a head lamp. I knew it could be dark before I reached mile 44 and the last check point prior to the finish. I wanted to make sure I was visible to cars since the course was open to traffic the entire day and night. I tied the shirt around my waist since it was still very hot, tucked the vest into my race belt and put my head lamp on. I reached mile 44 and the final check point at about 6:30pm. It would get dark between 7pm and 7:30pm. But I was set. When I checked in, the volunteers really wanted me to eat something, but I told them I’d eat in 6 miles, after I finished. I was feeling great still and didn’t want to stop. I know that sometimes when you stop too long you can’t get going again. I didn’t want to take any chances of that happening. I was on a role. While I felt great and still hadn’t “hit the wall,” my feet were tired, as you would expect. Plus, miles 44-47 were uphill, so I wanted to get going quickly and finish the race strong. I put on my shirt and began to walk the next three miles at a good pace, but not too brisk. When I got to the turnaround point for the last three miles it was dark. I turned on my head lamp and started to run as fast as I could at that point, which was pretty fast considering. I passed a number of people who cheered me on as I flew by. I’d paced well and still had some fuel in my tank to make a strong, fast finish. Nothing could be better. Also, the cars were making me nervous. The traffic during the day was no big deal. I could see the cars, and they could see me. But at night, I just didn’t feel as comfortable. I am not a night runner. I only train in the daylight, so this was a new experience that made me a bit uneasy.

As I got closer to the finish, I was feeling better and better. My mind, body and spirit were flooded with this huge sense of accomplishment and relief. I had planned and trained for this moment for a year. I had visualized this moment over and over again. But nothing could prepare me for the sense of euphoria that engulfed me as I crossed the finish line, and they put that big medal around my neck and congratulated me on a job well done. I had finished in 12:54:53.

Before I left for the race, many people asked me, “What’s your goal time?” I replied that my goal was to finish, however long it took. Now, I meant that sincerely. However, most runners have several goal times…best case scenario time, things went okay but not great time and it all fell apart time. My best case scenario time estimate was 13 hours, the it went okay but not great estimate was 14-15 hours and it all fell apart time estimate was 16-17 hours. My goal for not needing anything that I didn’t have in my drop bag was successfully met too.
One of the most common questions I was asked after I got home from the race was, “If you did this race over again, what would you do differently?” My answer was, “Not a thing. Everything went according to plan!” If there is such a thing as a perfect race experience, this was it.

As the owner of a fitness company, a certified personal fitness trainer, sports nutrition specialist and a distance running conditioning specialist, I know that well-designed training and nutrition plans are critical to racing and fitness success.

We’ve all heard that saying “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” It’s so true. When we plan our strategy and have a clear vision of our goal and how we plan to get there, our potential for success increases exponentially. So the next time you’re thinking “I can iron out the details of my training and nutrition plan later. It’s no big deal.” Think again. Details are a big deal. Details are everything…in training, racing and business. At least they’re everything to an obsessive planner.

Use your senses to enhance your exercise, training and racing experience

21 Jan

Sometimes we get so focused on our end goal or destination that we forget to have fun and enjoy the journey along the way. When I decided to run the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge (a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday), I wanted to make sure I embraced the joy and fun of Disney. I decided to run this race as my second training race for the 50 mile race I am doing in April. Because I was using this race to continue to get a feel for my long mileage endurance pacing, fueling and strategy; I decided this would be the perfect experience to take my time and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the Disney Goofy Challenge. I’m so glad I didn’t rush to get to the finish lines. If I had, I would have missed so much.

The half marathon starts at 5:30am. That means you’re running most or the entire race (depending on your pace) in the dark. There is something truly magical about Disney at night. The highlights of this course included the castle all lit up and Main Street Disney lit up and lined with cheering spectators. While I didn’t rush my pace on this race, I didn’t take my time either. The first eight miles of the half marathon course are the same as the marathon course, so I just wanted to get this race done at my relaxed goal pace and get off my feet to let my body rest for the marathon the following day.

The marathon started at 5:30am, just like the half marathon. The fireworks for this race at the starting line were fantastic, just like for the half marathon. I had planned to run this race with a friend, but we got separated when I went to make a pit stop prior to the race. So, I started the race “alone” with 25,000 new friends.

I was doing the Goofy Challenge as part of the Runner’s World Challenge. This was my third race with the RWC. One of the many things I love about the Runner’s World Challenge is that you have plenty of time to meet your fellow Challengers prior to the race. During the days leading up to the race, I happened to be in the RWC hospitality room at the same time as Garrett, a teacher whose wife, two year old daughter and mom were at the race to cheer him on. We talked about races we’d done, our finishing goals for the Goofy Challenge and lots of other things runners talk about with each other.

I ran by several of my fellow challengers in the first half of the marathon. About mile 14, I caught up to Garrett. We seemed to be running the same pace, so we decided to run together for as long as our paces matched. One of the great things about Garrett is that he recognized a lot of the Disney characters on the course…newer ones that I didn’t recognize. He and his wife are also big Disney fans, so he knew a lot of interesting history about the various parks on the course. It was great to have a “tour guide.” It really enhanced the experience for me. Also, because he was such a Disney fan, he stopped for some of the photo opportunities with the characters on the course. I have to say, that was a lot of fun and since neither of us was in a hurry to finish, I was glad we took the time to stop at a few places. I would never have done this with my friend because he is not a fan of Disney or the whole character experience, and I would have missed out on a lot of the fun of this course.

So the next time you’re training, racing or exercising, consider utilizing your senses more and really paying attention to all the “magical” things around you. You might just find the experience is that much more meaningful, and that might make you feel like you’re in the “happiest place on earth.”

Race day can be full of surprises, so it’s best not to assume the final outcome.

13 Dec

I truly believe in practicing what I preach as a personal trainer and distance running conditioning specialist. When I’m training for a race or series of races, I design a training plan and follow it. With that said, just because someone follows a training plan, doesn’t mean all the training runs will go well. In fact, I’ve never had a training season where every long training run went well. I usually have one or two long runs that go poorly, but that’s not uncommon during a 16 week training season where you’re running three to four times per week.

While training for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k (31 miles) in Kansas City, most of my long training runs were disappointing. This was a new experience for me.

One of the things I stress with clients is that you must train with the products the race is serving on the race course. This particular race was serving products I had never tried. I spent eight weeks trying to get my body to accept the new products, but it wouldn’t. The products made me ill and the runs were unpleasant because of that. I struggled due to a lack of fuel and my body “hitting the wall” causing me to walk some or most of the mileage during the long training runs. While the runs didn’t go well, I sucked it up and finished every run and completed the mileage according to the plan no matter how long it took.

By the time I realized I wouldn’t be able to force my body to tolerate the products, I had accumulated a lot of knowledge. The main thing I knew was the only thing I’d be able to drink on this particular race course was water. So I had to plan accordingly by carrying my own fueling products…products I’d used successfully in the past.

When training for an ultra marathon, or a series of ultra marathons in my case, the most important thing is spending a lot of time on your feet. So, training runs with walking mileage have some benefits. And while I wasn’t happy with how the runs went, I was happy that I completed all the mileage for each training run.

I arrived in Kansas City a few days before the race. K.C. is my home town and my dad was nervous about my running this race. I had been in K.C. four weeks earlier for his birthday and we’d driven the course. All he could say the entire time was, “This is all uphill. I’m exhausted driving this. How in the world are you going to run this?” I explained to my father that while my training hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped, I was ready and had trained adequately for the race. I was prepared, and I would finish within the time limit.

The night before the race, I told my dad I’d be up at 2am to eat breakfast but I’d be very quiet so I wouldn’t wake him, my mom or the dog. He asked me if I was taking a cell phone with me on the course. I told him there was no need. I knew why he was asking this. I explained to him that if something horrible happened to me, and that was highly unlikely, he is the emergency contact listed on the back of my race bib, so the race would call him since I’d be in no condition to do so. Regardless of my logic, my father kept insisting that I take a phone. His next comment was, “What if you get tired or your foot starts hurting and you don’t want to finish? Don’t you want a phone so you can call me to pick you up?” Again, I explained to him that unless they were taking me off the course in an ambulance, I’d finish. I explained that the foot injury from last year was much better and while I had some discomfort during training, it was a muscular issue and not structural. As a trainer I know when to stop and the foot was fine. I told him that I expected to finish in seven hours, based on my training runs going badly, and told him where to meet me at 2pm. Keep in mind I ran a 30 mile ultra marathon in just under six and a half hours the previous year with the foot injury only 60% healed. This year, it was 90% healed, but the training runs were so far below my expectations that I assumed a seven hour finish was what I could reasonably expect.

Race morning arrives. I get up as scheduled at 2am and eat my usual breakfast (six egg whites, a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of black coffee) and head back to bed to rest a bit at 2:15am. I never sleep the night before a race, so resting is relative. It’s more about staying off my feet and visualizing the race I hope to run before I need to get dressed and head out so my dad can drop me off near the starting line.

At 2:20am I hear this quiet knocking on my bedroom door. It’s my dad. He says, “Aren’t you supposed to be up at 2am eating breakfast?” I reply, “I already ate. Why are you up?” He says, “You were so quiet, I didn’t hear you. And I’m up because I’m racing today, and I can’t sleep!” He then asks me again, are you sure you don’t want to take a phone? I have never seen my father this nervous. This is so unlike him. So, to ease his mind, I tell him I will take a phone with me and I will call him on his cell phone when I get to mile 25 so he knows it’s time to head down to the race and pick me up. My father doesn’t leave his cell phone on, so I remind him to turn it on at 1pm since I’m hoping to finish around 2pm. He tells me he will turn it on at noon.

One of the things I regularly tell people is that some days the race course owns you and some days you own the race course. Over the years, I’ve experienced both.

I woke up on race morning feeling great and felt good at the starting line. But once the gun goes off, anything can happen between the start and finish lines.

I start with a pack of about 250 men and women who are running the 50k and we all have a bounce in our step and are filled with anticipation. I remind myself not to start too fast and to find a comfortable pace and settle into it. As I make the third turn, a young woman in her 20s asks if it’s okay if she runs with me. I tell her, absolutely! It’s always nice to have company and make new friends on the course. I ask her about her finishing goal and she tells me it’s purely to finish. I’m thinking that’s perfect. We’re probably going to run the same pace and we can hang out together for a while. As we continue on our journey, I find out her name is Maria, she’s studying to be a doctor and she’s always been a runner ever since she was a kid. With this knowledge I ask, “So, I know your goal is to finish, but do you have a goal time in mind?” She replies that she does. It’s two hours more than her slowest marathon finishing time. Again, I’m thinking I have lucked out and found a good running partner for this race. But being a former investigative reporter, I have to ask the obvious question, “What was your slowest marathon time?” She replies it was four hours. Holy smoke! I know I’m pacing too fast if she’s running with me. But I feel good at that pace, so I stick with it knowing I will adjust my pace as necessary. About three miles into the race, Maria says, “I don’t know about you, but I’m going to walk to that stop light. I have some leg cramps.” I explain to her that if I start taking walk breaks this soon in the race, I’ll be in trouble. So we agree that she’ll work out her cramp and catch up to me since she’s the fast runner and I’m not. That’s exactly what happened and we continued on together for a few more miles. She got another cramp. Same thing, she stopped to walk it out and caught up to me. The third time, that didn’t happen. I never saw Maria again, but by running with her, I realized I probably started out too fast, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. So, my strategy is to listen to my body and do what it tells me. That’s always a good strategy.

Since Kansas City is my home town, we ran through some very special, sentimental parts of the city that hold lots of fond childhood memories for me. Several of the places we ran by were places my grandmother and I used to go when I was young. My family lost her two years ago, but I felt her spirit with me the entire race.

We also ran through some spectacular places I had never seen. I got caught up in the beauty of the course includimg a bridge over the river, stairs that take you down to a path beside the river and this overlook where you can see for miles. As I got caught up in the beauty of the course, I really wasn’t paying attention to my pace. I was paying attention to my body and it said it felt pretty good. I took some walk breaks to conserve energy up some steep hills where head winds were beating us up, but for the most part, I was feeling good. Next thing I know, I see a sign that says I’m at mile 20. I look at my GPS watch and realize I’m way ahead of my expected pace. I’d been running for three and a half hours. Doing the math in my head, I realized I might finish in closer to six hours than seven hours and was glad I brought my phone. Father knows best, as they say! But I also knew that, as runners say, the wheels can fall off at any time during a race and I still had 11 miles to go.

When I saw the mile marker and water stop at mile 25 I looked at my watch. It was only 11:40am. My father wasn’t going to turn his phone on before noon. I picked up my phone and called him. My voice mail said, “Dad, it’s 11:40am and I’m at mile 25. I’m way ahead of schedule. When you get this message at noon, you need to get in the car and head down to the finish line to meet me. I’ll see you soon.”

The last six miles were the most exciting. As I looked at my running watch, I realized I really could break six hours. Prior to this point, I’d stopped at almost all the aid stations to get water and make sure I was staying well hydrated. But once I left the station at mile 25, I was a woman on a mission and there would be no stopping or stopping me.

As I rounded the final turn I passed the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum, one of my favorite places in K.C. and a place where my grandmother and I spent many afternoons when I was a child. I felt my heart and soul fill with joy and all I could think is that she would have loved this moment and seeing me finish this race. As I headed down the final hill, I could see the finish line. I still had some energy left, and I kicked it into high gear. I was going to break six hours. As I crossed the timing mat at the finish, all I could see was the finisher’s clock…5:52:31. Then I heard this voice shouting, “Lauren, you did fantastic. You had a great race!” It was my dad. He’d gotten the message in time and was able to see me finish the race. My father had never seen me run or race, so this was a thrilling moment for us to share. He was beaming and so was I. I’m not sure who was happier or more proud.

So what is the lesson of this experience?
In training and in racing, the road to the finish is an adventure. Sometimes the road is smooth and sometimes it’s rough. But what you have to remember in both circumstances is that just because the majority of the journey is rough, it doesn’t automatically mean that the ending will be equally difficult. Races can surprise us…in good ways and in bad ways. The key is to take one step at a time and embrace the journey. If you are prepared, stay focused and maintain a positive attitude, you’re more likely to have a rewarding outcome.

There Is Nothing More Rewarding Than Watching People Achieve Their Goals and Dreams

25 Oct

Over the winter, I started training several clients to run races of various distances. Their accomplishments are inspiring and I was proud and honored to be part of their journey.

Heidi was a runner in her youth, but got away from it after college. Today, she’s a talented executive, wife and mother. We’ve known each other for years as business associates through my public relations company. One day she called and said, “I want to get back into running and improve my fitness. I need your help!” One of the things that struck me about Heidi was her reason for wanting to be more fit. She wanted to be a good role model to her 3 year old daughter.

Over a period of months, we worked on improving Heidi’s eating habits. She works long hours and travels quite a bit for work. My job was to make eating healthier easier for her, whether at home or on the road. I also wanted her to focus on her nutrition because it’s critical in fueling her workouts.

Summer came and she wanted to run a 5k. She emailed me the link to the race she was considering. I emailed her back that I thought it looked like a fun race and I would run it with her. She was shocked. She called me and said, “Trainers don’t run races with their clients.” I replied, “This trainer does.”

We ran the race together and had a great time. But the best part of the race was seeing the look on her face as we crossed the finish line. She felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. And being there to share it with her was amazing.

Keri and I have known each other through our passion for yoga. Keri is an outstanding yoga instructor. I would take her classes on Fridays to get loosened up and stretched out before my long runs on Saturday during marathon and ultra marathon training season. After class, she and I would talk about my running, my racing and how much she missed running. It broke my heart to see the look in her eyes when she said that.

Keri was training with a running group for her first marathon back in 2006. She got injured early in the training process and never made it to the starting line. Since then, she told me she was never able to run more than three or four miles without being in significant discomfort or pain. Knowing how fit she is and that she’s a fellow fitness professional, I was almost certain I knew what she was doing wrong and what would get her back to running longer distances.

After class one day, she was talking about the beautiful weather and how she used to love running in nice weather. I told her that I wasn’t sure that running longer distances had to be part of her past. I thought, with the right, safe training, it could once again be part of her present and future. I invited her to run with me and see if I could get her past this wall of pain she kept hitting. I told her there were three rules she had to follow: 1. She couldn’t wear a watch. 2. She couldn’t look at my GPS watch. 3. She had to tell me immediately if she felt any pain. She agreed.

The following week, she showed up at my house and we went for a run. I could tell she was excited and hopeful. So was I. We talked throughout the run and the time and miles flew by. Every so often, I would ask her if she was feeling okay and if she was having any pain. She replied she was fine. The last time I asked, she told me she was feeling a little tightness, but no pain. I said that’s to be expected and asked her if she thought she could run a few more minutes. She said she could and we did. After a few minutes, I told her it was time for a one mile walking cool down. She looked at me and asked, “So, did we run three miles?” I replied, “No, we ran six miles.” The look of elation and accomplishment on her face was priceless. She couldn’t believe she ran six miles with no pain. I told her that what I suspected was the problem was indeed the issue. She was running way too fast and her body and her old injury were revolting. I told her that training at a more moderate pace would allow her to enjoy the sport she loved and be pain and injury free. She decided to train with me and we did our long runs together every week. As the weeks progressed, she mentioned how much she would like to run a half marathon one day. I told her if that was the goal, we’d train for it and make it happen. We continued to run a little longer each week and maintain a moderate pace. She continued to get more confident that she could run longer mileage and one week I told her it was time to sign up for a half marathon. I had one picked out for months, and I knew she was ready. We signed up to run it together. I could see her excitement building after that.

On one of her long runs, she shared a story with me. She was trying to explain to her three boys how far she was going to run in the race. So, she drove them around on some errands to try to help them visualize how far 13.1 miles is. She didn’t have a lot of errands that day, and only drove about half that distance, but her boys were in awe of how long it took to drive and how far it was.

Race day came and I knew Keri was ready. We treated the race like a training run. We paced evenly and embraced the joy of running together and talking as we ran. The next thing she knew, we were a mile from the finish and she was about to see a dream she thought was impossible, come true. The best part was her husband and three boys were waiting at the finish line. We crossed the finish together with smiles on our faces and joy in our hearts. Words cannot begin to describe how I felt seeing her achieve this milestone. Her husband and children were so proud of her. They admired her medal and she just beamed. Helping Keri on her journey was incredible. But being beside her as she achieved a dream and met her goal meant more to me than words can say.

Rob was my first client after I got certified as a personal fitness trainer. We’d known each other professionally, through my PR firm, for a couple of years. And our love of running strengthened our professional relationship. When we’d run into each other at Chamber or other business events, we never talked about business. We talked about running.

When Rob wanted to take his running to the next level, he hired me to help him. He had been running 5ks and wanted to run a 10k. I trained him to do that and he had a great race in the spring. After that race, he told me he wanted to run a half marathon. He chose the one he wanted to run and I designed a training program to make sure he was ready. During this time, his wife decided she wanted to move up from 5ks to a 10k and I designed her training program too. When I told Rob that I would run the half marathon with him, he thought that was great. We talked and emailed regularly during the training process. We talked about his goal and while we both agreed it should be to have fun and finish, he said he’d like to run the half marathon in two hours and ten minutes. I knew my goal was to pace him. Rob is a fast runner. I saw his training run splits. I also know that racers can get caught up in the starting line excitement and go out too fast. This is not a good strategy. The goal is to go out slow and run what’s known as a negative split…a faster second half than first half of the race. My job was to make sure that happened. It did.

We started at a moderate pace and every time Rob picked up the pace, I’d jokingly say, “Easy Rocky! We have 10 more miles!” At mile 10, Rob said, “If I’m still feeling this good at mile 11, I’m going to give it all I have for the last two miles.” I agreed that was a good strategy. He kicked it into high gear and finished in just over two hours and seven minutes. We were both thrilled. That was an outstanding finishing time! As we made our way out of the finishers shoot, we went to find his wife who ran the 10k that day. She was smiling as she admired her medal. She had a great race too. It was a fantastic day and everyone performed the way they had hoped they would. Being there to see it, made my day complete.

So, where do these runners go from here? Heidi is going to run faster 5ks and a 10k in the future. Keri is going to run more half marathons and possibly a full marathon. Rob is going to run two marathons next year and Terri is considering running a marathon or half marathon and improving her 10k time in her next races.

Being a personal fitness trainer, sports nutrition specialist and distance running conditioning specialist is so rewarding because I’m helping people achieve their goals and dreams every day. But to be there at the culmination of their training journey and to run beside them is an experience that fills my heart and soul with joy.

I have always said that I’m very fortunate to love what I do and to wake up every morning excited to go to work. I know I’m living the dream and serving my purpose on this earth to help people improve their fitness and achieve goals they never thought were possible. And that’s one of life’s greatest rewards.

Racing for the Joy of It Can Be More Rewarding Than Racing for a Personal Record

31 May

Over the past five years, my racing goals have been fairly simple…improve my time from the previous race, also known as setting a personal record. But that focus changed recently, and it was an epiphany for me.
I had the joy of running the Big Sur International Marathon this year. Running experts say this course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. I chose to run Big Sur because the race fell on my 49th birthday and several of my friends decided to run it with me. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day than doing what I love with people I love.

When I was training for this race, my strategy was to take my time and not worry about achieving a personal record. I wanted to truly enjoy the beauty of the course because I might never have the opportunity to run it again. I felt it would be a shame to rush through the experience trying to get to the finish line as fast as I could.
Big Sur has so many unique course components. The first icon is running through five miles of giant redwoods for the first five miles of the course. This part of the course is a gentle downhill that’s mostly shaded and a relaxing way to warm up for the long miles ahead. A less relaxing, but equally majestic aspect of the course is Hurricane Point, a two mile ascent from miles ten through twelve. As I started up the hill to Hurricane Point, the Taiko Drummers were there to energize all of us for the two climb. The beat of their drums made me pick up my pace because the winds had died down a bit, and I was ready to attack the climb. Things get very quiet here as runners stop chatting to focus on the task ahead and the lush green hills decorated with wild flowers. As we climb the hill, we hear the sound of the grand piano playing, another unique aspect of this course. You lose the sound of the piano from time to time during the ascent, but when you crest Hurricane Point and head downhill, you hear the music clearly. The pianist’s music filled our hearts and souls. Several of us, including me, were moved to tears. We crossed the beautiful Bixby Bridge. The scenery from the bridge is astounding. Between the scenery and the piano, mile 13 was one of the highlights of the course and a great way to mark the halfway point of the journey. I couldn’t imagine rushing through this race.

By mile 20 I had only been running three hours and fifty minutes. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the race in the six hour limit, so I slowed my pace down a bit more to take in some of the most beautiful parts of the course. One spot was so spectacular; I stopped for a minute to stare at the beauty. The waves were crashing on the rocks and beach, the sun was shining on the ocean and you could hear and feel the wind blowing. It was amazing.

At mile 23 we were told to be sure to take a handful of fresh strawberries at the aid station. This is another one of the unique aspects of this course. Since I was in no hurry, I stopped and enjoyed the berries while I thanked the volunteers for taking the time to cut the tops off for us. At about mile 25 we were told to breath deep to smell the eucalyptus in the air. I’ve never smelled anything like that. It was so fresh and clean. It was truly breathtaking. That breath of fresh air gave me all the energy I needed to pick up my pace and sprint for the finish.

At the finish line I was given the ultimate birthday gift…a Big Sur International Marathon finisher’s medal and lots of memories of the most enjoyable marathon I’d ever run.

The next weekend, some women who are recovering addicts that I volunteer to train and help with their fitness and nutrition were running the Flying Pig 5k and Flying Pig 10k. Since I didn’t want to play favorites, I decided to run both races…back to back. These women had been training hard for these races for several months and I was honored to be able to run with them and share the experience with them.

The 10k race was first. Only a few of the women ran that one. I had run a 5k last summer with one of the women. During the 5k, she was still smoking and the race was really hard for her, but she was still one of the fastest of all the women in the program. For the 10k, she was race ready. She had quit smoking and had learned the art of finding her pace. We ran most of the race with a few walk breaks. The smile on her face when she finished was amazing. She was so proud of her accomplishment and how far she’d come from her 5k race last summer. I was so proud of her and the others who all finished not far behind us.

After the 10k, I had just enough time to run to my car and change race numbers. Most of the women in the program were running the 5k. They all ran at a different speed so I chose to run with one of the newer women whose daughter was running the race, but wasn’t running with her. She was one of the few in the program who was running alone because her pace was different than everyone else’s. When she first came to the program, she never thought she could run a step, much less 3.1 miles. But that day, she ran most of the race with just a few walk breaks. There were two highlights of this race for me. The first one came when she saw a steep hill we needed to climb. She looked at me and said, “Miss Lauren, I want to run up this hill.” I looked at her and said, “Let’s do it!” She attacked that hill like a pro and everyone around her walking up that hill started cheering. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face was priceless. I will have a memory of that moment in my head and my heart for the rest of my life. We took a short walk break at the top after she showed that hill who was the boss and then began running again a few minutes later. We walked a little more but I told her that whatever she did, she needed to save enough energy to run her fastest when we got close to the finish line. She did just that. She crossed the finish line with a smile on her face and her daughter waiting to greet her. I told her how proud I was of her and how honored I was to run with her. She smiled and said the honor was hers to run with me. She said she couldn’t believe that I would run at her pace and run the entire race with her. I told her I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was truly a joy for me to run with her and see her progress on her personal journey.

After we finished the 10k, we waited for the others to come down the approach to the finisher’s chute. We cheered so loud you would think people could hear us for a mile. It was so great to see all of them finish the race and feel that sense of accomplishment for their hard work and dedication during their training.
One of the many nice things about the Flying Pig is that everyone gets a finishers medal. So, all the women not only had a sense of accomplishment, but they had a medal to remind them of how far they have come in their recovery and running journey.

When I got home that afternoon, I was hanging my medals up on a medal hanger I have in my hallway. I looked at the Big Sur medal and the Flying Pig 5k and 10k medals and felt this rush of joy wash over me like a warm spring rain. That joy came from the realization that sometimes it’s not how fast you finish the race that matters. What matters is the journey and taking your time to really enjoy the experience. I think racing for the pure joy of it will be my new racing goal.

You really are what you eat.

17 Apr

One of the things I stress with my clients is the importance of keeping a food and exercise log.  There are several reasons for this.  First, statistics show that people who keep a food and exercise diary are much more successful in achieving their weight loss and health goals than those who don’t.  Second, it can be fun to see your progress and the best way to measure that is by keeping a log. Last, it’s a great tool for me, as a trainer, to be able to give clients input on things they can do to improve their diet, exercise performance, etc.

To help my clients with this process, I have them use a tracking program.  One of the components of this program is that it emails me their log each week.  This way, I can see exactly what they ate, what exercise they did and monitor their progress and make suggestions.

One of my clients started running in the last year or so.  He has been running 5k races and doing very well, but now he wants to move up to longer distances.  When he hired me, we talked about his training goals.  He had two: increase endurance and lose the last 10 pounds he hasn’t been able to drop since he started running.

As someone who has been an endurance athlete for more than five years, I told my client that his nutrition would be the key driver in meeting his goals.  It’s the old saying, garbage in, garbage out.  We talked about how and what he ate and how he could improve his nutrition with some simple changes.  Keep in mind he’s married with kids, so I suggested he might want to consider eating different things than his wife and kids.

I get his report the first week with him using the tracking program.  He is following the training program I designed for him exactly.  I’m very pleased.  Then I take a look at his food log.  I see what he ate, the amount of saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium.  It’s way too high, especially for achieving his two goals.  His fiber is also lower than it should be.  I email him that I’m really pleased and proud of how well he’s following the exercise component of the training plan, but I had some suggestions regarding his nutrition.  I explained the areas he needed to reduce and why and that he also needed to increase his fiber intake.  One of the areas I explained he could fix easily was breakfast.  He was eating a frosted cereal with vanilla almond milk.  I recommended he eat a whole grain cereal, such as oatmeal or shredded wheat with skim milk and some egg whites.  I told him I eat a bowl of plain oatmeal and 5-6 egg whites every morning for breakfast because it’s a lean breakfast that gives me healthy fuel to start my day.

A few minutes after I hit the send button, I get a call from him.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Client: “While you’re my trainer, I also consider you my friend.  So, I’m going to tell you this and hope you take it in the context in which it’s meant, which is a complement and a bit of constructive criticism. You’re a food freak!”

Me: “So what’s your point,” I say laughing.  I then go on to tell him that I will give him the same response I give my public relations clients and that is that you pay me to give you the best possible advice.  However, it’s entirely up to you whether you take it or not.

My client laughs too, but goes on to say he is really not interested in being as diligent with his nutrition as I am.  I tell him that I understand that his nutrition is up to him.  But I’m still going to continue to give him the best advice possible regarding his diet and exercise.  What he does with that advice is his decision.

The next week, I see his diary…it’s about the same; however I see some small changes that I’m pleased with.  This time my email is a bit gentler in light of our conversation the previous week. Again, I tell him how happy I am with his training workouts and that my comments about his nutrition haven’t changed much from the prior week.  I encouraged him to continue to make small, positive changes such as the ones we talked about and ones his log shows he made since we spoke the previous week.  I closed by saying the most important thing is for him to be cognizant of the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium he’s consuming and realize those choices have an impact on his goals.

Moments after I hit send, the phone rings.  It’s my client.  But this time, he’s telling me he’s really looking at the packages more, realizing that this one product he really likes and thought was a good choice, really isn’t because while it’s marketed as a low calorie ice cream dessert, it has a significant amount of fat in it and almost of all that fat is saturated fat!  While he cannot see my face, I’m fairly sure he can hear that I’m smiling by the tone of my voice. I tell him that being aware of what you’re eating is half the battle.  Making better choices is the other half.

In the months following these conversations, his awareness about what he eats and the food choices he’s making continue to improve.  He’s on his way to a successful journey into better nutrition and achieving his goals.  And I’m proud and honored to be with him on this journey.

Change is a choice when it comes to your health.

9 Apr

Here are actual stories of people I know.

Last year, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. There is no history of cancer in her family. So, once we got over the shock, we all went into information gathering mode. We gave her books, names of the best doctors and a list of a variety of other resources.

One of her coworkers, who is a breast cancer survivor, gave her a book that is considered to be one of the best and most complete on the subject. My friend read the book cover to cover and called me to say, “I need to make some serious changes, and I need your help.”

One of the key things the book talked about was the importance of healthy eating and drinking habits. It talked about research that says certain bad eating and drinking habits may increase your chances of getting cancer and that a healthy diet may help prevent certain types of cancer and help prevent it from coming back once you’ve had it. So we set out together to change her nutrition for the better.

On her own, she immediately said, I have had my last soda and alcoholic beverage of any kind. She was not a heavy drinker to begin with, but she was committed to give that up. She has stuck to her commitment, and I know she will continue to do so. She also committed to being more diligent about drinking more water each day. So, she had the beverage battle under control.

Now it was time for us to work on the nutrition battle. She is an executive with a large company. She works long hours. Her husband owns a business and works long hours too. They often go out to eat because they’re tired when they get home and she doesn’t feel like cooking.

To be successful, I knew it would come down to choices. So, we talked about what types of things she should order when they go out to dinner, how to order them, etc. We also talked about what types of foods she traditionally cooks, which ones are healthy choices and which ones are not. We talked about the types of foods she keeps on hand and how to upgrade those foods to healthier options such as brown rice instead of white rice, wheat pasta instead of regular pasta, having more fresh fruits and vegetables and buying leaner proteins. She did all these things.

Next, her doctor told her due to the type of cancer she had, she would need to exercise every day for the rest of her life. She dusted off the treadmill they’d had for years and began using it every day.

The outcome is that she has lost 51 pounds in about nine months and plans to lose about 25 more pounds in the months to come. She looks great. She feels great. And the reason for that is she made the choice to live a healthy life in order to save her life. I’m so proud of her. But I have to say, I’m not surprised. When she puts her mind to something, she achieves it and this lifestyle change is no different.

On the other hand, I know someone whose husband just had his fourth heart attack and fourth surgical procedure. His doctors have been saying for years that he needs to drop a significant amount of weight because he is morbidly obese. The doctors have told him he needs to improve his diet and get some exercise. He hasn’t heeded the warnings from his doctors or the heart attacks.

Then there are some acquaintances that have Type 2 diabetes. One is a couple the other is a widow. The doctor told the couple they needed to improve their diet and get some exercise. They weren’t interested in that. Today, they’re on insulin. The widow joined Weight Watchers but wasn’t really sticking to the program. Because of that, she wasn’t losing much weight. So, she decided to have surgery to try to help her eat less. There was a complication with the procedure and she was miserable for several weeks. Her weight loss since the surgery has been about a pound a week…safe weight loss, but not any different than what she could have done if she was willing to modify her diet and improve her exercise. She is also still insulin dependent, even after the surgery.

Studies show that making healthy lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and getting more exercise can reduce or prevent heart disease and can prevent or reverse Type 2 diabetes.

I’m always stunned by people like this. I cannot understand why they won’t make simple, safe, inexpensive changes to improve their health, increase their longevity and take steps to insure they’re around for the ones they love for many years to come.

What it comes down to is choice and willingness to change. Nobody can make the choice for you and nobody can force you to change. You have to choose to change your life and improve your health. If and when you’re ready to do that, I’m here to help you.