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March 24, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Running Buddy Saves the Day!

Just as I was sitting down to write a blog post about pre-race anxiety, something terrible happened that made my pre-race jitters seem totally trivial.

At 4:30 today, I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to pick up my race packet at the expo for the half marathon tomorrow. I frantically searched for the e-mail about it, and my heart absolutely sunk when I saw that packet pickup was going to close at 5:00 pm.

The expo location is about a half an hour drive from where I am, and with only my bike there was no way I would get there in time. They don’t let you pick up your packet on race day, and if you don’t have a bib you can’t run.

My heart was pounding and I felt like I could throw up. This may sound melodramatic, but I have been looking forward to running my first half marathon in the Oakland Run Fest since I first heard about it several months before moving to the Bay Area. So much time and emotion has gone into preparing for and looking forward to this race.

I called my only friend with a car in the area, and he was too far away to be able to help. Then I started calling girls from my running club, and I got ahold of Emily. Now, Emily has graciously been letting me carpool with her to our group long runs on Sundays, which bounce around to different locations in the East Bay and are difficult to get to without a car. So, as if she hadn’t already been enough of a godsend by making it possible for me to train with a wonderful, supportive group of ladies, she came through for me AGAIN!

Emily had just left the race expo minutes before when I called her, and she was able to turn around and pick up my packet for me. In another stroke of good fortune, the race organizers didn’t give her a hard time like I thought they might, since they seemed to have a strict policy that proxies must have your authorization in writing. Emily lives pretty close to me, so I was able to just bike over to her house and pick it up from her. I couldn’t thank her enough for being such a lifesaver.

I cannot cannot cannot believe that for all my enthusiasm for this half marathon I almost completely ruined it for myself! I even knew about the need to pick up my packet at the race expo the day before, and I had planned out my day around it. Then somehow I found myself sitting at a cafe at 4:30, and the whole thing had completely slipped my mind.

Well, all’s well that ends well, and thank GOODNESS for awesome running buddies that have your back! Here’s to a fantastic race day tomorrow.

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March 24, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Taper time

On Sunday I’ll be running my first-ever half marathon at the Oakland Running Festival! Surprisingly, I’ve been even more neurotic about my taper week than any previous week of training.

Since I haven’t been following any particular training schedule (rather a mishmash of my running group’s plan, a Runkeeper plan, and whatever I felt like each day) I wasn’t sure exactly how much is considered optimal for someone of my level to run during taper week.

Finally I decided to air on the side of less. Since I went up to 16 miles for my longest long run, which is even more than most half marathon training plans call for,  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let my legs rest a little more in the final week so I can arrive at the starting line feeling fresh.

I found justification in running blogs, like this one which repeats a common saying about race prep: “There’s nothing you can do in the week before a race to help yourself. You can only do things that hurt yourself.”

Ironically, choosing to run less and give your legs the rest they need the week before a race takes a lot of self-discipline! As Jeff Gaudette (the running coach who designed most of the training plans on Runkeeper) advises: by taper week all your hard work and training is “in the barn.” You have to trust that all the hard work you’ve done in the previous weeks has prepared you.

So, without further ado, this is what this week’s run schedule looked like for me:

Sunday: 10 miles, last “long” run before the taper

Tuesday: 4.6 miles at half-marathon goal pace (just under 9 minutes)

Thursday: 3 miles

Saturday: 15 minute “shakeout” run

Sunday (tomorrow): Race Day!

I kept seeing Oakland Running Festival signs around where I work in downtown. Makes me so incredibly excited for the race!

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March 18, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

RunKeeper

Shortly after my dad and I ran the 10K, I moved away to the Bay Area for a new job. Despite the distance, my dad continues to be a motivation for my running. We keep track of each other on RunKeeper, an amazing (and free!) GPS-enabled app that I have been using to track all my runs since November.

Runkeeper.com keeps a beautiful record of all your runs, including time, maps, splits, average pace, calories burned, and elevation climbed. It’s a feast for a data freak like me! Here is a screenshot from one of my recent activities:

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Runkeeper also has a great social network component. It shares your maps, time, average pace, and other stats with your friends, and likewise you can see their workout updates in newsfeed format. The new version also lets you take pictures during your run within the app and write a little blurb about how you feel at the end.

Another great thing about RunKeeper is its built-in training plans designed by well-known running coaches. Once C25K ended for me I knew that I needed some sort of plan to structure my runs so that I could know how to safely and steadily build up my mileage and have the sense of working toward a goal. So, I signed up for a half-marathon training plan with no particular half-marathon in mind. The running schedule included some helpful notes about what each run was supposed to accomplish, and if the run included intervals then RunKeeper would give an audio notification when it was time to step it up or slow it down.

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When intrinsic motivation isn’t enough to get you out the front door, having a social running app is an effective accountability measure. When I’m riding high on an endorphin rush after a good run, getting to share that excitement with my friends makes it all the more fun!

There are other fitness tracking apps out there, like Mapmyrun and the Nike app. I’ve used Mapmyrun’s website before, but only to play around with mapping out potential routes before I run them. I’ve heard negative reviews about the accuracy of the Nike app, so I’ve never considered using it. From what I can tell, RunKeeper’s GPS seems to be pretty accurate, and overall I’m really happy with the user experience.

I did get an awesome Garmin GPS watch and heartrate monitor as a gift a few months ago, which is going to be an even more accurate way to track my runs. I’m ashamed to say that I still have not gotten around to making the switch! I definitely plan to, though, especially since I recently learned about this awesome app some guy created that will integrate the data from your Garmin watch with your RunKeeper account.

What tools have you used to track your runs? Which app or sports watch have you found to be the most accurate or have the best user experience?

March 16, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Healthy Habits

I was a boomerang child who moved back home after graduation while I tried to find my break into the job market. While on one hand I experienced a sense of anxiety about my future and some embarrassment about having to move back in with mom and dad, the six months I spent at home turned out to be surprisingly valuable.

It gave me a breathing period after emerging from an entire life inside the school system. I was able to reflect on what I truly value and where I want to end up in the world, and I had the time to fully explore all of my options.

This time was also the perfect opportunity to establish healthy habits to take with me into adulthood.

Once I realized my job search might take longer than just a few weeks, I picked up a part-time barista job to give myself some structure and a way to maintain regular contact with the world. For the morning shift I had to be there to open the coffeeshop at 5:30 AM. In college I never considered myself an early riser, but without homework to keep me up at night I began to relish the peacefulness of early mornings, even on days when I didn’t have to work.

Coincidentally, my early rising habit went hand in hand with my new running habit. I would not have been fully able to cultivate one without the other. In the Houston summer the only pleasant time to fit in a morning run is before the sun comes up. Once the sun appears you might as well be in a sauna.

Many of my days were spent scouring the internet for job postings, tailoring cover letters, making networking calls, and fighting off a nagging sense of apprehension and despair. One thing that kept me sane, though, was accompanying my dad on walks in the afternoon.

Not long after I finished C25K, my dad had taken an interest in walking when his doctor recommended it as a way to relieve lower back pain. At first even walking for half an hour around our neighborhood was a challenge for him. Soon enough, though, his back pain had gone away and we started to add in short spurts of jogging.

I often felt weighed down after a long, discouraging day applying for jobs. But the sight of my dad lacing up his running shoes almost never failed to stir me out of my inertia. Even when I didn’t feel like going out, I never regretted the investment of time.

Getting outside and moving a bit was like pressing a reset button on my energy level, and having that escape helped me cope with the stress and uncertainty of being underemployed. Plus, it gave me some quality time with my dad, something we hadn’t had much of since my childhood.

After several months of running regularly, we signed ourselves up for a 10K race in our area. 6 miles. It would be the longest distance he or I had ever run in our lives and our first time running in an organized race.

By then he could do about 3 miles, and I was approaching 5 miles. After another couple of months of building up our endurance we both made it to the finish line feeling strong!

Now I’m living across the country, where I’ve started a great new job and in a city I love. My dad and I both continue to run regularly. Despite the distance, knowing that he is still getting out there every day gives me the motivation to stick with it.

March 13, 2013 / jessicamcelroy

Couch to 5K

One muggy Houston morning last June I laced up the old beat-up gym shoes that I’d rarely worn since high school and walked out my front door.

I had just heard about this running program called Couch to 5K that helps non-runners gradually work up to being able to run a 5K in 9 weeks. After failing at many sporadic attempts to start running on a regular basis in college, I was skeptical of my ability to make it a habit.

My last notable running streak was junior year, when I ran a few times a week for mayyyybe a whole month. I had unrealistic expectations, thinking that every run had to be longer than my last and feel even more effortless or else it didn’t count.

Inevitably, the streak ended in the same way as all the others before: In frustration and burnout. I thought that maybe exercise just didn’t work on me like it does on other people.

With C25K I learned that sometimes less is more. The running schedule starts out by alternating walking and jogging for 20 minutes and works you up to jogging 30 minutes nonstop by the 9th week.

With C25K you only run 3x per week. Sometimes I felt tempted to go even more often, but by sticking to the plan I was able to keep the time commitment low and make it a truly sustainable habit.

The workouts were challenging (read: painful) in the beginning. I could barely jog two minutes without feeling out of breath and my legs screaming  to stop.

But because I had rest days to recover in between, I would always look forward to my next run. I would feel nervous anticipation when I increased my time upon the previous week, and the sense of accomplishment was addictive.

Now, here I am almost a year later, and I am preparing to run a half-marathon in two weeks! But really, I’m already more than prepared for it. On Sunday I ran 16 miles without stopping and felt pretty fantastic.

I am about to register for the San Francisco marathon on June 16th. The big 26.2, including San Francisco’s dreaded hills!

And to think, less than year ago as I was huffing and puffing through my 1.5 minute intervals, even running 3 miles sounded like a far-off goal to me.

This blog is about my journey from couch potato to marathon runner in one year.

I plan to use it to reflect on the incredible difference running has made in my life and to chronicle the rest of my journey. I hope to share my love for running, pass on running-related advice and tips, and maybe even inspire someone who has considered taking up running to give it a try.