Training for My First Marathon – 9 Weeks in Review

I took a little break from blogging, but The Papillon Runner is back with a facelift!

For the past 2 months, I’ve been training for my very first full marathon, the IMT Des Moines Marathon, and running more miles than ever. My body has truly impressed me with how responsive it has been to what I’ve been doing to prepare and recover from each run. I am so amazed that I ran 17 miles (!) yesterday morning and ended the run feeling strong. As my weekly mileage increases, the weekday runs are starting to feel harder…I’m not gonna lie. I had a hard time getting through a 7-mile run earlier this week (week 9 of training) and ended it right at the 10k mark, but the next few runs went much better. Although I’m at the stage where training is really starting to pick up and I’m running the half-marathon distance or longer every weekend, I’m feeling good about how training is progressing. Here’s a peek into what the past two months have been like:

I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying fuel with me in my Nathan hydration backpack on those long (12+ miles) weekend runs. Two Huma energy gels were sufficient for 17 miles yesterday. These gels go down a bit easier than the Honey Stinger gels and I felt more hydrated, probably because of the chia seeds and coconut water.



This is how I look after every run – lots of sweaty miles when you’re training for races in the heat and humidity of summer, but I honestly prefer this to the miles I logged last winter. I could never get my hands to stay warm. Taking recommendations for next winter…



Epsom salt and lavender milk foot soaks in my Dr. Scholl’s foot bath. This baby was $30 (purchased it while training for my first half-marathon), but you can find a similar model here. It feels amazing. Wearing compression socks for a few hours afterwards = priceless!

epsom salt bath

I’ve also been trying to keep up with my strength-training, but I can definitely fit in more cycling to log more low-impact miles, and I haven’t done a basic swim workout all summer. I loved incorporating easy swim workouts into my half-marathon training. I am not a great swimmer by any means, but the water relaxed my muscles and I got to work on my aerobic base. So much to do, so little time…


How do you recover after long runs? Share in the comments!



A Gorgeous Spring Day, In Pictures

Nothing new to report here, but I was in my friend’s wedding last weekend and got to go for a run with my best friend the next morning. My husband isn’t a runner, so he rented a Divvy bike from the bikeshare and biked alongside us as we ran.

It was a gorgeous Spring day! I only had 6 miles on the schedule, but it would’ve been a perfect day to run longer. This was my first time running along the Lakefront Trail in Chicago, despite growing up here, and I’ve never seen the lake so blue. Sharing some pictures to celebrate the arrival of Spring.


Relentless Forward Progress

At times, I realize the way that I conceptualize running, in both written and spoken form, is very, very serious and goal-driven. I started running in April of 2014, ran my first 5k in May, and got really excited about how I didn’t give up on running at all by July. It just felt so natural, even though it was by no means without difficulty. I quietly asked God to give me the endurance to just run one half-marathon that fall, and if He did, I’d be content, and probably wouldn’t race anything over a 10k again.

Something tells me that I wasn’t the first person to make such an attempt to negotiate with a higher power, only to completely renege later….

Since then, what I affectionately refer to as “crazy runner brain” has taken over, and I’ve continued to set new running goals every few months. I’d like to think I would’ve been perfectly happy running 9:30 min/miles for years, until the day I discovered that I could run paces in the 8s for shorter distances. Then, I wanted to see if that would translate to a half-marathon completion time of under 2 hours, and it did. Unfortunately, there’s a very fine line between working towards incremental improvement and swan-diving into Personal Record Purgatory, where every run has to be proof that a runner is working towards an even better time in the next race. I think this is precisely how some runners (see: self) find themselves absolutely miserable when their bodies show them signs (delicate warnings at first; blaring horns later) that they need to take a break or slow down.

My sign has been shins that are tired before I’ve even gotten into a good stride, which is atypical for me, but not completely unusual for runners collectively.

Sometimes, relentless forward progress means taking a step back and temporarily taking the time goals out of running. This week, that step back was making a physical therapy appointment, purchasing sensible flats for work instead of wearing the leather heels I know my feet (and probably my shins) hate, doing more biking and Pilates (for overall health and body alignment, not just to run faster times), and getting more sleep. I’d also like to start running at least one or two runs a week without my Garmin watch.

All steps forward.

All progress.

And all are being done to take my mind off of the idea that I might just want to run a full marathon at some point just to see what happens (famous last words), after saying just two short years ago that my longest run would be 13 miles. The human brain is a very curious animal…



Training Log, February 1 -7, 2016

I really enjoy reading other bloggers’ training logs, so I decided to add this segment to my site as well. I’m not currently training for a race, but this is what this past week looked like for me:

Monday, 2/1: 5-mile treadmill run + core work

Tuesday, 2/2: Rest day

Wednesday, 2/3: IronStrength (full workout)

Thursday, 2/4: 3.5 mile easy run with coworkers

Friday, 2/5: Rest day

Saturday, 2/6: 3.55 mile run +planks and 1-hour yoga class

Sunday, 2/7: IronStrength Glute and Core Blaster (combined workouts for a total of 40 minutes)

Pretty easy week, but it got the job done!

Building Lean Muscle While Running: A Holistic Approach to Fitness

From personal experience and the research I’ve read on running and weight loss, I can say that it doesn’t take long for the weight loss associated with running to begin to plateau. After you’ve been running for awhile, and logging lots of miles, the caloric burn per mile gradually decreases. For example, when I first started out as a new runner, I could burn 100 calories per mile, which meant that a 4 or 5 mile steady-state run would yield a 400-500 calorie burn. Now, according to my Garmin, I burn approximately 85-90 calories per mile. While fitness technology is not always accurate, high-quality trackers can provide a good baseline for you to monitor metrics such as calorie burn and average pace over time.

According to my research and in talking with my personal trainer, the decrease in my calorie burn per mile can be attributed to the body becoming more efficient at running. The body adapts very well, and can adjust to a particular exercise that is done repeatedly, without new challenges, rather quickly. This adaptation also translates to minimal changes in body composition. My body started to look very differently after consistently dedicating time to strength-based workouts.

In my last post, I highlighted the role of strength-training in an injury prevention routine, but I also want to take some time to discuss how incorporating strength-training and resistance-training into my fitness regimen has transformed my body:

I have actual, visible muscles now. Even when I was smaller in my early college years and in high school, I didn’t have visible back muscles or toned triceps. It’s so cool to see my efforts paying off. Also, aesthetic reasons aside, the strength I’ve been building in my glutes and core by strength-training is also an improvement in that it enables me to push through harder in the last miles of a long run or race.

To start weight-training, I would recommend Jamie Eason’s LiveFit Trainer from to learn a few basic lifts. This program limits cardio during a couple of phases, so it may be something to try if you are running very little or not preparing for any racing events.

If you do not have a gym membership, I LOVE FitnessBlender workouts for working out at home. FitnessBlender is a YouTube channel created by a husband and wife personal training team, and they are so good at what they do! Doing their workouts a couple of times a week consistently will yield great results.


Shoulders are starting to come through!


‘Mirin the #babygains

I’m not where I want to be in terms of fitness, but where I am now is a dramatic difference from where I was. I can’t wait to see how my more targeted regimen will improve my performance and add more lean muscle mass over the next few months.

Review: Dr. Jordan Metzl’s IronStrength for Runners

In 2015, Runner’s World released a new DVD that includes workouts developed by Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician, marathoner, triathlete, and fitness instructor based in New York City. I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Metzl’s “Inside the Doctor’s Office” series for Runner’s World magazine – these videos are short, informative segments focusing on the various parts of the body that are most affected by the repetitive stress of running long distances.

After purchasing and reading his book, Running Strong, I decided it would be a good idea to incorporate his recommendations into my weekly exercise routines, and the fact that he is a runner who works with runners everyday in his office made me trust his experience and perspective even more. Many of the exercises he outlines in his book are fairly straightforward and appear in many strength-training routines, such as squats, burpees, planks and mountain climbers. However, I felt I would benefit more from a full, start-to-finish workout DVD that I could follow along with instead of remembering to fit in all of the requisite functional exercises for injury prevention, plus weights, at my gym, so I purchased IronStrength. The product is actually a DVD set of the full IronStrength workout, plus three shorter, 20-minute workouts: The Core Blaster, Glute Blaster, and Abbreviated IronStrength routine.

My enthusiasm was quickly outpaced by the difficulty of the full IronStrength workout. It is hard! Dr. Metzl leads you through several rounds of plyometric squats and lunges (plyometric exercises are high-impact, jumping exercises that are designed to raise your heart rate and recruit your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are useful for improving your running speed and supporting muscle growth), plank rows with weights, one-legged bicep curls, core exercises, and burpees. It’s a 50-minute workout that feels like two hours, at least the first time around. It is recommended that you do the full Ironstrength workout and a shorter workout each week, for a total of two running-specific strength workouts a week. I modified this a bit a few months ago, during my first crack at IronStrength- I worked with a personal trainer once a week, and did IronStrength or a weights routine at my gym for my second strength-training workout of the week. This time, I want to see how my body responds to two IronStrength workouts for at least 8-10 weeks consistently. I don’t envision this workout becoming a cakewalk anytime soon, but I can confidently say running feels a lot easier after burning out your glutes, quads, and core! It’s also telling that this workout is difficult for me – it’s clearly targeting some weak areas that could benefit from the extra attention.


Have you tried IronStrength or any of the Runner’s World workout DVDs? Comment below.



Building Mileage

Ah, base-building…..

Since I’ve started running consistently in 2014, I have trained for races on 2 to 3 runs a week, with an occasional 4 runs a week when I can fit an extra day in. This is low for most runners, especially those running half-marathons and longer distances, but I do other activities to build lean muscle mass and strengthen my body – weight-lifting, resistance training, HIIT workouts, and yoga – and sometimes, I’m just too tired to run another day or two in the same week.

I’ve decided that if I want to shore up my weak points, I need to make running and recovery my priorities, so I’ve started a new method of slowly adding a mile to each extra day of running, and holding the volume steady for 3-4 weeks until I reach my desired weekly mileage. This is congruent with the 10% rule that most running experts advise, where you increase each week’s mileage by no more than 10% (assuming you are recovering well and not feeling excessively tired and sore after each mileage increase). I’ve finished my first phase of base-building (we’re in week 4!) and I’m feeling pretty good about the way I warm up and cool down to promote faster recovery.

I’ve also added Dr. Jordan Metzl’s IronStrength for Runners DVD (yep, old school) back into my workout regimen, which left me a bit sore since I haven’t done the exercises in a few months, but I trust that I’ll adjust after a few weeks. Of course, I am building in a down week of reduced mileage and low-impact exercises every 4 weeks to stay healthy.

How do you build your base for additional mileage?


Winter Running (Even in the Midwest…)

Running in the winter is a feat that is to be respected. Layer incorrectly, and you flirt with the possibility of extreme overheating, or on the other end of the spectrum, a scary case of frostbite. Either occurrence can wreck the confidence you’ve cultivated as a runner, ruin your outdoor experience, and force you to limit yourself to treadmill workouts, with your Garmin failing to see the light of day until Spring. As someone who has finally made nice with Midwestern winters after twenty-seven years (Chicago upbringing notwithstanding), I understand your reticence, but I also want you to experience the joy of a winter run. Let’s cover a few basics….


The clothing rule of thumb, generally, is to dress for 20 degrees warmer than the weather you’ll actually encounter during your run. Of course, this rule of thumb is not nuanced enough to factor in windchills, freezing rain, and other elements crazy acts of nature,  so this requires a bit of trial and error. I’ve found that I’m usually warm enough to comfortably chase an endorphin high in 15-35 degrees Fahrenheit in a sports bra, long-sleeved, moisture/dry-wicking shirt, a shell jacket, compression pants/fitted leggings, sturdy running socks, ear warmers, and good gloves. After 35-40 degrees, I can lose the sleeves and swap out the shell jacket for a long-sleeved, hooded Henley. Of course, this changes in windy and/or wet conditions. You will quickly discover how to avoid over-dressing and under-dressing on the run with time and experience.


Some runners swear by Yaktrax and similar products when running on snow and ice-covered sidewalks. Personally, I don’t use these implements, and prefer to just slow down or run on the grass when the sidewalk doesn’t appear to be safe. In this respect, winter running can be very similar to trail-running as a novice – it requires watching your step and paying close attention to varying terrain.

Hardcore Training/Pace Improvement

Much like running in warm/hot weather, your body begins to make adaptations to running in the cold after a few weeks. You might find that you run slower than your typical pace during your first couple of runs, and then regain your normal training pace or better after those physical adaptations have occurred. As I’m not training for a particular race event or distance right now and using the winter as a time to work on strength and flexibility, I’ve given my average pace very little thought; instead, I’ve focused on effort. Did I get my heart rate up? Did I work up a sweat? Am I smiling at the guy who cut me off in traffic on the way home, because I’m on a blissed-out endorphin binge? Success!

Your first few weeks running in winter weather will feel strange and at times, uncomfortable. During my first few cold-weather runs, I craved the feeling of the sun on my skin and wearing just shorts and a tank top. Now, I embrace the the thin air and how easily I can see my breath – it’s surprisingly an invigorating experience.