The ups + downs of training for this challenging half marathon and our Nashville weekend itinerary.
Each year, I participate in a half marathon in a new state. This year, I landed on the Nashville Rock n' Roll Half because it wasn't too far away and we could turn the trip into a fun weekend. I didn't put much thought into the race itself; outside of how I'd like to train for it.
The Half Marathon Training (Pre-Nashville)
I'll start off with my training journey. I began really dialing in a 12 week plan around the start of February. This was before I completed the RRCA running coaching certification too. So all of my previous training background was focused around "getting those miles in". There is nothing wrong with that emphasis nor has my mindset changed post-certification; but I now have better techniques around training including speed, fartlek runs, hill runs, tempo runs, and the importance of incorporating them.
I created a training plan in hopes to finish this half not injured. In almost all of my half marathon races, there comes a point where my joints just hurt. No matter how much I practice running distance or stretching after; my hips and knees are in a bad place and I am normally out for two weeks due to pain. For this half marathon, I wanted to finish strong and able to run a few days later with no pain.
I created a plan that had less emphasis on weekly mileage and more focus on the weekend long run. To this day, I still think this helped my body and brain prepare for the 13 miles ahead of me. I started my long running RIGHT away. Week one of training had a 60 minute run on Saturday and I built from there for the weeks to come. I really thought this style of training conditioned my body to the stress and load of longer running times.
The unfortunate situation that occurred was sciatic nerve and piriformis pain. I still do not know how this happened, but my piriformis started giving me pain with almost anything; running, walking, yoga, lifting, etc. This made practicing speed work and hills non-existent as I was now focused on running without pain. I began seeing a physical therapist and doing my own mobility work. Slowly, this pain began to go away but I would have random flare ups which would really affect my mental health. If you're interested in some of the stretches and mobility work that took this pain away, check out my "running ritual" guide here. It truly wasn't until about two weeks before the half marathon where I started to notice significant improvements. I could run without Advil and I knew the primers that took the pain away. Yoga helped a lot and I started to cut back on deadlifting for the time being.
Another downfall to training was the weather. I live in Michigan and this year has been unreasonably cold. I am talking snow, less than 30 degrees, and no sunshine to warm anything up in April. Therefore, almost all of my training was on a treadmill. Even my 11.5 mile run was on a day of storms and rain. I had to resort to indoor running which doesn't mimic outdoor conditions whatsoever. I also despise running on the treadmill for that long; its boring and time seems to go even slower.
Now you can see how training went for me. It wasn't a smooth ride and I am sure this is another reason why this half marathon was a bit of a challenge. Training is the most important part of preparing you for your goal and I had to do my best to mimic the conditions I would face. The best part of my training was clocking in my long runs early; the actual distance of the half marathon was a breeze and I was fully prepared to be moving for 13.1 miles.
what helped the half: running long miles once a week from the start of training | practicing eating different kinds of breakfasts to see what works for me | seeing a physical therapist for hip pain
what hindered the half: not training outside | not training in heat | not training hills
Pre-Race Nashville Fun
We arrived in Nashville Thursday evening and went straight to check into the Town Place Suites. This hotel was about one mile away from everything. We walked many places over the weekend because of the location! The hotel had a really cool roof top bar called Zeppelin. It also had a nice fitness room and a coffee shop.
We walked about 1.5 miles to pick up my race packet. The Health and Fitness Expo was great! They gave tons of free BioFreeze samples and vitamin C packets. I got a race tee-shirt and my bib as well. They also had shops and tables hosting brands like Advocate and Lulu Lemon.
We ate at the Twelve Thiry Supper Club and it did not disappoint. It was located right on Broadway. If you're looking for a good restaurant with amazing food and live music, I highly recommend this spot! There are three parts; the downstairs has a more "bar vibe", the upstairs hosts The Supper Club and the outdoor bar has bachelorette written all over it. We enjoyed the seafood tower and the crispy rice appetizer. Once we saw a banana split on the menu, we decided to splurge and try it. I must say, it was delicious but probably not worth the lack of sleep I got that night. We never eat sugar or dessert so this threw Mike and I off all night.
Twelve Thirty Supper Club
WHAT HELPED THE HALF: walking the town and being active in a non-strenuous way | eating lots of protein for dinner
WHAT HINDERED THE HALF: ice cream before bed made getting a good nights' sleep very challenging
Friday morning, Mike and I went to QNTM fitness to get a workout in. Personally, I love working out the day before the half. I spend time rolling, stretching, doing the stairs (moving my knees and ankles) and doing a light-weight kettlebell workout. Each part of this workout doesn't last longer than twenty minutes; totaling one hour. This gym has everything you need including a locker room, saunas, tons of protein and supplements, clothing, group fitness and more.
After our workout, we ubered to RH Rooftop. I love eating brunch here! Typically, I would get the smoked salmon board that comes with whole grain toast, cream cheese and a side of greens. However, I still felt gross after eating the ice cream so I opted for the salad. At the time, I felt better choosing the lighter option. However, I depleted storing extra carbs as glycogen so this could also hinder my energy levels the next morning.
We took it easy all day Friday. We walked up and down 12South as well as picked up breakfast for Saturday. I've been practicing eating different carbs for breakfast (I prefer running on an empty stomach) and bagels seem to be the easiest. We went to Proper Bagel for simple bagels and cream cheese. They had tons of fun flavors and sandwich combinations on their menu, too.
Friday night, we got dinner early at Flatiron. I wanted to find a restaurant with a simple menu; the night before a half marathon is not the time to try fun food! At Flatiron, I ordered a glass of cabernet and the salmon with a side salad. I ordered this because when I eat heavy carbs before bed, my blood sugar tends to sky-rocket. I wanted to combat this from happening and get a meal I am very accustomed to. Before bed, I had a 20g carbohydrate protein bar with peanut butter. I was actually very restless this night as I was reading about how difficult the course was. Side note.. put the phone down when your anxiety is high!
what helped the half: moving in the morning through a simple workout | eating high protein foods | stabilizing my blood sugar all day by walking
what hindered the half: lack of glycogen being stored (carb intake in the morning) | restless sleep from anxiety
The Half Marathon
Just like my normal routine, I wake up much earlier than the start time for the race and have a quiet morning. This looks like the TV on with the news, coffee and breakfast in hand, and all of my foam rollers on the ground. After I ate the bagel and drank my coffee, I continued to drink water and began my running ritual routine (click here for my blog post to create YOUR own running ritual).
About an hour before the start time, I took an uber to the start to save my legs from walking extra. The energy was incredible as I looked out over 23,000 runners and walkers. Everyone was excited! There was a lack of porta-potty's; I literally could not find a single one. So everyone was running into neighboring hotels to use the restroom before the start. We started the race running down Broadway which was really cool to see in the morning. My coral didn't get going until 8 a.m (our official start time was 7:20a.m). I was standing beside another man who was wearing a continuous glucose monitor so we started chatting about running with diabetes. He was running the full marathon and stated he'd ran probably 15-16 marathons in his life. A true inspiration! What was even more inspiring was the man on the other side of me; outside of boasting about how many times he's ran this hilly course, he also was wearing no shoes. Yes... read that again. He was going to run 26.2 miles completely barefoot. He claimed it gave the race "new elements".
Once I got started running, it was fabulous. After hearing the first five miles were the hilliest, I think I over prepared myself and tackled them with so much energy. I started with a fast pace and noticed I was passing many people; I was unsure if they were pacing themselves due to the hills or if they were running the full marathon. Despite me noticing this, I continued to run fast to try to get the hardest part of the race over with. Each mile that went by, the heat grew and my fatigue grew even faster.
Once I reached mile 5, it was a giant party. Not only were the houses on this road absolutely stunning; but all the community members came out to dance, play music, toss beers to runners and cheer us all onward. It was the boost I needed to make it to mile 6. Once I reached mile 6.5, we headed up another bout of many hills and I started to fatigue. However, I ran through the fatigue but I slowed my pace down a lot. Once I reached mile 8, I decided it was time to walk up this hill. I probably walked for 60 seconds before I started jogging again, but the mental battle of walking left me in a rut. I knew that mile 9 was where my husband was waiting on me, so I decided to give my run a little boost and I sped up again. This was easy, as mile 9 ran through the gulch and was downhill. However, I didn't see my husband (nor did he see me?) so I arrived at mile 10 winded and a bit disappointed. Another moment to walk. I was so fatigued by this point I made a pact with myself that I'd walk for 60 seconds at each water station. So I did that, then I'd begin jogging again. When I finally had one mile left (mile 12!) I was walking for 2 minutes during these rest breaks. I just couldn't get my legs to run up any more hills. When I reached just half a mile left I was running downhill, faster than I had been running the entire second half. I just couldn't wait to be done!
I was pretty dizzy after the race. I waited in line for m photos and felt like I could tumble over. I checked my continuous glucose monitor and my blood sugar was high; in the 300's. It's very hard to workout when your sugar is high, so it made sense why I was feeling this way. The best part about the finish was how great my body felt. I had absolutely no hip pain, no knee pain, and no ankle pain. All of the mobility work I prioritized the last three months had paid off. I felt accomplished at the end and was happy to enjoy the rest of my day with the medal around my neck!
Click the arrow to slide through the photos
Post Race Recovery
Recovery is just as important as your warm-up. As a runner, if you don't recover then you risk injury, soreness, pain and extending the period of time before you can start running again!
After the race, we walked about .5 miles to the taxi driver who took us back to the hotel. I emphasize... YES. I walked more. This is so important as your cool down. Move your legs without any impact and this will help decrease muscle soreness. Once we got back to the hotel, I showered and applied BioFreeze around my joints and back. This is a product that helps decrease inflammation and it is magical. I've been using it for the last 4-5 months when needed. Be careful not to rub your eyes after using it and wash your hands; this stuff can burn open wounds or eyes.
I took a small nap before heading to MANA salon and spa. I had made a massage appointment here and chose this spot based on the google reviews. MANA has an emphasis on holistic wellness; they utilize crystals, meditation, cupping techniques, and more. The massage was incredible. The lady asked if I would be open to vacuum cupping; a cupping technique that utilizes a vacuum to suction away fascia in areas that are tight. She did this on my calves and hamstrings and it really took away the soreness. She did a full body massage on top of that and I was completely relaxed and rejuvenated. After the massage, I got a blowout so I wouldn't need to worry about my hair. The hairdresser also did a wonderful job. I highly recommend this salon and spa.
After the massage, we headed off to dinner at The Optimist! I was so excited to check this restaurant out. It had tons of seafood options on the menu. And guess what I got? Mike and I split the seafood tower, per normal. This dinner was entirely protein and very little carbs or fat. I feel my best eating this way, especially after such a long run. Protein will rebuild muscle fibers torn down during the run and help make my muscles stronger.
The last recovery practice that helped tremendously was taking a yoga class the next morning. Yoga provides stretching, strengthening and sweating without any impact on your joints. We pre-registered at Hola Yoga for their Sunday Heated Vinyasa class. I really liked the class despite my blood sugar dropping in the beginning half. Once my blood sugar stabilized again I went inside and got to sweat and move. The stretching felt great to my hips and hamstrings.
Race Recovery: high protein dinner at the Optimist, photo of myself with a margarita, and yoga at Hola Yoga (next day)
The Rest Of Nashville
Post yoga Sunday morning, we got breakfast at Hearts in East Nashville. Hearts was another very cute hipster morning spot. We were starving by this point and ready to eat! Unfortunately after a long wait, we got our table and ordered right away. The kitchen forgot to make our meals and we noticed people sitting and leaving while we still had not gotten anything. Our waiter was extremely apologetic and offered free mimosas, in which we declined. We finally got our food and it was delicious; but the bill remained the same despite the two hour long process at this fast-casual joint.
The rest of Sunday was spent frocking Nashville; we headed towards the Gultch and went through many shops. My blood sugar kept crashing probably due to not enough carbs and lots of movement the entire weekend. I had a really hard time keeping it level this day. So we finally went back and took a break from walking. That night, we met my husbands cousins for dinner at Husk. This restaurant had been a bucket list restaurant for awhile; my husband loved watching the owner's story on Chef's Table. The restaurant did not disappoint. We got many appetizers such as the beef tartare and the rolls. I got the pork chops as my main meal and the vegetable platter to pass around the table. Everything was fresh and very healthy. Most of their ingredients were grown right outside the restaurant!
Click the arrow to slide through the photos: Husk, dinner at Husk, Breakfast at Hearts and a selfie of my quick workout before leaving
We took off early the next morning. I had enough energy to do a 60 minute elliptical workout followed by an upper body lift before we left. The flight to Detroit is about an hour, so it was an easy travel day for us.
To Summarize The Half..
My takeaways from this half marathon are:
a) I CAN do hard things
b) Look over the course before creating your training plan.
c) Mobility is the key to successful injury prevention
d) I will never do this half marathon again ;)
I absolutely loved the Rock n Roll company and the show they put on! I will defiantly do another Rock n Roll series as I thought their entertainment, structure, organization, medals, and the support for St. Jude was incredible.
I am also excited to run another half marathon and utilize what I've learned through my RRCA running coach certification process. There are so many workouts I wish I could have completed before this half; but next time I'll get to incorporate these modalities and combine them with my efforts to increase mobility.