Lions, And Tigers, And Bears! Oh, My!

Unless you live in Ohio, you probably haven’t experienced the possibility of bumping into major predators on a run. (What are you supposed to do if you encounter a bear, again? Fetal position?)

But there are ways to get in a workout near some big name beasts without fear of being mauled. Running through the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. comes to mind.

I did just that last Sunday when I traveled to the DC area to hang with Baby Sister. After checking out a few routes on MapMyRun.com that incorporated the winding-trails of the animal park, we set out on our urban safari. Baby Sister isn’t much of a runner, so I left her in charge of the camera and trotted ahead.

The park itself is on the small side, so if you’re looking to log major mileage you’ll need to tack some on before (or after) you get there. You could run up from Georgetown and go by the National Cathedral to round out your sightseeing tour. Or head into nearby Rock Creek Park for a foliage fix. More ways to make this a roar-inducing good run:

  • Skip the concession stand. When I don’t feel like carrying a water bottle, I’ll slip an Abraham Lincoln in my pocket and stop somewhere to buy a beverage. But with plenty of drinking fountains sprinkled throughout the Zoo you can save your cash.
  • Say “Hi!” to the cheetahs. Not only are they good sprinters, those cats know how to stretch. Watch them pull a few downward dog moves before they stalk the fence they share with the zebra pen. (Breakfast!)
  • Go early to beat the crowds. Baby Sister and I entered the park around 9:45am, and by the time we left the place was swarming with strollers and herds of tourists. Remember what they say about early birds, they get to see the animals play before taking their mid-day siestas.

Have you ever come across a wild animal on a run? (Squirrels and pigeons don’t count.)

What’s The Plan, Stan?

I’m training for Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon on 1 October and I’d like to do well. Of course, well is relative. My last half marathon was in January—it was 14 degrees outside and I finished in a respectable 1:57:02. This time, I’d like to push myself harder and cross the finish line in 1:49:00.

I’ve learned that when you set a goal (in running and in life) it helps to have a solid plan to get there. Figuring out that plan can be a challenge. Do you ask Google for one? Get it from a magazine? Hire a coach? I’ve tried all of those routes and they’ve all gotten the job done… when I’ve stuck with them.  That’s the key: A training program can’t tie your shoes for you—it only works if you’re dedicated to seeing it through.

Today my plan had me knock out three easy miles. But for some reason getting started was tough. I didn’t feel like getting out of my pajamas. I didn’t feel like going to the park. And I questioned whether a slow, low mileage run was really worth my time. (Clearly I woke up on the wrong side of the bed!) So I thought about my goal and I visualized what it would be like to look up at the finish line clock and see those numbers. Suddenly, snoozing for an extra 30 minutes just didn’t seem worth it.

What keeps you dedicated to your plan? What motivates you to run?

Trail Running: Between A Walk And A Hard Pace

I recently put my new Brooks Cascadia 6 trail shoes to the test on a segment of the Appalachian Trail in Bear Mountain, NY, and I’ve got to say, I’m in love. The way the treads grip the ground makes me feel like I can fly down a path without tripping. Still, even with the “right” shoes your next spill is only a loose rock away. Here’s what I learned to help prevent falling when you’re running in the woods:

Look out Your foot tends to land in the spot your eyes are focusing on, so be aware of uneven areas and gnarly roots that might trip you up. When you want to view the scenery, stop and take a break.

Use your arms Hold them out and slightly away from your body for balance. And take advantage of trees (like I’m doing in this photo), when going down rocky sections.

Slow down Even ultra-marathoners will admit to walking super-steep uphill sections and treacherous slopes. In fact, seven-time winner of the Western States Endurance Run Scott Jurek once told Runner’s World speed isn’t all that important to his sport: “Experienced trail runners cover about six miles an hour.” (For comparison, pros tend to run the same distance in road races in just under 30 minutes.)

Buddy up Bring a friend with you when you hit the trails. Not only is it more fun to share the adventure, it’s safer too since there will be someone to run ahead and get help if you become seriously injured.

Have you ever fallen on a trail? Got any advice for staying up right? 

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

Tapering: For Running And Fashion, It’s Best Not To Over Think It

The taper portion of marathon training is a lot like a pair of pants that get skinny at the ankles—you think it’s going to be great, but then you wonder if it’s making your butt look big. Tapering requires you to drop the intensity of your workouts down to about 60% of the load you’ve built up to over the course of training. It can make you feel a little lazy.

This week, miCoach has me scaling back both my mileage and my speed, and next week I’ll barely be breaking a sweat—nothing on my schedule is longer than 40 minutes. After weeks of two to three hour runs, seeing a 25-minute session on my calendar seems ridiculous. I’ll practically be stopping before I get started—what’s the point of tying my shoes? Still, all those easy runs will be great for my body. My muscles will have plenty of recovery time and I’ll restock my fuel stores, which will help my legs feel fresh for the ultimate workout on April 18.

Shorter runs also mean I have more time on my hands for sleeping, eating, worrying about whether or not I trained enough, and online shopping. My legs are going to do well, but I’m not sure if my brain and my bank account will make it through the next two weeks without feeling drained.

Countdown to the Boston Marathon: 13 days!

Do you feel lazy when you dial back your workouts? More importantly, should I buy these pants?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

It’s Time To Be A Goal Setter

This morning I had coffee with Neil Cook, a running and triathlon coach at Asphalt Green in NYC. I wanted to pick his brain about Boston—he’s run it in the past and has coached several athletes to victory there. I also wanted him to tell me that I could finish in my original goal of 3:45. Instead, I came away with a caffeine buzz, a Starbuck’s napkin full of notes, and a head swimming with numbers. It’s time for me to smell the vanilla latte and be a lot more realistic.

I’ve had a few setbacks during training this season—the flu, shin splints, crazy winter storms—but I’m not going to make excuses. I haven’t put in the mileage or the effort to hope for such a speedy finishing time. Coach Neil wants me to create three new goals for myself: 1. The one I can hit only if the marathon gods are smiling upon me (perfect weather, my legs feel incredible, complete mental focus); 2. The time my current level of fitness and training predicts; and, 3. An at-all-costs number that I’m guaranteed to reach. Which means I’m looking at: 3:55, 4:06, and just plain finishing.

If I were the type of person who set the bar low, I could be happily surprised by how well things turn out when the outcome is better than anticipated. But I’m not; my expectations have always been too high—for racing and everything else in life. It’s going to be tough to accept something as practical as 4 hours. Still, it’s what I need to do.

Countdown To The Boston Marathon: 19 Days!

Do you set realistic goals for yourself? Or do you aim too high or low?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.