Recovery Running – Why to Do It and How to Start

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a few people reach out regarding recovery runs. Some have asked what pace to do their own recovery runs at. Others have thanked me for posting these runs and not just focusing on the speed workout days. It got me thinking that we need to celebrate the recovery runs more as they are a big pillar of marathon training!

Recovery runs make up about 20% of my training volume (by mileage). I run 6 days a week with about 2 aerobic paced runs, 1 speed workout, 1 long run (sometimes with speedwork built in), and 2 recovery runs. I posted recently on Instagram that the “secret sauce” to running fast was running slow. I didn’t realize this until the last year when I truly took my recovery runs seriously and slowed things way down. My coach recommended I do these by my heart rate and try to keep it below 150 beats per minute (bpm). There isn’t a set “pace” for these runs but my pace typically falls between 9:00-10:30 pace which is over 60-90 seconds slower than my current marathon pace. It’s a big range but doing things based off of HR makes me be conscious of how much recovery my body actually needs. One day this summer when I was in peak fitness, one of my recovery runs was closer to 11 min pace because my HR was so elevated from the heat and humidity.

Giving into what my body wants and running slower on recovery days has made me a faster runner. Here are the benefits I have noticed by slowing down:

  1. I am generally able to hit my splits in my speed workouts and pace work in long runs. It doesn’t mean it isn’t still tough but my body is more recovered and able to show up to get the job done.
  2. As a result of successfully completing speed workouts, I’m able to translate my speed to races and accomplish the big goals I set for myself.
  3. It’s allowed me to run with friends that I normally don’t get to train with because we run different paces. Recovery running days are great days to go with different pace groups in your running club or with family/friends who don’t normally run with you.
  4. It’s relaxing. I do some of my best thinking on these runs because when I slow down my pace and am not worried about hitting certain times, I have time to think about things that are bothering me, plan my next big move, etc.
  5. It keeps injuries away. Until October of last year when I overdid things with 2 marathons in 3 weeks, I had not experienced an injury for 2018. Through a couple tough training blocks and big PR races, I still remained injury free and a lot of this can be attributed to slowing down and giving my body the recovery time it needs.

There is a lot out there on the internet about the power of recovery runs, but one of the most common questions I’ve been asked lately is, “how can I slow down my pace?” My answer to that is simple. You have to be disciplined and consciously make yourself slow down. It’s not natural to run slower than our everyday pace so we have to force ourselves to slow down. If you aren’t able to do it on the roads then take your recovery runs to the treadmill and let the machine set the pace for you (don’t allow yourself to speed up the pace either). It will take time – it took me a few weeks to get it down after my coach told me I was running these runs too fast, but if you keep practicing, it will become more normal for you just like anything else that you practice!

Still not convinced and need data to back it up? How about the fact that my half marathon in PR was a 1:41:44 in May 2016 and it wasn’t until March 2018 that I set a new PR. By August 2018 I lowered it to 1:35:02. 6 minutes and 42 seconds off (about 30 seconds per mile). Correlation? I didn’t slow down my recovery run paces until February 2018 thanks to the guidance of a running coach.

When I started my blog and my Instagram, one of my promises was to stay real throughout all of my postings. This means posting recovery runs and paces just like my speed workouts and races. While they aren’t as exciting to showcase, having a platform means other people are watching and I want to set a good example for new runners in this community who may not know about the benefits of taking recovery seriously. I also think it makes us more “human”.

One last piece I’ll leave you with – on the Morning Shakeout Podcast, Coach Ben Rosario of NAZ Elite was interviewed and said something that stuck with me about recovery. Talking about elite marathoners after they ran their goal races, he said that if not recovering and keeping going at a hard effort was the best thing for you to do, the elite marathoners would be doing that. Instead they take a couple months off of hard running before building back into another training cycle. If elites are taking the time to recover, we definitely should be! Even Eliud Kipchoge who ran a marathon in 2:01 runs his recovery runs slow (this article in Canadian Running states that he runs up to 9:40 pace/mile for his recovery runs. Note: a 2:01 marathon is about 4:37 pace/mile.) I challenge you to post your recovery runs on social media, too, and to be proud of them because #runslowtorunfast.

2019 Running Goals

A friend of mine recently made the following comment to me, “You made your goals so public this year and put it out there for the world to see. A lot of people crumble under that sort of pressure but it didn’t seem to affect you at all.”

I’ve always been the kind of person to write my goals down and share them with others. I don’t feel extra pressure to achieve those goals simply by telling others, but it does give me more accountability to follow through when others are aware of what I’m chasing. It also makes it all that more special when my goal race comes around and my friends and family are cheering for me knowing the goal and if successful are there to celebrate with me. The same can be said if I don’t meet my goal; they are there to pick me back up and help me with my confidence.

With that being said, I’ve laid out my current 2019 goals below. I’m still not fully decided on what I’ll be racing in the second half of 2019 so I expect to add to this list once I have more clarity!

Boston Marathon – 3:20 or better, negative-split. This goal is really exciting and special to me as last year I came in wanting to run a sub-1:40 half marathon and now I’ve set a goal to run 2 of those back to back. Pretty cool stuff.

Half Marathon – 1:32 or better; this happens to be the half marathon qualifying time for the NYC Marathon so YES, it was intentional!

Marathon Peak Mileage – Hoping to peak in the 70s for miles in the Boston training cycle if things are going well.

Year in Miles – 2019 miles in 2019; I was on track for this goal in 2018 until my injury in October and gave up the goal in order to heal. I’m hoping 2019 will be my year!

Fall Plans – 3:15 or better IF I run a Fall marathon; I signed up for a late Fall marathon to secure my place in the race but have also been having the itch to do a speed season (10Ks, half marathons) so I won’t be sharing which race that is publicly unless I fully commit to it. If I don’t run the Fall marathon, I’d like to target a sub-1:30 half marathon.

Strength Work – Do a pull-up. Seriously. I can’t do a pull-up anymore and it’s making me embarrassed!

Coaching – Have my LLC fully set up by the end of January and start taking on athletes soon after. Coaching has always been a passion of mine since I started running in high school and I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to work with other runners to achieve their own running goals.

2018 Running Year in Review

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I was thinking about my goals for 2019 and realized I hadn’t yet thought through everything that happened in 2018. In many ways, 2018 feels like it’s been the longest year ever. In other ways, it feels like it flew by. My biggest running goal for 2018 was to qualify for the Boston Marathon at the Berlin Marathon and it was what was driving me through all my running endeavors this year.

At the end of 2017, I was disappointed with how my running had gone throughout the year; I had tried different workouts and plans but things just weren’t clicking anymore. I was frustrated but more than anything I was determined to make a change in the new year so during January 2018, I hired Jessica of Sugar Runs as my running coach. My confidence as a runner started coming back when I was hitting paces in challenging workouts and my excitement for racing returned. In March, I exceeded my goal of breaking 1:40 in the half marathon by nearly 3 minutes running 1:37:09 at the Carmel Half Marathon. My previous best was 1:41:44 set in May 2016 and this was a big breakthrough for me and my racing.

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April brought 2 weeks of stressful work travel and I was only getting a few hours of sleep a night to be able to fit in workouts between long nights of work and early morning starts. It was a rough time and I was unsure that racing the Illinois Half Marathon at the end of April would go smoothly. Somehow, I found the extra gear and was able to shave another 30 seconds off my PR running 1:36:39. I was elated, but certainly ready for a break before Berlin Marathon training began. I wasn’t running much or very fast for the month of May but managed to pull off a 10K PR in 43:35 at the Chicago Spring 10K. I won $250 for being the 3rd female to cross the line, a pretty nice prize for a 10K, and my confidence continued to build.

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It was a very hot summer in Chicagoland and I struggled for a couple months trying to adapt. I felt like I was breathing through a straw many days and wasn’t sure if the training was paying off since I was running slower and often having to stop to catch my breath (I have exercise-induced asthma that was really kicking in during the heat and humidity). I ran some of the hardest marathon training workouts and long runs that I’ve ever done in my life, but things really appeared to be going well when I ran another half marathon PR at the beginning of August in humid/hot conditions in 1:35:02 (those 2 seconds still kill me!). It reassured me that changes were happening in my body and that my goals for the Berlin Marathon were within reach.

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In mid-August, we bought our first house, repainted nearly every wall in the house, and officially moved in at the end of August. It was right around this time that I was running my peak mileage for Berlin training and things got a bit rough when I tried to do everything. After my 3-hour simulation run, I headed straight to the house to peel wallpaper off the walls and ended up with a terrible migraine. I completely overdid it and by late evening was in bed throwing up into a garbage can clutched between my hands. It was a lesson in not trying to do everything at once as my body just shut down and took awhile to recuperate after this incident.

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In September, we jetted off to Germany for the big trip. We arrived on Friday afternoon with quite a bit of jet lag and went through the hectic expo. The race wasn’t any less hectic and was congested until about 14 or 15 miles (tiny European streets aren’t super conducive to major marathons, as I would learn, especially when start corrals weren’t enforced) but I was still able to pull off a 3:28:06, a 10+ minute PR and my first BQ. I don’t write this to be bratty or ungrateful but it was the most frustrating race I’ve ever run. I crossed the finish line and knew I had my BQ, but I was just so mentally and physically drained from the race that it took me awhile to internalize what had just happened. There was a moment around 7K where I was nearly in tears as I couldn’t find my husband where he said he would be and I was being bumped left and right because of the congestion and having to weave in and out of people who had started in a faster corral than where they were seeded. The little tiny plastic water cups didn’t help either for being able to get liquids down and we had to slow down through the water stops as there were slippery piles of plastic everywhere. I still firmly believe I had more in me than the 3:28 but I just didn’t have any energy left by the end of the race from all the weaving in and out of people for about 13 miles. After talking to my coach, I found out that Boston will be similar in terms of people always being around so Berlin helped prepare me for that, but at least the corrals in Boston are heavily enforced and down to the minute so I’ll be running with other athletes who have similar times to me.

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3 weeks after the Boston Marathon I ran the Chicago Marathon. I was supposed to run it just for fun, but after feeling dissatisfied with what happened in Berlin, there I was going guns-a-blazing through 15 miles until I was stopped dead in my tracks with GI issues. I clawed my way to the finish line, stopping at every porta-potty along the way, and finished my 6th marathon in 3:53. It was stupid and as a result it probably was the cause of my hamstring injury and from this experience I learned the importance of giving your body time to recover between hard efforts and that even if my mind is ready to go back into battle it doesn’t mean my body is.

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I spent October and November rehabbing my hamstring and running a few miles at a time. It definitely messed with my motivation and my interest in running for awhile. Just last week I wrote about being in a running funk. But it’s funny, as soon as I aired how I had been feeling about running, things started going back to normal. I’m really looking forward to training for Boston and for the new challenge of hill training. It seems scary at times but I’m thankful to be healthy and happy training again. 2018 was my most successful year of running in a long time and I’m so appreciative of everyone who helped me have such an awesome year. As great as the year was, however, I’m excited for 2019 because while I’m still the same person I feel like a new runner and I can’t wait to see all that this body is capable of in the new year.

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Next week I’ll be posting about my goals for 2019. Check back into the blog to read more!

Running Funk

It wasn’t until I saw someone else refer to being in a “funk” with their running that I realized that’s the perfect name for what I’m feeling right now. A funk. I’ve been doing my workouts, checking each one off daily, but the excitement just isn’t there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and moving my legs, but something seems different this time and I’m hoping I’ll grow out of it soon.

It could be the comparison trap – I see friends and peers doing epic things this winter and feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines and not in the game myself.

It could be the cold air – it’s hard to get out of a warm bed in the morning wanting to go freeze outside. I’ve also noticed my muscles are a lot tighter in the winter and breathing is harder for me which makes it even less enticing.

It could be the hamstring injury – I feel like I’m just waiting for an issue to resurface and it messes with my mind when I try to push my pace at all.

It could be the paces – I’m doing nearly all of my runs at an aerobic effort or easier as I build a base back up so those little glimmers of hope that you get while doing speedwork and reminding yourself that your body can do hard things haven’t been as prevalent.

It could be the hills – we moved to a hillier place in August and what used to be an easier effort is now made more challenging by running on hills. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I will adapt the more I keep at it but it’s not fun while I don’t feel conditioned for it just yet.

It could be the fact that I feel out of shape – I was in peak shape just a few months ago and coming off the high of a BQ has been challenging.

It could be the BQ itself – for 6 years I was chasing the same goal and although it’s odd to say, I feel a little lost that I no longer have that “constant” in my life, the thing that was driving me.

Let’s dig a little deeper into that last point as that is truly what I think is going on here. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon in April. However, I’m having a hard time getting as excited as I used to be about training. I have goals in mind that I’m trying to get myself excited for but while I’m sucking in lots of air getting back into shape, it’s hard to even imagine getting back to that point where those goals are feasible. As of two days ago, we are only 4 months out from Boston and that scares the heck out of me. 17 weeks sounds a little less scary and more manageable. It’s funny how just reframing it can make a huge difference. But that excitement piece – I’m still working on it. My husband and I were talking about something totally unrelated the other night and one of the things he said to me stuck with me – “we don’t like to do things we aren’t good at.” Hmm. Good is a relative term; what’s good to me might not be so impressive to someone else and vice versa. But right now I don’t feel “good” at running. I feel like I’m just scraping by and being mediocre and that’s not a fun place to be. Writing this I recognize that it seems silly on paper, but you can’t shake a “funk” just by writing about it.

I’ve had some small victories along the way – a 10-mile run on hills after the stomach flu and after 2 months of no double-digit long runs my pace came in at just under 8:15. A stride workout where my legs got to move under 6-minute pace again and by the end the 7 teens pace felt comfortable. These little sparks help bring my confidence back and remind me that just a few months ago I was doing really hard things and that my body can’t have forgotten it all in that time.

Although this funk might be messing with my head right now, I’m going to keep showing up every day and doing my workouts. I’ve been adding in weights in the weight room to mix things up and have been enjoying seeing myself get stronger. I know in my heart I love this sport and the funk will only be temporary. I hope to start getting myself excited about the goals I have for Boston and that soon they’ll be just as exciting as the BQ goal.

Thank You, BWRC

Last night, I had the privilege of attending Busse Woods Running Club’s Second Annual Holiday Party. In 2017, we were ecstatic about the 50 people who came to our holiday party. In 2018, we had over 100 people come out for the party. It’s been an absolutely incredible journey over the last year and we’re just getting started. This year I saw so many of our members grow in their own running journeys. Between new PRs that were set, some running their very first marathon or 5K, a few people who came back to running after a long hiatus, and so many other stories, I was so inspired this year and grateful to be a small part of each of these journeys.

It’s been said many times that this club is like a second family. My own experience has been nothing short of that. Like a family, we have our ups and downs, our own “drama”, and our quirks, but each piece of this family is valuable and makes the culture of the club what it is. This has been the most welcoming and inviting group I’ve ever been a part of and while we all come from different backgrounds, different places, and different walks of life, we all share one thing in common – the love of running, and that binds us together. When I moved back from St. Louis 2.5 years ago, I was looking for a training group to be a part of. My running had plateaued, I was missing the aspect of “team” in running, and I wanted to meet more friends who shared this obsession of mine. From the day I first step foot on Ost Field, I was welcomed with open arms. What has meant the most to me, however, has been all of the support over the last year that I received when I set out on a very individualistic quest to finally catch my unicorn and qualify for Boston. It required a lot of time spent away from my running family, but I felt like they were with me every step of the way.

After I finished the Berlin Marathon and secured my spot at Boston, the texts and Facebook messages came flooding in. Mind you, Berlin was run at 9:30 a.m. Germany time, which was 2:30 a.m. Chicago time. How lucky am I to have such an amazing support system that was up at 2:30 tracking my race, posting about it to one another, and sending so many positive vibes my way? I get goosebumps just typing this now. Although I crossed the finish line and the BQ was next to my name, it took a village to get me to this point and I am eternally grateful for the words of encouragement, support, and inspiration from so many of the BWRC runners that played a huge role in helping me achieve my goal.

Serving as the Director of Marketing & Social Media for BWRC has been such an honor and I am excited for all that’s to come for our club in 2019. We have big dreams and hopes for our club, but without each and every one of our members, we would not be living this dream.

Thank you, BWRC, for one of the best years of my life. 2019 has a lot to live up to after everything that happened in 2018, but I know that with all of you by my side and the new friends that will join our club next year, it’s going to be a fun ride.

Love,

Katherine

How to Continue Running Through the Midwest Winter

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Midwest weather can be brutal. We can get extreme heat/humidity in the summers, and extreme cold and feet of snow in the winter. The 2018 winter was rough between the arctic temperatures at the beginning of January where temperatures didn’t make it out of the negatives and the foot of snow that came down during the second weekend of February; a lot of our runs had to be indoors on the treadmill. However, this winter I have been challenging myself to get outdoors more even when it has been cold (within reason; I won’t run outdoors in the negative temperatures because I don’t think it’s safe/I have a hard time breathing in it). I have been able to do this by learning how to dress appropriately for the weather and have a few “go-to” items for staying warm on these cold winter runs.

Base Layer

  • I run in a C9 base layer that you can find at Target in their activewear section. This helps wick the sweat and keep it from clinging to your body and making you colder.

Fleece Pullover

  • I usually pick one with a turtleneck to keep me even warmer but the fleece lining helps insulate you to keep you warmer.

Fleece-Lined Wind Breaker

  • This helps block the wind on particularly cold days. Even the slightest bit of wind on a winter day can send chills down your body so I think it’s better to overdress and be warm than to be shivering. My favorite one is from New Balance and they don’t currently carry it, but the one linked here is similar because it has the soft outer shell for breaking the wind but is fleece lined to keep you warm.

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North Face Gloves

  • These gloves were not cheap at $55 but they have been well worth the investment. These are the first pair of gloves I’ve worn to run in that keep my hands warm without having to wear mittens. I suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome where my fingers will go numb and get very pale after I get inside from my run so a really good quality pair of gloves minimizes this. My only gripe about these is that they have to be hand washed so I typically rinse them off and hang them up to dry after a run.

Panther Vision Hat with LEDs

  • This hat is fleece-lined so it keeps me warm and it doubles as a headlamp to light the path in front of me on early morning or night time runs. The lights also make me more visible to drivers on the road that I’m sharing!

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Winter Weather Tights

  • My favorite pair is made by Sugoi and are fleece-lined and wind-blocking. However, I also own a pair from Target that are nicer to my wallet. If you can make the investment though, I recommend at least one pair of higher quality running tights. They make a huge difference in keeping your legs warm.

Wool Socks/Ski Socks

  • I run in my regular running shoes even through the winter so it is essential to have a warmer sock on since the wind comes straight through the mesh in your shoes. I recommend wearing socks that come up over your ankle in the winter to keep the cold out; it’s the worst feeling to have space between where your running tights hit and where your socks end because you’ll feel the cold as soon as you step out the door! Ski socks keep my feet extra warm on those sub-zero days, but they don’t fit in all my shoes so I sometimes use a pair of thinner wool socks. My favorite pair is from Balega.

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Please note the above opinions are all my own. I did not receive compensation for my post. I was gifted the Panther Vision Hat after posting a picture wearing another hat that I had purchased from them last year.

Making Moves in the Off-Season

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Hanging up my racing shoes for a little bit and focusing on other goals in the off-season.

When I wrote down my personal running goals for 2018, they looked a little bit like this…

  1. Break 1:40 in the half marathon
  2. Qualify for and be accepted into the Boston Marathon
  3. Run the year in miles (2018 in 2018)

I am proud to say that I accomplished those first two, sometimes a few times over (I would go on to run a 1:37, 1:36, and 1:35 half in 2018). However, after marathon season was over, I was left feeling a little down because I no longer had something to be working towards. I am a very goal-oriented person and the only goal left on my list was to run 2018 miles in 2018. Because of my hamstring/adductor muscle strains that set me back for a month, I recognized that this goal was going to have to be put on the back-burner for this year because resting and starting 2019 injury-free was more important to me than trying to catch up for missed time in October; sadly, I had been a little ahead of my goal until October’s injuries set in.

Feeling down between not being able to run and not having any goals for the rest of the year, I had time to think about the other areas of my life that haven’t received as much of my attention during a busy training cycle but deserved my time of day. I set new goals for this…

  1. Figure out my career situation and make a move that would make me happier
  2. Obtain my coaching certification from the RRCA
  3. Develop a business model and plan to be able to take on athletes for the 2019 season

Having these newly cemented goals in mind helped me focus my time and energy on other areas of my life rather than dwell on what I couldn’t do. Thanks to focus, perseverance, and the power of prayer, I am happy to report that I’ve made big strides on these goals since October.

I took my unhappiness with my current job into my own hands and began seeking out new opportunities at the company I work for. I recognized that I liked the culture of my current employer but that the role I was in was causing much of my unhappiness. I was able to land a new job in a different department, negotiating a slight raise, in a role that is going to allow me to utilize more of my marketing skills on top of my analytical background. While the offer has officially been signed, I’m still waiting to move over to the new group as I transition out of the old one, but it’s giving me a light at the end of the tunnel after what seemed like months of total darkness.

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Gaining strength through motivational books to make a change in my professional life and lead to overall happiness.

In mid-October, I also took the RRCA Coaching Certification class to become a certified running coach. It would require taking an exam after the course and a hands-on CPR and First Aid certification course but on October 31st I was officially recognized as a certified coach and am excited to work with athletes on their own running goals! I have always known that I wanted to coach other runners after having such a positive experience with my running coaches in high school. I didn’t realize just how big the market was for post-collegiate coaching until the last year and was excited that just because I wasn’t working in a school that I could still be a coach to other runners.

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RRCA Coaching Certification Book with the Road Runner
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RRCA Coaching Class in Downers Grove, IL

That being said, since obtaining my coaching certification at the end of October, I have been working hard on getting my business up and running to be able to take on athletes with Spring 2019 goals. I have begun my work to set up my business as an LLC and to work through a business model to operate the most efficiently and effectively. I am thankful for having a business background to help with the implementation and operations of my business and for my dad who is a lawyer to help me through the legal aspects of owning your own business (aka the not so fun part about being a business owner but one of the most important pieces). I have had a few people reach out to me asking when I will be taking on athletes and I am beyond flattered by this; my goal is to start working with athletes for their Spring 2019 goals and outlining plans in December. I want to make sure that before I take on athletes, however, that I am fully set up to create the best experience for my athletes. This means having a well-designed website with information about services, a tool to share an athletes’ weekly plans through, and having all of the backend pieces of a business set up (i.e. LLC formation, contracts, insurance, income-tax information, etc.). There is a lot that goes into starting your own business and as much as I want to start working with athletes already, I want to do this right so that everyone involved has a positive experience.

My running shoes may have been getting some time off this Fall as I recuperated from an intense 2018 training cycle and injury post-season but I still feel busier than ever between switching jobs at work and working to get my business up-and-running by December. These are busy, but also very exciting times and it’s hard to believe 2018 is almost over. As crazy as it sounds, I’m a bit thankful that my injury happened when it did because it forced me to slow down and remember to focus on other areas of my life that were in need of my attention. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been tough to see friends out there doing long runs in the Fall and getting to enjoy this great time of year in Chicago for running but as soon as I accepted my “fate” I was really able to hone in on the rest of my goals that were just as important to me as my personal running goals and actually make a difference in my daily life. I’m hoping that with the new job I will be happier and have a better work-life balance which in turn will allow me to be the best athlete and coach that I can be in 2019. 2018 has been one heck of a grand adventure and it’s not over yet! I hope that in a few weeks I’ll be writing a new post that says I’m ready to start working with athletes because I’m so excited to help others chase their unicorns in 2019.

-Katherine

Berlin Marathon Race Recap – Expo, Race, and What’s Next

Friday Expo

We arrived in Berlin uneventfully on Friday afternoon (a good thing with travel) after an overnight flight from Chicago to Frankfurt and a short flight from Frankfurt to Berlin. We shared a car to our hotel with a couple friends from back home who were also coming to run the marathon. There is a 7-hour time difference between Chicago and Berlin with Berlin being 7 hours ahead, but excited to be in a new city, the jet lag hadn’t quite set in yet. After checking into our hotel, we headed straight for the expo since we were still too early to get into our room and I wanted to get the expo over with on Friday to rest my legs on Saturday and not be overwhelmed by crowds.

The joke was on me as the expo was crazy even on Friday afternoon. It was chaotic to say the least, with very little signage to tell you where to find the bib check-in and extremely narrow walkways. For a marathon hosting 44,000 runners on top of many others participating in other events throughout the weekend, it was a madhouse and I started really appreciating the organization of Chicago’s expo which is also a marathon major. After about 45 minutes, I finally found the bib pick-up where I was handed my bib number and my rented shoe timing chip; this is different from every race I’ve ever run before where the chip timing is integrated with the bib but it seems to be pretty common in Europe as many already owned their own chip. Don’t expect to be given a bag at packet pick-up unless you selected gear-check when you registered. You either get a poncho at the end of the race or a bag for gear-check (I still recommend going with the poncho but more on that later; I ended up getting a free bag elsewhere at the expo). Unlike every other race I’ve run, you won’t get a free participant shirt with your registration. If I could go back and do it again, I would’ve preordered clothing, but didn’t realize when signing up that trying to get marathon apparel at the expo was like shopping in the U.S. on Black Friday – chaos. People were grabbing things off the racks as soon as they were put on and throwing them to the side if they weren’t their size. I felt bad for the volunteers who had to clean up that mess because it just wasn’t right. After a half hour, I finally found a t-shirt and jacket in my size and we got in line to pay and made a beeline for the exit. If there is anything I have learned from large marathon expos it’s that you can spend way too much time on your feet so I try to get in and out as quickly as possible.

We caught an Uber back to the hotel where we napped for a very long time after the jet lag had finally caught up to us. Unfortunately there wasn’t a good public transportation to the expo which was over 3 miles outside of the city at a retired airport. Around 6:30 p.m., I was feeling a little better and wanted to stretch my legs so I did a light 3-mile run before dinner.

Saturday

On Saturday, I did a 20-minute shakeout run in the Tiergarten, a beautiful park in Berlin. I even saw a couple of the African elites doing their shakeout run (I couldn’t tell who they were but they were going around 6:30 pace for a shakeout run in full Nike track suits so I’m pretty sure they were elites!); it was so cool to be out there running the same trails as them, even if I was far behind at my 7:40 pace.

My husband and I decided to do some touring around Saturday to make the most of our time in Berlin and saw the major sites like the Victory Column, Bradenberg Gate, and Checkpoint Charlie before meeting our Chicago friends before the race to hang out for a bit. I walked/ran about 14,000 steps on Saturday which is more than I would normally do before a race, but we took it slow and took the subway back to the hotel after walking in the morning and afternoon. The coolest part to me was seeing the start and finish line to mentally start preparing for Sunday and to have some peace of mind knowing where I would need to be to start in the morning.

Sunday – Race Day

Sunday morning came and with a 9:30 start time, I got to “sleep in” for a race day and woke up at 6. We ate a light breakfast around 6:30 then got ready to head over to the start line. It was about a 2K walk to the start which was perfect for warming up my muscles and getting out some pre-race nerves. I slept terribly the night before between the jet lag and nervousness but was feeling surprisingly peppy the day of. We waited in line for the porta-potties (not nearly enough for 44,000 runners, by the way) and after waiting in line for nearly 30 minutes, I ditched the line and found a spot in the woods to go. So many people were doing this because of the lack of porta potties so I didn’t feel so bad. I said goodbye to my husband and then headed for Corral F (Berlin corrals are fast. My 3:38 only landed me in Corral F out of A-H). The corral was way overcrowded and I had to hop a fence just to squeeze in. I noticed that no one was enforcing what corral you actually went into which was really frustrating when I saw all these people from H ahead of me.

It took 15 minutes from the start of the race for me to start but then we were off…and then stopped again. The congestion was unreal and I think because of all the people who didn’t go into the right corral, the pace was really slow to start. My watch was hovering around an 8:50-9:00 for the first 400 meters and I knew that was not going to fly. I spent about the first 13.1 miles weaving in and out of slower runners. I know this wasted a lot of energy and I couldn’t believe how long it took for things to open up. I was getting so frustrated, nearly in tears at one point, and had to jump on and off of raised platforms in the middle of the road to get around slower runners who had definitely started in faster corrals than they were seeded. But I told myself that this was happening today and I hadn’t trained through snow, sleet, rain, heat, and humidity for nothing. I felt like I was moving so slow but somehow the miles were clicking in around 7:45 pace which was right where I wanted to be.

The water stations were just as chaotic as the rest of the race and the volunteers all stood behind the tables filling up plastic cups so everyone was dive-bombing to grab a cup off the table. People would stop as soon as they hit the aid stations and you would run into them if you weren’t careful. Plastic cups are awful for both drinking out of and being on the ground as it makes for a super slippery surface to run on. You can’t crease a plastic cup so expect half the water to spill out unless you slow down to drink (which you need to do to get your GU down). However, I had mentally prepared myself for this after reading all of the race reviews so although it was frustrating beyond belief, I wasn’t blind-sided by it. These aid stations definitely added time to my overall time (and most likely everyone else’s), but it was something I knew was going to happen. When I run Chicago next week, I’m going to hug the volunteers because although I have always appreciated them in the past, I didn’t realize just how world-class Chicago is compared to other large events and how they have more than enough volunteers to make the experience positive!

Because the race started so late, by the time I hit 18 miles it was starting to get pretty hot (in the 70s). Fortunately I trained through much hotter and humid in Chicago so I could handle it, but I’m still not sure why the start time is so late for a September race! Miles 18-21 hovered in the 7:50s and it was around mile 22 that I really started fighting. This was the infamous “wall” that I’ve hit every marathon, but this time around, my mind was so much stronger and even though my pace slowed to about an 8:15 for the last 4 miles, I never once walked. The fact that my last 4 miles were still faster than my overall pace in my previous PR was something that was amazing to me. In these 4 miles I knew that the BQ was mine if I just kept running and that it was up to me to determine just how far under that I could go. I was passing people left and right, even at a slower pace, and it was honestly the coolest thing. Normally in those last 4 miles I’m the one being passed so passing others was propelling me to keep going. I reminded myself that I worked so hard for this and that I should feel strong. Unfortunately, I think a lot of my energy had been wasted in the first half of the race being so congested so I didn’t have much kick by the end of the race, but when I saw the Bradenberg Gate, I started pumping my arms again to make it to the finish. I tried hard to get under the 3:28 and make it to 3:27 but I just had nothing left in the tank. I finished in 3:28:06 and sat down as soon as I could. It was a PR by 10:11 and my first BQ. I wish I could tell you I was crying and emotional in that moment, which was what I had envisioned crossing the line, but I was literally so gassed that all I wanted to do was sit down (so anticlimactic, I know, but marathons are hard!). A volunteer came to check on me and I got up to start moving, but seriously had no energy left so I hobbled my way over to get my medal, then made my way towards refreshments. I needed water desperately and drank probably 10 cups worth before finally finding a water bottle.

I almost had forgotten about the race poncho since I was still super hot, but saw a sign for ponchos and hobbled over to get mine. I was glad I had grabbed one as I quickly started cooling off and being so sweaty left me cold. I definitely recommend going with the poncho option for this reason because it took me about an hour after the race to find my husband in all the chaos and without the poncho I would’ve had no covering. I’m still debating on whether or not it was harder to run the marathon or to take the shoe chip timer off post-marathon (kidding…but it was a close second). Just trying to bend over to take my shoe off was next to impossible as my muscles started seizing up. I was cracking up because the guy sitting next to me spoke Italian and we couldn’t converse, but he could understand my post-marathon pain since that is a universal language! Eventually I got the shoe off to take the chip timer off, then made my way to an exit gate. You had to turn in your timing chip at the gate or else you would be charged $25; it was next to impossible to find the lady with a bucket to turn your chip into but finally I found her and was able to go find my husband. An hour after finishing, we were reunited and then had to start making our way back to the hotel.

From my husband’s perspective, this was a terrible race to spectate because many of the subway stations had been closed down for the race so it was hard to get around. He had planned to see me 3 times (7K, 21K, and 37K), but missed seeing me at 7K because it was crazy congested, couldn’t get to 21K on time to see me, and saw me at 37K but I did not see him. We had to walk about 3 miles back to the hotel after the race and I was so dead. There were no good public transportation options and many of the roads were still closed so taking an Uber wasn’t an option. I got about 65,000 steps in for the day (35ish miles!) and because of how tired I was, didn’t eat a meal until around 8:30 p.m.

This was probably the most frustrating race I’ve ever run, but it taught me a lot about grit and how strong I have become to have overcome obstacles thrown at me left and right and still to achieve my goal of a BQ. I have a goal of doing all 6 marathon majors so I’m glad I had the opportunity to do Berlin, but I would caution anyone trying to go for a fast time to mentally prepare for the crowds and chaos. It is definitely possible to PR and fun fast, but I took a lot more effort than I was anticipating on a flat course. However, my husband did give me some good perspective; I have the tendency to go out fast in marathons and to suffer for it later in the race so the congestion did hold me back in a sense and kept me honest.

I’m thankful for this experience and for the amazing training cycle I had. I stayed injury free and had some really great workouts, despite a crazy hot and humid summer in Chicago. This training cycle brought back a lot of confidence to me and my running and I’m so excited for the next challenge and to be at the point where I can set new, bigger goals! From the silly 19-year old who thought she could BQ in 2012 (and died halfway through to finish in a 4:10) to 6.5 years later finally achieving that BQ dream, I’ve come a long way.

Oh and the 10 day trip wasn’t so shabby either! We spent time in Berlin, Prague, Bavaria, and Munich. I would definitely recommend doing your trip after the marathon because I felt like I could fully experience the trip and not worry about diet or how many miles I walked because the race was over. I got to be fully present on our trip and had the most incredible time. I recommend picking just a few places to visit otherwise you’ll feel like you’re spending all of your time traveling and not exploring a city. I felt we had an appropriate time in each place, but could’ve definitely used an extra day in Bavaria because I’m much more of a mountain girl than a city girl! It was absolutely stunning.

What’s Next?

So where do we go from here? Well for starters, on October 7th, I’ll be running the Chicago Marathon! I had signed up with a time qualifier for Chicago before finding out about the lottery results for Berlin so that is the only reason I’m running two marathons so close together (3 weeks apart). I don’t recommend it, but so far my recovery is going really well and if things look good for race day, I’m going to try to chase another PR because I think there was more in store based on what I trained for this summer. But, I’m not putting any pressure on myself and have 0 expectations going in because I accomplished my overall goal in Berlin and know that my body, even if no longer sore, is still recovering from the marathon.

I applied for Boston 2019 and have yet to hear back, but depending on those results, that will determine my Spring plan. As for the rest of 2018, I’m not racing and am going to just run for fun and to maintain fitness. We moved into our new house at the end of August and I really want to focus on making it feel more like home which up until now I had no time for! In mid-October, I’ll be taking a course to get my RRCA Coaching Certification which is something I have envisioned doing for a long time. I can give a lot of advice based on my 10+ years of running, but I want to be as informed as possible before trying to really coach others. Finally, I’m on a “vision-quest” as my husband calls it, and will be trying to find my professional passion because it’s an area of my life I’ve been neglecting but has caused me the most stress and anxiety over the last several years. I have a feeling I’m going to take a risk, but there is nothing more important than your happiness; this is the newest “unicorn” I’ll be chasing so stay tuned for updates on that!

If you’re still reading this, you’re awesome, and thanks for your support! Keep on chasing your unicorn, whatever it may be.

Filled with Gratitude

As of today I’m officially a week out from the Berlin Marathon and with the nerves just beginning to set in, I’d like to take a step back and thank so many people who have been supporting me over the last several months (for some, years) as I have been training like crazy for this.

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To my husband, thank you for allowing me to take over our weekends over the last 8 months to prioritize my long runs on Saturday mornings. I really appreciate you never complaining when I don’t want to go out and be social on Friday nights because I need to get a good night’s sleep for my Saturday long run. Thank you for also holding me accountable to get up and do my runs in the morning, even when I have those days where I just don’t want to. I can think of a couple times recently during our move where I would be so worn out but you would encourage me to just put my shoes on and get out the door knowing that I would feel better once I got going on my run. It’s because of you that I didn’t miss any of my scheduled runs over the last 14 weeks and I’m so thankful to be able to say that. Thank you for celebrating the accomplishments with me but also being there to pick me up after a race has gone poorly. Thank you for supporting my wild and crazy dreams, and for waking up at the crack of dawn for my races to come cheer me on. I love you and am so grateful to have a supportive husband through all of this who may not understand why I do what I do but supports me 100% either way!

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To my family, thank you for the time you have spent over the years coming to so many of my races even if only to see me for a brief moment as I ran by. I started running seriously in high school and without your support, I may not have continued with as much commitment and passion as I have had in the last several years. Thank you for coming in from out of town to see me run year after year in Champaign and for your hugs and comfort when things haven’t gone well. Thank you to Lindsey for the times she’s spent riding her bike alongside me for a long run or coming with me on some of my recovery runs to take my mind off of the running. Thank you for also humoring me and trying out this running thing and running races of your own. That has been one of the coolest parts to me and I will never forgot the time Dad, Lindsey, Jack, and I raced all together in Ohio, the time Mom crossed the line of her first 5K and completed smashed her expectations of time, or the time I got to run side by side with Dad in his first half marathon on a scorching day in Chicago. I’m so glad we’ve been able to share these memories together and I look forward to creating even more in the years to come.

To my friends, thank you for being understanding when I haven’t been able to be very social on the weekends due to early morning training runs or just being too worn out to leave the house. I know sometimes I’m a lame 25 year old but I’m thankful you still want to hang out despite my early schedule. Thank you for the texts and calls to wish me good luck before a race and to see how things went.

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To the Busse Woods Running Club, thank you for the constant support and for providing a social outlet for me with running. It is refreshing to be around others who understand what makes a runner’s brain tick and to get to run with many of you on the roads! I have been so inspired by many of the runners in the club and their personal journeys with running. It has been so cool to see everyone working hard over this summer as they train for their fall marathons and half marathons and I am excited to see everyone crush their races over the next couple of months!

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To my running coach, thank you for pushing me to set and achieve scary goals and for designing a training plan tailored to me that has allowed me to see 3 half marathon PRs in the span of about 5 months. When I came to you in January with a goal of breaking a 1:40 half marathon with a current PR of 1:41, I had no idea that would mean doing that 3 times over improving each time and sitting on a 1:35 half after just a half year of training together. You have helped me find my confidence again and that has made all the difference this go-around.

To the running Instagram community, thank you for all of your motivation and support. This community is so positive and it is refreshing to have social media be used for good. You all inspire me daily with your commitment to your own training, balancing full time careers, families, school, etc. and still crushing it out on the race course. Although we may be spread throughout the country or even around the world, it is so cool to be chasing our dreams together and reassuring to see that hard work does pay off.

Thank you to everyone who has played a role in this training cycle. The nerves are starting to set in but I feel so ready and prepared to tackle this marathon and am excited for the opportunity to chase my big, scary goals on Sunday. To everyone racing in Berlin, good luck and have so much fun! Let’s do the thing!

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The Taper Crazies

It’s not you…it’s the taper crazies! After having been through 5 marathon training cycles, I’ve grown to expect certain behaviors/feelings that can as a result of taper time. Everyone’s body is different but weird things happen to nearly every runner I’ve talked to during taper time! Here are some of the things I’ve experienced going through a marathon taper:

1. I am tired all the time. It doesn’t matter how much sleep I got the night before, I will feel fatigued throughout the day and just want to nap (which I do during the weekend but that doesn’t exactly fly at work!).

2. I get random aches and pains that never showed up during peak training periods. It’s normally not a sign of injury, just extra soreness that decides to show up during taper time.

3. My legs feel really heavy. I haven’t gotten to this point yet but I expect by the beginning of next week I’ll feel this way (however, if it doesn’t happen I’ll just be happy, not alarmed). It normally lasts for the week before the marathon but is gone by race day.

4. I feel like I’m getting sick/I might even catch a cold. My throat has been scratchy this week 2 weeks out from the race but it’s hard to tell if it’s just allergies acting up or if it’s this crazy taper fatigue. It normally clears up by rest day so I’m not too concerned when it does happen anymore.

5. I get really grumpy. This I attribute to running less miles and not getting my normal endorphin rush that I’m used to. An advanced apology to anyone who might see me cranky over the next 12 days!

I’m not a doctor, but my explanation for why the taper crazies happen is that my body has been through marathon cycles before and knows that something big is coming when I start taking down my mileage and intensity. As a result, it recognizes that it will need extra sleep and slows me down to keep me from exerting too much energy during the taper. Our bodies are smart and if you’ve been through a marathon training cycle before, it knows that what you’re about to put it through is intense and is going to wear it down for a long time after so it’s trying to get prepared. Fortunately, nearly all of these signs go away come race day and a proper taper leaves you well-rested and ready to go!

Have you experienced any of the taper crazies I’ve listed above or something else? Let me know in the comments section below; I’d love to hear more!