The Unconventional “Rules” to Crossing ANY Finish Line!

By: Janine Serio

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For any runners out there, I am sure you can relate to this in some way…

“Mile 6: Jogging by people who are calmly drinking coffee while cheering me on kind of makes me want to punch them in the face because I wish I WAS DRINKING coffee instead of doing this stupid thing.”

While I hope you do not find this offensive, I found it too funny not to share. THIS is exactly how I was feeling during the recent Half Marathon I ran in Eugene, Oregon. I had no expectations; it was a mere feat that my running shoes even made it to the starting line. I kept reminding myself that I have run 13.1 miles before, if I had to walk I would walk and, most importantly, it was about having “fun” and taking in the beautiful Oregon landscape.

I decided to nestle myself in with the 3:35 marathon pace group. If I could hang with them until, at least, the ½ way point, I would be pumped. The first few miles I was feeling pretty good, with the exception of a nagging right hamstring “issue.” No big deal Janine…keep your eye on the finish line. I focused on my stride & breath work and made sure the pacer was always in sight. Beyond deeming myself the “anti-runner,” there are two (2) things that I seem to suck at even more – downhill and “flat” running. I know, seems totally crazy, right?

By the time I approached the 6 mile marker, my body was toast. I had spent the last few miles running downhill and FAST. What the hell was I thinking positioning myself in a pace group that was way above “my league,” on a terrain that is so not my style. Yes, I was excited at the possibility of breaking my half marathon time but I was not so excited about being sidelined in the medical tent. I slowly watched my 3:35 group slip away. That’s okay. I had bigger issues to worry about – the rest of the course was mostly flat. Needless to say, the remainder of the race was one of reflection, and also as a way to take my mind off the breathlessness, burning muscles, and HEAT. Oh, I should also mention how unseasonably HOT the weather was too.

Distance events do not come easy for me. Beyond the emotions of race day, the anxiety and “pressure” to get in the proper training mileage week after week had become exhausting, both physically and mentally. When I made the decision to downgrade from the full marathon to the half a little over a month ago, I also decided to listen to my body and train (and eat) according to the way I felt. I needed that mental relief. With everything else going on in my life, this is one area that I needed to “feel a little easier.” To a lot of people (and those serious runners), my training philosophy and protocol (I am sure) seemed extremely unconventional.

So, as I plodded along, I reflected on my “6 Unconventional Rules to Crossing ANY Finish Line” strong, relatively lean, and with my sanity still in tacked.

  1. Find out what REALLY works for you. Stop worrying about what others are doing, what others think you should do, or trying to follow some unrealistic plan you have found on the internet, in a magazine, a book, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying they are not good resources but use them as a guideline, a “skeleton” per say. Try out different protocols and apply them to YOUR individual needs. Case in point – I wanted to cross the finish line as strong as possible with doing the least amount of training possible. Sure, my body is used to running distance events but there is a level of consistency that needs to remain to keep the body “well oiled” to perform. What did I do? I mixed it up; I combined short distances with sprint work, added run/walk protocols, and went with a “less is more” approach. Since running the Rock ‘N’ Roll DC Half Marathon in March, the longest run I did was close to 9 miles. I already have enough stress in my life; I did not want this to be another.
  2. Find satisfying, realistic solutions for your nutritional needs that provide you flexibility, are goal oriented (for the most part), and give you mental freedom. Let’s face it, you “loose” control when you are dining out and traveling. What I mean is you don’t necessarily know what the food is being cooked with (or in) and what will be available. The good news is you always have the ability to make the BEST DECISION POSSIBLE regardless of your situation. I always travel with some emergency food just in case. This may be a protein bar, protein powder, raw nuts, etc. This way, I keep my energy up, willpower stays high, and I don’t turn into a grouch. Even if I forget to bring, most places have these grab and go options. As for food, I know what keeps my satisfaction high – lots of protein, vegetables (all kinds), and healthy fats.
  3. Pay attention to how your body responds to what you are eating and how you are moving. If your results are “surprising,” learn from it and try something new. Since having started my distance training a few months ago, I knew I had to be careful with the way I trained. In years past, the more cardio I did, the more I craved carbohydrates and my hunger was through the roof. I was heavier, more bloated, constantly puffy, and not nearly  as lean. I will admit, I am feeling that a little now so it will be good to take a bit of a breather. One (1) long run, followed by 3-4 strength & speed training sessions, per week, and I was able to keep my hormone levels in check.
  4. Build in some nutritional relief. Okay, if you have not guessed it, I am a wine connoisseur (or so I like to think). This is just one of my things. For others, it may be dark chocolate, some frozen yogurt, a slice of pizza, a few French fries, whatever! Give yourself permission to eat what you want and like. Nothing should EVER be off limits. Be mindful, stay moderate, and enjoy life.
  5. Always know there is going to be someone out there who is going to question “why you do what you do” and maybe even make you feel bad for doing it. I am not going to lie, I have gotten this many times from people who have been following the 2 Health Nuts. My response: “It’s cool; this is what works for me. No, it’s not “perfect” but it suits my lifestyle. Could I be much leaner? Absolutely! Would that lifestyle be realistic for me to maintain? Hell no!
  6. Know that no matter how much you tell someone that the best way to live the life they have always wanted – when it comes to health and wellness – is to DO YOU, there will always be that one person who will disagree. Guess what, that is okay. Keep your eyes on your own paper. If whatever they are doing “works for them” than great. I had to laugh; I overheard a conversation amongst a group of runners in the hotel lobby on Saturday evening discussing their pre-race pasta dinner. One of them was alluding to the fact that a high carb dinner will be the only way to run a successful race. I sat there, smiling, consuming my 2nd glass of champagne and hoping the restaurant would have a nice steak on the menu.

Anyone who crosses the finish line has run a successful race, regardless of their time, the amount of training they have done, or even the food they have consumed. I crossed the finish line in 1 hour 51 minutes 18 seconds. Yes, I could have been “upset” that I did not break my sub 1 hour 50 race time goal but I am okay with it. I guess it just means I will have to try again…BUT not for a very long time!

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