Monday, February 24, 2014

A Spectator's Guide to Running

It's almost that time of year- spring running events are just around the corner! Long before I became a runner, I would watch Matthew compete in half and full marathons. Watching a distance running event is one of the most inspiring things you can witness; especially when you're watching a friend or loved one compete.

Our awesome spectators at the 2014 WDW Marathon!

Luckily, there have been lots of people in my life that have come to cheer me on while I run. I can't tell you enough how much it helps to see a familiar face on the course- your spectators can make a race 100 times better just by being there. To help everyone have an enjoyable experience, I've found it helpful to pass along all the tips I have learned while spectating races.

If you've got loved ones running in a race this spring or you've got a cheering section coming to watch you, check out the tips below for a fun, stress-free spectating day!

1. Study the course map and determine viewing locations.
Most races will have a course map available online or at the expo. Study this map and determine the best locations for viewing your runner. Look for out-and-back sections, or loops- that way you can see your runner at different places in the race without having to move around too much.

2. Know their pace and their plan.
Find out from your runner what they plan on doing with this race, time-wise. This can help you to determine where they should be at various mile markers on the course. I did this for friends watching me complete the 2013 Frederick Half Marathon by making a map with time ranges at different mile markers- see picture below. You can also determine "Plan B" locations too. For example, "If I haven't seen my runner by XX:XX time, then I may have missed them and will just go to the finish and wait for them there."

Some races have runner tracking technology- you can get a text when your runner is at various points on the course- but this may not always be updating live. You can also text your runner to ask where they are but some may not run with their phones or be able to respond to texts. By knowing their pace and where they should be on the course, you can avoid some of the stress that comes from wondering if they've passed you or not.

Map for the 2013 Frederick Half with predicted mile markers and times.

3. Bring something to keep yourself entertained, fed, and protected from the elements.
Even the best marathoners take approximately 3 and a half hours to finish. Chances are, your runner will be out on the course for any number of hours while you are traipsing around just trying to see them for a few seconds each mile. You may be on your own for a while. Make sure you've brought food, a jacket, cash, a book- whatever you need to be content outside for a few hours. Also, make sure you follow the race's guidelines with regard to purses, backpacks, etc. With heightened security at most races, you'll want to find out what the restrictions are before getting there.

4. Wear something easily recognizable.
If your runner is looking for you for support (which I promise you they are), you'll want to be easily recognized by what you are wearing so they can pick you out of a crowd. I will usually wear a bright color so Matthew can see me right away while he is on the course. Some people will have a unique sign or a balloon or a flag to wave around to capture their runners attention. Whatever the case, make sure your runner can easily identify you.

Morning of the 2012 WDW Marathon- check out that bright orange jacket!
5. Decide on a side before the race.
This one is pretty simple- decide what side your runner will look for you on. On some courses, you can spectate from either side of the road so you'll want to let your runner know which side to run near when they are expecting to find you. I can't tell you how many times this little tip has helped me while looking at thousands of runners all dressed in similar clothes. This is why I love wearing a tutu- easily found :-)

6. Carry what they need, when they'll need it.
Does your runner carry Gu or Shot Bloks? Maybe they like something else, like crackers or a bagel? Either way, you can be a great spectator by carrying the food your runner needs and knowing when they'll need it. In the 2012 WDW Marathon, Matthew needed Wheat Thins. In 2013, it was Goldfish crackers. Whenever I spectate a race, I always carry extra food just in case my runner will need it. And if they don't, then it's an extra snack for me!

7. Be ready with motivations sayings, signs, or texts.
One of the biggest jobs of a spectator is to keep your runner motivated. Sometimes it's with a sign, sometimes it's with text messages, sometimes it's with a little booklet of motivation they can carry with them throughout the race. Whatever your runner likes, be ready to help them when they need it. The best way to do this is to ask your runner where in the race they may feel like they need help. Matthew and I did this during the WDW Marathon this year and were absolutely overwhelmed with the love and support we received via text during our most difficult miles.

Signs for Matthew and my friend Steph during the 2013 WDW Marathon.

***Quick addition thanks to Megan B.!***

7.5 Cheer for every runner you see, not just yours!
There are some runners that may not have a cheering section at the race- nothing will make their day more than if you give them a shout out. Many races now give out personalized bibs; try to shout out some names if you can see them. A "looking good, runner!" is always appreciated. As a runner, it's also nice to pass a group of cheering spectators instead of passing a group of people just staring past you, looking for their runner. So, bring a cow bell, clap your hands, or just shout out some encouraging things as the runners pass.

8. Make friends with other spectators.
Now, this might be because I'm an extreme extrovert, but I absolutely love making friends with other spectators. Everyone has a story to tell and most people love talking about their runner. This can help to pass the time and your new friends can serve as another pair of eyes when looking for your runner.

9. Scope out the finish line for best viewing/least crowded spot.
The finish line of a race can be one of the most-crowded spots on the course. And at most races, there will be 4-5 people deep, all pushing on a waist-high fence, looking for their runner. I suggest scoping out the finish line before the race start to see where there might be a good spot that won't be too congested. At the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, I was able to scramble up on a construction vehicle located near the finish line to get a GREAT spot to view Matthew crossing the finish line. You may not have to go to that extreme, but just having a plan can help tremendously. Another trick is to find a place a few hundred yards BEFORE the finish line- that way you can see them cross and it's usually much less crowded.

Great picture of Matthew after completing the 2011 Rock and Roll Philadelphia Half.

10. Be "hands-free" ready at the finish.
When your runner finishes their race, chances are they can't wait to give you a hug! And then probably ask you to hold their water, Gatorade, post-race food, etc. So, I always make sure I'm "hands-free" at the finish- all my stuff is put away but my camera is still accessible so I can get that coveted finisher picture. Basically, I try to make sure that I'm ready for whatever my runner needs at the end of the race.

I hope these tips will help you and your spectators at your next race! Do you have additional tips or tricks that you wish your spectators knew? Share them in the comments below!

Happy running!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Winter Blahs

In an effort to be authentic (or as the kids say- "keepin it real") with you, my readers, I have a confession to make. I am stuck in the crappiest bout of winter blahs I've ever had.

Call it post-marathon blues, Disney withdrawal, or Seasonal Affective Disorder- whatever it is, it's bad. I have little motivation to run and even less to get myself back to my "fighting weight."

Don't get me wrong, I've still been getting my weekly runs in. But this weekend was the first in almost seven months that I didn't run. I planned to, but then I just couldn't pull myself together to get out the door. And despite the fact that the scale is slowly creeping up, I'm struggling to keep my nutrition in check.

I have big goals for my spring races. I want to PR all my distances (5k, 10k, half and full). I'm registered for four half marathons in the upcoming months. I need to get more training in. I need to do more speed work and hill repeats. I need to incorporate strength training into my weekly routines. But I'm really, truly, struggling.

A few weeks ago, I was in Boston for a work conference. While there, I was able to have dinner with Dani from Weight Off My Shoulders. Dani, quite frankly, kicks ass. She has accomplished so many of the goals on my list- achieving Lifetime Status with Weight Watchers, running marathons in 5 hours or less, inspiring thousands of people to get active through her blog and social media. During our conversation about weight loss, she said something that really stuck with me. She said, "I don't believe in 'cheat days.'" I think it's about time that I stop believing in them too.

I won't be able to PR my spring races if I don't put the training in. I know I can finish, but I don't want to just finish- I want to own my spring half marathons. And I can't do that if I'm also not nourishing my body effectively. That means eating like I'm fueling my body; not punishing it with crappy food. Not having "cheat days" means putting the work in; not just skating by and hoping I'll finish the race in the time goal I want.

The logical part of me knows that ups and downs are normal; not everyone can be sparkly and awesome all the time. But I'm still having a hard time finding the motivation to train appropriately and banish my "cheat days."

I don't know what the solution is yet. But something has got to work. So, if you have any extra motivation, could you send it my way? :-)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Throwback Post- Disney's Princess Half Marathon 2012

With only a few days until the sixth annual Disney Princess Half Marathon, I decided to take a run down memory lane (get it, a "run?" Ha!) and blog about my very first half marathon.

So, a little history. I started running in January 2010 as part of a fitness class. I would run a few times a week, a few miles at a time, just to lose some weight. Then when I met Matthew- and watched him complete tons of races- I knew I wanted to try a 5k. In June 2011, I ran my first 5k. I was hooked. Before long, I was looking for half marathons to sign up for.

Naturally, the Disney Princess Half Marathon seemed to have everything I wanted in my first half- it was flat, in Disney, and costumes were encouraged. Also, my good friend Morgan was turning 30 on the actual day of the event so we HAD to go!

Leading up to my first half, I was absolutely terrified. I was following a mix of Jeff Galloway's and Hal Higdon's half marathon plans. The most I ran at any time was 10 miles. I think I also did a few 8 milers. In addition to the long runs, I was running 2-3 times a week, probably 3-4 miles each time. Luckily, Morgan and Matthew make awesome running partners so those first few times I ran out of my comfort zone, they knew just what to say to help me keep going.

Sooner than I would have thought, it was February and time for my very first half marathon. I remember thinking, "Wow, 10 miles was so tough, how in the hell am I going to be able run 3 more?!!?" I pushed those thoughts aside and tried to enjoy the days leading up the half.

The expo was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. It was held at Wide World of Sports and you needed to enter multiple buildings to gather your bib, tech shirt, etc. For 2013, they moved the expo to Coronado Springs Resort and from what I understand, it was a disaster. I believe it's back at WWOS for 2014.

I like these escorts!

Can you tell we're excited???

Make sure you look for characters at the expo!

The official merchandise is always great!

First time meeting Jeff Galloway.

The shirts we made for this race. The front says "Princess in Training"

The night before the race, we had a great dinner at Port Orleans- Riverside which was just a quick walk away from our resort, Port Orleans- French Quarter. After dinner, we were in bed by 8 pm in anticipation of a 2 am wake up call!

The morning of the race, we were up and out the door by 3:30 am. Most runDisney races start at 5:30 am and they'd like you do get into your corral by 4:30 am. We boarded the shuttles with our breakfast- the resort hotels were selling a "Runner's Breakfast Box." It had a bagel, peanut butter, a banana, and a protein bar. In no time at all, we were in the Epcot parking lot, making our way back to the corrals. They will tell you it takes 20 minutes to walk back there- it does. It's also slow moving as 20,000 people are all crowding on a small walk way to get back to the corrals. Try to get into your corral as early as possible.

3 am and ready to run!

Matthew made an awesome shirt for this race.

Just so excited.

Birthday girl!

Checking my playlist that I never used! RunDisney provides SO much entertainment, I never needed the music.

As we were waiting for our corral to start, I was a bundle of nerves. I was so excited and so scared at the same time. We made small talk with a woman standing behind us and she looked right at me and said, "Enjoy your first half. It will go by so quickly." In my mind, I was thinking, "Yeah, right!" Soon enough, we were off on our magical 13.1 journey to Magic Kingdom and back to Epcot. Here are the pictures in order (keep in mind, we took over 70 photos during the race!):

Stilt walkers around mile 2.

Awesome DJ around mile 4.

Castle pic right after mile 5.

This was the best moment of the race!

GREAT picture spot- right before the bridge to Tomorrowland.

Mad Hatter near Fantasyland.

After running through the castle.

Princess Tiana, Prince Naveen, and Louis in Frontierland.

Belle and Gaston right after exiting Magic Kingdom.

Just horsin around near mile 7/8!

Right after the golf cart- golfing Donald!

On our way back to Epcot- mile 9ish.

Pirate faces near mile 10! You can also see them at mile 2.

Storybook mile markers!

Going up the ramp towards mile 11.
Elastigirl just before entering Epcot- around mile 12.
Almost to mile 13!

Fairy Godmother in Futureworld.

Running towards Spaceship Earth and the finish line!

High-fiving the gospel choir just before mile 13.

Just relaxing by the mile 13 marker.

Getting sprinkled with pixie dust aka glitter.

Half marathon finishers!

Personalized Princess bib and gorgeous medal.


The birthday girl's 4th half marathon!

Our complimentary post-race runner box.

We stopped for almost every character spot. I stopped my watch every time we stopped because I wanted to know what the overall "running" time would have been. We crossed the finish line in 3:15. Without stops, it would have been somewhere around 2:50. I couldn't believe it. I had finished my first half marathon.

Yes, we wore the tutus to breakfast.
 Once back at the hotel, we ate a hearty breakfast and relaxed the rest of the day including a celebratory dinner at Raglan Road- my favorite restaurant at Disney. On Monday we toured the parks and showed off our medals to all the princesses we could find. We also did the Wild Africa Trek- which was incredible and I'd recommend it highly to anyone visiting Walt Disney World.



Disney's Princess Half Marathon was such a wonderful experience and I am so glad that I chose this race for my first half marathon. Good luck to all the princesses (and princes!) that will be running in just a few weeks- enjoy every moment!

Happy running!