Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Guest Blogger: Nikki's new 3:07 PR at The Rehoboth Beach Marathon! 12/5/15

I have featured a race report by Nikki before, but I could not resist asking her to please share her experience at Rehoboth. If there was ever an example of how to run a race with control and confidence, here it is.  People have great races that often surprise them.  But that is not what happened here.  Nikki showed up with a plan and then stuck to it. That is one of the hardest things for a marathoner to do. It takes complete discipline and control. It takes letting other pull away and not drag you past your redline…  It takes knowing yourself and what you want to do despite everything happening around you.  But once a marathoner understands that it is possible for him or her to negative split the marathon, limitations are annihilated and massive personal records can be set.

Congratulations Nikki!  Almost 20 minutes off your marathon PR in just 7 months!  You work so very hard and it shows!  I am happy to see how wonderful you are doing! Thank you for sharing your experience here and letting me be a part of your journey!

I’m cruising down Rehoboth Avenue in the low 6s… slow down. Half marathoners and marathoners alike start to pass me from all sides. I love running a race where the marathon and half marathon start together because the half marathoners go out SO fast. It’s fun to be part of but it is tempting to press the paces early when you run with half marathoners… 640s, still too fast so I continue to pump the brakes as we weave through town. Somewhere around 7:05 pace I decided I had probably slowed down enough over the last few tenths of a mile to find “marathon pace” so I settled in… First mile, 7:08.

Over the next two miles as we kept to the streets of Rehoboth I focused on my breath. This had been a really good indicator of things to come at the Liberty Half Marathon. I was cautiously optimistic… breathing was easy and I was feeling much better than I had at Wineglass at this point but it was so early. So much could go wrong. And what is with all this headwind? (Miles 2 and 3, 7:14 and 7:19)

We entered the first trail portion of the race around mile 3. I thought I was going to hate this, but with the trail came a break from the wind so for the moment I felt relieved. The spectators were few and far between and for me trail running is a pace killer, but it was on the trail that the marathon broke from the half marathon and it was so peaceful and scenic. I was surprised to see a 7:13 on my watch at mile 4. Maybe trail running wasn’t so bad.

My ride on the trail running bandwagon ended a mere mile later with my slowest mile of the race. Mile 5 in 7:28. I tried not to panic, but I could feel my turnover slowing a bit. Was I already falling apart? I pressed a little bit to try and get back to my goal pace of between 7:15 and 7:20. Mile 6 and 7 were perfect but they felt harder than they should and I was starting to hate this trail running thing again. (7:17 and 7:20). We hit a fairly steep decline during mile 8 so I decided to seize the opportunity to pick up a little time and try and kick start my legs again. It totally worked! I came through mile 8 at 6:56 feeling rejuvenated and confident. Mile 8 was where I knew things were going to go awry at Wineglass so I did another body check. I felt incredible. Like holy cow incredible… but again, it was still so early and there was so much race left. I settled back into my prescribed pace. Mile 9 and 10 in 7:17 and 7:20. Chronotrack had set up a 10 mile split. I didn’t have the exact number in my head at the time but per the website I came through this marker at 1:12:49. (7:17 average pace).

Back on the road I moved from third female to fourth female when the eventual second place female finisher came up on my right shoulder. I told her if she kept this up she would be well under 3:10 pace. I asked if that had been her goal… she said she didn’t really have a goal except to finish as this was her first marathon… WOW. Just wow. I let her go, knowing I’d never see her again. She had pulled me through mile 11 at 7:09 pace… too fast for this point in the race so I let her go and I settled back into a 7:16 pace for mile 12. This was an exciting part of the race because we had hit the turnaround of
the first out and back. There were also some spectators along this part of the course which was awesome given the trail miles were almost entirely without human contact.

A few tenths of a mile before I went back onto the trail a very nice cyclist pulled alongside me to see how I was doing. He wanted to know if I was leading the women’s race. No way, man I wasn’t even close. He offered up some words of encouragement, asked if I needed anything and off he went. Mile 13 (7:10) finished back on the trail and I was gearing up for another body check at the half. I came through the half in 1:34:44 dropping 3 seconds per mile from my average pace in just 3.1 miles. Excitement was starting to build, but I knew mile 14 was going to be a little tough and that is where Wineglass had crushed my spirits so I did my best to bury the excitement and stay focused. Mile 14, 7:09.

Something happened after mile 14. When I crested the small incline within that mile and didn’t want to simply die, I felt incredible. I realized that MAYBE, if I could hold on, I was going to break 3:10. Mile 15, 7:01. I told myself to slow down but I couldn’t… it was as though muscle memory was kicking in from all those progressions and my body said, “screw you I got this.” But mentally I was still very unsure of myself. Anything could happen it was way too early to be confident or certain of ANYTHING.

Jeff was waiting for me at mile 16. (7:02) I was surprised to see him so soon and so I just said the first thing that came into my head. “I’m going for it. I’m going under 3:10.” Yikes… was I really going under 3:10? Could I seriously manage to not fall apart at the end of a marathon??

I was back on the road and cruising along. Mile 17, 7:03. Maybe I should back off if I was to attempt a progression beginning at mile 18. Mile 18, 7:09. It was here that the cyclist I had seen up north met me for another body check. (Who is this man? Is he some sort of marathon guardian angel?) He rode along with me for a little while, offered some final words of encouragement and sent me on my way. Mile 19, 6:58.

It was right around here that we met up with the half marathoners again. They were the greatest! As I turned for the second out and back of the course, the runners on their way to the finish offered up TONS of encouragement and support. It was awesome. Mile 20, 7:00.

That incredible high was met with a crushing blow of more trail. This trail portion of the race was brutal because of the loose rocks and because I knew any chance I had of hitting the progression I had originally planned was lost. But I had less than 10K to go so I pushed on: mile 21 (7:06), mile 22 (6:59), and mile 23 (7:06).

I was starting to do a lot of math on those late trail miles. If I fall apart now I will finish at this time, and if I keep it together but slow a little from fatigue I can still hit that time… I had started picking off other runners a few miles back but this runner I came up on somewhere between 23 and 24 was one of the only ones I chatted with beyond a few pleasantries. I told him if we could keep it together we were going to come in under 3:10. “Well under,” he said. “You are going under 3:08.” STOPPIT, there is just no way. I mean maybe somewhere in the 3:08 – 3:09 range but 3:07? I don’t know I was feeling pretty tired. But with less than 3 miles to go, I could survive tired… maybe. Mile 24, 6:58. Mile 25, 6:54.

We were now back on the road and headed for home. All I had to do was hold on. It was not until this point in the race that I was absolutely certain I’d come in under 3:10. I kept thinking I could fall apart at any moment and lose 3:10 altogether. I didn’t even check my split at mile 26 (6:53). All I could do now was run as hard as I possibly could. I kicked down to a 6:43 pace through the finish. The time clock was off to the left and obstructed so I had no idea what I’d be coming in at. I caught the clock right before I crossed the line… 3:07:51 (7:11 average pace).

I hunched over, put my head in my hands, cried my eyes out for a second, and then pulled it together. I was done, and it was amazing.

I have two regrets in this race. The first is that I didn’t listen to the woman that yelled to me about how close the girl in third was. If this race had been 400 meters longer I’d have had a shot at third. I thought she was talking about a half marathoner that she mistook for a marathoner. Another pitfall of running with half marathoners I guess.

The other is that I didn’t stay for the post-race festivities. This was a fantastic race. It was well organized and super easy logistically. The spectators though few and far between in some spots were always fantastic and there was even more water stops than advertised. PLUS, the race photos were free this year! The town is adorable and I really wish we could have stayed to celebrate with the rest of the field. Next year :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Jump Rope To Improve Running Form

Here is a copy of an article I submitted to the Clifton Road Runners Monthly Newsletter!

If you reside in New Jersey and would like to become a member of Clifton Road Runners, please visit this website for more information about how you can join my team: 
Jump Rope To Improve Running Form
Shannon McGinn, Certified Running Coach, USATF, RRCA, NFHS
September 2015

One key component to efficient running form is good posture. Those who run with their posture out of alignment will waist energy trying to maintain an inefficient position.

To run our best, we want to run tall with a slight lean from the ankles. We want our feet to land under our center of mass, not out in front of us. If viewing from the side, we should be able to draw an imaginary line from our head, down our spine, through our hips to where our foot lands under our hips.

Momentum, from pushing off the ground with our back foot, carries our body forward over our planted foot. The back foot comes forward, traveling directly under our level hips and lands beneath our center of mass. Optimal cadence is approximately 180 steps per minute. Over-striding heel-strikers often have a hard time achieving this 180 step tempo, most due to the center of mass being behind the foot as it lands too far forward.

Jumping Rope:
One of the best reasons to jump rope as a runner is it reinforces efficient running form. Jump rope with poor form and you will not be able to sustain the rhythm and pace needed to jump continuously. Jump with proper form and you will find your flow. It just so happens that proper form for jumping rope mirrors ideal posture for running efficiently. To successful jump rope, the feet must land under the center of mass, directly under the hips, while the spine is held straight and tall. Slouching results in failed jumps. To practice ideal running form, consider adding jumping rope as a warm up, cool down, or cross-training activity.

How to get started:
Initially I assumed that since children can jump rope, getting started would be easy. I quickly learned that I had many questions: What type of rope? How long should it be? Where should I jump? How should I jump? To help me get the answers I needed I consulted Michael Schwartz, an experienced Crossfitter. He helped me figure out everything I needed to get started!

What Type of Rope: There are many types of ropes available, included beaded and weighted ropes. Schwartz explained that as an athlete I should consider a speed rope, which is a lightweight cable coated with plastic. These ropes are built to turn fast enough to sustain the paces needed for an adequate workout. He recommended I look at ropes from http://www.rxsmartgear.comGear. Another highly recommended site for quality jump ropes is

Correct Rope Size: Some ropes may be adjustable while others require you to purchase the appropriate length of cable. To find the proper length of rope for you, the simplest method is to add three feet to your height. However, jumpers under 5 foot 6 inches and more efficient jumpers may find that three feet is a bit too long for them.

A second method is to use a measuring tape (or the actual jump rope cable, if you need to cut it down). Line up the starting end of the tape or cable with the base of your pectoralis major muscle. Step on the tape or cable with one foot. Bring the remaining length of tape or cable back up to meet the starting end, at the base of your pectoralis major muscle. If you are measuring from your armpit you are measuring too high. The distance of this entire round-trip measurement should be very close to your height plus three feet. Cut the cable or make note of the length. Choose to cut the rope too long over too short if you are not sure. You may find that some further adjustments may be needed to find your optimal length rope, but this should get you started.

Where to Jump: Schwartz recommended that I not jump directly on the concrete pavers in my yard, as this will quickly degrade my rope. Instead, he suggested that I get a 4ft x 4ft piece of plywood and place it over the grass to create a supportive, shock-absorbing surface for my workout. Other suggestions include jumping on a matt or cardboard to protect the rope from breakage. When selecting where to jump, make sure that the mat, cardboard, or plywood surface is large enough to not catch the rope.

My Very Simple Jump Rope Routine: 
When I first got started, I tried few different methods of jumping. Eventually, I decided that I needed to keep it simple. This routine makes a good warm up, emphasizes good running form, and can be lengthened to become an additional workout.

(1) Double Hop (2 jumps per turn of rope) x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(2) Single Hop (1 jump per turn) x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(3) Left Leg, single hop x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(4) Right Leg, single hop x 30 jumps, recover 5-20 seconds
(5) Running Step (Alternating Left Foot - Right Foot in a running motion) x 60 jumps (if counting each foot plant as 1 jump), recover at least 20 seconds before starting set over.

Repeat at least 3 times. Takes between 5-10 minutes to complete

I recommend easing into jumping rope by doing this routine only 3 days per week. Expect muscle groups that have not been used regularly to feel stressed, tired, and sore. Once you are acclimated this routine can be done daily. Advanced jumpers can reduce the recovery between jumps all the way down to 0 seconds and/or repeat this series more than 3 times. Eventually, you will become proficient enough to add more challenging jump steps to the set, such as Double-unders, where the rope must pass under the feet twice per jump.

Efficient running form and jumping rope both require good posture. A great way to train the body to hold efficient running form is by adding jump-rope to your training plan. I hope this article helps you get on your way to becoming a more efficient runner.


Shannon McGinn is an USTAF, RRCA, and NFHS Certified Distance Running Coach and the owner of Creating Momentum, LLC.  She is pursuing a Master of Science in Kinesiology with a concentration in Sports Psychology. She is a life-long runner, becoming more involved in racing after surviving cancer.  She considers herself a marathon and ultramarathon specialist, earning several USATF National Championship top 10 or better placements in the 50k and 50M distances. She has not missed a day of running since December 2011.  Please send questions  about this article to