Tag Archives: running

Comrades Update: Easing Into Strength Training


Photo by W_Minshull

It’s no secret that I really dislike strength training.  I find no joy in lifting weights.  I know how important being lean and strong is for runners, but it all feels tiresome and pointless to me.  Where running is The Force, strength training is from The Dark Side.

One of the main pieces of advice I hear repeated by Comrades veterans is that strength training is critical for the down run.  I’m not surprised.  I have run the Boston Marathon four times, and I know that the last four miles (which are a glorious downhill) can be a nightmare on the quads if you’ve gone out to fast in the first seven miles, which are a not-so-obvious downhill.  I can only imagine the quad screaming one experiences in the second half of the Comrades down run.  I want to be prepared.

I have to trick myself into the strength work, though, or I won’t do it.  Although I could easily outline my own program, I know myself well enough to realize that I will have better adherence to someone else’s program.  Why?  Because if I’ve planned a particular exercise or set of exercises, and I just don’t feel like doing them that day, I’ll go off-script and do something else.  (Nine times out of ten, it will be something easier or something that won’t serve me as well.)  But if someone else is telling me what to do, I’m much more compliant.  Thus, I’ve chosen two 30-day programs available free on social media to do for the month of January to ease my way in to regular strength training.

The first is UK-based James Dunne’s Kinetic Revoultion 30-Day Challenge.  In the short videos (available via an email subscription or instagram @kineticrev), James presents two daily exercises.  The body-weight exercises are targeted to runners, so there’s lots of work in the glutes, hamstrings, abductors, adductors, and quads.  What I like about the program is that it’s well-balanced, with core exercises and stretches interspersed into the program every few days.  Each day’s workout takes 8-10 minutes, and it’s something you can do without breaking a sweat.

The second way I’m easing into strength training is with Yoga With Adriene‘s Yoga Camp on You Tube (also available via an email subscription or a pay-as-you-wish download). I’ve had a regular yoga practice for 13 years, but this is the first time I’ve done guided yoga for 20 straight days.  With a great mix of standing postures, pranyama, relaxation days, and challenging vinyasa sessions, the videos (most of which are around 30 minutes) are adding an important counterpoint to my workouts.  I feel more confident in my balancing postures, more supported in my low back, and more appreciative of what my body can do.  I must admit I have a fan-girl crush on Adriene– I love her attitude, and I find the way she describes what she is doing to be so clear that I can move through the entire practice with my eyes closed.    I’ve been doing the Yoga Camp videos in the evenings, sometimes with my kids alongside me and sometimes right before bed.  Either way, I’m really loving the positive contributions they bring into my day.

If you’re looking for ways to sneak some strength work into your workouts, I recommend both James Dunne’s Kinetic Revolution and Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga Camp.  These free programs are worth your time, and they’re led by reputable people who know the body well.  I can’t wait to see how they help with my running when I hit the road for my first 50K in six years at the end of the month.

Good health and great happiness to you!


The Beauty of Simplicity


I’m going to give it to you straight: I’m old school.

No fancy equipment.

No GPS-tracking.

No headphones.

Just shoes.

For me, it’s the simplicity of running that is so appealing.

As a lifelong runner, I got hooked on the sport long before technology came along to ‘improve’ it.  When I started racing, finish order was determined by giving each runner a sequentially-numbered popsicle stick as they came through the chute, then a person with a clipboard taking the stick and asking for the runner’s name.  Seriously.  In bigger races, volunteers would pull tags off the bottom of number bibs and keep them in finisher order to match up later.  I even ran my first marathon before chip timing.

But it’s not (only) old lady crotcheyness that keeps me running without all the newfangled gadgetry.  Ditching the crutches of technology can improve your running.  Your body will run at its natural pace, and your brain will learn what number to assign to that pace.  Running without your GPS—or even a watch—forces you to pay attention to your body and your effort level.  You are able to tune in to yourself without the external chatter of your technology telling you how you should be feeling.  My PR at 10K was run on a course with no mile markers or split times; had I known how fast I was going, I would have slowed down because “I can’t run that fast!”

I’m also old school in tracking my training.  I still log my runs on paper, despite reviewing and recommending fitness and tracking apps to clients on a weekly basis.  I take comfort in going back through my logs—over 20 years of them at this point—and seeing my handwriting, reading the comments, and revisiting the feelings I had as I moved through the highs and lows of my life.  Running is therapy, and my log books are the journals demonstrate my progress.

There’s also a democracy of running that keeps me loyal to the sport.  How many other sports have elite athletes and regular folks competing in the same event on the same course (field, court, pitch) at the same time?  To be able to participate in such a unifying way is quite remarkable in our increasingly-stratified society.  And when I remember that I can strip away everything but me and the movement, the simplicity and purity of running is real joy.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Comrades Update: Phase II Planning


Of all the differing opinions about how to best prepare for Comrades, there is one piece of advice that everyone seems to believe: Comrades training begins on January 1st.  Popular opinion also says that training should include at least 1000KMs (620 miles) between January and May.

Comrades offers a training plan written by their official coach Lindsey Parry.  There are options for every goal finish, as different medals are awarded for different finish times.  From what I deduce, this plan will get you to the start line without an overuse injury and will prepare you to finish.  It relies on the strategy of double-blocking long runs on the weekends pretty much every weekend January-May.  Nearly every run is to be done at a slow pace.

There is another popular free training plan written by Norrie Williamson and sponsored by Old Mutual.  This program has more speedwork included, both in the form of tempo runs, intervals, and hill work.  There is more variation in pace for different runs, although the majority of the training is not surprisingly long,
slow distance.

I was surprised that neither training plan takes runners past 50KM in the build up to Comrades.  In my mind, that seems not far enough, as it leaves (nearly) a full marathon between the longest long run and Comrades itself.  I think the logic is that it is better to be underprepared than overtrained (and injured).

Neither training program specifies strength training, although most coaches and Comrades runners profess that strength work is non-negotiable for the Down Run.

So with these two training plans and the seven decades of collective running experience– and a little bit of hubris– between us, my dad and I spent some time over his visit at Christmas to devise our game plan.  We looked at both the Old Mutual plan  and the “official” plan.  We looked at our calendars to determine what races we’d like to use as supported training runs.  We noted when we’d both be in the same city so that we could plan a long training run together.

We decided on three races to enter so we can practice our race day pacing and fueling: Waco Miracle Match Marathon 50K at the end of January, Ft. Worth’s Cowtown 50K at the end of Feburary, and the North Texas Trail Runners Grasslands 26.2 in mid-March.  We won’t be racing at any of these events; rather, they are long runs that will offer some of the excitement of race day and break up the monotony of solo long runs.

We will also be hosting a DIY 40-miler at the end of April.  Using a super hilly 4.5 mile loop that starts and finishes at my house, I’m planning on running 8 full laps plus a final 4-mile loop to knock out a 40 miler as my penultimate long run before Comrades.  I plan on enlisting the support of my running friends to join me for a loop (or more) as I get nine hours on my legs.  Stay tuned for more info about how you can come join me!

All in all, my training plan will bring me to about 880 miles if I run the four-days-a-week as planned. That gives me wiggle room to hit my 1000KM in case I get sick or injured or just need a mental break one week.

In addition to the running, I’ll ride my FitDesk bike one day a week.  I have one day of yoga-for-runners and two days of strength training built into my plan.  I have one day of full rest each week.  All in all, it seems like a lot of work but in a very manageable way.

I’m going to chew the elephant one bite at a time.

If you’re interested in seeing the excel spreadsheet that details my training plan, leave a note in the comments.  I’d be happy to email it to you.





Comrades Update: Enjoying Rest

It’s been two-and-a-half weeks since my disappointing Comrades qualifier at the Dallas Marathon.  As was the plan I set out several months ago, I’ve been taking it easy on the running front.  This break from long workouts was perfectly timed, what with Christmas and three young kids out of school and a husband on a business trip and visiting parents and all.

After the marathon, I took off five full days from running.  I enjoyed a massage and some epsom salt baths.  I spent a little more time than normal doing yoga and stretching.  I tried to keep myself well hydrated and get extra sleep.  I didn’t really feel like my body needed much recovery from the marathon, but my mind sure did welcome the break.

On the Saturday after the race, I took my two younger kids to a nearby park.  While they played a game of pick-up soccer, I got in an easy 30 minute run with zero aches or complaints.  It felt great to have recovered so quickly.

In the ten days since, I’ve gone for a few more easy runs.  I’m running when I feel like it, as fast or slow as my body feels like going.  Right now, it’s just about enjoying the feeling of each step.

Perhaps my best Christmas gift this year was going out for a very hilly 4.5 mile (7K) run with my dad, my husband, and our two sons.  It wasn’t fast, but it was a great family effort.  To give my kids the same gift of running that my dad gave me is one of my great joys of motherhood.



3 Last-Minute Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

To say that I’m a frequent user of Amazon Prime is an understatement.  We could, apparently, make a Christmas tree out of boxes that have arrived on my doorstep recently.


If you’re struggling to find a gift for that active person on your Christmas list, it’s not too late for Amazon Prime to come to the rescue.  Today I want to recommend three budget-friendly items that I have bought and used myself that I recommend regularly to others.

My favorite socks

I’ve worn DeFeet socks for running for at least 20 years.  I like their thin profile, and I LOVE their fun designs.  I still race in Texas flag DeFeets, just like I did when I was a homesick Texan living in Boston in the late 1990s.

But my favorite socks for gifting are the smiley face socks.  I mean, really….how can you have a bad workout if your socks are smiling?  Impossible!

I love to gift these socks to my personal training clients as they reach their goals.  Hooray for smiley socks!

My favorite strength training book

Like many runners, I’m terrible about making time for strength training.  But this book has a program that’s so easy to follow (click here for full blog review) that there’s no excuse not to do it.

If you know a runner who is reluctant to begin strength training either because she doesn’t know what to do or because she feels like it will take too much time, this is the book they need!

My favorite yoga mat

It’s thick.  It’s cushy.  It’s not slippery.  All of these things is important if you’re trying to progress your practice, particularly doing balancing postures or work on hands and knees.

It has a handy carrying strap.  It comes in cool colors.  It’s affordable.

It’s pretty much perfect.

Go forth and give gifts!  And may you receive health and happiness in return!

The links included in this post are affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase an item through these links, I receive a small referral fee.

A Runner’s Three Best Friends

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Recovery is an essential part of any workout plan, yet hard-headed distance runners often think themselves exempt.  I count myself among these ranks…well, at least until I turned 40.

I can no longer ignore recovery elements of my training.  I have three best friends with whom I spend a lot of time during the week.

My first friend is the foam roller.

I love
this basic foam roller
because it works well for myofascial release– that’s fancy for massage that helps the muscles return to their optimal position– as well as a back relaxation and chest opening prop when aligned under the spine.  It’s really the self-massage that most people think of when they grab a foam roller.  Runners can use the roller to get into tight glutes, hips, and IT bands.  But as this Runner’s World article very thoroughly demonstrates, the foam roller can be used for warm up and cool down, as well as rehab.   I like to roll in the evenings while I’m watching TV, and I’m finding that just 5-10 minutes a day makes a big difference in keeping my low body happy.

My second friend is someone I knew back when I was a teenage runner but I lost track of over the years.  It was re-introduced to me by my massage therapist Sara Illig of Integrative Massage here in Austin.  Sara told me of the importance of magnesium in muscle recovery.  She uses magnesium oil to lubricate the body for massage, and while I never seem to mind mag oil when I’m getting a massage, I found it a bit stingy when I tried to use it at home.  So I went to the source: epsom salts.  

Because I’m too lazy and too busy to sit and soak in a tub of epsom salts regularly, I use them in the shower daily instead.  I scoop a cup of the salt as I get into the shower, and then I mix a handful of epsom salt with shower gel and massage it into my legs.  It feels so good! I like to use
a high-quality, USA-sourced epsom salt
so I know that I’m getting the best mag into my muscles.

I feel a little silly recommending epsom salts, as it’s such a fuddy-duddy treatment.  But there really is merit in simplicity here.  When the muscles are tight, magnesium helps.  Why not deliver it transdermally with a little massage?

The final friend I want to introduce to you today is even more humble than salt. It’s ice. (Well, technically, it’s gel.)

For stubborn sore muscles (like the giant knot I had in my right calf for a week), I return to the icing protocol I learned years ago: fifteen minutes of ice on, thirty minutes off…repeat as many times as possible. Having a big ice (gel) pack like the one linked above makes it easy to cover a lot of muscle at once.

(Please don’t ever put ice directly on your skin for an extended period.  It’s a bad idea.)

By foam rolling, massaging with epsom salts, and regular icing, I can keep my legs running 40-50 miles a week….and still have energy left for work and family.  Take care of your body, and it will take care of you.

Who are the friends who keep you running?  Introduce them to me, please!

Good health and great happiness to you!

PS– Is there a runner on your gift list this holiday season? These three items would make a great runner’s care pack!


The links included in this post are Amazon Affiliate links– that means if enough of you click on it and buy something, I may earn enough money to buy a Gu packet someday.

Three Exercises That Keep Me Running

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been fighting a few niggling injuries in my marathon and ultramarathon training.  Nothing is keeping me off the streets, but I am spending more time than usual with the ice pack, foam roller, and epsom salts.

There are three exercises that I do regularly that I credit for keeping me running. I do them every day in small sets throughout the day.  I want to keep those little annoying issues from becoming full-blown injuries.

To avoid the dreaded runner’s knee, I have been working to strengthen my gluteus medius.  A stonger glute med helps the IT band to function efficiently; a happy IT band keeps the knee tracking appropriately.  This triumvariate relationship is a great example of how pain may or may not be related to the location where you’re feeling the pain.  Working various parts of the kinetic chain helps the running gait to be as smooth and natural as possible.

Strengthening the glute med is really important for people like me– women who have had multiple babies and who have a pelvis that may not be sitting in its optimal position.

The three exercises I do are:

Fire Hydrant— two sets of 20 per leg each day

Side Plank Lift/Lower— two sets of 12-15 per side each day

Outer Thigh Leg Lift— two sets of 20 per side each day


Give those a try for a few days, and let me know how it affects your running.  I’ll be back in a few weeks for the second level of Glute Med work.

Until then, good health and great happiness to you!