Marathons: I don’t always love them but I keep going back for more

Running for 26.2 miles is not for the faint of heart. It takes consistency, dedication and determination, and a small amount of crazy, to put in the work week after week, anywhere from 12 to sometimes 20 weeks. I’m counting down the days to my 5th marathon which had me thinking about a few things…

Why I keep coming back for more marathons...

First of all, I have a runfession to make. I don’t love training for marathons. Whaaat?!!

I don’t. I really like running but I don’t love it all the time. Some runs are awesome, while other runs I need to really force myself to finish. It’s the sense of accomplishment I get from finishing a tough (physically or mentally) training run and the pride from getting my finisher’s medal after crossing the finish line that keep me going back for more.

Us marathoners know we can’t just show up and fake it. We have to put in the work to have the best performance possible. Setting a new personal record and feeling good throughout the entire run is an amazing feeling that makes all the hard work worth it.

Many people turn to long distance running because it makes them a better person, a better wife, a better mom, a better friend, by allowing them to clear their mind of stress and “head noise.”

It gives us mamas some “Me Time” to daydream. Some people may choose to binge watch Netflix; others, we choose to lace up our sneakers and run.

I don’t do it to be “skinny.” I have actually gained a few pounds training for this marathon. Sure, running helps keep me in shape, but if my goal was to just be fit I could simply do 20-minute workouts every day and be fine. Long distance running digs into other areas of my wellness I just can’t get from a lifting session.

My 4th marathon, the NJ Marathon. April 2018.

Let’s discuss my training a bit.

Avoid injury and crosstrain.

My first goal is always to show up healthy to the start line of the marathon. I want to avoid injury as much as possible and it’s my main goal with any clients I train as well. I build up mileage progressively and cross-train by doing strength training about 2 days a week. It’s really important to not give up strength training, but to modify it so you are doing movements that are the most beneficial to running. Examples are single-leg squats and side planks. I’m such a strong believer in the philosophy that in order to be a better runner, you need to be a stronger and more mobile runner, that I have made it my duty to help runners, and any type of endurance athlete, get fitter to run better.

Run a short race to test your speed and to “practice” racing.

It doesn’t have to be a half marathon; even a 5K can help you gauge how fit you are and give you a better idea of what your goal time should be. It gives you a chance to practice controlling the nerves and also you can practice some of your nutrition.

Run twice a day.

I don’t mean multiple crazy longs run that you’re breaking up into two. Doing 2 runs a day is an option if you only have time for 4 miles in the morning and then maybe you can do 4 more on your lunch break. I wouldn’t break up a speed session, but if it’s a day that calls for 8 easy miles, I believe it’s fine to do this. If the long runs are also fatiguing you or you’re injury prone, I would recommend breaking those up too. Perhaps you do 10 miles in the morning and the rest of the long run in the afternoon. The most important factor of the long run is time spent on your feet, so the accumulated fatigue will still present itself if you do it this way.

Work on your mental fitness.

I have completed long runs in 90+ degree weather. I have completed long runs by myself. I have done many boring runs on the treadmill. I occasionally get comments such as, “I can’t believe you do that!” Well, my response is always, “I have to do what I have to do!”. The reality is that by doing things that are not so exciting, you build your mental toughness and it will pay off tremendously come race day.

Follow along on Instagram to see how I make out at the Steamtown Marathon this Sunday. I missed the Boston cut-off by a couple of minutes even though I broke my qualifying time of 3:35. I’m ready for a no-long distance winter and hope to work on half marathons (funny I don’t consider 13 miles long distance anymore!) until I decide to go for another 26.2 next year.

In the meantime, I’ll be participating in a virtual stroller race- so check that out on Instagram too.

What is the one thing that you struggle with most when training for a race?

If you enjoyed this blog post and feel that it might help someone, I would appreciate if you shared it.

xo,

Julia

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How to set up a simple, functional home gym

Whether you are a busy mom or a college athlete who needs to train at home, having your own equipment can make getting your exercise in very convenient. With a little bit of creativity and planning, you can design an exercise area in your home that doesn’t get in the way of your life and that doesn’t cost a fortune.

The first thing is to decide where to set up your workout area, especially if you don’t have a specific room assigned for it or a large space in your basement or garage. Perhaps you’ll be dedicating a corner in your family room to your Sweat Space. If you are in the market for new couches for a room, think in favor of something that slides easily across the floor when you need to clear the area for exercise.

You can store your equipment in a trunk so that everything is out of sight and out of everyone’s way when not in use.  You can also put up shelves on a wall to store light stuff on, like mats, light dumbbells or jump ropes.

If you have a garage or basement, you may have more options for what to get for your space. You may even want to invest in a couple of machines depending on what you prefer. Runners may want to get a treadmill and cyclists a stationary bike.

Home gym tips

A yoga or Pilates mat is a must in your home workout area.

My top 4 simple, affordable, must -have exercise equipment/tools are:

Mat – yoga ones tend to be very thin so I’d recommend a Pilates one which will be more comfortable.

Weights – 2 pairs are ideal- one that you are able to do many reps with, one that is more of a struggle.

Resistance bands – they barely take up room and help give you a great workout.

Music – whether you have a TV nearby that you could turn on, or a portable speaker to play music, the atmosphere will help motivate you.

A few other great tools to have are a jump rope (which is great for travel), a kettlebell, core sliders and a balance board.

A motivational sign or two hanging on a wall that you can glance at when you’re feeling less than motivated doesn’t hurt either.

magic is in you quote

Don’t forget a motivational sign to keep you focused.

If you would like to take your training above and beyond, you can contact me for my 6-week Fastinista Fit Program to get leaner and stronger from the comfort of your home. Use the form below or email me at juliamorel@yahoo.com.

How I Trained To Qualify For The Boston Marathon

After being extremely pleased with my performance at the Lehigh Valley Marathon last fall, I decided to set the bar higher and chase a Boston qualifying time this year. When the idea first came into my mind last fall, I thought, “Maybe I’ll do a spring marathon to keep building up my speed and endurance and hopefully BQ in a fall race.” Then with the passing weeks and months and growing determination, my thoughts changed to, “What if I just try to BQ in the spring?…” And so I decided to pursue the latter, because the competitor in me simply could not wait until later in the year.

That’s when I started diligently reading as much as I could about how to qualify. I researched different training plans and read articles upon articles related to my goal. I knew training throught the winter would be very tough for me. I am a South American girl after all. I knew a lot of my miles would have to be done on my treadmill, but I decided to be a Treadmill Warrior not a Treadmill Worrier. If I wanted to succeed with my goal, that is what I had to do.

After finishing my 4th marathon, the N.J. Marathon

Although I continued running after Lehigh, it wasn’t until late January that I decided I would really go for it and signed up for the New Jersey Marathon. I was all in. I invested in a training plan that gave me detailed workouts and paces to shoot for. Being a coach myself, I decided to use it as a guide and changed things up as needed. For example, I did not do the total mileage that the plan asked me to do. There was just no way I could run 60 miles a week. I just don’t have the time for it. My mileage peaked at close to 50, but for the most part it was in the mid 40s. If a goal pace run felt too hard, I eased back. I allowed myself to take it easy and I didn’t push more than I had to. I think that’s a mistake I see a lot of runners do, they run fast and hard all the time. In order to reach the physiological changes that your body needs for maximum performance, it’s not necessary to empty your tank all the time.

All smiles after seeing my family at mile 15!

I ran 6 days a week which seemed like a lot at first until it became part of my routine. During the week it was usually 4-6 mile runs, 2 days of easy runs, 1 tempo run or goal pace run or Vo2 max run, a few hill repeats, and 1 long run. I did four 20 milers, which I believe gave me the mental toughness on race day of, “Hey, you did this a few times already. You got this.” Would I recommend it to everyone? Absolutely not. It was an experiment for me. It worked for this training period but it may not always be the case.

I cross-trained and lifted weights at least 2 days a week, right after a run, with core work about 3 days a week. Since figuring out that my right side is definitely my weaker side, I made sure to strength it to become more balanced. Movements such as single-leg squats, single-leg deadlifts and side planks became part of my routine. I also worked on balance by incorporating my Strongboard into my workouts.

I got treated at Santiago Chiropractic towards the end of my training. I do admit that I started after feeling some tightness on my right vastus lateralis. The issue quickly went away, but then my left gastrocnemius started aching. I was fortunate to be able to make it through the marathon with no aches at all.

Getting treated at Santiago Chiropractic Associates.

I suffer from gastrointestinal issues, so I knew I would also need to do some research and experimenting in that area. I had a tough experience during Lehigh and I definitely did not want to sideline my goals with something I could control. I had been using Honey Stingers for a couple of years but the gummies were not very convenient during races. I decided to switch to gels and opted for the Acai Pomegranate flavor. I consumed a gel packet every 3 miles during the race and that worked out perfectly. I stayed well hydrated by drinking water at almost every water station.

With all the biomechanics studying and research I’ve done over the past 7 months, I switched from my Nike Pegasus to minimalist shoes. These type of shoes encourage natural foot splay, foot flexes and lessen ground contact for improved running performance. Minimalist shoes can help improve proprioception by activating the small muscles in the ankle, heel and feet. I don’t recommend anyone just jump in and start running long in these type of shoes, but if you start out with shorter runs and slowly increase them, you can learn to appreciate what they can do for your running.

These are the main tips I can give someone and they were some of the major changes I made in my training. If you have specific questions about anything, feel free to leave a comment or to email me and I’d be happy to help you!

I did not stay at a hotel the night before, mostly because I wanted to eat dinner at home and sleep in my own bed. My mom drove with me early that Sunday morning and even thought there was a slight back up entering the parking lot to the racetrack, we were able to get a spot easily.

The marathon itself was a really great experience. I actually did not study the course map too well because I thought there was going to be more boardwalk running, but most of the course was actually on the streets. It started at the Monmouth Racetrack, went north to Monmouth Park, then right through Long Branch and down to Asbury Park where we turned around and headed back up to finish in Long Branch.

There was a bit of a bottleneck after crossing the start line but after that first half mile, it got better. My favorite parts of the course were Monmouth Park, where some local residents pumped music from their loudspeakers and hung out on their front lawns with motivational signs, early on that Sunday morning to cheer us on. The energy in Long Branch was also infectious. Again, lots of signs, and cheerful faces either waiting to see their loved ones run by or perhaps just being out there to support strangers. There were lots of miles were there were no spectators, but since I was so focused on just running my race, it didn’t affect me too much. I do recall a young male spectator who held up a sign around mile 16 that said, “Touch here for power!” and I made sure to give it a tap!

The last mile will always be memorable because it was when I kicked into second gear somehow, hoping to leave everything on that course, on that boardwalk. I was so sure that I did not get into Boston at that point, but I decided to finish as strong and as fast as I could. And I sure did. I was warned about the headwinds that can plague the coast, but I was so focused on getting to the Finish Line that the winds never bothered me.

I would definitely recommend this race and since it is mostly flat, it would be a good one for either a new marathoner or someone chasing a Boston Qualifier. I did not make it to the expo and had a fellow running club member pick up my bib, so I cannot comment on how that was. The long sleeve t-shirt was nice although I would have preferred a tech material to cotton.

Having the support of my husband, my son and my mom out on the course was the cherry on top to a wonderful race. I do wish I had dialed back my pace a bit in the first few miles (and around miles 15-19), so that is definitely something I will keep in mind for my next marathon!

I’m so proud of the hard work I put in to accomplish my first Boston Qualifier marathon. Most importantly, I’m proud I got it in my home state!

Some of my cheerleaders.My Why!

Have you run the NJ Half or Full Marathon and if so, what did you think of it? Would you run it again?

I got my BQ in my home state! I got my BQ in my home state!

~Julia

Tapering for my first Spring Marathon

Here I am, three days away from my 4th marathon, the very first spring marathon I’ll be doing. This training period was so different from the past three, but that’s not surprising. Each of the past three were all different in their own way as well.

The first two, Philadelphia and New York were done before I became a mom and while I was doing CrossFit hardcore. My mileage probably peaked at the mid to high 30s. I was in great shape, but mixing the two was tough and I was always exhausted.

My third marathon was the Lehigh Valley Marathon and it was the first one I trained for as a mom. Many of my runs were done while pushing Frankie on the stroller, which became (for the most part) a fun thing for us to do together. My mileage went up to the low 40s and I got a sub 4-hour (3:44) marathon. Up until then, I was only thinking of trying after I turned 35 where I’d gain an extra five minutes to my qualifying time. Running friends started to put the bug in my ear about trying for Boston…and so I decided to embark on my mission to qualify.  This is what crazy runner friends do their friends!

My qualifying time at this time is 3:35 but in order to be able to actually have entry I would need to run a sub 3:30 marathon. Ideally I would like to do this before expanding my family. And so this marathon will be my first attempt!

This marathon is different because it was my first time training during the winter. And you all know what a winter we’ve had! I became a Treadmill Warrior and learned to embrace the fact that most of my runs would be done on the hamster wheel. If I was serious about completing a spring race, it’s what I had to do…unless of course I wanted to get up at 5am to run and that was not happening. Mama needs her sleep.

For this marathon, I used a more advanced training plan, which I of course modified to my Mom Life. I did four long runs of 20 miles, and diligently did speed work, VO2 max workouts (which I learned all about in my ReVo2lution Running certification) and tempo runs. I even did some hill repeats, although where I live you simply can’t avoid hills so they probably weren’t necessary. But variety is important so overall I’m happy with all the runs I got in. I kept my easy runs easy and tried to push the pace during intervals. My mileage went up to the upper 40s.

I remained ache free until the last couple weeks. I’m currently suffering with an achy left gastrocnemius which I’ve been icing and treating at Santiago Chiropractic. It feels fine once I warm up so I’m confident that it will hold up during the race. I will focus on giving it lots of TLC after Sunday.

This last taper week started with a sports massage and reflexology on Sunday at the Short Hills Hilton Hotel spa, eforea. It was actually a Mother’s Day gift I had from Frank from last year (oops) and took my mom with me to spend some quality Mother-Daughter time.  The services we had were ok, but the overall customer service was very disappointing. From no one being around to lead us to the upstairs lounge area, to terrible coffee, no snacks and a 45-minute wait to have your food delivered, I would be very unlikely to ever go back there.

Monday was a rest day, Tuesday was an easy three miler with four 30-second accelerations at half marathon pace. Yesterday was another three miles mostly at half marathon pace and today and Friday will be rest days. I was supposed to do another easy run but I’d rather get the rest for my calf. Saturday I’ll do a 2-3 mile easy shakeout run.

Since I decided not to run today, I’ll just be focusing on mobility, some light core work (on my Strongboard, of course) and stretching.

I did go out for a short little walk with my handsome best buddy. Last fall, during my taper, he had croup, and this time around he has an ear infection. Should it blame it on the taper crazies?? He’s luckily doing much better and was back to being his energetic, silly self again today.

I’m also drafting up ideas for another Running Workshop will which take place next month. If you’re local (and even if you’re not), send me your email so I can keep you posted on all the details.

Frankie is down for his nap as I write this and my babysitter will be here shortly so that I can go get a much needed pedicure. I’m sipping on a green matcha latte, compliments of Vital Proteins. I love their collagen powders and was so happy they sent me the matcha, as I’ve been meaning to try it. I love that it is packed with antioxidants, helps the metabolism and calms your mind and body…just what I need right now!

So the plan for the weekend is to drive down early on Sunday. Another member of my Amazing Feet Club will be picking up my bib for me (if all goes well), which will give both the hubby and I a chance to make it to Frankie’s little multi-sports camp.

Make sure you follow me on Instagram to see more about the weekend! I’ll be sure to do post-race recap with more details on my training once I give my body and mind some rest!

Have a great day,

Julia

How I came to appreciate biomechanical assessments

Muscle and joint pain is an increasingly common problem experienced by athletes, both novice and professionals. I’ve had my share of injuries in the past decade, although luckily nothing too serious. I had some foot pain a few years ago when I was training for a half marathon and had to take about 2 weeks off from running and pretty much “self-healed.”

Then, I suffered from iliotiobial band syndrome (ITB) while training for the New York marathon in 2014 and took several days off and went to see a physical therapist for some relief. Looking back, bad shoes and a weak right ankle led to these issues and I’ve since learned so much more to help me in the long run…
When I met Dr Santiago last Fall, I learned that he was one of the first chiropractors to be chosen as a member of the US Olympic Team Medical Staff for the Games of the XXV Olympiad in Barcelona, Spain, and he was an All American collegiate and professional soccer player, so I knew that helping athletes would be of high importance to me when joining his practice.

Biomechanics Evaluation

Performing an assessment on Santiago Chiropractic Associates’ patient, Valerie Goldberg.

That being said, I wanted to set myself apart from other fitness professionals so that we could offer the best care to the patients at his office.
I’ve always been the type of person who likes to focus on the fundamentals. When I was a CrossFit trainer, I would always tell my athletes that I cared more about their form than how fast they finished a workout or how heavy they lifted. I would make sure they spent enough time working on their mobility and that they understood why we were doing certain movements. Similary, now that I’m a biomechanist with a focus on functional and corrective exercise, I remind my clients that mobility and simple exercises are essential to helping them move better and remain as pain free as possible.
Gait analysis is a data-driven way of assessing performance and physical condition of athletes.

The proper system should be able to identify any muscular deficiencies and measure tolerance to various workloads, help in developing customized training and rehabilitation based on the test results, and create a database so that re-assessments can be done to periodically check the athlete’s progress.

What we use at Santiago Chiropractic is OptoGait and OptoJump, both systems by Microgate, an Italian company.
I love being able to help local athletes  (especially runners) detect mechanical inefficiencies and asymmetries between both legs, therefore helping them prevent injuries or assisting them in an injury recovery plan.
You may wonder what the benefits of these assessments are.
Biomechanical evaluations help understand how we move and identify any imbalances in the body like leg length discrepancies, muscle imbalances, joint dysfunctions, pelvic asymmetries, core dysfunctions etc that may be causing or contributing to symptoms.

We are all unique and asymmetrical and that is ok to an extent.

However, we may have learned postural bad habits and thus developed compensations that can be injuries waiting to happen!
Combining science with experience I’m able to help my clients understand their whole kinetic chain and assist them on a journey towards  pain free movement and better enjoyment of their sport.


In the past few months, I’ve dedicated myself more to my own balance and mobility and that has greatly shown up in my running. I was able to get an awesome marathon PR last September (3:44), a half marathon PR in October (1:41), and just this past Saturday, I got a PR in my local St Paddy’s 5K as well (21:39).

I have better awareness that my right side is my weaker side and I take the time to work more on strengthening it.
As you can see, it’s very important to be aware of potential issues before you get sidelined by an injury. Perhaps you’re an athlete yourself or have a child who is.

If you are local to the Lake Hiawatha are, I’d love to have a brief chat with you to answer any questions and see if my services could be beneficial to you.

Can strength training help you become a better runner?

In order to be a well-rounded runner, strength training should be part of your arsenal just like speed work and hills. Some of the benefits include maintaining lean muscle mass, minimizing muscle imbalances and increasing core strength.
Besides your typical dumbbells, you can also incorporate kettlebells into your workouts. They help increase cardiovascular health without putting too much strain on your muscles. The explosive, quick movement that’s required during kettlebell training boosts your heart rate, strengthening cardiovascular health while increasing muscle strength, posture and core.

Post run strength training

Another plus of strength training, especially if you’re looking to lose weight or change your aesthetics, is that it helps burn fat hours after your workout. It’s very important to be aware of your form at all times during exercise. This will increase the exercise’s effectiveness and safety. One of the best tips I give my clients is to visualize the muscles that are doing the work as you perform each exercise to really understand the purpose of the movement and get more out of it.

Single-leg movements are a crucial addition to your routine as they clear up mobility and imbalances between each side of your body. Training your body to move in different planes of motion can help reduce injuries and increase running performance.

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Strength training sessions don’t need to last long. Fifteen minutes of doing the right exercises can be enough. If you feel that lack of time is your issue, think of which runs you can reduce to incorporate more strength. For example, combine a run with a strength training workout by doing a 30 minute run and a 20 minute strength training session instead of your usual 50 minute run. Instead of a 30 minute run, do sprints for 15-20 minutes and then do a strength workout.

Do your best to mix in strength 2 times a week. Give it a few weeks and notice how you feel. Trust me, it will make a big difference! In order to be a stronger and less injured runner, you need to put in more than just miles. Besides picking up some weights on a consistent basis, it’s also imperative that you prioritize rest and sleep, as well as proper nutrition and stretching.

Below is a great workout to do on your cross-training day or to do after a short run.

20 minute strength workout

What is your favorite strength training movement? I currently like squats and bicep curls 💪🏼

Let me know if you try the workout above! Have a great day 🙂

Julia

Recovering after Running Season and Recap

The hard work for the year is done for some of us long distance runners as we take a break from long runs and tough speed work and settle into more leisurely runs or shorter races. Although recovery is a major part of any exercise program, in order to improve, it’s important to not stop doing what you’re doing completely. You may have had a training plan for your half or full marathon, but they don’t come with a post-race plan usually, unless you also worked with a coach. I will share some of my own personal tips that I’ve myself followed or taught my running coaching clients, to guide you the days, weeks and even months after your race.

Immediately following a race, it’s important to focus on refueling your tank.  I know I usually can’t eat right away, but a drink with electrolytes like Gatorade or beer will usually help settle my stomach and then I’m usually ready to eat within 30 minutes.  It’s very crucial to get your fluid and sodium intake after a long, tough run. Your stomach might be queasy but once you’re able to, have a small snack until you’re ready to handle a meal consisting of protein and carbohydrates. The night after a race, you may want to try an ice bath and focus on getting quality sleep. If it was a hilly race, you may even need a day off from work the following day.

A few days after your marathon, you can indulge in a massage.  I got a massage at Spavia of Greater Morristown a few days after the Lehigh Valley Marathon. With a massage you can experience decreased tension and tightness, realign muscle fibers, and release any adhesions between tissues. And of course, it just feels good and you deserve it! At Spavia, you get a comfy spa robe and sandals and a neck pillow for relaxing in the retreat room while your masseuse comes to get you. You can make a selection of the type of music you’d like to be played as well as the lotion of your preference. I left feeling rejuvenated, pampered and with relaxed muscles…and highly recommend making an appointment if you’re in the area. I look forward to checking out some of their other services like their Vita-C Radiance facial (a hydrating skincare treatment because my skin tends to get very dry in the cold months!) as well as the Nourishing Antioxidant Wrap.

During the few weeks after a marathon or half marathon, it is essential to keep your mileage and your heart rate low. By giving your body a chance to fully and deeply recover, you can be on the road to faster results in your upcoming events. Also, it’s important to give your mind a break from the focus of training, so that when your body is indeed ready to run hard again, you will have the mental energy to make it happen. Listen to your body and once you feel well rested, you may continue back to your normal running routine.

Don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments! Download all your race photos, share them on social media or print out your favorites- you can even make a photo album if it’s too hard to choose just one! Regardless of your time, revel in the fact that you crossed a finish line! If there are no races in your future, keep running but don’t concern yourself too much with pace or even distance.

This running season continues for some of us with shorter races like Turkey Trots and Santa Runs. Some of my running clients have been following  a 5-week Fit to Run program and we’re considering doing another group race together after Thanksgiving. It’s been amazing watching them improve each week as they’ve gotten fitter, leaner and faster. When they signed up for the program, they were treated with special discounts from a few local places including Spavia, Athleta of Morristown and Verrilli’s Bakery and Pizzeria and I’m sure they’re thinking about treating themselves soon after all their hard work.

A few weeks ago, I became a Certified Revo2lution Running Coach, a certification created by running expert and 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Dr. Jason Karp. This program was super helpful in providing specific workouts to increase VO₂max, raise the lactate threshold, and improve running economy. This comprehensive certification, which I did online, comprised of the following 8 manuals: Running Physiology, Running Technique, Running Training, Running Workouts, Running Injuries, Running for Weight Loss, Running Programs in Gyms, and REVO₂LUTION RUNNING™ Group Treadmill Class.

I’m full of newfound knowledge and I’m ready to help you with your 2018 running goals, whether it’s your first race or you’re looking to improve your current level, reach out so we can see if we work together!

Happy Sunday,

Julia