It’s all about timing … or is it?

About two weeks ago, I did my 16th half marathon as a walker. My finish time was my second-best ever, which came as a bit of a surprise, and I soon learned why.

The course was in a beach town (Wildwood, NJ), which is my favorite place for a race course, so it was fast and flat with great scenery.

The temperature was about just right, although there were ferocious winds, with gusts up to about 20 mph. Somehow they seemed to be headwinds the majority of the time, which made it tough going.

I didn’t see a mile marker until mile 3, so I wasn’t sure of my pace in the beginning. But as the race went on, I felt steady and strong, and my RunKeeper app gave me a sense of my timing.

Beautiful day for a race! Headed toward Stone Harbor from North Wildwood.

Beautiful day for a race! Headed toward Stone Harbor (and the halfway-point turnaround) from North Wildwood.

At one point, too, I kept a mental count of how many runners I passed … I stopped after 6. I praise anyone who undertakes the goal of doing a race, no matter their pace, but it does give me a thrill to walk faster than some people run.

Feeling strong in mile 12, on the Wildwood boardwalk (photo by Chris M. Junior)!

Feeling strong in mile 12, on the Wildwood boardwalk!

As I neared the home stretch, I realized (based on the updates my app was announcing) that I might break the 3-hour mark. (My PR is 2:54 and change, which occurred in 2012, and I haven’t managed to break 3 hours since. I’ve come within about 30 seconds of it, to no avail.)

The finish line approached and its clock was under 3 hours — which meant that, even factoring in the small amount of time after the race start that I crossed the finish line, I had indeed broken 3 hours.

Soon thereafter I got a text from the race tracking system with my finish time: 2:57:49.

I was surprised! Sure, I had done my mileage work during training. But I’m up several pounds over my normal weight, I haven’t been working out as regularly otherwise as I’d like, and I haven’t been eating the most balanced, healthy diet lately. Plus, factoring in the wind … again, I was surprised. On top of that, my RunKeeper app tally was about 12.7 miles, which was slightly puzzling. But I did feel really good during the race — I felt like my pace was consistent, as was my stride, and so I thought maybe the pieces had come together.

IMG_2641I was really pleased that I had finally broken the 3-hour mark again.

And then … it was negated.

“Before and during the race, we believed our course measurement of 13.11 miles was correct,” explained an email from the race organizers a few days later. “However, from the information we have since gathered, we realize the published course was in fact short by approximately .15 to .20 of a mile….” Add in some discrepancy with the course turnaround point (which I believe was corrected before I reached it, based on the description), and “this would have resulted in approximately .2 to .3 of a mile less distance on top of the already .15/.20 of a mile shortage.”

So … I didn’t have my second best time ever. And I didn’t break the 3-hour mark again, yet. My minor disappointment faded as I realized a few things about the race:

Happy finisher!

Happy finisher!

  • I felt strong through the race, with a consistent pace and good form
  • I didn’t hit a wall
  • I powered through the crazy wind
  • I finished strong
  • I am proud of myself!

Which tells me that although a brag-worthy finish time is great and all, accomplishing the goal in the first place is just as worthy of crowing about. Keep it in perspective and don’t let numbers get you down.

Happy walking!

Move to the music

For a very long time, I exercised without the aid of an MP3 player. My reasons were many: I thought it would be distracting … thought it would be unsafe (when walking outdoors) … thought it would be too much hassle to remember to pack one more thing in my gym bag … thought it wouldn’t make any difference to my workouts.

Boy, was I wrong.

Five years ago, some of my best marathon buddies surprised me with the gift of an iPod, plus CDs of their favorite walking music.

So I loaded the CDs onto the iPod and hit the pavement.

Wow! I didn’t pay any attention to how much time I was out walking and instead eagerly awaited the next song and its tempo, enjoying the boost in energy the music gave me.

Then I used my iPod while on the treadmill. Suddenly I noticed how certain songs aligned with certain treadmill speeds. I realized I could make a whole playlist of songs whose tempo matched my usual speed — or my desired speed — and customize my workouts.

For several of my next treadmill sessions, I scribbled down songs and their corresponding speeds. Then I found websites that listed songs’ beats per minute, or BPM. That enabled me to match songs to treadmill/walking speeds and find songs that best worked for me. The next step: putting together a few different playlists of different lengths, including slower warm-up and cool-down time.

(As a fitness instructor, I now have a secret source of prearranged playlists: Several companies put together CDs geared to certain BPMs for certain types of exercise. To conform to copyright law, the CDs do not feature the original artists, but sometimes it’s hard to even tell.)

Much research has been done on whether music has a positive effect on one’s workout. Among the findings are these benefits:

  • Reduced feelings of fatigue
  • Increased feelings of mental motivation
  • Increased endurance
  • Improved motor coordination

The research results are varied in terms of measuring the exact effects — but it’s clear that choosing music that moves you can, well, help you move.

And beyond that, there are no rules! Choose music that you find motivating with no apologies. Guilty pleasures? Why not! Whatever you hear through your earbuds is your little secret. If it gives you a boost, that’s the point. Match the music to your mood — or your desired mood. I have a CD of heavy metal songs (like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow”) for when I really need a kick in the pants to get going. I like to listen to Billy Idol’s “Greatest Hits” on the stationary bike. Sometimes dance music works best — favorites include C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” and Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.”

Here is one of my most-used playlists, which I created for walking. It’s about an hour long, starts and ends at about 3.5 or 3.6 mph, and peaks at about 4.1 or 4.2 mph.

playlist screen grab

It’s a mix of a few songs from those original CDs from my race pals, some songs from instructor CDs, and a few tunes that caught my ear as having a good beat or feeling inspiring.

If you haven’t tried working out to music (separate from a group class, of course), give it a try and see if it works for you. Just press play! (And feel free to share your favorite workout tunes in the comments!)

Thanks to loyal WWJ reader Lauren Z. for this post idea!

Keeping pace

Tomorrow I’ll be doing my 13th half marathon as a walker.

This one will be a little different, though — I’m doing the race as a pacer.

It’s common in half and full marathons to have pacers for the runners. A pacer leads a group of runners to a specified finish time. Say you want to complete a full marathon in 3 hours. You’d align yourself with the 3-hour pace runner, who runs at a speed to fulfill that finish time.

It’s virtually unheard of to have pace groups for walkers. But the race I’m doing tomorrow — the Delaware & Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Run/Walk — is pulling out all the stops to attract and support walkers. Registration categories asked if you would be running or walking, awards will be given to top walking finishers, and pace groups will be on the course for walkers specifically.

So I’ll be leading the 4-hour-finish time pace group, which translates to about an 18-minute mile. This might seem incredibly slow to some experienced half/full marathon runners and even walkers. But it’s accessible for beginners, and we all have to start somewhere and tackle our first race experience. It will be a bit of a challenge for me to pace myself at that speed — it can be difficult to walk slower than normal, and do so steadily. (My average race pace is between 13- and 14-minute miles.) It’s important to me, though, to help participants meet their goals and have a rewarding experience.

As I posted the other day, a 15-minute mile is just as far as a 7-minute mile. Ditto for an 18-minute mile. Walkers in races train just as much as runners do, and it’s no less an accomplishment to participate as a walker. We all cross the same finish line.

Happy walking!



269 miles, give or take

IMG_1620 My last post was about cross-training, and this one is too — but a whole different kind.

Early this summer, on one of the first really nice weekends, my husband and I decided to take our bikes to the Jersey Shore and go for a ride. It wouldn’t be the first time we’d wind our way through its oceanfront towns on a two-wheeler. On this particular day, we rode round-trip from Sea Bright to Asbury Park, about 21 miles all told.

It felt so great to be active and outdoors, soaking in the sunshine! And what a range of towns and types of neighborhoods we went through. From palatial homes on acres of land to taffy-colored cottages to the gritty yet hip feel of Asbury Park, the Shore varies greatly.

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

Midway through our first ride, on June 1

The following weekend, we said, “Let’s do that again!” This time, though, we went round-trip from Asbury Park to Point Pleasant (about 22 miles). Midway, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor eatery, watching boats come and go through the inlet, and just reveled in being outside after what was such a horrible winter.

On the way home, we had a thought: We should try and bike the entire Jersey Shore over the course of the summer. After all, we’d already done two sections. And fitness goals are best broken down into more manageable pieces.

So that became our summer activity goal. We couldn’t wait to spend so much time being active outdoors — and even better, at the Shore.

The following week we did what turned out to be our longest ride: from Point Pleasant Beach to the south end of Island Beach State Park — 45 miles round-trip! On that outing, we saw close-up some of the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Countless times over countless years, I’ve driven along Route 35 and dreamed about living in some of the enormous beachfront homes. In Sandy’s wake, we saw large stretches of nothingness … empty plots of sand where those homes once stood. It was hard to fathom, even with our own eyes. And not much had changed from our last ride along that route, in fall 2013.

When it comes to Island Beach State Park (and if you’ve never gone there, you must — it’s beautiful), we’d driven to the south end but hadn’t bicycled it. It’s 8 miles from the entry gate … and I will confess, it’s a somewhat monotonous slog on a bike! But we did catch a glimpse of a large fox, the biggest I ever saw, before it darted back into the dunes.

The Cape May lighthouse

The Cape May lighthouse

We celebrated the end of that day’s ride with a giant dish of ice cream — no guilt!

Our next ride, over the July 4th weekend, took us to the southern tip of the state. We rode from Wildwood Crest to Cape May Point, stopping by the Cape May lighthouse for good measure. We’d done that route before; it’s one of our favorites. Cape May is a lovely place to bike. Tally for the day: about 24 miles.

A couple of weeks later, back in the northern reaches of the Shore, we rode about 25 miles round-trip from Long Branch to Sandy Hook. We commemorated that ride with a lighthouse photo as well.

For leg number six, we went south again and rode round-trip from Wildwood Crest to the northern end of Avalon, about 27 miles.

IMG_1567As we racked up the miles and pedaled through so many of the Jersey Shore’s towns, we were able to soak it all in much better than from the window of a car. Sure, we’ve driven pretty much every mile we rode, but the view from a bicycle is much preferred.

The summer was winding down and we had just three sections left to ride. We tried not to think about the calendar turning to fall, nor how we will possibly sustain so much activity over the winter months. I certainly don’t wish to spend 3 or 4 hours on the stationary bike at the gym!


The Barnegat Lighthouse

We devoted one day to Long Beach Island. The weather was gloomy … a bit of foreshadowing to fall. But thankfully, not a drop of rain on our 38-mile journey. At the south end of the island, we watched surfers riding the somewhat stormy waves. And at the north end: another lighthouse!

That left two legs, which we decided to do in one weekend. The best part is that we had the most perfect weather imaginable. Day one, the itinerary took us round-trip from the northern end of Avalon through Sea Isle City and Strathmere (quite possibly the narrowest stretch of the whole Shore) to the northern end of Ocean City. There loomed the largest and highest bridge of the whole top-to-bottom Shore route. Originally, I’d intended that we’d do it as part of our last ride. That day, though, we realized that the MS bike ride was in progress, with riders coming over that bridge (between Longport and O.C.). We thought it might make sense to take advantage of the safer conditions — plus we had the energy — so we added the bridge to that day’s ride. That brought our total for the day to about 36 miles.

The bridge between O.C. and Longport, and the view from the top, looking toward Ocean City

The bridge between O.C. and Longport

I’m proud to say we both biked up the bridge, coming and going, without stopping or walking our bikes. I definitely chalk that up to the stamina I’ve developed from miles and miles of walking.

We stopped on the Ocean City boardwalk for slices at Manco and Manco Pizza — boy, did that hit the spot!

That left just one final ride, from the north end of Ocean City, through Longport, Margate, Ventnor and Atlantic City, to the tip of Brigantine and back. What a mix of sights and experiences that was. We decided to park by the iconic Lucy the Elephant in Margate and headed north. We were able to do several miles on the boardwalk before it got too crowded. Thankfully, it was late on a Sunday morning, so street traffic wasn’t too bad. We traveled along what we later learned is one of the worst (i.e. drug dealing dangerous) streets in town in our approach to the bridge to Brigantine. (Went a different route on the way back!)

Looking north from Brigantine

Looking north from Brigantine

And we were pleased to discover Brigantine. Because it’s an island north of A.C., it’s not a place you pass through on the way to somewhere else. If you’re there, you intend to be (or you’re lost!). At the north end, we found a two-story viewing deck with a sweeping view of grasslands, inlet waters and ocean. I’m sure it’s a somewhat unknown spot!

As the day grew later, we made our way back to Lucy. Top of my mind was the thought: If you’re going to “Do AC,” don’t do it on a bike! Atlantic City is not bicycle friendly — no shoulders in many parts of town, lots of traffic and buses and shuttles to contend with. But it was really the lone negative in a summer of so many positives. Late in the afternoon, we circled back to Lucy, totaling about 31 miles for the day. And after having the ocean in our sights for the entire weekend, we made a beeline to the water’s edge, for a ceremonial and celebratory dip.

Our nine days of biking the Jersey Shore were so rewarding, so motivating, so enjoyable. Not only did we reap the endorphins of exercise but also the joy of being active in beautiful weather in the midst of lovely scenery.

Bicycling is a terrific form of cross training — it’s great cardiovascular exercise, plus it helps strengthen your legs. And you don’t have to do 20 or 30 miles in a ride. Even 30 minutes, or 8 to 10 miles at a nice steady speed, can fulfill the recommended daily amount of aerobic exercise.

Oh, and the title to this post? That’s the rough sum of all the miles we rode this summer. I’ll be the one with the icepack on my butt.