Arizona

My build up to Arizona hasn’t been perfect. It’s had some great highlights with a 10k PR in crazy snowy conditions last month, nailed workouts, and the purchase of a new treadmill to make winter running easier. But it’s also had some blowouts… workouts not perfectly executed, workouts cut short, illnesses that caused missed runs. And this week. The week leading up to the PHX-Mesa half Marathon in Arizona was filled with some major GI issues (I’ll spare you the details…). I barely ate anything from dinner Monday night til race morning. My pre-race dinner was pretzels, a banana and Pedialyte for goodness sake!

Bib acquired!

Bib acquired!

Not sure what happened, but even as late as the expo Friday I was considering calling my coach and telling her I was going to defer to next year. That there was NO WAY I could run because I can’t even make it through my 20 minute shake out run without feeling sick.

Instead I got my bib, saw a few friends at the expo and just hoped that everything would pan out. I’d at least show up race morning and see what happened, hoping to not become the next running meme.

I had my race gear set out the night before the race, as well as some extra layers for warmup and post race. I decided to wear my new tank from the Omaha running store where I work: Peak Performance! I also had to wear my favorite Sparkle Athletic running shorts. They have some serious magical powers. This would also be my first race where I haven’t worn my normal shoes I run in. Instead, I ordered some racers after talking with my coach Lauren. They are extremely light weight! This would also be my first race using Spring Nutrition as my energy source. I’ve been using it now for a few months, and I really love the flavors, texture and energy I feel while using them. (Not sponsored…just love these products!)

Race outfit… we ready to tackle PHX!

Race outfit… we ready to tackle PHX!

Race morning I woke up about 4:15, knowing we had to leave our hotel by 4:45 to hop onto the bus that would take us to the start. I quickly changed, put on my extra layers, grabbed more Pedialyte, a bowl of instant oatmeal and a banana. I could easily eat in the car/ bus on the way since the race didn’t start til 6:30. I knew I had some time!

Hi Stephanie!!!

Hi Stephanie!!!

We found the bus and I hopped on with my friend Tom, who was also racing. I used to work with Tom in Milwaukee, and he flew in for the race. The bus ride took about 15 minutes to get to the start line. Not too bad considering it’s a city I don’t know and I didn’t want to try to find my way around at 5 am in the dark. Once at the start area we walked around a bit, hit the potties and I started my warmup. I ran two, very easy, very dark miles around the area before starting a few of my drills. I was sweating! I knew that was a good sign that the race temperature really was perfect (44 degrees.. yes!)

As we were heading to the bag check, I got to meet one of my athletes! I had three at the race, but before the race start it only worked out to find one. Stephanie I loved meeting you!

Closer to mile 9 or 10, but no race photos from about the first 8 miles due to running in the dark.

Closer to mile 9 or 10, but no race photos from about the first 8 miles due to running in the dark.

Once we dropped off our extra gear at bag check, we headed to the start line to wait for the last few minutes before the 6:30 am start where I took my first Spring Gel (plum). There aren’t many half marathons I’ve started in the dark, but it was kind of nice having close to an hour of the race finished before the sun came up! Anyway, we started off and my coach gave me a speed limit of about 7:15 pace for the first 5k. I really felt very good which was so surprising for me given how sick I felt all week. But I kept trying to pull back a little bit into my speed limit range. The cool crisp air felt so amazing. First three miles: 7:13, 7:11, 7:07… oops. But I did feel very controlled, and knew I could keep pushing in the low 7’s for quite awhile longer.

Right after the third mile I even took off my gloves, and unhooked my thumb holes. Really.. 44 degrees is my perfect racing weather you guys!

Miles four through six I still felt great. The pace felt fairly effortless and the miles were ticking by. I took my first Spring Gel during the race around 32 minutes (4.5ish miles) into the race. My favorite is the strawberry, and that’s what I took here.

Miles four, five and six were: 7:04, 7:02, 7:04. The sun was just starting to creep up, and the race crowds were peering out of their houses. The aid stations all screamed loudly as we passed which was so nice. It was around the 6th mile I think where we had our one and only up”hill” of the race. I looked back and we literally gained 10 feet the entire run… This small hill was just really two steps up to get over a railroad track and then right back down. This course is a slight downhill the entire way, losing about 165 feet. Just enough to speed you up a little, but not enough to notice while running (or driving) the course. Perfection, truly.

Miles seven, eight and 9 still felt mostly effortless. I started to take my last gel about 65 minutes in (mango, which has caffeine), but I just couldn’t get it all down. Not because I felt sick or anything, but the fatigue was setting in. More so mentally than physically. Nevertheless, these three miles were 7:05, 6:55, 6:55. I think about 9-9.5 miles was where I could tell my glycogen stores were running low, which is about 1-1.5 miles sooner than usual for me. I’m sure it can be attributed to not eating well this week with whatever stomach bug I had.

So serious.

So serious.

Oh, hey pain face.

Oh, hey pain face.

I knew these next few miles could be a little more challenging. But I was already about 65 minutes through the race and knew I just had 30ish left to go. I could that. Have you ever started counting down that way? Just 4 miles.. just 3.75. Only 3.5 to go. Okay… just a 5k left! Yeah, me too. That started right about 9.5 miles in. The slow countdown. The “stop looking at your watch” and “press into the pain” and “you are strong. you are strong. you feel good. you are brave. keep pushing.” type of talk. Over and over and over again. I knew I had slowed down a little but as long as I didn’t stop… I’d PR. Just. keep. running. Miles 10-12 were not my best of the race. They hurt… I had to physically and mentally fight for what I wanted. I saw 1:32 flat slip a little further away. I knew I was already about 20-25 seconds over that overall time and was doing whatever I could to not lose more time from it. My friend Tom was feeling good, so he left me around 11.5 miles. You’re welcome for the pacing!! Miles 10, 11 and 12 were: 7:11, 7:13, 7:14. Not what I wanted, but not totally a crash and burn. I was still running faster paces than any other half marathon average in my life.

Heather and I finishing!

Heather and I finishing!

Then something amazing happened. I recognized Heather McKirdy about 12.25 miles into the race. As she passed me, looking stunningly fresh like a spring daisy, I asked if she was Heather. She turned and said “Oh my gosh, Kristen!! Hi!”

First off… “hey!” Just fan-girling over here. Don’t mind me. Just wanted to say hi… you keep going! I told her not to let me hold her back. She replied she was just running easy (what… Someday this will be my running easy half marathon pace. I promise.) Then she said “You just got yourself an annoying coach for the last mile. Let’s go. Stop looking at your watch. Push it. Tuck into my shoulder. Come on!” And that’s what I did. I stuck as close to Heather’s shoulder as I could and pushed into the pain you feel 12.5 miles into a PR race.

She really, truly helped me speed up that last mile of my race. Mile 13 was 6:55, and my final push was 6:06 into the finish line.

I officially finished the Mesa-PHX half marathon with a PR of 2 minutes and 2 seconds. My time was 1:32:56. I could not be more thrilled with this finish and my race time, all things considered. I’m elated that my stomach recovered race morning and that my body allowed me to push it to a new extreme. I’m thankful for my coach, guiding my workouts and telling me to trust my body this week and that it will know what to do on race day. I’m thankful for my husband chasing me around the country as I chase my dreams. I’m thankful for friends to run with through easy and hard miles.

Almost there!

Almost there!

Finish line smiles!

Finish line smiles!

PR bell!

PR bell!

Overall, I was the 207th finisher, 61st woman and 11th in my age group. Some speedy people come to Arizona every February, and I totally understand why. This course is amazing. The spectators, aid stations, weather…. it’s an amazing venue to have a great day. Thank you, Phoenix for providing me with just that!

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Post race, I met up with two of my three athletes for breakfast. Finally… I was hungry and could eat! Happy to say my stomach felt fine! It was great to meet and chat with both Stephanie and Sylvia over some good food. The amazing news… all three of us PR’d today, as well as my friend Tom! I couldn’t be more proud to be their coach and friend! Definitely a successful weekend in Arizona!

I can’t wait to see you two ladies again! Loved meeting you.

I can’t wait to see you two ladies again! Loved meeting you.

So Arizona was a great overall weekend. I now have 20 states completed, and 25 half marathons under my belt. I’m hoping the next one will bring another PR… so that I can auto qualify for the NYC marathon. For that, I need sub 1:32. Now that I’m 56 seconds away, I know it’s more possible than ever. Let’s see if the half marathon at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota can help me punch my ticket.

To get back to race archives, click here.

The best running shoes for you

What shoes should you run in? Honestly… I have no idea! The ONLY person who can help you make that decision is the person working at your local running store. Not someone fast on Instagram, not your neighbor who has ran for 25 years, and not that lady with the flashy kicks in the super market.

Other than being a running coach, and a personal trainer for the last 6 years, I also recently started working at a local running store. It’s been quite the change in career, but I’ve absolutely loved it. I've learned more about shoes and other parts of running that I never really thought twice about before. So now I 100% tell all my athletes to go to a local running store and get checked out to find the right shoes for them.

Every foot is different, every runner is different, and every athlete’s needs are different. A good running store will do a gait analysis and ask multiple questions to help find the correct shoe for you. What does a gait analysis involve?

  • Checking your arch height

  • Seeing where your lower leg bones (tibia and fibula) line up over your ankle

  • Watching how your knee tracks over your foot as you bend your knee forward

  • Watching how you walk/ run to check for pronation or supination

  • Sizing both your feet (because they may be different sizes!)

  • Checking out the bottom tread and collars of some of your most recent pairs of running shoes to look at the wear patterns

All of these mini tests take less than 5 minutes total, but can save you a lot of time (and pain) in the long run. Most runners buy shoes that are a size too small… which can cause cramping, blisters, calluses and black toenails. A good rule of thumb is to go up 1 full shoe size from what you are measured on the Brannock foot measuring system… which your local running store employee should do for you automatically!

Types of shoes and the individual who wears them:

  • Neutral- Typically someone with a high arch, does not need stability, may supinate (ankles roll out)

  • Stability- Could still have a decent arch height, but tends to pronate (ankles roll in) causing the arch to collapse a bit each step.

  • Motion Control- Very low arch or flat footed and pronates excessively.

  • Trainers- Come in all the above categories. Worn for most runs. Typically last 300-500 running miles.

  • Racers- Typically very light weight, but also have extremely limited miles to them. Worn usually during speed sessions and during races. They are mostly neutral, but a few brands do sell light stability. Be sure to check if they are for shorter (mile, 5 or 10k) or can handle longer (half marathon, marathon) races.

  • Trail- Usually come in neutral, but some brands also make them with light stability. Will have more traction on the bottom to help grip dirt, rock, forest trails. Some brands will also make trail shoes in waterproof material (gortex).

Brand of shoe vs Model of shoe:

There are so many shoes on the market… and I’ve often heard “I run in Brooks (or insert any brand here… Nike, Saucony, New Balance, Hoka… just to name a few!). But truly, that’s not super helpful. The MODEL of the shoe is more important. Brooks Levitate vs Brooks Transcend are extremely different shoes. New Balance 860s vs 880s… very different. Knowing the model of the shoe you’ve been running in can be extremely helpful to the running store employee.

Money Saving Options:

  • Check the clearance wall. A lot of shoe stores will have last year’s color on sale.

  • Ask if they take any discounts… military, student, running club.

  • Join the “frequent buyer program” if the store has one.

Whatever you do… don’t just go off the looks or color of the shoe. Buy the shoes the employee suggests because they know their stuff!

Everything you need to know about Strides.

Running lingo can be a little bit confusing to a new runner, or even someone who has been in the running world for years! You hear all these terms… fartlek, threshold, strides and go what the heck?! I just want to run! But these terms all have benefit and meaning to help you improve as a runner. Today, let’s focus on Strides.

So, strides. What are they?

Strides are usually performed as a series of quick surges of fast running, typically short in length, followed by full recovery. They are a pre-cursor to doing more advanced speed work. Typically you will perform 4-6 strides of about 100 meters (or 15-20 seconds).

What benefits to strides provide?

  • Improved cadence: Typically, the faster you run you quicker your leg turn over, thus increasing your cadence. Increasing your cadence can (at times) improve your running form and efficiency.

  • Improve running form: As mentioned above, strides can improve your running form. You’ll have higher knee drive and eliminate over striding. To run at its fastest, the body will also run at its most efficient. Using strides to help improve poor posture and excessive arm swing is a great start to becoming more efficient and using the proper running biomechanics.

  • Help to “wake up” the fast twitch muscles: Strides can be done the day before your quality workout, or right before your quality session to help your legs get ready to run fast. Remember these are just short bursts, so they won’t wear you out before your speed session or race but they will help to prep your body!

  • Speed work in disguise: So much of a runner’s training is aerobic, so strides a great way to add in small amounts of extra speed work (again, by recruiting those fast twitch muscles) without needing all the extra recovery time from a full high intensity quality training session.

  • Recovery and stretching out stiffness: After an easier or long run, strides will increase blood circulation to your muscles and help to break up some lactic acid build up in your legs… both of which aid in recovery.

I somewhat hinted at this above, but when should a runner do strides?

  • Post easy run, the day before a quality session or long run

  • After the warmup jog, before the quality session

  • After the warmup jog, before a race

Now that I know when… how do I run strides?

Strides are typically 80-100 meters in length (15-25 seconds for most runners) and are ran at about 80-85% effort (about your 5k pace). They are usually performed in sets of 4-6 reps with 45-90 seconds rest between, taken as a walk or waiting in the same spot for the next to begin.

I hope this was helpful and that you’ll begin to incorporate strides into your weekly training program!