Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Happy Fourth of July!! Keep Running.

It’s finally here! The Fourth of July weekend, that oasis of mandatory vacation time in the middle of the summer - and this year, the Fourth so conveniently falls on a Saturday, allowing for a little extra time off to celebrate. For many, this three-day weekend means travel, near or far, to spend time at the beach, reunite with loved ones, or just get away from home. There might be traffic, or crowded planes and trains, but once you clear those transportation hurdles, all that’s left to do is relax and enjoy the blissful holiday . . . right?

For the running world, holiday weekends are rarely so simple. There are those who shift their entire running schedules to accommodate the changes such weekends make to their routines. Come the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas (and even Easter and Passover, too), Central Park regularly surges with extra runners on the Wednesdays and Thursdays leading up to the big weekends. We speculate that these new faces are cramming in their runs before they leave the big city, anticipating that, however blissful their time away, there just won’t be the chance to get in those miles.

My husband and I approach the holiday weekend with a different tack: we steadfastly bring our running with us, no matter where we go. In doing so, we have met with various forms of pushback, from resort locations more or less inhospitable to running, to relatives who just don’t understand why we need to take them away from them to go out and run. Whether you flee from such challenges by getting your miles in beforehand (or not at all) or you struggle through them three or four times a year, our advice on the following scenarios just might help you think twice about leaving behind those running shoes when escaping for the holiday weekend.

The main points: Run early. Don’t let other people’s comments stop you. Seek shade and bring (or run near) water. Plan ahead to find where local runners go. Make space for those sneakers, whether on your feet or elsewhere.

Problem #1: My Mother/Brother/Aunt/Father-In-Law Makes Me Feel Like I Shouldn’t Be Running

Ah, relatives. Nothing beats showing up for a fun holiday weekend at Grandma’s like finding out she has planned away your entire weekend, from pancake breakfast right down to ice cream and fireworks-watching at night. If your relatives are not of the micromanaging kind, perhaps they tilt instead towards the passive-aggressive comment-making types. “You’re still doing that running thing,” they’ll ask, or “Oh, since you’re going out, why don’t you pick up cinnamon rolls for everyone?” Perhaps you stay with friends, not relatives, when you travel. The same hazards apply.

There are two main tactics for dealing with relatives (or friends) who refuse to play nice about your running lifestyle. First: run early. You won’t miss pancake breakfast if you run before those pancakes even hit the griddle! If you leave before anyone else gets up, moreover, you will only have to deal with half the snarky comments (that is, your relatives can only say things when you get back). The early summer sunrise can be especially useful in this regard, as there is no need to wait until it gets light to get out the door. If you’re not a morning runner, or just don’t want to wake up early on vacation, well, perhaps you should reconsider. Running in the morning is the only surefire way to prevent any other activities (including the ones you yourself want to do) from getting in the way of your run. On vacation, early running is a must.
Second: have a thick skin. You run for you, not your relatives. If they are going to make comments or try to prevent your running, you have to be strong. You can’t let other people take running away from you. It can be hard to keep in mind your own needs when you are a houseguest, and perhaps you fear being rude by taking some “me-time” when you are making use of someone else’s home. This is a fair point. At the end of the day, it comes down to your own personal balance of whether running or kowtowing to your host is more important to you. I would suggest that being a good houseguest still requires taking care of yourself - and taking care of yourself means, for a runner, running. Don’t let other people stop you from doing what you need to do for yourself.

Problem #2: The Beaches are Beautiful, But It’s Too Hot to Run Here!

If you’re traveling somewhere warm for the weekend (and aren’t beaches what the July 4th weekend are for?), the heat might offer an excuse to put your running habit on pause for a couple of days. Don’t take it. It gets hot back home, too, doesn’t it? And you keep running, don’t you? Running on vacation shouldn’t be any different.

You can beat the heat while traveling by running early in the morning. Again, since the sun rises early in the summer, there is still an hour or two of running time in the early morning that allows you to get in your miles before the sun beams down in full force. You could also call local gyms to find out if they offer three-day or week-long memberships, and use the treadmill in the glory of air conditioning. If you are staying at a hotel, use the hotel gym. If you are a houseguest and your host has a treadmill, consider asking to use it. Other thoughts include making sure to run somewhere with shade, like a bike path, or some place with water fountains like a track, or even some place near a pool (or the ocean), so you can jump in when you are done. Don’t forget the sunscreen (and hat and sunglasses, too). We prefer early, shaded running, but, whatever tactics help you get your run in, there’s one thing you must do: stay hydrated. Bring your own water or Gatorade.

Problem #3: There Aren’t Any Places to Run In the Suburbs

Depending on where you head for the holiday weekend, you can find yourself stymied by the lack of obvious running opportunities. If you’re from the city and heading the suburbs, perhaps the lack of prominent parkland has you down. (We, for example, are spoiled with Central Park our running haunt of choice.) The suburb I grew up in had a little running path around the ball fields behind the library where many people ran, but any other parks in town were too small to offer a real place to run. The suburb where my in-laws have a place have no parks (of which I know, at any rate). Open space may seem limited, as some suburban streets do not have sidewalks or shoulders in which to run. So, where to go?

We try to keep an open mind when considering running in suburban areas. The most important thing is to do as much research as you can before you leave. Some things, like sidewalks, you may not know about before you get there. Sidewalks, when push comes to shove, can offer convenient spaces close to where you are staying to get in your miles. Shoulders, though perhaps too close to cars for comfort, can also afford space to run. If, like the street where my in-laws live, there are no sidewalks and the shoulders are very narrow, consider going farther field. Even having to sit in a car before your run is better than not running at all (or perhaps that is part of your normal routine already).

If the sidewalks and shoulders fall through, that’s where the research comes in. Local high schools often have open hours in which members of the public can use the school’s track facilities. Remember to check hours before you go! Some towns will have high school or other playing fields large enough to get some sort of decent loop in (at least, the suburb where I grew up had some spaces big enough to accommodate, say, two lacrosse games side-by-side). Also, ask around for bike trails in the area. We’ve been able to enjoy long and quiet runs on bike paths in New York State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, especially since we head out early enough to avoid the bike and pedestrian traffic.

Finally, there’s always the treadmill, although this requires checking out short-term options at local gyms (or asking your host to make use of his).

Problem #4: I’ve Never Been to this City Before - Do People Even Run Here?

New cities can pose different challenges from the suburbs. While parkland may be easier to find on a map, the question of safety always looms large. This is where that idea of planning (mentioned in problem #4) is so important. You can check out the runner’s forums on Runner’s World, and even just Google your city or desired park. If some of the top hits on that park are about recent crimes, consider looking elsewhere. Try to find where local running groups go, or look for recommendations by people who have traveled there before.

Many cities have spaces beyond just open parks where you can run: often, cities have built walking and running paths along rivers (St. Paul, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., to name a few) or other waters (San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis) in the area. Depending on how your safety research goes, these can be great places to run.

There are always city sidewalks as a possibility as well, and checking out treadmill options in your hotel (or short-term memberships to local gyms) can also make a new city feel more hospitable for running. Before jumping to the treadmill option, however, keep in mind that running a city, whether on streets or in parks, can offer a great way to see and experience a new place in a unique way. For example, our favorite way to tour the monuments of D.C. is on our morning runs, offering both an efficient and crowd-free way to take in the sights.

Problem #5: My Running Sneakers Don’t Fit in My Weekend Bag

One final impediment to some runners over a holiday weekend may be the desire to pack a small bag. Running shoes, or extra outfits for running, can make space tight in a backpack, small suitcase, or duffel bag. Before letting packing space get you down, consider whether your destination has a washer/dryer (to allow for reuse of clothing), and whether you can - gasp - wear your running sneakers instead of another pair of shoes while you travel. Those of us less fashion-conscious are even willing to hang our sneakers on the outside of our travel bags, just to make sure they make the trip.


As I observed in a previous post, my foam roller has found space in and outside of my carry-ons, and inside my check baggage, on all trips I’ve made for the past five years. The extra running clothes (and sneakers) sometimes get me down, but, at the end of the day, the ability to run anywhere in the country (or the world) is worth the space issues.

Happy 4th of July and Happy Running from Central Park!

We'll be back to you tomorrow with more running advice, stories, etc., but we just wanted to take a quick break from our day to wish you a Happy 4th of July! We have many wonderful memories from the 4th of July over the years and many of them involve time spent running together. There are plenty of races that take place on Independence Day, from our country's most prestigious and possibly largest 10K race, the Peachtree in Atlanta, to many smaller local races such as the Putnam County 8 miler in upstate New York, the only 4th of July race we've ever actually run.

We did the Putnam County 8 miler several years ago and it was a charming little race finishing at the local high school track. It was a rather hilly course on local roads and made for a great holiday spent together on the roads together. The tech shirt was a relatively simple gray with a few red and blue fireworks on it but was a great breathable material and secretly one of our favorite race shirts.

But most of our favorite 4th of July running memories are from runs with just the two of us. Today being a Saturday, it meant we got to do a nice long run together to celebrate the 4th in comparatively empty Central Park (and one free of any bike races or running races) before New York City becomes noisy tonight with fireworks.

We hope you had a chance to make running a part of your day too (don't forget our tips to help make that happen wherever you might be), but also that you were able to celebrate Independence Day with someone special in a way that was special to you. Once again, Happy 4th of July from this Central Park running couple!

Several Years and Thousands of Miles Later, It's Time For a New Model of Running Shoes

I’ve been known to spend almost $1,000 on shoes at a time. Running shoes that is. They’re usually discounted too because I’m buying an old model that online warehouses are trying to clear out of inventory.

You could say that I really don’t like having to change models of shoe. When a company phases out a shoe for a new model, the new and improved one is never the same and above all I value consistency in my running footwear. Why change something that works for you?

This approach to buying running shoes, however, leads to the aforementioned $1,000 investment when I’ll buy 10-15 pairs of my shoes before they no are no longer available anywhere. It’s actually quite amazing, how long you can keep scouring the internet for your pair of shoes even after they have long been discontinued in stores. I’ve mostly stopped playing that game though and simply buy 10-15 pairs when the shoes are becoming harder and harder to find. By the time those pairs of shoes run out, my model is long gone from anywhere on the internet.

Perhaps you’ve already concluded from my shoe buying habits that I am a high mileage runner. I am. Nothing like an elite or ultrarunner who logs 140 miles per week, but I run between 75-100 miles per week every week of the year. That is a lot of miles and a lot of shoes.

There are 52 weeks in a year and if I average 80 miles per week that makes for over 4,000 miles a year. If I got 400+ miles out of every pair of shoes that means I’d go through 10 pairs of shoes in a year. 

Many years ago I read something about using shoes for 250-300 miles before changing them. It made sense at the time and maybe makes sense for a 40-50 mile per week runner, who could be training for the marathon. If I followed that math, however, I’d be using about 16 pairs of running shoes in the course of the year. If that was the only thing that kept me injury free (or fast) I'd be willing to do that, but it gets expensive enough that I find it worth it to try to prolong my shoes past those 300 miles. Frankly, it's pretty hard to come to terms with the idea that a new pair of shoes is an old pair just three weeks after starting to use it.   

As a result of this dilemma, I’ve tried to adapt a strategy based on feel rather than numbers and hope to get more mileage out of a pair of shoes. I don’t exactly know how many miles I run before I change shoes, but I don’t use more than 10 pairs of shoes in a year so that’s at least 400 miles on average that I am getting out of each pair of running shoes. Even though they have all been the same Brooks Ravenna 4 model for a number of years now and theoretically should seem to get old to me after similar amounts of mileage, I'm sure I've changed some pairs after 250-300 miles and others after 500-600. 

BROOKS RAVENNA  4s: My Old Standbys


Anyway, I write this post today because my supply of Brooks Ravenna 4s has finally run out after using that exact model of shoe for what must be about 3 years now. I bought two pairs of the Brooks Ravenna 5 model and tried them out this morning, but they didn’t feel quite the same to me, and perhaps not quite right for me. Maybe I should try the Ravenna 6s which are also out by now (that's what happens when you use the same model for long enough; running stores will be two or three model numbers down the line by the time you're ready to switch) but I generally find that the more model numbers away a shoe is from my current shoe, the greater the difference is. 

I will have to see over the next month if I try something other than the Ravenna 5s (I mostly only go with Brooks except for my racing flats so as not to make even more major changes) before I commit to another shoe model for the next several years and make my next big investment.






A Runner's Secret (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Foam Roller)

I’ve become a member of a secret society: I use a foam roller. Not only do I use a foam roller, but I’ve come to believe so strongly in the capabilities of its self-massage that I find myself proselytizing to the uninitiated about the merits of this wonder device. It makes me a little self-conscious to realize, mid-sermon, that my listener might find me a strange curiosity, or worse, a bore. Mind you, I did not intend to join the ranks of the united brotherhood of foam roller advocates. It happened almost without my realizing about four years ago.

Still new-ish to running at that time, I found myself with a persistent, though mild, pain at that knobby bone that juts out on the left side of the left calf just below the knee. Worried that this niggle would flare up into something more menacing, and too new a runner to interpret my body’s signals without help, I took myself to a doctor who promptly diagnosed me with ITBS, or iliotibial band syndrome.

The best thing that doctor did was refer me to a physical therapist. The best thing that physical therapist did was to prescribe some exercises (which I still do faithfully to this day) and one to two reps of foam rolling daily. Foam rolling, I thought innocently, what’s that?

“What’s that” turned out, at first, to be some of the worst pain I had ever encountered. My legs, in those early days, were so stiff and so gunk-ified, that my daily fight with the foam roller felt like a wrestling match with a bear cub. Plenty of howling could be heard from my bedroom when I entered the fray with this beast. I endearingly nicknamed my bright orange foam roller a medieval torture device. The name proved apt, as often, I wore the proof of its torture on my poor, agonized legs: grids of bruises that so artfully matched the grid patterns embedded into that bright orange foam covering my foam roller.

Howling and bruising, though, could not conquer my pride. I had seen the poise and dexterity with which other patrons of my physical therapist could balance themselves on their foam rollers. Fueled by an intense desire not to be shown up by these unknown gods of foam rolling, I kept at it, torture after torture, night after night. Slowly, as time wore on, those bruises stopped appearing. Slowly, my howls disappeared. Sometime in that first year, foam rolling became easy. Sometime in the third year, I found new parts of my body to foam roll.

Sometime, too, in the past four years, I started traveling everywhere I went with my foam roller. The TSA hasn’t stopped me yet, despite that strange orange tube sitting in my carry-on (it looks pretty funny on those x-ray machines, actually) or buried in my checked baggage. When I take the train, I even get brave enough to append the foam roller to my backpack as though it were a sleeping bag or some other, normal camping accouterment. I keep one at my place, one at my parents’ place, and one at my in-law’s place. My foam roller has been to California, urban and rural New York, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, D.C., and even Hawai’i.

I have since learned that, in addition to those immortal foam rollers at my physical therapist’s office, many others are members of the foam-rolling secret society as well. I was once stopped mid foam-roll in the gym at a local university by an over-enthusiastic freshman gushing about the miracles of the foam roller. Never mind that I was 10 years her senior and a complete stranger. This girl loved her foam roller, and, as I myself revealed, I loved mine. Long after I graduated, my high school (where I, a dilettante high school runner, was a pedestrian member of the indoor track team) started mandating foam roller training for members of the running teams. Unbeknownst to me, my sister has used the foam roller for years. My father-in-law, an enthusiastic biker and former runner, owns a foam roller to help blood flow to his legs. A close family friend can also speak of the foam roller’s charms, despite the fact that she is neither a runner nor a biker (and does not, as far as I can tell, have any aspirations to being anything close to an amateur athlete). This diverse group all shares a largely unspoken bond over something I never knew existed until that niggle in my ITB: the foam roller.

So, how do you start your own love affair with this wonder device? How do you join this secret society of enthusiasts and find yourself starting to spout over its wonders in front of pure strangers? Whether you are just starting out running, have logged thousands of miles, or are merely looking for a way to soothe the aches and pains of bad shoes and desk jobs, the foam roller can - I repeat, can - help you smooth away some of those nagging feelings in your lower limbs. I’ll be posting weekly with different foam rolling insights, so check back often to learn how to tame the orange (or black or whatever color) beast and turn your medieval torture device into something that makes moving pain-free. 

Bring on the Rain: The Newly Restored Central Park Reservoir Running Track Can Absorb It All

While the news agencies and the mayor seem to be obsessing over the new rules of the road in Central Park, it's time to compliment the Central Park Conservancy on a recent change in the park that actually has made a difference for many dedicated runners and park users.

I'm referring to the restoration of the running track around the famed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir at the heart of Central Park. It was almost a year ago now that the Conservancy announced the beginning of a several month project to repair and re-engineer the soft gravel running surface around the Reservoir. The goal was a lofty one: to repair the many pot marks on the path and to engineer a surface with better drainage. The Reservoir path was notorious for becoming a giant puddle in even light to moderate sustained rain, rendering it virtually unrunnable except for those looking for a muddy cross country-type experience or for the resident ducks.

The Conservancy's restoration project did not inspire confidence at the start. The plan was to close off one quarter of the Reservoir path at a time such that the space could still be used by runners as long as they were willing to take a detour or two. While the detours made the path a less than ideal option for most serious runners, the bigger problem was the belief that the project could be completed by closing off sections of the Reservoir with an easily removable metal gate and some yellow caution tape. Unfortunately, these gates were too easily removed or sidestepped by users of the park who preferred not to take detours. This, of course, resulted in ineffective repair work and the Conservancy had to start over and install more substantial gated structures to close off a section of the Reservoir.

After the new gates were in place, late fall arrived and brought with it limited hours of light for crews to work on the restoration. So the Conservancy installed temporary spotlights to increase the amount of work that could be done over the winter. Of course, this work had been scheduled to be completed before winter struck because the hardening ground slowed the restoration of the surface as well.

And then the snow came. It proved a very snowy winter in New York City too and for several months more the restoration of the Reservoir path came to a halt.

Just when it seemed like the restoration could take years, however, crews seemed able to complete the final two sections of the Reservoir path in record time once spring and summer arrived. About a month ago, the Conservancy completed the restoration and the Reservoir path has been predominantly detour and construction free with the exception of a few days when landscaping crews blocked off sections for annual plantings and restoration of the nearby foliage.

While this post might seem like a giant complaint to this point about the inefficiency of the restoration, it  actually is just the opposite. The delays, the detours, and many mornings contending with bikes on the road and dogs on the bridle path, were all worth it in the end for this runner at least.

The new surface is truly extraordinary. The past month has seen heavy rains now of varying types, short downpours and sustained 24+ hour rains alike. And amazingly, the Reservoir path has remained puddle free throughout. This is a remarkable accomplishment of engineering when you consider that it far surpasses the drainage even on the park drives and the bridle path below the Reservoir path, both of which have been puddle-filled in the past month while the Reservoir path has seemed capable of soaking up inches of rain without problem.

At this time last year, the Reservoir path was basically off limits in the rain except for the ducks, and moreso a plethora of puddles remained for several days after a heavy rain even when the rest of the city seemed  bone dry. Yet now it is quite the opposite. So congratulations to the Central Park Conservancy on a job well done and for improving for the lives of the many runners who used the Reservoir every day.

As for that other change concerning the closing of the Park Drive, well we will save that for another post, but needless to say it does not do much for the early morning or evening runners of the park.

Is Exercise or Diet the Best Way to Weight Loss?

Two recent studies have attempted to answer the age-old question of whether regular exercise or diet (in the form of eating less) most helps with weight loss. One, as the New York Times reported on June 6, 2016, found eating less more effective in aiding weight loss than exercising more. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/upshot/to-lose-weight-eating-less-is-far-more-important-than-exercising-more.html The other, discussed on the website of Runner’s World on June 22, 2016, concluded that exercisers had the edge over dieters in terms of waist size. http://www.runnersworld.com/weight/at-all-ages-exercisers-weigh-less

So, the reasonable person is left to ask, which study got it right?

Being no scientist myself, I am hardly in a position to give a definitive answer to this question. I haven’t conducted any studies or done any tests. I have, at most, a sample size of one. That being said, I can offer some thoughts from personal experience as to whether exercise or diet leads to better weight loss outcomes.

Those seeking a silver bullet, one-or-the-other answer to this question should probably stop reading here. As my story shows, the answer isn’t that exercise is better or that controlled diet is better. The answer is that neither exercise nor diet work best alone. It is only by following a plan of both regular exercise and controlled eating that weight loss goals be achieved - for the long haul.

When I graduated college, I left with something in excess of the “Freshman 15” still hanging around my waist, in my thighs, and on my face. My undergraduate years had me eating a lot more calories than my occasional trips to the gym or runs around the river could burn away. I had always wanted to do something about these extra pounds, and even started cutting back on what I ate before I graduated. I did a little more exercise, but not a lot, and nothing serious. The result? Before I left school, nothing changed. The scale still read the same.

Those excess pounds hung on through the next five months of lifestyle changes, all through which I continued to cut back on excess deserts and side dishes. Those lifestyle changes made it hard for me to commit to exercise, as I was dedicating myself to a new job in a new city with new friends and a whole bunch of other new adjustments. The excess pounds hung on.

Then, my exercise epiphany came: I started to run. I started slowly, at first, just like all those experts suggest. I ran on the treadmill, too, and eased my way through those slow miles with a great soundtrack and TV reruns on silent. (Confession: I could never get into Seinfeld with the sound on. With it off? The show was genius.) As my body got used to running, I moved my runs to an indoor track, and then, when the weather cooperated, the great outdoors. For me, the “great outdoors” in those early days meant some green space in the middle of a city street. As I kept at those slow miles, they repaid me: slowly, slowly, those pounds started moving, too.

My first six months of running probably helped me lose 10 pounds. It took some dedication, of course, where dedication meant simply getting out the door every single day my training plan told me to. When the training plan for my first half-marathon ended, I found another half to do, and another plan, and then another race and another plan. The plans kept me focused on getting in those runs. Those runs helped the weight disappear.

To this day, seven years later, minutes-per-mile-faster, with thousands of miles logged and those “Freshman 15” (and more!) long gone, my weight is steady. It’s where I want. It’s where my body functions best.

At this point, my story would seem to argue that exercise, not diet, was the best way for me to lose weight. Here’s the thing, though: I couldn’t have lost the weight without controlling my diet. I couldn’t have increased running, and made it part of my regular routine, without cutting down my caloric intake. Regular exercise meant, and means, that overeating has consequences. If I ate too much for lunch one day, my run that afternoon would be one long slog through stomach pain. Only by controlling my diet could I enjoy running. Only by running could I lose weight. The two tactics worked together. And if I overcompensated and didn’t eat quite enough? Running told me that, too, and helped guide me to a place where I could understand just how many calories my body needed every day.


So, when I read studies about whether exercise or diet is the key to weight loss, I get frustrated. One or the other alone won’t help you meet your weight loss goal. Both exercise and eating less are necessary. Exercise will help your body understand its caloric needs. Eating according to your body’s caloric needs is key to losing weight, and then maintaining the weight you want. If you follow the study from the Times, or pick the one from Runner’s World instead, you won’t get very far. Both diet and exercise are necessary because they work together to tell help you understand what your body needs. At the very least, that’s the lesson from my sample size of one.

A Few Reasons Not to Run in the Sun

It is 87 degrees in New York City today. The sun is shining. While there is a slight breeze, to most people, it is a hot day. Despite this heat, however, Central Park currently contains a sizable number of people out for a run. This morning, it was 70 degrees and partly cloudy, with a more robust and much cooler breeze. Why, then, are so many people running out there in the heat?

Are they trying to lose more weight by running in the heat? Running in the heat makes you sweat more, which does make you lose more weight in the short term. However, this is in the very short term - and the minute you rehydrate your body, those pounds are back. This seems like a very poor reason to justify putting oneself through the discomfort of heat and sun.

Are they trying to become fitter by conditioning their body to run faster in the cold by running the heat? This justification seems suspect. While there may be conditioning benefits to exercising in the heat, the number of people who become dissuaded from a real running habit by the unpleasant nature of warm-weather running suggests that not many are really seeking this benefit. Moreover, the conditioning benefit of consistent running in cooler weather, which enables longer and more enjoyable runs, surely outweighs the conditioning benefit of training in the summer sun.

Are they convincing themselves that there is no better time in the day to run? Perhaps they run in the mid-afternoon to put enough time between lunch and the icky effects of running on a full stomach. Perhaps they are running now because they did not awake while the temperatures were still in the 70s this morning, or because there was no time to get in a run before noon. While perhaps once in my hazy past such justifications made sense to me, they seem patently false now. If you don’t “have time” for something, it’s because you didn’t make time for something. Making time to run when it’s not the hottest time of the day is important to maintaining a health running habit - important enough to render false any claims that there just “wasn’t time” to run at a cooler time of day.

Are they just returning from some weekend travel, such that they were unable to run in the morning? This justification has long mystified me. Why not run before you leave your vacation destination? The issue is about making time, not about true inability to run. If you are a morning runner generally, and switched to the afternoon only to accommodate your travel, you are doing your body a disservice by forcing it to act against its natural rhythms. Not only that, but you are unnecessarily subjecting your body to weather conditions it may not be used to facing. Depending on the amount of strain such changes put on your body, you could be inviting a negative running experience, or even injury.


The bottom line here is, if you are one of those people who runs in the afternoon heat, whether for one of the reasons listed above or for your own, you should reconsider. Running in the morning to avoid the heat of the day and the intensity of the summer sun is an easy way to have better runs and keep your body healthier, particularly by keeping you more hydrated. It’s that simple.

Of course, the ultimate bottom line here at our blog is that any running (in the heat of the day or not) is better than no running at all - so get out there! Just also give some time to reconsidering your choice of when to run, given the intensity of that summer sun.

A Time of No (or Fewer) Excuses: The Virtues of Running First Thing in the Morning

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners."We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #1: "Become a Morning Runner."

It's only appropriate that this is the first habit on Runner's World list because other than "run more miles" it is the first piece of advice that would I give to runners looking to improve or to make running a more substantial part of their lives. 

I was not always a morning runner. I started running in high school and our team practices and races were in the late afternoon. When I ran on my own in high school and college, I varied the time of day when I ran. Admittedly, I even sometimes would purposefully run in the heat of the day with the thought that it would make me a stronger runner (I would never consider this smart today for a number of reasons unless you plan on racing somewhere where it is significantly hotter than where you train). When I joined a club racing team, I also started running at night a couple of days a week when the team had workouts. 

It was probably some time around 2008 when I started training for my second marathon that I forever became a morning runner. There are obviously exceptions, but I think when facing the responsibilities of adulthood that from both a working and family perspective that to remain a truly motivated and successful runner that one should consider becoming a morning runner if they are not already. 

I could go on and on about the benefits of running in the morning, but mostly I think it comes down to the fact that the morning for most people is the time of the day when the rest of life is least likely to interrupt a running routine. Work, family, the rest of the world, the unexpected, all tend to put more demands on your time after 7 AM. In some cases, those demands might come even earlier in the morning or you might work a different schedule than most, but for the majority of people the hours between 5-7 AM are logical "me" or "running" time. As the day progresses, you have more obligations and the unexpected at work or with the kids can happen. Even if work or family threaten your morning time, it is still often the best time to set aside for a running routine because commitments tend to build over the course of a day, as does the unexpected as more and more of the world is awake. 

There is no one size fits all of course, but the main point here is to find a time to run that works for you when you know that the rest of life will not (and for the most part cannot) get in the way. For the majority of people, that is first thing in the morning. If you want to be a highly motivated runner and life dictates that you run at a different time of day, it may take a higher level of motivation and a thicker skin to put your run ahead of other's demands and to keep yourself motivated no matter how tired you might be from a long day at work or running after the kids.

There are many other reasons to run in the morning besides the fact that the rest of the world is most likely to leave you alone then. I won't go into detail, but it is the coolest time of day during a hot summer and you'll save your skin from hours of direct sun exposure, it's the time when most races take place and it's always good to get your body in the habit of when it will run, and helps get your metabolism working for the entire day. 

Running the morning might take some getting used to at first, but it eventually becomes second nature to get up to a 5 AM alarm and go out for a run. There are obviously a number of concerns faced by morning runners or reasons why people prefer not to run in the morning, and we both believe so much in the virtues of running first thing in the morning that we will dedicate future posts (not as part of this series) to addressing the unique concerns that early morning running poses such as finding a safe place to run when it might be dark and sparsely populated out (hint: run with a friend, use the treadmill, find a running route where you feel safe), fueling (or not) when there's not really time for breakfast beforehand (hint: your body will get used to not eating beforehand or figure out what you can digest while you run), and needing to get back to go to work or get the kids ready for school early in the morning (hint: you might be able to run even earlier than 5 AM depending on your situation and get everything ready for your run and the next day the night before). 



Morning Running, Take Two

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #1: "Become a Morning Runner."

When I first switched to morning running, I had a few concerns. Safety was one, for sure, as was exercising before I had consumed any substantial number of calories in the day. I was worried that my circadian and other bodily rhythms would never adjust to the changes, meaning tired runs filled with bathroom stops and other inconveniences. Also, what would happen on morning when sleeping in was a particularly persuasive notion (particularly when I stayed up a little later the night before). Unlike, perhaps, many people out there, I was game for morning running generally. The idea just came with a few question marks for me.

After not very much time at all, however, I realized that my concerns were uniformly all phantoms. Instead, morning running is one of the best things that has happened to me, both as a runner and more generally.

The most surprising thing I found is that morning running can be safer than the 5 P.M. time I had previously been targeting as a result of my work schedule. While my teaching job set me free at 4, most of the working world did not get to the park until 6 or 7. As result, the 5 o’clock hour was a witching hour in the park. I would find myself out running completely alone with scary predictability. Other runners went out earlier in the day, or later, but apparently not at that time in the afternoon. My only company came from the flow of cars (now banned from Central Park) as they passed from traffic light to traffic light.

In contrast, while there may be some official debate out there as to what time Central Park opens, the running and biking populations have emphatically decided on 5 A.M. That is to say, there are always other runners or bikers around after the clock strikes 5 - even on Sunday, the lightest day of the week when even many serious recreational athletes give themselves license to sleep in. Some days, the crowds get quite thick, as every running group in the city seems to have at least one morning (early morning, at that) run a week. On top of the company brought by running strangers, I also have very reliable personal company in the form of my husband and, once a week, my sister. My sister herself has at least two other regular early-morning running buddies. This small sample suggests that finding a morning running partner may not be as difficult a task as one might think. As morning runners, we stay aware and careful. We listen to each other, not music, and choose our routes depending on the hour and the human traffic patterns (e.g., one section of the park tends to be a little more deserted than the others, so we wait to run there until the sun has risen, at the very least). Awareness is key for running at any time of day, of course, making morning running (at least with a partner or assurance of like-minded strangers) no different from later hours.

As for my fears of postponing breakfast in order to run, I am incredibly grateful to the almost instant adjustment my body made to its meal times. I had been raised to eat as soon as I got up in the morning, and I admit to some crankiness if I didn’t stick to that routine. It seemed a little strange to think that, if I couldn’t make it more than an hour after waking up without having a meal, I could run for at least an hour (and double that, at this point) before fueling. Apparently, though, these fears were all in my mind. My body figured it out quickly enough - and it even gave me a collateral benefit. I am no longer a slave to first-thing breakfast: even on my off days, when I don’t run, I can safely wait an hour or two in order to eat breakfast at the normal time. Running has helped stabilize my metabolism, and put me more in control of my eating schedule, which is great. Moreover, I have rarely, if ever, felt that not eating before my run has had a negative impact on my run. I regularly have great, even perfect, runs, freed from the drama of the question of what to eat before I run (while my body wouldn’t tolerate anything but PBJ or pasta if I ran in the afternoon, I can eat a vast variety of foods the night before a morning run without any adverse impact). Fueling may have been a concern before I became a morning runner, but it almost immediately became a complete non-issue.

Similarly, though perhaps less quickly and with less certainty than my metabolism, my circadian and other bodily rhythms also adjusted to the morning. Long gone are the days when I would find myself falling asleep on the run (okay, that only happened once or twice). Faced with something to do immediately upon waking, my body proves happy to feel energized soon after waking. I sleep better at night because of running in the morning. Additionally, running in the morning actually helps with any concerns over bathroom or other stops, as it allows me to hydrate freely throughout the day without having to stop drinking at some point before my run in order to avoid having to stop. I rarely have to stop in the morning because, with so few things having happened before my run, I know exactly what I need to do in order to stay healthy and hydrate on the run. The body is an amazing thing, and it adjust quickly in all sorts of ways to all sorts of challenges, as long as they are followed regularly.

Finally, as to my concern over being able to sleep in from time to time, well, that hasn’t really materialized, either. Running in the morning helps keep me honest about my bedtime, which in turns helps me make sure I get enough sleep each night. Morning running has increased my desire to avoid crowded running spaces, which helps me make sure I don’t hit the snooze button. Morning running also enables me to use the rest of the day more efficiently and effectively, meaning that I can avoid letting unexpected events get in the way of bedtime. Moreover, morning running means that running happens every day. Nothing else can ever get in its way since it comes first and always.


What all of this means is that, whether your morning running concerns are answered by my experiences or not, you are likely to find that those concerns will be quickly resolved by the regular practice of running in the morning. Given that morning running is the best way to ensure that running happens every day, it is definitely worth switching, or at least trying to. It’s amazing how quickly your concerns can melt away.

Stop Sitting: How to Stand and Walk (Even if it Might Mean Standing Out)



At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #12: "Sit Less.”

Sitting just does not work for me. I would almost always rather stand. I could cite the genesis of this as a hip problem I had about 10 years ago, but basically I find that sitting shortens my hip flexors, cause piriformis pain, and can even cause knee pain if I can't extend my knees properly.
It is one of my great frustrations that social and work contexts so often seem to dictate or suggest sitting.  I think my co-workers always used to look at me with funny glances when I would stand and hunch over my computer to type or put my knee on the ground to type at the keyboard such that I was essentially doing a hip flexor stretch while I worked rather than sit in a chair.
Social contexts can be harder, particularly dinners, ceremonies, or sporting events where you can't just stand up in the middle of the meal or while everyone is talking at a table in a restaurant or block people's view at a basketball game. There are still things you can do, however, to give yourself the opportunity to not sit and to stretch your legs. If you're at dinner at a restaurant with a large group of people find an excuse to go talk to someone at the far end of the table such that you have to stand by them or take trips to the bathroom where you do a few stretches along the way. At a baseball game, standup in between innings at your seat or go for brief walks or pauses into the concession areas where there is still a tv in sight so you can watch the game.
Ultimately the best thing that you can do for yourself though is to make standing, walking, and stretching rather than sitting the normal for the people around you. Family and friends will eventually understand that you're not being rude by standing or getting up all the time. If they don't, so be it and at the very least they should learn not to take it personally. You can also make frequent comments to friends at a baseball game or at the office about how great it is to stand and stretch or how stiff sitting makes you. If you're lucky you might even create a culture of standing and stretching as you're surely not the only one who finds sitting so stiffening!
To resist the culture of sitting, you may have to be brave at times and find yourself standing alone (literally), but in the long run your body will thank you and really it's not so much harder than all those people who gave you crazy looks when you first told them you run for 2-3 hours at a time at least once a week. Those people probably stopped making comments to you about it once they realized it was ingrained in your life and that that was just your normal and you had nothing of interest to say about it.
Eventually those same people might understand that you're not trying to stand out by standing either.  

Don't Just Sit There!

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #12: "Sit Less.”

Sitting less is, perhaps, the best thing the highly motivated runner can do for his or her body, for the reason of injury reduction. The highly motivated runner has, or should have, highly limber muscles in and around his or her hips. Sitting, on the other hand, undoes basically all that running does for the piriformis, the ITB, the glutes, and the hip flexors, to name just a few key running muscles that sitting affects. Of course, any physical therapist worth his salt will tell you that any problems you experience in the lower leg muscles, or even the hamstrings, originate in your hip (and core) muscles. I’ve seen this connection first-hand myself. The less I sit, and the more I run, the fewer problems I have in my piriformis and my ITBs, and the fewer problems I have in the muscles down below. Indeed, any time I get a niggle in my feet or ankles, I know that’s really just my hip and core muscles trying to let me know that I need to do better.

It took me a little while, even as a runner, to wrap my head around the idea of sitting less. Sometimes, still, I get the suspicion that my relatives don’t entirely understand that my restlessness at long-lasting meals, movies, or social events comes not from any dissatisfaction or desire to be rude on my part. I wish they would understand that my restlessness comes only from my desire to stop all that sitting from messing up my hips and butt muscles. Often, actually, prolonged sitting bothers me in a way that prevents such restlessness from really being conscious. Since sitting is so important, though, I persist in standing up and stretching whenever I can to interrupt periods of sitting, even if I feel a little funny about doing so.

I also try to avoid prolonged sitting entirely. I walk whenever I can, and wherever I can, particularly before and after events when I cannot avoid sitting. Walking is one of the best forms of cross training for the runner, not least because it enables stretching of those same hip muscles that get all tight from sitting. I also like lying on my stomach to stretch out the same hip muscles, and I hear that sitting on an exercise ball can be a great alternative to sitting on a chair.


No matter how you accomplish it, however, the point is really this: sit less. (And, if you can, walk more.).

Breakfast and the Early Morning Runner

There's no question that breakfast is an important meal, but I think I should admit that it never held that vaunted of a place in my life. I grew up in a family that didn't really eat breakfast or at least not unless they were hungry or until later in the morning. I had breakfast before I would go off to school as a child, but I don't think I ever wanted to eat it, probably because I never saw my parents eating it.

Before I became a runner, I'm not sure that I paid all that much attention to breakfast either and that remained mostly true even when I became a runner, but ran in the afternoons. The thing that really made me eat breakfast consistently every morning was becoming a morning runner. As I've already written about, running in the morning is key to so many things about running and life for me, so I guess it only makes sense that it would structure my breakfast routine also. 

Since breakfast was never a major part of my life before becoming a morning runner, it probably makes sense that I am not reliant upon it to run. Since my wife and I run at 5 or 5:30 every morning there really is no time for breakfast to digest before we run. Frankly though when you run that early, there really is no need for breakfast before running anyway in order to fuel my run. That might not work for everyone, but I think it is something that most runner's bodies can easily to get used to. 

I'm not advocating a novice runner going out for their long run without breakfast, but I might as well admit that if I start running at 5:30 and am out there for 3+ hours and up to 24-26 miles that I still don't find the need for breakfast to fuel my run. If I were racing and wanted to maximize my ability on that day, then that would be a different matter and I would fuel with probably a Clif Bar and some Gatorade beforehand.

While running in the morning hasn't made me eat breakfast before I run, it does make sure that I eat breakfast right after run. After all if you average 15-16 miles per day running, you need to give your body its fuel back. All sorts of studies suggest that refueling right away can help with recovery, but that is why not why I eat breakfast right after running. It is just something that makes sense and works for me.

That's sort of how my choice of breakfast came to evolve also; it's just something that works for me and makes sense. I don't claim it to be the best refueling breakfast or for everyone, but I like having a consistent breakfast every day. That way I get through the morning having run and consumed the same number of calories every morning, which makes the rest of my day much simpler and consistent as well. My breakfast of choice is a lower in fat yogurt muffin (chocolate, banana, marble, cinnamon, etc.)  and a an egg white with cheese sandwich on a roll from my local deli. 

That might sound like a lot of food to those of you who don't average 15+ miles per day and it might seem like too little food to you for those of you who are much hungrier after 15+ mile runs! It is, however, what works for me. And the key is that I am able to eat that consistently every day. 

Runners Need Breakfast! (Everyone Does!)

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #11: "Eat Breakfast Every Day.”

This old chestnut is one I’ve followed without fail. My body certainly seems to agree with the scientific claims that back it up. Eating breakfast does seem to stabilize my metabolism, make me less apt to overeat at other times of day, and help me focus throughout the day. Of course, having never really tried not eating breakfast, I’m not really in a position to judge what life is like without breakfast. I just know, from personal experience and advice-givers the world over, that everyone should eat breakfast, every day.

Perhaps more interesting than the question of whether you should eat breakfast is a question of when, especially as a morning runner. As I explored in a previous post (http://www.centralparkrunners.com/2015/07/morning-running-take-two.html), I used to be one of those eat-breakfast-within-a-half-hour-of-waking folks. If I didn’t eat breakfast within an hour of waking, boy, you did not want to get in my way. It took becoming a morning runner to break me of this dependency. Because my husband and I go out so early (between 5 and 5:30 AM), I don’t typically eat before I run. I do have a few sips of Gatorade to rehydrate after sleeping all night, but that’s it. I don’t eat before I run because there isn’t time between waking (at 5 AM) and running for my body to digest anything. The truth is, though, I don’t need food before I run. Water, yes; a little Gatorade, yes; real food, no. Breakfast before I ran would make me sluggish and cause side stitches. Breakfast after I run gives my body time to finish processing whatever I ate the night before, and to figure out how hungry it is for breakfast. The best part is that I can, and do, wait two hours or more to eat breakfast on days when I don’t run, because running has made my body so satisfied with the post-run-breakfast schedule.

When I do races, which tend to start much later in the morning than my runs, I do eat breakfast before I run. Unless I am running a marathon, this will not be a full breakfast. Often, I will have a Clif Bar and maybe a banana, as well as a lot more water and Gatorade to make sure that I’m well hydrated before the race. I try not to eat inside of a two-hour window before the race to help make sure I’m not tasting my breakfast halfway through the run. This lighter breakfast helps me to make sure that my body has the fuel it needs before the run (I find that I become light-headed if a race starts at or after 8 AM, my normal breakfast time, and I haven’t had any fuel yet), without weighing me down by causing nausea or side stitches. I then typically have another, smaller breakfast (tea, juice, fruit, yogurt) after the race to help replenish and to ensure I get the number of calories in
my normal breakfast. This post-race meal also helps me cross the distance between an earlier breakfast and lunch without letting my blood sugar get too low or my body get too hungry.

Another interesting question on the breakfast front is what to eat for breakfast. I prefer cereal, of the iron-enriched variety, with yogurt, banana, and raisins, as well as juice and (low-caffeine) tea. I’ve always been a believer in breakfast consistency, and am quite satisfied with eating the same breakfast every day (but maybe changing the cereal type every five or so years). That said, I’ve learned to help my body with its caloric and nutritional needs by implementing an egg-sandwich on Sundays rule, as well as a chocolate-muffin post-long run treat. These breaks help to differentiate the different days of the week, to give my body what it needs, and to provide treats for harder workouts. Just as with any other meal of the day, breakfast offers an important opportunity to refuel the runner’s body with what it needs to thrive.


In short, while I’ve always been a breakfast eater, running has helped to make me a healthier breakfast eater, both by introducing nutritional variety and by allowing me some flexibility in my mealtime. All of this leads me to assert that the highly-motivated runner would not get very far very quickly without the habit of eating breakfast every day.

Pay Attention Runners: Sunscreen is Worth It in (and for) Your Long Run

We head out to run by 5:30 AM and are back in by 9 or 9:30 AM at the very latest. Since I always grew up being told I don’t need to wear sunscreen in the morning’s rays, I rarely wear sunscreen when I run.

This is neither ideal nor horrible. It’s not ideal because there can still be plenty of sun to do skin damage when you are out there for 2-3 hours every morning. It’s not horrible because there is only so much at that time of the morning, and during the fall and winter months, the sun might not have even risen until the very end our of runs.

So why should highly motivated runners wear sunscreen even if they are so highly motivated as to get up before dawn to go out for there run? Mainly, because a highly motivated runner runs for a long time so that means the sun ultimately will shine on them even if it is in very incremental amounts. Furthermore, a highly motivated runner should always strive to keep himself or herself healthy and that includes the skin. Skin cancer is one cancer that can effect younger people more commonly and its one that people may have some of the most control in preventing.

I will note that when it comes to races or if I ever find myself running later in the day, I will always put on sunscreen. It has its drawbacks. Sweat can cause sunscreen to run into your eyes. It takes time to put on, taking away from time to run or accomplish other things in one’s busy life. In my case, it has a tendency to give me a headache sometimes. For some, it can cause their skin to become oily and break out more.

At the end of the day though, these are not excuses to for failing to wear sunscreen. In the long run, no pun intended, it is worth it. Sort of like foam rolling, stretching, and core workouts: it might not seem that important until it really is and you don’t want to reach that point of regret.




Every Race Day Checklist Should Include Sunscreen

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #10: "Apply Sunscreen Before Every Run.”

As my husband has pointed out, this habit also supplies excellent motivation for our favorite running advice: run early in the morning. Doing so avoids running during the sun’s peak hours, and particularly during that dreaded 10-2 window of maximum intensity.

Of course, running early does not fully protect against the sun’s rays. Most of the time, the sun rises while we are running, meaning that we spend at least sometime running in the pre-dawn light. In the early summer, when our skin protection concerns would be highest, the sun does beat us outside by a bit. Because our runs always extend past the time the sun has risen, I should be better about applying sunscreen before every run, particularly in the summer months. Not only is the sun stronger in the summer, but I am exposing far more of my fair skin to those harmful UV rays because I cover up for warmth in the winter. I am glad that my running habits are at least somewhat conducive to keeping my skin safe, but I know I can and should do better on my daily, early runs.

I do wear a hat, in part to protect my face, on every run. I also bring sunglasses to keep my eyes safe. The brightness of the sun alone can be damaging for your eyes, not to mention the glare of the sun off the asphalt or local bodies of water. I highly recommend wearing sunglasses when running.

Also, the above remarks are really only about my daily runs. I always put on sunscreen for my races. Whether the race starts at 7 AM or at 10 AM, I am wearing sunscreen. Whether I am racing for twenty minutes or over three hours, I put on sunscreen. I also wear my trusty hat and sunglasses. The only time in a race setting when I am not wearing sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses is when it is pouring rain for the entirety of the race. This happens rarely. While I may not be as diligent as I should about sunscreen when my run starts at 5:30 AM, I am fastidious about sunscreen when my run starts any later. To me, there is no excuse for not protecting my skin with sunscreen if my run starts at 7 or later.


So, yes, apply sunscreen before every run. Consider a hat and sunglasses as well.

ZZZZZ…..The Most Important Letters in the Runner's Alphabet

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #9: "Get Enough Sleep.”

Running is (or at least can be) a lifestyle if you are highly committed to it. Part of that lifestyle is putting your body in the best position to be healthy and to perform for you. Without doubt that requires sleep. Pick up any article about an elite runner’s lifestyle and you’re likely to hear about not only the miles they log, calories they consume and abs they crunch, but also the 10+ hours of sleep many of them get each day (including naps between runs).

Most of us don’t have the time (nor do we run the sort of mileage at the sort of paces necessary) for that much sleep, but getting a good night’s sleep is incredibly important to a runner nonetheless. Truthfully, it’s not about how much sleep you get on any one given night, but it’s about the consistency in your sleep patterns. Your body and your running will thank you if you keep the same hours every night, or at least as close to the same patterns as possible. My wife and I are in bed by 9 PM every night and up by 5 AM the next morning almost without exception.


Depending on your lifestyle with children, works, and friends this might not work for you and it might be hard to keep it this consistent, but it is nonetheless something to strive for. We might not be able to keep perfectly regular hours, but we do all have many more choices than we think about the hours we set aside from sleep. You can leave that dinner or party early. You can try to set your kids on an earlier bed schedule. You can set the DVR for the second half of Monday Night Football. You can tell people not to call you after your bedtime. If your job keeps you late, think about how to tell people no or explore other employment options if your sleep and running mean enough to you. Depending on your particular situation, some of these things might be pretty tough or seem downright impossible to you, but if you are aware of the choices you do have then surely you will be able to help your sleep patterns at least a little bit.

Who Needs Sleep? You Do - In Running, and in Life.

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #9: "Get Enough Sleep.”

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting enough sleep. I went through a period of life where I was making some pretty bad lifestyle choices, and not getting enough sleep was at the root of all of them. For months at a time, the maximum amount of sleep I would get in a night was six hours; the minimum, none. Because I was not getting enough sleep at night, I would barely be able to keep my eyes open during the day, and would fall asleep at the vaguest invitation to nap. This extreme fatigue led me to the following reasoning: if I don’t have enough energy to make it through the day without falling asleep, how does it make sense to use that energy to exercise? To make matters worse, the lack of sleep threw my metabolism completely off kilter, with the result that I gained a fair amount of weight. I am sad to admit to these lost years of fitness, years lost because of my throwing myself into a work-first culture that demanded cast sleep as an impediment to accomplishment.  

When I was ready to start getting my life back in order, I knew exactly where to start: with sleep. I institutionalized an eight-hour-per-night rule, with an early bedtime and an early rising time for good measure. I find it’s easier to be firm about my bedtime when my bedtime is earlier; otherwise, the lure of five more minutes always seems to call. When my sleep patterns were stabilized, I was able to make exercising, and, yes, some running, a part of my day. I also established other routines, like a cup of tea around 4 o’clock, to help give structure to my day and my diet. With increased structure in my diet, as well as the stabilization of my metabolism from consistent sleep, I was able to start eating less and losing weight. All of these things contributed to better lifestyle choices and increasing energy.


It would take awhile yet for me to transition to a real runner, with all of the consistency and results that implies, but the foundation for my being a serious, highly-motivated runner came from one simple place: getting enough sleep, every night, with no exceptions. My running has excelled because of it, and my life in general has been so much the better for it.

Who Needs a Marathon on the Schedule, You Can Do Your Long Runs All Year Round and Be a Better Runner For It

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #8: "Add A Weekly Long Run.”

I’m a big advocate of long runs. While I could focus on the importance of a weekly long run or even multiple longer runs in the same week, instead let’s talk about the importance of doing your long run year round.

It seems to be in vogue for some marathon runners to view long runs only as part of marathon training and to build up the distance of long runs as a marathon cycle progresses. Breaking from this attitude, however, is what separates many highly motivated runners from the rest.

I believe in doing long runs year round, whether or not a marathon is on the horizon and whether or not you are training for a different race such as a half marathon or 10K. Why build up your long runs for a marathon only to let them slip and have to rebuild them again when your next marathon comes along? Some will say that doing long runs throughout the year is too much for some people and a recipe for injury, but in reality I have always found that it is the process of building up mileage and adding in workouts to recover form is a greater recipe for injury than constantly being in great shape.

Doing long runs year round will greatly increase your overall fitness. It can also prevent injury if you are smart about your training as opposed to constantly allowing your fitness level to ebb and flow. Furthermore, by constantly doing “long runs” it should no longer become intimidating or even really seem like a “long run.” If you cover your long run distances year round that means that when you go to train for a marathon, you can add speed workouts into your week or speed or marathon paced running into your long runs without worrying that you are stressing your body by increasing distance at the same time.

All of this might seem like a bit much for someone who only builds up their mileage for one marathon a year or a marathon in the spring and the fall of each year. But if you learn to love your long run and you enjoy running, then this is likely to work quite well for you. If you don’t love running and your long run, then that is fine too as long as you can accept that you may be selling yourself short as a runner and putting yourself at greater risk for injury.


If you’re wondering what my long run schedule looks like, it is something to the effect of  an 18 mile run one week, followed by a 20 the next, followed by something between 22-24 the third week. Then I repeat this three week cycle of long runs over and over again with some adjustments depending if I have a race or where I am in my training. Obviously, don’t go out and start trying to do this sort of cycle right away as it probably took me 5+ years of building distance until I found that this worked for me, but it can be helpful to think of your long runs this way for the long term.

Why I Love My Weekly Long Run

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #8: "Add A Weekly Long Run.”

I love my weekly long run. It’s become a cornerstone of my weekly calendar, a non-event that helps to organize the rest of my running, my habits, and my schedule (including my diet). It just helps put everything else into perspective in a way that no other part of my week does. 

For one thing, it’s not a Saturday unless there’s a long run. This reality affects all three days of the weekend. I mean, without my Saturday long run, what would I eat for dinner on Friday night? I have gnocchi on Fridays because I run long on Saturdays. It’s a little weekly tradition that means one less meal to plan each week while also elevating the Friday night meal into something purposeful and even a little special. Friday nights are also a time to take it easy and respect my bedtime. The later I go to bed on Friday, the tougher my long run is the next day - and why would I want a tough long run? The long run gives meaning and purpose to what I do on Friday evenings.

As for Saturday itself, well, my long run means I get to enjoy a quiet moment in Central Park each week. Saturdays are a busy day in Central Park, but not when my long run starts. Indeed, I rarely sleep in on Saturdays, but why sleep in when a relatively empty park loop, bridle path, and reservoir await? My long run offers precious moments in Central Park that are hard to find at other times. The long run also becomes my introduction to the weekend, allowing my husband and I to discuss upcoming plans (many a trip to MetLife Stadium has been considered on our Saturday long runs). Most Saturdays, we are able to ease from the long run into the weekend, since I reserve my longest personal care routine for after the victory of another long run accomplished. In the diet vein, I celebrate each long run (or at least the 20-milers) by getting to have a (yogurt) muffin for breakfast. Every other breakfast, I have cereal and yogurt, but on Saturdays, because I run long, I get to have a muffin. My favorite flavor is coconut chocolate chip, but chocolate does the trick as well. (In full disclosure, because of my long run, I also have an egg sandwich on Sunday morning, but that’s another story.) I also have a bigger cup of tea to help me rehydrate. This mentality of small splurges continues throughout the day, generally culminating in a more exotic dinner than I have on other nights (Indian? Pizza?). It’s fun to have one day of the week to be more flexible with my diet, an opportunity I take based on the extra calories burned on the long run. Not only is it fun, but because I have one day set for small splurges, I am able to be in greater control of my food choices on other days of the week.

The Saturday long run enables me to take a more relaxed approach to Sundays, at least in terms of the traditional “day of rest.” I’m never terribly concerned about the pace of my run on Sunday, given the long run the day before, and can feel relaxed about the day knowing that the long run has already passed. I also have that egg sandwich for breakfast most Sundays, as my final refueling nod to the long run.

As for the running on the long run itself, well, I’m always pleasantly surprised by how easily those miles melt by. Perhaps the satisfaction of knowing how well the long run organizes and enables the rest of my life helps with my mental fortitude on the run. All I know, though, is that the more I run long, the better runner (and marathoner) I become - and the fitter I stay. I can’t ask for more, really. It wouldn’t be possible without the weekly long run. 

There's Nothing Like Home Cooked Gnocchi Before a Big Race and How To Avoid a Southwestern Veggie Burger Disaster

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #7: "Cook at Home More Often.”

Home cooked meals do many things for runners: they save money, they can cut down on unwanted fats, they can be more natural, etc. I’m going to take a different approach though and stress the importance of the consistency of your meals before important runs. That is something that home cooked meals supply readily.

I have long believed in eating before a race what you are used to in training. That is why for years, I have tried to eat gnocchi in marinara sauce, maybe with some vegetables, before every marathon (or half marathon) that I have run. In the past, I ate few home cooked meals so this involved ordering the same dish from the same restaurant before every long run and every race. This worked quite well for me, but it also can become an expensive habit and you never can be as sure of the consistency of a restaurant’s preparation as your own. A restaurant might add something to a sauce sometimes and not others or cook the food differently, but you always know what you are preparing for yourself.

This is a bit of a tangent, but I still remember the day when the place I used to order veggie burgers from suddenly changed their patty into a spicy southwestern bean based veggie patty. That was a disaster and I have never ordered one since. Had that been my pre-race dinner and the change suddenly took place on the eve of my big race I would have been in quite the bind.

The southwestern veggie burger disaster aside, we now make are pre-race gnocchi meals at home and our pocketbook, stomachs, and assuredness of our pre-race meals are all the better for it. I will also note that presumably unrelatedly that the restaurant where we used to get our pre-race gnocchi dinner from has now closed after many years. Another reason to start cooking your own pre-race meal!

Of course when travelling to a race it is much harder to home cook your pre-race dinner yourself, so you might have to get creative in where you stay or what you eat or at the very least try to find somewhere that prepares its food very simply and close to the way that you like it. One tip we have is that if you are going to another city for a race and have to eat or order out, then try to get to the race city a couple of days early and try out your pre-race meal two or three nights before your race as well as the night before.


  

Home-Cooked Meals are Good for Runners!

At the end of last year, Runner's World ran a story to highlight the "12 Habits of Highly Motivated Runners." We figured that over the next month or so that we would both offer our perspectives on each of these tips and what they mean (or don't mean) to us. We don't claim to be experts, but we hit the roads rain or shine for about 75+ miles almost every week of the year so we figure we must have some motivation or dedication at least.

Here's my take on habit #7: "Cook at Home More Often.”

As I see it, cooking at home has many benefits: meals you prepare are healthier; you can more easily control portion size; you can control against foods that your digestive system does not find agreeable; you know how fresh your dinner is; and cooking at home is less expensive.

Meals prepared at home tend to be healthier because you control how much fat and sugar go into your cooking. According to recent studies, those who cook at home the majority of the time consume, on average, 200 fewer calories daily than those who eat out regularly (http://www.today.com/news/home-cooks-eat-better-fewer-calories-when-they-eat-out-1D80293351, http://www.amny.com/eat-and-drink/restaurant-food-not-much-healthier-than-fast-food-1.10650177). Restaurants tend to use a liberal hand with butter, olive oil, cheese, and other fat sources. You never know just what goes into the preparation of the dishes you order at a restaurant. You know exactly what goes into the food you prepare yourself. Not only can you choose to use less fat (or sugar or sodium), but you can also choose to use healthier fats (or sugars or sodium sources) than a restaurant would. I, for example, cook exclusively with olive oil (not butter), and prefer harder, less fatty cheese like Parmesan (over mozzarella or brie). These are not choices that a restaurant menu easily affords me.

When you get food from a restaurant, you have no control over how much food arrives on your plate. When you make your own meals, you can control exactly how much food is on your plate. What is more, when you have to purchase all of the ingredients and spend the time cooking your meal, you tend to be more mindful of just how much you are putting on your plate. How much food is on your plate tends to have a direct correlation to how much you eat. The bigger your plate size, and the more food on your plate, the more you will eat. Cooking at home helps control overeating.

A particular benefit of home cooking for runners is the ability to avoid foods that may have an adverse affect on their digestive systems. When I eat out before a long run or a race, I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place: do I order the heavy pesto dish that will give me unwanted calories or the healthier red sauce that will burn its way through my stomach? Why do all these pasta dishes have so much cheese (and, in my case, so much meat), when too much cheese makes me sluggish on the next morning’s run? When I cook at home, I can use the amount of cheese or other ingredients that my system can tolerate, and can avoid the triggers that turn pleasant morning runs into sluggish treks or pain-filled battles.

I’m including the freshness consideration here because I like the satisfaction of knowing that the food I prepare is made with fresh ingredients (or, at least as fresh as the local grocery store can provide). When you get food from restaurants, all of that butter or cheese (or spices) could be hiding some ingredients that are past their prime. Working with fresh vegetables also gives me a distinct satisfaction in terms of connecting me to the natural world - a satisfaction not unlike that gained from running outside in parks and other natural areas.

Finally, as to the cost consideration, many studies show that eating at home is cheaper than eating out. Raw ingredients are just less expensive than assembled meals, not least because you don’t have to pay yourself to make the meals. Your wallet will thank you - and think of how many more race fees you can pay, or running shoes you can buy, with all those saved dollars.


Many people, even those agreeing with my arguments, would respond by saying that they do not have the time to cook for themselves. I have trouble with this argument. First of all, you have time for what you make time for. If you make time for making your own food, you will be able to make your own food. I tend to specialize in “30 minute meals.” I save the 45-minute to an hour preparations for special occasions. It’s simply not feasible in my day to spend more than 30 minutes cooking, but I am still able to generate a good variety of meal options in that time frame. I also happen to believe that 30-minute meals can be healthier, since they tend to call upon fewer ingredients and simpler preparations. If 30 minutes is too much to ask of your day, be creative: prep ingredients ahead of time, or buy pre-prepped ingredients. A few start-ups these days are even allegedly delivering all of the ingredients for individual meals right to your doorstep (Blue Apron, Plated, HelloFresh, to name a few). Collect quick-prep recipes and save the longer time investments for weekends or holidays. Keep your meals simple, and cooking will take less time. The benefits of eating at home are worth it.