Berlin Marathon is a Bunny

Not my best time, but I had the best time.

look, it’s a bunny!

Don’t call it a comeback… because it wasn’t. I knew when I broke my sacrum in July that I wouldn’t be fully ready to race in less than 3 months. But I was determined that I would get myself to the start line. So for the very first time since I started running marathons, I didn’t have a time goal. Truthfully, I simply couldn’t come up with a time goal considering I was mostly doing aqua jogging and only got in 3.5 weeks of running with 30ish weekly mileages. I didn’t know what I was capable of. I created a “Berlin Jogging” Spotify playlist with songs that bring me joy, and told myself that, “I am gonna have FUN, and try not to further damage my butt so I can dance on the tables at Oktoberfest.”

my Berlin Marathon race mantra written on my wrist

I still wrote down a conservative pace plan on my arm because who am I kidding, I am a planner. I found out at 11pm the night before the race that there were no mile markers, only kilometers were marked on the course. Well shit. My brain was too mushy to do any calculation. With Josh’s help, I wrote down new, and not so accurate, splits for every 10k with a goal of a ~ 3hr 45min finish. 

It’s a wonderful thing when races start at a later time, when I can wake up at a normal time and not rush out of the door. My hotel was 1.5 miles from the start. I got up at 7:10am. Had some instant coffee, my normal pre-race breakfast of frosted flakes (cough cough sponsorship?) with lactose-free milk, and a quarter of a Maurten 360 drink mix with caffeine. At 8am, I poured the rest of the drink mix into an empty plastic water bottle, put on my throw away/donation clothes, laced up my hot pink racers for the last time (RIP NB RC Elite v2) and started jogging to the start line. 

in the hotel elevator

“I feel like we have been in this line forever.” I said to my friend J as we waited in a never ending line for a porta potty. With 5 minutes to spare, we finally got to the bathroom. I threw away my empty plastic bottle, put my joggers into a donation bin, and jogged to corral C with J. I don’t normally do this much jogging right before running 26.2 miles. But surprisingly I was not stressed about it at all. I was very present, soaking in all the race day excitement, and smiling at runners who were about to embark on this long celebratory run with me. 

The race had already started when we got to our corral. We were one of the last people who got to corral C, and I was glad that neither of us were stressed about it. J decided to stay back to stretch a little bit before starting. “Good luck! See you at the finish line,” she yelled as I moved forward with thousands of runners. I dropped my throw away top, turned on my Shokz, hit the start button on my Garmin, and started to run. 

mile 1. still have my throw away gloves on.

Spectators were 3 people deep for the first mile. I could feel the race day excitement and energy running through my body. That’s when it hit me. I made it! 12 weeks after fracturing my sacrum, with the support and encouragement from my coach, friends, training partners, and family, I am here, running the freaking Berlin Marathon. The watch buzzed, 1 mile, 7:54. Huh, that’s a lot faster than I expected, and man there were really no mile markers in this race. What does this pace mean for the finish time? Ugh can’t do math while running. It’s fine. It’s going to be #BrokenButtPR as long as I cross the finish line. My legs felt light, the pace felt smooth, and no pain on my butt. Let’s just see what I can do! 

The 6k marker came up quickly. I thought Josh said he would be on the right, but I couldn’t find him. I had never missed him in a race before. Maybe he didn’t realize that I am running faster than I planned? Or maybe my time chip is not working? I have never run with a timechip that needs to be put on your shoes before. Oh I hope I did it right. Maybe I should stop and check to see if my dot is moving in the app. I am feeling great! If I run back to the start now, I can probably still start with the last wave. No no no, that’s insane. I can always get my medal at the finish, and if my time is not clocked, I can come back again to run this race in the future to get the star (Abbott Six Star Journey). As my thoughts rumbled, I took my first Maurten gel when my watch buzzed at mile 4. 

I was with friends in the area between 7k-10k the day before. The memory of trying to find friends in a foreign country without cell phone service, ordering street food without knowing what it was, and looking for non-bubbly water (a real struggle in Germany) at this exact place made me smile and kept me company. When I passed the 10k marker, I tried to understand how far ahead I was from the pace I had planned. I quickly realized that I didn’t know how far off from the gun time my start time was, and my watch’s screen didn’t have the total time on it. I knew I had the total time on the second screen of my watch, but I didn’t want to mess with it during the run. Whatever. I am just going to run this whole thing by feel. 

I took a Gatorade gel at mile 8. Only 4 gels left. Nothing hurts, I was not breathing heavily, I still had energy to thank the volunteers who handed me the water, and I can still weave around to high five the kids. Am I really running a marathon? This feels too easy. Well, there is still a long way to go. 

There they are! I ran out of the crowd, put on the biggest smile, and threw my arms in the air to wave to my friends at 14k. They came to Berlin from Amsterdam for the race. I can’t believe my luck that I have such supportive friends. They were looking at their phone right before spotting me, so maybe my tracker was working?! But Josh was supposed to be at 14k as well. He was nowhere in sight. 

The next couple of miles were a blur. Not the normal pain cave kind of blur in a race, but an overall adrenaline rush from engaging with the crowd. Turns out “Amanda” was a very easy name to pronounce in Germany. I was happily surprised to hear so many people yelling my name. I smiled and swung my arms in the air every time to acknowledge the cheer. And since I made a conscious effort to run on the side to give high fives to kids, all the parents would shout out my name as I passed. I waved at bands that were playing folk music. I thanked the grandmas who had pots and rolling pins in hand to make noise for the runners. I pointed at people with Chicago flags. Oh this is fun!  

My secret skill is finding all the cameras on the course

J passed me around mile 18.5. She looked so smooth and joyful. She was gonna crush her goal! She waved at me, and I shouted “Good luck!!” 

I knew that I was running around 8 min/mile pace this whole time. But I didn’t know my exact pace since I had no idea how many extra miles I ran from weaving through the crowd. And I had given up on doing math hours ago. What I did know was that around here is usually when things start to hurt. I did a quick body check. Proper form, no pain, light feet. I was feeling a little fatigue, but my oh my I have never felt so good this late into a race. This thought gave me an extra energy boost as I ran past the 30, 31, 32k marker. 

Right after the 32k marker I saw me and my cat Zola’s heads on a stick. Oh thank god there is Josh! He looked ecstatic when I saw him. Huh, maybe I was too busy high-fiving the kids and missed him before. 

Don’t stop me now

I am having such a good time

I am having a ball 

Queen’s song was playing in my ears when I felt my butt for the first time in the race. My watch just buzzed for mile 20. No no, not now. Shut up butt, don’t do this to me. I am having such a good time! It was not a sharp pain, but rather a cloudy feeling alerting me that something was not right. I lightened up my pace, hoping that it would go away. 

I slowly and carefully approached the 34k marker. Just over 8k to go! What does that even mean? I started distance running in the States, and km markers don’t click the same way as mile markers in my mind. Well I know that’s only a Shamrock Shuffle distance to go! Sounds manageable. Oh wait, my butt feels fine now. I didn’t know how that had happened, but hey I would take it! 

A lot of people started to drop back between 38-40k. We happened to be staying around that area, and we had walked this exact part of the course the day before. The unintentional visualization walk helped a lot. “Good job runners! We are so close!” a runner shouted enthusiastically. I smiled, and picked up the pace a bit. 

smiling through the final 2k of the race

The final part of the race felt like a party. I knew I was running a bit faster than before, but I didn’t look down to check my pace. I was simply excited. This was the first marathon that I was not in pain at any point. I tried to hype up the crowd a couple of times with the biggest smile on my face. The crowd in Germany was not as loud as Boston or Chicago. But people still responded. They were cheering for me left and right. “Go Amanda! My name is also Amanda!” “WOOHOO!” I laughed, thinking that must be one of the weirdest cheers that I have ever gotten. 

For the first time, I didn’t immediately stop my watch as I crossed the finish line. I wanted to soak in all the joy and excitement. And for the first time, I teared up. I have run a decent amount of PRs in the past couple of years, but I have never felt this way. It was pure joy. It was not my best time, but I had the best time.

And cherry on top? I negative split by over 2 mins, and ran a 3:22:35. Holy shit. 

The proper way to celebrate in Germany – a cold beer and a salty pretzel

Maybe this is the secret of a good international race – have a conservative time goal, forget about said time goal on the course, and don’t obsess about pasta the night before (we simply couldn’t find an Italian restaurant that was not fully booked, so we wandered into a French restaurant. I had scallops with rice, and a lot of bread).

Thank you all for reading, and for the love and support during my injury! Butt feels good but not great. Looking forward to a lot of rest, and running for fun for a while.  

Coming Back from Setbacks

Since I got serious about running, I have been very lucky when it comes avoiding injuries or any setbacks that would take me away from running for weeks at a time. However, life is full of surprises. On an evening about 9 weeks ago, only 4 weeks into my Berlin Marathon training cycle, I was rushing downstairs while wearing socks and slipped and fell on our wooden stairs. After a chaotic midnight ER visit, I was informed that I have an acute, comminuted fracture of the inferior sacrum, which I had to google. “You are lucky it’s a clean break! You need to refrain from any exercise for a couple of weeks, but you can probably still run the Berlin Marathon,” doctor said to me while putting me on a heavy dose of painkillers to help me rest.

I knew then that if I didn’t want this injury to consume me, I needed to make some changes in my life and how I approach running. And I was also aware that being injured sucks. I knew that I would be sad and frustrated during the recovery process no matter how hard I tried to be positive, and it’s totally ok to feel those feelings. Sit with them. Process them. For me, it was a lot of sitting in a dark room playing back the scene when I fell in my head until I got to the point where I acknowledged that there was nothing I can do to change what has already happened. I accepted the situation, and tried my best to stop blaming myself. I still fall back into that negative mental space from time to time, thinking what if. I have to constantly remind myself that I am here now. I need to look ahead and move forward. 

Separating Myself from the Sport

I happened to be reading the book “How She Did It” when I was injured. There was a quote from the sports psychologist Ro McGettigan, “It’s a secure place to know and believe that you are whole without this sport.”

I tried my best to be intentional about the things I do to cultivate a positive environment for myself. I deleted Strava, and stopped listening to running related podcasts (which was about 60% of my podcast consumption). I made a list of things that bring me joy outside of running. It included things like reading, cooking, baking, socializing, and bubble baths with scented candles. But in the beginning of the recovery, things were rough. I couldn’t stand for an extended period of time, and I couldn’t sit up straight without a donut pillow. And even with the pillow, I could only sit still without pain for about 20 minutes at a time. This ruled out most of the things that were on my list. Luckily, listening to audiobooks was still on the table. So in the first couple of weeks, I was mostly in the crocodile pose, listening to audiobooks recommended by friends and family. 

Slowly but surely, I was able to take longer walks, start cooking on my feet, and hanging out with friends. Every little bit of progress felt like a big milestone. 

The World Athletics Championship was happening two weeks after my injury. By then, I was able to get into a good mental state knowing that I can still be a fan of the sport without being a part of the sport. I cannot tell you how much energy and joy the track and field events gave me. Being able to separate these two things changed my perspective of this injury, and allowed me to maintain a healthy relationship with running. 

Adjusting Goals

I had big goals for Berlin. I have been seeing significant progress in my marathon times over the past couple of years, and I wanted to see how fast I could go before taking a much needed break from back to back marathon training blocks. After the injury, I had to let go of my racing goals. I tried my best to look at the positive side that I still get to go to Berlin and run the course. I knew that I wouldn’t do well in Berlin, but I wanted to be there. The new main goal was to finish the race healthy.

I reeled in my focus to small and attainable goals, like staying present (instead of thinking about what if), staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, walking 15-20 minutes every day after week 2, learning about aqua jogging and starting to incorporating that into my training, scheduling a PT session before attempting to run, trying to run/walk for 30 minutes after week 3, and starting to work with my running team’s running coach individually. I didn’t come up with all the goals at once. Many of them were built on each other based on how my body felt. I learned to be flexible with the physical goals so that I could be kind to my body. As much as I want to run the Berlin Marathon, I will take a life-long relationship with running over 3 hours in Berlin in a heartbeat. 

I played around with the idea of setting long-term goals like starting weight training by x day and signing up for races down the line to fire up my competitive side. But I didn’t want to rush my body to get ready for a race if I didn’t have to, and I didn’t want to put extra pressure on my mind, which was working overtime to stay positive. I know I will race against the clock again in the future. I just don’t know when that will be at the moment. 

Adjusting Body Image and Self-talk

I have always loved sweets and baked goods. And I often struggle to keep my weight up during marathon training. During my recent back-to-back marathon training blocks, I was able to eat all the sweets and pastries and ice cream that my heart desired and count them towards the fuel that my body needed to recover from hard workouts. 

When I went from running 40-50 miles a week to barely able to walk, my body naturally started to change. A week after the injury, I noticed that a pair of jeans was feeling tight and I freaked out. I cut down my meal portion, refused to snack during the day, and announced to my husband that I wouldn’t have any sweets until I started running again. Was I hungry? Of course I was. I was drinking flavored water like tea and Nuun to distract myself from hunger. 

About 4 weeks after the injury, I stepped on a scale (which I don’t really do). I did a double take at the number in disbelief. The last time I was that light was before high school. I asked my husband to weigh himself to see if the scale was broken. It was not. I was broken. 

I started reflecting on my relationship with food, and how I let my mental image of myself and my unhealthy relationship with my body get in the way of fueling my body to recovery. Although my physical activities have gone down, I still need energy and nutrients to help in the healing process. I realized that I needed to have a healthy relationship with my body, outside of the sport. 

I added more vegetables back, then carbs, then a controlled amount of sweets. With the increased calories, I noticed a significant change in productivity at work and energy during the day.  There are still days when I caught myself trying to skip meals because I didn’t “move enough” or simply because I “felt heavy”. I had to remind myself that my body needs the energy to heal and recover. It’s still a work in progress. But at least it’s going in the right direction. 

In Summary

I’m not back yet, and that’s okay. I’m going to be here, and in running, for a long time. And that’s the point. More updates to come in the future, many more updates.

Winter 2022 Training + Boston Marathon Post Mortem

It’s been real, but not real fun.

(As always, all supplements and products I mentioned in this post were not sponsored. Legal…legal…legal. Please proceed with caution. If necessary, talk to your coach before using any of the products. I am, however, sponsored by Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team.)

This was the first time that I have done a winter full-marathon training block. I will not glamorize it. It was tough with the cold, wind, and limited sunlight. Halfway through the training, I was running with my ski gloves over running gloves and booty shorts under windproof leggings, swearing that I would never do another winter marathon training block again. But now that I am on the other side of it, I am thinking – maybe? But before looking ahead, I want to look back at this training block and the race to reflect and learn. 

Here are the things that helped me during this training cycle:

Didn’t go into a training cycle with barely any running 

Learning from my mistake of going into my last training cycle with no base training, I wanted to have a solid 20-30 miles weekly before the start of this training cycle. After the Chicago Marathon 2021, I did a short 5k training block to prep for a turkey trot, and maintained 25 miles/week up till this training cycle started. I definitely noticed the difference. My body was not as tired or achy throughout this training block as in previous times. 

Aimed for the highest mileage from the start of the training, and ran the easy runs easy

For the 6-9 miles runs, and the 45mins-1hour runs, I aimed to do the highest amount during this training cycle. The mileage of these mid-week medium-long runs add up. Chris McClung from Running Rogue Podcast talked about the benefit of medium-long runs in a recent episode. To make sure that my body could recover from the increased mileage, for the first time ever, I actually ran the easy miles easy (about 1’30 – 2 mins slower than my marathon race pace)! 

Stayed at my pace, and be ok with running solo

I am in between pace groups on my running team. For my last training cycle, I was jumping in between the faster and the slower groups. It’s very tempting to go with the faster group. But I knew I would end up falling behind or running at a different threshold pace, which would defeat the purpose of the runs. 

With many canceled “organized group runs” due to the terrible winter weather conditions, and my attempt to stay at my targeted pace (instead of joining my training partners for their own organized long runs), I ended up running many lonely miles by myself on the 606 (the 2.7-mile elevated running path on the west side of Chicago). I grew to love them. It’s just my punk rock music playlist, the howling wind, and my heavy breathing. These runs allowed me to clear my mind, and practice for the solo time during the race. 

Practiced the race day fueling plan

Since Maurten was what’s available on the course in Boston, I tried their gels during some of my long runs. No negative reactions to the gels, but I just don’t like the texture of them. This helped me to figure out that I wouldn’t mind picking up 1-2 Maurten gels on the course, but I wouldn’t want all of my gels to be Maurten (more on race day fuel plan later).

Besides using every Saturday long run as practice runs for fueling (pre-run food, gel, drink mix), I also used the last long run to do a practice trial for Boston’s early wake-up and late-start. It allowed me to discover that I needed more food than my normal pre-run fuel (coffee, banana, frosted flakes, Maurten 320 Drink Mix). I added a plain bagel for race day, and it worked out great for my body. 

Despite all the positive changes I made during this training cycle, I still fell short on a couple of things. Here are the things that I would like to do for the next training block:

Having a proper plan for aerobic cross-training, and strength training 

Here we go again. I know this was on my “to-do” list last time, and I honestly just didn’t make it a priority for this training block. About half of the cross-training days for this training block ended up being rest days. I canceled my gym membership in the beginning of the pandemic. Not having access to a gym made cross-training a bit tricky in the winter. I did a couple day passes to a small gym by my place, and 3 weeks before the race, I finally was able to get a spin bike for our home gym. In total, I did 3 Peloton cycling classes before the race. That’s all I did for aerobic cross-training. Not ideal. But now that I have a spin bike at home, there is no excuse for slacking next time.

I still had the same old issue with weights. My amazing (read pushy) husband built a basic whole-body training plan for me that includes lower body, upper body, and abs, but I got bored after 4 weeks. I would procrastinate until it was too late to work out and use it as an excuse to get out of it. I took some Peloton strength classes here and there, but it was not consistent. I need to find a style of strength training that I enjoy so that I will actually stick to it next time. 

Stop stressing about one missed run or one bad run

This got really bad towards the end of this training cycle when I got sick for a couple of weeks (not Covid). I knew deep down that the best thing for me to do was to let my body fully rest and recover, but emotionally, I didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t stop having hot and sweaty (literally) nightmares about Boston every single night. The stress affected my work and life. For a brief moment there, I lost my love for this sport. 

This is part of the reason why this post is coming a bit late. Since I was sick up to the day before the race, I didn’t have enough time to process my emotions. Despite having an amazing race result, I didn’t feel the kind of joy that I felt in my previous races. As I was crossing the finish line, I was just relieved that this huge stressor was gone, and I didn’t disappoint anyone. 

Typing this down right now made me realize how unhealthy that was. I am proud of how I executed my race plan. But I cannot let the race result determine everything. I also want to be able to enjoy the process, be proud of all the hard work that I have put in, and trust the training. 

I don’t have a plan for how to tackle this in the future yet. But I am noting the problem. And hopefully, when things happen next time, I can be more graceful with myself. 

Cannot do a post-mortem without looking at the race day. I had an Instagram post to recap the race day. This part is to reflect on what went well and what didn’t. And honestly, besides not being able to fully enjoy the day due to my anxiety coming into the race, it was a great day. Lots of goods, not much bad. As Josh said, I was a good little soldier who masked all of the emotions and executed the plan. 


Getting enough rest and fluid before the race

Me being sick leading up to the race actually helped in this case. I was napping whenever I can, and being very adamant about hygration the week before the week. Despite having to get up at 4:30am on race day, I felt rested when I started the race.

Perfect execution of race fuel plan

Nailing down my race fuel plan has been a big goal since my last training cycle. A gel every 4 miles has been working great for me, but I would still miss the exact mile marker a couple of times during training. 

When I was writing down my race mantra and race plan on my arm, I wrote down the split and elapsed time for every 4 miles. This served as a great reminder to take the gel when I was checking my elapsed time. Here is my race day plan:

Mile 4 – Gatorade with caffeine 

Mile 8 – Gatorade with caffeine 

[picked up two Maurten gels at mile 11.8, and stuffed them in my shorts pocket]

Mile 12 – Maurten with caffeine 

Mile 16 – Gatorade without caffeine

Mile 20 – Gatorade without caffeine

Mile 24 – Maurten without caffeine

The only adjustment I made on race day was that I started having the last Maurten gel at mile 23, instead of 24, because it takes me a while to finish that jello-like gel, and I didn’t want to be still eating the gel when I crossed the finish line. 

THE MEH (insert shrug emoji)

Didn’t stick to my race plan

I worked with my coaches (shout out to Cynthia and Mike!) to build a race plan based on the course. Here is the actual plan:

Mile 1-4 (downhill): Marathon Race Pace (MRP) + 10 sec

Mile 5-16 (relatively flat): MRP

Mile 17-21 (uphill): MRP +5 sec

Mile 22 (downhill): MRP

Mile 23-26.2: MRP-16 sec

I actually started MRP + 15 sec in the first mile. I panicked and overcorrected to 2 miles at MRP, and 1 mile at MRP – 5 sec. I settled back down to 2-5 sec under MRP between mile 5-16. I knew I was ahead of my target the whole time. But I was feeling ok with the pace. I decided to stay with it. I thought I could either surprise myself, or I would use the extra time on the hills later. It worked out. My slowest mile was on heartbreak hill on mile 21, in which I ran MRP + 30sec. But I was still able to finish strong, and finished right on target.

Maybe I would have more legs for climbing the hills if I had stuck to my plan. Guess we’ll never know. That’s why this is not a “bad’, but rather a “meh”. 


Not sharing my race goal

As I wrote down my split/elapsed time on my arm, I was reflecting on all of the self-doubt and negative talk that I had cast on myself. I am a big believer in the power of vulnerability. The power of sharing your big goals, and the courage to chase after them. But I didn’t do that this time. I didn’t really tell people my goal time (3:10:00 was the goal), and I didn’t share my bib number to allow others to track me. Because I was scared. I was scared that I would disappoint others and myself. I felt like hiding the goal from others gave me a way out in case I had a bad race. It was like I was already finding excuses for myself before the race even started. 

I want to be better at this. Be ok with being vulnerable. And feel empowered by my big goals and dreams. I may not hit my goals every time. But the courage of chasing after them is the beauty of this sport. 

Stepping Into the Unknown

I started writing this post back in January. But the challenges of training a full marathon in the dead of winter in the Midwest took away most of my mental and physical energy. I had an internal fight with myself every day about how I would feel bad if I missed a run, but the freezing cold and lack of sunshine placed a challenge for my motivation. “I am strong, I am tough. I can do hard things”, I don’t remember how many times I said these cheesy phrases to myself to hype myself up for runs. Anyway, now that the days are longer, the sun is brighter, and the temp is warmer, I am finally back to pick up what I left off! 

Winter training is in full swing (well, it is almost spring now…). It’s always fun to meet the new faces on the team at the beginning of every training season (I run with Fleet Feet x New Balance Racing Team, and Chicago Endurance Sports. I will share how I got involved in these running groups, and why do I think having such running communities is useful in my next post!). I love getting to know how the runners got here, what’s their favorite pre/post-run food, and what keeps them motivated. Let’s be honest, most “sane” people don’t run outside in Midwest winters. Most people join the team because they are training for a specific race. And there is always someone whose goal race is a distance that they have never run or raced before. I can see the hesitation on their faces when others ask the question, “what’s your goal time?” since there is not always a benchmark for them to measure against. 

I still find myself in that situation sometimes. I am not a middle-distance runner. After I signed up for a 5k race last minute in the fall, I stared at a pace chart long and hard trying to figure out what’s a reasonable pace that I can hold over a 5k distance without busting. It felt more stressful than putting together a race day plan for a marathon. The unknown was scary. 

That’s what I am here to talk about today – the unknown

For a good 3 years, for some personal reasons, I didn’t know where I would be living in the following quarter. No, I didn’t grow to love the unknown. But I have lived in the unknown for so long that I figured out ways to eliminate the variables and always prepare myself for plan b, plan c, and plan d. It allowed me to make the best of the situation, and not be fully in the dark. The same kind of mindset can be applied to running. 

Here are a couple of situations in running where you may encounter unknown:

Unknown pace

As Robin Arzon (@robinnyc), the VP of programming for Peloton, said, it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. Running doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger and faster. For me, the potential of testing my physical limits is the beauty of racing. However, I have to admit that it is always intimidating whenever I attempt a new distance PR. Or worst, trying to come up with a pace for a distance that I never raced in. Honestly, since the marathon is the only distance that I regularly train for and race in, I do not have a good grasp of my capability in the other distances. 

Here are the steps I use to determine my goal pace:

  • Do a 1-mile time trial to figure out my fitness level, or if I ran a race within the past month, I would use that time as a benchmark 
  • Use a pace calculator to understand how this pace translates to other distances (with Jack Daniels’ calculator, you can put in your pace for a certain distance on top, and then click the “equivalent” to see what that pace means for other distances.)
  • Running goal pace during your training runs. No, not all of your runs should be at your goal pace (I absolutely did that before, and ended up with an angry Achilles tendon.) But you should have some goal race pace miles built-in for your speed training, tempo runs, or long runs. Personally, this was one of the most helpful things that my training plan had during my last marathon cycle. For example, we had an 18-mile run that consisted of warm-up miles, 3 sets of 3 miles at marathon pace with 1 mile of recovery between working sets, and cool-down miles after the programmed sets. Runs like this helped me to get an idea of what it feels like to hold my goal pace and to determine whether or not my goal pace was realistic. Since we had multiple runs that were similar to this one, I tried a couple of different paces before picking a pace that was challenging but not too aggressive. 

Unknown distance

It feels scary running or even racing a distance that you have never done before. For most people who are training for their first half-marathon, full marathon, or ultra, almost every long run would likely be the longest distance you have ever run. I totally understand the uneasy feeling of seeing a big number for the long run. What helped me during my first marathon training was counting up to halfway, then counting down for the rest of the run. For example, for an 18-miler, once I get to 9 miles I would start counting down. I would tell myself, I have done 9 miles before, I can do this. I have also broken down the long runs into 3-5 sections of 3-6 miles and tell myself I only have less than 5k or 10k to go! It’s the small mental tricks like this that helped me push away the iffy feeling when tackling long distances. 

What about a distance that you have run before, but never raced? This is when all the things mentioned before for dealing with unknown pace come into play. Figuring out the pace that you could potentially hold for that distance, and practicing running at that pace during your training runs to get used to what the pace feels like.

Unknown condition

Your obsession over the weather app a few weeks before the race can’t change the weather. I have to tell myself this every time before a big race. But luckily it doesn’t bother me as much as it may others. Part of it is because my team trains in ALL CONDITIONS (it was just hailing during one of our speed training sessions…it hurt, but it didn’t stop us!). I know whatever the condition is, I experienced it and I am prepared for it. 

Next time when it’s raining or snowing or super hot and humid, and you are hesitant to go for a run, just remind yourself that the race would happen rain or shine. It’s better to experience it now, figure out the best way to dress for it and fuel during it than experiencing it for the first time on race day. 

Unknown course

Compared to the rest, this is the most exciting unknown factor! 

New routes and new scenery can be fun, but they can also be stressful on a race day. The best thing that I have done to prepare for an unknown course was the “last 10k course visualization run” that I did with my team for Chicago Marathon last year. I mentioned how much it helped me when things got tough in my race recap post. However, I understand that not everyone has the privilege to run the last portion of the course before race day due to travel or time constraints. Here are some other ways to prepare for an unknown course:

  • Studying the course map/elevation map

It might seem trivial, but this is something that I had done for most of my races before and I have had success with. Knowing when to expect a turn and when a hill is coming allows me to mentally psych myself up for the miles ahead, and it also helps break down a long-distance course into smaller bite-size sections. 

  • Watch a video of the course

If you are running a big race, for example a major marathon, you can probably find video footage of the course on YouTube. Watch it, visualize it, and memorize it! Ok, maybe not exactly memorize it, but you get the idea. This could go a long way come race day! 

  • Drive the course

Not every race will have resources like a course video. And if you don’t have the time to run the last portion of the course before the race day, maybe you could drive through it, and pay close attention to the surroundings and bumps on the road. The idea is to “plant seeds of positivity” as my coach said during our course visualization run last year.

That’s all for today! 

For runners in Chicago, this weekend is the start of the race season. Whether you are tackling an unknown pace, unknown distance, unknown conditions (weather looks good for now!), or unknown course, know that you are not alone, and there are ways to fight the anxious voice in your head.

Good luck and have fun! Yeah running 🙂

Setting Smart Running Goals

Tips for setting long-term and short-term running goals.

It’s ironic that I procrastinated the most on the post about goal setting. I can blame it on the holiday travel, the dark and gloomy weather, and the holiday stress. But isn’t the whole point of setting a goal to help you stick to it even when things get hard? It is intimidating to tackle a topic when I am personally struggling with it. You see, we are on this journey of learning together. And at the very least, I am still here. And I am glad that you are here. 

The holiday season is officially here. I can smell the gingerbread cookies, pumpkin spice, and pinewood in the grocery stores. It’s the time of the year when people start to wrap up this year, and set goals for the new year ahead. I was one of those people who would write down shiny new year’s resolutions, but never stick to them for more than 2 months. After a couple of years, I decided to take a moment to pause and ask myself about the “why” – why I never follow through, and more importantly, why I set those specific goals. I actually did the exact same exercise today hoping to get back on my running and writing schedule. Understanding the “why” helped me to reevaluate some of the fancy grand goals, and adjust them to smart goals that are tangible, actionable, and motivational. And when I say motivational, I am not talking about things like those “inspirational” posts that you see on social media. I meant things that get YOU going. Everyone finds motivation in different things. I will go into this more later. 

When it comes to setting goals for running, it is twofold. The long-term goals, and the short-term goals. Coming up with these two sets of goals will require you to take some time to think and even write down your thoughts, so you can properly process and understand your goals, and set your mind to filter out any distractions or obstacles that may come in the way of you chasing after your goals. 


Long-term goals can be anywhere between a year to a decade. These goals do not need to tie to a race distance or a goal time. This is where you get to dream a little bigger and figure out what kind of role you would like running to play in your life. Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  • What’s your “why”? 

Everyone gets into running at different times in their lives, and everyone runs for different reasons. It could be for mental health, physical health, social interaction with running friends, getting to places, the ability to eat another donut guilt-free, the love for type 2 fun…etc. Your “why” could change during different periods of your life, therefore reassessing your goals every once in a while is necessary. Understanding why you chose this sport, what you get out of this sport, and what this sport means to you would allow you to see what kind of role you would like running to play in your life.

For me, mental health is the main reason I run, especially in the winters. Everyone knows that winters in the midwest are brutal. They are dark, gloomy, windy, and snowy. Every year I can feel my mood change along with the seasonal change. And I have come to realize that if I stop running during this time of the year, I would soon find myself curled up in a ball on my couch for days. Running helps. It helps lift the cloud in my head and makes me feel alive. As much as I dislike the idea of running in the cold, I know I will feel better if I just get myself out of the door and start moving. Therefore, although I am competitive and I love racing, the top priority of my long-term running goals is to avoid burnout so that I can enjoy running as a sport and keep my mental health in check. 

  • What keeps you motivated?

Everyone is motivated by different things. It could be a time goal for a specific distance, a distance goal (like running a marathon), a race goal for the number of races you run (one of my friend’s mom had a goal of running one marathon in each state in the U.S! So inspirational.), a social goal to stay connected with running friends or make new friends…etc. Whatever it is, use it to put together your long-term goals. 

  • How to have a long and enjoyable running career/hobby?

If you are here thinking about long-term goals, you probably want to be able to enjoy the sports for as long as you can! Although long-term goals are where you can dream big, it’s important to be realistic about it so you can (hopefully!) avoid injury. For example, if you are about 30 mins away from BQ/NYQ, and you want to get that qualifying time, maybe give yourself 1-3 years to get there. We are here for the long haul. To avoid injury, increase your pace by a small percentage at a time, and slowly increase the distance of the peak week of your marathon training (like moving from 38miles/week to 42miles/week, that’s a little over 10% increase).


This is for the next few months, next season, or your next training cycle. If you have specific time goals or distance goals, make sure that they are not overly aggressive for this short amount of time. And although the timeframe is much shorter, you can still go back to evaluate and adjust the goals in the process. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Again, what’s your “why”?

This is the key that would keep you motivated. Your “why” could change from race to race, and from season to season. So always start with the “why” when you are getting into a new training cycle or stepping into the off-season. Yes, it is helpful to have a goal for your off-season as well. I learned that the hard way by going into a high-mileage marathon training with only 10 mile/week running, and my joints were in pain for weeks (I am still shocked that I didn’t get injured!). 

To give some examples, my “why” for the winter half marathon training in 2019 was to keep hanging out with my running group. Therefore, I didn’t have a time goal. During the whole training, my goal was to have fun! Did I still try hard on race day? You bet I did! It’s actually my standing half marathon PR. And I also PR’d running friends, who are now some of my closest friends. 

Had so much fun that we became the poster kids for our training group! If you are in the Chicagoland area, highly recommend checking out Chicago Endurance Sports (CES) Winter Warriors and Summer training programs
  • What keeps you accountable?

Knowing what keeps you accountable could help you figure out how to structure your goals. This is where you need to be very honest with yourself. Make sure that the goals are framed in a way that works for YOU. For example, I need to have very specific goals to keep myself accountable. Keeping myself in shape in the off-season is a goal that may work for some, but it’s not specific enough for me. I need to tie it to a specific weekly mileage and a specific number of active days/week. 

  • How does this fit with your long-term goals?

Short-term goals are generally the stepping stones for long-term goals. However, it’s not necessary. You can totally set goals that are for fun (like doing a beer mile! I did it once. And I am very proud that I didn’t puke until I crossed the finish line!). But understanding the relationship between them would help you prioritize your short-term goals. Are they tied to a long-term performance goal? If yes, those goals may need to be moved to the top of the list.

If anyone needs some examples to brainstorm ideas, I am going to share my goals here. I want to preface this by saying, as I mentioned in the beginning, I am not great at setting goals. This is also a learning process for me. I don’t necessarily have an order of setting long-term and short-term goals. Since the marathon is my distance, and I am motivated by my competitiveness with myself, I tend to always have a moving target for my short-term race goal time. And to be very honest, this is the first time I am putting my long-term goals in words. I always have a general idea of what I want out of this sport, but I never actually attempted to write them down. 

Short-term goals:

  • Strength training twice a week 
  • Running 4-5 times per week with at least 25 weekly miles before Boston training starts
  • Run one 8-10 mile long run per week before Boston training starts
  • Aiming for the higher mileage in the marathon training plan
  • Run easy days easy (1:30-2 mins off my marathon pace)
  • Qualify for the NYC marathon (I am currently 2 minutes 38 seconds away from the marathon qualifying time)
  • Break my own half marathon PR (I am planning on doing a half during my next marathon training cycle)

Long-term goals:

  • Break 3:00 marathon (in the next 3-5 years)
  • Run a 5k under 20 minutes
  • Run all six major marathons
  • Have fun! (If it ever gets to the point that’s adding stress in my life, I will re-evaluate my short-term goals.)

Let me know if you try these tips and how do you like them! Yeah Running.

Running in Different Weather

A dummy guide for running outfits in different weather.

I grew up in a southern city in China where it was sunny and warm most of the year. The trees were always green, and snow was a distant dream. Because of all this, it’s also a city that doesn’t have heat. I remember poking my nose out from the comforter in the mornings to figure out the temperature. Why am I telling you this? Because after living in the U.S for over 10 years, my brain still only clicks with Celsius. And for the sake of easy conversion, I am going to use my nose as the scale for the temperature here! 

This is a dummy guide for running outfits in different weather. Since I now live in a place that has four seasons, and I started running all year round two years ago, I figured I would share my experience of dressing for different temperatures and weather conditions. 

(For those who are normal and use weather apps instead of their noses to tell the temperature, don’t worry, I included a nose to Celsius to Fahrenheit chart at the end.)


The world is an oven. But you are likely in the middle of your training plan for all of those fall races. There is nothing much I can tell you about how to dress in this kind of weather. This is my hot girl summer time, aka. sports bra running weather. Find something light, breathable, and as little coverage as acceptable for society and your comfort level. Avoid cotton, which soaks up your sweat, and the smells sometimes linger around even after laundry. 

Hydration and electrolytes are the keys in this weather. Be mindful of your water intake during the entire training cycle, especially on the days when you know you have a tough workout. And a magical thing that I started using during this past training cycle was salt tablets. It not only helped me during my workouts to keep electrolytes balanced and retain more fluid (bye side stitches), but it also made me feel less drained and recover faster after the workouts.


The perfect weather for chilling outdoors, but a bit too hot for running. I mostly run in shorts and tank in this weather, and walk straight into the shower with all the clothes on because I don’t want my sweat-soaked clothes sitting in the laundry bin, and also I just go through my running clothes too quickly. 

This is the time of the year when rain could become a frequent guest. Some people may skip the runs when it’s raining, but it’s honestly my favorite running weather. The raindrops cool you down so that you never overheat. And there is just something about running in the rain that makes me feel joyful and stress-free. Here are some tips I learned over the years about running in the rain: wear a hat to avoid water getting into your eyes, wear body-fitting clothes such as leggings and compression shorts, use an anti-chafing balm on areas that may chafe (feet, nipples, sports bra seam…etc), stuff your wet shoes with newspapers or paper towel. 


My nose gets tickly during seasonal changes between winter and spring, and summer and fall. Growing up, the first thing I would do when I woke up was a sneeze. The sneezing somehow got better over the years, but the tickly feeling in my nose never went away during seasonal changes. Tickly nose weather is the kind of weather that’s too cold to sit outside, but it’s heaven for runners. 

Shorts are still my go-to in this weather, and this is the only time when all of my free race t-shirts get to see the sunlight. I dislike running in t-shirts in sweaty nose weather because I want to avoid sleeve tan lines. But the sun is normally pretty gentle during this time of the year. I know I warm up relatively quickly, and I tend to run hot. But if that’s not you, this is the kind of weather in which you may consider a light long-sleeved shirt or light leggings. 


This is as cold as my hometown would ever get. It meant “deep winter” for me growing up. I still vividly remember when I was walking to an 8 am art history class during my first semester at the University of Minnesota, it was early September. I took a deep breath, and I saw my breath condense into a small, misty cloud. I stood there for a second, pondering my decision to transfer there. Here I am, 8 years later, still living in the midwest, still questioning my decision to live here every single winter. 

exactly cat. exactly.

Fogging nose weather is when I would start bringing out my gloves and windbreakers. I have a couple of super light windbreakers that I love to layer in different weather conditions. It can get pretty windy during this time of the year. But the temperature is still lovely once you warm up. My go-to outfit in this temperature are shorts+tank+windbreaker+gloves, or shorts+long-sleeves. If it takes your body a little longer to warm up, or you are just out there for a super short and light jog, you can try leggings+long-sleeves+light gloves. Don’t reach for your fleece yet. You will overheat once you start moving. 

This is also the time of the year when the days are getting shorter. You should start thinking about being visible in the dark. I have a couple of small Nathan StrobeLights that I would clip on my shirts. I also have a light vest that I would wear when it’s colder and darker. I love wearing my light vest during the holiday season. It makes me feel like I am a moving Christmas tree. There are a lot of different options out there, from reflective vests to ankle lights to headlamps to flashlights. Find one that works for you! 

my festive light vest


This is how I would describe the current temperature in Chicago. It’s mostly dark, gloomy, and cold. But it’s not snowing yet. When the temperature drops to shivering nose weather, I basically live in long-sleeved shirts with thumbholes all day long. It is tempting to dress warm and cozy before heading out of the door. But I guarantee you that if you are toasty before starting your run, you will overheat less than 1 mile in. The rule of thumb is to dress like it’s 10-20°F or 6-11°C warmer.

My go-to running outfit in this weather is leggings+long-sleeves shirts with thumbholes+light gloves (sometimes)+neck gaiter that I use as an earwarmer. I have some fleece headbands, but they are too warm for this weather. I find a neck gaiter to be the right level of thickness. Depending on the wind, I sometimes throw on a light windbreaker.


Tissue paper is my best friend in runny/stuffy nose weather. This is when I start reaching for my merino base layers or fleece-lined shirts. I would throw on a light windbreaker over it whether or not it’s windy because I find that extra layer helps to retain the heat. As long as my core feels warm, I can keep going! That being said, I stay with regular leggings in this weather just so that my legs still feel light.

As for accessories, this is when I would put on thicker socks, think about merino and wool materials. Gloves and headbands/hats become necessities in this weather. 


This is the kind of weather in which your eyelashes turn into tiny icicles. The key to running at this temperature is layering. Start with base layers and build from there. You can add a pullover and a thicker waterproof jacket. If it’s still cold, throw on a light puffy vest. 

When the temperature drops to snotsicles weather, it’s likely snowy and icy. It’s important to make sure that your outer layer is windproof and waterproof. I have never invested in winter running shoes so I cannot give specific recommendations here. But if you are interested, there are a handful of brands that make winter-resistant (Gore-tex) running shoes with good traction. 

Depending on the exact temperature, I sometimes put on fleece-lined leggings. I refuse to put on multiple layers on my legs because I don’t like to feel weighed down by the layers. But if you feel like the windchill is getting to your bones, tights+a pair of lightweight waterproof pants could be a good idea. 

I sometimes wear two pairs of gloves in this weather. And headbands/hats are must-haves otherwise your ears and head would hurt from the cold wind. If you have a neck gaiter, it could be nice to put it over your neck. I tend to pull it over my nose to keep my nose and mouth warm when I start my runs. And as I warm up, I pull it down. 

Hope this post inspires you to run in different weather conditions! Yeah running!

Getting Into Running

Beginner Q&A answered

I started running when I was 12. Before that, I don’t think I had run anything over 50m, which was the PE test distance in our school. It was a coincidence that I found out I am a decent runner. When I was in 5th Grade, no one in my class signed up for the 400m and 800m races for our school’s annual Sports Day. Our teacher walked into the classroom one afternoon, looked around, pointed at me, and said, “you look like you can run.” The next thing I knew, I was standing at the starting line of my very first 400m race. I walked away with gold (800m) and silver (400m). I gave my dad all the credits for this. He used to take me to the mountains on weekends, and had me bike all the way to the top without stopping. “You can zigzag on steep areas, but you cannot get off the bike,” he said (in the most loving way…for an Asian dad. He is a cool dad who likes to challenge me). These biking adventures likely strengthened my cardiovascular system and built muscles on my legs, which gave me a leg up on the runs.

But for many reasons, running didn’t stick with me. I ran a couple more 400, 800 races in middle school and high school, but it wasn’t until after I graduated from college when I picked up jogging. And from there, I slowly started racing 10k, marathon, and half marathon (yep, I never raced a 5k, and I ran my first marathon without running a half… it was, let’s say, an interesting challenge). Without a coach or even a running club to start with, I went through a steep learning curve and made a lot of mistakes. Through a lot of time spent on Google, podcasts, books, and asking friends and eventually coaches, slowly but surely, I figured out what works for me and what doesn’t. 

In the past year or so, I started getting questions from friends and acquaintances about running. It made me feel very honored and happy that you guys came to me. I still have so much to learn, but I am here to share my insights on some of the “getting started” questions that I have received, in the hope that you can avoid the mistakes that I have made. I hope this could welcome more people into the running community and invite you all to experience the beauty of this sport.

Running is Whale-y FUN

Tips for beginners on how to get started?

  • Find the right pair of running shoes, lace up, and run. 

Running is a sport that has a relatively low barrier to entry and has the potential to be very inclusive. You don’t need fancy clothes, headphones, hats, or a watch. All you really need is a pair of shoes. But make sure that you are not running on old shoes or shoes that have been worn out. Shoes with beaten-up soles could hurt your joints and feet, and cause damage to your body. 

  • Start with something small. 

Maybe it’s 1 mile every other day, or maybe it’s 2 miles twice a week. Find a goal that’s approachable, and commit to it. If you don’t have a watch, you can use apps (I personally use Strava and really enjoy it). Try to stick to the goal, and don’t overdo it to burn your motivation or dial up your self-doubt. It will likely not be fun in the beginning. It always takes my body a little time to get back into running after a break as well. Just like how it takes more than 2 months to form a new habit, getting your body to learn to enjoy running could take some time. 

You could run without headphones to fully take in your surroundings or meditate, you could put together a hyped playlist and run to the beats, you could listen to podcasts to distract yourself from checking your pace, or you could run with friends to catch up on life. You can run on a treadmill, a track, a running path, a road, or a trail. Change it up. Figure out what your mind and body like! 

Tips for beginners on how to run for longer distances? 

  • Find your pace

Try to run at a pace at which you can have a conversation with someone. If you are alone, try to sing to yourself. If you can’t do that, slow down. This might feel silly in the beginning, but you will feel much better when you realize you can slowly add on more miles without gasping.

Try not to compare your pace with other people’s pace. I will get into gaining speed through speed training in another post. The point of running at a conversational pace is that you could develop muscles and your cardiovascular system without putting too much strain on your body. 

  • Track your distance

Knowing your distance will allow you to track your progress, and adjust your training goal/plan accordingly. You could get a fitness watch. But it’s not necessary. I actually trained and ran my first 10k, half, and full marathon without a watch. I used an app to track my run and turned on the feedback in the app so that it would tell me my average pace, and pace for the previous mile. However, most of the apps are not as accurate as the watches. I have tried MapMyRun, Nike+ Running, and Strava. Strava is by far the most accurate one. 

All of these apps also tell you your weekly mileage. Pay attention to that number and gradually increase it over time. Your joints and muscles need some time to get used to the volume. In order to avoid injury, build up slowly so that your body can be strong enough to conquer the miles. 

  • Find running buddies / Join a running club

Having someone to run with could distract you from checking the distance. You could talk about cool podcasts that you discovered, share good books that you just finished, get into an amazing dinner recipe that you made last night, and next thing you know, you already ran 5 miles! Running buddies also keep you accountable. I can’t remember how many times that I laced up after I was about to skip a run, and I got a text from friends saying “see you at training tonight”.

You might not have a friend who shares a similar schedule, or lives close enough for you to run together all the time. And I totally understand that it could be intimidating to join a running club. But it can really help! You can check out the local running clubs’ websites and social media profiles to see if they have any social runs, or simply show up at the beginning of the season when there are a lot of new faces in the group. 

What kind of running shoes should I get?

This is the question that I get A LOT. I know you guys are probably looking for recommendations for specific shoes. However, everyone’s feet are different, everyone moves differently, and everyone has different preferences. To add to the confusion, different brands, and even different lines within the same brand fit a little differently. I am talking about toe box room, midsole fit, heel lock…etc. 

That being said, Fleet Feet has a list of running shoe suggestions for beginners (I am technically sponsored by FF racing team, but I am not sponsored for this link). It’s a good place to start. I personally have run in 3 of the shoes on the list. And I can give you some suggestions on things to look for when you are trying on different running shoes: 

  • Do your feet feel secured? 

I have relatively narrow feet. I have tried on shoes that are so roomy that I felt like my feet can swing side to side. Some breathing room in shoes can be nice, but you don’t want your feet to move around too much while you are running. 

  • Do your toes have room to move around? 

Trust me this is V important. I lost 3 toenails before I learned my lesson. After you put on the shoes, move your toes, spread them out, do a little toe yoga! Your toes should have enough room to spread wide without feeling constricted. 

  • Do you like the way the shoes hug your feet? 

This is a personal preference. I love bootie feeling shoes (Nike Flyknit line, NB FuelCell Rebel line), but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Try on 3-5 pairs of shoes with different fits to see which one feels best for you.

  • Does the sole feel supportive, or is it too firm/cushiony for you? 

If you don’t know what you want your running shoes to feel like, I would recommend going to a running store to try on different running shoes. When you put them on, do a 5 min run on the treadmill (many running stores have treadmills in the shop), or go for a lap around the block to get a sense of how the shoes feel on your feet. Fleet Feet has different locations in many different cities, and if you are in the Twin Cities, Mill City Running is a great running store as well. 

What do you listen to on your run?

This is a hard question to answer because it really depends. 

When I was training for my first marathon, I was doing all of my runs solo. I had an old pair of Beats, and I was only listening to electropop music on my runs. This is not a genre that I listen to outside of running. So every time I put on the playlist, it put me in the mindset of running. And since I didn’t know the lyrics to most of the songs, I was able to zone out and meditate during long runs. 

After moving to Chicago, I joined a couple of running clubs. For every group run, I would leave my headphones at home so I could chat with people. I gradually started doing some solo runs without headphones as well. It allowed me to pay attention to and enjoy all the little details of my surroundings. I went on doing a couple of half marathons and marathons without headphones. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I started listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my runs. It’s not the best for pace, and I found myself zoning out and missing bits of information here and there. But that was what got me out of the door to run, and the voice of the audiobooks made me feel less lonely during that uncertain time.

Recently, I have been running my speed works with a mix of punk rock, hip hop, and electronic pop music. For my easy runs, I would either put on a podcast or simply run headphones-free.  

This is a pretty personal question. What I like may not work for you. As you can see, I tried a variety of things, and I listen to different things for different workouts. I recommend trying different things to see which one you would prefer. However, if you plan on bringing your headphones on your runs, always make sure that you are aware of your surroundings. Try running with one earbud or lowering the volume. I personally use a pair of bone structured AfterShokz (not sponsored. I just really enjoy their products!). The open-ear design allows me to be alert to everything around me, and the sound quality is good enough for calls.  

And if any of you become elite runners in the future (I am rooting for y’all!), just keep in mind that elite runners cannot wear headphones during races. 

That’s all for this week. I hope you find it helpful! Yeah running!

Chicago Marathon 2021 Race Recap

Less than ideal race conditions, adjusted race plan, 180BPM Spotify playlist, and oh so many gels.

(Again, I am not sponsored by any products nor supplements mentioned in this post. Those were just the products that I used. Legal…legal…legal. Please proceed with caution. If possible, talk to your doctor or coach before using any of the products. I am, however, sponsored by Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team.)

It still feels unreal that this race that I have had as a target for so long has passed. It’s undoubtedly exhilarating that I got that close to my goal time in such a hot and humid condition. I can’t stop wondering what my body would be capable of in the ideal scenario. 

The race started at 73F & 85% humidity, and got to 75F when I crossed the finish line. Almost everyone in my training group adjusted their target time before the race. My anxiety level was through the roof the week leading up to the marathon. I felt like I should adjust my pace, but I just couldn’t let go of the 3:15 goal time after a solid training season. I kept doubting my outfit choice thinking I might overheat, and I kept having dreams of myself bonking the race halfway through and everyone telling me how I should’ve been conservative with my pace in this weather. Josh had to reassure me over and over again that I was ready – I did many long interval workouts in much hotter conditions this summer, and I never missed my target pace. 

The night before the race, I finally made a decision on my pace plan (after 3 different drafts). Starting the first 3 miles at 7:36 pace, move down to 7:30 between mile 4-7. Keep 7:26 pace from mile 8-13. And evaluate my body condition to see if I could move down to 7:20 for the remainder of the race. If not, 7:26 pace for the last half would still get me to 3:15:27, which is a time that I feel comfortable with. Because GPS is very unreliable in the loop, I wrote down the total time for each mile on my arm. I also marked the miles when I needed to pick up the pace, when I should take gel (every 4 miles) and salt tabs (every 7 miles), and when I would see Josh (I made a spectator plan for him haha. I got to see him 4 times! And he even jogged with me for a half mile around mile 25). 

On top of the pace chart, I wrote down “belong, focus, full send”. These words have been my mantra this whole season, and they came in handy during this race. “Belong” has been my running mantra for the past 3 years. When I moved to Chicago at the beginning of 2019 after a trip back to China, I was struggling to find a place where I feel like I belonged. I felt too foreign for home but also feeling too foreign for the U.S. Running was my escape. I was so grateful that my 2019 Chicago Marathon charity entry led me to a running group. I love how this group of runners show up every week to challenge each other to reach their physical limits. I love seeing my progress week over week. With this group of runners, I felt at ease for the first time in a while. I lace up and show up to every training to prove to myself that I am a runner, I belong here. I added the other two mantras this year. “Focus” helps me to combat my anxiety. And “full send” was added after Molly Seidel’s gutsy race in the Olympics. 

S for Salt, G for Gel, * for picking up the pace, and R/L for which side of the street Josh will be at

For the first time, I made a playlist for the race. I tried to find music with 180+ BPM. Turns out punk rock is the way to go. Besides my first marathon, I never run with music during races. I let my running buddies and the spectators carry me through. However, since everyone adjusted their pace plan, I knew I would likely run by myself for most of the race (I ended up running by myself after mile 1). Thanks to my in-laws for gifting me a pair of bone-structured AfterShokz, I was able to hear my surroundings and have the music on in the background.

I carried 4 salt tabs and 6 gels with me (2 GU, 3 Gatorade with caffeine, 1 Gatorade without caffeine). It was surprising that my little running shorts from Lululemon were able to hold that many gels + my phone in it. You bet I tightened the drawstring to make sure that those shorts would stay up. I had an extra gel in my hand when I got into the corral, and took it along with a salt tab 15 minutes before the start. 

I started with two Fleet Feet Racing Team friends, both of whom told me on the race day morning that they would follow my pace plan. I was excited to have running buddies, but we got separated within the first mile. It’s been so long that I forgot how exciting it is to run through the streets in the Loop with deafening cheering during the first couple of miles. I realized by mile 3 that I was going way faster than I planned. Luckily, I was close to the 3:15 pacer, and I had a temporary pace tattoo for 3:15 with even splits on the other arm, so I decided to change my plan on the spot. I slowed down a bit to keep the 3:15 pace group in my sight and planned on catching them around halfway. 

I felt great till mile 8. By then, I was following my fueling plan, and hitting every water station for both water and Gatorade. But the heat and humidity started to get to me. My stomach decided to slow down its digestion speed and the idea of drinking more Gatorade felt sickening. I wasn’t sure what was the temperature like at this time. But I started seeing hoses on the course spraying water, and I made sure to run through it whenever I saw one. Luckily, I was able to keep the same pace during all these little detours. And by skipping a few water stations, I actually caught up to the 3:15 pace group earlier than I planned. The energetic pacer with a pair of bunny ears on his head was great company. “Give it up to the 3:15 group!”, he shouted every time we passed a group of spectators. Might as well hang around the group and see how that goes, I thought. 

trailing the 3:15 pacer with bunny ears

For 3 water stations, I could barely take in anything. I started grabbing small water bottles from spectators, and pouring the whole thing on my head to cool myself down. At mile 11.5, I saw my friends dancing around at the water station, handing out Gatorade in one hand, and waving signs of me and Zola (my cat) with the other. They screamed like crazy people when they saw me. I laughed, and temperately forgot how tried I was. Despite my stomach giving me a hard time, the Gatorade gel somehow agreed with me. I took one more gel at mile 12 and carried on. 

One of the running buddies who started with me found me right before mile 13. He asked me how I was feeling. I couldn’t utter a word, so I just frowned and shook my head. He gave me a concerned look. We ran together for only a quarter-mile. He looked like he was just out there for a light jog around the city, so I told him to go ahead of me. “Good luck! See you at the finish line.”, I said. I tried to stay calm and run my own race. I looked down at my pace band a couple of times for the next couple of miles. Seeing the word “belong” helped me to stay close to the 3:15 pace group. 

By mile 16, I still couldn’t get much Gatorade down, and the fatigue started to kick in. My body was craving an energy boost, which I knew it meant that I was behind on fueling. But I was already there.

There is no time to look back.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

What can I do now?

There was a Gatorade gel station at mile 18. I was basically dragging my body at that point, and I thought, “hmm, an extra gel actually sounds great”. From there, I took 1 gel every 2 miles until I ran out. In total, I took 2 salt tabs (mile 7 and mile 14), and 7 gels on the course. GU Roctane at mile 4 and 8, Gatorade with caffeine at mile 12, 16, 18, and 20, and Gatorade without caffeine at mile 22. I had never tried having gels every 2 miles. It’s surprising that it didn’t upset my stomach.  

My pace kept dropping from mile 19 to mile 25. I almost cried (from both excitement and how fxxking tired I was) when I got to mile 20. I was super grateful that I did a “last 10k course visualization run” with Fleet Feet Racing Team the previous Thursday. I remembered every turn, each landmark, and all the jokes we talked about on this exact course. It helped me to stay calm and focused. A lot of people started walking around there. I told myself, you ran this part of the course, you know you are very close, you got this. I actually stopped looking at the pace band altogether for the final 10k. I felt like I couldn’t speed up, and I didn’t want the idea of knowing how much behind I am from my goal to get into my head. 

I tried to channel “full send” energy with only 5k left. But my legs just felt too heavy to move. Josh found me at mile 24.5, at which point I was running a 7:39 pace. I struggled to put up an ugly smile for his camera. He probably sensed how exhausted I was, and for the next half of a mile, he jogged with me with his backpack and non-running shoes. When we saw the 25-mile marker in sight, he turned around and said, “you got this!”. I gave him a thumbs-up, turned up the volume of the headphone, and started picking up my cadence. LFG. It’s full-send time. 

A friend captured this picture of me around mile 25.5

Thanks New Found Glory and blink-182, the last mile or so was actually my fastest time on the course, even with the hill on Roosevelt (which surprisingly didn’t feel as hard this year! I guess all the hill training this training cycle paid off). I clocked a 6:36 for the final mile. I crossed the finish line at 3:15:38 before Spotify finished the very last song on the playlist – Hold My Hand by New Found Glory. A new shiny PR (by 10 minutes and 21 seconds)!

No acute pain! I didn’t collapse, and I was able to walk without a medic for the first time after finishing a marathon! I got my medal and all the free things that were given out by the finish line. For the first time, I took the free beer after a race. There were still many things that I would like to change for the race. But for now, I would like to celebrate with all the cupcakes that my body can handle, and sleep for 2 days.

Summer 2021 Training Post-Mortem

More miles, more nutrition, and more fun!

(All supplements I mentioned in this post were not sponsored, and are not necessarily endorsed. Those were just the products that I used. Legal…legal…legal. Please proceed with caution. If possible, talk to your doctor or coach before using any of the products. I am, however, sponsored by Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team.)

Before I started running marathons, the longest distance that I had ever raced was 10k. The 2018 Twin Cities Marathon was the day after my birthday. I thought to myself, what a great way to celebrate my birthday and check off this bucket list item. Little did I know, I opened the door to a lifelong journey.  

Twin Cities Marathon 2018

I will get into my running background in another post. Today, I am here to do a post-mortem for Chicago Marathon 2021. There will be two separate posts. This one will be focusing on the training cycle, and the next one will be focusing on the race itself. After each training cycle, I would reflect on what went well and what didn’t, and adjust accordingly for the next season. But this is actually the first time for me to write everything down. I find it to be a great practice to reflect and learn, and set my mind up for the next goal. 

2020 was a rough year for me in terms of running. With all the races and in-person group training canceled, I lost all motivation. At some point, I could barely run 1 mile without stopping. Thanks to the support from friends and my husband, Josh, I somehow managed to finish a virtual half marathon by myself, and a virtual Chicago Marathon with some friends during the pandemic. But needless to say, they were not pretty.  

I went back to in-person training in mid-April this year. By then it had been well over a year since I attempted any speed work with a group. I struggled to keep up, and every part of my body hurt. I did not finish the workout and left feeling defeated. 

The 18-week marathon training officially kicked off in June. The training plan that I was on had the highest mileage that I have ever attempted. I was running less than 15 miles per week going into this training cycle, which was probably not the smartest decision. More on this later.

I don’t always go into a training cycle knowing what my target time is. I generally start with a rough number and adjust it up or down based on how my body reacts to different stimuli. Going into this training season, I thought to myself, it would be great just to do it under 3:30 again (my previous PR was 3:26:01, set at Chicago Marathon 2019.). About 2 weeks into the training, I moved my goal down to 3:20. But I kept edging faster and faster during the long-run intervals. 4 weeks before the race, I said to myself, let’s give 3:15 a try. I ended up with a 3:15:38 on a 70+ degree race day, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Things that worked out great for me this season:

Printed out the training plan and put it on the fridge. Every time I finished a workout, I crossed it off. 

I always show up to Wednesday speed training and Saturday long runs with my running team (Fleet Feet New Balance Racing Team and Chicago Endurance Sports). But I never paid close attention to the rest of the training plan. I used to half-ass or completely skip the mid-week runs and cross-training during my previous training cycles. Having the training plan printed out helped! Seeing it on the fridge was enough for me to hold myself accountable. And crossing the training off was the best feeling in the world. 

Started taking salt tabs before and during some hot runs 

I had heard about salt tabs from a pacer in 2019. All I remembered was how it helps to keep your heart rate down. After my heart rate spiked over 200 during the very first long run of this training cycle, I got a bottle of Salt Stick. It helped tremendously during this brutally hot summer. I didn’t feel as drained after some tough workouts as in previous years. However, one thing I never paid attention to was when to take the tablet. On hot days, I would take one about 10-15 minutes before the run and carry about 3 extra ones in my handheld water bottle. I take the extra ones as needed, or whenever I remember them. This made planning for the race day nutrition plan a little challenging. 

If there is a range of miles/time in the training plan, don’t always go for the lower numbers 

Left to my own devices, I would likely only hit the lowest target number for each run. In my mind, I did the workout and that’s all that matters. Josh noticed this tendency after a couple of weeks, and he started challenging me to aim for the higher numbers. Those extra miles add up. In some of the weeks, the weekly difference between higher and lower amounts was 8-10 miles. I would like to think those extra miles on my feet helped to give me some extra strength when I needed it during the race. 

But this also brings me back to not being fully prepared coming into this training cycle. With the steep increase in weekly miles, my feet, ankles, and Achilles tendons were not happy. There was a lot of icing, elevation, compression happening throughout the whole 18 weeks of training. I am grateful that I walked away from this race injury-free. But my body was close to the breaking point many times. And I am not sure I would be this lucky next time. 

Additionally, for the last 3 weeks of the training plan (before tapering), my weekly mileage went over 50, which was the highest I have ever attempted. My body was constantly tired and some areas of my feet were swollen to the point that they were painful to walk on. It could be the combination of being at the end of a training cycle and learning to adapt to the high mileage, I just didn’t feel like my body had enough time to recover. Maybe 50 miles per week is my threshold? I hope not. Maybe I need to reevaluate my recovery plan to better prepare for the next season. 

Went into each long run with a nutrition plan

I learned from Google about gels, chews, waffles…and all the other things that people use for fueling during long runs and races during my first marathon training in 2018 when I got to the point that all I could think about during each long run was “Ugh, what should I eat after the run?”. 

I have tried a variety of products over the years. Gels are the ones that I feel most comfortable with and I have used gels in all my races (I used GU and Gatorade this time). But I never had a plan for the long runs or the races. I would just estimate the number of gels I need, and rip one out when I felt like I am fading. Thanks to Josh, who did some research about endurance sports fueling when he was being my race support on a bike during my virtual marathon last year, I learned that I should never get to the point where I can feel the boost of energy from the gel. If I ever get there, it means that I am fueling too late.

For this training cycle, I started making plans for the long runs and treating every long run as a practice for the race day. Every Friday night, Josh would help me calculate the number of calories I should consume for the upcoming long run based on my weight and the estimated total time for the run. From there, we would make a plan of how many gels I should bring. 

I tried to use timestamps as the cue in the beginning, but I kept missing it. About 1/3 way into the training, I decided to change it up and use mile maker instead. It worked! We started with 1 gel every 6 miles, and slowly worked our way down to 1 per 4 miles. It is still on the mid to low end of recommended calories for my body, but that’s what I felt comfortable with. It took a lot of time for my body and mind to get used to the volume. I partially blame the hot and humid conditions this summer. It wasn’t until 4 weeks before the race when I finally got it right. 

Stopped going out for junk food and drinks, and started having the same pasta meal every Friday night before the long runs

Married life helped. We are the boring adults now haha. But in all seriousness, I am super grateful to my supportive husband for embracing this boring bedtime at 10:30 on Friday nights routine. I don’t think I showed up to a single long run hangover this cycle (woohoo!). 

I heard about the concept of carb-loading during my first marathon training. I thought it means that I should have a big pasta meal the night before the race. Over the years, I learned that carb-loading is much more complicated than having pasta for one meal. If you are interested in learning how to properly carb-load, Chris McClung from Running Rogue Podcast got into it a little bit in one of his recent episodes (starts around 6:00). 

I have no desire to ever do a full pre-race carb-loading plan. I decided to keep my pre-long run and race pasta tradition because I am a creature of routine, and the idea of having pasta before races and long runs has become a comforting thing. During this training cycle, I decided to have pasta before every long run just so that my body could get used to it. In the span of 18 weeks, Josh’s beef pasta has significantly improved. Honestly, it’s probably his best dish now! I hope we can keep this dish on our dinner menu forever.

Stopped having ice baths

This is a weird myth that I stumbled upon during my very first marathon training cycle. I found it on the internet one day, and swear by it ever since. I used to buy bags of ice, dump them into the bathtub, and sit in it for 10 minutes after every single long run. It made me feel better right away, so I just assumed that it helped with recovery.

Again, Josh/Google came to the rescue. He educated me on how an ice bath shocks your muscles and makes you feel better in the moment but tends to prevent adaptations by reducing the transient post-exercise inflammation. Long story short, inflammation isn’t fun but might actually be doing something.  It seems that an ice bath is probably not a good idea unless you have back-to-back races. During this training cycle, I stopped doing ice baths altogether. Instead, I took many warm baths and lots of naps. 

I made a lot of positive changes this season, but there were also many things that didn’t go so well. Hopefully, I can learn my lessons and be better prepared for the next cycle. Here are some things that I would like to try for the next training training cycle:

Don’t go into a training cycle with barely any running

This is a recipe for injury. I would like to be running 20-30 miles a week leading up to the training cycle. I would imagine the weekly mileage for my next training cycle would be even higher, and I want my body to be prepared for it. 

Aim for the highest mileage from the start of the training 

I didn’t start doing this until maybe ⅓ of the way into this training cycle. Even then, I still aim for the lower numbers sometimes. Part of it was because my body just didn’t react well with the volume and intensity of the training. I had to take 3 running days off (at different times) during the cycle to let my body recover. 

For the next training cycle, if my body allows (can recover from it), I would like to aim for the higher end every time. Hopefully having some pre-season running could help me get there. 

Having a proper plan for aerobic cross-training, and strength training

Besides biking to and from the beach a couple of times, I didn’t do any aerobic exercise outside of running this season. I know it’s not ideal. My next training cycle will start in winter, so biking outdoor won’t be an option here in Chicago. I don’t know what I should do about this yet. Maybe joining a gym with a swimming pool?

I still did something for all the cross-training days. Since we have a home gym now thanks to the pandemic, Josh built two full-body strength training circuits for me with the equipment we have at home.

peep 2019 Chicago Marathon poster on the wall

It takes me about 45 minutes to go through them. I did them twice a week for the first half of the season, then I got bored. It happens a lot for me when it comes to weights. I went back to Pelton strength classes. However, I stopped all strength training in the last 2 weeks because my body was just too tired to do anything outside of running. I would like to keep strength training in my next training cycle. I just need to figure out a better way to incorporate it without it getting in the way of my runs. 

That’s it for my training post-mortem. Next up, race recap.