Susan Sagan-Levitan

Ideal Race Weather “In Our Neck of the Woods”

Susan and Al Roker hang out and enjoy the beautiful weather before the race.

Susan and Al Roker hang out and enjoy the beautiful weather before the race.

Yahoo! I did it!

We couldn’t have had more perfect weather for race day. I guess we got payback for the last two years! Before the race, I was thrilled to have the chance to meet Al Roker and thank him for the lovely conditions.

Overall, the race went well, and most importantly, I finished! I must admit, I did not go into this race in the same mental and physical state as the NYC Half I ran on a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, due to a last minute obligation that consumed most of my weekend, coupled with poor sleep, I was tired and sore before I even began. However, once I got to Central Park, the crowds of women and sunshine motivated and energized me. Central Park looked stunning and it was so alive with positive energy.

While running I did all of the things that have worked for me in the past such as eating GU beans and stopping at every hydration station for a few sips of either water or Gatorade. However, it was a different day and a different race and I soon realized those thing weren’t working the same for me as in the past. Instead of energizing me, the beans left me feeling extremely thirsty and were sticky in my mouth.

For the last several miles, I had a bad cramp (something I’ve never had during a run) and I also felt a great deal of pain in my hip and knee. I really think this was my body’s way of telling me that I’ve been too hard on it and it probably wasn’t the best idea to run two half-marathons back to back. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I stretched at the water stations and decided to just run through it. Despite my challenges, I was happy with my time and ended up having fun.

I especially was so glad to be a part of Team Hole in the Wall. Since I had committed to raising money for this amazing charity, nothing was going to get in my way of finishing this race. During some of the hills and toward the end, my commitment to Team Hole in the Wall is what kept me going. If my running can help make a sick child happy, then it’s worth every step to me!

For those of you who participated, how did the race go for you? Did you have to overcome any unexpected events along the way?

Six Secrets to Race Day Success

Susan's making sure that she's hydrated before the half-marthon. (Photo by Jack Miskell)

Susan's making sure that she's well hydrated before the half-marthon. (Photo by Jack Miskell)

I’ve done just about everything I can to prepare my body and now it’s time to let the excitement set in. The next couple of days are all about relaxing and carb loading—my favorite parts!

Nutritionist Stephanie Middleburg and I discussed my past races and how to make this one the best yet. She shared some tips with me about what to do and eat during the few days before the race:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Try to get extra sleep
  • Stretch
  • Carb loading is great, but don’t go out of control or eat foods that could bother your stomach on race day
  • Fill your meals with nutrient dense foods and complex carbs (some good options include bananas, sweet potatoes, nuts, whole wheat pasta and quinoa)
  • Most importantly, if whatever you have been eating or drinking before your long runs has been working for you, don’t try something new on race day

Great advice, which I know I’m going to be following from now through Sunday! I’m sure all of the hard work those of you in training have put in will pay off, and I hope you enjoy the race. Talk to you Monday after the half-marathon!

The Final Race Countdown

Ideal weather for a run on Sunday! (Image from

Ideal weather for a run on Sunday! (Image from

The big day is quickly approaching. Are you getting excited, nervous? Are you ready?

My adrenaline high after the NYC Half-Marathon gave me such an energized start to the week! I was sore, but did not feel any pain. I took fours days off from all exercise and focused on stretching and trying to rest. Then on Thursday, I ran five miles and felt tired and tight. So I listened to my body and decided not to push it over the weekend. I ran seven miles and felt OK. I didn’t want to overdo it and also wanted to conserve my energy for the upcoming race!

This week I plan on doing a few short runs, stretching and a working in a bit of cross-training. And I’m of course looking forward to the carb loading!

As I’ve mentioned before, in regards to weather, I’ve had back luck with the More/Fitness Half-Marathon! In 2009 it was a balmy 95 degrees, while 2010′s race was on the other end of the spectrum: it poured and was very chilly. I already checked out the weather forecast and am thrilled to see that “perfect running” weather is predicted. I’m not 100 percent confident (as we know, these things change a million times and frequently aren’t accurate). However, I’m trained and ready!  Rain or shine, I am committed and I am ready to rock this race.

I know that those of you who have been following along with the training program will too. You’ve trained hard, so enjoy every minute. You deserve it!

Help The Hole in the Wall Gang with Susan

Screen shot 2011-04-05 at 2.54.16 PMAt the beginning of training back in January, I mentioned that I was running the half-marathon as part of Team Hole in the Wall, a remarkable organization that helps children with serious illnesses. During my weeks of training, I have often thought about how fortunate I am to have two healthy kids and realize how unfair and challenging it must be to grow up with cancer, muscular dystrophy, HIV, or one of the many other serious illnesses served by the Camps. If my running can help make a sick child happy, then it’s worth every step to me!

Here are a few details about his wonderful non-profit:

  • In the 1988, Paul Newman (the actor and founder of Newman’s Own) created Hole in the Wall Camps as a place for kids with illnesses to “escape the fear, pain and isolation of their conditions” according to the organization’s website.
  • More than 200,000 kids from all 50 states have enjoyed time at a Hole in the Wall Camp at no charge, thanks to generous donations
  • Today, 13 camps worldwide help kids to feel not like patients, but like normal kids
  • 90 cents of every dollar donated goes directly toward camp programs

As the half-marathon approaches, I want to share with you the opportunity to also support this cause. You can learn more about my goal and make a donation at my Team Hole in the Wall homepage. Any amount will be greatly appreciated. Thank you all for your consideration and support throughout my training!

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Lessons From My First Half-Marathon of the Year

Susan celebrates with her family after conquering the NYC Half!

In addition to the More/Fitness Half-Marathon, I’ve also been training for the NYC Half-Marathon. The race took place this past weekend on Sunday. All along I’ve been a bit worried about running two half-marathons back to back. Would this lead to injury? Burnout? I sought the advice of Troy Jacobson, who designed the training guide that appeared in the February issue of FITNESS, and he suggested I taper a little earlier and not run really hard in the first race, then take a few days off to recover.

So I did not to go full force for the NYC Half, but instead treated as a practice run. I decided to ignore the clock and the speed of those around me despite my strong competitive streak. I just focused on having fun, and I did just that! I had a great time and finished in a better time than I had expected. All of my training paid off!

I was very fortunate for beautiful weather, no pain, no bathroom stops, cramping etc. (all things I’ve been worrying about because every other half-marathon I’ve done has included illness, heat waves and monsoons)!  Since we’re now just two short weeks away from the More/Fitness Half-Marathon, I thought I’d share a few tips that helped make my first big organized run this season better and hopefully will help you:

  1. Wear layers that you can get rid of along the way since it’s really cold waiting for the race to start.
  2. Top off your outfit with sunglasses and/or a hat and sunscreen. You don’t realize how strong the sun is even when it’s cold.
  3. Make sure to hydrate along the way. I found that alternating between Gatorade and water at every station works best for me.
  4. Write your emergency contact info on the back of your bib.
  5. Before the race, designate where you will meet friends and family once you’re done running. It’s a mob scene at the finish line!

Any season runners out there have tips to add?

Returning to Running After Illness

Susan has laced up her shoes and is back on the road! (Photo by Laura Doss)

Susan has laced up her shoes again and is back on the road! (Photo by Sara Forrest)

Quitting anything cold turkey is hard enough, but I never imagined I would feel the way I felt this week when I was sick and not able to run for several days. I know I needed to recover and let my body rest, but I was having serious withdrawal. I was also so scared that the five day hiatus was going to affect my training and my ability to do the half-marathon. I was seriously going out of my skin—I needed to run.

As soon as my body gave me the green light, I laced up my shoes and hit the pavement. I had an amazing run. I felt confident, strong and had the energy to run 10 miles. Instead of feeling like another obligatory run I had to fit into my schedule (as I’ve felt over the last weeks), I appreciated every minute of it and was smiling throughout. I now realize that the “flu” came at a good time. My body needed the rest. It helped me to re-energize my mind, body and spirit. It also made me realize that running is not only a great physical outlet, but also helps to calm and provides a much-needed mental break.

I was very glad to be feeling better and was thrilled to  get in a few other runs this week. However, I simply just didn’t have the energy or time to get in any additional strength training or cardio cross training. I’m starting this week feeling healthy and refreshed and am looking forward to getting back into my groove.

How quickly do you jump back into activity after you’ve been sick? Do you jump back in feet first or slowly return to your previous routine?

Give It a Rest!

Feeling sick?

Susan realizes it's time to take a break and let her body heal. (Photo by Sara Forrest)

The week started off really well. Not only did I have great runs, but I also complemented my training with spinning and Physique 57 classes. I was feeling great, strong and confident.

Then I hit a road block…

While running on Friday, I felt lethargic and did not have a lot of energy. I went to sleep early on Friday evening in preparation for my Saturday early morning long run. Sadly, I was woken up in the middle of the night with a horrible stomach bug. I was really sick all day and night Saturday. I was praying that I would feel better on Sunday and hoped to do my long run then. However, I felt progressively worse and weaker, and realized that training was not an option. How could I possibly run 11 to 12 miles in the rain when I barely had enough energy to get myself from my bed to the kitchen? Even if I tried, I think I would’ve made myself sicker.

As we start the new week, I’m still sick, and it probably will still take a few more days to get better (I hope not more!). The rational side of me realizes that I need to be fully better before I run, or else I can end up hampering my recovery and feeling worse. However, the guilt and stress about not completing my long run is adding to my negative feelings and already know I won’t be able to run for the next few weekdays until I am better.

I was confident about everything, but now I feel like I am all thrown off. Here’s hoping this week will be better than the last! How do you get yourself “back on track” after taking time off to heal your body?

More from FITNESS: Feeling an illness coming on? Try one of these six foods that prevent sickness.

Finding the Right Fueling Foods

Susan baked up a fiber-packed pizza this weekend. (Photo by Peter Ardito)

Susan baked up a fiber-packed pizza this weekend. (Photo by Peter Ardito)

I began the week running in sunny Florida and finished it back in colder NYC. You will probably think I am crazy, but as much as I enjoyed being in the warm weather, I realize I much prefer running in colder temps. Cold air is so invigorating during a run!

My training went well this week and I also had time to take my all time favorite class: Physique 57. It’s a 57-minute program of stretching, interval training and body weight resistance exercises. The classes are really challenging (at times tortuous), but I love it and always feel great when I am done! It will definitely make me stronger which can only help my running. I’m hoping to squeeze in at least one class per week until the half-marathon.

I’ve realized that eating the right food before and after exercise is critical to my performance, so I contacted registered dietitian Stephanie Middleberg for some guidance. As an extra bonus, she is also an athlete and able to provide me with some great tips based on her own experiences.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve obviously been exercising more often than normal and I’ve learned that I may not always eating the right foods, combinations of foods, or at times, enough food. I was also eating the same things over and over and kind of stuck in a rut, causing a crash or binge on unhealthy empty-calorie foods. As a result, my energy levels fell and my guilt shot through the roof.

Stephanie suggested that I add more fats and complex carbs to my diet. I was skeptical because these were foods I thought I wasn’t “supposed to eat.” However, I trusted her guidance and started eating avocados, flax seeds, nuts, carrots, sweet potatoes, lentil soup (Amy’s Organic), more fruit and peanut butter (l love Justin’s Honey Peanut Butter). I’ve noticed a huge difference! I’m no longer feeling hungry, crashing or binging, and I have plenty of energy and feel great.

If you’re looking for some other healthy and easy snacking options or meals, check out the March issue of FITNESS! I made the Oh-So Good Granola Bars (page 126) and Black Bean Pizza (page 136) this weekend and they are both delicious, simple and quick to prepare.

Do you have a go-to fueling food or recipe? Please share in the comments!

Warm Weather Training

Susan soaks up the sun (and gets her training done) in Florida.

Greetings from sunny Florida! It is warm here and I am loving it!

Instead of bundling up for my runs, I’ve been coating up with sunscreen and wearing sunglasses and a visor to protect me from the rays. It’s been hot during my runs, but I’m not complaining because this is a great change from the cold or the treadmill runs I’m used to runs up north. Plus, I finally got to wear my new Maui Jim wrap-around sunglasses, which provide extra sun protection around my eyes and are super lightweight.

To survive in the heat, I made sure to eat a little extra before my run (a full banana) and while running replenished my energy with Gu Vanilla Bean gel and hydrated with lots of water. It has been great to run along the beach and, best of all, to do my stretches at the beach or pool after my long runs. I better not get too used to this!

Last week I mentioned I needed some type of tracking device to help measure my distance. My colleague/friend suggested I download an iPhone app called iMapMyRun. It’s amazing and exactly what I was looking for. I simply push “start” and it uses the GPS on my phone to calculate the distance and time. It even has a voice function and heart rate monitor. It’s awesome because I didn’t have to buy another device or carry another thing while running—and it doesn’t hurt that it’s free! I highly recommend it.

If you’re running along with me, how’s your training going? Have you found ways to spice up your routine?

How Do You Track Your Runs?

Susan needs suggestions for a mileage tracker, like this Garmin 210. (Photo by David Laurence)

Susan needs suggestions for a mileage tracker, like this Garmin 210. (Photo by David Laurence)

I woke up on Monday with a sore left knee. My knee has never bothered me before so I decided to take a day off of running and ice it. I felt guilty, but figured it was smarter to rest than have it get worse and seriously injure myself. It ended up feeling better, but I didn’t push myself super hard this week. I got my runs in, but ended up racking up a few less miles and focused more flexibility training. By the time the weekend arrived, I felt better and was energized and really enjoyed my nine-mile run.

Before my long run, I used Google Maps and the Central Park Running Map online to plot out the exact course. When I finished mile six, I realized that the route for my next three miles was completely iced over and too dangerous to run on. While continuing to run, I had to quickly recalculate a new route. I felt a bit thrown off, since I feel more comfortable when I know exactly what I need to do. But overall, I think I came in pretty close to my distance goal.

This experience made me realize that I definitely need some type of device to help me track my speed and distance. It needs to be very simple to use because I am not too tech-savvy. Everyone is telling me different things to buy. Do you have any suggestions?