Thursday, March 27, 2014

Half Marathon Training, Sparkly Runner Style

One of the questions I get asked most often is "I want to run a half marathon, but I'm not sure how to train. What training plan would you recommend?"

The best way to answer that question comes down to a lot of factors- When is the race you want to run? What is your general fitness level? How much time do you have each week to devote to training? What pace do you want to be able to comfortably run?

So, in short, there's not a one-size-fits-all training plan. However, what worked for me was a combination of plans that each have helped thousands of people cross the finish line.

I signed up for my first half marathon in October of 2011. I would run Disney's Princess Half Marathon in late February 2012. I had already been running for about 18 months but the most I'd run at one time was 6.2 miles. Weekly, I'd say I was running about 6-10 miles. I felt like my fitness level was appropriate for a beginner half marathon training program.

When looking for training plans, many people suggested Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway. I bought Galloway's book, "You Can Do It: Half Marathon," and looked up Higdon's plan online. While Galloway's was 19 weeks, Higdon's was only 12. In the end, I chose to use Higdon's plan and Galloway's method.

Jeff Galloway's Beginner Plan. You can find it here

Cheesin' it up with one of my favorite books!

Hal Higdon's Novice 1 Plan. You can find it here.

Both of these websites have a ton of free training information and I highly recommend each of them. Both of these men are experienced runners and coaches- they know their stuff. Also, both of these plans DO NOT have a time goal. They both stress that your first half marathon should be about finishing, not finishing within a certain timeframe. One of my favorite Galloway quotes is that you should finish "upright, smiling, and wanting to run another one" at the end of your first half.

So, now I had a 12-week plan. As I was using Galloway's method, I used his handy chart to figure out what my run/walk intervals should be. If you aren't familiar with this method, basically you run and then walk at pre-determined intervals. It is a great method for all types and all levels of runners and has multiple benefits. You can read more about it here.

Galloway's pace chart.  Source.

Once I had the plan and the method figured out, it was time to actually train. In a nutshell, here's what my training looked like:
  • 27 training runs over 12 weeks
  • 125 training miles total
  • 2-4 hours of running per week
  • Two short runs during the week (2.5-5 miles) and one long run on the weekend (6-10 miles)
  • Four long runs total- 7, 8, 10, 8 miles each with a cutback week in between
  • Short taper runs in the last two weeks before the race

All of these miles were logged back before I used Map My Run. I made an excel sheet to track not only my mileage, but also what I ate, the weather, and how I felt during the run. This was really helpful to me as I was also figuring out how to fuel properly during the long runs. I found that keeping track of what I was doing was incredibly helpful and motivating.

All this detail... it makes me giggle! I was tired and achy a lot- wow, wait until Dopey training, past Sarah ;-)

These notes are hilarious! Apparently it was so cold that winter that my butt went numb! :-)

Even though both of these plans had strength training or cross-training worked into them, I did not do any of that. I just focused on the running. Looking back at my plan now, I wish I would have done the 10 miler closer to the date of the race, probably about three weeks out from race date. You can see that I didn't follow either plan to the letter- I just used them as more of a guide. Now, I'm pretty much a stickler when it comes to following a training plan because I want to make sure that I get all of the long runs in that I should so I can feel and do my best on race day.

The plan listed above got me through my first half marathon. Since then, I've stuck to a similar pattern to keep myself conditioned: two short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend usually averaging 15- 20 miles a week.

Disclaimer- I am not a medical professional nor running coach. The information presented here is just my experience. Always consult with your physician before starting any kind of physical exercise program.

QOTD: What training plan did you use for your first race?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So... Now What?

Cue the dramatic music. I'm about to ruminate on the future of the Sparkly Runner blog.

Ok, so it's not all that dramatic. But, in my little corner of the internet, it's kind of a big deal.

Since the Dopey Challenge, I've been thinking about what to do with my blog. When I started blogging in July, I wasn't exactly sure where it would go. I knew that I wanted to share my running experiences AND keep myself accountable on my journey to my first marathon. And I think I met both of those goals.

But there's a lot to blogging that I didn't expect. Most of the unexpected has been really, really cool - meeting new people, having an opportunity to express my creativity, becoming a better writer, and having a stronger connection to the running community. However, it takes a lot of time. Like, a whole lot of time. From coming up with ideas, the actual writing, editing text and photos, and then promoting the post- I'd estimate I spend at least 10 hours a week on the blog. Not that 10 hours is a big deal, but when you add it into an already stressful week filled with 50+ hours at work, it becomes more like "work" to get it done.

Which brings me to the point of this post- where do I go from here? What do I want this blog to accomplish?

In a former job, I managed the social media for my department. I always answered (and still try to) these three questions before posting anything: 1. Is this relevant? 2. Is this valuable to my network? 3. Is this expected? Moving forward on this blog, I want to make sure I follow those same guidelines and am still enjoying blogging (which I totally am). So what does that mean?

That means that I keep writing relevant, valuable, and expected posts. For me, this means writing about things that are relevant to the running community- this includes physical fitness, nutrition, racing, products/technologies, etc. This also means writing about things that my readers will find valuable- I think I have an idea of what this is, but I want to solicit more feedback from you all. In addition, this means that what I post is expected- I am my authentic self online and what you see is what you get: I write posts that sound like me, on my own timeline.

Part of following these guidelines means that I blog more consistently and that my readers can come to expect certain relevant and valuable posts from this blog. Now there are some really awesome bloggers out there that manage to post 5-7 times a week- which is like a miracle to me. I honestly don't know how they have the time, energy, and creativity to do all that and work full-time, have successful relationships, work out, shower, etc. Kudos to them for being amazing :-)  I'm not quite that awesome yet and don't think I can manage posting more than 2-3 times per week.

However, after reading this post by fellow blogger Kathryn, I realized that there are some things that I can do to be more consistent, provide more valuable content to my readers and still keep myself accountable. So, how does that translate for you, dear reader?

Here's what you can expect from me in the coming weeks:
  • Posts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings about training, products, upcoming races, nutrition, etc. Posts on Saturday/Sunday about race and expo recaps and reviews.
  • Guest posts from people who inspire me, who I then hope inspire you.
  • More outreach to those of you reading on what you'd like to see here, what questions you have that I can take a stab at answering, more feedback about what would be helpful for you.
I still feel like this is one big experiment and that every once in a while, I'll change things up to see what happens. One thing will remain the same- the reason I started blogging; to share my journey with you and the hope that you will share yours with me.

Happy running, friends.

QOTD (Question Of The Day): What are your favorite running-related topics to read about?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Race Recap & Review: Shamrock Half Marathon

*This is part three of my Shamrock Marathon Weekend recap. You can find the others here: part one and part two.

Sunday morning brought another early wake-up call- 3:45 am! Matthew, Kelly (former roomie and all around best friend!), and I got ready and made our way down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. Our hotel shuttle was leaving at 5:00 am for the beachfront and we wanted to grab some food before we went downtown.

View of the lobby from the second floor.

They had a great spread- bagels, danish, bananas and coffee! I can't tell you how awesome it was to be able to enjoy a nice, hot cup of coffee with real cream! It helps get me moving on race day.

We ate and then got onto our coach bus- we were expecting a van, but there turned out to be a lot of people running the race staying at our hotel. The fact that it was a coach bus will come in handy later :-)

After just a 20 minute ride, we were dropped off about 15 blocks from the start- we were also only about 4 blocks from the finish. The driver said he'd be picking up from that same spot after the races and until 1 pm.

It was colder than we thought it was going to be- just around 40 degrees at 6 am. However, the wind was KILLER! Matthew and I wore shorts, t-shirts, and arm sleeves so we were pretty chilly. I had brought some garbage bags so we put them on and started making our way to the start line.

Really, it was super cold! I suggested we take refuge in a hotel lobby because we had almost an hour to wait before the start. We found a Holiday Inn about four blocks from the start and found a couch to relax on before the race. We also were able to meet up with Christine again from We Run Disney. It really was awesome being able to see her as often as we were this weekend.

Kelly, me, and Christine trying to stay warm!

Around 6:40 we decided to head out to the start line. On the way, I got to see another good friend from graduate school and fellow runner- David. We didn't get any pictures together though I think because we were all frozen! Uncharacteristic for me, I barely took any pictures before or during the race. Partly because I was trying to PR and partly because it was just too damn cold to try and mess with my camera!

We hit up the port-a-potties and then headed near our corrals. Christine was in two, Matthew in five, Kelly in six and I was in eight. After standing for a few minutes, I had to go to the bathroom again. That coffee was running right through me! And of course, the lines were super long- so I ran behind a bush that was in between the rows of potties and a building. It was the perfect spot! No one saw me- this is how I know I'm a real runner. I can pee anywhere :-)

Matthew and I pre-race.

Right at 7:00 am, the national anthem was sung and the first corral was off! There seemed to be a little bit more spacing between corrals for this race than there was for the 8k. As my corral moved toward the starting line, I started to feel like I had to go to the bathroom yet again! As we were all moving forward, we passed the port-a-potties and there were no lines. I jumped in one more time and was so glad I did. Now I could focus on the race.

Soon enough, it was our turn to run. We started the first part of the course running north on residential streets. Not even two miles into the race, there were unofficial "Beer Stops" with people pouring runners beer from a keg. It was insane! I think I counted at least 10 different groups handing out beer. It was the day before St. Patrick's Day after all :-)

First few miles of the course in residential neighborhoods.

Beer station right around mile four.

Miles four through six were on a country road surrounded by trees/forest. This was probably my most favorite part of the course. It was quiet and flat and I was able to just focus on running the race. There were water/Gatorade stations about every mile and a half. Live bands and radio DJ's were also on the course and provided a welcome distraction.

Just after mile six, we turned into a military base. I knew from Christine's tips that it would be super windy through here. And boy was she right! Miles seven and eight were spent with me trying to find someone taller than me to try and stay behind so they could cut down on some of the wind. However there were some absolutely breathtaking views of the ocean and the sunrise in this section. I managed to snag one picture of the lighthouses because I just couldn't pass up this beautiful shot.

One of the very few pictures I took on course.

Once we were leaving the base, around mile nine, I took my arm sleeves off. I knew that the windiest part of the course was over- thanks again, Christine! We started to head back towards the beach and boardwalk. Along these last few miles, the spectators and volunteers really turned it up a notch. There were people handing out green cupcakes, starburst candies, full cans of beer, twizzlers, candy bars, etc. There was also a guy with a box of Kleenex which was actually very helpful! At the last water stop, the volunteers were actually handing out Oreo cookies! It really was a cool thing to see :-)

At last, we were turning onto the boardwalk for the last half mile. I have to say, running along the boardwalk with the ocean roaring on my left and hundreds of people cheering on my right was definitely one of the coolest moments I've had racing.

Map of the course with my splits, courtesy of Map My Run.

I made it to the finish, got my HUGE medal, a finisher's hat, and a finisher's beach towel! They really treat you well at J & A races! As many of you know, I had a huge PR at this race. I was so excited I walked right past the Dolphin Challenge medals and onto the beach to meet up with Kelly and Matthew. I realized it soon after and had to walk back up to the finisher chute to get my extra medal.

We headed to the giant sand sculpture to grab some pictures and then into the tent to get some beer and warm up. Though it was close to 50 degrees, that wind was just brutal and cut right through you. We ate some cookies, drank some beer, saw Christine again, and then decided to head back to our bus.

Matthew, me, and Kelly- cold but happy!

We walked the few blocks to the finish with our beach towels wrapped around us to try and stay warm. As we were huddled together on the street corner, we saw our bus driver across the street waving to us- he had parked the bus around the corner. We ran towards the heated bus, and finally got out of the awful wind. The best part about the coach bus- our own bathroom to use after the race! I mean, this was almost like a Disney race with the awesome transportation we were able to utilize.

If I could give this race more than an A++, I would. Flat course, really loud and awesome spectators, amazing race swag, and phenomenal after-party. J & A races will absolutely be part of our future racing schedule. This race was organized from the minute we registered- we had no major issues like we usually do with races of this size. Overall, great race- can't wait for next year!

Love the bling from this race!

What makes a race great for you? Is it your performance, the location, the medal? I'd love to hear about your favorite races- please share in the comments :-)

Happy running, friends!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Race Recap & Review: Shamrock 8k

This is part two of my Shamrock Marathon Weekend Recap. You can read part one/expo here.

Saturday morning we woke up at 5 am, got dressed, and were on our way to the beachfront by 6:15 am. With a race start at 7:45 am, we wanted to make sure we were parked and ready to go with plenty of time. We were able to get an awesome spot just three blocks from the starting line- and because of the weekend's races, we didn't have to pay for any metered spots.

It was a gorgeous and slightly chilly morning- around 50 degrees. Matthew and I got out of the car around 7:15 to head towards the start line. On the way, we ran into a former student of mine, Stef. I'm always amazed at how I get to see friends in a sea of thousands of people- it totally makes my day! She was doing the Dolphin Challenge as well. We got to catch up more with her after the race :-)  We snapped a few pictures and then went to find the start line.

Beautiful sunrise over the ocean. The finish was just to the right of Neptune.

Rainbow, FTW!

Matthew and I decided to run this race together and take it nice and easy because we had the half the next day. Promptly at 7:45 am, the race started. Within just a few minutes we were on our way- I think there was only about a minute between each corral.

This course was a simple route- we started running south away from the finish, made a few turns, and then came back up towards the finish on the actual boardwalk. While there were close to 9,000 people running the race, it never felt close to crowded. There were also a lot of children and strollers in this race- and there was still plenty of room! It was awesome.

Close to the starting line!

Lots of room to run and more of the gorgeous sunrise over the water.

People cheering us on from their balconies.

Course map in the program book.

Once we passed the mile two marker, I got a text on my phone with our updates- the runner tracker for this weekend was awesome and instantaneous. Miles two-four were running back north towards the finish on the boardwalk. Again, it was absolutely beautiful to run with this gorgeous scenery.

And what a sunny day we got! About 50 degrees and slightly breezy.


Enjoying the view.

We saw some people running on the beach and decided to join them- when's the next time we'll be able to run ON the beach during a race? :-)

Yeah, this was pretty cool.

I couldn't resist a selfie on the beach!

Right around mile four, we made a left turn to run back on the street. Then we just ran about a half mile north and then turned onto the boardwalk to run the last half mile to the finish. Turning on to the boardwalk a second time was really cool- lots of cheering spectators and just a few minutes until the finish line.

Turning back onto the boardwalk.

Can you see the finish line in the background?

You know I HAD to stop for a quick picture with Neptune :-)

We crossed the finish line in a little over an hour. Not too bad. Then we got our medals, all sorts of shamrock-shaped cookies, water, Gatorade, and then headed over to the beer tent. Inside, we each grabbed a cup of Irish stew and a Yuengling beer and then found a spot to sit and enjoy the band- they were amazing, by the way. We didn't have to wait in line for anything and the entire crowd was laid back and enjoying themselves. It was probably the best after-party I've ever been to at the conclusion of a race.

Stef and me after the race! 

Post-race beer is the best.

Spacious but rockin!

Panoramic view of the party tent.
Happy finishers.
Excellent medal.

Overall, this race gets an A+ from me. Incredibly organized, flat course, premium medal and after-party- don't tell anyone but this actually may have been better than a Disney race! This race was a runner's dream- they really are focused on the athlete and making this event enjoyable for every single runner or walker.

After the 8k, we headed back to our hotel to get cleaned up and enjoy the rest of our day. We ended up coming back down to the boardwalk to explore. Not even two hours after the race, they were already cleaning the port-o-potties and getting everything ready for the next days races. It was quite awesome to watch. And then I stopped to use a squeaky-clean port-o-potty, I know my running friends will know how awesome that really is :-)

8k shirt and medal.

You have to admit, he's pretty neat :-)

I knew that Christine from We Run Disney was heading over to the expo in the afternoon so we went back to the expo around three pm. With a little help from twitter, we finally found her listening to Bart Yasso speak. We chatted and got to meet her friend Lacey who was doing the marathon. It was really great to see her and talk about race strategy. Since she'd done this race before she gave us some great tips for the half marathon course. After a few minutes, we said our goodbyes and good lucks and then Matthew and I went to do another lap around the vendors. I ended up buying two shirts from Bay Six USA- they were only two for $25 :-)

Bart Yasso!

Lackey, Christine, and me.

I couldn't resist these awesome shirts!

After the expo we went to dinner with our friend Jamie and then headed back to the hotel to get some sleep before the half marathon Sunday morning. One race of the Dolphin Challenge down, one to go. We got our race gear together and finally went to bed around 10 pm. We had a 3:45 am alarm set and dreams of half marathon awesomeness dancing in our heads :-)

Half marathon outfit.
Stay tuned for part three- the half marathon recap- coming soon!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shamrock Marathon Weekend: Expo Recap

On Friday, March 14 at 1 pm we started the long trek from Shippensburg, PA to Virginia Beach, VA for Shamrock Marathon Weekend. This drive should have taken about 5 hours. Thanks to some wonderful Friday afternoon DC traffic, we finally got to the expo- tired and famished- around 7:45 pm. Luckily it was open until 9 pm so we had just over an hour to pick up our bibs and check out all the vendors.

We finally made it!
Bib and shirt pick up were a breeze. There were no lines and I was easily able to pick up my friend Kelly's packet thanks to a handy-dandy packet authorization form that the race organizers put on their website. Since Matthew and I were doing the Dolphin Challenge (8k plus the half marathon), we needed to pick up our 8k bib AND our half marathon bib. Unlike Disney, we didn't have to wear the same bib for more than one race. Which is awesome because I tend to be hard on my bibs.

All our bibs for the weekend. We have cute feet :-)

The expo was held in the Virginia Beach Convention Center and it was perfect for this type of event. We were in one large room divided into two areas- one for packet pick-up and one for vendors and official merchandise.

After getting our essentials (which included the bibs, two shirts, and a Shamrock official drawstring bag), we went to check out all the vendors. Lots of my favorites were here and surprisingly, there were a ton of other races all with great discounts. Matthew and I made sure to collect all the info we could- one of our goals for this year was to try new races. We chatted with the folks putting on Storm The Beach- a five mile obstacle race that we'll be completing this year on our Outer Banks family vacation. We also got some information on the Divas Half Marathon Series (Leesburg, VA) and the Runner's World Half Festival (Bethlehem, PA). Both of these races are a possibility this year- yay! :-)

Ooooh... can't wait to add this to the collection!

This one has Sparkly Runner written all over it, right?!?

We'd love to do the Hat Trick- 5k, 10k, and half in the same weekend!
We also learned about the coolest race ever- Sparkle Me Wild 5k- that happens throughout Virginia and North Carolina at different times of the year. As the race director put it- "It's a color run... with glitter!" This race is absolutely going on my bucket list!

I mean, my blog is Sparkly Runner, so that means this is a MUST, right?

I stopped by the BeeCause shoe charm booth to purchase a 5k charm for my friend Jen who just completed her first 5k a few weeks ago. I also picked up a little "48.6" shoe charm to commemorate my Dopey accomplishment.

We visited the Nuun Hydration table and got try lots of flavors of nuun- they had about 10 for everyone to sample. Then we got in line for ID check. At the end of each race, they give you four (4!!!!!) Yuengling beers in the party tent so we needed to get a wristband at the expo so we wouldn't need to worry about showing ID after running an 8k or half marathon.

Lemon-lime was pretty awesome.

The ID check for beer was under the rainbow. Cute. 

Matthew also got a pair of Superfeet- these are inserts that help with stability and arch support for athletes. I've been encouraging him to try these out as he's been a little unsuccessful in finding a new pair of running shoes that will give him the arch support he needs. The guys at the booth were very helpful and he ended up buying a pair of the blue inserts for 20% off. Yay for expo deals!

Helpful folks at the Superfeet booth.

At this point, we'd been there almost an hour and were getting pretty tired. We still had to drive to our hotel (about 20 minutes away), get settled, and then be up and ready for the 7:45 am start time of the 8k the next day. However, I saw a booth that I just couldn't pass up- Gypsy Runner.

Look at all the colors! How could I just walk by?!?!

This booth had some really cool arm sleeves. I had brought down a pink pair and a black pair but I saw a tie-dyed pair that I just HAD to have. So for just $17, those bad boys were mine! There will be pictures later, I promise :-)

On the way out, we also were able to see the Shamrock medals up close- holy cow! The half marathon medal was a big as my Disney Marathon medal! Seeing them really just got us so excited for this race weekend- even more than we already were. Overall, this expo was really fun! No crowds, very few lines, lots of organization- even with an estimated 28,000 people participating in the weekend's races, it felt really laid back and enjoyable. And there were plenty of vendors and lots of deals- all in all, a great experience.

And there were things like this to get us in the St. Patrick's Day mood :-) 

We left the expo and headed to our hotel. Unlike many other Shamrockers, we chose to stay a little farther from the oceanfront. Mainly because of cost- our Holiday Inn cost $89 a night and included round-trip shuttle service to and from the race on Sunday, free breakfast for runners on Sunday morning starting at 4:30 am, and a late check-out of 3 pm. Had we stayed oceanfront, we would have paid somewhere between $150-200 a night and wouldn't have had all those perks. Once we checked in Friday night, I was confident we'd made the right choice. Our room was beautiful and it only took us about 20 minutes to get to the beach.

After laying out all our stuff for the morning race, we finally went to bed around 10 pm. The 8k was waiting for us- as was a 5 am wake up call- so we were thankful to get some rest. Stay tuned- 8k recap (and expo part 2) coming soon!

Outfit (minus rainbow socks and headband) ready for the 8k!