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Posts Tagged ‘Motivation’

Now that the afterglow of completing my fifth half-marathon has worn off and feeling has been restored in my lower extremities, I thought I would share some observations and recommendations for those of you contemplating taking on a long-distance race. These issues seem to crop up in every race I’ve run, from the take-it-easy Turkey Trot 5K all the way up to the monster marathons.

And if you’re an *amateur like me, you don’t hang with the diehards in your local road runners club so you might never think or hear about some of these things until you’re (%*&%$#) in the middle of your first race. So after more than a decade of running behind other people in these races, here are some tips you might find helpful:

(*Disclaimer: Emphasis on amateur. I am probably omitting something critical. Experienced runners, do not laugh – you had to learn all this at one point, too!)

1.) TRAIN: This goes without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway. I cannot tell you how many people sign up for these races (usually children and macho businessmen who have something to prove) and mistakenly believe they don’t need to practice beforehand. There are those who don’t train and take off like jackrabbits when the pistol goes off, only to wind up on the side of the road a mile or three ahead, rubbing their cramped calves. Then there are those who think they’ve trained, but misjudge the effects of distance and time on one’s body. Get a book, research online, find a training/pacing guide and follow it for the length of race you plan to run. And don’t wait until the week before to go your longest distance – that’s the week you should be resting and/or doing short maintenance runs and mentally revving up. Even though you may be doing it for fun, it’s only fun if your body and mind are prepared.

2.) PLAN LOGISTICS AHEAD OF TIME: Something has failed me in every race, usually something very small and annoying with long-lasting negative effects. Kind of like trying to put  up with a pebble in your shoe that you don’t want to stop to remove.

*What do you need to carry? How will you carry it? Keep it simple. Just the necessities, with identifying and emergency information scrawled on the back of your race bib, at the very least. I can’t tell you how many cell phones I stooped to bend over in last week’s race, because the owners were oblivious to the phones bouncing out of pockets, falling off of clips, etc. I think the smartest arrangement that caught my eye (and just as quickly averted my eye) was a gal I first thought had undergone surgery for breast cancer. No, it was her phone tucked into her bra. Me? I like a tiny fanny pack on long races, enough to fit my phone, ID in case I keel over, my emergency inhaler (yes, running increases lung capacity, I’ve found) and my car key (singular – less is more). On short races (5 or 10Ks) I just have my iPod and keys. Period. And don’t forget the sunglasses.

(And another thang: I’m old enough that on my first long race, I packed a bigger fanny pack with my Sony Walkman and (yesindeedybob) cassette tapes, like prehistoric Madonna and Michael Jackson. That was back in the days of bag phones, kiddos, so there was no phone to carry, no GPS, no nuttin’. Whoa. Oh, and I threw in my unreliable and inaccurate pedometer. Apps in those days were handheld and manual.)

*iPod or other musical device, if you are in need of musical motivation, like most race participants…download good, positive music that you know will carry you through. I went through my playlist the day before the race, but during the race I discovered one song I should have deleted: “The Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads had an upbeat enough tempo, but the lyrics made me slow my pace a little – not the most motivational song. And by gosh, make sure whatever electronic device you carry is charged.

*Clip your nails. Toenails, that is. Admittedly disgusting topic but lemme tell ya, one nail that’s ever so slightly not completely trimmed is going to jam into your shoe with each step of the race. Try this on a 26.2, and you’ll wind up with a black toe and months of black nail. And a much slower finish time. See? I told ya these aren’t things you’d normally hear about. Keep ’em short. And ladies, thank the Lord for nail polish.

So what failed me this race? My last fanny pack broke and I waited until a quarter till closing to remember that I needed to see if the new cycle/triathlon shop in town carried any. They did, but it had a water bottle holder I didn’t need (there are plenty of drink stations along the route), making it larger than I bargained for. So I took the bottle out and used the round space to roll up my Ace bandage in case I needed it for my sometimes-annoying knee, and stored my sunglasses inside of the bandage so they wouldn’t fly out when I didn’t need them. The fanny pack worked great until I noticed after the race that the damned strap left a black smudge around my light-pink tank top. Nice.

3.) PLAN ON SOME SPONTANEITY: Anything unforeseen can lend itself to an adrenaline rush. Rain and other elements can be a good thing (pretend you’re in a movie). A song on your iPod you didn’t expect. Wear something nobody else expects. Surprise yourself. Find things along the route that give you motivation (see caption to last picture at bottom of post). Give others a pleasant or humorous distraction, like this runner:

This guy had a papoose-like cut-out baby in his backpack...

4. REMEMBER: Where you park…there is nothing worse than hobbling off after a race and forgetting which side street you eventually managed to find a space to park on, which typically is a mini-marathon-length itself away from the start and finish lines. Major drag. This year I wised up and texted my husband this info before the race, since I knew I probably wouldn’t have my wits about me till well after the race. And one’s mind is still racing long after the finish line, so all I could fathom was my car was near the corner of Whatzit and WhoHaa. Surely I raised eyebrows with the runners parking nearby when I zipped into a handicapped spot, slapped up my placard, and jumped out of the car alone in my race gear and bib prominently displayed. I knew I needed the spot because my handicapped child, who’d meet me at the finish line, would be riding home with me after the race. Judge not, y’all.

5.) DITCH THE FRAGRANCES: Okay, you offenders know who you are. You are doing no one any favors, especially us asthmatics who are already oxygen-challenged. You are clogging up the airspace. I would rather smell your body odor. Really. It makes me want to pass you at top-speed. Don’t think you are sparing or impressing anyone. One of these races I’m going to carry a mace-sized can of Lysol to neutralize you. Phewy!

6.) KEEP YOUR SHIRT ON: Please. What’s that, you’re hot and sweaty? Well, me too, After all, I might have liked to go topless, too. Sports bras are jug-jail in my book. But this is a family event, not Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Let’s have some decorum. This gentleman and I played leapfrog throughout the race…I was going to pass him in the last 2 blocks, but he had the decency to put his shirt on just as the dizzying busy-ness of the finish line first came into view 1/4 mile away straight-on…so I held back and let the nice man finish before this middle-aged whippersnapper…

Shirt Up, Dude

Ya gotta have respect for the elderly out there – none of us could say for sure if we’d have what it takes when we’re their age, to do such a thing. I admire these people tremendously!

7.) DON’T PSYCH YOURSELF OUT DURING THE RACE:  There are countless ways to do this, all to your detriment.

*Be realistic, don’t kill yourself – take time for rests/breaks, be happy with whatever time you’re making. Do not compare yourself to the internationally competitive Kenyans or out-of-towners taking the lead who are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. If you choose someone to try to keep up with and they leave you in the dust, pick another one. Focus on the goal, not the moment. Conversely, focus on the here-and-now to get through each mile, not on how much farther you have. I know, this is contradictory. This whole thing is more mental than physical, I assure you. At one point you will need far-off goal thoughts, at the next moment you’ll need the here-and-now. Alternate accordingly. Mentally pat yourself on the back with each mile, and with each uninvited thought in between. You are doing this for fun, not practicing for the Olympics. And for Apollo’s sake, you don’t have to actually RUN the whole thing. Alternating running/walking sometimes puts you ahead of the OCD folks who insist on running the whole race, but may not pace themselves and peter out in the latter half.

*DO NOT ignore pain, or you could wind up permanently disabled and you may find yourself helping to finance your orthopaedist’s new yacht. Some pains you can run/walk through and they pass – but some you should not. Pay attention to your body, do what it tells you, baby it when necessary. Drop out if you must. There is no shame whatsoever in exercising sound judgment, wisdom and prudence.

*And lastly, pay no mind to the 70 year olds passing you with “50 States Marathon Club” on the backs of their shirts. They may be bionically altered or very close to living in a wheelchair. You can’t really compare yourself to others in most other areas in life, so don’t try to with perfect strangers during a race, of all places.

I LET them beat me in the race out of respecting my elders...yeah, that's it!

8.) DON’T PSYCH OTHERS OUT DURING THE RACE: Leave plenty of room when you pass someone – you may startle or distract them. Say only positive things and encourage your fellow racers. When you are closing in on the finish chute, don’t dart ahead of others to shave a few seconds off your time. Don’t judge other runners, even in your head – remember there may be some runners with a hidden disability, running in memory/honor of another etc. Resist the temptation to yield to adrenaline’s self-serving tendencies, and humble thyself to your fellow racers. If you must psych out others, make it something interesting to think about or look at without distracting too much.

This couple wore their favorite matching kilts for the race.

9.) BE SAFE: Keep your music low enough that you can hear what is going on around you. I can’t count on one hand how many people were so unaware in this last race, that a motorcycle policeman blaring his siren to move racers from two to one lane, crept up behind and then next to some racers deep in their own world. Be aware of your surroundings – races start early; beware of questionable characters popping out of hidden alleys. Stay in or near a pack of other racers. Stop to help an injured runner get to the curb. Move unexpected debris in the road if you come upon it. Obey the traffic guards and remain in marked race lanes. A shortcut could cost you your life if you meet up with a disoriented driver having to divert due to the race.

10.) BE COURTEOUS: Don’t darken your fellow racers’ doorsteps with these race-wreckers:

*Keep your music in your earbuds. This was a problem in last week’s race – somebody mistakenly assumed her favorite, motivating music – cuss-tainted rap at loud levels – would also be our favorite. Then she’d turn it off before every water station so she didn’t get caught – way to ruin a race, chickie.

*Don’t run/walk with your buddies more than two abreast – this is typically a problem in the first few miles of any race. Clumps of coworkers and flocks of friends can make it race-hell for those behind them. We really don’t want to have to be prisoner to your pace and have to listen to your account of the latest office gossip. Save it for the water cooler on Monday.

*Watch where you spit. I can’t believe I have to address this. That’s right, look first in the direction you’re about to spit, before you spit. Nothing like a loogey landing on your left shoulder because of a misguided mouth missile. Better yet, don’t spit at all. That’s just plain uncouth.

*Likewise, watch where you toss your cup after you leave the relief station. Get to the side, look behind you first (see above), gently toss the remaining liquid into the grass or brush, then put the cup in the provided container, if there is one. If there isn’t, toss your cup where you see the most other cups, to make it easier for the poor volunteer who has to dispose of all the used, slobbery, sweat-covered cups. Most seasoned runners have learned this the hard way (read: unexpected Gatorade shower courtesy of the careless guy ahead who did not think to heed this nugget of advice).

*Greet/thank security, volunteers & police who are stationed at every intersection and safety station. Okay, so maybe it’s not realistic to thank all of them throughout the race, and granted some of them look like they’d rather stand there in their orange vests and dream about going back to bed when they get home (you’re not the only one who arose at the crack of early to make this happen). But hey, when you can, show your appreciation for their efforts to make your race a safe and enjoyable one. It’s not easy to risk life and limb to reroute irate drivers, or manning the drink stations passing out little cups of water and such to sweaty, stinky, mostly-speechless racers.

Thank you, Officer Friendly!

11.) REST WELL AFTERWARDS: Go ahead, pamper yourself: Advil, bananas (to avert cramps), Advil, pasta or favorite replenishing food, Advil, favorite beverages, and if you share your bed with anyone, apologize in advance before you go to sleep for potential Charley-horses which could well result in a swift kick in their netherparts. And, if you can, hit the beach!

12.) THE MORNING AFTER: Put your coffee down before you sit down to drink it. You just might be sore, and basic things like sitting and standing are best done slowly and very deliberately, without a scalding beverage looming nearby. Be careful driving, especially the first time you go from the gas to the brake pedal. And keep pampering yourself. You’ve got bragging rights, now.

P.S: GO AHEAD AND HAM IT UP FOR THE CAMERAS AT THE FINISH LINE…YOU NEVER KNOW IF IT MIGHT BE YOUR LAST ONE!

Best unexpected motivator during the race: Running past the hospital where I was rushed last March for emergency surgery, moments from death. Life's short - Carpe Diem!

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