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August 20, 2014 / badangelrunning

Coming Out of Marathon Retirement

After I ran the Boston Marathon in 2011, I declared right then and there that I would never run another full marathon again. “I’m retired, I will focus on shorter races.” This made a lot of sense at the time as I was five months postpartum and would soon be pregnant with our fourth child. Training for a marathon was the last thing I wanted to do. Like, ever again.

But let’s be serious. I love the marathon. I’ve been running marathons since 2001. I love the discipline, the focus and the stress of following a marathon training plan. It’s more time-intensive than a half marathon. You have to plan everything:  your pre-run meals, your fuel during long runs, your recovery strategy. It’s an ordeal. Which quickly becomes a lifestyle.

At the beginning of the summer, I shared my 2009 Chicago Marathon training plan — the one I used to BQ — with my friend Jen, and I remember thinking, “Holy cow! I did all of this? And survived?!?” I was filled with excitement and anxiety as I talked her through the speedwork and importance of long runs and nutrition, and when she asked me to train with her, I couldn’t resist. And who trains for a marathon without running it? No one.

So, I quietly wrote up my own conservative plan and told myself that if it all went well, I would run the Columbus Marathon — which meant going back on my word and coming out of retirement. OK, fine.

I have accepted the fact that my glory days are probably behind me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t give it my all. Just finishing a 16-mile run is difficult, so I consider that a real win. In fact, I consider it an accomplishment to get four kids to eat breakfast and brush their teeth in the morning, and sometimes I do that after a 10-mile run. My goals are different now: get to the start line without getting hurt and finish with a smile.

So, there wasn’t an earth-shattering reason for me to run this marathon. Nothing more than the tugging at the heart, and the nagging question in my head: Can you still do this? Of course I can, so of course I will. — Amie

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August 19, 2014 / badangelrunning

Breakfast of Champions

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 10.06.48 AMThe Best Part of Waking Up Is A Smoothie In Your Cup.

For years, my husband has chided me for my lackluster breakfast-eating. But I’m just not a breakfast kinda gal. Since high school, I’ve been grabbing a granola bar or a baggie of cereal as I head out the door and calling it breakfast.

And I’m even worse about consuming the allotted amount of fruit one is supposed to eat during the day. I love salads and vegetables and all that jazz, but I’ve never been one to snack on grapes or apples mid-afternoon. (Please. I snack on popcorn.)

Well, somewhere along the line, I started “eating” smoothies for breakfast. My loving husband makes them every morning for the entire family and leaves mine in my car. And, they’re pretty awesome. Not only do I get a good start to the day with actual real foods for breakfast, but it’s portable and convenient — and a really easy way to sneak a bunch of fruit into my daily lineup. Even better? They’re packed full of important running fuel that helps me get through the day and last through a mid-day run.

Not to mention, when I start the day with a smoothie, I tend to make better food choices throughout the day.

I don’t always love having a smoothie right before I go for a run because 1) drinking a big drink makes me have to pee, and 2) dairy plus running isn’t always a win. However, smoothies are great in the morning if you’re planning an afternoon run. (They’re also a great second-breakfast choice if you’re planning an early morning run.)

Looking for some runner-friendly smoothie ingredients? Try some of these:

  • Banana (the base of every delicious smoothie)
  • Almond milk (sweeter than cow’s milk and just all around yummy)
  • Chocolate milk
  • Greek yogurt (a tangy zip that’ll stick to your bones for a few hours)
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Orange juice
  • Honey
  • Pineapple
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • Peanut butter or almond butter (for an extra protein kick)
  • Nutella (because come on, who doesn’t like Nutella?)

Generally, we take a combination of the above list and combine it with a protein powder. And I know. I KNOW. Protein powder is gross-tastic. But when you hide it in a bunch of delicious ingredients, it’s non-offensive and helps you stay full longer. Oh, and it protects your muscles and aids recovery and all that other good stuff. Anyway, there are a bajillion different protein powders to choose from, so find a flavor you don’t hate and go from there.

So even if you don’t believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day (totally with you if you’re in this camp), you can still make breakfast work for you — and your busy running schedule. Go forth and blend. — Aidz

August 18, 2014 / badangelrunning

Running Song of the Week

“Greet the Sacred Cow” by Primus

Skip the first 50 seconds for your running playlist purposes, and then rock the eff out. I remember seeing this song used to great effect on a skateboarding video 15 years ago (!), and it stayed with me. Also, Les Claypool is a genius. Also, I am old. That is all. — Mags

August 14, 2014 / badangelrunning

No. 1 vs. No. 5: Lessons I’ve Learned Through Five Marathon Training Seasons

Then and now.

Then and now.

As I plow my way through Marathon Training Season No. 5, it occurs to me how far I’ve come (literally and figuratively) since I laced up my shoes for Marathon Training Season No. 1 in 2010. So much of what I know and do now is second nature — i.e. when to eat my Shot Bloks, where all the water fountains are in my neighborhood, how often I need to replace my shoes — but there are a couple big lessons I’ve learned that I’d love to be able to go back and teach 2010 Maggie.

If you miss a workout, the world will not end. While training for my first marathon, I didn’t miss one single run. Not one. On the surface that probably sounds like something to be commended, but in hindsight, there were times that I should’ve parked myself on the couch. I didn’t really listen to my body, and as such, I spent weeks after the race hobbling around and then another two months in physical therapy to fix my wonky ankle, improve my flexibility and strengthen my hips.

Also, my do-or-die attitude caused me to place too much emphasis on every single run. Oh, no. How will I ever finish 26.2 miles in October if I struggled to run 4 miles on a Tuesday in July?!? The sky is falling!!!!!!! Sure, I still go through ups and downs with training, but my extremes are, well, not as extreme.

Cross training matters. My first two marathon training seasons, I didn’t do anything besides run. I didn’t belong to a gym, I didn’t ride my bike, I didn’t do yoga. I scoffed at the “cross train” part of my trusty Hal Higdon plan. Cross training mixes things up mentally and physically. It allows you to become more well-rounded, and it’s key for injury prevention. I find that some of my cross training activities are less structured (i.e. riding my bike to dinner instead of driving), and that makes it even more fun.

Not every run should be the same pace. I remember flipping out if I ran much slower than my usual 9-minute pace. I was very consistent with that pace, but it didn’t allow me to recover properly nor make any significant gains in my training. Besides, when race day came, I ran 9:45s the whole way, which I had basically not done the entire summer. I also never really pushed myself. I thought speedwork was just for super-fast people. No, it’s for everyone. It’s just that your speed is different. Easy runs and speedwork should be a part of your training plan, no matter your pace or skill level. I get that now.

Investing in quality gear/tech is priceless. Once I committed to train for my first full marathon, I started to build my gear collection. But admittedly, I was still a cheapskate. I outfitted myself in good shoes (Nike Lunarglides), but that was about it. Yes, I had finally ditched the cotton T-shirts and invested in some dri-fit, but my workout clothing options of 2010 pale in comparison to my current arsenal of neon singlets, black running tights and accessories of all types.

I also was using the Nike+ chip to track my miles and pace. Remember how cutting-edge that technology was just five years ago? It seems like the Dark Ages now. And just how accurate was it? I honestly don’t know, which was kind of the problem. I eventually graduated to the Nike+ app on my iPhone — a large improvement, to be sure — but this year, I finally put on my big girl pants and ponied up for a Garmin watch. Game changer.

You could fill a book (or blog) with the things I didn’t know in 2010, and I’m still learning each and every day from my friends, coaches, fellow bloggers and my own personal experiences.

Any questions? Hit me up! — Mags


August 13, 2014 / badangelrunning

Bad Angel Rule #179

Running Downhill Requires Work Too.

Hills. They’re an essential part of almost every training plan. They help you build strength, gain speed and learn to deal with the literal and figurative ups and down of race day. And once you learn to run hills, they’re really not so bad. In fact, my high school track coach always used to say, “Hills are your friend.” (In my youth, I didn’t always agree.)

Now, here’s the thing. When you think about hills, you generally just think about (dread) going UP them. But that’s only half the battle. The down portion of the hill requires a special skill set and effort level, just like its uphill counterpart.

The elite women (including Rita Jeptoo and Shalane Flanagan) demonstrate proper downhill running technique at the Boston Marathon.

When you run downhill, your body automatically wants to put on the brakes. And, that’s how most people go down hills; that’s how I did it for years. Plus, when you’re wearing a more traditional running shoe, and you put on the brakes and heel strike down a hill, it’s only after the fact that you’ll notice your quads are on fire and you could feel some knee pain too.

Now, I’m not saying that a more minimal shoe is for everyone (it’s not), but it does make you more aware of how your foot strikes the ground — especially when you’re pounding down a hill. Pay attention next time you’re on a hill. Naturally, you’ll mid- and toe-strike on the way up because that’s how gravity pulls your body. And naturally, on the way down, you’ll slam your heels into the ground. Knock it off!

So what’s a runner to do?

One year before the Flying Pig (a race with MANY notorious hills), the great Bob Roncker gave me some great advice, and I think about it every single time I’m running down a hill. He told me, “You’ve got to lean into the hill and get your feet really turning over fast. It should feel like you’re about to fall on your face.”

This makes such a difference. I suggest trying it first on a gentle hill because it really does feel like you might fall on your face (and given my propensity for accidents, I’m kind of surprised I haven’t eaten pavement doing this). Your gait will change drastically, and if you’re doing it right, so will your pace. And that’s the beauty of a downhill, right? It should speed you up, not slow you down.

Running down hills the right way requires more effort than leaning back and letting the hill do the work. But in the end, you’ll protect your knees and joints and muscles while improving your overall pace.

So get out there, take off the breaks, and start running down hills the right way. Wheeeeee! — Aidz

August 12, 2014 / badangelrunning

Two Months Out

iStock_000001227595SmallTwo months from today is the Chicago Marathon. (How is that even possible?!? Time flies when you’re running all the time, I guess.)

It seems like every day, someone asks me, “How’s training going?”

In a nutshell, training is going quite well.

  • I’m getting faster — much faster — which, you know, was kind of my main objective. But it still blows my mind. I continue to surprise myself and find that I still can’t really wrap my brain around just how much improvement I’ve made this year (PRs at 5K, 8K, 10K, 7 miles and half marathon).
  • I’m hungry pretty much every second of every day. And while I’m paying closer attention to what I’m eating compared to previous years, I still have my fair share of moments like, “I ran 12 miles this morning, I deserve this ice cream cone, dammit!”
  • Sleep is my favorite thing. I treasure it more than ever.
  • I’m SO GLAD I joined a training group this year. I’m doing my Thursday speedwork sessions with Chicago Endurance Sports, and it’s made a huge difference physically and mentally. I even find myself looking forward to those difficult workouts now, which is not something I can say about my pre-group training speedwork days.
  • Also amazing has been the addition of yoga once a week. When I started going back in December, I couldn’t touch my toes, but now I can! My upper body and core are stronger, and my lower body has gotten more flexible. And it’s fun. So much more fun than I imagined it would be.
  • I’m starting to dig into my really big mileage weeks, and I’m ready for it. For reals.
  • I still have flashes of panic and doubt, but they’re much less frequent than before. I’m trusting my training plan and listening to my body, and it’s working. Whatdya know?
  • My non-running social life continues to dwindle as the training weeks go on, and I’m OK with that. One huge reason? My friends and family have been incredibly supportive. They know how important this is to me, so no one is making me feel guilty for cutting out early or not showing up at all.
  • I have a super kick-ass runner’s tan going.
  • Working hard is damn satisfying.

Hopefully I can keep this train rolling for the next two months. I think I can. — Mags

August 11, 2014 / badangelrunning

Running Song of the Week

“Run Fast” by The Julie Ruin

When Kathleen Hanna tells you to do something, you do it. (Side note: If you haven’t watched “The Punk Singer” yet, get your butt on Netflix right now.) — Mags

August 7, 2014 / badangelrunning

Almost Famous: Get to Know the Running Elites

Chillin' with the Tarahumara of Born to Run fame.

Chillin’ with the Tarahumara of “Born to Run” fame.

You Don’t Know Meb.

There are about a million reasons I love running, but I think one of the things that makes the sport truly unique is that it is the only athletic endeavor I can imagine where the weekend warriors have the opportunity to compete alongside the best of the best of the best.

Why? Because runners just aren’t that famous. Even the really good ones. Sure, you know Tiger and Serena and LeBron, but do you know Meb and Shalane and Joanie? Odds are, you don’t! And you should. Because they’re exceptional and talented and awesome.

I think there are a multitude of factors that make it hard for distance runners to gain a lot of fame, but I theorize that the main reason is that distance races don’t lend themselves to spectating the way other sports do.

But here’s where runners are so lucky: The lack of fame makes the elites very accessible. In order to run with the greats, all you have to do is show up. If it’s an out-and-back course (like the Bix 7), you’ll have no problem finding them as they whiz by you in pursuit of the finish line. And if it’s not an out-and-back, and you’ll be trailing the elites by a million minutes, you can probably still find a few of them at the race expo.

Mags with the legendary Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson.

Mags with the legendary Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson.

So take note, runners! Even though you’re following miles behind these people, they’re paving the way for you. They’re doing phenomenal things and performing awe-inspiring athletic feats. And it’s worth learning their names and recognizing their faces and seeking them out at events. You might just fall in love with running a little bit more. — Aidz

August 6, 2014 / badangelrunning

The Stress Factor

I have been pounding the pavement hard lately, with surprisingly good results. I’m not breaking any speed records, but I feel great. I thought back over the last few years at the ups and downs of my training, and it occurred to me that I don’t have a lot less stress in my life today. Could that have something to do with it? You bet your bottom.

I was reminded of this when reading an article on about Cortisol. Cortisol is commonly called the “stress hormone,” and it’s released when your body is responding to any type of stress — physical, mental or emotional. It’s required for survival, but too much of it is not good for us.

We’ve been conditioned to believe stress is bad because, for the most part, it is. But stress, when applied to fitness, is the key to improvement. What’s that saying? “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you”? The thing is, your body can only cope with so much. If you are bombarded with other types of stress, such as work or personal issues, your running — and possibly your health — will suffer.

If you can eliminate some of your everyday pressures, you’ll feel it in your training. Your recovery will be shorter; your muscles will ache less. Your body is efficient at dealing with the stress when all things are equal.

There are lots of ways to balance your life, so start eliminating the bad stuff where you can. And keep in mind, sometimes a bad run might be due to the amount of stress you are under, and a great run could be an indicator that you are doin’ just fine. It’s just one more thing to be aware of, and it could be a reason we have great running seasons and not so great ones. — Amie 

August 5, 2014 / badangelrunning

The Epic Fail

Oh, the bonk prop. We've all been there.

Oh, the bonk pose. We’ve all been there.

Bad runs happen to everyone. No one is exempt. In fact, if you think back, you’ll remember your worst run in great detail — because you never want it to happen again. The good news: you learned something! The bad news: it’s going to happen again, but maybe — hopefully — for different reasons.

I polled some fellow Bad Angels about this, and they didn’t hesitate to recall their epic fails:

Oh yeah! I was out for an 18-miler with Keith before Chicago and ran out of water on the trail. We had to walk/run to finish. I had to tell myself repeatedly, “It won’t be this hot on race day.” — Dave

The final two miles of my first-ever 18-miler, I decided to get home from the Lakefront Trail by running down North Avenue in Chicago during the Old Town Arts Fest. There were people EVERYWHERE, and I had to stop for every single stoplight. And I could barely get my legs moving again. I cried the entire last mile and then stood outside my apartment crying for about 10 minutes because I was convinced there was NO WAY I could finish an entire marathon. — Mags

I was out for a 20-miler, ran out of water and had to walk the last four miles. Took me over an hour to walk those final miles. — Doug

One of my worst runs was a 10-miler in Kenwood. When we left at noon, it was 95 degrees out. Crying inside the CVS Pharmacy said it all. I still remember Doug looking at me during the last mile and forcing us to walk it in. — Amie

My first long run of my first marathon, I was training with my husband, Keith. We got to mile eight of our 10-mile run, and I just bonked. I’d never bonked before. So I cried. And then Keith told me there was no way I was ever going to finish a marathon. So I cried some more, and finished. Slowly. — Aidz

Epic fails build character. They remind us that we are human, and to take our training seriously. They also help us appreciate those good runs when we feel like we could conquer the world.

Can you remember your worst run like it was yesterday (or maybe, it literally was yesterday)? Tell us about it. And here’s hoping that the next one is a little easier on you. — Amie



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