What Makes a Run Good (or Bad)?

Yesterday I had one of those mornings where I just did not want to run. I got up, snoozed the alarm, let the dog jump into bed with me, then let him drag me all over the neighborhood while I procrastinated. I did eventually get in my 9-miler, and the first 3 miles were just me being whiney, tortured, etc. Then it turned into a good run and I finished strong. I wondered afterward why some runs are “good” runs and some are “bad” runs, and why some runs turn around in the middle. Here’s some of what makes a run work (or not) for me.

1. Rest

Last week was a weird week for me. I felt bored with running and tried to switch up days/distances, had an incident on Wednesday where a driver almost hit me and it cut my run short, and then I did Friday’s run in the evening and faster than I should have, which left me not well rested for my weekend run. I could feel the soreness in my knees and thighs on Sunday when I got up, and I felt it through the first part of my run until I hit my stride.

2. Stress

Stress can be a reason to run, when you need to pound the pavement, gain confidence, or get an endorphin burst, but as Meghan Rabbit over at Runner’s World warns, it can also make us too tense or make us run too hard. This goes hand-in-hand with item 1, but I’ve definitely been channeling some other frustrations into my running which results in doing too much and making me tired.

3. Fueling

I do pretty well with nutrition and with fueling along the way, but cramming down a greasy veggie and bean burrito at 9PM the night before waking up to do a long run may not have done me any favors.

4. Goals (and getting them met)

Getting my pace faster but keeping it controlled has got to be a goal for me. This is a tough balancing act on long runs. I’ve managed to keep the overall pace under 10:00/mi on my long runs since the Arizona Half Marathon, and that was the goal that kept me going necessary. But sometimes I race a bit unnecessarily. For instance, charging up a hill at 9:30/pace yesterday after I’d already run 8.8 miles was not smart, and my knee is not happy about it today. Speed and hills and distance do not need to happen all at the same time–no matter how awesome I feel in the moment. I’m hoping that a swim and limiting time on my feet today will have me back up and running tomorrow!


Race Recovery and Future Goals

Well, I’ve been recovering from the Arizona Half Marathon and I feel OK, though still a bit depleted. Earlier this week I also had a meeting with my dissertation committee and a big activity with my students, so it’s been a lot of living spread out over just a few days. I can, however, reflect on what worked well in my training for the race and what I’d like to do better in the future.


(If you’re interested, compare this with my race pics from February!)

  • Of my three half marathons, this was the first time that I did multiple 10+ mile runs. Many beginner half marathon plans recommend a single, 10-mile run as the longest run pre-race. Building to 12.1 this time really helped me prepare both physically and psychologically. It helped me prepare a good strategy for pacing, when to refuel with Gu and water, and just to get used to the impact of 2+ hours of running.
  • Before this race, I was also running four times a week which I’d never done before. My fourth (Friday) run was never more than 3 miles, but I think it really helped me get used to running on tired legs.
  • I’ve said it before, but swimming is great cross training. Swimming helped me think about form and posture.
  • What I wasn’t prepared for on this race were the hills. I thought the hills in my neighborhood and on the river path where I run would get me ready. I did meet my goal for this race, so I guess I can’t complain too much, but it’s obvious that I have no idea what a 100-foot hill looks like or how to climb one!

I don’t have much planned for the future as far as racing. I may or may not do the Dirty Six Mud Run in Phoenix later this month, depending on whether my co-workers manage to recruit enough people for a team. Next month, I am definitely doing the Girls on the Run 5K (an untimed fun run for the Girls on the Run program). I am not registered for any “serious” races until the Tinkerbell Half Marathon in California in January… but we’ll see. This is really when racing season ramps up in Southern Arizona, so I may be tempted to do something else. Or I may just do some fun hikes and take great pictures to share with you all. You’re welcome, people of the Internet!

The Joy of Swimming

I’ve been a bit lax in posting about my progress in swimming, but I did finally finish the learn to swim 500 yards program from About.com that I started a couple of months ago. Monsoon rains and pool closures gave me some delays in finishing this program, and since the semester started I’ve only been able to get in 2 swim workouts per week instead of 3 due to time constraints and the high mileage I’m doing. However, if you are a swimming skeptic as I was before I started, here are some reasons to try swimming as a cross-training exercise:

  1. It’s easy and cheap to get started. A basic one-piece swimsuit can be purchased for $40 or less, and I paid around $10 total for swim goggles and a swim cap. That’s it. Assuming you already have access to a pool, there really isn’t much you need in the way of gear.
  2. It strengthens and tones with little to no impact. Now that I’m running 20+ miles a week, this is something I really appreciate. After an 11 miler like I ran this Sunday, there’s no way I’d be able to do another 30-minute run the following day, but being in the pool is somehow soothing. I wouldn’t say I feel like I’ve gotten tremendous weight loss benefits from swimming, but it definitely works for toning. My arms, abs, and chest muscles are more defined than when I started, and that’s not something that came from running or light yoga alone. Swimming involves extension, constant movement, and attention to form. When done properly, it really pays off.
  3. This is not the pool I swim in. But we do have palm trees and lounge chairs, plus a DJ on Friday afternoons. Be jealous.

    It’s fun. I guess I’m spoiled by living in a nice climate and having an outdoor pool, but I love that swimming allows me to be outside exercising even when it’s close to 100 degrees. Night swims are also fun, with cooler air, warm water, and the eerie pool lighting underneath you.

  4. Attention to form and breathing translate well to running. I do think more about form when running than I did before I started swimming. I don’t slouch as much, I engage my core, and I check myself occasionally when I find my form slacking. This may be why I’m finishing strong even on some of the longer runs I’ve been doing.
  5. Swimmers are hot. Really, what can I say? These swimming guys are easy on the eyes.

Overall, I plan to keep swimming on my off-days from running. I probably won’t try to build too much distance between now and my half-marathon on October 6, but yesterday’s 500 yards actually felt easy, so who knows? Whenever I do feel like pushing myself, About.com also has a more advanced program that I might try.

Olympic Wrap-Up: Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the many things I enjoyed about the London 2012 games. This post reflects on some ways that organizers and broadcasters could make Rio 2016 even better. Here are some semi-random thoughts from a semi-anonymous Internet blogger. 🙂

Advice for the IOC and Rio 2016 Organizers

I have every confidence that Rio 2016 will be unforgettable. How could it not be, set in one of the world’s most beautiful places? I really hope Rio uses the games as an opportunity to show off its natural beauty and diverse culture. I also hope the games bring a financial boost that can help the country address the very real issues of crime and poverty that it faces. I know many of the 2016 venues are probably under construction already (especially with the World Cup coming up in 2014), but Rio could take a page from London’s book by using the games to highlight and revitalize many of the neighborhoods of Rio that tourists don’t often see. The city is really, really big—so show it off as much as possible!

In a more controversial suggestion, I’d love to see more co-ed events in the Olympics. 2012 was such a big year for women in the games, why not take it one step further? As a runner, I like women’s races… but I also sometimes like racing with men. Why stage two marathons when you could stage one? The same goes for triathlons. I’m hard pressed to see the downside of men and women racing together. There may be cultural issues here, sure, but the IOC already kind of forces countries to allow women to compete alongside men… it’s a short step to putting them in the same events. Some of the games, like equestrian competitions, already have co-ed teams, and separating the genders in some sports just seems archaic. Sure, it’s also more bodies on the field of play at once… but we all know that marathons and triathlons can be staged with thousands of participants. The marginal cost would be small, and the result would be a lot more excitement and the ability to more easily broadcast distance events. (See also my note below on the coverage of distance events, generally.)

My favorite pic from Brazil

Advice for NBC: Fixing an #nbcfail

In the U.S., NBC also really needs work on its coverage. I know that in broadcasting the games, it’s impossible to please everyone… but NBC does need to listen to criticism in a few areas. In Rio, there’s no reason not to show the opening ceremonies live. Given how long the broadcast is, even folks on the West Coast can tune in and catch part of it if they’re just getting home. If not, then just air it live in the East and repeat it for those in other time zones. It was baffling to me here out West that marquee events like the triathlons and the marathons were covered live at 3 or 4AM local time and then weren’t replayed during the afternoon/evening. Also, good luck if you wanted to see the open water swim marathon, which was barely promoted and buried in a weird time slot. What’s with the disdain for distance events?

It also incensed me that NBC continually touted “live online coverage of every event” when it wasn’t really available to everyone. If you had a premium cable package with a major provider, you were golden. But those of us who rely on broadcast TV couldn’t get live coverage—even of events that were being shown over the air! That wasn’t a classy move; it was false advertising. NBC should make at least some events free and live for everyone. They should also think about showing a more diverse selection of events over the air. Archery was very highly rated on cable, but I never saw it on broadcast. By contrast, volleyball and water polo were on almost every freaking day, and NBC seemed to have an aggressive marketing campaign for water polo that was totally baffling. I don’t care how many times you tell me that water polo is “just like ice hockey”; it isn’t ice hockey. That’s why we have Winter Olympics.

Yep, still not an ice rink.

NBC should also dial down the “filler.” Showing lengthy documentaries on the host country and past Olympic teams is not in and of itself a bad thing, but when you air this programming unannounced in the time slot reserved for Olympic coverage, viewers again feel cheated. Consider moving more of this filler to online content or air it in the weeks leading up to the game. As much as I love Oscar Pistorius, it was interesting to me that NBC aired Mary Carillo’s in-depth story on him once before the games on Rock Center, and then aired the same piece at least two more times during the games. I just found it odd that I saw that three times… and yet would have had to wake up at 3AM for the marathon coverage. Hmm.

With that being said, I’m sorry to see the Summer Olympics end for another four years. I hope some of you enjoyed them as much as I did!

Olympic Wrap-Up: Part 1

London 2012: Best Olympics Ever?

I’m totally sad to have reached the final day of the London Olympics. These games have been really inspiring and memorable in some unprecedented ways. To honor the efforts of the athletes, volunteers, employees, and all those who made London 2012 special, here’s a recap of some of my favorite moments.

Jamaican Sprinting Dominance

Usain Bolt is definitely one confident guy, but at this point he’s earned it. Bolt recaptured the 100m and 200m sprinting medals and a gold in the amazing 4×100 relay Saturday night—unprecedented feats that will ensure him not only of the title “fastest man alive,” but it makes him perhaps the fastest man ever. Seeing Bolt and his teammates last night, I felt lucky to be watching his amazing career. But was really makes Bolt special is that he looks like he’s having fun doing it. I’m sure his antics rub some people the wrong way and make him look like he’s full of himself, but in an interview after his 100m victory, Bolt said he would not call himself “the greatest” until he had captured victory in his other races. He did, and so when he called himself a legend last night it sure seemed like he earned it.

Athletes Who Inspired

I’ve already blogged about the historic entries of Oscar Pistorius (here and here) and of the first female athletes from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. These were amazing feats, but they weren’t the only historic inclusions of these games. Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was humiliatingly subjected to gender testing as a teen, made her Olympic debut and took silver in the women’s 800m. It was great to see that her much-commented-upon experience a few years ago did not keep her from competition. Semenya was also flag bearer for South Africa in the opening ceremonies, a very meaningful gesture coming from one’s country and fellow athletes.

 New Names in the Medal Race

In addition to the great stories of first-time athletes, several countries tasted victory for the first time in these games; congratulations to the athletes from Cyprus, Guatemala, Gabon, Montenegro, Botswana, and Granada, all of whom took home their countries’ first Olympic medals ever. Athletes from Uganda and the Bahamas should also be congratulated for winning their countries’ first medals in years. It’s sometimes nice to be reminded how much one medal can mean to a whole country.

Did they just happen to have a Ugandan flag at the finish, or did they have to order one special? I’m curious.

Discovering New Sports

Part of why the Olympics are great is that they offer the chance to see sporting events that often go unheralded. If you’re so inclined, you can learn a lot about sports that are historic or that are loved by people in other parts of the world. Today’s rhythmic gymnastics finals were amazing, with jaw-dropping performances by medalists Russia, Italy, and Belarus that made me want to get up and dance. (The Belarus routine, featuring music by Rodrigo y Gabriela, was especially awesome.) In spite of my riffing on synchronized swimming, I also really got into that. I was sorry not to see Spain win gold after a very sparkly and athletic performance. Now that I’m swimming regularly, I’m far more impressed than I used to be by this kind of thing. How do they swim upside-down??? How???

Discovering Sportsmanship

The Olympics are about bringing the world together, and these games featured some genuinely touching moments. Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, after experiencing injury on the track, made a heroic effort to finish and was then carried from the track by his competitors from Hungary, Great Britain, and Spain in a tremendous show of respect. Kirani James and Oscar Pistorius exchanged bibs on the track after running a heat together in another memorable moment. And the show of affection after the men’s 10K between Britain’s Mo Farah and U.S. runner Galen Rupp—friends who train together and who just happen to wear different uniforms on the track—was really what the Olympics should be all about.

In my next post, I’ll include some thoughts looking forward to Rio 2016. I visited Rio three years ago and I’m really hoping to go back and attend the Olympics there in person—fulfilling a dream of mine. Then again, if it doesn’t work out, I hear rumors a bid may be in the works between Buffalo and Toronto, not far from my home town. All I can say about that is: YES YES YES! I’ll save the date!

Swim, Run, Eat, Repeat

This is the point in the summer at which one might ask, “where did the summer go?” Except I know perfectly well that I’ve done a lot of stuff these past couple of months! Here’s what I’m up to this week:

Swim: Though I haven’t said much about it lately, I’m continuing with the learn to swim 500 yards program that I started a few weeks ago. Honestly, it’s hard to fit in three swim workouts a week when I’m also trying to run four days a week and doing yoga a couple times a week. If you do the math on that, you can tell that I’m doubling up some days, which gets tiring. I did reach the halfway point in the program yesterday, though. Swimming 300 yards at night was rough, but also cool. And when I realized I swam the length of three football fields, it occurred to me that either: a) I am a badass or b) football is way too easy and should be played underwater. Maybe if they did, some of those guys wouldn’t be so pudgy. Just saying.

Run: I’m trying to cut back a bit on the running this week. I’m still going to try for 14 or 15 miles, but not pushing myself as much on the speed… or on waking up at 5:00AM. Temps have gotten hot again here in Tucson, and the postal service “accidentally” returned my new Garmin to sender after trying to deliver it to the wrong house (don’t get me started on USPS today, please), so maybe the universe is telling me to back off a bit.

Eat: Summer has been a time for trying to up my game in the kitchen. Since I haven’t been eating out as much, I’ve realized that my repertoire of vegetarian recipes is a bit limited. My latest new recipe attempt is this Ethiopian Chickpea Wat recipe that I made last night. I spent about $20 just on the spices to round this recipe out, but it was quite delicious and filling. Cardamom really adds the Ethiopian flavor, and nobody doesn’t like potatoes. This would be even more delicious on a winter’s day, but it helped me fuel up for a workout last night, too.

July Miles in Review

Yesterday I completed a monthly mileage high for the year. I ran an impressive (for summertime, anyway) 64.5 miles, including 6.3 miles on Sunday. I’m not sure how I only just realized that was my longest run of the year… but I guess it’s great to finally break that 10K mark! This week will certainly be my highest mileage week of the year, and then I’m planning to cut back next week. I feel good and strong, but I don’t want to overdo it. Let’s just say that having a swim workout today felt good, too.