' Adventures with FitNyx: September 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Why do we run?  This question comes up so many times, both from non-runners wondering why us runner folk are so gosh-darned crazy, and from other runners who have a genuine curiosity about their compatriots' motivations and backstories.  I started running to literally run away from my problems (more on that perhaps later this week), but continued running because it was a new and exciting challenge.  Running continues to present new challenges every week, and I've been relishing (and dreading) some of the unique challenges that marathon training has presented.

This week's Tuesdays on the Run wants to know what is currently the most challenging aspect of running.  With about a month to go before my first marathon, it's pretty easy to say the greatest challenge I've been facing is the mental aspect of tackling long runs.  After Sunday's 17-and-change, plus the successful Beat the Bridge dress rehearsal (18 miles) a couple weeks ago, I'm generally feeling much more confident that I will actually finish in a lengthy race, but I still haven't done that crucial 20-miler that most people will say is a staple of marathon training.

Psychologically, I know I can do it when I'm thinking about when and where.  It's mid-run that my faith and confidence wavers a bit - usually.  I am very happy to report that my solo 17 run on Sunday gave me quite a boost, since I ran all but about 45 seconds of the entire route, and was actually considering adding extra mileage to make that outing my first 20-miler, but there were many moments of doubt along the way.

In fact, I have been noticing on many of my runs lately that the start of my second mile (only my second!) seems to be the most difficult point for me mentally.  It's early enough in the run that I have a loooooong way to go, but I'm already a mile in and starting to settle in, so it's just a little too early to turn back and give up.  The thought runs through my head: OMG WHY am I out here again doing this?  It's going to take forever!  Some days, it really does take a long time.  It's not a quick outing to cover double-digit mileage on foot, especially if you're not all that fast.  By mile four or five I'm usually settling fully into a groove, and the demons are quelled for another hour or so before rearing their ugly heads around mile 11.  This isn't even a half marathon yet, and you're going to do TWICE that?!  Are you crazy?? 

In point of fact: I AM crazy.  It's definitely pushing the limits of sanity to decide you're going to do a marathon, and to train for it fully.  But I'll tell you what else I am because of this decision: I'm in crazy good shape, I feel crazy good about myself and my accomplishments, and I'm making some crazy good friendships.  All of that is MY kind of crazy!  I'll gladly take that over the madness of living a sedentary life without goals and without pushing myself physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Challenges breathe life into my lungs.  They keep me moving forever forward.  When this challenge ends, I'll find another.  Heck, I already know what my next running challenge will be - next year I'm planning to start focusing on speedwork, aiming for PRs at 5k (stretch goal to be under 24 minutes) and half marathon (stretch for a sub-2-hour) distances.  So bring on the next one - I'm ready!

Don't forget to visit the Tuesdays on the Run Linkup!  I know it's (late) Wednesday already, this post didn't get posted when I planned, but there's still plenty of time to check out other bloggers' challenges and share your own!  Thanks to hosts MCM Mama Runs, My No Guilt Life, and Marcia's Healthy Slice!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Farewell to Summer!

Awwww summer is over!  Though my runs were sweltering, the other activities I filled my time with were incredible and I can't help but admit that this has probably been the best summer of my life.  For this week's Friday Five, here are some of the most fun things I got to do over the past few months!

5. Indian's Games

Though I only got to see a few games live this year (and that's a lot more than usual), I'm including watching games at home with my family in this one.  Going to the game is always fun, especially when my mom treats me to a turn in the club seats and alllllllll the amazing food that goes with being in the club, but my family is just the right amount of batty to make sitting at home watching games just as much fun!  Some of the conversations that have come up while the local ballclub is on the screen have been comedic gold, and I'm really hoping the trend continues into October as our first-place Indians make a playoff run!

4. Half Marathons

Yup, running makes the list even though there have been some days when the heat and/or humidity were brutal.  The bulk of my six-in-six half marathons were in the hot months, including my current PR race, and I have to admit that the travel for some of the events as well as the races themselves were interesting highlights for me over the course of the season.  Don't get me wrong - I'm definitely looking forward to running in the cooler fall weather!  I just think this year I've developed a better appreciation for more aspects of summer running than I had previously.

3. Cedar Point

I used to love going to amusement parks every summer, riding all the roller coasters, and having a blast.  But in the past decade, I haven't had a chance to go.  So when this summer came 'round and I ended up at Cedar Point not just once, but three times, I had lots of catching up to do!  I've now ridden every coaster in the park, including all the newer ones that I had missed over the years, plus I've had a chance to enjoy the Soak City water park next door as well.  Turns out, I'll have yet another opportunity to visit the Point this year, but it'll be even more special since it'll be Halloweekends - an event I've wanted to attend for years and years, so I'm pretty juiced I'll finally get my chance!  That makes this one a two-fer: something I'll miss about summer AND something I'm looking forward to for fall!

2. Concerts

Despite my sound sensitivity, I'm a huge fan of live music and have a long list of bands I'd love to see in concert.  Many of them are broken up or deceased, yet that hasn't stopped me from seeing live performances via tribute bands!  This year I've seen Zoso (Led Zeppelin), Satisfaction (Rolling Stones), a little Limelight (Rush), Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)...  A tie for my favorite performances pits Several Species, another Floyd tribute band that I saw in the incredible setting of Nelson's Ledges, against a non-specific tribute group called Classics Live that I saw perform David Bowie's album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" along with other Bowie hits.  I've rocked out and danced my heart out all over town, all summer long.  Can't beat it - until next year when I get season tickets for the Rockin' on the River series that wasn't on my radar early enough this year!

1. Festivals

Summer just wouldn't be summer without a healthy smattering of festivals and fairs, now would it?  My family has always spent time every summer popping in on every local or community festival we could find, usually in search of the best fair foods.  Quick note here: elephant ears are WAY better than funnel cake, no they are NOT "basically the same thing" and anyone who thinks funnel cakes are better has obviously never even HAD an elephant ear.  Moving on.  This year was no different, and I made sure to get all over town to check out fairs everywhere.  There was a music festival in Painesville, the Cleveland Air Show, several local church festivals, the Cuyahoga County Fair, and of course the Great Geauga County Fair which is always my favorite.  I stopped by my old buddies, the Flying Wallendas (you know, the world-famous aerial acrobatics family), for another great Circus Incredible show and snapped what might become our annual yoga photo afterwards (coming soon to Instagram).  There was a lot more going on at the fair but there's really only one video I can show here to emphasize how cool it was:

I kept busy this summer, between work and constantly exciting activities!  Fall is upon us, and for a while I thought it might be a relatively uneventful season, but there are plenty more races, concerts, day trips, and more on the schedule to keep the momentum going!

What were some of your summer highlights, and what are you looking forward to this fall?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Time Limit Races

Warning: this may very well be an "unpopular opinion" post.  It's also Thinking Out Loud Thursday, so it's not the most structured post - just a mish-mash of some of the thoughts that have popped into my head as my first marathon creeps ever closer.  I'm not against people of all ability levels participating in events, but it's about selecting the event that is RIGHT for you, not just something flashy that happens to be popular but isn't actually a good fit.

I'm talking about races with limited entry numbers.  Lotteries and qualifiers that receive HUGE numbers of applicants trying to register, but are forced to refuse entry to many runners simply because the course cannot accommodate.  These races usually take place in large cities, like New York or DC - and of course I'm mostly going to focus on the Marine Corps Marathon because that's the one for which I have the most firsthand knowledge.

MCM has two time cutoffs on the course.  If runners do not complete the section of the course prior to The Gauntlet at mile 15 or the 14th Street Bridge at mile 18 (called "Beating the Bridge" and formerly at mile 20) in the allotted amount of time, they are swept from the course and are not allowed to finish with an official time.  Runners need to maintain a pace of 14 minutes per mile to stay "alive" on the course.  MCM also has a limited registration field, and there are thousands of participants each year who are unable to compete because of the overwhelming number of registrants.

My question here is, how many people are entering the MCM lottery system with hopes to register knowing they cannot uphold the 14 minute pace requirement?  And a follow up, how many of those people actually receive spots in the race that are essentially nullified by their inability to finish?

This is on my mind because I know there are many people who would love to participate in this event, but cannot because of the many people attempting to enter - but these people are far faster than I, and would certainly complete the course in the allotted time.  Conversely, there are many people who are well aware they will not likely make the cutoff who are posting on Facebook and other social media about getting in via the lottery.  I've even seen some people say things like "this will be my third attempt, I have yet to complete the course but hoping to move faster this year!"  This is a person who knows they will not likely finish the marathon, who hasn't finished before, who is posting exactly nothing about any kind of training to make it appear like they're trying harder, and who is taking one of those spots another runner could have won.

Last year, I wrote a response to a quote from running great Steve Jones that claimed he doesn't "believe starting and finishing a marathon makes you a marathoner."  In my response I defended the slower runners, the people running to beat themselves instead of running to win the race.  Everyone who completes a marathon IS A MARATHONER.  That's not the argument I'm trying to make here, and I will never, ever belittle a person's incredible accomplishment.  My problem right now is, sure you want to finish a marathon at your pace, but why not find a marathon that doesn't have cutoffs?  Why take a highly coveted spot just because it's a higher profile race, instead of choosing an event that will actually accommodate you?  If you can't Beat the Bridge, you can't finish the Marine Corps Marathon, which means you will NOT be a marathoner!

Many many marathons will accommodate any pace.  There may not always be tons of course support if you're finishing in six hours or more, but you'll still be allowed to finish.  Someone will give you a medal and a time and put you in the results so you actually CAN be a marathoner.  I wouldn't do MCM if I didn't honestly believe I could complete it.  And I wouldn't feel right attempting it, being rerouted because I didn't Beat the Bridge, not receiving an official finish time - and then saying I did the Marine Corps Marathon.  Maybe some of these people don't mind fudging the truth a bit when they don't make the cutoff.  Maybe they still claim they finished, and that's on their conscience.  If you want to do a marathon, yes please do it!!!  But, let's find you one you can actually DO, eh?  Don't you want the accomplishment to be true and meaningful?

A marathon is a serious undertaking.  Finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment (no matter what pace).  There are plenty of opportunities to earn the accolades, though.  Let's save the time limit courses for the people who can reasonably expect to finish within the restraints.  Everyone has bad days and DNFs, but if you know you're going to be walking something like the MCM at a slow pace, maybe it isn't the right race for you.

So there's my rambling about marathons with time cutoffs and the people who attempt them with more than a reasonable doubt about their chances of success.  Again, I believe everyone who can cover 26.2 miles safely can be a marathoner!  But you should be able to do it on your terms, and a time limit race isn't always the best place for that.  If my Thinking Out Loud hasn't dissuaded you from checking out what other bloggers are thinking about, head over to linkup host Running with Spoons to read more recent randomness from the blogsphere!

What do you think - is it a bad idea for someone to register for a race they know they won't be able to finish, when there's a limited number of spots available?  How do you feel about people who don't actually complete courses but still claim to be a finisher?  Any suggestions for great races with no time limit?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Beating the Bridge

One of the big features of the Marine Corps Marathon is the Beat the Bridge challenge: participants must cross the 14th Street bridge by a certain time before the majority of the route reopens to city traffic, otherwise they are swept from the course and are unable to complete the marathon.  It's an intimidating cutoff for a first-timer, and it's been looming on my mind all year.  Would I be able to Beat the Bridge?

Normally, the Bridge is at mile 20 along the MCM course.  Runners have about five hours to make it across the bridge before the roads open, and that probably shouldn't have put me in so much of a panic considering my half marathon times get me through 13 miles in a reliable 2.5 hours or less - 20 miles in 5 hours should be no problem, right?  But still, I've been nervous.  Then, MCM released an updated course map when the DC metro service announced it would not be opening early this year to accommodate runners trying to get to the starting line.  In an attempt to give runners a little cushion, the route has been changed to put the Bridge at mile 18 instead of mile 20, which means it's even more likely that I'll be able to make it (provided I am at the starting line in proper time).  Even with the shorter distance, though, I knew I'd be much more confident if I could prove to myself I would make it.

Of course, my marathon training schedule was ready to accommodate me.  With my long runs getting increasingly longer, I'm running distances I've never dreamed I could.  And about a week ago, I actually completed my first 18 mile run!  Thanks to a great running buddy (slash training coach) I cruised through the run with far more ease than I expected.  Though I struggled at the tail end of the run from poor electrolyte planning (it's my longest run by a lot, I wasn't sure how to prepare properly), I still finished my trial Beat the Bridge run in 3.5 hours - proving that I will have AMPLE time to cross the bridge and stay alive come MCM race day!

With additional long runs coming up, I'll be well-practiced at the long haul in plenty of time to make MCM my first complete marathon.  I have to admit, right now I'm feeling pretty accomplished: following a training program, seeing results, and completing a half marathon every month along the way...  So I guess I'll be linking this post up with Deb Runs and the rest of the Wednesday Word gang since today's word happens to be "accomplish"!  Check out what other bloggers think about their accomplishments by visiting the linkup via the button below - and tell us about YOUR biggest accomplishments in the comments!

Deb Runs

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Running Advice

It's another Tuesday on the Run - and today we're talking about the best running advice we've ever received.  This is a very hard prompt for me, since I have received a LOT of advice over the past couple of years, most of which has made me faster, stronger, and more devoted to the world of running.  Much of that advice was indirect, and I didn't really absorb it at the time, so it's hard to really pinpoint what the actual best advice has been.  So instead, here are some pieces of advice I have found most useful over the past two years!

Get fitted for the right shoes.  I ran in whatever was around for a while, then I ran in some hand-me-downs from a multi-marathoner because they were better shoes, but neither plan was what one might call a "good idea".  Finally, I went to a running specialty store and not only bought shoes that were right for my gait, I also had custom insoles fitted.  Having shoes that fit properly and compensated for the tendencies of my running style made it possible for me to move forward in training and achieve new goals.  It cannot be stressed enough, the importance of wearing the right shoes!

Run slower to run faster.  Counter-intuitive though it may seem, this phrase is pretty often heard around the running world, and when I happened to start paying heed to it in the middle of a recent race, I learned that it was far more true than it sounds.  Training doesn't have to be all-out, balls-to-the-wall speed training every time you lace up; in fact, slowing down really can make a huge difference in how fast you run.  Check out some training plans and find one that matches some of your goals and your schedule, you'll be surprised!

Recovery, recovery, recovery.  Building a solid recovery program is so key to staying on your feet and moving forward.  Injury lurks in every shadow, especially when you're increasing training to prepare for a big goal.  Taking proper care of your body post-run and on off days is vital to maintaining your training gains and staying healthy.  When I was a team sport athlete, I definitely did NOT spend enough time thinking about recovery; I am pretty sure I sabotaged myself frequently because I wouldn't take ten minutes to stretch or roll out a tweaked muscle.  Now, I use an entire arsenal of recovery tools, including foam rollers, compression sleeves, yoga, hydration, recovery flip flops, supplements, and good ol' fashioned rest'n'relaxation!  Listen to your body.  Tend to its needs.  It'll take you where you need to go!

I'm sure I could make a list that goes on for days if I were to recount ALL the amazing advice I've been given or "accidentally" picked up over the years!  These three items are certainly some of the biggest game-changes I've put into practice, though, so hopefully by sharing my experiences, next time this question comes around someone might be writing about MY advice!  But really, the best piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to start running, it would be to "just do it".  You'll love what running does for you!

I'm not the only one with advice for runners though - head over to Marcia's Healthy Slice, the host of Tuesdays on the Run, for links to other running bloggers sharing the words of wisdom that have powered hundreds of miles across the pavement!  You never know when you'll find the next big piece of your running puzzle...

Don't forget to share YOUR favorite piece of running advice in the comments!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Becoming a Morning Runner

Historically, I have been far from a "morning person".  Throughout my school days, all the way through grad school, I suffered from insomnia and couldn't fall asleep at a regular time.  When I finally DID drift off, the last thing I wanted to do was wake up only an hour or two later.  I'd put up with a disgustingly early alarm if work or classes called for it, or for a game or practice if that's what's on the schedule...  But wake up early on my own?  Never.  I've always relished every extra minute I could spend under the covers before having to face the day - until recently.

I'm not sure what initiated the switch.  This awful summer heat was probably a big factor in hauling out of bed early, trying to pound out my weekday mileage before it became sweltering and I chickened out.  Several people have also suggested that more morning training will help prepare my body for race days, which almost always start pretty early.  Plus, I'm still staying with my parents for now, which means they get up early and make some noise, so I'm usually awake-ish before I really want to be, so I guess between all these things, it started to click that morning running might be for me.

After a few weeks, I've actually started planning multiple morning runs each week.  Being able to get the mileage out early means I can come home from work and take care of other things (like puppy and blogging, eh) and eat without worrying about how it will affect my run later.  Morning mileage also makes me more alert throughout the day, and I've noticed a little extra weight loss in the past couple weeks too.  Sounds like a pretty good package so far!

Of course, some of these benefits I'm noticing aren't necessarily just from the run itself, but from the overall habit adjustments that have come with changing my schedule a bit.  Early workouts kickstart your day with more than just a good sweat or metabolic boost: I'm now finding myself with enough time for an actual breakfast, and because the early morning running is making me feel all healthy, I've been making smarter decisions for what I eat.  Earnest Eats has sent me some single-serving hot cereals to try, and I've had one every day this week - loading up on superfood grains and slow carbs, plus extra protein and a great shot of fiber in each cup.  My new obsession with almond butter and raspberry Greek yogurt carries me through lunch, and I'm back to making home-cooked dinners more often (especially when it's so easy to grill up a fresh burger).  Just the little AM boost helped push me on track for a better overall diet.

My extra time in the morning also gives me a little window for some yoga in the early sun's rays.  This month I've been participating in another yoga challenge with my fellow Move More Fitness ambassadors, but I don't feel pressured to just throw up my pose for the day, snap a few pics, and rush out the door.  Most days, I take a little time to stretch after my run and really practice a pose or two.  Flexibility is hard for me to come by; with dedicated work, though, I already am seeing a little extra range of motion.  Also, a regular stretching and/or yoga routine can decrease the risk of injury, and with the Marine Corps Marathon only 44 days away, anything that will keep me mobile belongs in my daily schedule!

These past couple days, though, I've noticed a little stomach trouble mid-way through my runs.  At first I was a little worried, but then I realized it's most likely a combination of two things.  One, I think I'm a bit under the weather, as we've started seeing cooler evenings and even some cooler days, so the pressure changes are affecting me.  Two, and probably the larger factor, is that my body is adjusting to waking up early, so my hunger and other body functions are coming online more quickly!  For the first couple weeks, it was a shock to my body.  Didn't really know how to handle it.  "She's up already?  What do WE do?  Uhhhh just hang out, I guess...?"  (That's my internal organ dialog happening.)  Now, though, it's "Okay, we're up, let's do this!"  I'm sure with more practice, I'll have the details worked out!

Do you run in the morning or in the evening?  Or whenever fits your schedule?  Did it take you a while to adjust if you weren't a morning person before starting morning runs?  What are some of the hiccups you've experienced while changing a training schedule?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Surviving Summer

Let's face it: Cleveland really does have four seasons.  There's almost winter, winter, and still winter, which sometimes blend together into a big white blur in our memories, but there's one other season that always sticks out - and I don't mean orange barrel season!  We're finally coming to the end of the summer right now, but the last three months have been absolutely brutal, one of the hottest seasons we've ever seen here.

Old Amanda would have just found ways to hide in the air conditioning or in front of a fan all summer, but New Amanda is a runner in marathon training.  Without a treadmill, I haven't really had an option to avoid the outdoors, but as a heavy sweater, I struggle even in cooler temperatures to stay properly hydrated.  Constant 90-degree forecasts had me a little scared as we headed into summer, but then I made a connection that not only saved my training schedule, it also enhanced the training I was able to do.

Hydrus Peformance Hydration Beverage is a liquid concentrate, to be added to normal water before, during, and after training.  Sure, there are tons of electrolyte mixes out there for athletes to choose from, but so far this is the only liquid version I've seen.  And it turns out, the liquid delivery form is the secret to the success I've experienced using Hydrus.  Basically the electrolytes are stored in little bubbles in the liquid, which absorb much more quickly into the body.  Not only does it absorb faster, but those bubbles also pull in even more of that good ol' H2O, leading to increased hydration.  When you're running in the scorching hot summer, every last bit of water that can get into your body is essential!

Dehydration has always been an issue for me.  Y'know that Old Amanda I mentioned before?  She haaaaated drinking water, even during sports seasons.  I remember college games in which my team's trainer actually tried to force me to drink water at halftime and threatened to have me taken out of the game if I continued to be "unsafe" - and I STILL refused!  Honestly, I do not know why I was so averse to staying hydrated, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I finally started drinking water (right around the time I ditched soda, gosh was that a great idea!).  Even now that I'm a water-drinker, though, I still struggle with hydration.  I have seen noticeable differences since starting to drink Hydrus.  Let's talk about some specific examples.

On several occasions, I could feel how dehydrated I was early in the day.  Sluggish, sore, sleepy, with that cottony taste in my mouth.  But, I'm marathon training, which means even on hot days when I'm already depleted, I really can't miss a run.  I keep a bottle of Hydrus (orange flavor, my preference over the lemon lime) at work with a big bottle; on mid-week run days or days before a morning run, I'll drink at least one bottle worth of prepared water to start the lubrication process early.  By the end of the bottle, there's a remarkable difference in how alert I am, how energized I feel, and how ready I am to run.  If it's a short run, I'll prep another bottle for when I finish; longer runs, I take small bottles of Hydrus-infused agua with me.  A few times, I've forgotten to drink my Hydrus before a run, and I seriously struggled on those outings!  Cramping and overheating (even on night runs) hit me after just a couple miles - but if I pulled out the Hydrus as soon as I got home, the negative sensations went away quickly.

Hydrus also seems to be helping with nausea and heartburn issues.  One particularly bad run, for which I neglected to pre-hydrate properly, I felt overwhelmingly awful for the entire four miles.  I remember Tweeting mid-run to ask other runners what the etiquette is for puking in someone's front yard.  I somehow managed to hold down my dinner, but the queasiness made every step agony.  The moment I got in the door, I tore into a Hydrus packet and chugged.  It only took about two minutes for my nausea to go away!  Similarly, a couple times I foolishly decided to run after eating some very spicy Indian food, which gave me some pretty nasty heartburn mid-run.  A few swigs of Hydrus had that problem solved neat as you please.

Performance-wise, I've been crushing my times lately!  Obviously there's much more going into my training than just Hydrus, but a well-oiled machine is definitely a very large portion of the equation.  Long run times are down almost 30 seconds per mile over my spring splits, leading to big PRs at both the Towpath 10-10 and the recent Boy Scout Half, as well as training PRs along the way.  I'm also hitting longer distances with surprising ease, including my first 18 miler last Friday night.  Recovery is moving along nicely too.  Whereas I used to be almost immobile the day after a long run or a tough half race, these days I'm up the next day practically bouncing around (okay, usually it's actually bouncing around) with minimal soreness.  Again, there's more to it than just the Hydrus, but hydration is certainly a huge piece of the recovery puzzle as well.

I've actually used Hydrus to make my own energy chews, as well!  Good running fuel combines carbs and electrolytes in an easily-consumable serving, so what better way to utilize the best electrolyte mix I've found than to combine it with some sugar and plunk it into a gummy bear mold, right?  My first batch didn't come out as well as I'd like thanks to undercooking, but I actually let the overly-runny "chews" sit for a few days and had some usable little gummies that tasted great and seemed to provide adequate fuel mid-run.  I'll continue to work on the recipe and post when I have a better outcome, but I believe I'm on to a great alternative use of my favorite hydration product.

Additionally, Hydrus is being used in the medical world as well!  The higher absorption rate and reliable electrolyte delivery system is being tested in various ways to enhance the way some diseases and illness are treated.  I'll admit I'm not well-versed enough in the technical end to be able to better explain the applications, but from what I DO understand, some medical fields are already benefiting big-time from the Hydrus technology.  Cool!

I wouldn't have made it through many of my runs these past few months if it wasn't for Hydrus.  Even non-run days when I wasn't feeling well, mixing up a bottle and drinking a little extra made me feel so much better very quickly.  I've tried both flavors, and while the lemon lime seems a little sour to me (I either put too much in and it's overwhelming, or not enough and it's a very faint sourness that kinda bugs me), the orange flavor is right on the money for my tastes!  Slightly citrusy without being overwhelmingly so, it's refreshing and easily drinkable in any situation.  I'd like to try adding it to smoothies too, since it would blend nicely with the fruity flavors.  I've also noticed exactly ZERO gut problems with Hydrus, which is a chronic problem for many runners experimenting with different fuel and electrolyte options.  Knowing I can chug away at my Hydrus and not have any awkward problems later is great feeling.

By now, you've probably guessed that my plan is to keep myself very well stocked with Hydrus as I continue increasing my training mileage, even as the temperatures cool.  Staying consistent is a big part of success, and I have been very much enjoying my many successes of late!  I'm hunting down a few more goals for next year beyond just completing my first full marathon - for example, I'm hoping to continue my half-marathon-each-month trend into a full year, and I'll be gunning for a sub-25 5k next spring - and I know I'll need Hydrus by my side to accomplish my increasingly ambitious goals.  Of course, I also know that if I DO stick to my training and my reliable gear, those "ambitious" goals are going to be well within my grasp!

What's your go-to hydration solution?  Do you struggle with heavy sweating or some other condition that causes increased loss of fluids/electrolytes?  What goals are you chasing these days?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Distance Training Intervals

There's an adage in the running community that proclaims: "run slower to go faster."  When I first heard this saying, I was like

It didn't seem to make sense.  Isn't slower the opposite of faster?  What I didn't understand at the time was that the quote didn't mean "just run slower,"  Instead, with strategically placed intervals and an understanding of why slower movement can enhance overall times, I learned that a slower pace really can improve race times and overall running fitness.

Recently, my training has dictated that my long runs get increasingly longer.  Every week, I'll be running "the farthest I've ever run in my life at one time" repeatedly.  Tonight, for example, I have an 18 mile run date with a good friend who is coaching me through the last few legs of marathon training.  Previously, I would never have thought it possible for me to actually complete a run of this distance, let alone in any reasonable amount of time.  But sitting here writing this, I'm pretty confident it won't take me much more than a few hours to cover the mileage.  Why?  Because my training lately has used intervals to my very strong advantage.

Here's how I've learned to harness the unexpected power of slowing down to enhance my training and make huge gains (like last Saturday's four minute half marathon PR).  It's very simple: every time I hit a mile marker or hear my GPS announce the end of a mile, I walk while I count to 60.  When my 60-count is up, I start running again.  And, that's it!  Doesn't sound like much, does it?

What I've found is that my 60-count (usually less than 60 seconds, since I count kinda fast) is enough time for me to take a swig of water, nibble on an energy chew, or even just take a few deep breaths.  It's a mental and physical reset period that I earn every mile.  I take stock of my body condition and my performance to that point, formulate my plan for the next mile, and then get right back to the run.  My average pace on long runs of 10 miles or more has dropped more than 30 seconds, and I've found myself running some of the fastest sustained splits when employing my run/walk intervals.

Intervals are a tool in the runner's arsenal.  I do run/walk with mileage as my intensity change indicator, but many runners designate timed intervals instead.  For example, I ran half a race with a woman who had a watch set to beep after her run/walk splits set at 3 minutes run, 2 minutes walk.  That was actually the race experience that convinced me to add intervals to my regular training!  Intensity intervals aren't unique to running, either.  High intensity interval training, or HIIT, workouts like Tabata training (see my article in the Active Acadiana for more information) feature periods of maximum effort with set rest intervals worked in between bodyweight or other exercises.

Challenging your body, then rewarding it with rest, can enhance your endurance and strength in astonishing ways.  If you haven't tried it yet, I definitely recommend finding an interval training method that you're comfortable with - and I promise you'll see improvements!

How have you incorporated interval training into your fitness routines?  Have you tried "running slower to run faster"?  What other training tips do you have?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Boy Scout Half Marathon Race Recap

You know the story by now: six half marathons in six months.  A lofty goal, trying to earn myself a second moon in the Half Fanatics rankings while keeping myself honest about running consistently during marathon training.  Well, this past weekend, I ran my sixth half this year, crossed the finish line, and earned more than just another HF moon level.

The night before the Boy Scout Half Marathon, though, I had a moment of awful panic.  I had thought, for some odd reason, that Bowling Green was an hour closer than it actually is.  Suddenly, my "not that far" morning drive was twice as long and I had to be on the road at about 4:45am.  Yikes.  By the time I realized this, it was too late to "go to bed early" and I was horrified that I had blown my chance at a PR simply by not getting enough sleep.  With all the great training runs I've had lately, and rumors of a very flat course, I had really been looking forward to a great race.  I went to bed as soon as I could, woke up early the next morning, and hit the road.

My drive went pretty smoothly, with some good jams and good road trip company.  And even though I left a little later than planned (I was more than a little sluggish at that 4:30 wake up call), I arrived with about 45 minutes before the race.  Packet pickup on race morning was a snap, with lots of attentive volunteers and an intelligent layout ready to service the hundreds of runners participating in the half or the 5k.  My boyfriend hung out at the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast most of the morning, which was set up right next to the finish line, while I pulled on my shoes, pinned on my bib, and prepped to start running.

September is finally here, which means cooler temperatures (hopefully) and the start of fall running weather.  Saturday morning started with that crisp fall air and I revisited my PR hopes as I realized the intense summer heat may be breaking for more favorable conditions.  We launched off with little notice (no anthem, no bell or horn, just suddenly moving) and I took off with the back-middle of the pack.  Because I run by how I'm feeling, and there were no pacers to gauge off, I just kinda started running, finding myself passing many of the participants very quickly.  The first mile marker came up way faster than I was expecting - 9:36 pace.  Not bad, and I knew it was sustainable for a little while, but I would rather go a little slower early and stay stronger at the end.  I tried to slow down and run comfortably, but before I knew it, I was passing mile two - 8:52, what?!  The only times I've run sub-9s have all been 5k distance or shorter, and even then it's rare for me to see that 8 out front.  I was crushing it early, feeling great, enjoying the coolness - and then, the sun started to climb into the sky.

It seemed like 90% of this race was run directly into the rising sun.  Of course that's not really how it went, but the amount of time I spent staring into the bright light on a cloudless day messed with me mentally.  My splits stayed low for ten straight miles, but when less than a mile of that was in any semblance of shade, even the actually cooler temperature didn't seem any less awful than the past couple months' worth of summer heat.  By mid-mile 10, I was losing it.  My legs felt heavy.  I was lightheaded.  My stomach was burning.  I walked a little more than I planned in my interval pacing - 10:30, ugh, but still getting me back to the finish in time for a PR.  Then mile 11 happened.  A lot of walking.  Coughing up vomit around halfway through.  More running into the sun, and other runners around me struggling just as much - 12:00, crap.  Only a mile and change to go, but my awesome PR run was falling apart.

Then, one of the course volunteers said something that wasn't exactly special or funny or whatever; he said "everything is taking you back to the fairgrounds now, you're not running away any more!"  The finish line was at the fairgrounds, and he was right, all the turns took us closer to the event area.  We weren't turning further away (and therefore adding twice the distance with every step).  I had texted my boyfriend around the time I threw up and told him I didn't think I was going to make the PR time.  He'd texted me back that yes, of course I'd still make it, I just had to get back to him in less than 25 minutes.  Well I'd already eaten up 12 of those minutes, so between the inspirational texts and the oddly comforting course marshal's words, I was able to dig deep and get the wheels turning again.

I took the last mile with as much vigor as I could muster, encouraging the other runners who had been gutting it out with me for much of the race.  I caved and walked for another small portion, but caught up to another young woman who was struggling and we talked each other up to get running for the final stretch.  Approaching the finish, I saw my boyfriend with a big smile waiting to take photos (I haven't had someone waiting for me at the finish for any race yet this year, it helped more than I ever realized to have support on the sidelines) and the big clock at the finish with numbers that made my heart soar.  Pushing as hard as I could for the last steps, I crossed as the announcer called my name and the clock ticked me to a four minute PR.  "Amanda Nyx from Cleveland, she came a long way to be here today!"  You have no idea, announcer man, just how far I have come to this point.  I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

"The rest of the day" ended up meaning another hour in the car en route to Sandusky, where we spent the next four hours at Soak City water park running up way too many stairs for all the water slides, followed by another five hours at Cedar Point standing for a very, very long time in lines for some of the best roller coasters on the planet.  I spent the whole day stretching and wearing my Telics to prevent any additional soreness from developing.  Even the next day, I was surprised how healthy and limber I felt considering how much pressure and stress I had put on my legs and feet on Saturday!  When I look at the big picture - my splits, the PR, my training, my recovery, all the aspects that contributed to this race experience - I come to only one realization: I am a RUNNER!

Boy Scout Half Marathon Breakdown

Organization: I am incredibly impressed with this race.  The staging area, while small and seemingly cramped when I approached, was easy to navigate and kept everyone (runners and spectators) centralized near both the start and finish.  Post-race food for athletes was easy to access and ample; I was also impressed that spectators respected the runners' right to the refreshments.  Certainly the $6 donation all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast helped keep the spectators full and out of our food!  Volunteer support was excellent, with Boy Scout troops at almost all the aid stations, and Girl Scouts manning the rest!  We also had ample police support, with officers at all major intersections managing traffic very carefully.  Many of the main roads on which we ran were surprisingly active; cars were lining up for a good distance along some of the streets.  There was no point at which I worried a car was going to hit a runner, though, thanks to the combination of authoritative police presence and vocal volunteers supporting those officers.  THANK YOU for keeping us safe!

The Course: As promised, the course was sooooo flat!  A few short uphills led to a small net elevation gain, but at no point did I feel like I was clawing my way up a difficult incline.  In fact, when I look at my GPS information and see that it was a 200 foot gain, I'm not quite sure I even believe it!  I don't remember having to go UP all that much.  The downside to the very flat Bowling Green area is the hightened exposure to the sun.  Many stretches of road were totally unprotected from the sun's rays.  Combined with the crystal clear blue sky, this made for some gruelingly sunny sections of course that challenged me mentally more than I thought a little sun really could.  We also went through a little housing development around mile 8 that was very twisty-turny.  That section was difficult to run on the tangents and I ended up adding another .2 miles to my GPS tracking amid all the squiggling about.  Overall, though, it's hard for me to complain about a course that let me PR by several minutes despite totally falling apart for an entire mile!  From what I see on social media, it seems that many runners celebrated PRs on the course, and I can understand why!

The Swag: Another very reasonably priced half marathon (I paid $40, race day cost was only $50!), with some really cool stuff for the runners.  Brooks shirts have been popular at races this year, as they should be for how nice they are to run in, but I gotta admit I am NOT digging the red.  Men in the half received a shirt with red/white designs on a dark blue shirt which was MUCH more appealing to me personally, but it's still a very cool logo and the Brooks womens' cut always fits me nicely.  We also received the most unique finisher medal I've yet earned: a wooden slice with the Boy Scout logo laser etched!  It may not be big or gaudy or flashy, but it's easily one of my favorite pieces from my medal collection.  Along with the take-home swag, the post race food spread was diverse and ample, with everything from bananas and watermellon, to crackers and granola bars, and even Twizzlers!  I couldn't stop munching while I tried to keep my calves moving and stretching after the run.  Photos were made available for purchase, and while I'd of course rather have free photos, this event's photographer has the lowest prices I've yet seen for race photos, so I suppose that's a point in favor despite the lack of freebies.  Between the take-homes, the food, and all the attention to detail and safety on the course (and at the event as a whole), I'd say my $40 was VERY well spent!  And oh yeah, it supports the Boy Scouts - let's just throw a little more "win" onto this pile!

The Bottom Line: If you're hunting for the perfect PR race, you have found it.  Well-timed to keep the beauty of summer with the crisper mornings of pre-fall, well-priced to provide you a great experience without breaking the bank, and well-plotted to put you on the best-possible 13.1 miles in northwest Ohio, the Boy Scout Half Marathon is the perfect tune-up race for fall marathoners or for the half fanatic looking to snipe out a new personal record!

What was your most recent PR course like?  What factors went into achieving the PR?  What's your favorite/most unique piece of race bling?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Runner Crate: May the Fourth Be With You

This post should have been up in June, but got lost in the shuffle.  Deepest apologies to Runner Crate for the delay!  They were generous enough to provide me with a trial box at no cost; as usual all opinions expressed herein are my own.  The long delay in posting has nothing to do with the product, just with scheduling.  Thanks for your patience!

I love subscription boxes.  My obsessions with Sapphire Soul and Ashi Box led me to searching for other types of boxes, especially running-related, and it was only a matter of time before Runner Crate crossed my path.  A monthly subscription service that brings more than just samples to your door, Runner Crate also packs a challenge and a reward into every package!  My first Crate came in May, with a Star Wars themed award in honor of May the Fourth, along with a bunch of goodies to try.  Let's take a look!  (You can also view my video unboxing here.)

Like many fitness boxes, Runner Crate comes brimming with snacks for you to try.  Not all of them were winners in this box, but that's of course part of the usefulness of trial boxes: learning what you do and do NOT like, before buying a whole pack.  I definitely did not care for the chicken sriracha Epic bar, which looks almost as bad as it tastes; nor am I a fan of "zesty nacho" chips.  I did, however, enjoy the pumpkin Go Raw bar, the almond butter, and the hazelnut butter pretzel snacks!  And the dragonfruit hot cereal wasn't too bad either, though it was definitely a departure from what I'm used to...  Again, kind of the point!  Trying new things, figuring out what works and what doesn't work, and getting exposure to things you've never even heard of - all major benefits to subscription boxes.  I appreciated getting enough of each product to actually get a feel for the taste and texture - other boxes I've tried in the past didn't even send a single full serving of some products!  Big Runner Crate win here.

Speaking of WINS, Runner Crate puts another notch in the "W" column by including a piece of running gear in every box.  May's item was a running belt, featuring a huge pouch, reflective strip, and elastic clasp.  I've tried a few running belts, and while my hydration belt is still my favorite, my new Runner Crate belt is a great option for shorter runs.  Additionally, each month's box comes with a running challenge and an award for completing said challenge.  To be honest, I found the May "challenge" to be not that difficult, as each day's workout included less than one mile total distance with the majority of that distance taken at a walk.  While this makes for an ideal "get started" challenge, it doesn't really give more seasoned runners a useful workout, giving the Runner Crate more of a "beginner" feel.  The included award for completing the May challenge is an interesting twist on the traditional medal: it's a light-up decoration, with a Star Wars May the Fourth theme!  It needs batteries to work, but it's definitely different from anything I've seen before.

The final win for Runner Crate is something I almost overlooked: at the back of the included information card (which highlights each product and the challenge), there's a recipe sent in by one of their runners!  May's recipe was Sunday Buffalo Strips, and while that's not a dish I'd be eating very often, I gave the recipe to my family for a little football season variety.  The recipe looks to be more healthy than other buffalo strip dishes I've seen, and I'm very interested to see what other recipes get highlighted in future boxes.

I really like the idea of the Runner Crate: provide a challenge, gear and fuel to accomplish the challenge, and a reward for completion.  With a wide variety of interesting and non-mainstream snacks, the Crate definitely provides exposure to a wider portion of the running world's vast network of nutrition products, while the inclusion of a piece of gear (from what I've seen, past crates have even included some awesome footwear) provides runners with an arsenal for success.  The challenges could be more adaptable to more experienced runners by providing different levels or tiers, but that's really the only opportunity for improvement I see in a product that is already incredibly solid.  This would make an excellent gift for someone who wants to start building a fitness lifestyle, for sure!

What are some of the unusual snacks you've tried?  Have you ever received a running subscription box?  What types of gear or snacks would you like to see in a runner box?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Perfect Running Shorts

I made that mistake the other day.  You know the one - you've worn a particular article of clothing for lots of short runs and never had a problem, so you assume it'll be perfect for your half marathon, even though you've never run more than a 5k in that item.  When that item is your shorts, you're in a LOT of trouble.  If you haven't learned the lesson the hard way, please listen to me now and learn it the easy way!

It became obvious that my trusty ol' racing shorts were not quite so trusty now that I'm consistently running longer distances.  With my lofty six-in-six half marathon goals, I needed a solution, and I needed it FAST.  Then, at the Rite Aid Marathon Weekend expo, I met Amy the Gypsy Runner, and she solved all my chafing problems - along with providing better solutions to other issues I've been trying to solve!

Amy sells a huge variety of running gear: everything from tank tops to shorts to skirts to compression sleeves and everything in between.  With dozens of cute and clever shirt prints and a big selection of patterns for her shorts, capris, and skirts, it would be so easy to fill my entire wardrobe with Gypsy!  But to start, I just had to try her amazing double-pocket shorts, which are available in a 7" length as well as a 9" length for those of us who hate hate HATE when those booty shorts ride up too far!  Being an outta-this-world kinda gal (heh), I naturally chose the Cosmic pattern, and went with the shorter length.  It's long enough to not ride up, but short enough to be versatile in both hot and cooler weather.

I took a couple short training runs in my new shorts, and all was looking good - so far.  After working up the mileage a little bit, I was confident enough to test them in a longer-distance race, and chose the Towpath 10-10 as my guinea pig.  It was going to be a hot day, and knowing the Towpath valley, I expected a bit of mugginess along the canal too, so it was the perfect test of the material's moisture wicking and breathability.

Now, there's no way to know what exactly was the cause, but I flew through that race like you wouldn't believe.  I ran sub-10 splits for the first time at any distance longer than 5k, and PRed by almost 10 full minutes.  It was, for lack of a better word, bonkers.  I felt amazing for most of the run, apart from a little hamstring strain towards the very end of the race, and could not believe how well I did.  Was it the shorts, or was it just better training/preparation?  The world may never know, but I DO know that my new shorts were perfectly fitted, did not ride up, did not chafe, and pulled my sweat away from my skin so I never felt swampy no matter how hot and muggy the morning became, and all of that is almost as much of a WIN as the PR!

With the chafing issue properly addressed, the shorts were already a great purchase - but the awesomeness doesn't end with just a great pair of running shorts.  There's the whole "double pocket" part.  I've used a variety of running belts to bring keys, nutrition, my phone, and even water with me on my runs, but even the best belts in my collection are a little awkward.  Between bouncing around, needing constant adjustment, and not having enough space for everything, I haven't found the perfect carry-all belt option yet.  Fortunately, thanks to Gypsy Runner, I don't need to keep searching!  The huuuuuuuge pockets provide ample secure storage for my runs.  I tuck my phone in one pocket (my Droid Mini fits sideways into the pocket for even more security), a key and some nutrition in the other, and I'm ready to go.  If the run is very long (like the marathon training 20 milers I'm about to hit), I can toss extra nutrition in the other pocket.  I can also wear a belt and use both options to ensure I have everything I need, especially on days when I need water along with me on the run.  I had originally worried there would still be bouncing, but so far, nothing I have tucked away has moved mid-run.

Towel and phone stuffed in pockets, water and fuel on hip.  Great!

I love these shorts so much, I haven't worn much else in a couple months!  So many runners have asked about them, especially when they see me using the POCKETS that most other running shorts DON'T have!  After the Rock Hall Half, I forgot to toss my humid, sweaty, mucky clothes into the wash in time for my next long run, but the importance of wearing those shorts was so great to me that I wore them dirty (and I mean these things were nasty, I should probably be embarrassed to admit this in a public post) and gutted out the run despite the nauseating smell.  And pretty much flew through that run too - almost making sub-10 splits despite the massive hills I threw into the middle!  Are we seeing a pattern here?

Well the verdict is that Gypsy Runner shorts are AMAZING.  In fact, I just got two new pairs (in equally awesome patterns) in the mail today, so that whole gross-unwashed-rewearing thing doesn't have to happen again and I can always have a pair ready to go whenever I need!

And what's even better than hearing about the perfect product?  Getting a discount, I should think!  Thanks to Amy's generosity, I can offer you a discount on your next Gypsy Runner purchase!  Use promo code FITNYX to get $5 off your order of $45 or more.  This code is valid through September 8, so don't wait - grab the best pair of running shorts you'll ever own right away!

What's your favorite piece of running gear?  Why are pockets the greatest things known to (wo)man?  Check out Gypsy Runner and tell me what your favorite patterns are!