August 11, 2014

My Answers To A First-Time Marathon Runner's Questions


Recently, a friend of mine who is going to run her first marathon asked me and other runners a series of questions about it. I am training for my second marathon, and I love talking about running, so I truly enjoyed answering her questions. I had a lot of the same questions when I first signed up for a marathon, so I thought it would be fun to post it here for anyone else with similar questions.

When you run, how is your brain occupied (e.g., listening to music, writing a novel, counting your breaths...)?  Does it vary depending on where you are in the run? Does it depend on any other factors?
I never run with music. I love just being by myself and in the moment. I see things in my neighborhood I've never noticed before, wave to other people, and clear my mind. I find that if I don't run, I have as big of a mental pushback as I do a physical one. I really did get hooked. I often find that I feel better mentally after a run, and I solve problems and get good ideas from that quiet time alone.
Also, early on, I did listen to a metronome click so that my cadence was good - I shoot for 170 - 180 steps per minute. Once I got the feel for it (a few weeks) I stopped listening to the click. I also trained myself to breathe in three steps and out two. Because of this, I never get "stitches" since my steps and breathing vary (one time breathing in when I step with the left foot, next time breathing in when I step with my right).

What is your favorite running workout?
Running! ;-) I always do dynamic stretching beforehand, and foam rolling and normal stretching after. I also do some things like squats, planks, bridges, and other things occasionally that my physical therapist recommended for me. As far as the runs themselves, I do long runs, interval runs, tempo runs, and recovery runs. I pretty much enjoy them all.

What makes a "good" run?  A "bad" run?
It's mostly based on my enjoyment of the run. Now sometimes, my enjoyment is affected by a variety of factors - how fast I went, how far I went, does anything hurt, was it hard or easy, was it too hot, etc. - but ultimately if I achieve the goal distance/time for that day feeling good, it's good. If I fail to run the distance or I get hurt, then it's bad.

Describe the best run you ever had. Describe the worst run you ever endured.
Hmmmm. On one hand, the one marathon I ran so far could be described as both the best and worst run! I am super proud of the accomplishment (best), but I hit the wall around 22 miles and it was incredibly hard to finish (worst). Another possibility for my best run was the Intown 10k - I hit my speed goal and felt great. Another worst might be one of my long training runs I was unable to finish because of not fueling right and/or it being too hot, or the trail half marathon (my first trail run) where I did not prepare or fuel properly.

What do you get from running that you can't get from anything else?
Better health, both physically and mentally; and I can do it anywhere.

Why did you start running?
For health reasons. I wanted some form of exercise that was simple and inexpensive.

If you start to "bonk" in the middle of a run, what do you do?
I find that "the wall" or the "bonk" happens when I don't fuel/eat properly, or run when it's too hot. If I am doing a long run, I try to have gels/jelly beans/whatever and make sure I keep fueling BEFORE I bonk.

What do you like to eat before a run? Do you eat any gels/gu/energy bars/etc. during long runs?
I'm still experimenting a bit, even after years of running. I will either have something like peanut butter or an egg on a bagel, or cottage cheese, or a Clif energy bar (chocolate, peanut butter, others - I like that you can buy them at the grocery store).  Then during the run, I use Huma Gels (apple is my favorite) every 45 minutes, or jelly beans, or Clif Shot blocks. I'd prefer real food (peanut butter sandwhich, banana) but they are hard to carry! After almost any run, my favorite snack is a Breakstone live active cottage cheese.

Anything else?  Tips, insights, a-ha experiences you've had about running, words of wisdom, gripes, complaints -- I am interested in whatever you've got 
Beyond what I've already said, I'd say the main thing that has been really successful for me is to always take baby steps, meaning using small improvements/advancements to get better/faster/farther. Anytime I do too much too quickly I almost always get injured or otherwise fail, especially since distance running is all about repetitive use. If the change is slightly too big, but you do it 10,000 times (each running step) it can quickly add up to a bad result (injury/pain).

Finally, what causes and fixes getting "out of steam?" 
For me, it's almost always bad fueling, or running when it's too hot. If I don't eat before and during a long run (anytime I run, say, an hour or more) I am tempting fate. You run out of glycogen in your blood and will hit the proverbial "wall." It's not always fun to down a gel or some other runner's fuel during a run, but IT WORKS. Plain and simple. Some of the best advice I got was always try to eat a gel, beans, blocks, or something before, and every 45 minutes during, long runs (and always with water). Regarding the heat, I try to time my runs (usually early morning) such that I can finish before it starts getting too much over 80 degrees. Drinking lots of water can help with the heat, too.

Crossing the finish line at my first marathon


I hope you found this informative and perhaps helpful. My friend said there were definitely themes in the responses she received, including the importance of fueling properly, enjoying "being in the moment", and what makes a bad or good run.

What do you think? If you are a runner, how would you answer these questions?

June 3, 2014

How We Started A New Relay Fundraiser

Urban Blue band performs for Relay for Life fundraiser
Urban Blue performing for our Relay for Life fundraising event
Short answer: With great people and a whole lot of hard work! Now for the long answer.

The Idea

In March, I approached some friends at work about doing a fundraiser for Relay For Life. Having some experience doing Relay shows and fundraisers around the country (learning from some of the best - I'm talking to you Donna and Terry), and having decided to travel less this year, I felt like we could do a show here in my hometown of Atlanta for Relay. Our team, "IT CURES" - we're Information Technology geeks - had an ambitious goal of raising $100,000, so we were looking for ways to help achieve that.

Kathy Pourmehr perusing one of the many silent auction items she helped to get donated.

Good People and Hard Work

The first person I approached was my friend and colleague Kathy Pourmehr. Kathy is tenacious and resourceful, and when she sets her mind to something, she makes it happen. We immediately broke the idea out into tasks: we knew we needed a venue, a date, marketing to our target audience, sponsors, and silent auction donations. The first task was to find a venue and a date, preferably an affordable or sponsored one. After researching numerous options and reaching out to a variety of places, the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta came through beautifully. They offered us a wonderful room for an inexpensive rate, and would provide a cash bar. Kathy also found the good folks at RCG Global Services willing to sponsor our event by paying for the room. I lined up the band on a date we could all make, and the fundraiser became real.

Next we decided on the name: The First Annual IT CURES Rocking FUN-Raiser. We liked it because not only did we want it to be fun, but we wanted to clearly state this was just the beginning. Then came the nose-to-the-grindstone flat out hard work: Pounding the pavement to get silent auction donations; marketing the event online - email lists, Facebook posts, Twitter, Artistdata to get the event posted to event sites, etc. - as well as good old face to face - posters, phone calls, walking the halls and neighborhoods selling tickets and taking donations. We assembled a team of about seven of us to get all this work done. I'd be remiss not to mention Lisa Phillips-Patterson for her outstanding efforts and uncanny knack to sell tickets and spread the word. I set up online ticket sales using Eventbrite, a terrific site I've used to sell tickets to events in the past. We ended up selling over 120 tickets to the event thanks to mostly plain old hard work, as well as securing close to 20 terrific items for the silent auction including Braves tickets, a cabin getaway, a wine basket, a Windows Surface Tablet, a Golf package, and more.

Silent Auction

For the silent auction, there are a lot of different suggestions online about how to do them, and where to set the minimum bid and bid increment. After researching many suggestions, and based on some experience with silent auctions in the past, we generally went with about a 30% value for the opening bid, and increments of $5 for items under $100; $10 for items near $100 to about $250; and $25 for items above $250. Basically, we had 20 lines for bidding on each sheet (you can find many templates online), so we set the minimum and increment such that there could be about 10-15 bids before you hit the retail value. This seemed to work pretty well.

Credit Cards

We also used Paypal Here or SquareUp to take donations, ticket sales, and silent auction purchases. Accepting credit cards is a great idea - though you pay some fees, you definitely get more in sales and donations.

The Event

We were all very pleased to have both the American Cancer Society CEO Dr. John Seffrin and CIO Jay Ferro attend and say a few words at the event.

American Cancer Society CIO Jay Ferro and CEO Dr. John Seffrin
The event was a blast, and it was wonderful to feel that all that hard work paid off. We ended up raising over $3,500 for the cause - Not bad for our first event like this and having only a few weeks to pull it off. I think everyone had a terrific time at the event. Here's some proof:



Thanks to everyone who helped put this fundraiser on and all those who supported it and came out for the fun! I'm particularly pleased to announce that thanks in part to this event as well as many others, "IT CURES" officially met it's goal and surpassed the $100,000 mark! I'm proud to be part of such a great group of people helping to put an end to cancer.

Do you have suggestions for great Relay For Life fundraisers? What has worked for you?

April 15, 2014

Relay For Life FUNRaiser Show

It's Relay season, and I'll be with my band Urban Blue performing live for a show and silent auction to support the American Cancer Society. Get your tickets now before they're gone! I hope to see you there.
 
Friday, April 25th, 6:30 - 9 PM
Atlanta Marriott Marquis
265 Peachtree Center Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Tickets: $20, $30/couple

The silent auction includes a weekend cabin getaway, a wine basket, gift certificates to local restaurants, and more. All proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society.

(Can't make it, but still want to help? Make a donation here.)


Vote for Urban Blue in the TAG Battle of the Bands

And by the way... As a member of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), I recently became aware of a Battle of the Bands competition and entered my band Urban Blue. The voting takes place this week until Friday April 18 at 5 PM EDT. If you would be so kind to click the link below, you can vote every day - once per email address. The top 5 bands at the end of the voting this week will perform live on May 1st to decide the winner.

Vote here for Tom Willner and Urban Blue in the TAG Battle of the Bands
 

March 27, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 Publix Georgia Half Marathon

Once again, I chose to run one of my favorite races, the Publix Georgia Half Marathon. It starts and ends at Centennial Olympic Park, walking distance from my office. It's primary sponsor is Publix, where I shop, and which provides great healthy food at the race. It goes through my neighborhood as well as some of my favorite places in Atlanta. The Expo rocks. What's not to love?

Also, I decided I would combine some passions and run the race as a fundraiser for Relay For Life. At first my goal was $20/mile for a total of $262, but my Facebook friends came through in spades and I sailed right on by my goal. I kept raising my goal, and kept passing it. You'll see my final tally below.

Oh, and did I mention my bib number turned out to be 13666? Pretty funny.


The Expo


The expo is held in the Georgia World Congress Center (also a walk from my office) and is packed with cool stuff. Packet pickup was simple, and the goodie bag was, in fact, good.

 

That goofy "I love being at the running expo" look

CBS 46 had cool exhibits where you could pretend to be a sports anchor and a meterologist.

Publix had lots of food and cooking demonstrations.
I ended up buying clothes and some equipment (the Stick and a mini foam roller).

The Race


Last year, I ran the race in 1:57:14. This year, I was hoping to beat that, and with any luck, beat 1:50. I lined up before sunrise for the 7 AM start in Corral D, much closer than H last year. (It took me four minutes to cross the starting line in 2013, but just over one minute in 2014.) The temperature was perfect for me - in the low 50s - and it was overcast. I didn't carry my phone with me this year, so I didn't capture any personal photos.

The race is a bit hilly, and a kinda nasty toward the end. Mile 9 to the end is almost all uphill. It looked something like this:


However, you get to start at Centennial Olympic Park and go through Georgia State University, over the Jackson Street bridge with the amazing skyline view, through Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, by the Carter Center, through Poncey Highlands, Virginia Highlands, Piedmont Park, Midtown, and Georgia Tech before returning to the Park. These are some of my favorite neighborhoods in Atlanta. If you are looking for a cool, scenic Atlanta race, look no further.

As far as my performance goes, while I didn't sign up for a pace group, I did try to keep up with the 1:50 pace group. I found it to be a lot harder than I'd hoped. The pacer seemed very consistent, and served as a constant reminder of how well I was doing. On numerous occasions, I felt like I was falling too far behind to catch up, only to later spot that little flag. I was in a constant mental struggle between relaxing the pace and enjoying the ride, or pushing myself to see if I could do it. When I saw the time of 1:33 at mile 11, I knew it would be tough and very close to beat 1:50, but I went for it.

Despite the hills, I ended up running on the last mile harder than my latest 5k pace a few months back. I pushed myself, slowly but surely catching up to the 1:50 pacer. As we closed in on the Park, I was almost caught up, when the pacer turned around and yelled "C'mon! Push it! You can do it!" It was just what I needed for that final push to the finish line. I ended up crossing with a chip time of 1:49:53. I was thrilled, and a bit nauseous!

My finish line progression
Here were my split times:


And finally, my official results, both for my run as well as my Relay For Life fundraising:

Yes, I hit a my new Half Marathon PR, and raised over $500 in the fight against cancer. All in all, a great experience.

March 11, 2014

Race Recap: 2014 The Intown Ten

Rounding out my "K" races, I finished my first official 10K race - The Intown Ten. Earlier I ran a 5K and a 15K, so that I could have an official PR for 5K, 10K, 15K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. I enjoy races close to home, and this was one of the best - right in my neighborhood. The race started at 9 AM, and the starting line was just a short walk from my house. Talk about a low stress race morning!


Race time in the Virginia-Highlands...

...and what is quickly becoming my standard starting line photo

The first couple of miles or so of the course was delightfully downhill, and my high level race plan usually involves taking advantage of gravity whenever I can. Now, the race is officially in the Virginia-HIGHlands, so needless to say, you're going to experience some hills. In general, since this is where I normally run, I'm used to them, but there always seems to be chatter amongst the runners about the horrible hills in every Atlanta race. You can pretty much tell where I was going downhill and where I went uphill by my split times:

Mile 1: 7:13, Mile 2: 7:28, Mile 3: 7:35, Mile 4: 8:22, Mile 5: 7:55, Mile 6: 8:31, Mile 6.2: 7:13

Overall, the weather was perfect, I enjoyed the course, and it was very well run. There were two water stops, one unmanned, one manned. I did grab a cup where they were handing them out, but never stopped running.

I originally figured I would finish in the low 50s in terms of minutes, but I kept pushing, and lo and behold I found myself sprinting toward the finish line well ahead of my estimation. A part of me was hoping I could come in the 40s and I did it by almost a minute - 49:07, for an average pace of 7:55. I finished 77th overall and 11th in my age group. I was thrilled!

My family, including my dog, cheering me on as I approach the finish.

The coolest picture I've ever gotten from a race

I love this photo, because between me and our friend Rachel who finished close behind me, is my whole family in the background. Special kudos to Atlanta Trails for their great photography and reasonable prices.

At the finish line, a nice man at a computer handed me a printout with my unofficial results right on the spot - a very nice touch. Also, the gathering in the park after the race was great, with various drinks, food, giveaways, and merchandise.

The Intown Ten shirt


I suspect this will be another race I will do each year. It's run very well by USA Track and Field Georgia, and some of my favorite stores, Highland Runners and Phidippides, are both sponsors.