Training for Your First Long-Distance Race

Now that I have three half-marathons under my belt (each with a distinctly different training cycle from the last, but I’ll discuss that later), I thought it might be helpful to other novice runners to share what I’ve learned about training thus far. This post is for my fellow beginner runners who once couldn’t run a mile without stopping, and are now finding that as their aerobic and muscular capacities increase, so does their love for the sport 🙂

As I mentioned before, I started running consistently with an immediate goal of getting into 5-K shape. I had no time goals – I just wanted to finish without feeling weak or winded! I had the exact same mindset when I trained for my first half-marathon, so I used Hal Higdon’s beginner plans for my first few races. Hal has plans for nearly every distance, from the intermediate distances to even racing back-to-back marathons, but these are the two I used and even refer back to from time to time. These plans are fairly flexible, and I think Hal does a great job of ramping up your mileage slowly, so as to avoid injury and unnecessary fatigue.

Hal Higdon’s 8-week  5k Training Plan


Hal Higdon’s 12-week Half-Marathon Training Plan


Of course, a solid plan is only a starting point. Here are some tips to keep in mind while training:

  1. Focus on actual time spent running instead of miles logged.
  2. Give your body time to adapt. This may mean starting off with two to three 30-minute runs a week for about 4 weeks, and then increasing the duration of your run or the frequency of your runs (not simultaneously!) over the next four weeks.
  3. Understand that sickness, injury, travel plans, and busy schedules will interrupt your training at some point. As soon as you’re able to fit in the next run, get it done! A delay does not mean your training cycle is ruined and you’ve completely fallen off of the wagon. Barring a doctor’s orders to discontinue activity, you can start again.
  4. Each training cycle will present its own unique challenges (ahem, opportunities for growth). I firmly believe that you’re a different runner every season, for better or worse. Consistency, structure, and a positive mental attitude will go a long way.
  5. Your diet and recovery practices will heavily influence how difficult training feels. Try to get at least seven hours of sleep each night,  drink lots of water, and focus on eating whole foods, such as fruit, vegetables, and lean protein. Foods that are high-fiber and contain slow-digesting carbohydrates like oatmeal and apples, and healthy fats, such as almonds and avocados, are some of my favorites for long-lasting satiety and energy.

Happy Training!


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.



Race Recap – Hillbilly Hike Half-Marathon

This Hillbilly Hike race recap is LONG overdue. I’ve wanted to write a post extolling the praises of the organization of this race for a very long time, as I feel it has significant potential and will only become an even more popular race in the Central Iowa region over the next few years. What a great race!

My “racing” career has been very brief, but I’ve completed enough races to grow a bit tired of the typical downtown Des Moines and Chicago area event starts. Understandably, the downtown views and traffic control that accompany most distance races are attractive to runners, but I deeply desired something different at the end of the the 2015 racing season. The Hillbilly Hike event promised that the woodlands, farmlands, wetlands, and the prairie would showcase “a rainbow of the state’s natural heritage,” not to mention a downhill, flat, and fast course. A gorgeous prairie and wildlife? Sign me up!

After pushing myself to finish my second half-marathon in less than two hours, I wanted a more scenic and relaxed 13-mile run to close out the year. The Hillbilly Hike race would allow me to check out a part of town I otherwise would not, without having to think about stoplights or running out of water. I also loved the idea of running a small race (less than 500-700 runners) on Summerset Trail, which spans from Indianola to Carlisle, in south-central Iowa.

This race turned out to be exactly how it was described! There were multiple bridges, and it starts out completely downhill. A word of caution: it’s extremely easy to run the first half of this race too fast! It’s not the greatest sign of events to come when you roll out a new 10K PR during a half…and you still have another 7 miles to run.

Regardless, the scenery was crazy-gorgeous, and there was a high of 47 degrees that day. After barreling through the first 6.2 miles at 8:37 pace, I decided to take my time and catch my breath. Around mile 8, I saw deer, and then I passed geese. I wish I would’ve stopped running to take pictures, but the race photographers took great shots of the participants. This one looks totally photoshopped, but that’s how pretty the scenery was:


At the finish line, there’s biscuits, gravy, and pie baked by sweet little church ladies (at least, in my head), as the race is hosted by Indianola Christian Union Church. You can also have your name and finishing time engraved into your medal for a couple of dollars. Although I didn’t run this race faster or as fast as the half-marathon I completed three weeks prior, it isn’t very often that you can get your medal engraved on-site in Iowa.


If you are in Des Moines or a surrounding area, and would like a different race experience with a natural backdrop (you might even see wild turkeys!), the next HillBilly Hike (with 10K or half-marathon options available) will be on November 5, 2016.



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?


How To Turn a Weekend Getaway Into A Mini-Runcation!

My husband and I visited a couple of friends of his family’s in northeast Iowa recently, and although I attended undergraduate school in northern Iowa, I didn’t do much exploring off-campus, save for a random trip to Hartman Reserve every once in awhile. So when my husband approached me with the idea of a weekend trip, I thought the scenic, picturesque views would be perfect for a couple of low-key, minimal-fuss runs, both solo and with our dogs.


Luckily, my husband understands exactly how much I want to #runallthemiles everywhere I visit, so he brought his bike to cycle behind me. The actual execution wasn’t as flawless as we anticipated…we had so much we wanted to see (and consequently, a bit of driving to do to reach all of our planned destinations), so fitting in an actual run was a bit of a challenge.

The best way to exercise flexibility (see what I did there?!) is to just wear your running clothes and gear to any and all of your outdoor trips. Whenever we’d get close to a trail, the dogs and I would take off running, with my husband and friends within earshot range. Easy miles, done. And if your friends and family are already walking and taking in the sights, they’ll eventually catch up to you, or you’ll be able to circle back and find them. Whenever I do this, I usually use the RoadID app for my husband to pinpoint my location.

These gorgeous views were well-worth my coordinating efforts:


When is the last time you turned a getaway into an opportunity to get some scenic miles in?


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.