Going with the Flow - thoughts from the Philly Half Marathon with Coach Teresa

On November 19th  Evolve’s Julia Roberts ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon.  When she signed up  for the race several months ago, she aspired to regain her pre-baby fitness and maybe even approximate her previous half marathon times.  But as often happens, life got in the way.   Over the course of the summer, Julia managed to hit several items on the “Life Stressors Checklist.”   She moved from St. Louis to Philadelphia; had to find a place to live and sell a house; reconnected with an extended family; transferred to a new highly stressful job; got promoted and acclimated to yet another new work role; her husband got a new job; her cat of 15 years died; she traveled on business multiple weeks; and she joined a new church.  She juggled all these changes, while raising a two year old, with the inherent child care issues, meltdowns, and sleepless nights.  Through all these challenges, Julia valiantly did her best to keep up with the training schedule set for her, especially the “key workouts.”   Unfortunately, she wasn’t always able to complete the optimum training, so as race day approached, we adjusted her race goals.    We set a plan for her to run steady within specific heart rate zones, follow her nutrition plan, and take planned walk breaks.  Julia ran strong throughout the race, she smiled and waved when she passed by, and finished in an exuberant fashion.   She completed her longest run since her daughter was born – a monumental achievement in view of the challenges.   While Julia was, at times, frustrated over the last several months over her inability to check all the workouts off her plan, having the race goal and the plan contributed to her self-care during a chaotic period and ultimately led to a successful finish.

Julia’s build up to the race is an important reminder that for many athletes and especially for the working mother, the goal of the race is so much more than the finish time. It is a needed break from life’s stressors and in addition it is a constant reminder of how to deal with the unexpected. The ability to go with the flow and roll with the punches is vital for race day execution. Although training and putting  a plan into action is  critical to success in any race, there are many things that an athlete cannot control - and weather is most certainly one of them. Call it luck, but when Julia ran on Saturday, conditions for the half marathon were ideal.   The temperature was 55-65 degrees, no wind, and it was sunny – a  gorgeous day for a race and for us spectators.  The following day, when others were running the full Philadelphia marathon, the temperature dropped and the winds were 15-20 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph.     The evening of the marathon, we met a couple in a bar who were celebrating their marathon finish.   They said that the wind picked up during the second half of the marathon and spectators became sparse. Due to the  brutal conditions, reportedly most people ran 15 minutes over their typical race time.  15 minutes means that all of the athletes would have to adjust their attitude on race day and if they had failed to prepare for dealing with those unexpected changes then the result could be a very long day.

One additional take-away from this event was the discovery that new security measures might impact how one needs to approach her race nutrition, at least in major running events.    While we were entering the venue on Saturday, security was checking all bags and requiring the disposal of all liquids.   We overheard one irate racer who was unable to bring his own sports drink onto the race course even though he claimed the race website had not mentioned this prohibition.  Again this brings up the importance of having a plan to deal with all of the many changes that can come on race day. While training with the on course nutrition can certainly help to avoid these issues, at Evolve we arm our athletes with the knowledge they need to make on course nutrition adjustments in case of unexpected race day issues - it is important to have a plan A and a plan B and to be calm and collected when you need to put plan B into action.