Post-marathon: what’s next?

Ah, the dreaded what’s next question. It’s natural though that right after achieving something we’ve worked for, our minds go to, “what’s next?” I know I do better when I’ve got a goal to work towards. Otherwise I feel kind of … floppy and rudderless and stagnant, if that makes sense. Especially with running goals. After my marathon and a 10-miler two weeks later last spring, I didn’t have any races on my horizon except for Boston a year later, and my running definitely suffered. I didn’t feel motivated, I didn’t even want to run. Taking a month and a half off in the fall helped mentally, but for awhile there I just dreaded lacing up my shoes. I don’t want that to happen again! (although with the limited running I’ve been able to do this past winter and spring, I’m already so excited to start up again once my groin heals fully!)

BUT…it’s important to not always be jumping into the next new thing. Take some time to rest, enjoy your accomplishment and just be. That’s my plan for May. I’ve been for two runs since Boston, both 10ks, and they both really, really aggravated my groin/quad. So I decided last week to take the month off from running. It’s just not worth turning this injury into something that never. goes. away. Boston showed me that cross-training DOES keep you in shape and actually can prepare you to run a marathon without, you know, actually doing any running beforehand. Weird how that works, huh?

So for the rest of the month I’m going to continue cycling, swimming and stretching. I’ll incorporate some running form drills a few times a week to work on running form and technique and get some strength back in my feet, but my goal is to get this groin all healed up so I can start running – and racing! – again.

There are a few races on my horizon. Short-term, I’ve registered for a great and super hilly 5 km charity run for heart arrhythmia that my whole family does (and this year, I’ve gotten my best running buddies Kelly and Emily to sign up too!) on June 8. It’s a really fun event and for a very important cause – it was started last year by my aunt’s colleague who lost her husband very young and tragically due to the disease.

Then in July Kelly, Emily and I are road tripping to…CHICAGO! We’re going to run the Rock n’ Roll half-marathon there. I LOVE the Rock n’ Roll series – in September 2012 I ran my first half-marathon, the Philly RNR. Superb organization, fun concept, great music and awesome swag bags. Kelly has ran the Edinburgh RNR and she loves this race series too. But neither us nor Emily have ever been to Chicago, so we’re really excited for a girls’ long weekend away!

These two races are both going to be fun ones and I won’t necessarily be racing hard at them (although I’d love to PR in Chicago, and my ultimate goal is to get my half-marathon time down to 1:30). I have two goal races in the fall that I’d really like to train hard for over the summer, but I’m not going to commit to them just yet until I feel better about my injury.

Anyway, those are my post-Boston running plans for now! Who knows, they may change but at least for May I’m still enjoying the swimming and cycling. Loving this warmer weather too! I need more shorts-appropriate temperatures so I can work on getting rid of that awkward compression socks/KT tape tan line I’m still rocking from Boston…

Power of a running mantra

In the final three weeks leading up to Boston, I spent a lot of time mentally preparing for the race. After all, I was technically supposed to be tapering, and I was still injured, so I couldn’t really do any more physical preparation. The real battle, I had a feeling, was going to be the mental component of the marathon.

I know it’s trite and overused to say something like “sports are 90% mental” and obviously this isn’t quite true, but what’s going on in your head can have a real, discernible impact on your physical performance. Visualization is one technique that I like to use (imagine crossing the finish line, or getting that medal around your neck), as well as dividing miles into smaller chunks, picking miles off one at a time, or picking a person ahead of you and making it a goal to pass them.

But what really helped me during Boston was using a mantra, a word or brief phrase you repeat to yourself to direct your mind away from negative thoughts and focus on the positive. According to this Runner’s World article, mantra is Sanskrit for “instrument for thinking” and it’s just as effective a tool for increasing performance as a foam roller or a good pair of shoes. The article goes on to say that a good mantra is short, positive, instructive and full of action words, but I think an effective mantra really varies from person to person.

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Honestly I think the only thing going through my head in this pic was “dear God where is the finish line???”

That or “I want hot chocolate”

These are the ones I used in Boston:

– Run with joy. (Short, simple and reminds me to SMILE 🙂 It’s also a good reminder to run like a child – free and happy and unfettered. Just run.)

– One foot in front of the other (simultaneously the hardest and easiest thing in the world to do!)

– Clear eyes, full heart (any other FNL devotees reading this? Also, this is one with a great cadence because of the short, monosyllabic words that mimic your footsteps)

– I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13. This is a Bible verse I’ve seen written on many singlets and bibs at races, and it’s Meb Keflezighi’s favourite quote. I love it!)

And for when it really hurts… “Pain is temporary” or “this too shall pass” (although technically mantras are supposed to be positive and these ones fall more on the brutally realistic side – might not be the most comforting when you’re pushing up a hill, but at least you’ll know there is a light at the end of the tunnel).

For some reason I also tend to hear Jillian Michaels’ voice in my head sometimes lecturing, “Don’t phone it in! Don’t phone it in!” (thanks 30 Day Shred)

Back to the Runner’s World article … here’s a collection of some elite runners’ favourite mantras:

– “This is what you came for”: ultramarathoner Scott Jurek

– “Define yourself”: Chicago Marathon winner Deena Kastor

– “Think strong, be strong, finish strong”: Renee Metivier Baillie, winner of 2010 USATF indoor 3000 m.

– “Be water”: Olympian Bolota Asmerom adopted this Bruce Lee mantra

Do you think mantras work? What ones do you rely on during a race or tough run?

Post-marathon: recovery when you’ve traveled to get there

After I crossed the finish line at Boston, I was immediately funneled into a chute to pick up a water bottle, warmth retention cape and – the crowning glory – my finisher’s medal.

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Waiting under the “S” in the family meeting area

As soon as you stop running, whether you’re out for a regular old tempo run or you’re racing, you need to start thinking about recovery. Those first 15 – 30 minutes are crucial, but unfortunately it’s a little hard to jump into your recovery routine at a race, when you’re surrounded by chaos, runners, spectators and of course your own emotions running wild even if your legs have stopped! You can’t exactly bust out the foam roller and get that blender whirring up a protein-packed smoothie, and honestly? Nor should you. There’s definitely a lot to be said for just soaking up the environment around you at a race.

After running a marathon, the only things that feel good-ish for me is sitting or walking (albeit very slowly and gingerly). The worst thing? Just standing there. So after I chugged my water bottle, I walked over to the family meeting area and staked out a little spot on the curb underneath the “S” sign to wait for my family. I sat down in a butterfly stretch with the soles of my feet touching and my legs spread out and just stretched my groin.

After meeting up with my family, we took the T back to our hotel in South Boston. The hotel was charging $75 for late check-out (and their idea of “late” was 2:30 p.m.) so we had already packed up the car and checked out. Obviously, a shower would have been preferable but sometimes you just can’t swing one. If you’ve traveled to a race and don’t have access to a shower, still find somewhere to change into fresh clothes – it will feel wonderful. I ran (er, hobbled) into the hotel lobby washroom and, thanks to the power of deodorant, a disposable wash cloth and clean bra/underwear/track pants and my new Boston shirt, felt like a new person walking out.

I’ve traveled to both of my marathons – approximately 10 hours in the car for each one. Although running local races has its benefits too – there’s nothing like sleeping in your own bed the night before a race – I LOVE combining two of my favourite things: travel and running. You just need to plan ahead and remember to be flexible.

If you can plan your trip to include an extra day or two in the city after the race, that’s probably preferable, but it’s definitely not the end of the world if you have to jump into a car/plane right away. Here are my tips for marathon recovery when you have a long trip home ahead of you:

– Wear your compression socks to keep the circulation in your legs flowing and to continue muscle support

– If you can, prop your legs up in the car to keep them elevated

– Change into different shoes than the ones you ran in, or remove shoes altogether

– Take frequent stops (every hour) at rest stations and go for a slow walk around the parking lot

– If you can, only drive a few hours the day of the marathon and stop at a hotel overnight. We did this after Boston – drove a couple hours and then found a hotel and restaurant, then hit the road the next day for the longer part of the drive. Breaking it up into two days was definitely easier on my body.

– Get lots of fluid in! About an hour after I finished the race, I mixed a package of Vega recovery protein powder with a 1.5 L bottle of water. To be honest, it didn’t taste delicious (maybe it would have been better mixed with milk or in a smoothie with a banana, so the consistency would be thicker?), but it wasn’t gross. Maybe a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in tastiness. The most important thing though was that it had 25 grams of protein and you want to feed those muscles as soon as possible!

– Foam roll and stretch as soon as possible/when you have the space

I think the most important thing is to take as many walking breaks as possible. It was funny – whenever we stopped at a rest station, we’d spot a bunch of cars in the parking lot with the tell-tale 26.2 bumper stickers, and then we’d see at least three or four other runners in their bright orange Boston jackets or blue shirts slowly making their way around the lot, a curious expression of pain and pride on their faces. We’d grin, congratulate each other and ask how the race went, chatting about our experiences before slowly parting ways back to our cars. This continued as we kept driving out of Massachusetts and through New York. Just another reminder of how running and racing really creates a community!

Any other tips for marathon recovery when you have a long way to travel home? Do you prefer races close to home or farther away?