Recently I ran a half marathon in Newburyport, Massachusetts (pictures below). Newburyport is a small coastal New England town with many charming qualities that made this race delightful. For 13.1 miles I ran through various parts of the town and admired the fall leaves and colonial homes. It got me thinking, "Every runner should run at least one race in New England!" It was a wonderful experience and it inspired me to write a post on other things I think every runner should do at least one time. Here are 10 of my personal recommendations.
1. RUN WITHOUT YOUR WATCH
A few months ago I interviewed famous barefoot runner and New York Times bestselling author Christopher McDougall (article here). I asked him how many miles he ran per month. He looked at his bare wrist and said, “I don’t know. I don’t wear a watch”. His statement really stuck with me. We get so caught up in our weekly mileage or pace that we forget why we’re running. After he told me that I decided to race my next marathon without a watch (well, I hid it and never looked at it). So I didn’t know my pace or mileage. I set a personal best by 15 minutes. I didn’t freak out over my pace per mile. I didn’t know when the next mile marker would be. I was able to concentrate on just running. I did this for my most recent marathon, and I qualified for the Boston Marathon. Try this perhaps on a 5 or 10k race and see how you do. You might surprise yourself!
2. Run with a family member
A couple weeks ago I ran a half marathon with my sister. It was her first. This was a treat for us. She has recently become a runner and running is something we both now share a passion for. She can relate to my woes of blistered feet and chafe zones. She lives 9 hours away. It was great to catch up and spend quality time together. Usually once a year my family picks a race where there are multiple distance options and we all run something. My nieces and nephew run the kids run, my parents and sisters run the 5k and I usually run the half marathon. The race is a way for us to train at the same time and encourage each other. If someone in your family wants to run, but is slower than you, slow down and run his/her pace.
3. Cheer for runners at a race
Most likely you know the value of having crowds cheer for you in a race. The energy the crowds bring is much appreciated. Why not reverse the roles, and do the same for other runners? Cheer, clap, pass out candy, make encouraging or humorous signs, or have an extra water stop at your home if it’s along the course and play motivating music. Trust me; this is a very fun thing to do. I had a candy stop (Camp Candyland) at the Boston and Marine Corps Marathons (see below) in past years. This is a great way to give back to the community of runners.
4. Run for charity
Large races like the London or Boston Marathon, for example, have charity entries. Charity entries are a major fundraiser for these organizations. One individual charity runner will raise anywhere from $2,000-$5000 for an organization like the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, the American Cancer Society or the Ronald McDonald House Charities for example, for just one marathon . Think of all the benefits that will result from running just one race. You can help so many people just by doing what you love. If the task of fundraising is daunting to you, why not try something smaller? Maybe run a race that is for a specific cause like the Race for Hope DC 5k where entry fees go to raise money for brain cancer research. Some races will have a charity donation option when you register online. If you can’t run for charity, why not make a donation instead? I guarantee you will feel great about running for someone else or for a specific cause.
5. Run negative splits
This is a skill every runner tries to master, but few can actually do. Is it enough to say that the elites run this way? I don’t need to elaborate much on this. Most of us know this is the better way to run a race, but it’s incredibly difficult to actually do. Try to run negative splits in a 5 or 10k race to practice. In full disclosure I’ve only done this a couple times, and I always set a personal record when I do. Here's a Runner's World article with more explanation.
6. Run on trails
I could write a 20 page paper on how trails are better for you. If you run trails regularly, you probably would agree. Trails allow you to use different muscle groups. They cause you to slow down. Being in nature also has its perks. Mentally, physically and spiritually trails are good for you. If you’re nervous about trails, why not find a local trail 10k or 15k race. With an organized race, the course will be marked so you shouldn’t get lost and there will be support/aid along the way. Trail races are usually much cheaper than road races. Plus the community feeling in trail races is wonderful. Here's another short article from Runner's World on why trails are good for you. (Pictures below from my trail runs and races. Alex Harris photo credit 2nd pic from the left)
7. Run A Turkey Trot
I enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday. But what makes the day extra special is waking up on Thanksgiving morning to run a race before I stuff myself with turkey and other fixings. Running before you sit down to eat and watch football will make you feel much better. Some run clubs have their Turkey Trot before Thanksgiving Day, so run it then! Turkey Trots are a nice way to see your running friends, connect with the community and celebrate the holiday. If a Turkey Trot doesn’t fit into your schedule, try a Jingle Bell run in December instead!
8. RUN A NEW ENGLAND RACE IN THE FALL
Cooler temperatures are not the only benefit of running outside in October. The gorgeous colors of the fall foliage provide a picturesque backdrop. New England specifically in the fall is stunning. Charming colonial homes and faded red barns blend with autumn shades of oranges and yellows to create the perfect setting for a race. I recently ran the Newburyport Half Marathon in Massachusetts (pictures below). I felt like I was flipping through a book of postcards as I ran. The crowds cheering made me feel like I was in the movie Good Will Hunting, with their thick Boston accents. I definitely recommend that you plan to run a race somewhere in New England in the fall. FYI: New England is a geographical region which comprises six states of the northeastern United States: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
9. Run A World Marathon Major
My suggestions wouldn't be complete if I didn't suggest running a World Marathon Major. The Abbott World Marathon Majors is a series consisting of six of the largest and most renowned marathons in the world: Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City. Entry into these races can be challenging. If you are so lucky to gain entry via lottery, charity or qualification, you are in for a real treat. These races are large, full of excitement and they are a once in a lifetime experience. Marathoners should consider running one at some point. I have completed 5 out of the 6 so far, and hopefully soon I will run Boston. Each race is unique and totally worth the effort and preparation to run. (Pictures from Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo Marathons)
10. Don’t run
You’re probably thinking this is an ironic point to make, but rest and recovery are an important part of your training. We all have a wish list of races we want to run and goal times we want to achieve. But without rest, we won’t achieve those goals. I work in sports medicine. Recommending “time off” to athletes is a big part of their recovery after injury. Runners by nature are go-getters. We are addicted to the sport, that’s why we keep coming back. But if you want to show up to a race healthy, you’re going to have to make time for rest. Plan rest days into your training schedule.
In between races, you also need to rest. If you have an injury or feel sick before a race, rest. Use your better judgement or listen to the advice of coaches or medical professionals. Don’t run if you’re injured or ill. Think of recovery as your bodies down time. Your muscles, tissue, joints, etc. will not repair if you are constantly training and never take time off.
In addition, consider taking weekends where you don’t run even if you’re not injured. Don’t leave early on a Saturday or Sunday to go run. Instead, sleep in and spend the day with your family. They will thank you for it. Family time is important for them and you. So if you’re not training for a big race, why not just stay home and skip the run. It will all be okay if you don’t run, trust me. I think mentally a break from running is important as well. The mental break from feeling the pressure to always train or wake up early to get stuff accomplished is important. Part of your training and part of your growth towards becoming a better athlete should always include periods of rest. At some point in your running career, don’t run. Your body, mind and family will thank you.
"ANYONE CAN WORK HARD. THE BEST HAVE THE DISCIPLINE TO RECOVER"
- LAUREN FLESHMAN, ELITE RUNNER
Those are some of my basic suggestions for runners. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO COMMENT BELOW WITH MORE SUGGESTIONS THAT I CAN ADD TO MY LIST. I'm sure I'm missing something!!
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(P.S. I added one more that is close to my heart, scroll down for just one more!)
Run in Honor of someone
Do you know someone who has served in the military? Or maybe you know someone personally or have a friend whose family member was injured or killed in action. Why not run to honor or remember him or her? There are races like the Travis Manion 9/11 Heroes Run or other 9/11 memorial runs. These runs are a great way to show your support for those who’ve fought for our freedom. Veterans Day is around the corner. Why not consider running a race that day to honor of a family member who has served? I guarantee your race will have a greater meaning and purpose if you run in remembrance of someone else. Consider writing the name of the person you are running for on your bib. Picture below: I ran a Wounded Warrior 4 mile trail race in honor of my hero ;)
**DISCLAIMER: I am an ambassador for the Abbott World Marathon Majors. My opinions expressed here are my own.