Run Off Holiday Stress

Written by Ann Brennan

Holiday StressWe are still two weeks out from Thanksgiving and yet I have already read six articles or posts about holiday weight gain. Yes, I agree holiday weight gain exists. I struggle every year to stay true to my nutrition and exercise goals. But the weight gain is not the only reason to be vigilant. Holiday stress is an even bigger culprit for most of us. So this year I say forget holiday weight gain. Instead focus on relieving holiday stress.

If you do not currently have your workouts penciled into your calendar, do that now. Plan your daily workouts throughout the holiday season to avoid the ever present danger of skipping said workout in order to fit in one more chore.

Unless you have a race planned for December or January, do not make these workouts stressful. Do not aim for times that put undue pressure on yourself. Do not set unreachable goals. And no matter what, do not use these runs to organize your to-do lists. Instead use these workouts to release the stress that builds up on a daily basis throughout the season.

Whether you currently run with a partner or not, consider adding company to your run. This is a great time of year to gather with people you enjoy spending time with because we know that much of the season will mean gathering with people you can only handle seeing once a year.

Watch what you eat. Uh oh, this seems like I have fallen back into the avoid weight gain topic. Not quite. Watch what you eat and avoid foods that make you feel too full, sluggish or just plain unhappy. Having kept a food journal for months I have found a definite correlation between the foods that I eat and my mood. For me the main culprit is sugar. Yours may be fat or protein or food dye.

Sleep, rest, put your feet up or watch some football. The fastest way to find yourself in stress city is to find yourself short on sleep. If you find you cannot get the recommended 8 hours at night, try to power nap, whether in the car before heading into get those last minute gifts or at home before all the in-laws make their way to your house.

Running is a huge gift. Make it your holiday gift to yourself this year by using it to reduce the almost unavoidable stress of the holidays.

What steps do you take to relieve stress during the holiday season?

Getting Rich Through Plantar Fasciitis

Written by Ann Brennan, I know there are a lot of get rich schemes out there and I am sure most of them fail. But I think, after working at Spark Running for two months now, I have discovered a sure fire way to make all my financial dreams come true. All I have to do is come up with the instant fix for plantar fasciitis. It’s simple, right? There’s a sock or a shoe or a salve that will take all the pain away and allow hundreds of thousands of runners worldwide to return to the roads pain free. Right?

Unfortunately, no. Unfortunately, curing plantar fasciitis is not that simple. Instead it takes work that very few people are willing to give. First it takes rest and for runners, rest is work. We do not like to sit still. We do not like to hang up our running shoes. We would rather keep pushing through and trying every new fad to stop the pain. But truthfully, even after the rest, it takes honest to goodness work. We have to stretch and strengthen, not just once a week or even once a day but several times a day, every single day until it gets better. It takes icing and massaging. In short it takes effort that few of us are willing to give.

The truth is that I do see this every day at work. Runners come in begging for a solution to their PF woes and the only answer I have is work. Work it from every angle. But, the further truth is I am just as guilty. I have been dealing with a heel spur for months. I take a few days off, do some stretches periodically and then when I notice any positive changes I head back out the door for a run, only to come home aching and ready to cry all over again.

This week I finally cried uncle. I called Coach Jeff and asked what do I do now. You will never guess what he said.

Rest it. Ice it. Massage it. Stretch it. Strengthen it. But right now, rest it. Rest it. Rest it.

And yes, he had to repeat it because I am hardheaded and I want to run. But I know he is right. So I hung up my running shoes. Pulled out my biking shoes and prepared to rest it for the long term. To give myself a chance to heal and to have it ready for that moment when the real work begins. Stretching, strengthening, icing, massaging.

So maybe I am not going to get rich quick. Maybe I don’t have the answers. But we’ll see about that. I am sure there is a shortcut somewhere.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

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Boston Qualifying – My Aha Moment

Written by Ann Brennan

Boston QualifyingI have wanted to qualify for Boston for almost as long as I have run. At the very least I have wanted to qualify for Boston for almost the entirety of the sixteen years since my first marathon. So, what’s stopped me? Well, it turns out that the answer to that is me. I have stopped me.

Today I had what might be called an aha moment, but after you read my three excuses you will probably label it a duh moment.

First, I have not qualified for Boston because wanting to or wishing to do something is not the same as working towards that goal. I have never really put in the effort needed to get me there. I have never truly planned for the outcome.

Second, I call myself a slow runner and the one thing I am sure of is that Boston Qualifying runners are not slow. If I do not stop using those words, how am I ever going to get to be a fast runner? Although calling myself a fast runner is not really appropriate, at the very least I do believe in the power of words and I know that calling myself a slow runner over and over again has not helped me one little bit.

And finally, I do not run fast. This is not the same as saying I am not a fast runner. What I mean by this is that I really and truly have never put in the effort to be fast. I run long. And long is good but running long is not going to get me to Boston. Running fast is going to get me to Boston. I cannot expect to just add speed work to the marathon season and get fast. Instead I need to dedicate a lot of off-season training to getting faster over the 5k, 10k and half marathon distance and then go into the marathon season with those same fast legs. I need to run fast.

See what I mean? Duh, right?

I want to qualify for Boston and I want 2015 to be the year that happens. If I am right, if I have been holding myself back in the ways listed above, I now have a basic formula for getting there.

So what’s next? Can I get there? Can I take these thoughts and change my words and actions to get across that finish line? I certainly believe so. The next several months will be key. The dedication that goes into becoming the fast runner I am sure I can be will take hard work and dedication but like everything else in life, it will take mental training. It will take a belief in my ability, a trust in the training and more true passion than I have shown so far.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

For more inspiration and motivation to lace up your shoes and get out there subscribe to my podcast.

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My Favorite 5 Fitness Sites and Apps

Written by Ann Brennan

fitness apps and sitesMany moons ago when I started running, I visited my local running store, purchased shoes and a couple of running outfits and hit the road. In some ways running was simpler. I did not need my phone, a GPS, or an iPod. As a society we tend to romanticize a simpler life. But the truth is there is something to be said for the more computerized lives we lead today. Yes, I ran and I knew how long I had run but I had to take the car out and drive my course to figure out my mileage. I had no real sense of my pace. I had none of the tools I use today to guide my fitness life. School House Rock told us that “knowledge is power” and I believe this. The more we know about our fitness life the easier it is to make good, healthy choices on a daily basis.

From the simplicity of just heading out the door, my running and fitness life has evolved to one that includes several “must have” devices, internet sites and phone apps. Maybe it is less quaint but I like it. I don’t just not mind the technology, I embrace it. My phone and Mac are full of apps and sites that guide my fitness life but today I will share only the five I use on a daily basis.

Five sites or apps that have helped me to improve my fitness

1. My Fitness Pal – A few years ago I discovered the power of the food journal. I realized how little I knew about the food I was putting into my body. How much I ate without giving it a second thought. My Fitness Pal takes the food journal and adds an exercise journal, allowing me to see my intake and my output on a daily basis. Over the past couple of months I have monitored my food and exercise choices closely and I have seen a steady drop in my weight. Finally I have found a tool that helps me to lose weight in a healthy way.

2. Runner’s Ally I found Runner’s Ally a couple of years back when I was trying to decide what to wear for my run. The app, available for iPhone or Android uses the local weather to advise you what you should wear for each run. I have found it to be spot on every time. In addition it has a pace calculator and a race split planner. This app has become one of my daily go-to tools.

3. DailyMile I have been using DailyMile since 2009. Again, because I believe in the power of journaling I used DailyMile to track my workouts. But it became so much more. Because of its social aspect I have found friends all over the country. We have gotten together at races and running events and have found a community of like-minded people. An added benefit is the 0 that appears at the top of the page every Monday and goes up with your mileage throughout the week. This small indicator has been a big motivator in my life.

4. As a writer I tend to read more than the next guy and often feel like a run gets in the way of a good book. Audible has solved this problem. I seldom run without taking an audiobook along and because I have a rule about listening to the audiobooks (no run/walk, no audiobook) I find I get in more miles than I might otherwise.

5. Fitbit People have asked why, as a runner, I find the need for a Fitbit to track my steps. The answer comes in the fact that as a writer and knitter I find myself sitting a lot more than I should. Although I get in a workout almost everyday of the week I also spend a lot of time sitting. The Fitbit brings out my competitive nature. I set a goal and have to meet it every day. It is that simple. Working out is great but if you spend the rest of your day sitting you are not doing yourself any favors.

I have a half dozen more apps that I use regularly but I am interested in hearing about yours. What sites and apps do you use to stay fit and healthy?

Today I Learned

Written by Ann Brennan

Today I learnedFor the first time since I started marathoning 17 years ago, I awoke this morning forgetting for a minute that it was marathon morning. I had no pre-marathon nightmares. I didn’t spend the night worried that I would miss the alarm. Instead I slept soundly and awoke with no nerves at all about what should have been my 15th marathon. But today I learned, among other things that sleeping well and waking calmly does not necessarily mean the race will go to plan.

Today I learned –

1. The start of the Marine Corps Marathon never loses its magic. Standing in the coral, waiting for the start, I watched as Marines jumped from airplanes carrying American flags. I listened to a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and I was once again in awe as I watched the Ospreys fly overhead. In addition to the pomp and circumstance of this event, I was once again amazed by the fluidity of the Marines in preparing for this race. From beginning to end, this race runs like clockwork.
2. The participants and spectators make this race. Okay, so maybe I didn’t just learn this today but I was certainly reminded today how much I love the people at this marathon. From the first timers who spoke with such excitement to the old veterans who have completed this race over and over again, to the two women who stopped in their tracks, gave me water and helped me to securely wrap a blanket around myself as I stumbled my way back to the Smithsonian Metro stop after I DNFed.
3. Training does not necessarily mean the run is going to be okay. I went into this expecting to do better than last year, the year in which I didn’t train at all, by at least 30 minutes. I had trained for this. I put in every workout until three weeks ago when I had to take time off to let my foot heel, used my bike religiously during that recovery and even did a good distance test run last weekend. I felt ready for this race. But you just never know what you will get until you are out there.
4. Listen to your body Okay, once again, this was a reminder. I know to listen to my body but usually I am listening for the niggling pain somewhere, not necessarily paying attention to the whole picture. I never sleep. The fact that I did last night may have been a clue to my problem. Waking up with a sore throat was probably further clue. I didn’t listen because quite honestly those things didn’t register high on my radar. Instead I thought about my foot, felt a little niggle but decided I would quit if it hurt too much. I have learned my lesson about hobbling through long distance runs.
5. I have nothing to prove. The decision to quit this race was a lot easier than I expected. Although I ran for three miles after making the decision, I was able access my situation early and I knew the last few miles would not only be painful but they would probably lead to me staying in bed for a couple of days recovering from dehydration or worse. Starting at mile 4 of this race my stomach was not right. I spent more time in the port-a-potty than I have ever spent in a race. The water I drank to replenish was not putting a dent in the loss of fluids and the chill bumps were a good sign that I was done.
6. But you have to own a DNF – This is why I kept going for a few miles. I needed to know that I wasn’t just in a lull. I needed to know that it was not going to get better and maybe I even needed to feel myself sliding into something worse.
7. I have the ability to still remain positive. When I looked at my tips about the marathon, two things stuck out, happy thoughts and candy. Even as I felt myself losing the plot, I remained happy and positive. I thought about the mile 22 aid station and all my friends there passing out candy. I thought about the young men and women who truly sacrifice for us and I enjoyed the incredible beauty of our nation’s capital on a fall morning.
8. DNFing is never easy. Even as I owned the fact I was making the right decision, I knew I would regret it. I knew I wanted to be at that finish line with my friends. I wanted that medal. I wanted to have number 15 in the books. And later as I looked through my friends’ photos from the day I was just a little bit gutted. I sat on the pity pot for a little bit and I felt like a loser.
9. I don’t want to just do better than the race I didn’t train for. I want to break 4 hours. I have a marathon scheduled at the end of November but I decided today that I am not going to do it. I want to be back to marathon shape before I do my next race. I want to break four hours and not just get around the course. I have done that enough. It’s time to put in more work. The next few months I will do that.
10. And finally, I will do another marathon. I know I keep saying I am not, but read number one again. Today I learned that the start of the Marine Corps Marathon never loses its magic. Next year is the 30th Anniversary of the Marine Corps Marathon. I will be on that line, celebrating with all of those people, runners and spectators alike.

Over the next few days I will probably ferret out more lessons learned but sitting here today I am glad I took a minute to think through this, to analyze what happened and to know where I want to be next.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

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First Time Marine Corps Marathon Advice

Written by Ann Brennan

Marine Corps MarathonIt has been 17 years since I ran my first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon. All of these years and marathons later, the Marine Corps Marathon is still my favorite. This weekend I will be running it for the 7th time. If this year lives up to past years, more than half the field will be first time marathoners. So, I have a little advice.

1. First and foremost, the advice I give to anybody before a first time event, there is only one first time. Enjoy it. Enjoy every minute of it, which means that you cannot, even for a minute let a negative thought enter your brain. If you find yourself heading to the dark side, stop and remind yourself that this is your first time and the negative thoughts will mar your beautiful memory.
2. This entire race is a photo opportunity. I am not one for carrying my own camera but I never miss an opportunity to pose for the camera. The photographers at this race have been doing it for a long time. They have picked amazing views to get the best shots so do not miss the chance to have your photo taken on the bridge heading into Georgetown, on Haines Point by the water or most importantly as you leave the Capitol. The photos from this race are priceless.
3. Thank the Marines. These young men and women have mostly been voluntold to be there this weekend. They work very hard but more importantly they are fighting for our country. Most of us will never be in their position, most will not have a spouse or child who serves. So take a minute and thank the Marines for being there for us on Sunday and the rest of the year as well.
4. There are tons of port-a-potties on this course so there is no reason to pee on the side of the road or in the woods. Wait a minute and you will find a potty for sure.
5. The only downside to this race is that the first 8 miles are a little hilly. Not a lot hilly but enough to make you nervous. Don’t worry. They don’t last.
6.Use the crowds. If you happen to go through a quiet spot, speak up and ask for the praise. It will come. The first time I ran this race I thought I was a rockstar. It is an incredible feeling to have so many people out there cheering for you.
7. Unless you have trained with the fuel on the course, bring your own. Don’t risk stomach upset for the convenience of not carrying something.
8. The last .2 of this race is uphill. Not slightly uphill but properly “piss you off” uphill. Gut it out. Ranger up. Get it done. The crowd at the top is enough to bring tears to your eyes.
9. Don’t rush through the finish area. The Marines work hard to make it a great experience. Get your photos, your medals and your hugs. Enjoy the moment.
10. Take your time getting to the Metro to head home. There is a line the entire day. It never gets better. So, take your time and enjoy the final moments of the marathon before waiting in line.

I have had bad experiences at MCM – the year I messed up my IT band enough to impress the Corpsman at the end. Great ones – the one where I PR’d by 20 minutes. And weird ones – the one I ran without realizing that queasy feeling was morning sickness. But I keep going back. This race is like no other. It is a race to remember.

Location Location Location

Written by Ann Brennan

Clicking Into PlaceI fear I may be spoiled. Having spent the day working at Spark Running and talking to people who are preparing for this coming weekend’s Baltimore Marathon or next weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon, it occurs to me that location is almost as important in our running lives as it is when buying a house.

We bought our house because of the schools, but a close second to that was the proximity to the B&A Trail and our ability to get in long runs without having to head out on a hunt for the best miles. Ten years later I find myself varying my route and searching out new running routes but I love that in a pinch I can just head out the door. Even better is knowing that any given weekend I can find a race within a short drive from my home. We live in a running town.

So, yes, I am spoiled. Do you live in a running town? Do you have specialty running stores? Trails within walking distance of your house? Races every weekend? Do you have roads that are friendly to runners? If not I am interested in hearing how you manage? Have you started a local running club? Have your organized a race in your area to encourage others?

Running is a huge part of our lives. Does your location change the way you think about your running life?

Where’s Your Local?

Written by Ann Brennan

A little over a year ago I created this video about what makes a local running store special. I now work at my local running store and can see it from the inside. I believe this video to be even more spot on now.

If you cannot see the video, please refresh your screen.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

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Older And Wiser

Written by Ann Brennan

Older and WiserStop me if you have heard this before…Twelve years ago, after training for three months, raising over 2000 pounds for a new playground for my children’s school and then discovering a crisscrossing stress fracture in my left tibia, I, being young and a little stupid, decided to run the marathon anyway. After six months of recovery with no running, I learned my lesson. Never run injured. Since that time, for the most part, I have lived up this this idea , but this year, a redemption year, I struggled. Six weeks ago, I started noticing a niggle in the heel of my foot. I iced it, I elevated it and I even compressed it but I didn’t truly believe it was an injury so I kept running. I ran two sixteen milers and an 18 miler before finally giving in and realizing it was something more than a niggle.

And finally, I rested. For the past three weeks I have been riding my trainer. I have not run. I have seen a doctor and received conflicting reports – Plantar Fasciitis, bone spur, stress fracture. After a definitive MRI, a stress fracture has been ruled out. I, having experienced PF for myself in the past know that this injury is not PF so, with the definitive hook showing on the x-ray, a bone spur seems to be the answer.

So I have been given the all clear, at least that’s what I wanted to hear.

The truth is that I have been given the “run and see how it feels”. Today I will do that. Today I will have to prove that I am truly older and wiser. Because going into this run I have set some ground rules. If it hurts when I start I will continue but only for a mile. If it eases I will continue. If it hurts after a mile I will take a few more days off and test it again.

Running is a huge part of my life. It brings me joy. It relieves stress. It helps me control my weight. But it is not everything. Running is part of who I am but it does not define me. I don’t have to run to be fit. I don’t have to run to stay healthy. But that doesn’t mean I will give it up. On the contrary it means that I will give it up for the short term in order to continue running for the long term. I want to run until they put me in that old pine box. I want to enjoy the feeling of the wind on my face and the ground beneath my feet for as long as possible so I am willing to take some time off. I am willing to miss my upcoming marathon if necessary. I am willing to be patient.

At least that is the plan. Today, I will work on being older and wiser.

Ann's Running CommentaryIf you like Ann’s Running Commentary – check out my YouTube Channel.

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Going Back To Work

Written by Ann Brennan

Going Back To WorkJust over a month ago I decided to take a job outside of the house. For the past sixteen years I have been a stay at home mom. Although I have worked, for as a columnist and Beyond Limits as an editor, I was able to set my own hours. I knew that going back to work would take a lot of getting used to, not just for me but for my family as well. So, I made the decision to contact my friend Caitlin at Spark Running. The store is minutes away from my house. The hours allow me to drop my youngest at school and pick him up everyday. Caitlin knows my family and my commitment to my family and helps me to work my hours into those committments. And Spark Running is a running store with a pretty good employee discount to boot. What more could I ask for?

When I started this job I expected to enjoy my time with Caitlin. I expected to enjoy learning more about the products and companies. I even expected, after having spent the past sixteen years working at a computer all day, to enjoy the customers. What I didn’t expect was to bring Ann’s Running Commentary to life in the store on a daily basis.

Each day I find the opportunity to share my experiences in running and triathlon with our customers. While it is fun to speak with experienced runners about our past races and our upcoming events, it is much more rewarding to spend time with the mom who has just decided to get back in shape, the dad who wants to start running with his teenage son or the grandmother who has started walking and thinks she just might be able to add running to the mix. I find myself sharing the story of coming in last at my first race, being left in the dust by my 8-year-old-daughter in her first race or just how hard that first mile is every time I go out for a run.

As much fun as it is to hear from readers who have found something I have written helpful, it is doubly rewarding to watch a light come on in the face of a new runner who was not quite sure they could do it and suddenly they realized just how much they can accomplish if they really want to work for it.

Going back to work was meant to be an experiment. Can I really do this? Can my family handle it? In the end it has become more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. And did I mention the employee discount?