Spice Up Your Running Life

After completing the Whidbey Half Marathon for the fourth time in 2011, I realized that I needed to spice up my running life. To prepare for it, I’d trained the way I’d always done; alone for every workout while following a combination of Hal Higdon’s Half Marathon Training Guide Intermediate and Advanced versions. Race day was, as usual, rainy. In addition, the forecast called for a temperature of 43 degrees “feels like 39” with wind gusts of 20 mph. I ran my slowest pace ever for the WHM, feeling awful the entire time. Afterwards, I exchanged messages with my good friend Sheryl, who’s been running as long as I have. She suggested that I find a training partner or running group, so I did. It took me nearly a year, but by the next time the Whidbey Half rolled around, I was better prepared mentally and physically and on my way to gaining: running partners and new running experiences and adventures.

I took Sheryl’s advice and so made a post-2012-race week running date with a prospective training partner named Nina. Months later, Nina suggested that the group we’d grown into hit the trails, which we’ve been doing every week since, mostly on the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Deception Pass State Park.

Making small changes to my running routine has helped me gain lasting friendships, improved my performance, nudged me into participating in different events, pushed me towards spending time on the trails and, in general, resulted in me having more fun running than ever before.

Ten Things to Spice up Your Running Life

Dare a Different Distance

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Everyone thinks that the ultimate sub-ultra distance goal must be the marathon, but it doesn’t have to be that way. While a progression of 5K, 10K, 15K, Half-Marathon and Marathon makes sense, most folks have a favorite distance (mine is 13.1 miles) and tend to stick with it. More recently, I read a Runner’s World article about the benefits of training for 5-Ks entitled C’MON EVERYBODY!, in which runner-author Laura Fleshman, a two-time U.S. outdoor 5000-M champion, claims that “the 5-K is FREAKING AWESOME” and shares a story about striking up a conversation with a guy on a plane who she learns is a fellow runner. With no clue about Fleshman’s extreme running prowess, his reply to her revelation that she mostly runs 5-Ks, “I started out running 5-Ks, too…Keep at it, you’ll get there.” One of these years, I’d like to see how fast I could run a 5-K if I actually trained for it. I’d also like to find out if the distance IS, as Fleshman says, FREAKING AWESOME.

Do a Destination Race

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Running local races is convenient, especially the part about getting to sleep in your own bed, but traveling to experience a race elsewhere can be really fun, especially if you don’t go alone. My friend Shannon and I traveled twice during a five year period to participate in the Seattle Half Marathon. It’s a huge race with a hilly, pretty course that takes runners through the Washington Park Arboretum. Another year, my friend Erin and I headed north across the border to Canada to run the Vancouver Half Marathon, which boasts stunning scenery along a course that passes through Stanley Park. We stayed in a hotel, rode the rails, ate in restaurants and did a little bit of sight seeing. I loved riding the SkyTrain early in the morning with dozens of fellow runners heading to the same place.

Find a Partner or Group

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The Regulars: my awesome running partners

I’ve never minded running alone. In fact, I’ve put in many more miles solo than with others. But in the last few years I’ve spent much more time running with others and have loved it. Not only do you get the chance to make lasting friendships, and find out what others who have different strengths, weaknesses, running knowledge and goals are up to, but running with others helps motivate you (and them) to actually get out there and to be a better runner.

Get Good Gear

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I used to think that gear didn’t matter and would wear any old thing. In fact, I confess, I felt a certain level of disdain for folks who would look really pretty in their expensive gear but spent the last few miles of a race walking. I’ve since changed my view and my tune. There’s a lot of quality gear out there these days, not only cute, practical clothes with moisture-wicking fabrics, but useful items like compression socks and tights, warm gloves and special shoes that provide great grip on the trails. The most important item I’ve acquired recently was a GPS watch. Although sometimes it provides more accountability than someone like me needs, it’s a great way to keep track of your pace, elevation gain and total distance, especially when trail running.

Give Trails a Try

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I can’t believe that I’ve spent the last nine plus years living near miles of trails and have only begun running on them during the past few. Unfamiliar at first, I would trip and fall over protruding roots and rocks regularly and felt a little lost and a lot stressed by not knowing what I’d find around the next corner. But with a good map, some experience and patience, I’ve learned a lot of the trails locations, names and numbers and now spend nearly all of my time on the trails. Doing so has given me the chance to see some neat plants, animals and birds and enjoy the peace and quiet that communing with nature provides.

Learn Good Form

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One year, our running group decided to take a field trip to Fairhaven Runners in Bellingham to check out their shoe selection. While there, we learned that they offer a running-form clinic every month and, at that time, were willing to take it to us in Anacortes if we could come up with eight paying participants. We did. On the specified day we met the clinicians guys along the Tommy Thompson Trail where they taught us the concepts of Good Form Running, which involves Posture, Mid-Foot (strike), Cadence, and Lean. The next week, I headed out on a long run and tried to incorporate all I’d learned. It was a disaster. The following day my feet and legs felt sore because I’d tried to do everything right and felt like I was doing it all wrong. Since then, it’s been better.

Prepare a Playlist

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Listening to music helps decrease pain levels. And anyone who runs knows that listening to an up-tempo playlist while running can motivate you to at best, run faster, and at least, continue on when you just aren’t feeling it. I often listen to music when I run on the roads, though not on the trails because I think it defeats the purpose. One thing I’ve learned is not to rely on music as a crutch because doing so may make you feel like you can’t run without it. One year I arrived at race parking, grabbed my iPod and checked the battery. It was dead! Mentally, I struggled without my music. Since becoming a trail runner and giving it up, I don’t miss it much. But if I were to return to it, I’d be sure to do some runs without it, just in case.

Read All About It

I love reading about running, and although my experience doing so has been mixed, I’ve encountered some great, motivating blogs and books, like The Oatmeal and Runner’s World and seen moves like Prefontaine, Desert Runners and the GOAT, The Barkley Marathons.

Run Less Run Faster

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Last year a friend Nina shared a 16-week training program she’d learned about, Run Less Run Faster, which requires only three days of training per week (plus two days of cross-training) that, if followed, would supposedly lead you to faster race times. It was pretty difficult, but it worked for me when I ran the Vancouver Half Marathon as a 50 year old. I won’t be doing it again any time soon because it’s so hard, but I think it’s a great program, well-worth the effort if you want to increase your speed.

Run A Relay

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Several years ago I noticed a post on a local running group’s Facebook page about Ragnar. Only about a month from race day(s), a team was looking for someone to run three legs totalling 16 miles. I felt too intimidated to take it on, and later regretted it. Eventually, in 2013, I put together an all women, rookie team. Since them I’ve organized four additional Ragnar NW Passage teams and participated in Ragnar Trail Cascade, Ragnar Trail Rainier, and Moran Constitutional Relay. They were all great, but Moran is the GOAT.

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