No One Asked Amanda: Endure This

Last weekend my partner, friend and I conquered the Spartan Beast Malaysia.  For those of you unfamiliar, here’s a quick summary:

  • 21K (13.1 mile) outdoor trail course including hills as steep as 16-20% grade; 25-30 obstacles with a 30-burpee penalty for noncompletion; water crossings and mud as deep as your knees
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Pro marathon tips.

Just six days prior to that, my partner and I also completed the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, and while I know you all understand what a marathon (42K / 26.2 mile) means, the SCSM also means:

  • a death-march, double-back and out-and-back-filled course starting in the pitch black of night at 4:30am and performed in 90-95% humidity from start to finish

To put it mildly, I’m good on endurance events for a whileMaybe forever.

I’ve done a lot of reading about the impact of endurance training and racing not only on an athlete’s body, but on a woman’s body in particular (granted, I’m not exactly built like a typical woman either what with my giant shoulders and long arms, but whatever).

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There was a time when I solved the problem of “too much running” by training for triathlons (swim-bike-run combo events) and making sure I balanced the pounding on my joints with some good old-fashioned flotation and cycling therapy.  But to be honest, with my current schedule and commitments, triathlon training just isn’t viable time-wise or expense-wise (those carbon-frame bikes don’t come for free, yo).

But these days, I vacillate between feeling completely unmotivated to get out and run 20 or 30K every weekend (ugh) and feeling completely destroyed after I inevitably do because I know I need to do it for training (double ugh).

Couple this with the fact that my partner nearly died twice on the aforementioned events (ok, death obviously averted, but he suffered from crippling calf cramps in both races and some nagging injuries afterward) and both of us are a bit burned out on the whole idea of slogging long distances for the sake of pride.

So what’s next?

I’ve signed up for the Zoo Run 10K just to see if I’ve got my speed chops still kickin’ (most recent PR was last year’s 3rd-overall finish of 43:28. which I fear I will never again beat) and I want to try a 5K in February or March for the same reason.

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Looking at “meters” rather than “kilometers” gives me LIFE

I also want to set goals that aren’t just related to speed/racing/running, such as getting back into yoga (I was doing it at least 1X/week for so long, and in 2017 I only did it twice in the entire calendar year), getting stronger at Olympic and basic lifts (definitely going to keep up my Orangetheory and Garage habits), rediscovering my weekly stairs workout and boxing routine, and working on shortening and intensifying my workouts in general.

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Short and not-so-sweet; that’s why I LOVE boxing

I want to get back to the track and feel truly fast again.  I want to remember what it feels like to inspire a group of people by teaching energetic group exercise (namely Spin).  I want to punch something (to refrain from punching someone, haha).  I want to just be free to move my body in ways that aren’t designated by a training plan or competition.

This ol’ bod is telling me it’s time for a change – and as they say in my line of work, if you listen to your body when it whispers, you’ll never have to hear it scream.

How are you going to spruce up your workout routine in 2018?

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Ask Amanda: The Half Of It

Hey, did you guys know I ran a half marathon this past weekend?  

I’m almost kidding, since I feel like I posted it all over every social media platform I had – but who can blame me*?  The race went great, the location (Angkor Wat Archaeological Park; definitely worth your visit) was incredible, and the training I put into the effort was top-notch.

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All the amazing kweens of the 2016 Angkor Wat International Half Marathon (me, far right)

*I almost turned this post into a mini-rant to counterpoint OTHER peoples’ mini-rants about how “annoying” it is to post your workouts on Facebook; a habit which I not only have NO problem with but find encouraging and inspiring – but I digress; that’s not what today is about.

Today is about half marathon training, my friends – or really, any endurance event training, since I’ve been doing a lot of those things of late.  How do I train for a long-distance running or obstacle event?  What are the keys to success in these cray-cray distances?  And how can you avoid some of the common mistakes new racers make?

First of all – and I stress this so much to clients it’s almost a joke – I don’t run that much.  Ok, before that seems absurd, let me clarify – I absolutely do run more than your average person not doing half marathons.  But I do NOT run every day, every other day, or really anything over 15K (9.3 miles, American friends) unless I am training for an actual full marathon.  What I do do is make every single run count – I hit one speedwork, one strength/hill run, and one distance run per week when I’m in endurance training.  The speedwork usually involves a legit rubber track; the strength involves hills (if I can get ’em outdoors), treadmill inclines (if I can’t), or tempo work (like this); and the distance run starts at just 5 miles (8K) and grows to a max 15K (in this hot and humid weather, I find it is more than enough to get a sense of what race pace and fatigue feel like, and also enough to test nutrition and fuel options).

Which brings me to my next point – the centrality of proper nutrition.  Hate to be a downer, but guys, it’s not just the big fun carboload meal you eat before the race that “counts” (and for the record, my favorite pre-race meal is NOT a big plate of pasta, but rather, a big slab of red meat – either a burger and fries or steak and potato), but in fact the nutrition program you use on a day-to-day basis throughout training and during the actual race that matters most.  I do intermittent fasting each and every day of the week, but I also limit my carb intake in the week leading up to the race.  Two days prior, I start to add refined carbs back in force, and then the night before the race, I give myself a healthy dose of simple carbs and animal protein – and believe me, this method makes me feel like I have a jet pack on my back.

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As for race-day nutrition, everyone is different – so it is crucial that you find a strategy that works for you well before the actual day.  For me, I have trouble eating in the morning due to a mixture of nerves, lack of appetite, and fear of pooping my pants, so I like to load up a later dinner the night before and race on coffee, water, electrolyte beverages, and GU gels alone.  Other athletes I know like to wake up with a hearty bagel or muffin, then hit some chews throughout the race; even others I know carry actual food with them on the course (believe it or not, I know one gal who legit races with a cooked sweet potato in her pocket).   Lance Armstrong was renowned for taking in nearly 20 PowerGel packets (!) during the 26.2 miles of the NYC Marathon the first time he ran it.  Summary point: it does not matter what you need to do for race-day eating; it DOES matter that you practice, practice, and practice again eating EXACTLY what you’re going to eat in EXACTLY the conditions you’re going to eat it to make sure it doesn’t cause you any hassle, GI distress, or general discomfort when the big day comes.

Besides nutrition, the biggest advice I can give new endurance runners is to cross-train with weights.  You heard me – don’t be afraid of getting bigger, be focused on getting stronger and more indestructible.  Sure, there’s something to be said for being light and fast on your feet, and I absolutely do recommend finding a healthy race weight and adjusting your nutrition program to help you reach it – but there’s also a great deal of value in being powerful (this was the first half marathon in six years that I was able to PR, and I attribute it to a killer kick that allowed me to drop two fellow female competitors that had led me for the entire race in mile 11), recovering easily, and finishing strong.

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So what do I mean by cross-training with weights?  I mean 2-3 sessions of dedicated, structured resistance training per week.  Perhaps for you that’s a bootcamp-style workout, or a circuit training class, or a TRX session – all great options.  Maybe you’re the type who likes to follow a traditional training split (like back/biceps, chest/legs) in the gym alone.  A third option may be to join a CrossFit or obstacle-racing gym (depending on your goals) and practice functional skills like flipping tires, kettlebell swinging, or rope climbing.  Whatever your preference, make sure you’re lifting with proper form (a session with a personal trainer can be an awesome investment here to master the basics), lifting heavy, and lifting with a focus on core development (i.e. choosing free weights or a barbell; not relying on gym machines to do the stability work for you).

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Finally, and this underlies all of my advice above – make sure you have a plan.  Serious runners get coaches; if you can’t afford one, get yourself a solid running plan online, make your runs and workouts as serious as your work appointments or meetings, and stick to it.  I advise 12-16 week plans for new half marathoners; 16-20 for new marathoners.  For shorter distances, allow yourself at least 8 weeks to fall into a focused run-and-resistance  training routine, and for obstacle racers, make sure you’ve got race-specific (like the aforementioned rope climb) training at least once per week in the 4-5 weeks leading up to race day.  And as always – listen to your body.  Even the best runners on the most finely-tuned programs get injured when they build mileage too quickly, skip their cross-training, “forget” to stretch or do yoga, and stop sleeping enough to recover fully – so make sure you’re keeping your self-care intact as you ramp up your endurance work, too.

How do you train for a long-distance race?  What are some of your time-tested tips?

Marathon Recap: ThisFitBlonde Runs LA

Hey, did I tell you guys I was running the LA Marathon?  Probably not, since I actually did it on a whim (read: with NO training, not even a long run of anything more than 12 miles) after getting a bib from a friend who was too injured to run – but I did!  And it was absolutely fantastic.

Some background: LA was my fifth marathon, and the 30th running of the marathon overall, so an anniversary of sorts for both me and the city.  I’ve run Surf City (Huntington Beach), the NIKE Women’s (San Francisco), Rock N Roll Las Vegas (at night), Boston (in 2013, so ’nuff said about that unique experience) and now Los Angeles.

I always vowed not to run LA because it was “too familiar”these are the streets I train on day in and day out; the streets I live on; the streets I commute and curse upon.

How could running a marathon in L.A. feel like anything but drudgery?

But friends, I was so wrong.  If you are a 16-year Angeleno (and fierce defender of the city’s greatness) like me, you need to run this race.  You will see LA in a whole new light – not only the promising and hopeful light of dawn but also the striking and illuminating “light” of a city untouched, somehow cleaner and prettier and less crowded than it’s ever been.  I loved every step.

That said, no marathon is without its downfalls – and this race still had some, despite my best efforts to stay calm and focused.  Here’s a quick play-by-play of what was going on in my head, mile-by-mile:

MILE 1“it’s just another perfect day…I loooove L.A….” Randy Newman’s voice booms loud at the starting gun – and we’re off.  I’m feeling good.  It’s sorta crowded but no one’s elbowing me yet.  I keep reminding myself to keep the pace steady and slow.

MILE 2 – where was the mile 1 sign?  Didn’t they say they’d have a sign for each mile?  Oh well, whatevs.  This muscular dude is running a nice pace.  I’ll follow him awkwardly closely until he runs away.

MILE 3 – hey look, a 5K!  Isn’t that sweet?  Muscular dude has been upgraded to official Pace Buddy, despite that we haven’t yet exchanged verbal words.  It’s just a runner “thing,” you know?

MILE 4 – downtown looks nice, at least this part.  Pace Buddy (now known as PB) smiled at me and handed me a water from the aid station; still no words but officially my PB.  Resisting urge to look at the clock as I keep telling myself, slow and steady.

MILE 5 – so THIS is what Echo Park is!  Wow!  There’s a lake here and things.  Supes nice.  Feelin’ gangsta as “Not Butter” comes on my running mix and I audibly laugh.  PB probably thinks I’m insane but is too committed to our pacing to run away.

MILE 6 – PB speaks!  He pulls out one earbud and tells me he’s going to grab water at the next aid station and hit a gel.  Scintillating.  I agree with him and play “gel roulette” with what’s in my pack; end up with a vanilla bean w/caffeine.  Hyped up on that and Beyonce.

MILE 7 – Blisters are starting to form, and this early it’s annoying – but I don’t have time to care.  Gotta stay on the 9-minute flat with PB, and gotta pretend like this isn’t the most boring scenery of the entire course (sorry to those who live here, but it sucks).

MILE 8 – Deep into Hollywood now and prepping to see my friend Melinda at mile 9.  I tell PB, “I have friends at mile 9!”  He throws me an exhausted-looking thumbs up.  I feel like a douche.

MILE 9 – DAMMIT.  DAMN.  IT.  Where is my friend?  I know she’s here!  She made me a sign!  I know she did!  “Maybe she didn’t wake up,” says PB, and I want to punch him for a second.  I KNOW SHE IS UP.  Are we running too fast?

MILE 10 – DOUBLE DIGITS!  I throw up a “deuces” to PB and he laughs.  We are running too fast for him; I can tell he’s struggling, but I refuse to slow down when I feel this good – plus we’re in Hollywood reppin’ the Pantages, Grauman’s Chinese, and all the “cool” things about this part of town – without the annoying tourists up in our grills.

MILE 11 – PB tells me he’s going to drop off at the next mile to meet his wife and son and change shoes; secretly I am a little relieved because I want to maintain.  “0 to 100” comes on the mix and I know I’ve made the right choice because I go 0 to 100 real quick; real f*cking quick.

MILE 12 – As promised, PB peels off with the fam and we exchange a heartfelt (if momentary) goodbye.  For a second I am sad.  Then I realize he is a total stranger and I go on running.

MILE 13 – Did I make it halfway already?  Are those drag queens dressed as high school cheerleaders?  Do I have time to stop and poop?  The answer to all of these is, of course, yes.

MILE 14 – OHMYGAH the greatest downhill of the course is about to hit and I didn’t even see it coming.  I wave my arms like a stupid lunatic and almost take somebody’s eye out (sorry bro).  My baller “LA Woman” remix comes on and I realize that this is the city I was born to run.  Tears well up in my eyes.  Sentimental Manda = getting tired….

MILE 15 – But not too tired!  The promise of seeing my family in a few miles perks me up again and I power through WeHo and Beverly Hills like it’s no big (and hey, this is getting close to my neighborhood – it is no big; I run these streets all the time!).

MILE 16 – 10 MILES TO GO!  In some races that has felt like an eternity, but here it feels doable.  I realize I am on pace for a sub-four marathon after screaming at a volunteer, “WHAT TIME IS IT!??!”  Someone shoves an ice cold coconut water into my and I am almost brought to tears again with how happy I am to drink that delicious beverage.

MILE 17 – OMG, family is so close!  How’s my hair look?  Oh wait, it looks like the rest of me – a soggy, sad sack after being sprayed down with hoses, pouring water on my head and back, nearly losing my stretched-elastic shorts (note to self: toss these shorts when you get home), and squinting out one eye after one is rendered useless due to sunscreen drip.  I’m a hot mess.

MILE 18 – There’s my house.  WHERE MY BED IS.  And I’ve been up since 4:45.  Would anyone notice if I just diverted off course for a moment?  Sigh.  Another mile, another orange slice.

MILE 19 – FAMILY!!!  HI MOM & DAD!  HI BROTHER!!!  My “official” first spectators since I missed my mile 9 support and dropped my PB.  I feel like a massive baller, despite the fact that I just grabbed a handful of Vaseline off a posterboard carried by a complete stranger (hey, I refuse to suffer armpit chaffing if I don’t have to).

MILE 20 – There is something amazing about mile 20 – it’s where you truly start to believe the finish line is attainable.  It’s more amazing when “Move B*tch” by Ludacris comes on your playlist and you start dominating some b*tches (and by “dominating” I mean “hobbling past someone that stopped to walk at a water stop, then getting caught by them 200 yards later”).

MILE 21 – I see two runners help a handcycle athlete get up a steep hill, and my eyes are again filled with tears.  I let one spill.  I AM NOT MADE OF STONE DAMMIT.

MILE 22 – Four miles left?  Steady downhill grade?  Let’s do this.  “Turn Down for What” guides me through a “high five station” where I literally slap about 24 hands in a row.  Ow.  And now I’m sticky.  Ew.

MILE 23 – It’s just a 5K now – and yet the blisters on my feet are beginning to revolt against the 90-degree weather – and did I mention I’m also COMPLETELY blind in one eye from sunscreen damage?  Note to self: sun protection is one thing, but temporary blindness is quite another.  Remember to pack the powder protection next time.

MILE 24 – OMG, two miles left.  I scream out for the time again and when the volunteer tells me 10:33, I realize I am fully going to break 4 hours on thiz beetch.  I prepare to rip my bib (because I told the friend whose bib I was running on that I would, so she wouldn’t get some rando time) and accidentally rip the bib.  Now I’m carrying a bib.  STUPID.

MILE 25 – Finally, the spectators who have been screaming “you’re almost there!” since mile 2 are vindicated: we are, in fact, almost there.  They say the last mile is the longest.  Whoever “they” are, they’re right.  I can see the ocean; shouldn’t the finish line BE HERE ALREADY?!?!?  WHY AM I STILL RUNNING?!?

MILE 26.2 – Crossing the finish, I suddenly feel at peace, like the scenes in movies where all the sounds fade away and you are moving through silence, colors intensified, time almost simultaneously fast and slow.  I feel completely inside my own head yet utterly connected to everyone around me.  It is a glorious sense of achievement and relief, compounded with an intense bowel cramp and crazy craving for cold pizza.

My finish time was 3:57 (net 9:02/mile pace), including poop break – making this my slowest marathon ever.  That said, it was one of my favorites ever – the one where I got to relive all the memories I’ve made over the past 16  years in this amazing city.  I am honored to have given some intense love to the city that has watched me grow up and made me who I am today.

Have you ever run a marathon?  What goes through your head when you run?