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Month: December 2015

Training Pace for a Marathon – Slow Down to Speed Up?

I remember the day my neighbor showed me how to properly pit an avocado. I was so glad to find out there was a better, smarter method that rendered much better results than my clumsy approach. I was equally grateful when my Greek friend taught me the best way to seed a pomegranate. Again –more efficient, less messy, much better results.

Now I’m hoping to have similar results with my running. I’ve heard there’s a better, smarter way to train for a marathon than the slipshod training I’ve done in the past, and I’m hoping for more efficiency, less mess (i.e. injury) and much better results.

I recently decided to return to marathon running after a four-year hiatus, and with the help of Fleet Feet’s marathon training program, I plan to run the Go St. Louis Marathon this spring.

That’s where the “I’ve been doing this all wrong” thing comes into play.

Turns out that burn I love while I’m running? Well, that’s probably me doing my distance runs above my anaerobic threshold. And while runners tend to be Type-A, push yourself, pedal to the metal kind of folks, training in that heart rate zone is counterproductive, according to Brandi Barbre, Fleet Feet’s training director.

Based on the results of my VO2 Max test, she wants me to Slow. Way. Down. At least on my long, slow, distance runs. (Not that I was ever fast).

She wants me training in the aerobic zone, or Zone 2. In this heart rate zone, your body uses fat as its energy source, and that’s a good thing, because almost all of us have plenty of stored body fat to sustain us for a long run.

Alternately, when we train in the anaerobic zone, our body has to burn carbohydrates as its energy source, and our bodies cannot store or consume enough carbs to get us through a marathon. Thus, the wall or the bonk, the muscle cramps. Perhaps this explains why I got slower with each of my marathons rather than faster?

Brandi tells me that I’ll enjoy a couple of training adaptations if I keep my heart rate below my anaerobic threshold for my long runs. The first is what I mentioned above – I’ll be burning fat as my energy source, and that’s a good thing. I’m not doing this marathon to lose weight (I’m kind of done with that, as I mentioned here). But she’s seen several runners lose weight when they slowed down their training pace. Truth be told, it will not break my heart to see a reduction in my body fat.

Second, I’ll increase my capillary size, which means more blood flow, which means more oxygen to my working muscles, which means I can run longer. That’s a good thing in marathon training.

Interestingly, Brandi tells me that I might even improve upon my marathon personal record by slowing down my training. And she says the pace I train at will be a lot slower than my race day pace if I do my due diligence during my track/speed workouts each week during the training program. She says trained at an 11-mintue pace one season because she was leading that pace group, but then completed the actual marathon in 3:30, which would be a 8-minute pace.

My best marathon time is 4:30 – I said I wasn’t fast. That means I averaged a 10:30 pace. I suspect I’m going to be put in training group that will be even slower than that, at least to start out. I’ll find out what my pace group is at Fleet Feet’s kickoff meeting this Saturday. This is going to take some getting used to and I have to get out of my own way.

It’s counter-intuitive, but I’m ready to try.

I’m also prepared to be diligent about stretching, foam rolling and cross training. I’m still in the process of deciding what my cross training is going to look like, but I’m considering a CrossFit program and some yoga.

I’m ready to get started. I’ve got some good audio books downloaded to my iPhone, because I love getting lost in a good story while I run. Bring on 2016!

If you have a New Year’s Resolution or Smart Goal to train for a running event  or race in 2016, there’s still time to sign up for one of Fleet Feet’s programs. Go here to learn more.

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Heaven Meets Earth – Miracle of Christmas

The bar was a little smoky and there were some booths made of dark wood with high backs, offering privacy from the other people who had come to play pool, flirt, drink or talk.

It was August in South Carolina. The air conditioning was in a hopeless battle with the Clemson students who were flowing in and out, unworried about how much their slow, social ingresses and egresses were affecting the temperature in the joint. The constant invasion of the warm air from the outside upon the cold air inside made for a kind of unnatural humidity that often defined a public establishment’s atmosphere during the summer. It was one of the things I had grown to dislike in the two months I’d been living in South Carolina because my hair remained in a constant state of curl/frizz even when I was indoors.

I think I’d picked up a pool cue twice in my entire 24 years. “I’ve never played pool for real,” I said when he suggested this location for what would be our fifth date. “I have no idea how to even hold the stick. All I know is it’s bad when the white ball goes into the holes.”

“They’re called pockets,” he said, a smile in his voice. “I’ll teach you. You have to learn if you’re going to live down here. It’s one of the few things to do on a Saturday night.”

So we went to the bar and we waited in a booth for our turn at a billiard table. When one became available, he showed me how to hold the cue. Then he leaned over beside me to help adjust my stance, telling me to gaze down stick. One arm over my shoulders, his other arm adjusting the pool cue, his face was next to mine. When I looked at him, the man who would become my husband kissed me for the first time.

An unforeseen kiss. The most memorable one of my life.

I heard this song by the David Crowder Band in church last week and immediately thought of that first, unforeseen kiss from my husband. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the song, but this time, in the context of preparing for Christmas, it stayed with me, reaching my heart.

It’s a description of the miracle of Christmas that I can wrap my brain around because I’ve personally experienced an unforeseen kiss. By sending Jesus into our world as a man, God gave us a commonality of experience. He’s not just the divine. He lived as a man, and we can relate.

The song has been in my head all week, conjuring up other moments in my life when heaven and earth have collided for me – sometimes in big ways, sometimes small ones. The birth of my children, a moment of peace while walking on the beach, a beautiful sunrise, a family dinner filled with conversation and laughter, my Baptism, the Baptism of my husband, coffee with my best friend . . . so many of life’s moments are filled with a collision of the holy and the ordinary.

So that’s how I’m approaching Christmas this year and how I plan to ring in 2016 – in search of the daily collisions of the holy and the ordinary, because that’s where the blessings are and where He is.

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Marathon Training — Trust the Process

My family is harassing me – in a loving way, of course — because I announced my plans to run another marathon this spring.

Their reactions?

“But you said . . . . “ and “I specifically remember you stating . . . “ and “What about your hip?” and . . . “Are you crazy?”

I swore off this 26.2-mile event in October 2011 as I crossed the finish line of my third marathon. I was running Chicago, hoping to get a personal record, hoping to maybe even hit that 4-hour marathon goal. Instead, I added time, going 4:38:35. And I was miserable for the entire second half of that race. I said a lot of things, and one of them was “I am never doing this again.”

I kept my promise and haven’t done a full marathon since that time. But I love running, and I’ve done shorter distances – a half, a few 5k’s. I even took 3rd place in my age group in a Make Tracks for the Zoo 5k in 2012. Mostly, though, I’ve gotten slower and my running distance has decreased. Those are hard words for a proud runner to type.

Lately, I have begun to feel the marathon bug again — that itch to go further; do more; challenge myself again. I’m growing bored with my current exercise routine.

When I run errands on a Saturday morning and see someone running, I fondly remember my marathon training days.

marathon trainingI remember the feeling I get in my chest when I’m breathing hard but steady for a long period of time. I remember how much I like the feelings that follow a long run – mentally, a sense of accomplishment and overall well-being; physically, a general heightening of the senses, expanded lungs, strong heart, fatigued muscles that have enabled your body to thoroughly expend all its energy. The mental and physical combine to create a buzz.

I don’t miss the pain, however – the limp when I get up in the morning; the pain in my hip while I drive; the ache that radiates from my glute, down my hamstring and sometimes around to the front of my knee.

I was having doubts about whether I could do it.

Then I happened across Fleet Feet’s training program.

I’ve never had a professional running coach. I ran my first marathon with a charity and trained myself for my second and third. I’ve run most of my life, but never with a coach.

Professional Marathon Coaching

Fleet Feet has professional coaches. And scientific V02 Max assessment “takes the guesswork out of training by analyzing an athlete’s oxygen consumption while they run . . . The collected data defines their heart rate training zones so they can maximize their training efficiency and minimize their risk of overtraining.”

And they have a functional movement test that identifies tightness and weaknesses.

And a training program that includes individualized training, twice-weekly runs with pace groups and speed work, a professional head coach, mentors, classes, support.

So I’m doing it. But this time, I’m going to do it with support. I am over-the-moon excited because I’ve got a program! Being a goal-oriented, project-focused individual, having a program is perfect for me. And having a program backed up with science is even better.

Brandi Barbre, Fleet Feet’s training director, conducted my V02 Max test and went over my results with me. She’s designing a plan that will include a recommendation for the pace group I should start in for my marathon training, which begins in January. She identified my anaerobic threshold and is going to have me train under that threshold. More on that later. It’s all very “science-y.”

Tim Cary, Fleet Feet’s head coach, did my functional movement assessment. Then, he showed me some individualized exercises and foam rolling techniques to improve my movement, reduce my tightness and improve my running. My favorite line from him: “The best foam roller is the one you’ll use.’’

One of the biggest “ah ha” moments of my work with Tim was this: my quads, rather than my hamstrings, are tight. I’ve been stretching my hamstrings for a couple of years now, trying to reduce the pain I feel in them when I run. Tim showed me that my tight quads are pulling my hips forward, putting an arch in my lower back and keeping my hamstrings in constant state of extension. I didn’t really believe him until he had me use the foam roller on my quads – yowza. That lit me up. They are tight, indeed!

Trust the Process

Now the hard part – I have to trust the process. Isn’t that always the hard part!!? Whether it’s a move toward healthier eating like the Whole30, or embarking on a journey to write a novel, or re-learning how to run, it’s hard to let go of what you’ve always done and trust something else.

Brandi wants me to do a couple of “field tests” where I stay within a heart rate zone that is below my anaerobic threshold, and then report back to her what my pace on one of the runs and my distance on another. Staying in this heart rate zone means I have to run really slow. REALLY. SLOW.

I’m not fast, but I’m proud. I’m going to have to ask my ego to get out of the way here and trust that Brandi knows what she’s doing. She explained it all to me and like I said, it’s very “science-y.” When I’m comfortable that I completely understand it myself, I’ll write about it in more detail.

For now, I am going to do what she says. And I’m going to train with the pace group that she recommends. And I’m going to try to find my foam roller, because I think the best foam roller is the one that you pull out of storage and use.

I’m super excited about this training program. If you are looking to start running, return to running or improve your running, Fleet Feet offers a bunch of training programs including:

  • Marathon
  • Half-marathon
  • 5k
  • Boston
  • Trail running
  • Speed School
  • Youth Running

They also offer lots of free running opportunities. You can find out more about those here.

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Meeting Them Where They Are – Grief, Comfort

I wake in the cold hotel room and hear the room’s archaic air conditioner humming and thumping, having been left on because of an unexpected warm spell in December. I peek at my watch and am grateful that it reads 2 a.m. – three and half more hours to sleep. I enjoy being one of those fortunate souls who can fall back asleep within seconds of deciding to do so, but I intentionally delay my slumber on this night.

My baby’s knees are planted firmly in my back.  Again. She is a force to be reckoned with when sharing a bed, no matter how big the mattress. She’s like water, filling whatever space she occupies.

I plan to move her over a little, but not before I roll over and take in her breath, touch her face, hold her hand. From head to toe, my baby now stretches 48 inches. She’s eight and growing so fast. Wasn’t she just kicking me in the back from inside my body? I know I’ll blink and she’ll be 16, then 20 – just like her sister who is sleeping in the other bed a few feet from us.

All too soon, this small body next to me will grow into the body of an adult. And her dreams, wants and needs will become more complex. Earlier in the day, I purchased an inexpensive, sparkly necklace at a Christmas craft fair and she was delighted for hours. In no time, a piece of cheap jewelry will simply be a piece of cheap jewelry to her rather than a treasured souvenir that brings her hours of joy and makes her feel beautiful and grownup.

Likewise, in the not-so-distant future, I will be unable to soothe her pain with an offer to play Candyland, or ease her fears by holding her hand or letting her sleep with me.  Gazing at the sleeping silhouette of my oldest “baby,” I am reminded of this reality.

A few weeks previously, my oldest daughter experienced profound grief and loss for the first time. Her boyfriend lost his mother unexpectedly – a 51-year-old woman with no known risk factors or health issues died of a heart attack.

Her boyfriend is an only child who was blessed with an enviable relationship with his mom. He is the type of man who loves deeply, with his whole heart, and that is how he loved his mom and how she loved him. That love meant they were incredibly blessed. But it also means that his loss is staggering, like a powerful wave that rolls in and pounds you from above while its undertow prepares to snatch the sand from beneath you, knocking you off your feet. Again. And again.

My daughter is suffering that loss, as well, because she also loved his mom, and she loves him. She’s confused and struggling to say the right things, do the right things, be the person he needs her to be. She’s trying to accept that she can’t fix anything, can’t heal the wound. That simple acceptance will be helpful to him.

That’s where he is.

I explained to her that she is grieving for the happy soul that he was before this tragedy. And she is grieving for the moments of joy they will experience together through the holidays and possibly throughout life that will carry a shadow. Sometimes that shadow will be large and overwhelming, especially in these first few months of grief. Other times, that shadow will simply be a brief dimming of the joy, a lessening of the bright colors, as her boyfriend feels the absence of his mom in a moment when she should be present.

I don’t know if my words helped. Unfortunately, a board game or a sparkly necklace won’t provide even a moment reprieve from her sadness. I not even sure my words did anything but confirm for her that she is, indeed, facing many more months of grief.

That’s where she is.


As I watch my 8-year-old sleeping, I am grateful and at peace. She had asked to sleep,  claiming to be frightened by a scary picture I showed her earlier in the day of a movie character. My older daughter suggested that her baby sister was just “playing” me, using that as an excuse to get to sleep beside me.

I didn’t care either way. If it’s a special treat for her, it’s an even bigger honor for me. Life promises that some day, she’ll be crying big, soulful tears – over a social disappointment or a broken heart or a shattered dream or the loss of a loved one. She most likely won’t take comfort from me patting the mattress and letting her climb under the blankets with me.

Hopefully, though, these times when I’ve comforted her on the small things will create enough of a bond, enough trust, that she’ll let me pat her on the back, wrap my arms around her and share what little wisdom I have to offer, and all the love I have to offer – like her big sister is letting me do.

For now, though, my presence is enough for her. Blessedly, for a few more years, at least, that’s where she is. So, I’ll just breathe her in, hold her close for a few moments and then scoot her over so we can both get some rest.

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