Get a Mantra

November 8, 2017

Training for a half-marathon—or any race—gives you a lot of time to listen to the mind-monkeys. The ones that remind you to pick up the dry cleaning; buy eggs, bread, face soap, and 409; call back your sister; and tell yourself you’re slow and not capable of running another step, let alone 13.1 miles. While the mental to-do list won’t do anything more than annoy you like a swarm of mosquitoes, the negative internal monologue can be destructive. Silencing those pesky monkeys can be harder than going the distance. A better alternative? Drowning them out with a mantra.

As you probably know, a mantra is basically a positive sound or phrase that people repeat over and over—and they are not just used by yogis trying to reach bliss. Many elite runners use them. Sports psychologists, as well as other experts, believe the repetition of a word or phrase results in a reduction in stress and an increase in well being. Focusing on saying a mantra gently draws attention away from other thoughts —“my quads are killing me,” “will I ever reach the next mile marker?” or “why am I doing this again??”—that may be otherwise causing you to doubt yourself.

How do you find a mantra that speaks to you?

Choose something short and simple. In other words, stay away from words that are more than two syllables and sentences more than five or so words long. “I’m an energetic and courageous running machine” might be more of a mouthful than your mind can handle by mile 11.

Pick something that has meaning to you. “Rock it!” might spur you on, while it makes your running partner think of tripping and falling—or a bad 80’s hair band.

Have a few mantras in your arsenal, such as one to ease pre-race jitters (“calm and cool, calm and cool”) and another to fire you up in the later miles (“I’m awesome! I’m awesome!”)

Consider words that give you instructions in addition to motivating you. “Fast feet!” or “Strong arms!” both help you get the job done. A bonus of those two simple phrases? You can say them rhythmically, one word with each footfall or arm swing, to keep your pace up.

Crib lines from a favorite song, especially an anthem on your racing playlist. Some ideas: “I want more!” from “My Body” by Young the Giant or the Black Eyed Peas’ chant, “Let’s do it, let’s do it!” from “I Gotta Feeling.”  (Meanwhile, stay away from lyrics like Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe.”)

Practice it before race day. On a run where you’re not feeling great, trot it out and see if it works for you. If not, head back to the mantra board to pick another.

—Before you head out on race day, remind yourself of your mantra, and how it can get you through the tough times. The starting line, which is always atwitter in excitement and energy, can be a nerve-wracking place. Pull it out while you’re standing still, if need be, and get focused on the task ahead.


Training Plan Hiccups

In a perfect world, you would always get in your workouts. And jeans that fit you perfectly would cost $40 and Thin Mints would be good for you. Unfortunately, we live in this world, which is filled with late nights at the office, inconvenient colds, delayed flights, and alarms that somehow didn’t get heard. It’s inevitable you’re going to miss a few runs. What do you do when you feel like your training plan is derailed?

Here’s the first thing to know: It’s not a big deal to miss a run or three. You’ll still be able to go the distance, provided you don’t let one skipped run turn into two excuse-filled weeks. When a miss is inevitable, here are a few strategies to minimize the effect:

**When you know you have a hectic week coming up, switch around your training schedule so you can fit in as many runs as possible. While we all love a Saturday morning spent logging the miles with girlfriends, there is no rule saying long runs have to be on a weekend. They can be done on a weekday in the early morning or, taking advantage of long summer days, in the evening. (There is a rule, however, that says your legs deserve recovery after long runs, so the day after, go for a walk or take a rest day.)

**When a chaotic day catches you off-guard and you’re not going to be able to run, re-jigger your schedule on the fly. A good rule is to skip the easiest, shortest run (or workout) for the week.

**A corollary to the skip-the-shortest run rule: The harder workouts should be your priority because those are the ones that matter most on race day.

**If it’s inevitable you’re going to miss a long run, don’t try to make it up the following week. Instead, split the difference: If your previous longest run was 8 miles on week 8, and you missed the 9-miler on week 9, and you’re supposed to go 10 this week, go for 9 instead.

**What if you get sick? Rule of thumb: if you’re fever-free and have symptoms only above the neck—runny nose, sore throat, or headache—you can continue to run. If you’ve got a rattle-like cough or upset stomach, take a pass. If you’re knocked flat for longer than a week, consider being a cheerleader, not a runner, if the race is a month or less away. Otherwise, ease back onto your training plan once you feel better.

**Don’t get too worried about missing a week or so. Get back in the game with a positive attitude. Sometimes the recovery you get during that week propels you to some of your best runs yet.

Eating for the Long Run

Eating: It’s one of life’s great pleasures. But when you’re training for a big race, sometimes you need to take a more business-like approach to consuming calories. Food is, after all, energy. Eat right, and it’s easy to remember why “run” rhymes with “fun.” But make poor food choices, and a jog becomes a slog (hey: that rhymes too).

While you’re training, you don’t have to count calories or measure out grams of protein. Make mostly smart food choices during the week, aiming to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. (Don’t fret: everyone gives in to the siren call of the M&Ms or French fries occasionally.) The night before your weekly long run, pay special attention to consume enough calories and to ensure a good amount of them come from carbohydrates, like pasta, rice, or baked potato.

Put another way: If you run long on Saturday mornings, Friday night is not the time to try to subsist on chips, salsa, and a few Corona Lights. Then, at least an hour before your long run, eat a mix of carbs and protein, like a bowl of oatmeal topped with yogurt or multigrain toast spread with peanut butter. (And it goes without saying, we hope: stay well hydrated before, during, and after your runs.)

Even if you work out first thing in the morning, there’s no need to eat anything before a run lasting less than an hour or even 75 minutes: our body stores enough energy in our muscles to carry us through “shorter” runs. That said, if you need a banana or a handful of cereal in your stomach, have at it. But when your training runs climb into the double-digits, you definitely need to fuel on the road (or treadmill). Most experts advice taking in some fuel—an energy gel like GU, energy chews like Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews, an energy bar, cookies, hard candies, or even a Snickers—after 45 minutes of running, then every 30 minutes after that. Let’s say you know you’re going to be running for nearly two hours (gulp!) and you start running at 7:00. Take in some calories at 7:45, and again at 8:15 and 8:45. It’s also important to practice taking in fuel on your practice runs as you’ll need to stoke your fire during the actual race. Figure out what works for you; some people’s stomachs can tolerate anything, while others get queasy at the mere thought of an energy gel.

Staying well fueled on your training runs will make them much easier—and enjoyable—to complete, we promise. And the best part about long runs? You have plenty of time to figure out what you’ll eat when you finish.

Episode #52: Zooma Annapolis + What’s Next

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Episode #50: Alison Désir, Running as a Tool for Change

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How to Start a Training Plan

May 8, 2017

Whether you’re new to running or a veteran of plenty of races, looking at a training plan for the first time can often send you, um, running for the hills. Your eyes are immediately drawn to the biggest numbers—I have to run how many miles at one time?—and if you haven’t gone that distance before, it’s nearly impossible to not be intimidated. If you’re a more experienced runner, you know you can go the distance, but you may also have not-so-fond memories of certain parts of a training plan.

The good news is that a training plan doesn’t have to be as scary to look at as your AmEx bill; here are some ways to mentally tackle any training plan.

—First of all, take your regular calendar, the one that has birthdays, family responsibilities and the like on it, and plot out when you can do your weekly long runs. If you’ve got a significant other, be sure to talk it through with your partner, so that everybody is on the same page: you get this chunk of time on these weekend dates so you can fulfill a goal you’ve set for yourself. If you’ve got a crazy busy schedule, feel free also mark out your shorter weekday runs, although sometimes that easier to handle on a weekly basis.

—Similarly, if you know you’ve got to travel for a wedding, work or some other reason during that three-month stretch, think about if you’ll have the time, energy and resources (like a good, safe route) to run while you’re away. If not, make a plan B now: you can juggle your plan a bit to fit your needs.

—If huge bite of training feels like too much to mentally swallow, then divide it up. Don’t hang the plan in a place you have to see it daily. Instead, week by week, write your workouts on your daily planner or enter them into your phone. Make it a Sunday night ritual to look at the next week and figure out when you’ll get your workouts in, then tuck the plan away for seven more days.

—Don’t worry about day 50 on day 5. A less-than-stellar run on one day can often hijack your thoughts and rob your self-confidence. “I could barely get through 3 today,” you think to yourself, “How am I ever going to do 9?” The beauty of a well-written training plan is that every run is preparation for the next. The fact that you got through a tough one on day 5—and that you’ll do the rest of the workouts leading up to day 50—means your body and mind will be ready for 9. Which isn’t to say that it’ll be cake, but you’ll certainly be able to get it done.

—A great way to reaffirm your progress in training and get yourself psyched for race day is to do a shorter race at least three weeks before you zoom. Jump into a local 5k or 10k , if you’re taking on a half-marathon, to feel how strong you’ve gotten. Ideally, you can slip a race into your training plan easily without rippling the waters too much; because racing is harder than training, a 10k can easily take the place of a 7 or 8 mile run, while a 5k can substitute for a 4 or 5 miler.

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