Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

Mental fortitude and training for a fall marathon

When I set out to train for my first marathon over twenty-one years ago, I thought a fall race presented the best opportunity. Even after my second marathon – a spring race – I still believed it was easier to train through the summer than the winter. Of course, I was in my 30s and heat didn’t bother me as much as it does now.

As a coach, and with the experience of having completed eight marathons (four fall and four spring), I will, whenever possible, steer my clients to a spring race. Training through the harsh conditions of winter, I have learned, provides a better opportunity for building what my coach referred to as “mental fortitude.” This is so necessary for staying focused and pushing through in the final miles of the 26.2-mile trek.

Some will argue that training in the heat and humidity of summer also provides the needed training for the mind. It does, but not in the same way. Training through extreme heat and humidity can deplete the body of valuable resources, leaving you drained for the next run. “Pushing through” in these conditions, may be the worst thing you can do. The lesson for the mind here is to know when to stop.

While I would strongly suggest that first-time marathoners do a race that would provide the best opportunity for optimal training conditions, many first-time marathoners have their heart set on a particular race. For many of us that’s a big city race close to home; for New Yorkers and Chicagoans, that’s a fall race. And who am I to talk anyone out of doing a meaningful race?

Some must reads for summer training:

“Marathon Training in the Heat and Humidity,” Runner’s World

“How to run and train through a hot summer,” Competitor Running

“Electrolytes for Runners: A Definitive Guide,” RunnersConnect

Building mental fortitude for a fall marathon is more about developing the discipline and focus to train smart. Training smart I would argue is more critical than training hard. Training smart means staying hydrated; not just during your runs, but consistently throughout the months of training. It also means paying attention to nutrition and making sure you maintain an appropriate balance of electrolytes throughout your training. It means scheduling long training runs at times and locations that will provide for the coolest conditions – for example early morning on a shaded path.

Training smart also means knowing when to stop; knowing when conditions aren’t right. The risk of “pushing through” extreme heat and humidity far outweighs any benefit that could be achieved of completing the last couple miles of an 18 or 20 miler. It’s okay to stop at 16 when you’re feeling overwhelmingly depleted. This is where your head must listen to your body! This is not the same as thinking “this cold and wind really sucks” and running anyway. Heat and humidity can present life threatening issues.

And no, don’t try to make up the miles on your next long run. Rest. Hydrate. Get your electrolytes in balance and strategize how to maximize success on the next long run. It’s necessary to get out and get your body ready for running in the heat because you may encounter heat on race day (especially in Chicago), although you don’t have to do every long run outdoors. I can tell you from experience, a 20-mile run on the treadmill does build mental fortitude no matter when your training.

Lakefront Trail offers a nice breeze, but little shade without some cloud over. Chicago, Illinois. August 2018


2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

2018 Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon Reviewed

I ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon on July 22. I had run the event’s 5k and 10k last year. I did the Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin Half Marathon 5 years ago. This has been my only experience with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series races. I’d like to do more. From my experience, I can say they are well organized events with great amenities and some really awesome bling!

The expo/packet pick up was at McCormick Place. Parking is easy and this venue has a lot of space for a comprehensive expo and this one was filled with lots of vendors and fun stuff to see and buy. The coolest was perhaps shirts that included all participants names! All men were included on the men’s shirts; women on the women’s – perhaps problematic for anyone who might have wanted the shirt for the gender that didn’t include their name.

Highlight of the expo for me was the opportunity to meet Kathrine Switzer. She certainly opened doors for women runners with her courage and many of us owe our ability to participate in marathons to her. She was there promoting 261 Fearless, a “global supportive social running network which empowers women to connect and take control of their lives through the freedom gained by running.” Go Kathrine!

Although this was only my second Rock ‘n’ Roll Half, it was my 44thHalf Marathon overall and I will say ranks toward the top. I heard someone say in the starting corral that the course offered all the best of the Chicago Marathon course. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it offered all the best parts of the Marathon course, but it included many worthwhile points of interest.

The Start.

The start was on Columbus Drive, same as the marathon. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Half turned right onto lower Randolph and around to Lower Wacker.  Having the cover of the roadways like this in several spots on the course was beneficial to the runners and also provided shelter from the rain for some of the bands that lined the course. There was a lot of diversity in the sound provided by the 17 bands along the course.

The Course.

As the course winds through downtown, it makes a couple passes over the Chicago River and around the stunning architecture for which Chicago is famous. Runners pass the Chicago Theater, Daley Plaza, and The Lyric Opera. Only the final two and a half miles are in the park. The only negative on the course at this point was the pass-through McCormick Place. It’s a service tunnel. Nothing nice to see. Not a great road surface. Although it did shelter us from the rain. I’m not sure why anyone would design a course this way when there’s a much more scenic, open, lake-view option.

For me, having done both the Chicago Spring Half and the Soldier Field 10 in May, this mostly-city course was a nice change from those courses that included mostly Lakefront Trail. If you are not going to run the Chicago Marathon, this course is a good way to tour the city while running. And did I mention the bling?

The finisher’s medals included a rendering of the Chicago Theatre. I liked it, although maybe not as elaborate of other medals I’ve received. Maybe I needed to run the 5k the day before for bigger bling. The Rock N Roll race series certainly does a nice job of encouraging participation by offering special incentive medals for multiple races in the same weekend or numerous races with in the series in a specified time frame. For more information and picture of medals for inspiration (assuming you’re motivated by that sort of thing), visit their website.

The only issue with this race is that it can be pretty hot in July in Chicago. We were treated to a cool overcast day. And rain. Lots of it at times. It was refreshing for the most part. Last year it was hot. As we runners know, the one thing we can’t do much about is the weather. Although signing up for races in months with potentially hot or cold conditions is a choice.

My final word – or lesson learned – don’t run a half marathon on a broken toe! Although because of my stubbornness, I can – for the first time in 286 races – include a review of the medical tent. Although my toe became excruciatingly painful at around mile 8, I didn’t seek medical attention until after I crossed the finish line. I figured if my toe had actually fallen off as I felt like it had, my shoe and sock weren’t going allow me to misplace it completely and I was sure it could be reattached. Besides there was no blood. The medical staff carefully removed my shoe and sock, applied iced, wrapped it up and let me sit for about 20 minutes (while I posted to Instagram).

I hobbled back to the car in a deluge of rain, changed into dry clothes, and signed up for next year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon as soon as I got home. So yeah, all good. And I vowed to take better care of my feet between now and then.


Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

High School Graduation is now behind us! I am so proud of my girl for all that she has achieved here and for setting herself up right for what’s to come. The movers are on their way. Today is the day I move out of my house. It is going to be bitter sweet closing the door for the last time this week. There will certainly be a lot of things I’m going to miss about life in New Jersey.

A gorgeous setting for the high school’s 110th Commencement ceremony.

A friend posted on FaceBook recently that he was working on his column and asked that we contribute “things we love about the Garden State.” There were a lot of the usual suspects like Springsteen, the Shore, Taylor Ham (or pork roll?), and proximity to New York City (or Philadelphia, depending on who was contributing).  There were debates around whether or not pumping one’s own gas is a benefit or a curse, or whether not having to pay sales tax on food and clothing balanced out the high property taxes.

Sunrise on the Hudson. Palisades Interstate Park. Englewood, New Jersey.

My boyfriend (who was a transplant from New Jersey before moving to Chicago almost 25 years ago) said the things I will miss most about Jersey will be (real) pizza, Chinese food, and spring.  My daughter thinks for her it will be good bagels. I think I will miss not having to pump my own gas only in the winter. I’m renting, so I can’t give an assessment on property taxes; but I can tell you that I got a really nice 2-bedroom apartment in a great residential neighborhood in the city for considerably less than New York City rents. And I’ve always wanted to live in a city.

Summer hike with Enzo. Ramapo County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey.

So quick list of things I will miss about (specifically Bergen County) New Jersey that pop into my head…

  1. Proximity to New York City and the countless wonderful things it has to offer like Broadway and Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, Central Park, the High Line, and the Brooklyn Bridge
  2. An hour drive north to a ski resort; an hour south to a beach resort
  3. Sunday driving (and those from Bergen County know what I’m talking about here)
  4. Accessibility to several major cities from Boston to D.C.
  5. The Atlantic Ocean, especially along the beach in Montauk (my happy place) and the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore
  6. Seeing the New York City skyline on the horizon from numerous high places just minutes away
  7. Running the hills of Palisades in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge or not having to even leave town to find a hill to run
  8. Hiking trails that lead to the top of high mountains
  9. Running races and knowing the courses – and the competition!
  10. Being relatively close to the final resting places of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles
  11. Countless friends and the memories of life here for the last 51 years
  12. And finally, the thing I will really miss about New Jersey – which also happens to be the same thing that gave me incentive to leave – is familiarity.
Seen on many, many runs. Saddle River County Park. Paramus, New Jersey.

Back in May, I talked about my life currently as so familiar that it was one I could “lead with my eyes closed.” The part of me that likes to be comfortable, also likes the fact that around here, I can steer my way out of any traffic jam without relying on Waze. I know the history and the stories, about our towns and businesses, and people. I’ve met my elected officials, I understand the politics and I always run into people I know everywhere I go.  When people talk about someone in a New Jersey diner, I’m that person in the booth behind them who knows who they’re talking about…and yeah, add “diners” to the list. 🙂


New Jersey Meadowlands. Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

That all makes life here very comfortable, but it can make it boring, too. I am also someone who likes a challenge (and if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that I’m in a little bit of a rut here recently). So off I go to be challenged. This kid who sometimes suffers from separation anxiety is armed with the security of friendships maintained on FaceBook and off to a whole a new adventure. An education awaits. I’ll find you again as soon as I get to Illinois (don’t leave me).

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Traditions and transitions mark the start of summer

Last Memorial Day, I talked about 5 great Memorial Day weekend races, and said, “some creative time on your travel apps could get you on the starting line for one each day.” While I didn’t quite do that, I did fulfill my desire to do the Soldier Field 10 Mile again…and continue my Ridgewood Run tradition for one more year. Read more

My Story (Part 4): Beyond Surviving

My Story (Part 4): Beyond Surviving

I realized about the time I turned 50 (three years ago this coming weekend) that I was just getting started. I had spent my 30s building my career and creating my family. I had spent most of my 40s working a lot of hours at stressful, and some unfulfilling, jobs to pay my mortgage, save for college, and keep my family afloat. I was sandwiched between my school-aged daughter and elderly parents. I wasn’t unhappy. But my life was about the roles I played, what I was to everyone else, being needed, not personally fulfilled. Read more