Monday, March 31, 2014

Time on Your Feet

There are days when you might just not have a run in you -- perhaps you are just not feeling 100 percent physically, you had an exhausting day at work, or you are emotionally zapped.  Whatever the reason, it is really okay to take a day off from running.  When you experience one of these "I just don't have the energy to run" days, try taking a 45 to 60 minute brisk walk instead.

You see, one of the major factors in running a marathon is what I call "time on your feet."  If your goal is simply to finish a marathon (without a specific time goal), time on your feet, not total miles covered, is of paramount importance.  Sometimes, I give my newbies a training schedule with daily and weekly time goals instead of mileage goals.

Although I have completed 29 marathons, I must admit that I have not trained properly for at least a handful of them.  However, as an exercise physiologist and personal trainer,  I am on my feet six to ten hours each day.  My Garmin Vivofit Activity Tracker shows that I cover at least three miles per day in the gym while training my clients -- clearly, this almost daily time on my feet has contributed to my sustained muscle endurance during my under trained marathons. 

The primary muscle groups are the same for both walking and running.  So, even though you are not working as intensely when walking versus running, you are clearly deriving some benefits.  So, just remember, if you are feeling a bit "off," your high tech running shoes will serve you just fine on that long, brisk walk -- just keep on moving!

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Image from:  Twitter - @TheCoffeChat
My day does not begin until I have my Venti Non-Fat Bone Dry Cappuccino with Chocolate Powder.  Yes, I am a 'coffeeaholic,' and damn proud of it! Starbucks is an expensive habit, but, for me, well worth it!

There are many benefits of caffeine for runners -- let's take a look at these...

1.  Increase Mental Clarity and Focus - it is important for your head to be clear when you go out for a run.You want to be aware of your surroundings at all times - no need to trip because you are not paying attention to the terrain.  You also need focus on long runs when you might want to give up prior to finishing.
2.  "Empty Out" Prior to Your Run - coffee really helps you eliminate prior to running out the door.  One of the worst feelings is "the need to go" during a run, especially when you are in a remote area with no "facilities" available.
3.  Enhance Free Fatty Acid Metabolism - this is a really important one, for runs that last more than two hours.  You see, as I explained in yesterday's blog post, you can only store enough carbohydrates in your body to last you approximately two hours; after that, you must switch to fat as the major fuel source to sustain your running efforts.  Caffeine will actually speed up your ability to break down (or metabolize) fat molecules, so that you can get oxygen to the exercising muscles more rapidly -- this will allow you to run at faster speeds than if it takes you longer to break down the fat molecules.
4.  Reduce Risk or Delay Onset of Alzheimer's Disease - several studies have demonstrated these findings and recommend three cups of coffee per day.

Everyone responds differently to caffeine intake.  I suggest that you experiment with the amount of caffeine that you consume prior to your training runs so that you develop a "feel" for what works best for you.  The worst thing you can possibly do is to experiment the morning of the actual marathon -- this could be very, very ugly, resulting in tremendous gastric distress and possibly worse!

Here's to a "Happy Cappy."  May coffee beans always be plentiful!

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Let's face it - in simple terms, running is about placing one foot in front of the other. Technically, the difference between running and walking is that when you run, there is a moment in time when both feet are simultaneously off the ground; when you walk, one foot is always on the ground.This is what typically makes running a more vigorous activity than walking.  In and of itself, running is a pretty simple activity -- yet, training for, and running a marathon is about so much more...




emotional fortitude

The name of the game is mental toughness!  I have entered and completed 29 out of 29 marathons. My experiences have taught me that athletic ability is a non-factor.  I have witnessed many runners sustain the 26.2 mile distance who have had horrible running form, were very overweight, or had multiple injuries.  Sure, it is important to train properly and if you happen to have good running form, you will conserve some energy that will come in handy in the last 10 miles.  However, more than any one physical factor, you need true grit to endure the journey and cross that finish line!

I believe that running a marathon is 75 percent mental and 25 percent physical.  Yes, the marathon takes a physical toll on your body, but humans have a tremendous capacity to endure pain -- most of us are just not used to doing this.  When you are at the starting line of a marathon and the gun is about to go off, you are "pumped" with adrenaline.  Adrenaline is a wonderful hormone that will make the first 10+ miles of a marathon just fly by.  However, shortly thereafter, you can "kiss the 'adrenaline rush' goodbye!" 

It is often by mile 16 or 18 that the adrenaline surge is over.  "Hitting the wall" is a phenomenon that happens to most marathoners typically between 16 and 22 miles into the race.  When you hit the wall, your body becomes depleted of carbohydrates;  it is at this juncture that many runners want to call it quits because without any more carbohydrates stored in their bodies, fat has to become the main fuel source to sustain their efforts.  Carbohydrates and fats are the two nutrients that our bodies use to get fuel (namely, oxygen) to our exercising muscles.  The problem is that It takes longer to break down a fat molecule than a carbohydrate molecule -- therefore, when we run out of carbohydrates and have to shift to fat metabolism, we must slow down.  This process is emotionally difficult because we know that it will now take that much longer to reach the finish line.  This is when the mental game truly comes into play.

Very often, this is the time when I begin talking to myself.  I try to stay very positive, but sometimes, the negativity wins out and I will start asking myself "Why are you doing this?" or say,"If you stop now, you can get a cappuccino at Starbucks...(yes, Starbucks is another one of my obsessions)...  Then, I have to turn that negativity around.  This is when I start bargaining with myself..."Judy, when you cross the finish line, you will feel so much better, and that cappuccino will really taste good because you will have earned it..."  Then, I think about the physical pain that I am enduring, and suddenly, I realize that it is really no big deal compared to the pain that the children with cancer that I am running for are going through (I run for Fred's Team -  By mile 23, I often think of my dad, who at age 17, voluntarily enlisted in the Marines to serve in World War II; he was at Iwo Jima where he endured so much both physically and emotionally.  I begin singing the Marine Corps Hymn to myself and I run the last 3.2 miles for dad - I realize that this is really no big deal... just one foot in front of the other...

Semper Fi

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Key to Proper Running Form

I am often asked what is the single most important element for efficient running technique.  Without a doubt, my response is ALWAYS "your core."  Most people think of their abdominal muscles (see Figure 1) when they hear the word "core."
Figure 1:  The Abdominal Muscles - image from

However, the core includes ALL the muscles in your body, minus your arms, hands, legs, feet and head  (see Figure 2).  This includes the pelvic floor muscles, multifidus, erector spinae, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.  Unlike the abdominals, most of these muscles are located in your lower back and play a critical role in keeping you upright.

Figure 2:  Core Muscles - image from:

The key to proper running form is upright posture.  Many beginners make the mistake of leaning forward when they run  -- this will not make you faster, but rather, slow you down.  Upright posture allows you to both move and breathe more efficiently.

So, by now you might be thinking... "oh, so many muscle groups, but so little time..."  True, but you can target a lot of these muscle groups at one time.  If I had to select just one exercise for your core, it would be a plank.  The plank, done with proper form (see Figure 3) uses the erector spinae, rectus abdominus, and transverse abdominus as the primary muscle groups. The secondary muscles used are the trapezius, rhomboids, rotator cuff, deltoids, pectorals, serratus anterior, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius.  (I have highlighted all core muscles).
Figure 3:  The Front Plank - image from:

For some variety, you can try a side plank (see Figure 4).  The primary muscles used in the side plank are the transverse abdominus, gluteus medius and minimus, the iliopsoas, and the external and internal obliques.  The gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and hamstrings are the secondary muscles.  (Core muscles are highlighted).
Figure 4:  The Side Plank - from

Try to hold your front plank for 30 seconds and gradually increase the time.  Start with 20 seconds on each side for the side plank.

The current world record for the front plank is three hours, seven minutes and fifteen seconds and was set in Newport, Kentucky on April 20th, 2013 by George Hood.  Well, this certainly gives us all a goal to shoot for!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

My Obsession

Okay, I admit it!  I am a running shoe addict. The photo above shows 12 of my 20 newest pairs. Running shoes make me happy, especially the most colorful ones. Of course, being an exercise physiologist and a long distance runner, I have a burning need to learn anything and everything about the hottest shoe to hit the market.  I must test them all out, so that I can be an expert on the "latest and greatest."  

Of all the shoes pictured above, my most recent purchase was the purple On Cloudsurfer (middle row, far left).  I must say that I absolutely love them.  See my 3/15/14 blog post Great Finds at the New York City Half Marathon Expo for more information on these awesome shoes.  

I purchased the Hoka One One Eva Stinson Trail Running Shoes (middle row, second in from right) the first week of March.  These are one of the most unusual pairs of running shoes that I have ever worn!  Upon first glance, the Hokas remind me of Sketcher Shape-Ups that were very popular two years ago; however, they are actually nothing like Shape-Ups -in fact, they are great for trail running!  The Hokas are extremely lightweight and cushioned - they are great for your joints, especially on rough, rocky terrain.  Hokas will never win the prettiest shoe award, but they are quite functional.

When compared to the Hokas, the Vibram Five Fingers (just look for the hot pink shoes with the five toes in the photo above) are at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of cushioning and joint protection.  The Vibrams are designed to be minimalist shoes -- the idea is to simulate barefoot running.  These shoes are not for everyone and need to be used in moderation.  I recommend that these shoes be worn no more than one to two times per week, and only for runs that are three miles or less.  There is a definitive adaptation period when running in the Vibrams due to the unique sensory experience of running almost in your bare feet.  I love doing 5K races in the Five Fingers!  The Five Fingers use the muscles in your feet and calves very differently than any other shoe I have ever worn.  My feet feel totally connected to the ground when running in my Vibrams.  I must say, however, that I have had major calf fatigue after running and racing in these shoes.

The bottom line is that there are so many choices when purchasing your running shoes and there is a lot to take into consideration when making your selection.  My advice is that you go to a running shoe specialty shop where your needs can be assessed and you can be properly fitted. Another option is to shop at Road Runner Sports (see ad near top of this page).  I have always found the people in Customer Service at Road Runner Sports to be extremely knowledgeable and super helpful, and the selection cannot be beat!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Core 4 Strength Training Exercises

Walking Lunges - image from

A strength training program is quite beneficial for runners -- it can improve your running efficiency and help prevent injuries.  Unfortunately, many runners complain that they do not have enough time to do strength training exercises -- I disagree.  My belief is that you can derive great benefits from a minimal amount of strength training, providing these exercises are done on a consistent basis.

I recommend a very short strength training program for runners that need to accomplish a lot in a very short period of time -- I call this the "Core 4" Program.  Core 4 is comprised of four essential exercises for runners.  The Core 4 are:

  • Walking Lunges - do 10 "steps" in one direction; then turn around and do 10 more
  • Push Ups - do 15 reps (do modified version if necessary)
  • Bent Over One-Arm Dumbbell Rows - do 15 reps per arm
  • Plank - hold for one minute
After doing these four exercises, repeat all four again.  

Core 4 should take you a total of 10 to 15 minutes.  I recommend doing Core 4 two to three times per week.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Marathon Training Schedules - My Recommendations

Here it is... I promised that today, I would post my recommendations for some good online marathon training programs.  After doing some research, this is what I have come up with:

1. - Hal Higdon has training programs designed for the novice through advanced.  

2. - Runner's World offers two types of training programs -- one type is based on your experience as a runner and the other, by your time goal.  

3. - Cool Running offers four different training schedules for the beginning, intermediate, advanced, and competitive.

4. -  I have met Jeff Galloway and he is a great guy!  In many of his programs, he advocates, timed walking intervals interspersed with timed running periods.  This program is great for beginners, older runners, and sometimes, those with nagging injuries.

5. - Marathon Rookie has a 16 and a 26 week training schedule for "newbies."  

6. - When you gain entry into the New York City Marathon, the New York Road Runners Club offers several training programs, based on your entry level.  You do not need to be running in the NYC Marathon to follow these programs.

7. - The Boston Athletic Club suggests three different 16 week training schedules for the Boston Marathon.  You do not need to be running in the Boston Marathon to follow these programs.

As I mentioned in my blog post of 3/13/14, the above programs provide generalized training schedules.  If you would like a training schedule that is more specifically tailored to your individual needs, you might consider purchasing online coaching.  You can actually find online coaching services at some of the above links.  For many more online coaching choices, just do a Google search for:  online marathon coaching -- there are so many coaches out there.

Of course, I am available for both online and in-person coaching.  I would welcome the opportunity to guide you through the finish line!

Keep on running!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I Am Running in the 2014 NYC Marathon!

Yep, there's nothing like waiting until the very last possible day to sign up for the NYC Marathon! Of course, I thought about running a fall marathon that I have not yet run, but I just could not, and cannot resist the lure of NYC!  This will be my 15th NYC Marathon and it still does not get old. On so many levels, running in the NYC Marathon is like "going home"  I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and during my youth, spent tons of time in all the boroughs.  It is so wonderful to go through all the familiar and not so familiar neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx.  I admit it... I am a native New Yorker -- I may live in the suburbs now, but my roots are back home in my old neighborhood.  The old adage is so true:  You can take me out of Brooklyn, but you cannot take Brooklyn out of me!

New York City has a personality unlike all other cities, especially on Marathon Sunday, when the streets come alive with two million spectators.  It is one big party in the streets!  There's live music on so many street corners and incredible support from total strangers.  

What makes it all even more special is that I run for Fred's Team, a group of dedicated runners whose mission is to raise funds for cancer research for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  I have been running with Fred's Team since this charity began over 20 years ago and have raised more than $100,000 for the Aubrey Fund for Pediatric Cancer Research

There will be many more blog posts to come,specifically related to both the NYC Marathon and Fred's Team.  Stay tuned...

Monday, March 17, 2014

My Day as a Spectator

Yesterday, I gained the utmost respect for race spectators, especially those who support their friends and family members during marathons and half marathons. I was supposed to run with my good friend, Ann, yesterday in the New York City Half Marathon.  However, one month ago, I painstakingly decided to defer until 2015, a mature and responsible decision for me, a self-described crazed runner, who has at times decided on a Monday to run in a marathon the following Sunday on very minimal training.  Well, as I have gotten older, that trick does not work too well, and in my infinite wisdom, I decided to "sit this one out."

I've coached Ann through two marathons, Richmond in 2012 and New York City in 2013. When it comes to running, we have a professional relationship -- I am the coach and she is the student.  When it comes to friends, she is the BEST!  So,when the alarm began singing at 
4:30 am yesterday, I knew better than to hit the snooze button.  "Rise and shine, Judy, and know that you are in for a long day!"

Ann picked me up at 5:30 am.  We made the perfunctory Starbucks stop -- I needed the caffeine to wake up and Ann needed it to insure that all "excess baggage" was eliminated prior to race time.  Also, before  running in any long races, I always insist that my clients ingest caffeine to enhance free fatty acid metabolism -- more on the science behind this at another time, in a future blog post.  

As we drove into the city, we joked about the early morning hour and Ann wondered why she was crazy enough to be doing this on a freezing and very windy day.  At the same time, I could hear the excitement in her voice and I could feel her anticipation and adrenaline surge.  I know these feelings 'oh so well' and regretted that I would not be next to her at the starting line. However, I had a job to do and I planned to do it well!

The full moon was shining brightly as we drove south on the parkway.  The moon reminded me that somewhere in the nighttime sky was Ann's guardian angel, Tiger.  Tiger was Ann's very special dog, a golden retriever like no other -- Tiger died nine months ago, but we often feel his presence.  Since I could not be with Ann on her 13.1 mile journey, I asked Tiger to guide her safely from Central Park to the finish line in Battery Park.

Once we reached the Upper East Side, we switched places -- I became the driver and Ann, the passenger.  I drove south to Fifth Avenue and East 60th Street, and dropped Ann off by her staging area.  "Run like the wind," I said.  Ann smiled and was gone.  She jogged into the park with 20,000 other runners.

I proceeded to drive further south and found a parking space right in front of a neighborhood Starbucks in Chelsea.  I sat with my cappuccino and began sending texts to Ann before her official start:  "I am so proud of you," "Enjoy the journey," "Run Forest, run!"  Then, I set my smartphone to "Track My Runner."  

I tried to become absorbed in a book that I was reading about social media marketing, but I kept drifting away to a place I love, racing...  At that moment, I was envious of all those runners who were rhythmically placing one foot in front of the other, creating and chanting their own mantras to get them from the start to the finish.  I knew that I made the right choice by sitting this one out, but it was painful to be on the sidelines.  Sometimes, life gets in the way of running and that is what happened to me -- two deaths in my family in 10 months -- so much to deal with that I had to balance the amount of energy I dedicated to running with the energy that I needed to take care of all sorts of other 'necessities with deadlines.'

After tracking Ann through 5K and 10K, I decided it was time to drive down to Tribeca to get as close as I possibly could to the finish line.  Although Ann and I agreed to meet in the Starbucks on Broadway, I decided to be at the finish to greet her.  I negotiated my way through many closed streets and police barricades and finally found a parking lot that was about three-quarters of a mile from the finish line.  I tried to make a 'pit stop' at a (yep, you guessed it) Starbucks en route to the Family Reunion Area, but to no avail -- the line for the ladies room was out the door!  

I soon discovered that, although the finish line was only three-quarters of a mile from the parking garage, the Family Reunion Area was at least one-and-a-half miles away.  It was absolutely freezing and I longed for that wonderfully heated core temperature that all those finishers were experiencing, plus a mylar blanket to keep me warm.  The Track My Runner App showed that Ann had passed through 15K with a most respectable time.  I just prayed that she was keeping up that pace through 20K and the finish.  I stood on the street where the runners were exiting, eagerly anticipating Ann's arrival.  I anxiously awaited for Ann's finishing time to show up on my smartphone -- finally, it did! 

Ann ran a great race and I was so proud!  I wanted to give her a big hug, but minutes went by and there was no word from Ann.  It felt like an eternity until she finally called and told me that she would be at the runner's exit very soon.  As I waited for her arrival, I watched all the runners exit the chute in varied states of exhilaration.  I longed for that runner's high and assured myself that it would not be too long until I experienced it again.

Finally, Ann and I were reunited.  Ann was proudly wearing her mylar blanket and medal.  She looked great!  I, on the other hand, was totally exhausted.  It is truly work to be a spectator.  I have a new found appreciation for all those spectators who have endured hours of waiting, negotiating through crowds, dealing with the weather challenges, finding bathrooms, and computing the logistics of their next viewing stop.  

Alas, this is my Ode to the Spectator...

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Great Finds at the NYC Half-Marathon Expo!

Yesterday, I attended the NYC Half-Marathon Expo at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Chelsea.  I love checking out new gadgets, running shoes, and apparel.  I was particularly impressed with several items that I decided "I had to have."

SnuggBuds Headsets clearly demonstrate that not all headphones are created equally!  The sound quality is unbelievable and just as important, the buds actually stay in your ears, hence the name.  SnuggBuds have silicone earbuds -- once you put them in your ears and twist, they are sealed into place because silicone expands.  SnuggBuds come in a variety of fun colors and there are three different models.  Find out more at:

H20 id is a brand new company that launched two days ago, making its debut at the NYC Half-Marathon Expo.  Anyone who works out in a fitness center or is a germaphobe needs this item! Founder, Cassandra Gut, is the creative genius behind these reusable ID bands for water bottles.  The bands come in a variety of "happy" colors and adjust to fit most size bottles.  Just take a Sharpie and write your name on the white rectangle.  The bands are machine washable. I purchased six yesterday at the expo and plan to buy many more -- I know it is a bit early in the year, but H20 id bands will make great stocking stuffers!  You can even have your business logo imprinted on the bands.  Check out this unique item at:

Vivofit Fitness Band by Garmin is the newest in the line of activity trackers.  It is also the first activity tracker that Garmin has designed.  I have always been an avid fan of Garmin GPS-Enabled Trainers for tracking all my running mileage and other stats, so I knew that I just had to give the Vivofit Fitness Band a try.  I plan to take it out of the box tonight and start wearing it in the morning.  The Vivofit comes in a variety of colors - I went with the purple which will match with my new running shoes, the On Cloudsurfers (see below).  Unlike most activity trackers, the Vivofit comes with a replaceable (not rechargeable) battery, which is guaranteed to last at least one year.  The Vivofit will monitor your steps taken throughout the day, calories burned, your sleeping patterns, and much more.  It also serves as a watch.  Get more information at:

On Cloudsurfer Sky / MandarinOn Cloudsurfer Running Shoes need to be on the shelves of more running specialty shops.  All On running shoes are quite unique in that they have rubber elements on the bottom that provide a "cushioned landing with a barefoot takeoff."  My description will not do these shoes nearly as much justice as the website.  Start with some "online window shopping" at:

YMX Just Play makes very unique and quite beautiful exercise apparel, demonstrating that "art can be worn."  Their MadKool fabrics are engineered to regulate your natural body temperature so that you will stay warm in cool weather activities, and cool when your heart is pumping.  You will feel dry and comfortable while running in YMX apparel.  These fabrics also offer UV protection of up to UPF 50, making this clothing great for outdoor activities. Check out this unique line of exercise wear at:

Well, thank goodness for two things:

1.  The Expo was not too large -- I got away with only spending a small fortune.

2.  There aren't race expos nearby on a weekly basis -- if there were, I would get nothing else done.

I love shopping for "everything running,", especially electronic gadgets and running shoes!