Conquering the Longest Training Runs

Marla's getting ready to toe the line on race day! (Photo by John Herr)

Marla's getting ready to toe the line on race day! (Photo by John Herr)

Only two weeks left to go! Hope everyone is getting excited. I know I am (and a little nervous too!).

Over the weekend I tackled my longest run yet, the big 10-miler. All week I had been psyching myself up for it, and on Saturday morning I set out for it feeling strong. I met with Stephanie Middleberg, my nutritionist here in NYC, on Friday afternoon, and we discussed how I should be eating on days that I run hard. Because I like to wakeup and do my runs in the morning, Stephanie recommended that I eat a banana and half of a Nature’s Valley granola bar an hour before running, to ensure high energy levels. I took her advice, waited an hour, and then hit the streets. With the sun shining, the fresh air, a brand new running outfit from the Helly Hansen team, and my iPod blasting my favorite tunes, I felt like I could take on the world!

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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?

Fit Fashion for Training Runs

The Nike Lunar Glides are a treat for Marla's feet! (Photo by Bryan McCay)

The Nike Lunar Glides are a treat for Marla's feet! (Photo by Bryan McCay)

Some people can throw on a basic running tee, a pair of black tights and some old running shoes and be all set and ready to run on race day. Me, on the other hand? Not so much.

Whether I am lifting weights at the gym, taking a yoga class or venturing out on a long distance run, I always make sure to dress in super cute workout clothes (because let’s face it, you never know who you are going to run into, right?). So naturally, I have started planning my race outfit. Call me crazy, but this is important!

April weather is so unpredictable and I have a feeling that I am going to end up changing my outfit a million times. I would normally wear a tank top with a bright jacket or pullover top, but I’m thinking that a cute tee, like this Lululemon one (I have it in neon yellow and it is so cute!), is going to be my go-to piece. The moisture wicking fabric will keep me dry and the comfortable fit will allow me to move with ease.

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Songs to Power Through Training

Finding the right music will motivate nearly any runner! (Photo by Laura Doss)

Finding the right music will motivate nearly any runner! (Photo by Laura Doss)

I looked at the calendar this morning and had a minor panic attack. This race is creeping up on me sooner than I would like it to! In four short weeks I will be running my first half-marathon with thousands of other women. Ahh! Mentally, I feel like I need another month to prepare myself, but physically I think I will be able to do it. In the past month alone, I have noticed such a change in my stamina, my willpower to run and my physique. I am so happy to have gotten this far, and am even more excited to cross the finish line!

My iPod really helps me to push through long runs. I have a few playlists that I alternate between, but I have compiled a pretty good list of songs that pump me up and keep me going. I’m definitely going to have to add some more tunes to my iPod before race day, but here are some favorites that are currently on my playlist:

Misery Business,” Paramore (For the rebel in me.)
Who’s That Chick,” David Guetta, featuring Rihanna
Push Push,” Kat DeLuna, featuring Akon (Great for running up hills!)
Animal,” Neon Trees
Side by Side,” Blessed by a Broken Heart (Every girl has a little metal chick inside her, right?)
Better Than Revenge,” Taylor Swift
Blow,” Ke$ha (Such a great beat.)
Memories,” David Guetta, featuring Kid Cudi
Boom Boom Pow,” Black Eyed Peas (This song makes me feel like I am Superwoman and can do anything!)
Yeah 3x,” Chris Brown

What songs are you currently running to? I’d love to know so that I can add them to my race day playlist!

P.S.: As a follow-up to my last post I just want you all to know that I made that white bean hummus over the weekend and it’s AMAZING! Definitely a tasty and healthy snack to get you through the day.

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.

Spring (Half-Marathon) Training

Marla enjoyed the spring-like weather by training with her Mom and dog Dolce.

Marla enjoyed the spring-like weather with a run in the park!

I don’t know about you guys, but I was feeling strong this week. Between the AMAZING weather we had over the weekend and my excitement to get out and run, I set some high standards for myself this week and I succeeded!

I started the week off running hills on the treadmill. Not ideal, but since it was dark out, I didn’t really have any other options. As you all know, I hate running a lot of mileage on the treadmill, so instead of working on distance, I decided to take advantage of the incline. I ran for 45 steady minutes and I kicked that treadmill’s butt! It felt awesome. If it wasn’t 9 p.m., I probably would have kept going, but my hungry stomach was telling me to go home and eat dinner!

I felt my strongest during Thursday night’s run. I’ve been training on the indoor track at Seton Hall University’s Rec Center every Thursday for a change of scenery, and this week I set a goal for myself to run 50 laps. Just as I was about to start my last mile, the gym was closing so I did not complete my goal, but I was pretty psyched that I was able to get through as much as I did!

Saturday was my favorite workout of the week. Since the sun was shining and the air was crisp, I headed to a local park to do my training. I brought my mom and dog Dolce, along with me too! The park used to be a golf course, but after closing a few years ago, the town turned it into a gorgeous park with bike, running and walking trails. Since I had worked on running hills earlier in the week, I was excited to get on the hilly course to see how I could do. I ran for about an hour, and even though the golf course hills whipped me into shape, I decided that I need to hit the gym this week to strengthen my legs a little more.

I’m looking forward to seeing how I progress this week, and I plan on setting some more goals for myself. These targets motivate me to work harder and I always feel good when I accomplish them! One goal that I have already established for this week is to master this white bean hummus recipe. It’s a healthy snack that will keep me energized throughout my runs, but also tastes yummy with some pita chips!

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?