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Running Half Marathons With a Cupcake in the Oven

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

6 weeks, 8 weeks, 15 weeks, 18 weeks and 22 weeks pregnanat

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In the years before I became pregnant, running became a huge part of my life. It was my go-to source of stress relief as well as my favorite physical activity. I've never been very sporty or athletically inclined, but in running I didn't have to be either. I just needed to put one foot in front of the other. In the year 2015, I ran a race every month, ranging from 5Ks to a half marathon. For 2016, I had two goals: to continue running a race a month for as long as I could, and to get pregnant. I knew that if I achieved both goals, they would cross over at some point and play into each other. So far this year I've run seven half marathons — one for each month — and five of them have been with a baby on board. I'm planning on running a few more, and then I'm planning on taking the last few months of the year off. I may do some light running during that time, but I definitely won't be racing. 

Before getting pregnant, I sought out a doctor who would support me with both my baby and my running goals. I was lucky to find someone I relate to and feel very comfortable around; I feel confident having her as my doctor and I think she understands me and what's important to me in a way that not everyone does. She ran throughout her pregnancies, so I knew she would support me during mine. 

Pregnant running is vastly different from non-pregnant running. The goal is no longer speed. My pace has slowed dramatically and it continues to slow each month. I'm also not able to attack certain obstacles (specifically hills) in the same way, or often at all. I never shied from a hill before I was pregnant, but now I slow to a walk every time I encounter one. I don't want to get my heart rate too elevated, I don't want to get overheated, and I don't want to get breathless. This means that I'm going slower (sometimes completely slowing to a walk), I'm skipping the hills, and I'm taking everything at a much easier pace. 

An unexpected side effect of all of this is that during pregnancy, running has actually become more fun. I'm no longer chasing any time goals, so I'm free to go out and just enjoy my runs. Whereas before I would become frustrated if I got tired during a run, now I just slow down, guzzle my water, take in my surroundings, and enjoy the fact that I'm out in the open air. I don't even pay attention to my pace anymore. I stop a lot during my runs to pee. Sometimes I'll stop in the middle of a run and have a snack. I've changed my routes to stick to flatter terrain. During my pregnancy runs, I've noticed more in my neighborhood than I ever did before. Now that I've slowed down, I see more.

Another benefit during my first trimester was that running helped to quell my nausea. There were a few days when I felt too sick to go out, but once I finally got out there I felt so much better. Running has helped me to keep in touch with my pregnant body. I haven't been able to easily maintain strength training or some other forms of physical activity throughout pregnancy, but walking and running are movements I've been able to keep up.

So why run half marathons while pregnant? First reason: I signed up for the races before I was pregnant. Secondly, why not? I was in strong enough condition to run frequent half marathons before I was pregnant and I wanted to maintain that level of fitness for as long as I could. So far, it's been doable. Each of my five pregnant half marathons has been a little slower than the last and I know they'll just get slower, eventually getting too difficult to keep up. 

If I could do it again, I'd probably focus more on slower distances like 5Ks and 10Ks. But I have no regrets about the half marathons I've run. I'm proud of all this baby and I have accomplished together. I'm excited to see what we can continue to do. And I'm thankful that my stress level throughout pregnancy has been manageable thanks to our regular runs. 

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Mastery is Boring

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

Awhile back on her "Magic Lessons" podcast, Elizabeth Gilbert said something that clicked with me in the moment and stayed with me ever since. She was talking to a photographer who wanted to branch into other creative fields after devoting years to taking photos. The photographer couldn’t figure out why she felt so compelled to move on from something she loved and did well. Elizabeth Gilbert put her finger on it and said “Mastery is boring.”

I was going through a running slump when I first heard this. After running consistently for nearly a year, I’d reached a lot of milestones: completed various races, improved my pacing, experienced increased fitness, etc. Something was starting to creep into my runs that threw me off guard because I hadn’t felt it before.

It was a sense of boredom. I was so tired of the streets in my neighborhood. I was tired of the familiar way my body moved from one mile to the next. I was tired of my worn-out music playlist. I’d hit so many goals (ran a mile under 7 minutes, ran a 5K under 23 minutes, ran a half marathon under 1:47) that I wasn’t sure what I was still working toward. I kept going, day after day, but I was starting to run alongside a little piece of dread.

Then I heard that line: mastery is boring. It made perfect sense to me. It’s not that I’ve mastered the art of running, but I’ve certainly mastered a certain type of running. So if I didn’t want to continue being bored, it was time to incorporate something new.

I’d been putting off hill runs for a while because, well, they’re incredibly challenging. There’s nothing comfortable about them. They force my mind and body into places I don’t necessarily want to go. Also, they slow me down. I can consistently run 7:30-7:45 miles on flat surfaces, but hills have me creeping along at an 8:30-9. Part of me was too proud to tackle something I knew would decrease my overall time so much.

But then I realized that was the whole point: to challenge myself. To push my body in a new way. To shake the feeling of stagnation. If I didn’t want to feel bored anymore, I had to do something that would take me out of my boring routine.

So I started doing hill runs. Big, fat, sweaty hill runs. Hill runs so hard, I had to go at a snail’s pace to tackle them. Hill runs that burned. Hill runs that caused sweat to pour down my face. Hill runs that, once completed, made me feel like a complete badass. I told myself there was only one rule: I could go as slow as I needed to go, but I could not stop running. No matter how big the hill, and no matter how long the run, I had to keep running.

So I ran. I ran slower than I’ve run in a long time. I crept along. I felt like my muscles were screaming. I felt like I might run out of breath. The physical demands prevented me from being able to think about anything else. I could only worry about putting one foot in front of another. Everything else, I knew, would work itself out.

On these runs, I started experiencing something I hadn’t felt in a while: joy. This wasn’t joy from accomplishing something difficult. This wasn’t joy from mastering a goal or winning a race. This was the joy of NOT being good at something but seeing myself get a little better each day. That’s how running was for me in the beginning: I wasn’t in the shape for it, I couldn’t go faster than a 12-minute mile, I always felt breathless, but I just kept going. Eventually, over time, I worked myself down to an 8-minute mile. I got better at breath control. I got better at everything.

And then I got bored.

But I’m not bored now. By incorporating hill runs into my regular routine, I remembered how it felt to push myself and have something to work toward. The best part about hills is knowing I’ll probably never master them. I’ll always have something to strive for. And I won’t be bored in the process. 

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Exactly What I Did The Week Before My Half Marathon

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If you are interested in supporting my writing, please visit my Patreon page to find out how you can donate as little as $1 a month to help keep me afloat: patreon.com/kristenforbes.

I get asked a lot of questions about half marathon training (What and when do I eat? How much water do I drink? How do I train?) I decided to give my most comprehensive answer ever in a single blog post that contains all of the following: 1.) a photo diary that shows exactly what I ate, drank and did the entire week before my half marathon, 2.) a summary of everything I did in the 12 weeks prior to my half marathon, and 3.) an A-Z guide of everything I could think of that relates to half marathon training, as well as tips for the day of the race.

PART ONE: EXACTLY WHAT I DID THE WEEK BEFORE MY HALF MARATHON

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SATURDAY:

Went grocery shopping. 

Soaked black beans.  

Made almond-cherry granola, chocolate chip trail mix bars, honey energy bars, maple-cinnamon walnut butter, asparagus and mushroom rice bowls, chocolate cherry cashew bars, and tofu peanut stir fry.  

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SUNDAY: 

Sliced lemons, limes and ginger for water. 

Filled water bottles.  

Organized fridge.  

Set out workout clothes for Monday and Tuesday. 

Cooked black beans.  

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MONDAY MORNING: 

7:30 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast

7:50 a.m: Ate Good Morning Sweet Potato and drank 8 ounces water

8:20 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 3X3's + Extra Credit Lower Body X3, drank 16 ounces water

9:45 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water

10:15 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water

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MONDAY AFTERNOON:  

12:00 p.m: Ate asparagus and mushroom rice bowl, drank 8 ounces water

12:30 p.m: Worked, drank 16 ounces water

2:30 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & banana, drank 8 ounces water

3:00 p.m: Worked

4:30 p.m: Took Mellow/ Restorative Flow/ Vinyasa Yoga class, drank 16 ounces water

6:20 p.m: Ate tofu peanut stir fry, drank 8 ounces water

7:00 p.m: Worked

9:00 p.m: Relaxed

11:00 p.m: Bed

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TUESDAY MORNING:

7:20 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast

7:45 a.m: Ate Good Morning Sweet Potato, drank 8 ounces water

8:25 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 Supersets + Extra Credit Upper Body X3, drank 16 ounces water

9:30 a.m: Ate chocolate chip trail mix ball, drank 8 ounces water

10:00 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water

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TUESDAY AFTERNOON: 

12:00 p.m: Ate asparagus and mushroom rice bowl, drank 8 ounces of water

12:25 p.m: Worked, drank 16 ounces of water

1:55 p.m: Ate dates, mascarpone & honey, drank 8 ounces of water

3:00 p.m: Took Gentle Yoga class, drank 24 ounces water

5:30 p.m: Worked

6:30 p.m: Ate tofu peanut stir fry, drank 8 ounces water

7:30 p.m: Made stir fry soup and breakfast burritos

8:15 p.m: Set out workout clothes for Wednesday and Thursday

8:30 p.m: Relaxed

11:00 p.m: Bed

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WEDNESDAY MORNING: 

7:25 a.m: Woke up and made breakfast

7:55 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water

8:30 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Week 4 Drills + Extra Credit Core X3, drank 24 ounces water

9:40 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water

10:15 a.m: Ran 6 miles, drank 16 ounces water

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WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON:  

12:20 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water

12:50 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water

2:30 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & pear, drank 8 ounces water

4:00 p.m: Took Yin/ Restorative Yoga class, drank 24 ounces water

5:35 p.m: Ate stir fry soup, drank 24 ounces water

7:00 p.m: Went to Blazers game

11:30 p.m: Bed

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THURSDAY MORNING: 

7:30 a.m: Woke up and warmed breakfast

7:45 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water

8:20 a.m: Did Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp Count It Down Cardio Quickie X2, drank 24 ounces water

9:15 a.m: Ate chocolate chip trail mix ball, drank 8 ounces water

9:50 a.m: Ran 4 miles, drank 16 ounces water

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THURSDAY AFTERNOON:  

11:00 a.m: Worked

12:25 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water

1:00 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water

2:45 p.m: Ate dates, mascarpone & honey, drank 8 ounces water

3:30 p.m: Worked, drank 24 ounces water

6:00 p.m: Ate stir fry soup, drank 8 ounces water

7:10 p.m: Made southwestern black bean wrap

7:30 p.m: Ate curry chipotle popcorn, drank 8 ounces water

9:00 p.m: Set out workout clothes for Friday

9:15 p.m: Relaxed

11:00 p.m: Bed

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FRIDAY MORNING: 

7:10 a.m: Woke up and warmed breakfast

7:30 a.m: Ate "baked" granola apple, drank 8 ounces water

8:10 a.m: Ran 3 miles, drank 16 ounces water

9:00 a.m: Ate honey energy bar, drank 8 ounces water

10:30 a.m: Took Yin Yoga class, drank 16 ounces water

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FRIDAY AFTERNOON:

11:30 a.m: Went grocery shopping

12:30 p.m: Ate southwestern black bean wrap, drank 8 ounces water

1:00 p.m: Worked, drank 32 ounces water

3:00 p.m: Ate whole wheat bread, maple-cinnamon walnut butter & pear, drank 8 ounces water

4:00 p.m: Made chickpea-cherry frittata

4:10 p.m: Made high-protein chocolate pudding

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FRIDAY EVENING:

4:30 p.m: Made sweet and sour tempeh stir-fry

5:20 p.m: Made spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce

While cooking: Drank 32 ounces water

5:30 p.m: Ate spaghetti with sun-dried tomato sauce, drank 8 ounces water

6:00 p.m: Organized fridge

6:15 p.m: Set out clothes for Saturday

6:20 p.m: Packed post-race bag

6:30 p.m: Relaxed

10:30 p.m: Bed

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SATURDAY MORNING: 

5:30 a.m: Woke up & got dressed

6:00 a.m: Ate dark chocolate-cherry-cashew bar & banana, drank 8 ounces water

7:00 a.m: Arrived at race site

8:00 a.m: Ran half marathon, drank 16 ounces water

10:30 a.m: Ate oatmeal, raisins & scrambled egg, drank 8 ounces mint tea & 16 ounces water

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SATURDAY AFTERNOON:

11:40 a.m: Took shower and detangled massive knots in hair from running in the rain

12:30 p.m: Ate high-protein chocolate pudding, drank 32 ounces water

1:00 p.m: Relaxed

2:45 p.m: Ate chickpea-cherry frittata, drank 32 ounces water

3:00 p.m: Relaxed

3:45 p.m: Ate lime-chili popcorn

4:00 p.m: Relaxed

5:50 p.m: Ate sweet and spicy tempeh stir fry, drank 32 ounces water

6:20 p.m: Relaxed, drank 16 ounces water

7:15 p.m: Ate Yasso Greek Yogurt Bar

7:30 p.m: Relaxed

10:30 p.m: Bed

NOTES ABOUT THIS WEEK:

1.) This week, I prioritized my half marathon training. I prioritized it above work, which fortunately I'm able to do thanks to a flexible work-from-home schedule. I prioritized it above socializing with friends. I prioritized it above staying up late. I treated my training this week as if it were my job and I took it very seriously. 

2.) I used the Runner's World cookbook MEALS ON THE RUN as my Bible this week. This cookbook has recipes for meals that are specifically meant to be eaten pre-run, post-run, mid-run, and more. I focused on high-energy, carb-filled meals and snacks before my workouts and protein-dense, muscle-recovering meals afterward. Toward the end of the week, I upped my already-high water intake and focused on hydrating foods for dinners. 

3.) Most people will tell you it's crucial to fuel up during a race, whether it's on energy bar bites, "goos" or even handfuls of jelly beans or similar fast-acting carb-heavy snacks. I've always trained without eating during long runs and I don't eat during races, either. By eating a few hours before and soon after, I've had success. But that's just me. That's my body. Like I said, MOST people will tell you it's important to fuel during a race. If you're training for a big race, start experimenting on your long training runs. Figure out what works for YOU.

4.) I think strength training is a key ingredient in any runner's arsenal. You're asking a lot of your body when you put it through long runs. Building up the strength in your muscles helps you to power through speedy runs, incline runs, and long runs. Don't skip this part. I normally strength train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This week, because I didn't want to tax my muscles (especially my lower body) too much toward the end of the week, I strength trained on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It is generally advisable to have a day in between strength sessions. For my strength training I used Fit Girls Guide Fit Girls Boot Camp, which is an advanced 12-week training program.

5.) Planning things ahead of time is what made this week successful. It can seem daunting to spend your weekends grocery shopping, cooking, and prepping meals for the rest of the week. It can seem silly to set your clothes out ahead of time. But trust me: take the time to do things early and you won't be scrambling during your days. You won't be searching your drawers for yoga pants 15 minutes before the class is supposed to start. You won't turn to grab-and-go fast food because you're starving and dinner's not ready. You won't skip drinking water if it's already filled with yummy slices of lemon or lime, pieces of ginger, and/or sprigs of mint. Do the work ahead of time and you'll thank yourself later.

6.) This week I decided to incorporate yoga into my routine because I knew my body could benefit from some slow, deep stretching. If your regular routine includes vigorous workouts like kickboxing or boot camp, you may want to ease off of them the week before your half marathon and you will DEFINITELY want to ease off of them the few days before your half marathon. Take this time to show your body how much you appreciate all it has done for you. Take care of it. Be gentle with it. You're asking a lot of it when you request that it runs 13.1 miles. Don't overtax it before the time comes.

7.) Warming up and cooling down before and after workouts is so important. This is true whether you're running, strength training, doing yoga, or anything else. Static stretches (the ones you hold for a long time) before working out are not advisable, but dynamic stretches (like toy soldiers and butt kicks) are. When your workout ends, take a few minutes to cool down and gently stretch (now it's okay to do those static stretches). Preferably, take five minutes. Most people (myself included) have a difficult time sitting still and stretching for that long, but try to give yourself at least two minutes. Stretching is one of those things that feels so boring at the time but is an absolutely crucial ingredient in feeling (and performing) better later. 

PART TWO: A SUMMARY OF WHAT I DID THE 12 WEEKS BEFORE MY HALF MARATHON

 

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To prepare for this half marathon, I used the 13.One training app from Active. This is an advanced training program I was only able to take on after working out with other apps for months prior. This app had me logging miles 5-6 days a week for 12 weeks. Broken down, it looked like this:

WEEK 1: 4 miles, 6 miles, 4 miles, 6 miles, 3 miles, 8 miles
WEEK 2: X-Train, 3 miles, 5, 6, 3, 9
WEEK 3: X-Train, 3, 6, 6, 3, 10
WEEK 4: X-Train, 3, 6, 6, 3, 8
WEEK 5: X-Train, 4, 6, 6, 3, 11
WEEK 6: 4, 7, 7, 4, 8
WEEK 7: 3X1, 4, 7, 7, 3, 12
WEEK 8: X-Train, 5, 7, 7, 4, 9
WEEK 9: 4X1, 4, 7, 7, 4, 14
WEEK 10: X-Train, 5, 8, 8, 5, 15
WEEK 11: 5, 5, 8, 7, 4, 8
WEEK 12: 4, 4, 6, 4, 3, Race Day

For the past ten months, I have used the following programs for strength training:
Fit Girls Guide 28-Day Jump Start
Fit Girls Guide Fitkini Body Challenge
Jillian Michaels Body Revolution
Jillian Michaels Body Shred
Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide
Jillian Michaels Assorted Videos
Fit Girls Guide Boot Camp

I was doing Jillian Michaels videos five times a week for the first 8 weeks of training and Fit Girls Guide Boot Camp four days a week for the last 4 weeks. 

I've been following a mostly clean diet for the past 10 months. On most weeks I maintain a 90% clean diet, but during the holidays I dipped down to a 70% clean diet. I focus on whole, real foods (lots of fresh veggies and fruit, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats) and try to avoid processed food, fast foods, sugary foods, fried foods, and foods made with white sugar, flour, bread, rice or pasta as much as possible. I started eating clean with Fit Girls Guide. In addition to their 28-Day Jump Start, Fitkini Body Challenge and Fit Girls Boot Camp, I've also used the Fit Girls Cookbook and Fit Girls Detox, which have a lot of clean recipes. My other favorite cookbooks are THE FOREST FEAST, THUG KITCHEN, SUPERCHARGED FOOD: EAT CLEAN, GREEN AND VEGETARIAN, and DELICIOUSLY ELLA. These are all vegetarian (some vegan) cookbooks with an emphasis on clean ingredients. 

I aim for at least 64 ounces of water a day but generally go over. I've found it's helpful to drink 8 ounces of water with every meal or snack and 16 ounces of water during every workout. Before I began my healthy lifestyle I rarely drank enough water and often had headaches, dry skin, and a parched throat as a result. 

Rest Day is probably the most important day of the week, in my opinion. This is not just a day off from running. This is a day off from EVERYTHING. It doesn't mean I have to stay on the couch all day (walking around is always great), but this isn't the time for anything that's going to break a sweat. Today is all about muscle recovery. It's a great day to run errands, buy groceries and meal prep. In the beginning it can be difficult to get in the habit of spending Sunday afternoons of evenings prepping meals for the whole week when there are so many things that sound like a more fun use of time. When I saw how much time it saved me during the week, though, I grew to appreciate it. By meal prepping, I'm basically guaranteeing that I'll never have to ravenously snack on junk food because I always have something healthy ready and available. 

PART THREE: MY A-Z GUIDE TO HALF MARATHON TRAINING

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1st half marathon: May 4, 2014
Official time: 2:15:08
Training method: Ran approximately 3 times a week, paid very little attention to diet, no strength training, no cross-training, no hydration schedule, no sleep schedule, did not drink alcohol the week before the race. 

2nd half marathon: August 1, 2015
Official time: 1:52:46 (1st place for age group in an all-women's race)
Training method: Ran 3-4 times a week, ate clean 90% of the time, strength trained 4 days a week, cross-trained once a week, no hydration schedule, no sleep schedule, did not drink alcohol the month before the race.

3rd half marathon: January 23, 2015
Official time: 1:47:06 (3rd place for gender & age group)
Training method: Ran 5-6 times a week, ate clean 80% of the time, strength trained 3 days a week, cross-trained once a week, regular hydration schedule, regular sleep schedule, no alcohol or coffee since January 1, 2016.

ADULT DIAPERS:
Did I wear an athletically fitted adult undergarment during my half marathon? YES. What?! Listen: You're asking so much of your body when you put it through a long, grueling run. There are only so many times my bladder can repetitively bounce up and down without responding. It's not as if I'm full-on peeing myself (though have I done this during previous races? YES! Things happen!) but wearing something protects me from little dribbles here and there. When you get the dying urge to pee and you're in the middle of a long race and don't want to lose time, you will thank yourself.

BOWEL MOVEMENTS:
Sorry to start this list off with two incredibly TMI entries, but I want to be real with you. Having a bowel movement before your race starts is imperative because YOU DO NOT want to feel like you're going to have a bowel movement during the race. This is why I always eat a banana two hours prior. Clear the system before you go or you WILL regret it.

CLEAN EATING:
I'm not here to preach to you about the foods you eat, but I will say that the foods I ate made a WORLD of difference. If you want to train seriously for a half marathon, take a hard look at your diet. Does it include fast food? Processed food? Fried food? Sugary desserts? What kind of bread do you eat? Is it white or whole wheat? What about rice: white or brown? Do you eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables? Do you incorporate lean proteins and healthy fats? These things are important. Your body is a machine that needs to be fueled properly. Fill it with junk and it will slow down on you.

DETOX:
This is one of those things that was so tough for me at first and then eventually became very easy. There are a lot of people who will disagree with me on this one, but in my opinion alcohol and running do not mix. Alcohol is dehydrating, for one. Secondly, alcohol contains sugar. In addition to all the usual side effects of alcohol (dulled senses, impaired judgment, loss of discretion when it comes to food choices), alcohol has a way of lingering in the body. Drinking a glass of wine Sunday night can have a great impact on Monday morning's run. It's so much better for me if I just skip it altogether. Another thing I've cut out completely: coffee. I know people LOVE their coffee and I know people swear by its caffeinating powers, so I'm not going to stress this one too hard. But I will say this: coffee is dehydrating, too. Try to at least lay off it the day before and the morning before your big race.

EFFORT:
The only way to know how much effort to expend on the big day is to train during the months prior. Those long runs you do (usually on the weekends) are your dress rehearsals. Treat them as if they're the real thing and run as hard as you can. (Some advise against this. Some say long training runs should always be slow and steady, and you should save all your big energy for the race itself.  Do what works best for YOU.) Make sure you're tapering off in the weeks prior to the race. (This is why it's important to follow a program.) Your long run the weekend before the race shouldn't be longer than 8 miles and your mid-week runs the week of your race shouldn't be longer than 6. During the race, adrenaline is going to push you a little faster than you're used to going. I generally try to ride out the adrenaline rush for the first few miles and then settle into my normal pace around miles 4-5. Race Day is not the day to suddenly decide to push significantly harder than you normally push. Your body will likely allow you to go a little faster than you normally do, but not a lot. Go too hard in the beginning and you will crash toward the end. The goal is always to FINISH, so pace yourself accordingly.

FINANCES:
Races aren't cheap. When you pay a race entry, you're usually paying for a timed chip, shirt, medal, and post-race provisions. This can seem like a bummer when you don't really care about the shirt of medal and you leave the race without digging into the free food, but it's still nice that it's offered. It takes a lot to put on a big race. If your race goes out on the streets, police may shut down traffic for certain intersections of the course. This is not a free service. In fact, nothing comes for free. If you want to race, you'll need to invest in proper shoes and gear. All of this can add up, so choose your races wisely. If it's important to you to get a drink ticket for beer or wine or a meal ticket or some other specific perk, do your research and find the races that offer those things.

GEAR:
What you wear is important. It's especially important when the weather is either very hot or very cold, but it's also important every time in between. Before you put any clothes on, think about the temperature. If it's hot, put on sunscreen. Whether it's hot or cold, put on Body Glide or a similar product to guard your feet against blisters. Invest in socks specifically designed for running: their main ingredient is not cotton and they're designed to wick away moisture. If it's going to be cold, you'll need base layers. If it's going to be really cold, you may need gloves and a hat. It is extremely helpful, if you're wearing multiple layers, to have someone you know standing on the sidelines somewhere along the course so that if you decide to ditch a layer, you can toss it to them and move on. This is exactly what happened to me on Saturday: I started with a rain coat because it was raining, then got too hot as I increased my speed and threw the jacket to my parents on the sidelines around Mile 5. I also peeled my gloves off a few miles in and threw them in the pocket on my water holster. This reminds me: get a water holster. I have one that holds two eight-ounce bottles of water. This is usually enough for me and I don't need to accept any of the water cups offered at water stations. I generally take one big sip of water every mile. For ME, this works perfectly.

HYDRATION:
Hydration can be a tricky thing because you want to be sure you're properly hydrated but you don't want to feel like you have to pee during the race. My solution for this is to work on being super hydrated the week before the race (aiming for well above 64 ounces a day), but only drink 8 ounces of water the morning of the race. By doing this and taking my one sip of water every mile, I stay on track without overdoing it.

INCLINES:
I was lucky to have a very flat course for this last race, but that's not always the case. If you're going to encounter hills during your race, you MUST incorporate hills during your training. The only way to learn how to run on an incline is to practice running on an incline. And here's a tough truth: Incline running NEVER gets easy. It gets EASIER, but it never gets easy. You will never run up a large hill and feel as if no energy was expended, no matter how fit you are. Hills are tough. Hills will always be tough. Hills will slow you down. If you haven't been running hills and you start adding them in, prepare to watch your times slow dramatically. It's okay. Running inclines is one of the easiest-yet-hardest ways to become a stronger runner. If you're the type of person who can stomach a treadmill (I'm not), challenge yourself to run on an incline. If you're running outside, find the biggest hills you can. Run to the top. Run to the bottom. If you have anything left, run to the top again. 

JUST DO IT:
You're not going to feel like running every day. You're just not. Trust me: I do not feel like running every day. If it's cold or raining or cold AND raining or if I'm tired or busy or tired AND busy, I'll want to skip my run. But here's the thing: I can't. When you're training for a half marathon, you're training for a half marathon. That's all there is to it. Miss training runs and your entire training program falls behind schedule. Skip your long runs and you won't know how hard to push during the real race. Skip short runs and your pacing will never improve. If you're sick, don't run. If you're injured, don't run. If you're having a mental breakdown, don't run. Otherwise: Run. Just do it. 

KRISTEN DOES IT THIS WAY:
I read an interview recently with Gretchen Rubin, author of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. When asked about her 2016 mantra, she said something to the effect of "Be Gretchen." I love this. You're the only person who knows what you're truly capable of, what works best for you, and how you need to go about approaching your goals. You can ask other people how they do things, you can read articles like this, you can do all the research in the world, but at the end of the day the most important thing is figuring out the exact prescription for what works best for you and you alone. Not everyone can run six days a week and be happy. Not everyone can give up alcohol or cake, and not everyone should. It doesn't matter if you're aiming to run a half marathon in 1:30 or if you're aiming to run it in 3:00. It doesn't matter if you walk. All that matters is that you do your own thing — whatever thing works best for you. Everything I'm talking about in this list is something that works for ME, so take it all with a grain of salt.

LAYERING:  
If it's cold outside, you'll need to wear layers. If it's raining, you'll need to wear layers. If it's cold and raining, you'l need to wear layers. If it's cold AND raining, or if it's snowing, or if it's windy, or if there's some other inclement weather going on, you'll need to wear layers. For me, that looks like this: short-sleeved running shirt + long-sleeved running shirt + lightweight rain jacket with gloves, neck wrap, headband that covers my ears or running hat over long pants. I put hand warmers in my gloves during shorter runs, though this actually gets me TOO hot during a long run like a half marathon.

MANTRAS:
I can generally make it through the first 9 or so miles of a race simply by watching my pace, visualizing the finish line, and running to the beat of music. For the last four or so miles, I need more to keep going. This is where mantras come in. Mantras are little phrases I repeat over and over to myself, saying one syllable inside my head each time my foot hits the ground. During this race, I had different mantras for miles 9, 10, 11, and 12. Mile 9's mantra was "I am strong enough to handle this." Broken down into syllables it looks like this: I-am-strong-e-nough-to-han-dle-this. Mile 10's mantra was "I trained for this" or I-trained-for-this. Mile 11's mantra was "Trust the process" or Trust-the-pro-cess. Mile 12's mantra was "Thank you Fit Girls Guide" or Thank-you-Fit-Girls-Guide because using their programs helped me to build my strength, fitness, stamina, endurance, and confidence. For me, focusing on these mantras (and nothing but these mantras) during my last few miles was the difference between quitting and finishing. 

NOT-SO-GREAT DAYS:
I always assumed that when you improve as a runner, you continue to improve no matter what. If you're running an 8-minute mile one month and a 7:40 mile the next, you're not going to go back to running an 8-minute mile the next month, right? Guess what? Wrong. Your body gets tired. Your mind gets tired. Your body and mind working together get tired. You're not going to set a new personal record every day. You're not going to improve every day. Sometimes you will slide backwards. Sometimes you will slide backwards for weeks at a time. There are few things as frustrating as being able to run a 7:40 mile one week and slipping back to an 8-minute mile the next week, but you have to trust the process. There are reasons some runs are slower than others and there are reasons some runs are a LOT slower than others. Your body may be in recovery mode from your last big run. It may be in conservation mode for your next big run. Trust the process and trust your body. It can be frustrating to stop improving and even more frustrating to slide back, but as long as you keep working you'll eventually push through. Trudging through a slow, sluggish run isn't a lot of fun at the time, but you'll ultimately be rewarded for your consistency when you hit a new PR a few weeks down the road.

OPTIMISM:
Several weeks before this last half marathon, I started to get a nagging case of self-doubt. I was having a lot of not-so-great training runs (see above) and feeling like maybe I wasn't ready for another big race, despite all my training. Or maybe I was overtraining? What if I was exhausting myself before the fact? I started to question everything I was doing. But then I got a hold of myself. I reminded myself or my mantras: I am strong enough to handle this. I trained for this. Trust the process. If you've been training hard, you're ready. My mind was trying to convince me that even though I did just fine in my 14 and 15-mile training runs, I wasn't ready for my big 13.1 run. I had to remind my mind that I WAS ready, and I'd done everything I needed to do, and it wasn't a question of whether or not I'd finish (of course I'd finish) but how quickly I'd get it done. I AM STRONG ENOUGH TO HANDLE THIS. I TRAINED FOR THIS. TRUST THE PROCESS. On bad days, repeat these lines over and over until you believe them.

PACING: 
This last half marathon was the first one I've done with pacers, and I absolutely loved the experience. Pacers are people who have trained themselves to maintain steady paces throughout the race, so they know pretty much exactly when they expect to finish. This race had pacers in 15-minute increments, starting with a 1:45 pacer. (Runners expecting to run faster than 1:45 were on their own for pacing.) I really liked this system because I knew that as long as I kept my eye on the 1:45 pacer (he was literally holding a sign that said "1:45" during the entire race), I would be able to finish around that time. Since I'd been training to run about 1:50, I knew to keep my eye on him but to also hold back a little. I figured I'd finish about two minutes behind him and I was right. It worked perfectly. If there aren't pacers at your race, you have to rely more on other cues, like technology (most running apps will tell you your mileage) and intuition (How do you FEEL? Are you breathless? Are you running at a pace you can maintain? Do you feel like you're going either faster or slower than normal?) Half marathons are tricky because it's a big enough distance that for most people, you can't just go all-out and run as hard a possible for the entire 13.1 miles. The trick is finding the sweet spot where you're running hard but not TOO hard. You want to be able to finish the race and you want to be in one piece at the end of the day.

QUALITY VERSUS QUANTITY:
This is a hotly debated topic in the running community. Some runners believe that the best way to train is to run the minimum amount of miles that you can per week and still improve. The theory here is to train harder, not longer. Other runners think the way to improve is by logging more miles, period. I've approached different races with different training methods and I can honestly see the advantages of both. When you're running less, you're more refreshed. You have more energy, which can lead to better times. When you're running more, though, your body gets acclimated and you quickly build up the endurance and stamina to withstand longer runs. The sweet spot is probably again somewhere in the middle: running three days a week may be too light and six days may be overkill.

RAIN:
Last month, Portland had its rainiest December in history. I ran 33 of my last 41 training runs in the rain. Sometimes this was a light drizzle and sometimes it was an absolute downpour, but either way I had to be prepared. If running in inclement weather sounds like the worst thing imaginable to you, you may want to rethink the idea of a winter race and aim for the spring or summer instead. If you're going to race in winter, you're going to have to train in winter. For me, the best way I've figured out how to train in rainy weather is to just do it. Put on your lightweight running jacket, put on a hat with a brim so the raindrops can bounce away from you, put on your heated gloves, and just do it. I'll be honest: the five minutes I spend warming up for my cold, rainy runs are the worst five minutes of my entire day. But once I get into the rhythm of running, I forget about the cold and the rain — unless it's raining so hard I can't forget about it, in which case I allow myself to feel like a total badass for persevering. After your run, peel off your wet clothes, take a hot shower, and get on with your day. 

STRENGTH TRAINING:
Strong muscles are able to carry you over finish lines. Do not make the mistake of focusing solely on running if you're training for a half marathon. Running is only part of the equation. Incorporating strength training helps you to build stronger muscles and it also gives you a diversion. Even people who love running get bored doing it day in and day out. Strength training days shake up the routine and allow you to challenge your body and mind in ways that don't happen out on the road.  

TECHNOLOGY: 
My best advice about technology is to a.) use it and b.) expect it to fail. I absolutely rely on running apps for my training and I also rely on music and GPS to power me through my runs. At this point I've been in enough races to know this: things  happen on race day. I got a new phone the day before one 10K and was quite surprised to discover three minutes before the race began that the music from my old phone had not neatly transferred to my new phone. I had to run that entire 10K in silence. During my final 5K of 2015, my hands were so cold that I couldn't properly press the button I needed when one of my running apps paused, so it simply stopped recording my miles three-quarters of the way through. And at this last half marathon, my music didn't start playing alongside my app right away and when it finally did after some sweaty fumbling, it didn't play the running playlist I had carefully set up; instead, it cycled through my entire library of mostly super-mellow folksy and singer-songwriter songs. Running to Willie Nelson singing "You Were Always On My Mind" is not an ideal scenario. But guess what? Stuff happens with technology, especially on race days. I just had to run with it.

UNDERWEAR:
Invest in proper-fitting sports bras. Don't wear cotton underwear. Practice your runs wearing the underwear you plan on wearing on Race Day. I have some pairs of underwear that, for whatever reason, start to slide down when I run. Trust me: You do not want to be dealing with underwear that's falling down while you're running. Figure this out well in advance of Race Day. The last thing you want to be thinking about is your underwear. (Practice wearing ALL the clothes you're going to wear before the race itself. This is not the time to bust out a cute new outfit.)

VALUE OF A SUPPORT SYSTEM:
Running is a pretty solitary endeavor and the truth is that no one can run your miles for you, no one else can motivate you, and no one else can feel either the physical sensations or the emotional changes that you'll experience as a result of running. Still, it's important to have a support system. I'm not the type of person who announces my runs to all of my friends before my races, but I can see how if I did it would be nice to have a crowd of people there cheering me on. I prefer to keep my support system a little smaller, though, so I pull my strength off the support offered to me by my parents and husband. My husband's support is especially important because my lifestyle impacts his. I need for him to be on board with me eating specific meals, going to bed at early hours, and spending weekends NOT meeting up with friends for a wine tasting, but instead getting up at 5 a.m. to drive to the race site. My husband helps me with grocery shopping, meal prepping, cycling through the never-ending piles of sweaty workout laundry, and everything else. My husband drove to the venue the day of the race while I focused my mind. He was standing on the sidelines of the course to cheer me on at both the halfway point and finish line. Seeing his face halfway through encouraged me to keep pushing. My parents come to every race I run, and there have been multiple occasions when I've thrown things to them (this time my rain jacket, another time my entire phone) on the sidelines because I needed to get rid of those things to run my best race. My parents and I also have a post-run tradition of going out to breakfast after every race. Sometimes this is what I'm thinking about the most when I need to push through: as soon as I finish here, I get to go eat something delicious. Just X more miles, and then I can go have breakfast. Without my husband and parents cheering me on, the motivation to continue would dwindle.

WEDDING RING: 
I generally wear three rings: my engagement ring, my wedding ring, and my grandma's engagement ring. When I'm running or working out, though, I don't wear any of them. They're too precious and I don't want to be worrying about them when I'm covered in sweat and mud. Instead, I wear a silicone ring from Qalo on my ring finger during workouts and runs. This is just a little symbolic thing I do for myself:  I feel like I'm honoring my marriage, of which I am so proud, without mucking up the real rings of my marriage. It's a way for me to feel connected to my husband without worrying about dragging something so beautiful through such brutal workouts.

XTRA, XTRA: PLAN AHEAD OF TIME:
Planning ahead of time is the key to my success. Whether it's prepping my meals, setting my workout outfits out ahead of time, or just knowing the schedule the week before it starts, it pays to stay on top of things. Training for a half marathon is incredibly time-consuming. I also have a career, a marriage, a social life, and a house I like to keep clean. There's only one way to balance all these things and that's to be as organized as possible. Sometimes this means I don't get to do everything I want to do. Sometimes I have to turn down cuddling up to watch a two-hour movie because I desperately need those two hours to go grocery shopping or finish the laundry. When training for a half marathon, you'll encounter a lot of choices. Knowing what you want ahead of time will help you to manage your time and make the decisions that are best for you.

YIELDING TO YOUR BODY: 
When I was talking about mantras before, I should have mentioned the most important one: Listen to your body. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Lis-ten-to-your-body. Trust me: Your body knows. Your body is a very smart machine. When your body sends you signals (I'm exhausted today / I think I'm getting sick / I feel sore / Please go easy on me / I have extra energy today / I need more sleep / I'm thirsty / I'm hungry), LISTEN. Yield to your body. Yield to your body even if it's the biggest race of your life to date and your body is saying "Please, please, please slow down" but your mind is saying, "Let's push through and go for a record!" Yield to your body. Your body knows.

ZEROING IN:
Here's my big secret about running half marathons: I've never actually run a half marathon. At least, I haven't mentally run a half marathon. I've never thought to myself: I'm going to run 13.1 miles today. Can you imagine how daunting that would be? Here's what I think instead: I'm going to run a 5K. Easy breezy. When I reach three miles: I'm going to run another 5K. Six miles: I'm going to run another 5K. Nine miles: I'm going to run one last 5K. Twelve miles: I'm just going to run one more mile. Thirteen miles: I'm just going to run until I get to the finish line. 5K, 5K, 5K, 5K, 1 mile, finish line. During that last .1 mile, I zero in on that finish line like you wouldn't believe. I don't have to be the best. I don't have to be the fastest. I just have to make it through that finish line. 

This is the most comprehensive post about running I've ever written, but if you still want more, I have more. Try these previous posts:

Let's Talk About Running Apps (a breakdown of ALL the running apps I use)
2015: My Year in Running (a reflection on the improvements I made and lessons I learned while running in 2015)
Park Project (in which I share how running to a different park each time I ran helped bust running boredom)
Twelve Months, Twelve Races, and a Lifetime of Lessons (reflecting on the 12 races I ran during the 12 months of 2015)

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2015: My Year in Running

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I ran 990.2 miles in 2016. (Had I known I was this close to 1,000, I would have made a point of running an extra 10 before the year ended.) I recorded 726.60 miles for charity using the app Charity Miles, raising a total of $181. I worked on increasing my mileage and pacing each month (except after I got married because let me tell you, weddings are exhausting and I needed a break). I’m pretty thrilled to see the numbers line by line because it proves something I half-heartedly believed but never practiced until this year: hard work pays off.

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This was the first half of my year. As you can see, February was my lowest mileage (18.5) and March was my slowest average pace (13:19). Part of the reason my times are so much slower during these earlier months is due to me incorporating a lot of walking intervals in my training. (And the reason my mileage dropped in June? I was on vacation for two weeks, though I'm proud of the fact that I still got several runs in while overseas.)

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Now we get to the second half of the year and this is where I get a little emotional. You see, I didn't think I'd ever become a FAST runner. I thought I'd be a steady runner. I thought I'd get my mileage in. I thought I'd consistently run about a 10-minute mile and I thought I'd be happy with that. But then I noticed it: each month, I was getting faster. At several of my races (I made it a point of running a race a month in 2015), I finished in the top five for my age group — sometimes even higher. It wasn't just my endurance that was increasing. Little by little, I was becoming a faster runner, too. Each month, I melted away a little more time. My 10-minute miles became 9-minute miles and my 9-minute miles became 8. During the last three months of the year, I did something I'd never done before: I surprised myself. Until this point, I always had a fairly good idea of what I was capable of and never tried to push myself beyond that. But one day on a fluke, I decided to do just that: push harder. Why continue running at a comfortable, steady pace when maybe, just maybe I was capable of running FAST?

This month, when I realized I had it in me to break a 7-minute mile, my runs started to take on a new meaning. I should also note that this was the WETTEST MONTH IN PORTLAND'S HISTORY — EVER. This is significant for several reasons: one, because I ran the majority of this month's runs in rain, which ranged from light drizzle to absolute downpour. I can't tell you how many times I came home sopping wet, my damp clothes stuck to my skin, unable to feel my fingers or toes because I was so cold. This brings me to the second reason why this month's weather was significant: this was the first winter in my entire history of living in Portland (I've been here off and on since 2000) that I didn't let the rainy winter defeat me. EVERY other winter in my entire adult life, I've let the weather stop my fitness goals. I've hung up my running shoes, said no thanks, and stayed inside to drink hot chocolate instead. I've looked at the cold temperatures, seen the pouring rain, and said: Nope, not gonna do it. I hibernated. I slept in. I lived in sweat pants. I consumed copious amounts of macaroni and cheese. I remained sedentary for entire months. And then each year, I'd get back out on the running trails when it was finally again sunny in spring — and each year, I started back at the beginning. I started from Day 1. I started from a place of decreased fitness. I started from nothing. No matter how hard I worked the spring and summer before, my winters off meant I always started from nothing. 

Not this year.

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This was the year I decided to crush it, weather be damned. So each day I geared up. I piled on the layers. I wore the hats and the hoods and the gloves and the gloves on top of the gloves and the rain jackets over my running clothes. I covered my neck and my ears and my fingers and I ran in wind so hard, my headphones fell out of my ears. I ran in puddles so deep they covered my calves. I ran in rain so heavy, I came home looking like I'd gone for a swim. I ran through chattering teeth and I ran with droplets of rain on my eyelashes and I ran with the legs of my pants stuck to my skin. I ran against the wind, under the clouds, and though the storms. I ran on days when I wanted to run. I ran on days when I didn't feel like running. I ran on days when I'd rather do anything — anything — else. I ran on days when I argued with myself for HOURS until I finally convinced myself to open the door and go. I ran. I ran. I ran.

I ran so fast, I broke a 7-minute mile. 

I ran so fast, I broke a 23-minute 5K.

I ran so fast, I broke a 46-minute 10K.

I ran, I ran, I ran. I ran 150 miles this month alone. I ran through my fears and I ran through my protests and I ran through my "Who do you think you are?" moments and I ran through my "You can't really do this" moments, too. 

My parents-in-law were in town for my last 5K of the year and as we wrapped up in warm clothes way too early in the morning, psyching ourselves up to go out into the cold darkness, my mother-in-law looked at me and said, "Why do you do this? Do you ever ask yourself that?"

I run to prove to myself that I can.

I run because I'm strong.

I run because I like to improve.

I run because it keeps me sane.

I run because it's my escape from other people.

I run because I get to be alone with my thoughts.

I run because the feeling I get at the top of a tough hill is unlike anything else I've ever experienced in my life.

I run because I'd like to have a baby someday and I'm doing everything in my power to create a healthy home in my body for when that time arrives.

I run because I always assumed I was the type of person who would stop moving for entire months at a time while eating copious amounts of macaroni and cheese and feeling absolutely miserable, but this year I proved to myself I am more than that. 

I run because there are nearly 16,000 people out there watching what I'm doing on the internet and some of them are realizing how much they are capable of after seeing what I can do.

I run because I can and that makes me lucky as hell and I realized through three years of working at a retirement center that yes, our bodies will fall apart and yes, the day will come when we'll wish beyond belief that we had the energy to simply put one foot in front of the other. 

I run because it makes me a better wife who has an outlet to let go of things instead of carrying all my thoughts around in a tight ball.

I run because it's important to prioritize myself at least a little each day and I have nothing to offer to anyone if I don't take care of myself first.

I run because I'm a fitter, stronger, FASTER person than I was a year ago and that, to me, means everything. 

I run because as awesome as this year was and as proud as I am of my accomplishments and records, I know that next year will be even better.

So let's do this, 2016. I'll see you all out on the trails.

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