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marathon musings

Marathon Musings: Why You Should Run a Race for Charity

Written on August 29, 2014 at 5:48 pm , by

People run marathons for a lot of reasons: to accomplish a new goal, take their running to the next level, prove something to themselves, etc. Some even do it because they like to travel. Yes, it makes sense—all ten of my half-marathons have been in a different state, and I firmly believe exploring a new place by foot is one of the coolest things to do. But the main reason I’m tackling my first marathon is about more than just me: it’s about helping a cause raise funds and awareness.

Sure, it takes extra work, but fundraising for the National Blood Clot Alliance and running as part of Team Stop the Clot has been more satisfying than any other race I’ve trained for. Here’s why:

You relate to the cause. When people find out I have a blood disorder, blank stares usually follow. That, coupled with the fact that nearly a quarter million women are affected by blood clots—and 100,000 people a year die from Deep Vein Thrombosis or Pulmonary Embolism in the U.S. (read more on that here)—makes me passionate about informing the general public in any way I can.

It pushes you to train. When you’ve had a really long week and all you want to do is sleep in and eat bagels on Saturday, knowing an entire team—and organization—are counting on you is enough to get out and run that 15-miler (or whatever distance). Best part? You still get to eat that bagel, and it’s totally guilt-free.

Fundraising is fun. Sure, $2,500 is more money than I’ve ever raised for a single cause, but seeing friends, family and complete strangers come out of the woodwork and contribute to a cause you care about is heart-warming. And throwing a few fundraisers—think a party, 50/50 raffle, and workout at a local fitness studio—is a great excuse to bring together friends that you haven’t seen in a while because you’re busy pounding pavement.

It guarantees entry. This isn’t the most important benefit, but let’s be honest—it’s a definite perk. Opting to fundraise for a charity is a lot of work, but it means I’m definitely able to run one of the most iconic marathons exactly when I want to. Being mentally ready for training is just as important as being physically ready, and this was the year I wanted to be singing “New York, New York” on the Verrazano bridge. Being a part of Team Stop the Clot has allowed that to happen.

You’re a part of a team. Sometimes I miss the good ole’ days of high school and collegiate sports, when I regularly had a team of athletes to lean on when the going got tough. We all had a common goal in mind, which helped boost morale. Now that I’m a part of Team Stop the Clot, I’ve met new people—in real life and on social media—and when I need a reminder about why I’m doing this, I just go to our fundraising page and read all of the inspiring stories from my teammates. And if I get lackadaisical about fundraising, I’m only one quick click away from seeing how the rest of the runners are doing. When their numbers go up, it only fuels the fire to make sure mine do, too.  

For more information on how to become a member of Team Stop the Clot, go to the application page. If you’d like to make a donation, visit my fundraising page.

Photo courtesy of the National Blood Clot Alliance

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Marathon Musings: 5 Strength-Training Myths for Runners, Debunked

Written on August 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm , by

When you commit to running a marathon, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be doing one thing a lot: running. But what about all the other facets of fitness? I knew going into this that I’d be regularly cross-training (spinning, Barry’s Bootcamp and yin-style yoga are my faves), tons of foam rolling and squeezing in strength training. But I wanted to make sure that injury wasn’t waiting for me down the road, so I hit up my coach—Clif Bar pro athlete Stephanie Howe—for advice once more. Turns out there are a lot of myths out there, and she was there to bust ‘em all.

Myth: You gotta give all or nothing.
I used to regularly freak out that I wasn’t using weights enough, and became paranoid that injury was right around the corner when my work schedule only allowed me to hit the weights once or twice a week. Full disclosure: I’m a worry wart. When you’re training for a big race (um, I’d like to say this marathon is big), 1-3 times per week is OK. As a pro athlete who trains for 50-milers and beyond, Howe determines her gym schedule based on where she’s at in the season. “In the off-season, I try to get there 2-3 times per week, but when I’m training, it’s usually only once.” Once you find what fits for you, though, stick to it, she warns. “Consistency is key. I go to a strength training for runners class every week, and meeting a friend keeps me motivated and accountable.” Anyone want to join me? Tweet me @FITNESSsamantha.

Myth: Running does the same thing to muscles that strength training does.
When you’re sore, you’re sore. Doesn’t matter how you got there, right? Wrong. Not only will strength training help balance your body and prevent injury, but it will also give your body a break from the wear and tear it gets from pounding so much pavement. “Running is a catabolic activity, meaning it breaks down the body for energy,” explains Howe. “Strength training is an anabolic activity that stimulates the muscles to build up.” So in order to reach marathon-running perfection, I need to have a balance of both.

Myth: Abs are the only focus during strength training.
Yes, your abs are really important, especially when training for such a long distance (it’s where a lot of your energy comes from). But it’s not the only area that should be ready for action. “If you just focus on the core, you miss many other large muscle groups, like your arms and legs,” says Howe. Fun fact: the leg alone has 13 muscles in it, and well, they’re used quite a lot in running. So giving equal attention to other body parts not only covers your bases, but it helps prevent muscle imbalances. When you do that, you prevent injury.

Myth: It’s OK to lift weights on back-to-back days.
There’s one big thing I’ve noticed in my training schedule week-to-week: I’m rarely doing a “hard” workout two days in a row. So if I hit up bootcamp on Monday, I can count on an easy run being on deck for Tuesday. What gives? “You need to give your body time to recover and build back up between sessions,” explains Howe. “All the changes happen when you are are resting. If you don’t give your body that time, then you are breaking it down even further.” And nobody wants that.

Myth: You should avoid heavy weights.
It may seem counterintuitive—why grab heavy dumbbells when I want to be light and speedy?—but lifting heavier is pretty important, says Howe. ”It sparks neuromuscular changes that will make your body more efficient,” explains Howe. “These changes happen independently, meaning the benefits are found without changes in muscle size.” Translation: lifting heavy weights for a lower amount of reps, paired with running, will not result in Schwarzenegger arms, but rather a stronger bod and faster finish times. Noted.

And just for good measure, I wanted to know: what are the best strengthening exercises for runners? Howe recommends a lot of basics that focus on your foundation muscles (abs, back, glutes, lats, traps), arms and legs. “I grab heavy weights and regularly do bench presses, lat pull downs, squats and lunges,” she says. Make sure to focus on any imbalances, too. “I have weak hips, so I try to include a hip exercise each time I lift. And always take time to stretch.” Girl just won Western States (that’s 100 miles), so her plan must be a solid one.

Photo by James Farrell

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Marathon Musings: 5 Mistakes First-Timers Make

Written on July 21, 2014 at 9:18 am , by

After three years of regularly running and 10 half-marathons under my belt (along with tons of fit-spo from the FITNESS staff), I’m going after the illustrious 26.2-mile race that every runner dreams about: the New York City Marathon. The best part, for me? Running for Team Stop the Clot, a charity running team branched off the National Blood Clot Alliance. With so many important charities to choose from, it’s hard to pick just one, but as someone who’s been personally affected by blood clots (along with nearly a quarter million other women), it was the best fit. Want to know more about my story? Check it out here.

Now that training has kicked off for me and many others lacing up for a fall race, I’ve teamed up with Clif Bar athlete and coach Stephanie Howe to take me through the ups and downs of doubling my usual distance. And before I get into what I can do right, it was very important to find out what I could do wrong—and make sure not to, ya know, do it. Take warning, friends, as these are the five mistakes tons of first-time marathoners make.

Not fueling while running. While you can get away with it on shorter runs, there’s no skimping when mileage increases. “Hitting the wall” only happens when energy stores start to run out. Your bod needs a quick hit of sugar when racing, so “take in fuel, in the forms of gels or blocks, on any run longer than 90 minutes,” recommends Howe. And be sure to try tons of different varieties to find your perfect fit, as what works for your running bestie may not for you. I love Clif Bar’s Black Cherry Shot Bloks, but avoid all gels like the plague. Everybody’s different.

Taking in fuel too late. Now that you know the 90-minute rule, you want to nail the timing. If 90 minutes pass before you dig in, you’re already too late and won’t avoid the zonk. Instead, eat one gel (about 100 calories) every 20-30 minutes. A quick trick Howe gave me, since I regularly zone out and forget about time? “Set your watch alarm to beep every 20-30 minutes, so you get that regular reminder without having to think about it.” Done and done.

Waiting to eat post-run. Are you sensing a theme here? Clearly, nutrition is a major key to success in marathon training. To nix that “oh-my-god I can’t move my legs” feeling the day after your run (or even the day after that, courtesy of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS), make sure you eat within 30 minutes of wrapping up the pavement-pounding. “Any fuel consumed in that window will be used immediately to start the recovery process because it goes directly to your muscles, rather than the entire body,” says Howe. If you, like me, hate thinking about food immediately following a run, don’t fret: a buffet of food isn’t necessary. “A Clif or Luna bar, 8 ounces of a Clif Shot recovery drink or chocolate milk are all good options,” suggests Howe.

Running easy runs too fast. This one is key, and a mistake I’ve definitely committed more than once. ‘Cause when you’re feeling good and everything is clicking, it’s tempting to push at a slightly faster pace. Don’t do it, Howe warns. Think of it as a pacing spectrum, with “very slow” on one end, and “very fast” on the other. If you spend a ton of time in the middle, you’ll short-change your progress. “Spending time at each end will improve your fitness, teach you how to adjust to different levels of difficulty, and prevent overtraining,” explains Howe. So when coach says “easy,” she really means it.

Skimping on rest. No rest for the weary, right? Wrong, so wrong. “The goal of training is to place stress on the body that will improve your overall fitness,” explains Howe. “These adaptations happen when the body is resting, so if you skip it, you’re opening yourself up to overtraining, injury and illness.” Obviously I don’t want any of those, so coach has me resting at least one day per week. And when she says rest, that is not code for “go take a  yoga class or walk all over the city with friends.” Instead, it means binge-watch Orange is the New Black or go get a massage, which Howe also highly recommends (the massage, not necessarily OITNB). Girl, you don’t have to tell me twice.

Photo courtesy of Clif Bar 

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