GPS … It’s A Love/Hate Kinda Thing

I’m obsessed with data.  A lot of runners are.  In a sport where you’re most often competing against yourself, there’s something about the black and white nature of numerical feedback that can be motivating.  In my opinion, it’s why a lot of “Type A” personalities are drawn to the sport.

If I’m running, there’s a 99.9% chance my Garmin is along for the ride.  Having pace feedback has driven me to some of my best workouts and races.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of floating along, checking your wrist, and realizing you’re 15 seconds faster than goal pace.

Except when you’re not.

Or when your GPS watch is just straight up lying to you.

Most runners these days have some sort of GPS watch – be it a Garmin, Suunto, Polar, IMG_7177Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc.  Watches can vary greatly in terms of features but under the hood, they all rely on GPS.  At a high level, it works like this: the watch is determining your position on a periodic basis from the location data provided by the GPS satellite.  It then interpolates between those points to plot your path and determine how far you’ve run and how fast you’re moving.  The problem is that this position data isn’t 100% accurate.  Even in good conditions, GPS has a margin of error of around 3-5 meters.  Certain conditions, such as a cloudy sky or being near tall buildings, can make it even worse.  (Source)

This doesn’t sound like enough to matter, but over the course of a run, it can add up.

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Flagstaff, AZ this year – a magical, forest-filled, oxygen-depleted city that is home to many professional or aspiring-to-be-professional runners.  One of the many perks of running in Flagstaff (aside from the thousands of miles of trails to explore, or the fact that the high altitude whips your butt into amazing shape) is that some of the more frequently traversed routes for workouts have been meticulously wheeled out by Ben Rosario, head coach of the NAZ Elite team.

lakemaryLake Mary Road is a go-to spot for many pros as well as weekend warriors out for their long runs, and it’s precisely where I headed for my first long run at altitude.  Spray-painted distance markers line the shoulder of the road every 1/4 mile — but I noticed something weird by the time I hit mile 3.  My watch was almost always off.  I’d cross the mile marker, but my watch distance would still be reading 0.99 or 0.98.

Doesn’t sound like much, right?  Who cares about one one-hundredth of a mile?

In general, if you’re just out for an easy run – sure, no problem, no need to care.  But if you’re trying to hit specific splits within the context of a workout, that 0.01 can mean an additional 4-5.5 seconds, assuming you’re running somewhere between 7-9 minute pace.  If you’re like me, and you’re supposed to be running 7:30s, and your watch keeps telling you you’re running 7:35s… you’re damn well going to push harder.  I HATE YOU GARMIN, AND YOU WILL SAY 7:30 ON THE NEXT ONE.

kiltieloopAnother real life example: 6×1 mile repeats on a wheeled 1-mile loop.  Garmin was spot on for the first one, and clicked in at 6:58.  Each subsequent mile measured a little longer, a little longer, a little longer.  The last mile beeped, showing me a 7:20.  I threw my hands up in frustration – I thought I had only gotten slower and slower in the workout.  But as my ever-so-patient coach pointed out, I finished about 80m past the actual mile mark.  Again – doesn’t sound like much, right?  Well, covering 80m at a 7-minute pace would take you about 21 seconds.  Turning that 7:20 into a 6:59.  I hate you, Garmin.

GPS watches can provide false feedback in the opposite direction too, and the most frequent case of this is at the track.  Recall the inherent 3-5 meter error – this is exacerbated by the tight turns on a standard 8-lane track.  In a recent workout, I was running 6:40s (as determined by a good old fashioned Timex and counting laps) but my watch was telling me I was running anywhere from 6:07-6:19 pace during the session.

garmindataIn the past, though, I didn’t understand how much of a discrepancy there actually could be.  For almost an entire training cycle, my ignorance led me to believe I was running much faster than I actually was during track workouts.  If the workout was something along the lines of 8x800m with 1 minute recoveries, I would program the workout into my watch.  This meant I was relying on the Garmin tell me when I had covered 1/2 a mile by its own measurement and when the 1 minute was up, rather than counting laps and manually lapping the watch at the end of each repeat.

Although I can’t be sure of the exact delta in retrospect, I know that for many threshold workouts I thought I was running around a 6:45-6:50 pace (or faster!), when in reality, it was probably closer to 7:05-7:10.  One could argue that in the end it didn’t matter – my long run workouts were done on the roads, where the GPS is a little bit more accurate and I was able to hit prescribed paces in those.  For track workouts, I was still running at the correct intensity for each session and therefore deriving the same expected benefit.  But it did skew my perception of my own fitness and gave me a false impression of my current ability, which is not something I personally enjoy.  (Give me harsh truths please. Garmin, I didn’t pay $250 for you to rub my shoulders and tell me I’m awesome.  Have I mentioned that I hate you?)

All this being said, I recognize that my Garmin-hate is superficial.  I truly love my Garmin, I want it in my life, and I very especially want the data it provides.  I just don’t want to be driven crazy by it.  Maybe you’re like me in that regard.  I’m betting you are.  So what can we do?

1) Take your workouts to a measured route.  A lot of rail trails or bike paths through more densely populated areas have spray-painted mile markers.  Talk to other runners in your area and see if anyone has found a hidden gem.  Or, if you have the apparatus, measure out and mark a few miles yourself.  (A few ways to accomplish this: if you can drive the route, measure it with your car’s odometer.  Map the route using a couple different online tools, such as MapMyRun – be careful about where you place points around curves or turns.  If you’re super anal, buy a Jones Counter.)

2) Set your watch to manual lap at the track.  I am sure this seems SO FLIPPING OBVIOUS to many people but I legitimately didn’t realize what a difference it would make and so I’m guessing (hoping?) I am not the only one.  It’s a little more mental work (to remember to hit lap and to not lose track of reps) but it’s very, very worth it.

3) Learn to run by effort.  If you’re not able to frequently run on measured routes, try to teach yourself to be less reliant on your watch for pacing feedback and more tuned in to your body.  (Bonus – this will come in super handy if you ever run a race in a big city, where skyscrapers wreak havoc on the reliability of GPS.)  If you feel like you’re putting in the appropriate effort, it’s highly likely that you are – no matter what the watch says.

4) Be kind to yourself.  We all have off days.  We’re not perfect and we’re not going to nail every workout.  Before you beat yourself up, consider the fact that you’re relying on imperfect technology to “grade” your effort.  GPS watches are great tools, but they shouldn’t be the only way you assess your performance on any given day.


The Long Road to Boston

On September 13, 2017 – my birthday! – I registered for the Boston Marathon.


This may not seem particularly special to some of you.  To others, it may seem like a goal you’ll never achieve.  The beauty of running (at least to me) is that we are all on our own journey, fighting our own battles, and working towards our own goals.

Qualifying for Boston sort of opened the floodgates to goals that I never would have imagined before; I came to realize that the ever-elusive BQ was almost a self-limiting time standard in my own head.  However, in the pursuit of these new dreams and faster marathon times, I don’t want to lose sight of just how hard qualifying for Boston was for me.  I don’t want to forget the struggle.  And in an age where social media makes it seem as though people just crawl out of bed one morning and go run a BQ, I thought sharing my own journey to a Boston Qualifier might help those who haven’t quite gotten there yet.  Because if nothing else, it’s a story of perseverance – even in the face of multiple failures.

Marathon #1:  Empire State Marathon, Syracuse NY 20114-hour-marathon-empire-state-runner
Goal: Finish in one piece
Time: 3:57:11
Training: I averaged 17 miles per week so it’s hard to say that I trained at all. I completed a 16 mile and a 13 mile run, and had no other runs greater than 10 miles. Um… yikes.
What Went Wrong: I wore brand new shoes for the race (a model I’d never even trained in before) – my feet hurt worse than anything else on my body in those later miles.
What Went Right: I ran almost perfectly even splits.  I freaking finished a marathon.

Marathon #2:  Empire State Marathon, Syracuse NY 2012
Goal: BQ (<3:35)
Time: DNF
Training: Ran a little bit more for this one, averaging 20 miles per week.  Started doing some very basic speed work.
What Went Wrong: I dropped out around mile 12.  Started the race running 8:00 pace and knew very early on I couldn’t hang.
What Went Right: I ran a <1:38 half a month before the race so I wasn’t completely insane to think that I was capable of eventually running a BQ time.  However, I knew nothing about marathon training and hadn’t done nearly enough volume or marathon-specific work to run half-marathon-pace+30 seconds for a full marathon.  (Turns out, you can kind of fake a half… a marathon? Not so much.)

shamrock-marathon-virginia-beach-flat-runnerMarathon #3:  Shamrock Marathon, Virginia Beach 2013
Goal: BQ (<3:35)
Time: 3:45:55
Training: Ran a little bit more for this one yet again, averaging 25 miles per week.
What Went Wrong: I stubbornly went out at 8:00 pace once more, despite not really changing much in my training.  I had no indicator that I was in shape to run a 3:35 in good conditions, and that day was windy which should have had me adjusting my expectations even more.
What Went Right: I didn’t drop out, even though I really, really, really wanted to.  I still ran a 12ish minute PR despite poor training and stupid pacing.

Marathon #4:  Wineglass Marathon, Corning NY 2013
Goal: BQ (<3:35)
Time: DNF
Training: I would consider this to be the first race I actually trained for. I averaged 39 miles per week with one-a-week speed workouts and 4 long runs over 18 miles in distance.
What Went Wrong: I didn’t adjust my pace for the conditions (warm, humid morning) and I completely faded by mile 20.  I took absolutely nothing during the race. No gels, no water.
What Went Right: Honestly, it’s hard to say anything went well about this race. I made a lot of foolish mistakes in the race, from pacing to nutrition to shoe/clothing choices, and paid the price.

Marathon #5:  California International Marathon, Sacramento CA 2013cim-california-international-marathon-race-start
Goal: <3:40
Time: 4:02
Training: I jumped right back into the same training as I was doing prior to Wineglass – long runs, speed, and about 40 miles per week.
What Went Wrong: I didn’t give myself any time to recover after Wineglass and my body freaked out.  I had a stress fracture scare in my foot and I took about 10 days completely off right before the race.  Adjusting goal time by 5 minutes was still way too aggressive given the circumstances.  I still didn’t take any fuel or water during the race.
What Went Right: I didn’t have any foot pain during the race, which was my biggest fear going in.  I didn’t drop out which was a plus, since my completion rate for marathons going into this race was 50%.

Marathon #6:  New Jersey Marathon, Oceanport NJ 2014
Goal: BQ (<3:35)
Time: DNS
Training: I … didn’t.  I was running still, but only a handful of miles with no structure whatsoever.
What Went Wrong: I was determined to continue chasing the unicorn after coming up short at CIM, but that feeling dissipated quickly and I was unmotivated to do much of anything in the months leading up to this race.
What Went Right: Not starting this race was absolutely the right call.

lehigh-valley-via-marathon-runnerMarathon #7:  Lehigh Valley VIA Marathon, Bethlehem PA 2014
Goal: BQ (<3:35)
Time: 4:00
Training: Averaged 46 miles per week with one speed workout per week, and did 5 long runs of 20 miles or more.
What Went Wrong: I once again did not adjust for the conditions.  It was a warm and humid day yet I still went out at 8:07-8:10 pace, despite having no recent races or workouts to indicate that I was in that kind of fitness.  I also didn’t fuel adequately. I took in one gel over the first 13 miles of the race, and not much water.
What Went Right: Is it starting to sound redundant when I say I didn’t drop out even though I really wanted to?  I think this marathon was truly the catalyst for all the changes I made over the next couple years, so I’ll count that in the win column.

Marathon #8:  Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia PA 2015philadelphia-marathon-runner
Goal: PR
Time: 3:39:55
Training: I followed the 18/55 Advanced Marathoning plan by Pete Pfitzinger. I decided that the training I had been doing wasn’t working and I needed a change. Ended up averaging 39 miles per week; cut down on the length of the long run but added in mid-week medium long runs.
What Went Wrong: I ran over my Garmin with my car two days before the race, so I ran with Laura’s watch.  I had some user errors while manually lapping splits due to unfamiliarity which made it a little hard to pace myself during the first half.  Here’s some solid advice for you: don’t run over your Garmin with your car.
What Went Right: I finally achieved a goal I set in a race… that hadn’t happened since my very first marathon.  I recall my legs hurting around mile 10 and thinking that a bonk was coming, but I kept telling myself that I could do it and ended up with a slight negative split.  I blasted Macklemore’s ‘Downtown’ on repeat for the last 4 miles heading back into Philly (and this legitimately worked some voodoo magic on my addled brain… downtowwn… just get back to downtowwwn…)

utah-valley-marathon-uvm-runnerMarathon #9:  Utah Valley Marathon, Provo UT 2016
Goal: Somewhere around 3:40
Time: 3:41:27
Training: I started working with a coach halfway through this training cycle. I was doing nothing of structure prior.
What Went Wrong: I underestimated the amount of damage downhill running would do to my quads (this course starts at approximately 7000ft and descends to 4500ft over the first 18 or so miles — and my quads have never been so sore in a race).
What Went Right: I executed well within my fitness given the challenges of the course.  Although I started a bit aggressively, once I realized it I backed off and adjusted my pace.  I didn’t mentally give up at any point.

Marathon #10:  Dublin Marathon, Dublin IE 2016
Goal: 3:27-3:29dublin-marathon-boston-qualifier-runner
Time: 3:22:56
Training: This was my first full training cycle with my coach. I averaged 46 miles per week with two workouts per week; this was my first time incorporating a lot of marathon pace miles into long runs.
What Went Wrong: This was as close to a perfect race as I’ve ever had, but I did start to let my mind get the better of me in the last few miles.  When it really started to hurt, I backed off a bit, afraid that I would blow up and ruin my race even though I was already at mile 24.
What Went Right: Smart pacing – started slower than goal pace and when it was time to work, I was ready to roll into it. I had 4 gels during the race and wore appropriate shoes (first time wearing racers for a marathon rather than trainers).

If you made it to the end, first of all – thank you – but second of all, I hope you arrived at the same conclusion that I did while writing this which is that marathons are HARD.  Period.  There’s so much that goes into a well executed race and running to your potential, way beyond just the workouts and weekly mileage (though that is important too *ahem* Heather of 2011 I’m looking at you *ahem*).

An honest assessment of your current fitness, setting realistic goals, practicing nutrition strategies, wearing the right shoes, adjusting for the conditions of the day – these were the biggest lessons I needed to learn before I was able to break through that BQ-barrier.  But at the end of the day, even though looking back at my past races is slightly cringe-worthy, I realized that the one thing I had going for myself was that I never actually gave up.  I had low points along the way but I never stopped believing that I could actually qualify for Boston.  And I hope that’s the message that resonates here – don’t ever give up on your dream.

Dublin Marathon: The Recap

I gave Megan a hug and watched her walk towards the porta-potty line for a minute before moving forward in the corral. The world felt surreal. Hazy, yet with a distinct sharpness around certain shapes; the early morning sun casting shadows that made everything seem both bright and shadowy at the same time. Thoughts swirling in my mind, I felt everything and nothing all at once. I had enough self-awareness to realize what I was about to do and yet all I could focus on was if I had made a mistake by not trying to pee one last time. After all the ups and downs of the past 6 months, I was acutely aware that I should be overcome with emotion or gratitude or nerves but a detached feeling of calm blanketed me instead.

The start was incredibly anticlimactic. I think someone yelled “go!” at the front but I had heard nothing. I looked up, still partially in a fog, and realized a huge mass of runners were already about 200 meters ahead of me. “Ok,” I whispered to myself. “Time to execute.”

The plan was simple. The first 7-8 miles of the course are a gradual uphill – perfect for controlling your pace and ensuring you don’t prance out of the corrals with all the energy of a kid on Christmas morning. 8-minute miles were the goal. “It should feel easy,” my coach promised me. “After that, well … you’ll know. This isn’t your first rodeo. You’ll know what kind of day you’re having and how to run the rest of the race.”

So there it was. 8 easy and then hopefully, giddy the F up. And he was right – 8’s felt so comfortable, even with the mild ascent. The first mile clicked off in 7:57; 7:52 for the second. “Easy…EASY…do not blow this race in the second mile.” Backing off to 8:00, 7:58, then 7:54, 7:53, 7:49. I hit the 10K right around the planned pace and thought of James and Laura tracking me back home. “Alright, you made it this far – they know you’re following the plan and exercising some self-control – now let’s let loose a little.”

Mile 8 brought a short yet somewhat steep downhill – the first noticeable undulation of the race – and I hit it in 7:38. I’ve never been a great downhill runner, though, and sure enough, it was here that I noticed some cramping in my upper quads into my hip flexors.

That was enough to make the mental demons pop in to say hello, and with them, I battled over the next two miles (7:42, 7:38). “Here we go again – your legs HURT! Before mile-freaking-10 of a damn marathon! You’re toast. It’s over. You’re gonna end up dropping around mile 20. This one will end like the others. You’re not strong enough or tough enough for marathons.”

(Have I ever mentioned that I’m pretty hard on myself? Yeah, that.)

A somewhat significant uphill would come somewhere around mile 10.5 and despite a precarious mental state, I mustered enough control over my brain to back off and adjust my effort. 8:05.

A gift came along in the form of two men – a Londoner and a Dubliner – they stuck to me like glue for a few miles, as we chatted and told our backstories. They struggled a bit to keep up, obviously out of breath while talking and in that moment, a glorious realization – I was not breathing hard and my effort was still very much in control. The longer I ran next to them listening to their huffing and puffing, the better I started feeling about my race. (7:44, 7:41)

(Have I ever mentioned that I’m kind of a terrible person? Marathons are hard and sometimes other people’s misery makes me feel better.)

As I hit the half split, I gave the mat a good stomp as I crossed. “Alright, James and Laura know that I’m feeling good. Now it’s really time to get to work.” I put my headphones in, dropped my new friends, and started to see what I had in my legs.

The next few miles were a satisfying grind. My music proved to be too much of a distraction and I ripped out my headphones almost as soon as I had put them in. I wanted to focus. I wanted to feel every minute of the race. No dissociating.

I thought back to the last long run workout in my training – 2 miles up, 8×1 mile @ MP w/1 mile recovery, 2 miles down. I ran this with Laura as my Sherpa on the bike next to me as we looped around Conesus Lake. I ended the day with 20 miles at a 7:40 average and was on cloud 9 – but none of it was easy; I remember that my legs had hurt that day but in a manageable, I-can-push-through-this kind of way. My confidence was building. If I could do it then, I can certainly do it now. 7:43, 7:37, 7:35, 7:34, 7:25, 7:23, 7:25.

Holy shit. I just ran MILE 20 of a marathon in 7:25.

Seconds later, as if it were plucked straight from a Runner’s World article warning new runners about the treachery of the late stages of a marathon, holy shit – I feel like I just ran into a brick wall.

A bit of self-doubt started to reappear. For whatever reason, everything suddenly became VERY. HARD. (Side note: I typically disregard spikes in heart rate data since wrist-based measurement is far from 100% accurate but I do think it’s interesting that right at this point, my Garmin shows my HR jumped about 10bpm and stayed at that elevated level for the rest of the race.) Now I was really working, and now I was feeling bad enough that I started to wonder if I would be able to push myself through this last 10k. 7:30, 7:34. I knew I was slowing and my watch confirmed it, but was it my head that was allowing it to happen or my body that was giving out?

I thought back to the 30K mat I had crossed, which felt like it was years ago and seconds ago all at the same time. “They KNOW you’re going for it. You CAN’T back off. This right here, this is the time to be tough.” 7:25. “See, you’ve still got some fight in your legs, keep pushing. Do not be a baby. Keep going.” 7:30.

As I started to gasp for air, I feared that I gave a little too much too soon. My hips, burning. My quads and calves, empty – as though the muscles had been replaced with jelly. I looked up. Everyone around me looked like death. I started to laugh – why on earth does anyone do this to themselves?

As I assessed the situation, I knew I had to put away the watch. My mental state felt precarious again, as if any pacing feedback – good or bad – could potentially tip me over the edge. I knew I was slowing a bit, but by how much? I couldn’t focus on the finish time, I needed to focus all my energy on making sure that I kept putting one foot in front of the other so that my legs didn’t somehow convince my brain that it was ok to stop.

7:37, 7:40

And then I woke up. That 26 mile split beeping on my watch was a slap across the face, and suddenly I realized that I was going to do this – it was a certainty now – and there was no way I could let myself jog it in to the finish.

Sucking wind, I pushed it to a 7:17 pace for the last little bit, feeling grateful for the beep that pulled me out of my self-induced death march. I remember looking up, seeing the clock, and realizing I was solidly under 3:25. This was it, it was happening. My secret, scary A goal that I never even expressed to my coach, for fear he’d tell me I couldn’t. We had only been talking about 3:26-3:27 on a good day. But there I was, about to break 3:23. Goosebumps broke out all over my body; a minor wave of nausea came and went. And once again, just as the day had started, the world felt surreal.


Dublin Marathon – 3:22:56

The Breakthrough Year

Without fail, at the end of every year I always seem to reflect and think “wow, what a crazy year.”  So hang with me for a moment here when I tell you – 2016 has easily been the most tumultuous year of my life.

I am a software/test engineer and my job has always involved some amount of travel, but up until this year, that typically meant maybe a one week trip every 8-10 weeks.  This year, that all changed.  In the first third of the year alone, I was gone for half of January, the entirety of February and March, and half of April.  

While I was on the road, I was also dealing with a pretty big breakup.  I was in the process of ending a 9 year long relationship (I say in the process because as you might imagine, breaking up with someone is incredibly difficult when you technically live with them and yet are never home) and while it was something that had been in the works for a while, you don’t flip your life upside down like that without incurring some mental stress along the way.

I lost my dog in the “divorce” and honestly, I’m still not over it yet.

I thought I was handling things ok, but as I look back – I was flailing.  I was making the best of a difficult situation, sure, but I was staying out way too late, drinking way too much, making way too many “temporary friends,” all while claiming to be seriously training for the Utah Valley Marathon.

In March, I flew from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach for the weekend to run the Shamrock Half Marathon with Hollie.  The weather conditions that day were tough, but I had been essentially living and training at altitude (SLC is approximately 4400’ above sea level) for months.  I had secret hopes of a PR and ended up incredibly disappointed to run 1:38:10.  “I’m a 1:38-1:39 half marathoner,” I remember grumbling to Laura.  “That’s just what I am and what I’ll always be.”

Not. Pleased.

Of course, Laura never lets me throw too much of a pity party and I’m eternally grateful for that. Chatting with her got my brain back into a more positive gear. Out of all the stories of weather related misery, I noticed that one person happened to PR at Shamrock. I also knew that Laura was seeing success and enjoying working with her new coach, and I knew that oh, coincidentally, Mary and Laura had the same coach. I finally realized that if I wanted something to change, I needed to do something different. That it was stupid to think I wasn’t fast enough for a coach.  I gathered up all my courage and made a phone call. And then a day later, James became my running coach.

What happened over the next few months is something I’m still processing, and writing this post (and reviving this silly blog) is a way for me to do that. As I mentioned, I did end up running the Utah Valley Marathon but it became less of a goal race (I only gave James 11 weeks, I didn’t expect miracles yet) and more about getting another 26.2 under my belt and enjoying the time in Utah with my best friend.  I might go back and recap it at some point, but that is for another day.

I guess I’m gonna run a marathon tomorrow or some crap like that.

After taking some time to recover from UVM, the focus became Dublin Marathon at the end of October.  I was still traveling quite a bit for work over the summer (and to Texas, no less – I have SO much respect for all you runners down south) but my attitude had changed.  Workouts became a priority, if I had a quality session on the schedule I was doing everything I could the day before to make sure it went well.  Nutrition was still a challenge due to some circumstances out of my control but I started making better choices when I could. (Long story short: I was working 16 hour days, unable to leave to go get food, and surrounded by donuts constantly. Damn delicious donuts ….)

More importantly, I started turning down happy hour invitations and I focused on getting more sleep. This all makes me kind of sound like a drag, I know, but I was really doing it because it made me happy.  I won’t try and tell you it was all glitter and rainbows, but most days, I hopped out of bed completely PUMPED for my run that day – even if it was just an easy hour of jogging.

Not turning down ALL the happy hours though, gotta get your tan on sometimes

As Dublin crept closer, I had my doubts.  There were some amazing workouts that had me feeling on top of the world and then there were some reality-smacking-me-in-the-face moments that had me wondering if a BQ would even be possible.  I ran the Hartford half marathon in early October and while I did set a PR, I was minutes off of where I secretly thought I would be. That race would lurk in the back of my mind for the next 3 weeks until Dublin.  

My goodness … I’m moving so slowly, yet feeling so terribly.

Even as James and I discussed the race plan for Dublin, Hartford was there whispering – “you’re a fraud, none of this is real, your watch is broken, you don’t deserve 3:2x.”  And then suddenly, I was in Dublin. In the starting corral. And suddenly I realized if I wanted this, all I had to do was execute.  The fitness was there. One bad race didn’t erase everything I had done, all that I had worked for. I could let my mind ruin it for me or I could just tell myself to just. shut. up. and execute.


I ran 3:22:56.  A 4 minute negative split.  And while I do intend to recap the race itself, I will say here – the second half of my FULL marathon was 1:39:22.  Around the same time as I was racing HALF marathons earlier in the year.


It’s weird because in a way, it doesn’t feel like I did anything drastically different yet at the same time, I feel like a completely different person than when the year started.

As far as running goes, I loved the workouts I was doing, but none of them were totally foreign to me – it wasn’t like I was being presented with concepts that I had never heard of or hadn’t tried before. (That’s not to belittle the impact hiring a coach had — more on that later).  I didn’t make any dramatic dietary changes, I still drank beer and ate desserts and all that jazz. There isn’t one major thing I can point to and say “that’s it – that’s how I ran 3:22.”  It was really a lot of small changes that added up to something big. Which is not to say that it was easy, just that it wasn’t some huge overhaul.

And as my running and approach to running changed, I found my attitude changing about other things.  I found myself opening up, accepting other points of view and opinions, allowing myself to feel and think and care about things again.  I don’t claim to have it all figured out now, but I think I was frozen in a cycle of unhappy relationship – unhappy at work – unhappy with running – drink to numb the pain – repeat.  Tackling the most superficial of those problems just happened to lead me down a path where I started solving the harder ones too.  2016 wasn’t just a breakthrough for running, it was a breakthrough for my life.

To wrap this all up in the cheesiest of ways, allow me to hop on my soapbox for a moment. If you’re unhappy with your life, it truly only takes a few small steps to start changing it. If you aren’t reaching your goals, reevaluate and try something new.  At the end of the day, the beautiful thing about life is that YOU are the one in charge – you are the one who gets to set your own priorities and make your own decisions. I sat around waiting for my life to happen, to change, to get better, to refresh itself, etc, for far too long.  2016 was the year I realized — you have to change your own life.


Without a doubt, I believe that having a personal running coach is the best way to achieve your fitness goals – whether that is completing your first 5K or qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

As a recreational runner, I have taken my marathon time down from 3:57 to 3:12 and my half marathon time down from 1:45 to 1:32, all while working a full time job as a software engineer and fulfilling typical life commitments as a girlfriend, daughter, cousin, co-worker and friend.

Beyond being a VDOT Certified coach and having an understanding of the physical aspect of training, I understand the challenges of balancing a busy schedule as well as the prioritizations that will be most useful in helping you meet your goals. Under the McKirdy Trained banner, I’ve been working with athletes of all ability levels towards varying goals, from running a fast half marathon to completing a marathon for the first time.


If you feel like you’ve reached a plateau with your training, or you’re not sure how to get to the next level with your running, or maybe you’re not sure how to even get started – drop me a note and let’s chat!




A New Race and Some Training Goals

After every sub-par marathon I’ve run, my response has been largely the same. It took me a while to realize this, as I have a tendency to get stuck in the subtleties, the emotion, the here and now. My immediate feelings about each marathon I’ve run over the past 3 years have been very different but my behavior? My behavior has been 100% the same.

It usually starts with the swearing off marathons forever – or at least for a while – until I can achieve some arbitrary standard in another race distance, some sort of marker that will tell me I’m not crazy for thinking I can BQ. This is followed by a week or two of grandiose self-pity where I tend to abuse my Amazon Prime account and get back on a first-name basis with the clerk at the liquor store. Then comes the crazy finger pointing (you know, if only my dog hadn’t been up whining the night before that last 20 miler, I might’ve slept better and had a better run and therefore would’ve nabbed that BQ time, it’s all my dog’s fault!), followed by the more realistic finger pointing (more stretching, foam rolling, core work, hydration – did you really commit 100%?), then the realization that I really miss training for a marathon. Finally, the recommitment to wanting to run a BQ marathon time, soon to be followed by signing up for a goal race after a ton of time spent on,, and random googling for blogs and race reports/reviews. Then it’s MORE. More more more. More miles, more speedwork. Better, faster, stronger.

But always the same training program. Always the same training philosophy – that more is better. That miles in = time out. That if 25 miles a week gets me a 3:45, then 45 miles a week should get me a straight up walk in the park <3:35.

I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this over the fall and winter and I realize I am the absolute definition of insanity. Why do I continue to do the same thing and expect different results?

So here’s the part where I admit that I have signed up for a spring marathon and I have every intention of training hard and hoping that puts me in the realm of a BQ time. I’ll be running the Goodlife Toronto Marathon on May 3rd, but the process of getting there WILL be different than it has been in the past.

After a lot of analysis of past training, and knowing that a complete overhaul of anything isn’t likely to bring success, I’ve chosen to focus on 3 key things to improve upon during this short training cycle. Because I am nothing if not verbose, I’m going to write about them separately; however, I intend to do the following:

  1. Be smarter about long runs
  2. Less “speed” and more marathon pace work
  3. Focus on nutrition


So, let’s get into #1.

I’ve been running for a little over 5 years now, but it took me at least 4 of those years to learn to love the long run. For years, I would do every single run as scheduled except for the long run. Skipping long runs was the hallmark of every marathon training cycle for me. After meeting a great bunch of people through my running group and becoming intrinsically more committed to training, showing up for long runs became much less of an issue. Given my history, I counted that as a huge win. And it was.

But, to get to where I want to be, I’m not sure it’s enough. A lot of the long runs, while extremely fun, were at odd paces and included a lot of stops. Now, let me be clear that I am a firm believer in a “time on your feet” type of run, and that especially for a long run, sometimes relaxing and getting the time in is 100% beneficial. That isn’t the part that concerns me. What does concern me, however, is the stopping.

I have a read a lot of posts where the blogger in question brags about a 20 miler at <insert fast-ish pace here> via a Garmin shot, but then goes on to mention that she stopped at 72 water fountains, stopped at the car to eat something, stopped at 891 red lights, etc. I’ve always rolled my eyes and honestly said some pretty shitty things about that type of training. But then … I realized I am 100% guilty of it myself.

A lot of our group long runs involve meeting at a certain time, then looping back to pick up others, then heading out on a 60 minute route, stopping to then figure out where to go next, bathroom breaks, water bottle refills, etc. Now a lot of this is necessary break-age on a long run – if I have to poop, I’m going to poop. Not trying to deny anyone from responding to nature’s call. But when you have a group of 10ish people and they all have various needs, the breaks can really add up.

I went back and looked at some of my long runs in Garmin Connect, and active time vs total time occasionally varied as much as 20-30 minutes. That is a hell of a lot of down time.

Again, I don’t think this is a totally bad thing. And not all of my long runs have been like this. Many of them have been solid, at reasonable for me paces, with limited to no stops. But there was never any rhyme or reason to it. And 30 minutes of stopping during a 2.5-3 hour run is excessive, any way you slice it. I think that running long runs like that is not going to get me to a BQ time and it’s something I want to work on.

So my plan is to, well, plan. Plan a bit better for the long runs. I don’t want to not run with friends anymore, so I just need to have logistics figured out going in rather than flying by the seat of my pants. I don’t intend to completely eliminate the time of your feet style long runs either; I fully believe there is a place for those in any training plan. I just want to make sure that they are not the bread and butter of my training plan.

Part of addressing the long run issue will also include some marathon pace miles. But as I promised earlier … more on that next time.

Walt Disney World Half Marathon Recap – 1:39:39

Initially I had intended for this to be a goal race but as is typically the case for me, life had other plans.  After two months of nursing a knee injury, only to then be walloped with a cold-turned-bronchitis, I was left with total uncertainty as to how this race would go.

The one confidence booster I had was a workout Megan and I did the week prior – 1 mile warmup, 3 @ MP, 2 @ HMP, 2 @ MP.   I hit 8:07, 7:59, 8:01/7:24, 7:23/8:10, 8:06 and felt pretty decent.  The 7:2x paces felt a little aggressive, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the 8ish paced miles felt.  Worst case scenario: squeak in under 1:45 and not completely embarrass myself.

Mostly I was excited to bust out of the frozen tundra for a while and enjoy a much needed long weekend with friends.

Megan and I hit the expo on Friday; our seed times put us in the A corral and we both geeked out a little over this.  Feeling fast is not something I’m used to.  We walked around the expo for a bit and then headed out to grab lunch and buy some throwaway clothes – we totally underestimated how cold it actually was in Florida!

Cheesin’ at the expo. I really dig this quote.

Race morning came sooner than usual but thanks to my old lady ability to fall asleep unreasonably early, I was able to get around 6 hours of sleep.  For those who don’t know, Disney races start at the crack of freaking dawn and because you need enough time to get to the start corrals, it means freakishly early alarms.  Like, 2:45am style alarms.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen 2:45am sober before.

Race morning routine, same as usual.  Gulp some coffee, eat a Picky Bar, get dressed, stretch out a little, drink water.  We got to Epcot with plenty of time and hung out in the warm car for a bit while some other friends went to get their bibs.  Then we started the trek to the corrals.

It’s actually a fairly long walk to get from the parking area to the starting area, but there are tons of open porta-potties along the way and ample room to warm up once you get there.  Nice logistics, Disney.  +1 for that.

Finally it was time to line up and we geeked out a little more over the A corral business.  Before I knew it, we were off.



The release of each new corral is signified by lighting off fireworks, and it was pretty cool to listen for them as we took off into the night.  Megan and I said goodbye and set off to do our own thing.  It was windy and my plan was to just run by feel until we got to the Magic Kingdom; it should be all tailwind from there.

The first five miles are kind of a blur.  I remember looking around a lot and trying to take it all in.  Then trying not to trip over people.  I wasn’t running very smoothly – I would start picking it up, then get nervous the pace was too aggressive and try to back off.  It took me a while to find my groove but I ended up settling in (7:39, 7:36, 7:34, 7:29, 7:31)

The course then goes by the Contemporary Resort and heads for the Magic Kingdom.  I wouldn’t consider myself a Disney fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, but I do have fond memories of vacationing there as a kid. Honestly, I feel lame for saying this but I got a little emotional running down Main St. and around the castle.  I thought a lot about my family – and my dad in particular – during this mile and I got all goosebumpy and teary eyed.  What a turd.

Oooh look, a squirrel

I thought exciting Magic Kingdom would be kind of a let down, but it ended up being the opposite – I felt like the hard part was over and now I could cruise with the tailwind for a little bit.  I remember picking it up a bit because Shake It Off was blasting over some loudspeakers and that song is basically guaranteed to put me in a good mood.  I remember thinking how much fun I was having and just being very grateful.  This is all so uncharacteristic of me, I usually am hating life and mankind and myself and maybe even Taylor Swift by mile 7 of a half.

I kept plugging along in good spirits until about mile 10. (7:31, 7:30, 7:33, 7:29, 7:29)

That’s when the wheels started coming off.  We were running back into the wind for a bit and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.  I told myself to not wuss out but not kill myself either.  In retrospect, I think I could’ve pushed myself harder through these miles but in the moment, my inability to take a good deep breath was freaking me out.  Maybe that was justification for being a wimp, or maybe it was smart.  I’m not going to dwell on it too much. (7:43, 7:39)

Finally in the last mile, I could see my Garmin and realized I could squeak in under 1:40.  I also told myself to stop being a little bitch and actually run – there’s only one mile left.  Unfortunately, this seemed to be where the majority of the race photographers were located and daaaaaang do I make some ugly faces while I run.  This bothers me because hey – I’m running a race wearing a skirt for fuck’s sake.  Clearly I’m only doing this for cute race photos.

I am screaming on the inside.

Finally I saw the finish line and boom, that was that. (7:29, 7:10 for the last .1)

Megan and I celebrated and cheesed it up a bit in our mutually delirious state.

Hashtag precious.

We headed back to the car to celebrate a bit and revel in the fact that we were done for the weekend.  A few of our friends were running the Goofy and a few were running the full but us?  Yeah, beer us.  Immediately.

Hashtag precious, part 2.

Overall, I was thrilled with the way this race went.  Sure, I’ve got some work to do – but leading up to this, I was running 25 miles per week and most of those miles were 10 minute pace on a treadmill.  This is also the best I’ve ever run so early in the year which leaves me feeling motivated and excited for 2015.

In summary: this was one of the most positive posts I think I have ever written and it made me realize I am feeling very positive in general right now.  So strange, kind of love it.  Hope it sticks around.


2014: Year in Review

My gut reaction to 2014 is “what a shitty year” and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. For some reason, I think that perception is what is making me want to briefly recap the year … possibly to change my mind about it?  To be a little more “glass half full?” Or to dwell in negativity like the malcontent curdmudgeon I am?

Anyway, getting on with it.

My favorite 3 things from 2014!

1. Hanging out with some of my favorite people in the world (Lake Effect Half Marathon and New Jersey Half Marathon, as well as many other adventures).  Laura, Hollie, Brit – you guys are amazing and I’m so happy my year had so much of you in it.  ❤


Sometimes we wear things that arent spandex.


2. Running in Aruba!  And everything else in Aruba.  Because Aruba.




3. Getting through a kickass training cycle with a really good friend and having a blast doing it.  I have honestly never had as much fun training for a marathon as I did training for Lehigh and Megan is at least 93% responsible for that fact.




The shittiest 3 things from 2014!

1.  The death of someone close.  I don’t like to get into real personal stuff so I’ll just say I lost someone who was like a sister to me who passed away way too fucking young from cancer.  Diagnosis to death was only 6 months and those were some of the worst months of my life.

2.  Overwhelming stress at work and not dealing with it gracefully.  I’ve had a hard time keeping my cool in professional settings this year and while part of me wants to be all IDGAF about it, another part of me knows that it’s a sign that my job is slowly cracking me.  I need to learn better strategies for dealing with the stress because at the heart of it, I enjoy what I do and the people I work with.  I totally failed at this this year.

3.  My only marathon attempt, and marathon failure, of the year.  This sounds somewhat trivial with respect to #1 and #2, but to put so much time and thought and work towards one single event, and to then have it go horribly wrong?  It’s pretty devastating.


Running in 2014: the takeaways!

– I cracked 1500 miles for the year!  This is the highest yearly mileage I’ve ever run.

– I PR’d in the 5k, twice!

– I ran more consistently than I ever have before.  This kind of goes hand in hand with the first bullet, but given my history of skipping long runs … and base runs … and speed work … well, let’s just say I’m proud of the progress I made.

– I went under 1:40 in the half 3 times.  Arbitrary standard?  Sure.  But for now it makes me happy.

Running in 2014: the puzzles!

– I remain frustrated by the fact that I haven’t made any meaningful progress since 2012.  My half PR from that year still stands.  I haven’t come anywhere close to the marathon time I think I am capable of.  I honestly have no real idea why more miles and adding speedwork have not translated for me.

– I’m not sure why my form is so wonky or what to do to fix it.  Or if I even should?  I seem to get injured a lot.  I tend to think poor form is to blame.  Unsure where to start.

– I can’t stick to any type of strength training plan.  I actually really like strength training!  Why the hell am I unable to keep it up?


I guess now that I’m done thinking about this (and trust me, there was plenty more that didn’t make it into this actual post – I’m really trying my hardest to not bore anyone to death), I stand by my original assertion that 2014 was pretty shitty.  I am, however, grateful for the positives and am looking forward to all that 2015 already has in store.

Happy New Year, friends!

9 Tips for Running in the Winter

I see a lot of posts like pop up around this time of year. The problem is they’re usually written by some bozo in SoCal who thinks 45 degrees is essentially unlivable. (No offense to anyone in SoCal … my anger in this particular situation stems from some hardcore jealousy.) I have trained through two Upstate New York winters and casually ran through two more so I am certainly still a novice; however, here are some tips that have helped make winter running bearable for me.

So winter. Much cold.


1. Invest in a good running jacket

Of all the possible gear you can buy, a good jacket is worth every penny. A nice, warm, and reflective jacket will take the thought process out of layering and typically doesn’t need to be washed after every run (maybe this is just me? maybe I’m just gross). I find that if I keep my core nice and warm, the rest of me warms up fairly quickly.I currently have a Brooks jacket that they don’t seem to make anymore, but when it’s time for a new one, I would love a Nike Shield Flash jacket. This seems to be the crème de la crème of winter running jackets. I’d also be interested in reading a review of the Oiselle Katron jacket from someone who isn’t a member of the Oiselle team. It looks promising, but it’s a lot of money to drop if it isn’t really warm and durable.

 2. Yaktrax

These suckers have saved my butt so many times. Even if the roads are plowed, usually the shoulders are full of ice and slush or just plain packed snow. This makes for a very treacherous running experience. I got a pair of Yaktrax a few years ago as a Christmas present and poof! Haven’t had one incident since. Strangely enough, the ones I have are the “walking” ones – I have no idea what the real difference is between those and the ones marketed for running except for the higher pricetag.

She’s pretty mad I didn’t get her some Yaktrax to wear.

 3. Hand warmers

I have Raynaud’s which basically renders even the most hardcore winter running glove ineffective. Rather than spending $60 on a pair of gloves that won’t work, I use a cheap pair of gloves and stock up on hand warmers every season. I don’t use them for every run but they are a lifesaver on long runs in particular.

4. Ice bath in the snow

There is basically no time in my life in which I am willing to enter a tub full of ice water. I never take ice baths in the summer. In the winter though? Super easy to just park my butt in the snow. Boom. Recovery.


5. Check the temperature rating on cold weather gear

No matter what you’re shopping for or where you’re shopping for it, cross reference against a site like They have temperature ratings on all the stuff they sell and this is the single most helpful thing I have ever come across when trying to shop online. A few years ago, I dropped $50 on a pair of winter running tights – they showed up and were so thin, I actually laughed. Turns out they were rated for 55+ – who the heck is wearing tights when it’s 55 out?! (See: earlier description of SoCal bozos, maybe?)

6. Reflective gear – lots of it

Winter running means a big reduction in daylight hours. Visibility is a huge issue even if you’re running a dawn or dusk – don’t be fooled by neon clothing, bright colors are not enough to make you visible to an oncoming car from far enough away! You want to be seen from a far enough distance so that drivers can be proactive and give you space, not make a last minute swerve on a slippery road. Dress yourself up like a Christmas tree – reflective gear, a headlamp, blinking LEDs – you’ll feel a bit ridiculous but in the end, it’s worth it.  Nathan makes some good products, from hand held lights to blinking lights that attach to your shoes.

7. Flexible scheduling

I love a schedule as much as the next slightly-OCD person out there, but in the winter, I’ve learned to be flexible. I’ll usually check the week’s forecast on Sunday and make a loose plan for my workouts based on that. If a huge snowstorm is supposed to sweep through on the day you have 10 miles planned – move it! It’s better to adapt to the weather rather than struggling through and making things harder for yourself.

8. Run with friends

If you know it’s going to be a battle to get yourself outside, make plans with friends to meet up. When I trained for Shamrock 2013, I ran entirely by myself. I had about a 25% success rate with actually doing my long runs as scheduled. Since joining a run group, I’ve been able to stay consistent with long runs even in less than desirable weather. Knowing that people are waiting for me takes away any of the internal bargaining and gets my butt out the door.

9. Take it inside

When all else fails, the treadmill is your friend. It usually takes a lot for me to resort to the ‘mill, but if it’s a choice between a few boring, crappy miles and no miles, I’ll take boring and crappy every time. If you’re one of those people who enjoys the treadmill, well, you’re lucky and I want to know how to be more like you.


Any tips to add?  What gets you through the winter?


Empire State Half Marathon Recap

After two weeks of taper, a disappointing marathon, two weeks of essentially no running, and then 3 weeks of around 30mpw, I was feeling … out of shape.  I’ve gained a little bit of weight, I haven’t really felt sharp or speedy or fresh, everything has been a little blah.  It’s not a great way to feel, for one, but it’s also hard to plan for a spring race schedule and set some goals when you have no idea where your fitness is.

So I decided to race the Empire State Half.  The nice thing about hometown races is that it’s real easy to make a last minute decision to enter, albeit a questionable financial call ($85 for a half that goes through a park that I frequently run in?  Yeah.  That was a bit hard to swallow.)

I had no idea what to expect from this race.  I really thought anything from a 1:35-1:45 was possible depending on how I felt that morning… and then I saw the weather forecast.  40 degrees at the start and 15mph winds gusting to 26mph?  SWEET!  Especially brutal because, as anyone who has ever run/roller bladed/biked/walked at the Onondaga Lake Parkway will tell you (there is nothing to block the wind coming off of the lake and it is fairly miserable to be heading into it for what seems like an eternity).

The one upside?  We’d have a headwind for the first half, not the second.  Therefore my strategy was to run by effort and make it to the turnaround feeling decent – then lay the proverbial hammer down.

I met up with Laura right at the start – we chatted, complained about the weather, and tried to stay warm in the car.  She eventually took off to run a short warm-up; I opted out because my stomach was feeling unstable.  The nice thing about this race is that the parking lot is right next to the start line, so I was able to hang out in my car until just a couple minutes before the gun went off.  I scooted over to the start and quickly found a friend from my running group.  Before I knew it, we were off.

I tried to settle into a comfortable groove; my feet were frozen solid but otherwise, I was feeling ok.  We had a nice little group working as we ran up 370 towards the entrance to the parkway.  I saw my friend Megan cheering around mile 3; it was great to see her and it definitely gave me a little boost.  I knew the hardest wind section was coming up, so I committed to just keeping the pace honest but in control.

Running buds! Trying to stay calm and focused during the first 5k.

My feet started to thaw out around mile 3, but the sensation was replaced by what felt like the onset of a really bad calf cramp.  I remember thinking that it was like there were icicles in my feet that had gravitated upwards into my calves, causing them to feel cold, stiff, and sore.  I tried to back off a bit and make sure I wasn’t overextending myself by forcing a certain pace into the headwind.  Splits for mile 4 and 5 were a bit slower, but whatever the issue was, it started working itself out and I felt a lot better by mile 6.  (I think if I had actually run a warmup, this wouldn’t have been an issue.  Oh well.)

Somewhere around here I saw Laura on the turnaround – she looked so great!  Super focused and running well.  I knew it was time to buckle down and see what I had left.  I hit the turnaround and just started cruising.

The miles from 6.5 to 10 just flew by.  I felt SO good – I knew I was working but it felt smooth and in control.

I saw Megan again at mile 10 and tossed her my gloves and my GU.  My stomach hadn’t bothered me at all during the race but I was definitely feeling questionable before the start, and decided not to chance it.  I didn’t take any water during the race either, for the same reason. (Typically I’ll take a gel around mile 7 if I think I can handle it – not really sure if this helps or not.)

Right after I ran by the mini cheer squad, I started to feel the hurt.  I just reminded myself that the last 5K of a half should hurt and told myself to keep running honestly, no purposefully back off, and see what happens.  The last stretch on 370 is pretty lonely which didn’t help either –  no spectators and the runners were really spaced out at this point, so I was just humming along by myself.

Finally I made it to the mall and so started the series of turns that would take me to the finish.

Oh my god, both of my feet are off the ground. It’s like I’m actually running and not just crapping my pants.

My calves were so, so sore during the last few miles and it felt like I was crawling.  I was trying to ignore my watch because I really didn’t want to know how much I had slowed down.  Once I could see the finish line, I just thew everything I had into it.  Making epic pain train faces like it’s my job.

What in the actual hell am I doing with my hand?

I won’t lie – I was a little disappointed to see the clock at 1:38:xx when I crossed.  I knew I had been running strong for the second half and I was in PR territory.  Unfortunately, I ran the tangents like a moron.  Nothing you can do about that except try to be more aware of it next time.  That disappointment quickly went away when I realized I still ran one of my fastest times on a day when I wasn’t even sure I could manage 8-minute pace.

Net Time: 1:38:24

14/714 females

2/107 age group

Pleasantly surprised that my last mile was the fastest, despite feeling like I was crawling.

After the race (which my incredible and amazing friend WON, by the way), we headed over to Sharkey’s to eat, drink and be merry.  The official post race party was supposed to be there – I say supposed to because it seemed like very few runners knew about it.  Which is a shame – not only is this one of my favorite bars, but they had a bunch of free food for the runners and plenty of space to hang out for a beer or two.  Hopefully the race does a better job of advertising this next year!

Stolen from Laura because I think it’s adorable.

All in all, it was a fabulous day and I’m happy with what I was able to do.  On to the next!