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Becoming A Better Runner

I'm a runner. I came to running late, after college, for vanity's sake. I've never been particularly fast. I started running because aerobics and machines bored me, and because I didn't have to go to the gym to do it. I liked running because it was hard. I loved the calmness that came as a byproduct of running. I ran because I didn't have to do a lot of planning ahead. I could just run out my door and go as fast or as far as I wanted.

I flew by the seat of my pants, with no training plan. I signed up for my first 5k after some convincing by my cousin and uncle. I did almost all of my training on the treadmill. I never ran more than 3.1 miles. I was incredulous to discover, mid-race, that we had to run up Capitol Hill. How could they have a hill on a race course?!?

My first marathon, ten years ago, was a run/walk slog culminating in a 5:15 finish. I didn't do speedwork, tempo runs or hill repeats and I couldn't make heads nor tails out of Ed Eyestone's Runner's World column. I just loved being in motion in the early morning sunshine. I loved the suffering that made me prove what I was made of every time I did a long run. I loved the post-run naps. I even loved the resulting soreness.  It all made me feel alive.

It has taken years of running experience, miles and training, but I'm getting better and I'm getting faster! How?

. I've been running more consistently. Despite being an "ultrarunner" since 2003, sometimes I only ran twice a week. I've hooked up with a friend and we run twice a week at lunchtime. I've been running four or five days a week. I find the more often I run, the quicker I ease into a rhythm and the more often I want to run. Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.

. Many of the ultrarunners I hang around are speedy. Running with them (albeit way behind them) forces me to increase my speed. It also raises the bar of what I see as possible. Hanging on with them for even a couple of miles boosts my confidence. Running with faster friends ensures that you never get complacent!

. I've had goals before, the difference this time is that I've set short-term, small-scale goals, then followed each up with another. After years of training for one big marathon or multiple ultra distances, I signed up for some shorter road races. I trained for speed rather than solely for endurance. While I could have trained with more specificity, I focused on what was doable and that worked for me. It paid off in several PRs. A couple fell easily because they were so old, but the rest were hard-won.

2009 Race PRs
Bull Run Run 50 Miler, April 11:13:50 a 31 minute improvement!
Lehigh Valley Half Marathon, May  2:01:27 I was happy - this was two weeks after my 50 miler!
Women's Trail Half Marathon, September  2:12:56 Shaved 19 minutes off this baby, felt strong the whole race
The Big Schloss 50K, September  7:55 27 minute PR, chilly damp temps and wind kept me moving on the ridges!
Veterans Day 10K, November  49:52 A PR of 3 minutes 28 seconds. This was hard-won!
Alexandria Turkey Trot 5 Miler, November 39:42 Old PR: 48:05, 1999. It's been a few years!

Surprisingly, I enjoyed my return to road racing. I'm encouraged that a little more effort in my training paid off in a big way. I'm really excited to think I can see even further improvement with a little more training specificity.
While my true love is trail running, I now appreciate the shorter distances on pavement. I'm looking forward to 2010!



  1. I love your use of Newton's Law - I don't know why I never thought of that before!!!
    A life committed to running = a life of constant motion towards happiness!


  2. Looks like you've hit all the improvement hot buttons and it shows in your times. nice job!

  3. I recently became a subscriber to the "run with fast friends" rule. Man, does this work! I sometimes psych myself out pre-run, telling myself I won't be able to keep up. But recently, I realized that rarely happens — I almost always manage to rise to the occasion. Amazing what we can do when we push ourselves!

  4. Kiry,

    You have had a great year! I think road racing really helps once we hop back on trails and it's fun to go fast, no? It's good to mix it up from time to time. I am looking forward to what 2010 will bring you...a marathon PR, perhaps? A Capon Valley 50K PR? Highland Sky PR?

    Looking forward to sharing it all with you and TC.

  5. What a great year you had in 2009! I've just started to get into ultra & trail running myself (converting from shorter road races). I love the challenge of the woods - along with the quiet and the chance to see some really amazing natural sites.

    Great tips-- all key! Happy training :)


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