For me, it’s out with the old:
And in with the new:
Wishing you a well-supported, well-balanced 2015!
For me, it’s out with the old:
And in with the new:
Wishing you a well-supported, well-balanced 2015!
I turned 40 in September. So far, forty is most certainly fabulous. In addition to running the NYC Marathon at the beginning of November, my husband and I celebrated this milestone birthday with a trip to Peru this month. The cornerstone of our trip was a four-day, three-night trek along the 45 kilometer classic Inca Trail, finishing at Machu Picchu. As an architectural historian-turned-fitness trainer, this trip has been on my travel bucket list for a while.
I’ve struggled with trying to recap the trip. Every time I sat down to write a review, it was as if my whole being was still on sensory overload. So instead of a typical trip review, I’m going to describe the Inca Trail by the senses.
Just a few hours into Day 1, our guide Saul asked us to step off the trail. He asked us to link arms and close our eyes. We then walked toward his voice, near the edge of a cliff. It was a real trust test. Just as I was getting really nervous, he asked us to stop, take a deep breath, and open our eyes. In front of us was the great pre-Inca site of Patallacta, first inhabited around 500BC. It was a transforming experience, immediately heightening the awesome reality that we were really on the Inca Trail, where people have walked, lived, traded, and built for centuries.
Being high up in the mountains, we were in “the cloud forest” for much of our trek. Watching the clouds roll in, lift up, and blow through a valley was surprisingly captivating. My favorite example of this phenomenon was when we arrived at Phuyupatamarka (“village above the clouds”) in the morning of Day 3, and our guide Saul told us that Machu Picchu mountain was across the cloud-filled valley. He looked out and across the sky, and he said, “Let’s wait about five minutes; the clouds will lift, and you’ll get your first view of Machu Picchu mountain and Aguas Calientes.” Sure enough, we waited and the clouds evaporated just as he said they would. He told us the history of the site—a communication post to call across the valley to the sentries stationed on Machu Picchu mountain–and just as he finished and we set off, the clouds descended on the valley once again obscuring the view.
On Day 3, we hiked through the rain forest and jungle. There were a lot of beautiful butterflies, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. But what caught my eye was this shimmery, iridescent white butterfly that had purple and yellow under its wings as it floated across the sky. It was so perfectly magical, it almost seemed fake.
Before the trip, I was a little afraid that seeing Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate wouldn’t live up to the hype in my head. I was wrong. Standing there on a bright, clear morning, looking 1000 feet down at the forgotten city, I got tears in my eyes. It was, quite literally, a breathtaking experience.
The stars. One of the reasons I wanted to hike the Inca Trail was because I wanted to really escape and surround myself in the natural world. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a wide night sky. We were blessed with clear weather during our trek, and the nights were positively spectacular. Being able to see the night sky in its magnificence was a perk to waking up early (like 3:30am early) while on the trail.
The climb up to Dead Woman’s Pass (13,829 feet) on Day 2 had the soundtrack of heavy breathing. We would walk for 5 minutes, rest for a minute, and repeat…for two hours. The trail itself was quite good on the climb—mostly dirt trail as a ramp with a stone step up every 10 steps or so– but the altitude was a challenge.
After lunch Day 2, we descended a series of stone steps for about 30 minutes before coming to a clearing. It was so magnificent; we just stood and took it all in. The next thing I knew, Saul had pulled out his pan flutes and was playing “Let It Be.” Rather than being cheesy, it echoed beautifully among the mountains and filled the vastness.
I loved listening to the chaskis (aka “porters” — Chaski is the Quechua word for “Inca runner”). The Quechua language is one-part guttural, one-part clicks, and one-part fluid language. As they passed us, heavily-laden with enormous packs, they’d be chatting. The chaskis also laughed. A lot. It was clear that each trek brings together a community of men who enjoy each other’s company while working hard. I admire that.
There was a thunderstorm during lunch on Day 3. The thunder rumbled so loudly, bouncing around the mountains. One time there was even an extra “POP” after the thunder from atmospheric energy. I’d say it was cool, but I was freaked out of my mind.
Having time to talk with—and listen to—John was a real treat. After fifteen years, we had nine straight days of uninterrupted conversation, and I still love hearing his voice. I did tell him to quit singing “I hike the Inca Trail in the morning sun” after the 1,000th time, though.
Coca tea—the coca plant grows in the rainforest of the Andes, and its leaves are used to combat everything from nausea to headaches. As such, the leaves are steeped in hot water to be used as a tea to combat (or help prevent) altitude sickness. It tastes fine, but OMG the smell. Nasty. I found that if I exhaled while sipping the tea I could drink it fine. But if I forgot, the smell turned my stomach.
Popcorn. You’re smelling it right now, aren’t you? Imagine coming in to camp after 8 hours of hiking and smelling popcorn. Pure awesome.
We had a 10 minute rain shower as we sat on the top of Dead Woman’s Pass on Day 2. As we descended the million uneven, slippery stone steps down the backside of the pass, the air had that freshly scrubbed clean smell. Maybe it was just the altitude, but I couldn’t get enough of it.
Llamas are endearing to watch. But they stink. A lot.
Free advice: If you’re going to trek the Inca Trail, choose a tour company that has its own toilet. Just trust me on this one.
The best part of hiking the Inca Trail is getting to explore the many Inca archaeological sites along the way to Machu Picchu. At these sites, we were given a history by Saul, then we were free to wander around, see the Inca’s handiwork up close, and examine the constructions. The smoothness of the precise Inca stonework is well-known. But to run your fingers across it and realize it was made by hand provides connection and meaning on a very human level.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of using hiking poles on the trek. The grip of the poles in my hands not only helped take some of the work of the challenging 45K hike out of my legs, but it gave me confidence when going down the steep stone steps. So many times I commented how glad I was to have a firm grip on the poles.
The bowl of warm water that our chaskis brought to our tent each morning and night was wonderfully refreshing. Washing my face with warm water was a simple pleasure for which I was grateful. We also had water to wash hands before meals.
The weather is extremely varied along the trail. In the course of one day, I would wear a short sleeve shirt with either a long sleeve shirt over it or arm warmers. Sometimes I’d throw on my fleece jacket, too. My headwear alternated between my running hat and my running skullcap (with earflaps). Gloves went on and came off multiple times a day. Feeling the weather change as we hiked through several microclimates every day heightened my appreciation of the physical nature of our journey.
Let’s face it. Camping isn’t really comfortable. John had never camped a night in his life before this trip. Muscle soreness from hiking + aches and pains from sleeping on the ground = A clear reminder that we’re not 20 anymore. But the views from the tent were priceless.
Do you like eggs and fresh fruit for breakfast? Or do you prefer pancakes? Hot chocolate, tea, or coffee? We had all of these things, each and every morning. If none of that appeals to you, stick around for lunch and dinner, where each meal included some kind of chicken, some kind of fish, two vegetarian dishes, yucca and potatoes, and other foods I can’t even remember. So.Much.Good.Food. All while camping.
I never knew Peru had such awesome soups. Each of our dinners began with a soup course, and each soup was better than the last. Maybe it was the warmth of the soup, or maybe it was the varied but always fresh flavors, but MAN that soup was good. We had a professional chef as part of our eight-person tour group, and he even commented that the soups were outstanding.
To celebrate our three days of hard hiking, the chef steam baked a cake for us on the last evening. We shared it with the chaskis, savoring the satisfaction of hard physical work and delicious cake—two of my favorite things!
In the end, there’s so much I’m leaving out of this review. The trip lived up to–and exceed– expectations in so many ways. Ironically, the only tiniest bit of disappointment was Machu Picchu itself. After three days of exploring ruins like this:
…it was really hard to a) follow a prescribed path around the site and b) share it with 3000 other people. As such, if you have interest in going to Machu Picchu, I encourage you to hike the Inca Trail. You’ll gain an incredible appreciation for the Inca people and culture as a whole, thus better contextualizing your understanding of Machu Picchu itself. Even better, you’ll have had the experience of so many other Inca sites, exploring them as you wish, and completing the trek is terrifically satisfying.
I concur with our tour operator, the fabulous Alpaca Expeditions, whose motto is “the journey is the destination.”
Pre-race anxiety is a marathoner’s right, and I am experiencing it in a new and different way right now. I have run 10 marathons before, but only once did I fly to the event. I was flying from a cold climate (Boston in February) to a temperate climate (Austin in February), so I was fairly certain I’d be running in warmer weather than what I was used to.
This time, I am leaving Friday (tomorrow!!) morning, returning Monday night. The weather forecast has highest highs around 55 and lowest lows around 36. First of all, these numbers mean NOTHING to me, as I have not felt anything as cool as 50 since last spring…. I can’t even imagine what 50 feels like, much less 40 or 36.
I also need to pack regular clothes, which includes an outfit to go to a Broadway show as well as my super cozy wear-in-public-appropriate loungewear for the trip home. I have a pair of somewhat fashionable shoes that has to get in the suitcase, too. And I’m planning on carrying on my bag, so as to avoid those nasty checked bag fees.
Of course, I also need a full compliment of running attire, given that some models show race day to be dry with temps ranging from 38-45 and some models show race day to have snow (no, dear God, no) and some models show race day to be 40 and rainy (definitely not ideal, either). All models show Sunday to be very windy– 20-25mph winds with gusts up to 35-40mph. My race day outfit will be my Texas flag running shorts and some combination of these running bras and tops, depending on the weather. I’m sure I’ll wear gloves and my running hat, at least until I’m off the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge.
The race time temps aren’t so important for the race itself, but they will affect my pre-race body. I catch the Staten Island Ferry at 7:30am, but I don’t start the race until 10:05am. What am I doing for those hours in between? Sitting around soggy Ft. Wadsworth in the athletes’ village, trying to cast off more nervous energy than I absorb. I’ll also be trying to keep warm.
I went to Savers yesterday to buy a fleece jacket and sweatpants that I will wear over my racing clothes (whatever they happen to be….) and then toss at the start line. Those will go over an old Balance Personal Fitness Training t-shirt and a pair of capris I made myself. I also bought long socks and cut out the toes to make arm warmers. I have old gloves that I will wear over my running gloves. And a knit hat. And I have my running hat, should it be on the colder end of temps. And a baseball-cap style hat in case it rains. And sunglasses. I’m taking an old pair of running shoes and two pair of old socks to wear to the athletes’ village. Of course there will be Body Glide, too. Consider yourself lucky if you don’t know what it’s for. There’s also a red transparent poncho to go on top of everything and a small plastic sheet to sit on in case it’s muddy or wet around the start corrals.
This is why I have anxiety, y’all. I run because it’s easy. It’s simple. Straightforward.
But this race prep thing? It involves trying to predict the future, and I’m not good at that.
In the end, though, I’ve got these things in my suitcase, and they’re really all I need.
Everything else is details!
I last left you several (eeep…THREE) months ago, when I was writing a series of marathon training plans. I’d pre-written most of the blog posts for July, as I was heading out for vacation with my family and wanted to be able to focus on them. As it turns out, I rather like my family, and I’m so happy to have a business and life that allows me so much time with them. I also used that month to decide that I needed to pull back from some aspects of my business– namely blogging and taking on new clients– so I could put more energy in to my own marathon training. I haven’t been so inwardly focused in years.
I’m now T-minus six days and counting until the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon. My training has gone exceptionally well, and I feel prepared to run a respectable race.
The ironic thing is that I wound up following a completely different training plan than any of the ones I’d been outlining here at OnBalance. I chose, instead, to follow a training plan by Doug Kurtis that I saw in the June issue of Runners World. Kurtis is the only person recorded to have 200 sub 3:00 marathons as well has to have run a sub 3:00 marathon in five different decades. This guy knows how to run fast and how to train to stay competitive as the body ages.
I liked the plan’s balance between easy days, mileage, tempo/interval runs, and long runs. There was a methodical build up in mileage, but even the mid-week runs (which max out at 8 miles) were compatible with a busy mom’s schedule. Even juggling early morning clients, getting my kids to school (three kids at three different schools), and finding time to shower before my regular morning slate of clients, I never felt overwhelmed. Cheers to that!
But what I really liked about the plan was the number of long runs that were divided into two efforts on the same day. This worked well for me logistically– for example, I can do 8 miles before an 8am soccer game and then do 8 more in the evening way more easily than I can get in a 16 miler when both boys have to be at two different soccer fields for morning games. I also loved the confidence that came with running tired. I feel very well-prepared for the final miles of the marathon, knowing that I have a lot of experience running on tired legs. (This was the big appeal of the Hanson Marathon Method as well.) As I sit here with extra energy during my taper week, I know that I am ready for the race on Sunday.
The main change I made to the Kurtis plan was to eliminate the Monday run. In the first ten weeks of the program, I replaced it with deep water running, 10 minutes for every mile. In the final 10 weeks of the program, I opted to skip the Monday run entirely and focus on a good walk and stretching session. I probably could have done the full program as written, but I’m pleased to report that I will be toeing the line in Staten Island injury-free. I think taking one more rest day each week helped these 40 year old legs.
I thought that Kurtis’s ten tips for marathon training were incredibly sensible. My only exception is that I prefer to run alone– as an extroverted introvert, I need time by myself to think and recharge. That’s what running is to me. Otherwise, his philosophy resonated with me, and now that I’ve followed his training plan I feel healthy, strong, and confident.
People have asked me why I follow someone else’s training plan when I get paid to write training plans for other people. Here’s the truth: sometimes it’s nice to have someone else lay it all out for you. My energy can be directed into the workouts rather than into whether or not I should swap out this workout for that workout or spending time spinning my wheels by overthinking things. At the end of the day, I wanted to run more than I wanted to craft a training plan.
Apologies for the break in blogging, but please know that the time and brain space that I normally devote to these posts has been constructively redirected. It’s a real blessing to have the time, energy, health, and support to train for a marathon. I’m grateful to have gone through this process again– for the TENTH time!– and look forward to trusting my training on Sunday.
P.S. I’m looking forward to taking on new clients again starting next week. If you’re in the Austin area and would like to talk with me about how I can help you achieve your fitness goals while still fitting in family life, you can email me: karen at balancepft dot com.
This post is the third in a series that reviews marathon training plans. Each review is based on my experiences and opinions. Your mileage may vary.
Who the heck are the Hansons, and can I really run a marathon without doing lots of long runs?
Keith and Kevin Hanson are brothers who own and operate a running store in Detroit. Twenty years ago they took a look at some of the science regarding long distance running and developed a plan based on the premise that optimal running performance is achieved when running 2-3 hours…and physiological damage is done after that point. To this end, the Hanson Marathon Method is a high-mileage training plan, but no single run is longer than 16 miles. It is based on the principle of cumulative fatigue. As the Hansons like to say, the plan teaches you how to run the last 16 miles of the marathon (when most runners fall apart). The plan includes SOS workouts (Something Of Substance), which are tempo runs, speed workouts, strength workouts, and long runs.
The Hansons’ plan that eschews the traditional long run is radical. I must admit that I was skeptical of the entire premise. The plan requires runners to train six days a week, also radical in our fast and efficient society. Rather than looking at all of the easy days on the calendar and dismissing them as “junk miles”, the Hansons challenge their audience to understand the idea of cumulative effort and that running every day teaches you to run when tired.
It’s a blessedly simple and straightforward plan. Only three paces to guide your workouts– 5K and 10K paces for speed and strength workouts, goal pace for tempo workouts, and goal pace + 1-2 min/mi for easy workouts. The book explains clearly the value of specificity– running faster is the best way to make your body learn to run faster. And running a lot will help your body learn to run a lot.
The plan requires no fancy equipment. While there is a very short chapter about stretching and strength training, it is not a formal component of the plan. Let’s face it….most runners like to run. And this plan is all running, all the time.
That said, you don’t have to devote your entire weekend to a long run. For those of us who have weekend commitments that make running for 3+ hours on the weekend a challenge (soccer games, swim meets, other kid activities, church)– and then the afternoon nap required after such an effort– the no-run-longer-than-16-miles plan allows you to still have a family life on the weekend.
There’s no way around it. This is a high-mileage program. It requires your commitment to running and running only. For the 4-hour marathoner, you may be running two workouts per week that are close to two hours each. Also, with only one rest day per week during the majority of the training weeks, you should expect to be exhausted during training.
For the novice marathoner, I can see that there might be a mental hiccup in truly believing that a 16 mile long run will have you prepared to run more than ten miles more on race day. This is where you just have to trust the training (like one of the Hanson wives did, and PRed after having being skeptical of her husband’s training program).
The Bottom Line
If you love to run and have the discipline to run a lot of easy, fairly slow miles, this is your plan. If you have a work/life schedule that allows you to workout 60-90 minutes a day, most days of the week, this is your plan. If you like simplicity, this is your plan.
It took me two times to read through the book before I decided that Hansons Marathon Method is the training plan I’m using to prepare for the 2014 ING NYC Marathon. I’m ready to rediscover the peaceful rhythm of running daily and am looking forward to trying the Hansons plan.
This is the second post in a series of reviews of marathon training programs. Each review is based on my experience and opinions. Your mileage may vary.
Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) experts Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss– with the backing of the folks at Runner’s World– have put together a 3-run-a-week training program in their book Run Less Run Faster.
Now, before you go thinking that I’m just going to regurgitate the information from last week’s post about Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training, I am not. While both plans center around three quality runs and cross-training, their differences are significant.
The FIRST plan is described as 3PLUS2: three quality runs per week and two days of cross training. The three runs are track repeats, a tempo run, and a long run. There are multiple pace charts throughout the book, and the program is specific about what pace each of these three runs is completed– and it changes weekly as the program progresses. The cross training component of the plan is well-explained as essential, and swimming, cycling, and rowing are offered as options.
The FIRST plan is the most specific, customizable mass-market plan I have ever come across. The book provides training plans for all 16 Boston Marathon qualifying times (3:05 to 5:25), which allows the majority of marathoners to find a plan that will work for their current fitness level. In addition to the discreet pace charts in the book, there is a FIRST app that can create a personalized training plan in seconds (for $2.99). The idea is that by following specific paces for each run every week of the program, you know you can reach your goal.
Furthermore, the cross training component of the 3PLUS2 plan is well-laid out. The book includes specific workout charts for cycling, swimming, or rowing for the entire 16-week training plan.
For those who like to use a GPS watch while they run, the book includes a section about how to preset a Garmin for all of the workouts in the plan. While I’m not a Garmin wearer, I know that I’m in the minority– a lot of people will find this section particularly useful.
Three hard runs a week plus two days of cross training is ideal for a balanced body. I liked that the authors even discussed the merits of varying the cross training activities, explaining how each could contribute to overall fitness and running success.
The program charts are easy to read, and with all of the options for pace (by following the BQ charts), there’s something here that will work for almost everyone.
The book includes several sections of Q&A about everything from running basics to issues specific to the FIRST plan. I thought these FAQs were a good way to distill a of of information clearly and concisely. Also, there were a lot of success story letters from FIRST followers, and I liked the human “feel good” aspect of their inclusion.
One downside to running such a pace-specific plan is that it can put a lot of pressure on the runner. What happens if I’m 2 seconds off pace? 10 seconds? What happens if I’m slow two runs in a row? Ugh. You can feel the pressure mounting, and in something that is supposed to be fun (or at least stress-relieving), this plan doesn’t leave much room for a purely recreational runner.
My greatest pause regarding the FIRST plan comes from the FIVE 20-milers. If these are to be completed at the paces set out, even a sub-4 hour runner would be logging five long runs of nearly 3 1/2 hours. This seems excessive to me, especially for a plan that espouses injury prevention as one of its hallmarks.
Also, the book tries a bit too hard to be all things marathoning. There are very short chapters devoted to common injuries and nutrition and trail running/ultras. I didn’t feel like these chapters added anything to the book, and in a novice they might open up a lot more questions and concerns than they answer.
The Bottom Line
If a BQ is what you’re after, this is the plan for you. The FIRST plan, while tough because of all the at-pace (or faster) running and the numerous near-goal pace 20 milers, will likely get you to Hopkinton.
If you’re a novice marathoner who enjoys cross training, this plan will allow you to get trained for the distance while still allowing you to participate in your other fitness activities.
This post is the first in a series of four blog posts that reviews different marathon training plans. I hope to offer a very brief synopsis of each training plan along with my editorial comment about what I perceive are the plans’ strengths and weaknesses. All opinions are mine. As we like to say in distance running: your mileage may very.
Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training espouses a simple premise that is also the books subtitle: run your best without running yourself ragged.
Sounds great, right?!
Smart Marathon Training is based on three runs per week, each of which has a specific focus and intention. The types of runs are broken down into Hill Workouts, Speed Workouts, Tempo Runs, and Long Runs. These types of runs are familiar to anyone who has done distance training, and Horowitz explains their purposes clearly for the novice. The goal is to eliminate junk miles (miles a runner runs without any real purpose other than to go out and run) in an effort to combat overtraining and burnout. The book includes six training plans for the half-marathon and marathon distances.
Smart Marathon Training adds to the three runs per week a prescriptive cross-training regimen and strength training program. Horowitz makes a sound case for the merits of cycling as cross-training, and the program assumes you will follow his advice and get on the bike to supplement your overall fitness. The book also includes two chapters devoted a very specific strength training program.
The training schedule is neatly laid out on two facing pages of the book. It is clear, easy to read, and logically progressive. This may not sound like much, but given how many different components there are to this plan (11), the fact that it is graphically pleasing is a real accomplishment.
The photos and descriptions of the strength training exercises are, for me, the best part of the book. They are presented in such a way that even someone who has never done any kind of resistance work can understand how to do the moves. Furthermore, the inclusion of such a thorough strength training program will likely help prevent injuries during training, as there is an emphasis on building a balanced body.
I like that many of the runs are done at a pace based on Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). This is especially appealing to new distance runners, as they learn to tune in to how their body feels during a run. Also, RPE allows runners a freedom to flow with the reality of life that pure pace-oriented training programs do not.
The 20-week training plan includes three 20-mile long runs, with the first coming as early as week 11. In my experience, that’s at least one 20-miler too many for most people, and if you can run a good (meaning not-get-injured) 20-mile run that early in the training cycle, it might be hard to keep interested in a goal that is still more than two months away.
Also, I have no interest in cycling. I don’t want to buy a bike and all the gear necessary to follow the cross-training parts of Horowitz’s plan. Even as a personal trainer who owns quite a lot of fitness equipment, the strength training plan can’t be done as indicated without a gym membership that gives you access to weight machines. I am a runner because I enjoy the freedom of fitness without all the stuff required of other endeavors.
Furthermore, as someone who travels a lot, the inclusion of four long distance cycling efforts instead of long runs during the 20-week training could be a real logistical challenge. One of the great benefits of running is that I can do it wherever I go with very little advance research and planning.
The Bottom Line
Smart Marathon Training is an excellent plan for a triathlete or avid cyclist who wants to try the marathon distance. Likewise, if you’re coming to running from a weightlifting background, the strict and integral strength training program will appeal to you. The components of the plan are scientifically sound and the focus on creating a well-balanced body would be helpful to those who are plagued by injuries.