It’s time for the second installment of running life hacks (check the first installment from Chicory)! We (women runners) are a busy group, and the saltines are no exception. We have kids and full-time jobs, full-time jobs and second jobs, and busy lives. We can use all of the help we can get so we can still fit running in – somewhere, somehow. Which is why these life hacks can feel like a savior. Every minute saved is one more in the bank for my run.
Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021 to raise money for Girls on the Run. Next challenge: Collegiate Trail Loop FKT. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.
You may be wondering, “Why is Cilantro writing the letter from the editor?” Well, I’m excited to announce that I’ve come on board as Salty Running’s Editor-in-Chief, a role in which I am committed to continuing to do what we do best: publishing relevant, timely, and authentic content for women runners.
To kick off March, join us in welcoming four new Saltines: BayLeaf, Hummus, and soon to debut Marigold and Barberry! From new mom to professor, their experience, knowledge, and strength is inspiring, and we’re excited for them to share their perspectives with us. We are always looking for women passionate about running and life to join our team! You can learn more and apply here.
This month, in the spirit of March Madness, look for competition-focused pieces, helping you get ready physically, mentally, and emotionally for spring racing season. Sesame will help us to think about how to approach racing at the 10k, 5k, and 1-mile distance. Bay Leaf is going to help those of us preparing to jump up to a new racing distance to think about how to make that jump.
On the Saltine front,
- Chicory has her spring marathon coming up
- Bergamot is training for a 10k
- Jinger is changing her whole approach to running (post to come soon!)
- Oregano is Nordic skiing in Oregon.
- Caraway has the plague (okay not really, but she has been really sick)
- Dill just finished her 32nd of her 50 marathons in 50 states and just began training for her 33rd
- Parsley and Angelica are recovering from recent marathon efforts
- Sesame just finished 9th at her most recent 10k
- Barley is crushing workouts left and right
- Turmeric is still adjusting to month 8 as a new parent
- Mango is adjusting to (un)training as she runs through her second pregnancy
- Salty is considering a return to the marathon this spring
- I’m finally feeling the urge to run again (and perhaps even shop ultrasignup for my next race)!
March Madness is back this year, but a little different than before. We’re moving the competition to Twitter (@SaltyRunning) for some mini-brackets with giveaways. Make sure to follow us on Twitter – we will announce more throughout the month, starting on our regular Twitter chat, #SaltyChat, on Monday, March 19 at 7 pm EST.
As I lead the editorial charge, Salty and Cinnamon will be focusing on bringing new features to readers in the coming months, including another round of Running Warehouse shoe reviews. Additionally, we heard you, and we are in the early development stages of a Salty Running podcast. We are also continuing to look for great running brands with whom we can partner and are excited about the possibilities this can create for our fans!
What would you like to see at Salty Running? What content would you like us to cover this month?
For at least 5 years now, probably closer to 8 years, my green smoothies have been a source of entertainment for my family (and the topic for a little good-natured ribbing). With exception of when I’ve lived in Hungary without a blender, I’ve had a green smoothie every day. With a few minor adjustments, the recipe I’m sharing today is basically the same smoothie I first tried so many years ago. That alone should be prove that this is a delicious recipe. Even my family, notably wary of drinkable greens, admit that this is, indeed, pretty delicious.
Women runners are a fantastically motivated bunch. We run in addition to working, mothering, wife-ing, styling, schooling, and more. Our lives outside of running are more than a full-time job, and yet we keep lacing up and putting in the miles day after day. Week after week. Year after year. And, for most of us (or most of what we read about), that daily running and #extrasalt routine is dedicated towards a specific race or a specific race goal. Our training plans are geared towards a specific goal, which is the way they should be, according to motivation research.
But what if training for a race or a running goal isn’t what you want to be doing right now (or what you can’t be doing right now)? How do you create a running training plan to train for life and maintain your fitness so that when and if you do decide it’s time to race again, you are ready to start?
Look. I get it. You’re tough. You run uphill both ways at 4 a.m. in the freezing rain. You have to get outside, no matter how many layers it takes to avoid losing a limb to frostbite. You just can’t do the treadmill.
That’s fine. You do you. Because I f’in love the treadmill.
For a moment, I feel like a fraud in my “Runner” sweatshirt as I set off on my walk around my adopted home of Budapest for perhaps the last time before heading back to the U.S. for the next six months. I have intentionally put on my walking shoes that I can’t run in (unless it is to catch the tram). I have no interest in running today. I haven’t for about a week. But I don’t want the guilt of being outside, in running-ish clothing, to push me to run when my mind and body are telling me to take a break.
I did want to run just a week ago, running up a mountain in Obuda on a whim, running around Budapest like a kid in a candy store. And, perhaps, I will feel the need to run again when I am back in the States, in the middle of another amazing, but stressful semester. I just don’t want to run now, even after I’ve finally found the “perfect” training plan.
Two years ago, this lack of motivation to run would have sent me into an emotional tailspin. “I don’t even want to run!” “What does this mean about my identity as a runner?!” “Who am I even?” And, worse, those echoes of my demons: “Oh no! If I don’t run, I’ll gain #alltheweight!” “How do I eat when I’m not running?!”
This is the real story, told in running miles, of how I ran mindfully, largely without a plan, and arrived back in the United States ready to run again.
Arrive in Budapest: 12/12/2018
Leave Budapest: 1/9/2018
Monday: Leaving for Budapest today, did 45 minutes on the elliptical because I didn’t feel like running. Monday’s are traditionally my non-running days, and I knew I had a long day ahead of me.
Tuesday: Oh hey, it’s Tuesday! After arriving in Budapest and getting a bit unpacked, I headed out for a short run around Budapest to shake out my legs. It feels amazing to run in Budapest which, more than anywhere else, feels like home. 3 miles. Yoga in the evening.
Wednesday: I’ve got to hurry to fit in a run before I head to language class. 3 quick miles before the sun is up. Yoga in the afternoon.
Thursday: Finally I’m adjusting to CET. Woke up with enough time for a 43 minute run! 4.5 miles. Yoga in the afternoon.
Friday: No class today, so Budapest is my oyster. I’m tired though, and Friday is my other non-running day, so I just do a quick 3 mile run before settling in to catch up on work. Yoga again. If, in future weeks, I forget to mention yoga, just assumed I spent some time on the mat. My December goal was to find a personal yoga practice, so I did at least 15 minutes of yoga every day I was in BP.
Saturday: Ready to run, I head out to explore my favorite places to run, and fit in 8.5 miles (one long mile up a mini-mountain). Woo, I love this place.
Sunday: 9 miles around BP. I’m finding it so much easier and enjoyable to run here. The end of the semester plus a strep/pneumonia combo was no joke, so it’s wonderful to feel like running again.
Total: 32 miles
Monday: 3 recovery miles. Tired today, probably because I spent a lot of time on my feet this weekend. Running is only part of the story when I’m in Europe. Because I walk everywhere, I add at least 6 extra miles on walking every day I’m here. This will come into play later.
Tuesday: 2 miles, but then 7 miles walking.
Wednesday: 7 miles. Running is fun!
Thursday: Another day with a lot of running and walking. 9 mile run, 5 miles walked.
Friday: Rest day, “just” 9 miles of walking.
Saturday: Beautiful day for a run. I set out without any intention, and ended up running to the highest point in OBuda, which was almost 3 miles running straight up. 12 miles total.
Sunday: Long day yesterday with a lot of hills, so I took it easy today, and just did 3 miles.
Total: 35 running miles. Walking miles: too many to count.
Monday: Merry Christmas. I’m alone in a foreign country, so naturally I go for a run. 14 miles in the beautiful BP morning.
Tuesday: 7 miles in the morning.
Wednesday: It’s sightseeing time! I’m heading to Slovakia, because I can! 5 miles before I catch the train.
Thursday: Time for a break. No running, just sightseeing around BP and a lot of walking (10 miles total).
Friday: 5.5 quick miles before another day of sightseeing. 4.5 miles of walking.
Saturday: All the time on my feet is adding up. No running, but 9 miles of walking (sightseeing again).
Sunday: It’s NYE! I had food poisoning last night though, so I’m not feeling amaze. 3 easy miles.
Total: 34.5 miles ran. More than a lot of miles walked.
Monday: Happy New Year! I’m still not at 100% since the food poisoning episode (I completely missed NYE celebrations and was asleep by 10 pm). 3 easy miles (but 5 miles walked).
Tuesday: I’m feeling better, so I fit in 4.5 miles before language lessons! 5 more miles walked.
Wednesday: Time for a break – the time on my feet is starting to add up. I don’t feel like running, so I don’t! Still managed to walk 9 miles today.
Thursday: I feel like running, but not a lot. Just 3 miles before I head to class, 6 miles walked.
Friday: I still don’t feel like running, and I’m accepting that this is my body telling me that I’ve gone at it pretty hard for Time for another rest day! A light day overall, just 7 miles total walked.
Saturday: I’m still feeling worn down, so no running again today. Somehow, I still walk 9 miles.
Sunday: Reading for some running, but not a lot. 3 miles, and only 4.5 miles of walking! This has become a “light” day for me.
Total: 13.5 miles, many many more walked.
Monday: Last day in Budapest. I am determined to see everything, but not while running. 6 miles walked.
Tuesday: Airplane day. Nothing except for all of the walking involved in traveling, which adds up to 6 miles.
Wednesday: I’m back in Alabama. And, somehow, I woke up ready to train again. 5 miles, 45 minutes. I must still be pretty tired from the flight, and I tripped on our not-so-good sidewalks towards the end of the run and scraped up my hand and knee. No worries, though, I feel like running again. It’s like magic. Taught yoga in the morning before getting to work.
Thursday: Another day where I feel like running! I tentatively start my Comrade’s training plan in week two, since week one wasn’t too intense. 6 miles, 3 at tempo pace.
Friday: I don’t feel like messing up my hair, so I run inside. 4.5 miles easy.
Saturday: Woke up with a sore throat and runny nose, but fit in 4.5 miles before teaching yoga.
Sunday: Oh hey, remember that sore throat and runny nose. It’s the flu! Couldn’t leave my bed today (or, spoiler alert) the next day.
Total: 20 miles
The irony of it all is that just as I was wanting to run again, boom, the flu tells me who’s boss. And I’m going to listen.
While 2017 was a year of making decisions and creating 1-, 5-, and 10-year plans, 2018 is the year when I implement them! As I mentioned in our 2018 goals post, my goal this year is to run mindfully — which means, for me, running and resting in a balance that is appropriate for my body and life demands. My training for 2016 and 2017 may have looked inconsistent to an outside observer — with a new job each year, moving, and the added stress that goes along with both, I was able to train hard only a portion of each year. Despite inconsistency, however, my race results from the past two years have been the best of my running career: two first place finishes, one third place, and one finish in the top five. While placement is not my most important running goal, in ultramarathons it can be a more appropriate indicator of progress than time, as a 50-mile race on one course can be very different than a 50-mile race on another.
As I am learning how to balance life with training, I hired a coach for the second half of 2017, hoping that by designating a professional to make training decisions for me, it would free me up mentally to focus on other things, like growing Salty Running, my professional career, and my personal life. Unfortunately, having a coach didn’t work out like that for me (which could, of course, be due to a mismatch between me and my coach). What I learned is that I’m not ready for someone else to make my training decisions until I understand and, more importantly, listen to what my body is saying. Am I tired? Hungry? Lacking motivation? Should I run today? These are things I need to figure out.
And I’m going to have to do it on my own.
Happy New Year from Salty Running! We are so excited for another great year of running, community and empowerment. While not all of us are the resolution types, we have a big year planned for Salty Running and our Salties have some amazing running and racing goals they will be chasing down. To start the year with intention, we’re sharing our running goals for 2018.
It’s not every day that you hear about a runner eating quinoa.
Although it’s not the hot pseudo-grain that it was a few years ago, it’s still a pretty popular not-grain (because it’s actually a seed! Who knew?) in part because it is high in protein, while still delivering the carbs runners need. And, of course, quinoa is delicious. For this installation in our Salty Running in the Kitchen series, I’ve adapted a few quinoa recipes to create a quinoa salad that is quick to make and keeps well in the fridge for up to a week. It keeps well because there isn’t a dressing — but you won’t miss it, as long as you have a favorite hot sauce and avocado handy!
Cilantro’s Quinoa Salad
(4 main dish servings, 8 side dish servings)
1 c quinoa (cook as directed, remembering to rinse the quinoa prior to cooking)
2 c black beans, rinsed
1 red pepper, diced
1/4 c red onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c fresh cilantro, minced (dry won’t do in this recipe. It’s gotta be fresh!)
1 cucumber (scoop the flesh out and dice)
1 avocado, cubed
1 T hot sauce of choice (I choose Frank’s Red Hot)
- Put all ingredients except the avocado and hot sauce in a bowl.
- If you are eating the salad now, add the avocado and hot sauce just before serving, and stir. The avocado and hot sauce, mixed together, are a smooth dream that far exceed any dressing you could make.
- If you are eating a portion, measure out how much you’d like to eat, and top with 1/4 avocado, diced, and hot sauce to taste. Refrigerate the rest. Without dressing, it’ll keep in your fridge up to a week.
I make this every weekend and portion it into 2-cup servings for weekday servings. I just bring an avocado to work on Monday, and cut out my portion every day. In a pinch, you can substitute olive oil for avocado, and I like it almost as well. I do like my food very spicy, but if you are not a fan, substitute 1 T apple cider vinegar + 1 t salt for your dressing in lieu of the hot sauce.
Dear City Council,
It’s past time to make our city a safe place to run.
Perhaps this is going to seem like it only applies to runners.
But hear me out.
I couldn’t wait to move here. I’d looked at average temperature for January, and it looked like I could run without risk of frostbite almost all season long. I dreamed of winter running, imagining how wonderful it would feel to be in shorts whilst the rest of the world retreated to the treadmill.
I was willing to put up with heat and humidity to have year-round running temps. I was excited to be moving to a small town where surely — surely — I could run without risk of bodily harm. Even though sidewalks aren’t common in the small-town south, I erroneously assumed that there would be roads here with a shoulder deep enough to run or roads less traveled where I could run without playing frogger.
I was wrong.
There is exactly one bike lane in town, approximately a mile long, where I can safely run from my downtown home. I have to run on the bike lane and not the sidewalk when I run back and forth on this stretch, because the sidewalk is so damaged (and completely blocked off in two areas) that I can’t physically access the sidewalk in places.
The rest of the town, with the exception of a very small downtown area, is either completely lacking sidewalks or the sidewalks start and end at will. It’s almost like sidewalks have been deposited here by a SimCity novice, placed just to get the residential zoning to grow. This lack of sidewalk might be okay if there were shoulders instead that were wide enough to run on. But alas, that is also not the case. Often the road’s edge ends so abruptly that the white line marking the edge of the road is eroding into the gulley. I don’t mind running on technical terrain, but even I can’t navigate that morass.
For fun, I did a little experiment to see exactly how much of the town was runnable. I embarked on this adventure one early morning run, as I resolved to only run on sidewalks and turn around when they ended. In 75 minutes, I had to make no less than 13 full stops to turn around. I didn’t count where the sidewalk was so damaged it should really be called scree. I ran through the places where bushes and trees had almost completely obstructed the sidewalk.
The price of this folly was a branch that slapped into my face so violently, it bled.
Adding to the joys of running here, I’ve yet to go on a run where I don’t get honked at, perhaps because I’ve chosen to run in a sports bra (on warmer mornings). Or perhaps because I’m dancing along a minuscule shoulder. Or perhaps this is just a friendly southern hello? All of the above?
Even better, it’s more often accompanied by catcalls and shouts. Every run is truly a delight.
So it’s not runnable. So what?
Well, if it isn’t runnable, it’s also not walkable. And definitely not bike-able. Recent research suggests that people feel more connected to their towns if they can walk from place to place. For a town trying revitalize the downtown, I think we want to encourage people to travel from place to place on foot, not dissuade them. Plus, moving at least 20 minutes a day is proven to improve mental, emotional, and physical health. Don’t we want this for all residents, not just runners and cyclists?
I hope we do.
To help, I have a few suggestions:
- First, build more sidewalks. It seems like a fairly simple solution, but then again, I’ve already noted I think city planning is like playing SimCity, so I’m no expert here.
- Second, create some marketing about how to respond to runners for residents. I think a quick reminder that it’s not okay to honk or shout at runners is a nice start. Suggesting that drivers get out of the way of runners would be a super bonus. In a family-centeric town, perhaps you might even ask residents to consider how they’d like their daughters, sisters, mothers, or other women they care about to be treated when they were running and behave accordingly.
- Third, truly delightful would be adding some more running and biking trails. I’ll even help. I’ll plan them, reach out for sponsors, find funding, sit in city planning meetings, anything.
And I just want to love our town and make it better.
P.S. You can reach me almost every morning along the bike lane. Depending on the day, I might be there for hours.
Has your community taken steps to be more pedestrian-friendly? Have you chosen where you lived based on its runnability?
Early in 2016, I moved to Hungary to escape another North Dakota winter, finish my dissertation, and, honestly, because after just a short trip a little over a month before, Budapest felt like home. I was in the final and hardest stage of my Ph.D., the dissertation. I had a faculty job that I’d begin in May. Literally the only thing I had to do over the next five months was finish and defend my dissertation.
In theory, it sounded easy. In practice, it felt impossible.
As I lived in a completely new and foreign place and was completing my dissertation, a process that I had never done before and should never do again, the only consistent thing I had in life was running. And so, every morning before I headed to Mamut (a Hungarian mall) Starbucks, I ran.
I ran without a training plan and simply according to how I felt that day. Some days I ran long, some days I ran and walked as I toured the city, and somedays I ran around a tiny little track a block from my flat. As I ran, I listed to Travis Macy and John Hanc’s The Ultra Mindset. It was, at that time, exactly what I needed to read. It helped me to stay motivated to finish my dissertation, to continue to run even when life got complicated, and is literally at my bedside (and Kindle and Audible) whenever I need a mental boost.
The author, Travis Macy, pulled from his extensive career and education to write The Ultra Mindset. To call Travis Macy an “accomplished” endurance athlete might be the understatement of the year. He set a record for Leadman, an epic endurance event consisting of a trail running marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race, Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, 10k road run, and Leadville 100 Run, all above 10,200′ in the Rocky Mountains. He has completed over 120 ultra endurance events.
Along with his endurance racing skills, Macy also is a coach, speaker, and owns an education consulting firm with his wife. With a master’s degree in education, his background is similar to mine. He incorporates his knowledge as a former high school teacher, experience as an education consultant, and knowledge of motivation research into the Ultra Mindset to create a cohesive text that provides guidance and motivation to complete any major endeavor, not just endurance ones.
The Ultra Mindset is organized into eight mindsets ranging from “It’s All Good Mental Training” to “Be a Wannabe” (which I discussed in this training with a growth mindset) to “Think about your thinking: what and why.” The Ultra Mindset is organized into chapters that discuss each mindset, beginning with the research that supports each mindset, examples of how it can be applied in practice both for endurance sports and life, and personal examples of its application. Each chapter provides useful strategies and exercises to put the mindsets into practice — and the print book has space in the text to complete the exercises, which is part of the reason that I own the book in each of its forms.
While each chapter seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear as I wrote my dissertation, the one that has become my mantra is Mindset 1: It’s All Good Mental Training. Travis writes:
“Viewing your challenges as positive, essential elements of building a winning mindset makes all the difference in the world. When the going gets tough, tell yourself, ‘This is good mental training.’ Which it is.”
As I ran each morning, it helped me to reframe my dissertation from impossible to “good mental training.” Indeed, a dissertation is good mental training for my future life as a researcher. But if I step back, my 100-mile finish at Burning River in 2015 was good mental training for finishing my dissertation. And finishing my dissertation was good mental training for my stage race earlier this year. As with many cognitive strategies to improve learning and retention, training for persistence pays off in every area of our life. To this day, whenever things get hard, I tell myself it’s good mental training for my next race, my next research project, for whenever life gets hard.
In subsequent chapters, the authors discuss how and when to focus, when extrinsic motivation might be helpful, how to make the space to accomplish your goals, and permission to quit when a dream is no longer your dream. From start to finish, each time I read it, it helps me to stay motivated and persist, regardless of what race I’m training for or what is happening in my life. It’s the one book I recommend first when people ask me what my favorite book about running is (and I’ve read a lot). For whatever runner you are or want to be, I recommend this book.
And, for one lucky person, you can win this book and a Team Macy Endurance Coaching cap. Check out our Holiday Book Guide for details.
It’s good mental training helped me through my races this year and to finish out my first semester as a new professor. What in your life has been “good mental training” for your next running or life challenge?
We’ve decided it is high time time for the Salties to put our spice pseudo-names to work in the kitchen! This holiday season (and beyond) we are sharing our favorite recipes that take advantage of our favorite kitchen spice. We hope these recipes will help you get to know each of us a little better, while also sharing “what runners eat” without all of the hashtags.
These recipes are not designed to fit into any special diet, they are not prescriptive for fast running, nor are they guaranteed to change your life in any way. Except in the way that good food brings us together, fuels #allthemiles as well as our awesome lives, and just might be so delicious that you go back for seconds. Because at the end of the day, we are more than how many calories we ate, the size of our running shorts, and the perceived “cleanliness” of our diet. We run. We eat. We live.
To kick this off, we are going to start with a recipe that incorporates many of our spice names, and is a seasonal favorite
Salty Running Paprika Vegetarian Chili (serves 4)
As I prepared to be a pace group leader for the first time at the final running of the Soldier Marathon, I started thinking about the ways this pacing adventure could go really really wrong. And not really really wrong just for me, but for the people trusting me to help them finish in 4:10 (join me, it’ll be fun!).
Pacing is a responsibility I take seriously. And I should. If you choose to run with a pace group, you are trusting that individual to keep you on track for your goal finish time. Nothing will panic someone who has prepared at least four months for this one-day, race day test more than hearing something from the pacer that indicates they might not meet that goal.
To prepare, I asked the Salties for a little advice about what they never wanted to hear from their pacer, regardless of what pace group they were running with. Here are the top things we don’t want to hear from our pacers:
- “Oops, I forgot to start my watch! Guess we’ll just have to go by feel.” Sounds like your pacer has no idea if you’re on pace for your finish time or not. You’ll just have to hope that they have a fantastic internal sense of time because they will have no other way to gauge if you are on track to meet your goal. See also: “uh oh, the GPS is out again” and “I forgot my watch! Can I borrow yours?”
- “I’m not feeling so hot, y’all. Would you mind holding the pacing sign for me?” While bad races happen, we just hope they won’t happen to the person we are trusting with our hopes and dreams. To our pacer: Please don’t get sick, have a bad race, eat spicy food the night before the race, etc.
- “To make sure we hit your finish goal, we’re going to start out fast and go hard for the first 13 miles!” Just no. This is bad technique, in my humble opinion, for anyone racing that is not elite, and definitely not what you want to hear from your pacer. We should be aiming for consistent mile splits throughout, and definitely don’t want to burn out our runners at the beginning of the race.
- “Do you think we should have turned left back there?” Ah, the panic of wondering if you are still on course. There has been many times when I’ve wondered if I’m on course during a race, but the course is definitely something that your pacer should have down pat. Nothing is scarier than wondering if your leader knows where she is leading you.
- “You aren’t looking so hot. Should I call the medical tent?” As a pacer, I’ve been trained about when I should step away from pacing to help a runner in medical distress. This is my job, but it is still not something that you want to hear from me!
- “I’m aiming for a PR today!” Ha. We hope our pacer is running a pace that they feel very confident they can maintain for 26.2 miles. Aiming for a PR either indicates they do not or that they have used their pacer entry as a free way to enter an expensive race. Either way, I’d reconsider your pacer selection.
- What pacer? Although perhaps better than showing up and driving you into the ground, the bare minimum expectation is that your pacer actually shows up race morning.
What can you add to this list? Have you had a terrible pacing experience? What did they say that indicated it might not go as planned?
The entire week preceding the 5k road race I was nervous. More nervous, by far, than I had been for my first stage race that was 12 times longer and on pretty technical trails.
This 5k wasn’t my goal race. It actually wasn’t even really a race, but just a time trial added by my coach the previous weekend when we realized that I needed a new gauge for pace in the the heat and humidity that characterize my new life since moving south. I was nervous to find out exactly how much fitness I’d lost since my last race. I was nervous because I knew that this race was going to hurt. And hurt bad.
I’d run two 5ks in my life: my first as a new runner where I struggled to finish with 10:00 miles, and my second three summers ago that I’d won. In both cases, they hurt real bad for the entire time and I wanted to vomit by mile 2. Did I mention that they hurt real bad? What I knew about 5ks was limited to pain and extreme discomfort. I anticipate that both of those things will happen in an ultra distance race, but rarely for the entire race. As a result, my anticipatory stress about this time trial 5k far exceeded reason.
Race morning, I did my warm-up, strides and drills, and headed to the start line. As expected, the weather was hot and humid, with humidity at 100% and the temperature in the 80s. This was a small race, but even so, I felt the butterflies, anticipating the pain that was coming (and also, I now wanted to win, despite lacking any indication that I was in shape to win anything). The gun went off, and we started fast. The first mile felt great (despite a poorly-marked course where I made a few wrong turns and had to stop and turn around). And then the pain started. Once the pain started, my motivation to win started to diminish. It just hurt so bad. But I wanted to win and I wanted to prove that I hadn’t lost all fitness over the past year. I wanted that more than it hurt, so I persisted.
Around mile 2, the pain started to exceed my motivation to win and run fast, and by mile 2.5, I felt myself start to slow down. I finished, and I was first woman, fifth overall. I achieved my goals, and it hurt just as bad as I’d anticipated.
It wasn’t until I was driving home that I realized that there is a benefit to racing 5ks beyond the race itself. One of the things I’ve been vocal about here and in real life is how important it was for me to learn how to hurt to race well at the ultramarathon distance. I’m still fairly new to actually racing ultramarathons, despite having run them since 2012, and it wasn’t until I started actively focused on training my abilities to persist through painful situations without backing down that I broke through my running barrier and started meeting and exceeding my racing goals.
While controversial, the first step for me was adding functional training in the form of Crossfit-style functional training, where workouts were short but wicked painful. That taught me to endure through the pain and also had a measurable impact not on my fastest pace, but my ability to maintain that pace while it hurt. Similarly, the 5k taught me to push through pain. More beneficial, perhaps, the 5k taught me how to persist through pain at a tough effort in a way that was running-specific.
As I reflected more on the process, I realized that there were additional benefits to adding 5ks to an ultra marathon training plan. While I (really, my coach) follow an 80/20 approach to training, the bulk of my runs are long and easy paced. Adding a 5k puts in speed training that is relevant to the 20% part of my training plan. Since 5k races are run at max effort because I’m competitive like that, I’m actually running in Zone 4-5, which is where I want to be for the 20% hard effort part of my training. It’s been found that runners often run their easy runs too fast and take hard runs too easy, so the 5k eliminates that possibility for me. Additionally, with a warm-up and cool-down, it’s still at least a 6-mile day, so it doesn’t feel like a lost training day (if you are worried about that sort of thing).
Finally, it’s good practice to get into the habit of preparing for race morning without the labor of four or more hours on my feet that follow if I do this on long run day. Racing Saturday morning (I do my longest long runs on Sunday) allowed me to test race-morning nutrition and my warm-up protocol. The race is short enough that despite the high intensity, I recovered well enough to do my easy-paced long run the following day. We know that we should never try anything new on race day, but we can try something new for a 5k that we are running to practice. It becomes a trial effort for more than just pace.
While I’m not about to race a 5k every weekend (although I might do the local 5k series here in the spring), I can see clear benefits in adding 5ks to the schedule. They help me learn how to push through running pain and become my speed tempo session for the week. They are also usually pretty cheap to enter and easy to find — there were five in a 50-mile radius of me this weekend.
It’s also a great way to connect with the local community and see a wide array of running abilities. The atmosphere at these local 5ks is pretty low pressure, which is good if you are like me and put all that pressure on yourself.
So sure, ultra runners might scoff at the 5k in terms of distance. But I think the benefits of racing 5ks are worth a second look, even for ultramarathoners.
Disclaimer: I am not advocating that you should take up Crossfit. In fact, I don’t do it much any more, although I do incorporate Crossfit-similar workouts into my twice-weekly strength sessions. It did not, however, ruin me as a runner or lead to injuries. It just, quite simply, isn’t what I need to be doing to be competitive, although it was great to maintain fitness during my off year.
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