You Never Forget Your First
The team at RunLab opens up about their first races
With the weather cooling off in Texas and training mileage beginning to ramp up for a variety of races, it seemed like the perfect time to share some tips on where things can really fall off the rails when you’re training for your first something. At RunLab, every member of our team is encouraged to try something new on a regular basis because even though we are all runners, we have come together from a wide variety of backgrounds. This year has been a year of firsts for our team members that has ranged from Adventure race to Boston Qualifier to Ultra marathon and everything in between. There have been tons of opportunities to learn in every area and, chances are, you’ll relate to at least one of them as a reader of Austin Fit Magazine. We asked our employees about their first-time race experiences from this last year and what, if they were doing it again for the first time, they wish they would have known.
FIRST BOSTON QUALIFIER:
RunLab LMT, Lauren Howell (known as "Girl Lauren" at RunLab) is an adult onset runner. In fact, she didn’t even run recreationally until she was out of college. As a collegiate rower, she always viewed running as the punishment they had to endure to get to do the sport they actually enjoyed. With few rowing options after college, she begrudgingly decided to give running a chance, only to realize that her cardiovascular fitness from Crew translated nicely to road running and she actually, maybe, kind of liked it. In 2018, she set her sights on training for a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston, despite the fact that this would require her to run a mile faster than she had ever run before, and then repeat that mile 25.2 more times. She found she has a bit of a knack for hard work and distance, snagging not only her Boston Qualifying Time, but a 3:15 marathon time.
Biggest obstacle: "Not knowing what to expect due to lack of distance running experience. It is challenging to wrap your head around what your body will feel like when you attempt to do something you’ve never done before. Even in a race you’ve trained perfectly for, it’s hard not to get caught up in what other runners are doing and go out too fast if you have a competitive spirit."
Biggest setback: "Nutrition. Training for distance (especially distance with the added pressure of hitting a specific goal time) can require a lot of trial and error on the nutrition side. People’s bodies respond very differently to the exact same foods, and gut issues can break a race day."
Biggest takeaway: "Plan on your own nutrition for race day and race the way you have trained. Sticking to your nutrition plan that has been vetted out over and over again will make one less thing for your body to deal with on race day. There will already be enough nerves, the last thing your body needs is something different when it comes to the gut. Try out your nutritional strategy in every condition possible prior to race day. What happens to your gut if it’s hot? Cold? What happens if you go too hard, can you still take in food? How much water do you need during each of these weather conditions? Etc. I also wish that I would have known going into distance running that marathon training has peaks and valleys. It’s so easy to get discouraged by the bad days and to get complacent on the good days but it’s really about the bigger picture and progress over several months, sometimes it’s good to take a step back and look at your data with a telescope instead of a microscope. Oh, and always trim your toenails the night before a marathon...and paint them the day after ;)"
Great coach in Austin to help you hit your first BQ: Chris McClung (Rogue)
Great local BQ qualifying race: Houston Marathon
RunLab Director of Operations, Lucas Manring can run really, really fast. He placed 11th in the nation at indoor nationals in the 800 a couple of years ago and was a multi-time All American on the track. When deciding to try his first triathlon, his problem was that he couldn’t swim with his head in the water, nor could he ride a bike with pedals that clipped in. It’s hard to be competitive in a triathlon when you can’t do two-thirds of the events. He borrowed a road bike and started swimming with the intent of simply finishing, but his competitive nature got the best of him and he ran away with a podium finish at his first event. However, there were a lot of lessons learned.
Biggest obstacle: Lack of experience in swimming and biking.
Biggest setback: "During the race, I was so far behind after the swim that I didn't have enough time to make up ground during the run, and even though I was the fastest runner out there, I just didn’t have enough time in such a short race to catch the guys up front. They say you don’t win the race in the swim, but you can lose it there. True story."
Biggest takeaway: "I wish I would have gotten more coaching in the swim and spent more training time on both the swim and bike leading up to my first triathlon (which was The Rookie Tri, a great beginner tri for those of you thinking of signing up for your first). I think athletes tend to overtrain their strengths rather than committing to a full training regimen for all three sections of the race. If you know you aren't strong in a certain area, you HAVE to work on it or it will be painfully apparent on race-day that you didn’t put the time in."
Great coach in Austin for your first triathlon: Peri Kowal
Great First Triathlon: Rookie Tri
FIRST RACE WITH A BABY JOGGER:
RunLab Physical Therapist, Dr. Murph Halasz has always been gifted athletically. An All-American swimmer (who broke Mark Spitz’s record in the 200m Butterfly) and Olympic Trials qualifier, he knows how to train both physically and mentally. But nothing could prepare him for training with another (very small and sometimes squirrely, poopy, or just plain needy) human being. When his son Kai was born, Dr. Halasz didn’t hesitate to add a baby jogger to the routine, which turned out to be both rewarding and incredibly difficult. He was now responsible not only for dealing with his own mental and physical challenges during his workout, but he also had to prepare differently both for and during a run by thinking about sun and wind exposure, as well as food and water for his baby. He had to pack diapers, snacks, bottles. It nearly took his love of running away until he learned to enjoy the process and how to harness running with a jogger as a training tool to actually improve his running.
Biggest obstacles: "The hardest part of racing with a stroller is the maneuverability. Racing with a stroller is like training with a stroller, except you have to be able to pivot quickly to dodge people, which you never have to do in training and often forget to consider until you’re toeing the line at your first race and see thousands of people around you that normally aren’t there. Expect to add about 15 seconds a mile for the stroller and another 15 seconds/mile for traffic. I would recommend against racing the Cap10K with a stroller. That race has a LOT of people and all strollers must start with the walking waves, which is tough if you want to run."
Biggest setback: "The change in biomechanics that inevitably happens with pushing a stroller takes some getting used to. There was a period of adjustment at the beginning when things that didn’t normally get sore got sore, despite being an experience runner. It will feel like you are running uphill slightly the whole way, which is great for your strength but tough on your ego."
Biggest takeaway: "Pushing a baby jogger can actually teach the body a slight forward lean that can engage the glutes and be a good thing for building strength in the hips. The trick is learning to lean from the ankles and not the waist. Think about ski-jumpers and the way they lean from the ankles but keep their bodies straight, as opposed to someone leaning forward at the waist to pick up, say...a crying toddler. In choosing a race, the best stroller-friendly race in Austin is probably the Casa SuperHero 5K. The kids love to wave at all the spectators and you have your own personal sherpa for your water. If you get hot, you can take off your jacket/hat/gloves and keep everything with you."
Great first race with a baby jogger: Casa Superhero 5K
Great group to run with: Stroller Striders
FIRST SUB-20 5K:
RunLab Founder & CEO, Dr. Kim Davis has never considered herself “fast." As a kid, she never played sports and was more likely to be found practicing her trumpet or with her nose in a book than doing anything even remotely athletic. She discovered sports as an adult and found that mental toughness and endurance were her strengths. A 200-mile bike ride? No problem. A 72-hour adventure race through the forest? Piece of cake. But running a 5K without stopping to say...eat a sandwich? No thanks. It wasn’t until she started dragging her running buddy and Director of Business Operations, Lucas Manring, who is an 800-meter specialist, into 12-hour adventure races that he insisted she in return must dip a toe into his world...the track. Speed work and interval training have had a profound effect. She just ran her first 18:56 5K at 42 years old, when only a few short years ago 23 minutes would have been a good day for her.
Biggest obstacle: "Confidence in running 'fast.' Fast means different things to different people, and finding our own version of fast can be as rewarding as finishing a long race, but if we come from ultra backgrounds it’s hard to wrap our heads around that concept because we are so mileage-focused as distance runners.
Biggest setback: "Mental drive to tack on more mileage for no reason, which would ultimately delay recovery and decrease ability to tackle harder workouts."
Biggest takeaway: "Take a page from the track world and learn that it’s not always about the distance. Whenever we say we went running, we are immediately asked 'How far did ya go?' Nobody ever asks 'How fast did you run? Did you barf?'"
Great coach in Austin for a fast 5K/10K: Carmen Ayala-Troncoso (Rogue)
Great fast local 5K: Sunshine Run
FIRST TRAIL RACE:
RunLab Gait Specialist, Division I runner, State Champion and all-around awesome human being, Lorin Wilson will try almost anything. So for his first trail race he decided to sign up for...wait for it...a 100-mile ultra-marathon. With his constant "lean in" attitude, he paid no attention to the fact that he had very little experience on trails, or with ultra-distance runs, and just dove into finish 3rd overall. As he looks forward to his next trail race and thinks about how he would execute things differently, he brings nutrition to the forefront in any distance trail race.
Biggest obstacle: "Nutrition, specifically lack of experience with what happens to digestion as a race race gets really, really long."
Biggest setback: "Not executing my nutrition plan. As the race got longer I was eating anything I could get my hands on because I just couldn’t put enough fuel in my body to support the effort I was asking of it. Also, my body can started to crave things I didn’t expect as the race got long. I was tired of anything sweet by the last half of the race and had to move on to pizza. Executing against a plan matters in every distance, even a 5K, but gets really really important as the distance goes up."
Biggest takeaway: "I should have executed on my nutrition plan and taken a pass on the pizza. I didn't get an upset stomach. However, I’m not sure how it affected my hydration/performance/etc. Next time, I will also have more ice packs and wet towels to run with to keep my body temperature cool. Lastly, I should have taken it easier on the flats. I’m used to going all out on flat sections in any kind of 5K/10K and I just fell into my natural rhythm, but that just comes from lack of experience. If you are training for your first trail race, practice using the different terrain to your advantage during your training. An example might be to run fast on the downhills with less effort, learn how to best attack the uphills so you don’t completely fatigue your body, and take it easier than you want to on the flats to save your effort for the uphills. Remember that you are stronger than you think you are. Have faith in your training and your preparation. There are going to be bad times, sometimes awful times, however, trust your training, enjoy the journey, and know that all bad times pass. Just keep moving forward and keep trying to stay positive. Every ounce of pain that you experience along the way makes you even prouder of yourself when you step across that finish line."
Great local trail races: Tejas Trails and Spectrum Trail Racing events
Great groups to train with for trail running: Trail Roots, Happy Treading (women)
FIRST ADVENTURE RACE:
RunLab LMT, Brent Holloway is really, really good at soccer. He’s not so good on a mountain bike...And he’s scared to death of snakes. So, naturally, challenging himself to complete a race that required riding a mountain bike and bushwhacking through the woods at night with map and compass seemed like a logical option. He chose the Big Chill Adventure Race as his first AR because he knew it was put on by race director Art Cook and he thought..how hard can it be?
Biggest obstacle: "Transitioning from interval and speed-driven work to training for a race that requires all-day endurance and multi-sport competency."
Biggest setback: "Not enough trail running, especially at night. Adventure racing requires spending all day, and often some or all of the night, in the woods. This means fatigue inevitably sets in and it becomes harder and harder to navigate the rocks and roots of a trail as the hips get tired. This can cause trips and falls and make the race a lot less fun, especially if you are not prepared for what it feels like to run at night."
Biggest takeaway: "I think everyone should trail run, at least on occasion, whether you are a trail runner by nature or not. Trail running, even for me as a soccer player, helped gain strength in the frontal plane where so many of us are weak. Additionally, the more running and mountain biking you can do at night (invest in a good light) the happier you will be on race-day if your race requires any night time running or riding. Also, if you are racing with Jonathan Davis as your partner, you’ll want to know the following things: bring anti-rash ointment so you don’t have to borrow Jonathan’s a million times. Bring a snack even though Jonathan says, 'you don’t need food, you’ll be fine.' Bring a headlight on afternoon legs even though Jonathan says, 'you’ll be back WELL before dark.' Basically, don’t listen to Jonathan unless it has to do with navigation haha. We actually had a great time. I highly recommend just signing up for an adventure race, it’s a really fun sport to do with a friend."
Great First Adventure Race: Spread Your Wings AR (Too Cool Racing)
Great events for navigation experience: Austin Orienteering Club
FIRST 100-MILE ULTRA:
RunLab Office Manager, Art Cook isn’t afraid of a challenge. He has completed adventure races all over the country, including Primal Quest and Eco Challenge (yup, that show that used to be on TV). They were 10-day races that included sub-zero temps, leeches, teammates suffering huge injuries and about every other challenge you can think of. You don’t sign up for something like that without a thick skin. That’s why, when he got the opportunity to try his hand at the Leadville 100, he was up for the challenge. The RunLab team was there to crew and cheer him to the finish line as he accomplished a feat that most people don’t achieve their first, or even second, time around...an official belt buckle and finish time, through sleet, rain, thousands of feet of elevation gain, high winds, and 35-degree temperatures, in just over 28 hours.
Biggest obstacle: "Finding enough hills as a flatlander to adequately prepare for the monster that is Leadville. The race is the highest in elevation anywhere in the US and is made more difficult by rapid weather changes that may go from blazing hot to freezing cold."
Biggest setback: "Work-life balance. Training for an ultra requires a lot of time management, as well as buy-in from both your work family and your home family to support your efforts."
Biggest takeaway: "I discovered that I was able to get in a lot of mileage through run-commuting. I actually live in Cedar Park and would run to work downtown, which sounds crazy but it allowed me to use that time I would have been sitting in a car in a productive way, so I had more time with my family after work."
A Great coach in Austin for your first ultra: Jason Brooks (Spectrum & Rogue)
Great first 100-miler: Rocky Raccoon 100
One of our rockstar LMTs, Laquanda Cotten, has a history of winning. If you’ve met her you know that Q is a beast of a human with a heart of gold, but what you may not know is that she has actually received more All American accolades than anyone else at RunLab...but none of them were as a runner. She excelled in field events and qualified for the Olympic trials twice. In 2017, Q started to run in an effort to find something new to help her with her fitness and to better understand what our patients were going through. She completed the 80s 8K in the fall of 2017 and this year she set her sights on finishing a half marathon in Vegas, which of course the entire RunLab team has decided to join her for because...Vegas. And because we love Q!
Biggest obstacle: "Lack of experience in distance running combined with a competitive nature."
Biggest setback: "Shin splints from increasing mileage too quickly over the summer."
Biggest takeaway: "If you’ve never run distance you can’t start slow enough, begin building your base the moment you decide to tackle a race. That doesn’t mean you need to ramp up the mileage, but even starting to train by doing long walks can help condition your body against injury for the added mileage later on."
Great Coach in Austin for your first 13.1: Gilbert Tuhabonye
Great local running groups: Rogue Running, Austin Runners Club, Gilbert’s Gazelles
Great first half marathon: Rock ‘n’ Roll
FIRST OLYMPIC WEIGHTLIFTING COMPETITION:
RunLab Clinical Rehab Technician, Daniel Bradley is a former Navy Deep Sea Diver.While in the military he competed in open-water swim competitions, marathons, triathlons, and trail races. Growing up Daniel was a swimmer and competed for 9 years. In college he decided to dabble into olympic weightlifting and found it extremely explosive in nature and surprisingly technical.
Biggest obstacle: "Coming from a background of swimming and running my cardiovascular system was well equipped for the anaerobic demands of training, however, my strength base was quite low and I am on the hypermobile spectrum. Having these two qualities means that I am prone to injury since my joints, particularly my shoulders, lack stability."
Biggest setback: "The most challenging and dangerous lift in Olympic Lifting is the snatch. This lift requires the athlete to pull a weight bar off the ground, over their head, while simultaneously dropping into a deep squat. The athlete has to then stand up from that deep squat while maintaining the bar's position above their head. The nature of this lift places a large demand on shoulder, upper back, leg, and core strength in order to complete it successfully without injury. Several times throughout the semester I would 'tweek' my shoulders while doing this lift. During the catch phase of the lift my shoulders would come out of socket, especially if my muscles were getting tired and I was losing focus."
Biggest takeaway: "If I were to go back in time, I would have spent two months before the event focusing on weight training in order to reestablish a solid strength base. I would have primarily focused on doing the three big lifts: squats, deadlifts, and overhead press. By preparing in this manner my muscles would have been better prepared for the demands of Olympic lifting and my shoulders would not have subluxed as easily."
Great coach in Austin for your first Olympic weightlifting competition: Megan Miller (private sessions + 6 week course starting mid-January)
Great First Olympic Weightlifting Competition: Naturally Fit Games
RunLab Event Coordinator, Hannah Kanne has run marathons, she’s qualified for and finished Boston, she’s done sprint, olympic, and half triathlons, so what was next on her bucketlist of things nobody should actually do but we all do anyway? Ironman. She trained for and completed her first Ironman this year in Wisconsin, and while she claims to have checked the box, something tells us she hasn’t hung that tri bike up just yet.
Biggest obstacle: "Training perspective: The biggest obstacle for me was taking an actual break from training to allow my body to recover properly. I knew what workouts and breaks I needed to give my body especially during the higher points of training, but what I battled with the most was feeling guilty when I took those breaks. Tapering was brutal for me mentally! From a racing perspective: Worrying about my time and looking at my watch. I found myself looking at my watch every 5 miles on the bike and lets just say it didn't help the time or miles go by any faster. Eventually I turned it off around mile 80 for the rest of the bike. Of course it was back on for the run, but it died at mile 10 which was a blessing in disguise. It allowed me to focus on listening to my body rather than wasting energy on obsessing over my pace."
Biggest setback: "Preparation. For me, being prepared made a huge difference in how successful or unsuccessful I was in all aspects of training - from nutrition to gear to planned workouts. The weeks in which I wasn't dialed in nutrition-wise affected my effort in training, recovery, and ultimately my mood. When I wasn't prepared gear-wise I would scramble last minute to gather all of my things. I would then run late to my training group and without a doubt forget at least two necessary things (ex: watch, running shoes). A backup bag was a must (including shoes, socks, sunscreen, and much more) in my car! From a racing perspective: A major setback I found throughout the bike and run portions was the mental game I had to play with my competitive inner demon. I needed to continuously remind myself not to worry about what the other participants around me were doing, and that I needed to execute against my own plan. Whether they were passing me as I took a walk break, or even when I saw them walking, which made me want to walk, I had to remind myself to run my own race."
Biggest takeaway: "Train with a wide variety of athletes across all levels of fitness. I started doing this towards the end of my training, but it made a huge impact on me. The lessons I learned from others held tremendous value. The only way we become stronger and wiser athletes is to learn from those who’ve already been there. Community is huge in my eyes, and having support from like-minded individuals only fuels my passion to achieve my goals. At the end of the day, remember that you’ll never get to cross that Ironman line for the first time again. Don’t forget why you’re out there and that the people around you are all fighting the same inner battle. Enjoy the journey and your fellow athletes, that is, after all why we do these crazy things...well, besides the GIANT medal and all the margaritas we get to drink afterward."
Great coaches in Austin for your first Ironman: Andrea Fisher, Natasha Van Der Merwe
Great First Ironman: Arizona
FIRST RELAY RACE
RunLab Rehab Technician, Mitch Ammons just discovered his love of running a little over a year ago, and it turns out he has a pretty serious talent for the sport. He competed as part of The RunLab.US Elite Team at Hood to Coast this last year where the team of 12 averaged a 5:20 pace over 200 miles to come in 3rd overall, just behind a little local Oregon shoe company (you may have heard of them...Nike something?). Mitch (nor most of the rest of the team) had ever run back to back to back legs, with most of their short recovery time spent either sandwiched in between a bunch of sweaty dudes in the back of a van, or standing out in the cold at 2 a.m. with Dr. D to cheer on the rest of the team. If you ask him about the experience and whether he would do it again, Mitch will just smile and say, "there’s a team we need to beat next year."
Biggest obstacle: "Newest runner on a team of fast, talented guys that have been running for years, as well as lack of experience doing back to back runs at race pace."
Biggest setback: "Recovery time. The time between legs in a relay race is sometimes only a couple of hours, especially on a fast team, and your body has to recover very quickly. Relay running is awesome, but can also be stressful because you have an entire team counting on you, which rarely happens in any kind of running except the 4x4, and virtually never in distance running."
Biggest takeaway: "It’s better to go into any race 10 percent undertrained than even 1 percent overtrained. We talk about this in the clinic a lot. Distance runners tend to be so focused on the mileage that they forget to really listen to their bodies. As a new runner, these are lessons I am learning too. I don’t yet quite know how much is too much and what good fatigue vs bad fatigue feels like. The biggest take-home from doing my first relay race was that I needed to have gone into it without the slightest bit of overtraining fatigue, because that causes a need for prolonged recovery time. There just isn’t any margin for error in a relay race when you have to get right back on the road only a few hours after your last hard effort. Also, PLEASE do one of these races if you’ve never done one. Grab some buddies with a sense of humor and just sign up, you’ll love it. It was one of the greatest running experiences I’ve ever had. We had a few setbacks in our race, but we have an amazing team, and at the end of the day these races are about working together to get it done, which isn’t something you get to do in running very often."
Great first relay race: Ragnar
Great local relay races: HTC Texas, Capital to Coast Relay, Texas Independence Relay
The best advice our entire team can share from our own experiences is this: while we certainly find comfort in repetition and the things we already know we are good at, our bodies and minds get bored and acclimated when repeating the same routine over and over again. We won’t achieve our highest, best selves fitness-wise if we avoid trying new ways to challenge our bodies Always set realistic and achievable goals to avoid injury (or you could also do what we do and jump into any old fun-looking race and figure you’ll fix any subsequent injuries once you have a medal around your neck.) Seriously though, try something new once a year to keep your training fresh, and your mind engaged. You may find that your old routine even improves as a result.