Marine Corps Marathon training blog
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A WTOP staffer chronicles her journey as she trains for the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.

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  • Tales of a traveling trainer: Tips for running on the road

    Up early to log morning miles during a recent trip to the beach. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
     
    My calendar is a little booked these days. The last few months have seen a flurry of visits from friends and family, trips to the beach, flights to visit my parents and quick weekend getaways.
     
    I’m not complaining – I’m quite grateful my summer has been filled with guests, entertainment and sunshine. And I’m blessed to have the means to travel. It’s just that often my voyages come at the expense of my marathon training.
     
    Each time, I promise myself I will get up and go run before my 6:30 a.m. flight; I’ll carve out an hour or two to run when I have visitors in town; I’ll convince my traveling companions to incorporate running into the agenda. Alas, these things rarely happen.
     
    Still, it’s not impossible to coordinate training and travel schedules. Here are a few tips when it comes to running while you’re on the road or entertaining guests.
    • Plan. This sounds obvious, but actually going out and running is much easier if you’ve planned which day you’ll do it, where and how long you have to run. Know which days you’ll have the energy to run and what time of day works best. And be prepared to get up early. That seems to be the best time for me to actually do my run and get out ahead of what can be busy days.

      Also, if I’m in a new city, I try to research places that are runner-friendly such as trails or parks in the area.
    • Pack. Make sure you take your running shoes, socks, GPS watch and any other appropriate apparel when you’re traveling. Think about an extra layer too – just in case you’re visiting a chilly destination.

      And be realistic – don’t take four running outfits if you’re only going to (truthfully) run once. No need to pack more than you’ll use. (Although I’ve never applied that to any other aspect of my packing technique – I’m away for three days? Better bring half my closet.)
    • Communicate expectations. I’m often guilty of this when I’m traveling or entertaining guests – I want to go out for a six-mile run, but my companions have a different idea of how the day should go. A museum visit, dinner reservations or “quality time” may overlap with the time I intended to run. It’s best to let your fellow nomads or visitors know what day and when you will be unavailable. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable request – and it may even motivate others to get out and run with you!
    • Consider safety. If you’re in a new city, be mindful of safety always. Run in well-lit areas and consider recruiting a buddy.
    • Utilize hotels. Check if your hotel has a fitness center and a treadmill. No fitness center? Running stairs can be a good workout, too!
    • Make running part of the destination. Try a run-cation! There are tons of wonderful cities around the world that host races – so plan your trip around a race, or scope out if there are any 5Ks or 10Ks with available registrations scheduled for the time you may be there.

      I’ve planned loads of trips around fun half-marathon races. I find it’s a wonderful way to see a city and log some training miles, too.
    • Do long runs before you depart. It’s OK to adjust your training schedule and push your long run to before or after you leave. I’d rather get in a long run a day or two before than not at all.
    • Be realistic and enjoy your vacation. Training for a marathon is a commitment and should be taken seriously, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not training exactly by the books. Run when you can, and remember to enjoy yourself.

      I’ve had a few too many instances where I got down on myself for not running as many miles or days as I should have during a trip … but I enjoyed an experience instead. I’d rather have memories of that than logging treadmill miles in a dingy hotel by myself.
    What tips do you have for traveling and training? Share them with me – and bon voyage!
  • When to buy new running shoes

    My running shoes may be ready to bite the dust. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
     
    As Marine Corps Marathon training chugs along, my once-sturdy running shoes are wearing down. The tread is wearing and the magenta fabric is fraying. The shoes feel fine, but is it time to ditch them for another pair?
     
    Admittedly, I am not a fan of buying new shoes – I’m rather particular and I’ve been known to buy new shoes, run in them, fret that they “feel weird” and then return them. I mean, of course they “feel weird” – my foot hasn't imprinted into them.
     
    To quell my new-shoe queries, I turned to a D.C.-area shoe expert about when to get new kicks. Pacers Running Brand Specialist Stephen Laico offered tips, tricks and advice for the shoe-buying process.
     
    When should runners get new running shoes?
     
    Runners should typically get new shoes when they have put between 300 and 500 miles on that pair, Laico said.
     
    However, it is also dependent on the duration and frequency, he added.
     
    “Someone running five miles a week is going to go through their shoes a lot differently than someone who is training for a marathon and is putting in 25 to 50 miles a week,” Laico said.
     
    The runner’s form matter, too.
     
    “[It’s] going to vary based on how people strike – someone who has got a light, efficient gate is going to be on the higher end of that mileage. Someone who has got a really heavy foot strike or kind of scuff their foot when they land, wear through that quicker and be on the lower end,” he said.
     
    What helps extend the life of running shoes?
     
    Running on a treadmill absorbs some of the impact on the shoe. Laico said runners can get a little bit more life on shoes by running inside.
     
    Still there is one major way to give running shoes more time: Keep running shoes strictly for running.
     
    “Sometimes people come in and saying ‘I’ve barely run in these shoes and they have pretty much broken down.’ But they are also walking in those shoes every day and spending their day wearing them. So all the time on your feet is going to add up – it’s not just the time spent running in those shoes that adds to the wear,” Laico said.
     
    How many pairs of shoes should runners have?
     
    An average runner should have at least two pairs of shoes to cycle through, Laico recommended.
     
    Alternating through two pairs will give more life to each pair. Also, it can help to switch between runs if, during the summer particularly, shoes get wet or sweaty.
     
    Before a shoe is completely dead – when there is about 25 percent of life left – set it aside and save it for the times when you need to turn to the back-up pair, Laico recommended.
     
    Where and when should runners buy shoes?
     
    Laico recommends runners stop by a specialty running store where trained staff can examine your stride, shoe size, running style and more.
     
    Also, runners may want to consider stopping in to buy shoes after a longer run to see what their shoe needs are when their legs are tired.
     
    “How you look in first couple minutes of a run when you’re really thinking about it and your legs are fresh is different than how you look further down the road,” he said. “So if you want a better sense of how you are after a six-mile run, come in after a six-mile run.”
     
    The staff can look at your gate under stress.
     
    “So if you’re training for a marathon, maybe after halfway you need more support than what you did at the start of the run  -- it might be a better gauge of where you are at that point.”
  • Tips for running in summer's heat

    This summer has been a tough one for me. This past weekend, I hit the snooze one too many times and found myself heading out for a 13-mile run a few hours later than I had desired.
     
    My delayed departure had me running through some of the warmest hours of the day. I cowered in the sunlight, craved shade and sweat through everything I was wearing. Boy oh boy did I sweat.
     
    This isn't the first time I've been out running in temperatures flirting with the 90s. This season has been a particularly challenging one when it comes to balancing D.C.'s humidity, warm weather and my training plan. So to get more answers about staying safe during hot-weather running, I turned to a D.C.-area doctor who provided tips for running through some of the summer's worst heat.
     
    MedStar Washington Hospital Center Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Evan Argintar told me about the importance of hydration, how much to drink, what to wear and more. Check out the full story:
     
     
  • Return of the ‘run-mute’

    Taking off from WTOP for a run-mute home. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
     
    Getting tired of the same old run? It’s easy to do. I find that sometimes I can’t will myself to get out and run when I’m growing weary of my same old routes, or watching the same old shows when I take it to the treadmill.
     
    That’s why I decided to change things up this week and run commute, or “run-mute” as people (OK, maybe just me) call it. I live a few miles from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center, so on Tuesday, I packed my running clothes, took public transit to work and then opted for a run commute home.
     
    There are some major perks with my return run-mute: I’m traversing the city when the weather has cooled off and forcing myself to run a fixed distance. Beyond that, it’s good for the environment!
     
    There are some crummy aspects. It takes some planning. Also, putting my run off until later in the day leaves me ruminating about my looming run: did I have too much coffee before this run? Did I eat enough? Did I eat too much? Where can I stretch? What if my coworkers see me running and I need to pick a wedgie? What if it rains? What if it’s still too hot out? What if it gets too dark?
     
    (For what it’s worth, these are pretty baseless fears. It’s just a normal run and I need to get out of my head.) Still, here are tips to have a good run-mute:
    • Remember to bring all your clothes/running needs. You don’t want to run to work, only to realize you don’t have pants. Or on a return commute, realize you don’t have your running shoes. Hobbling home in heels doesn’t sound like a good run to me.
    • Anticipate the smell factor. Let's face it, running to work can come with stinky consequences. I'd recommend not running to work if you don't have a shower. If you choose to do so anyway, there are waterless shampoos and body washes that can help remedy the situation. Tolerant coworkers help.
    • Bring extra food. On run-mute days, bringing extra snacks is crucial and I try to get them in about an hour before I plan to run home. Every runner is different, but I can’t run on an empty stomach, and I’m even less productive if I’m hungry – which is often the case when I’m finishing up my day.
    • Plan and organize what you need and when. If you're running to work, try bringing your clothes for the week to the office, or at least the day before, so you're not forced to haul your work clothes with you while you run. When I run-mute home, I Metro with my running gear, change at the office and stuff my work clothes and other belongings into lockers we have in the newsroom -- then I retrieve it all the next day. Also, I pack light on those days to make sure I'm not leaving too much behind at the office.
    • Be a safe runner. If you're running when it's dark, make sure you're equipped with reflective materials, headlamps, bright clothes, etc. Running with a buddy on well-lit streets is wise, too. I have a clipable reflective, blinking light I got at a sporting goods store for a few dollars that works well for me.
    • Make adjustments. Commute too long to run-mute? Try taking public transit part of the way and running the rest.
    Run commutes can be a great way to feel energized in the morning, or help clear your head in the evenings. Do you run-mute? Share what helps your run-mute.
  • Choosing a training plan

    A peek at my marathon schedule and the planning process. (WTOP/Sarah Beth Hensley)
    Going out to run may seem easy enough, but stringing together runs to form an effective training plan that sufficiently prepares a runner for a race is something totally different.
     
    You don’t want a plan that burns you out too soon, induces injury or doesn’t jive with your life. Or worse -- a plan that doesn’t prepare you to finish 26.2 miles. Training plan fears are real, and I have certainly experienced all of these concerns. So how am I navigating through this murky marathon-training period?
     
    Cautiously.
     
    I’ve trained too hard and hurt myself. I’ve trained too little and been upset with my performance. I’ve trained without leniency to the plan and done OK. I’ve skipped runs and done fine. All of this to say, there is no perfect science when it comes to training for a race.
     
    This time around, as well as with other marathons, I’m making tweaks to a plan that has worked for me -- Olympian Jeff Galloway’s training plan for the Walt Disney World marathon. The Disney race was my first marathon and the training plan worked so well, I have continued to apply it to future races.
     

    Pros:

    It has variations based on if you’re a beginner, want to “finish in the upright position” or improve your time. Also, it has the breakdown of what to do during the weekdays and how far to run on weekends, contains information about Galloway’s famous run-walk plan and details overall running strategies. And it’s free – I learned quickly that is a big bonus. As I searched for other training plans, I realized I wasn’t willing to cough up the dough to peep a plan I didn’t know would work any better.

     

    Cons:

    It’s tailored for Disney races, so it lists the specific dates relative to the upcoming Disney race, leaving me backtracking through my calendar to plan. Also, sometimes I’m not a fan of the run-walk plan, so I don’t care for scheduling those runs.
     
    So my plan is some combination of the Galloway schedule mixed with a little bit of speed work.
     
    I do long runs on Saturdays mainly. During the work week, I run about 30 minutes two times during the work week, usually Tuesday and Thursday. And I do other cardio on Monday and Wednesday – swimming, elliptical, biking, rowing  or cardio classes.
     
    Fridays and Sundays are my days off. Like always. No exercise. Ever. A fast-paced job compounded with five days of working out can really wear a girl out! Rest days are extremely important to incorporate in a training plan. I’d argue as important as running days.
     
    I’m a few weeks into my training plan this time around, and so far it’s working out OK!
     
    Do you have a training plan? Let me know what works for you!
  • Let the training begin

    It’s 6 a.m. on a Saturday and, instead of cherishing the day I have to sleep in, I’m up, bleary-eyed, devouring toast and coffee, stretching my haggard hamstrings and trying to chart how I’m going to spend the next 90 minutes or so of the morning. 
     
    It’s a regimen many people may embrace as part of training for a marathon. For me, it’s the Marine Corps Marathon, and although the race is in October, I find myself up with the sun in June to log miles before the day’s 80-degree temperatures set in.
     
    I’m no elite runner. But I will say that running is my hobby of choice. 
     
    A little bit about me as a runner: I’ve been running distance since I was about 12 years old and ran cross country and track through high school. After that, I was a recreational runner, putting in miles when I wanted and competing in 5K or 10K races ever year or so. I ran my first half marathon in 2012, and I was hooked on longer-distance races after that. Since then, I’ve competed in about 15 half marathons and four marathons.
     
    However, no matter how many races you finish, training never gets much easier. It’s still tough for me to get up early and run. It’s a learning experience every time when it comes the types of foods to eat and the shoes to wear. I may have been through this song and dance before, but I’m always learning more and more about who I am as a runner and what my body is capable of.
     
    So follow along as I prepare for the 2017 Marine Corps Marathon. I’ll be chronicling my training runs, documenting my obstacles, passing on any advice I have and seeking answers to my own quandaries.
     
    And feel free to comment with your own questions, advice or words of encouragement – it may be just the push I need to get out of bed for those Saturday morning long runs.
     
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