The Runner’s World Half and Festival

The Runner’s World Half and Festival weekend was an amazing experience. But, for a crazy running nut like me, it was both an honor and a privilege to be chosen as an official race ambassador. I watched the legends, superstars, and celebrities from the pages of Runner’s World come to life in the steel town of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In between jaw-dropping moments of running fandom, I learned how to take better care of myself, run more efficiently, and eat healthy. Oh, and I ran 3 races in 2 days! Over 22 miles at sub-7:00 pace on hills that would make Sir Edmund Hillary think twice.

Thursday – Runner’s World Half and Festival

My weekend began with a visit to the Runner’s World headquarters for a cookout with the editors. It’s an entirely unassuming building that looks eerily similar to my old middle school. Bart Yasso, the Mayor of Running met us at the front door. Bart told us the story of the Rodale farm ( Rodale is the parent company of Runner’s World and Prevention magazine among others) as we walked past neatly tended garden plots on our way to a splendidly organic dinner with the writers and editors.

Fun Fact #1: The Rodale family is responsible for bringing stink bugs to America. #Truthiness

Runner's World Head Quarters

Bart Yasso coming out to greet us at the Runner’s World head quarters in Bethlehem, PA

After dinner, we took a guided tour of the offices and work spaces. Among the highlights was a visit to the sacred room in the center of the building reserved for reflection and spiritual wellness, Bart’s office, and the workspace where the writers, graphic designers, and others build the monthly issues of Runner’s World.

The spiritual center of Runner's World

The spiritual center of Runner’s World

Bart Yasso's office

Bart Yasso’s office. The bibs are impressive, but they real purpose is to allow him to change into his running clothes during the workday.

Fun Fact #2: The hills of Bethlehem, PA were here before Bart Yasso.

Friday – Runner’s World Half and Festival

After fitful night’s sleep at the Comfort Suites, I awoke to the sound of my 5:25 alarm to meet my fellow ambassadors for a 1-mile warm-up jog the the Bethlehem Steel Stacks where a pop-up November Project workout was being led by legendary grass-roots-in-your-face-hug-it-out energy bomb known as Brogan Graham. It was a wonderfully intense workout that pushed both my social and physical limits. Let’s just say I’m  more of a hugger now. If you’re on the fence about joining the November Project, let me make this simple for you. Show up! You’ll thank me later.

November Project workout at the Steel Stacks

November Project workout at the Steel Stacks

After the workout, I had a chance to chat with Brogan, or “BG” to fellow NPers. His message is simple. Be kind to strangers and spread love and positivity. He does by offering free workouts that break down barriers and build community. Anyone is welcome. You just have to show up and participate fully. For more, check out surprisingly awesome November Project book.

November Project book signed by Brogan Graham

Signed copy from BG

Fun Fact #3: Brogan Graham’s power animal is a black bear.

After a quick cup of coffee, I sat down to listen to Golden Harper, the founder of Altra running shoes, talk about running, running shoes, and an epidemic of running injuries caused by torpedo-shaped shoes. Golden Harper ran a world-best 2:45 marathon at age 12, and grew up working in his family’s specialty running store, educating people about proper running technique and becoming an expert on running injuries. The dude knows his stuff.

Golden Harper, Altra

Golden created the perfect shoe after years of trial and error.

Altra shoes look weird. They’re shaped like a human foot. And they feel a little strange because they’re built with zero-drop soles that mimic the way human feet have made contact with the ground throughout our species evolution. Are they fashionable? Meh. But is that what’s most important to you? Many runners swear by Altras and I’ve added a pair of  Torin 2.5‘s my heavy rotation because the theory and science behind them is rock solid.

Fun Fact #4: Golden and his three sisters Amber, Krystal, and Summer have all won individual State Cross Country Championships.

For lunch, we met with the founders of Wild Planet to sample their wild-caught tuna. They sell some of the finest tasting sustainably caught seafood while supporting the conservation of wild marine ecosystems. After listening to the health benefits of eating sardines, I can home a wolfed down a tin.

Lunch was provided by Runner’s World to showcase some of the delicious recipes featured in Shalane Flanagan’s new cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow. I loved the Don’t Get Beet Hummus and Fish Tacos with Mango-Avocado Salsa.

Lunch from the pages of Run Fast. Eat Slow.

Lunch from the pages of Run Fast. Eat Slow.

Fun Fact #6: Cilantro can help remove mercury from your body and mixes well with tuna salad.

Next, Dean Karnazes stopped by to talk about his recent rip to Greece where he researched the birth of the marathon. The inspiring ultra marathoner told us the story of Pheidippides and his legendary run from Marathon to Athens. Dean’s pride and passion runs deep when he speaks of his ancestors’ homeland. His latest book, The Road to Sparta, Dean combines history, adventure and details his own personal struggle to finish the grueling Spartathlon race.

Dean Karnazes Road to Sparta

Dean Karnazes stopped by to chat about his new book “The Road to Sparta”

Fun Fact #7: Marathon literally means “fields of fennel” in Greek

Saturday – Runner’s World Half and Festival

Saturday morning I awoke at 6 am after another night of tossing and turning. This time, due to a wedding party that moved from the hotel lobby to the parking lot at 2 am. After a hot shower to get the blood flowing, I dressed quickly and picked up a coffee and bagel before jogging 1-mile to the 5K race start.

I’d planned to take this first race pretty easy so that I’d have something left in the tank for the 10K and half marathon. That all went sideways as soon as the gun went off. I can’t race without racing. I’m not wired that way.

Runners World 5K

The first race of the weekend.

The 5K provided a gentle introduction to the hills of Bethlehem. I was impressed with the spirit of the runners, the enthusiasm of the race organizers, and the number of porta potties. Really! I never had to wait in line. Ne-ver.

Nineteen minutes after the gun went off I crossed the finish line to capture third place in my age group. Not a bad showing. The 10K start was just one hour and 41 minutes away.

I approached the 10K with some trepidation after feeling the hills beneath my feet in the 5K. I thought about maybe finding a friend to run with, or just taking some pictures along the race course. But, then I heard a beautiful rendition of the national anthem and high-fived the runners around me. That’s when I knew I was racing again.

The 10K course took us over some much bigger hills and I cursed Bart Yasso’s name with vigor. I purposely didn’t look at my watch and ran by effort alone. I allowed myself to give a 90% effort. Any more than that and I’d be a spectator the next day. Miles 2-5 dragged on forever, but the last mile felt really good. This time, I walked away with second place in my age group with a decent 41:10 finish.

Runners World Half and Festival 10K

10K race. Same shirt. Eww.

After returning to my hotel room for a quick shower it was time to kick back and listen to the pros at the Runner’s World Half and Festival expo. I learned about running gear and gadgets, injury prevention, and I picked up some half marathon race course tips from the man who designed the course, Bart Yasso.

Amby Burfoot talks about staying in shape as you age.

Amby Burfoot talks about staying in shape as you age.

Bart Yasso talks about the half marathon race course.

Bart Yasso talks about the half marathon race course.

Fun Fact #8: Amby Burfoot and my father raced together at the New England high school cross country championships.

Dinner that night was hosted by Runner’s World. The pasta dinner was open to anyone that registered for the event. This was a special event because Runner’s World was celebrating their 50th birthday. Brogan Graham was there to lead us in song and we all enjoyed some delicious foods from Shalane Flanagan’s latest cookbook, Run Fast. Eat Slow.

Runners World Half and Festival Ambassadors

The 2016 #RWHalf ambassadors. Top to bottom and left to right are: @saltyruns, @jessrunshappy, @realrunryan, @thesarahattar, @wassnertwins, @selfierunner, @seeksboston26mi, @marathonmom217

Sunday – Runner’s World Half and Festival

Sunday morning a rolled out of bed walking like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. I took a shower, grabbed some coffee and started my pre-race ritual with some dancing. A little Run DMC and some Black Eyed Peas helped me get my game face on at 6 am.

Getting hyped before the Runners World Half Marathon.

Getting hyped before the Runners World Half Marathon.

I met up with Ty from and we decided to run together. He’s training for New York and needed to test his fitness, and I just needed a friend to latch onto for 13.1 miles. We ran well within ourselves and yo-yo’d back and forth with the 1:35 pace group for much of the race. Running for a finish and not a PR was a refreshing approach. It was… Dare I say it? Fun.

Runners World Half

Celebrating running over 13.1 miles with friends

Was it a difficult course? Yes. Was it a tough weekend on my legs? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Heck, yes! This is a bucket list event. The races, the people, the food, and the opportunity to fly your runner freak flag make this a must-run event. For me, it’s right up there with running the NYC Marathon or the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler. Show up next year!

Runners World Half Burfoot and friends

Swapping race stories with 1968 Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot.

5 Ways to Improve Your Half Marathon Race Time

I’ve coached many runners to reach new personal records in half marathons. Some were hoping to break 2 hours, some just wanted to make it across the finish line, and one even set a new state record as an 11-year-old! Every athlete ran their best race by following a specific race plan that included these 5 simple race strategies:

1. Negative Splits

A perfect negative split describes a race in which every mile is ran faster than the one previous to it, but most runners refer to the term as a race where the second half was ran faster than the first half. To run a negative split, you’ll first want to work out your overall pace target. For example, to run under two hours in the half marathon, each mile must be run in 9 minutes and 10 seconds. A runner needs to have the self-discipline to stay, at most, at a 9:10/mile pace for the first half of the race. Once they cross the 10-mile mark, they can let the dogs out and crush their goal.

2. Hydrate Early and Often

I always tell my runners to grab water at every station. If you wait until you’re thirsty, it’s already too late. The same goes for energy gels and chews. You want to eat them before your body tells you that you’re running low on fuel. Each runner is different, but most coaches agree that runners need some type of fuel or sports drink within the first 60 minutes of a half marathon race.

Fueling on the run takes practice. During your long training runs, take along some water bottles or place them along your route so that you can practice drinking and eating on the move. If you’re using paper cups on race day, try pinching the top of the cup and funneling the liquid into your mouth to reduce spillage.

hydrate, run faster, half marathon, training

3. Run 10 Miles or More During Half Marathon Training

The only way to build up your running endurance is to incrementally run for longer periods of time. The progression should be steady and planned in such a way that your body can adapt to greater distances throughout the training cycle. Gradually increase your longest training runs until you can comfortably handle 10 miles at a time.

Most runners can finish a half marathon if they can finish a ten-mile training run. However, if runners have specific time targets, longer runs are required. One of my favorite running workouts is what I call the 14-mile fast finish. This workout consists of 7 easy miles followed by 7 miles at goal race pace.

4. Research the Race Course

Every race course is different. The Pikes Peak Marathon is a completely different animal than the Cape Cod Marathon. The former runs up and down one of America’s tallest mountains, while the latter is as flat as a pancake. Knowing the race course will provide you lots of strategic information.

Research race times, check out the course maps and elevation guides, and try to drive over the course prior to racing it. If you can ride a bike or do a training run on the racecourse, you definitely should. By researching the course, you’ll be ready for the hills, know where to run the tangents, and feel more confident on race day.

Smuttynose Half Marathon

5. Eat, Sleep and Dream

In the days leading up to the race, be sure to eat plenty of healthy meals and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Make time to visualize a successful race performance and think through each mile of the race. If you train your mind to race, your body will follow.