Training for a Half Marathon in the Arctic Vortex: The Good, The Bad, and the Buttpaste

4 Mar

In less than two weeks (!) I’m running Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon here in DC. I wasn’t really planning on it, but then KMBGKef made a very casual suggestion that I run it with her, and that seemed reason enough for me. I had completed a half marathon way back in the day when I moved from a recreational runner to one of those freaks who plan their life around runs, so I imagined it would go kind of like this:



The last half I ran was an early October race, which meant I started training in July–so the arctic vortex thing did not apply. I wasn’t a nurse back then, either, so my work schedule was a bit more predictable and far less physically taxing. And then there’s the whole dietary situation: I still ate sugar and grains by the barrel in 2010, so I had an entire body of physiologic research on how to fuel long runs. Without grains, I had no “carb loading” pasta dinners to work with, and without sugar I found myself searching for a “GU” to count on.

But by the time I realized all these things, I had my heart set on running the race.  So…what’s a ChefKef to do? Here’s a recap of a few of the lessons I learned as I made my way to race day:


  • The Good: I actually really love running in the winter. The primary difference for me is the major reduction in the number of bikers whose primary focus seems to be turning Rock Creek into an Autobahn, so the brushes with death are  limited to my own failures to navigate ice, snow, or uncollected trash. I also like the camaraderie of this self-selecting seasonal group– oh, you got up when it was still pitch black out and below freezing to run around this paved loop, too? We’re basically best friends. Finally, it’s a really nice way to avoid both the Winter Blahs and the crowded craziness of gyms in January and February. All good things.
  • The Bad: Okay, I’m only gonna say this once (because I know I’ll never live up to it)– I’m never running another March race again (… until next March). As outlined above, I learned to love running in the cold, but I cannot stomach the idea of another training cycle mandated by the finicky temperament of a Washington winter. It’s tough enough going on a training run the day after a 12-hour shift on a busy nursing unit (more about that in a sec), but when you HAVE to get your ten-mile training run in right after finishing said 12-hour day because it is going to snow/freezing rain on your days off and the city you live in can’t manage clearing the sidewalks of a lousy inch of snow… well, that really sucks.
  • The Ugly: The chapping. Oh God, the CHAPPING. Watching out for ice on the trails, I can do. Realizing even your thighs are bit frostbitten and have lost all sensation, I can do. Suffering the indignity of waddling into the Columbia Heights Target and purchasing something called BUTTPASTE (yes… in caps) because, despite your awesome warmgear pant’s best efforts, the mix of sweat, wind, and arctic temperatures has absolutely rubbed your rump completely raw? That I don’t think I can do again.


  • The Good: I work three days a week. Need I say more?
  • The Bad: Those three days when I was chained to a nurses’ station were often the three warmest days of the week.
  • The Ugly: That time I had to run for ten miles after scurrying around for 12.5 hours trying to keep several hormonal patients from going over the edge when they alllll had breastfeeding issues because another snow storm was descending… oh, and it was the coldest night of the week by like 15 degrees. Talk about “running on dead legs.” Luckily, I had my anger and resentment to keep me warm and fueled.


  • The Good:  First the obvious: if you run 13 miles, you burn about 1300 calories, which means YOU CAN EAT ABOUT 3000 CALORIES THAT DAY!
  • The Bad: Turns out, when you ignore the entirety of conventional wisdom (and the hefty pull of the grain lobby) by cutting out flour and sugar, you’re basically left taking advice from random people on the internet whose connection to science and/or reality is not always obvious. I got some really bad advice, like the guy who scoffed at the idea of needing to fuel a 2-hour run at all, and I got some really good advice, like Paleo-friendly gels and electrolyte-replacement drinks a friend from college recommended. So I played around a lot, which was sort of fun and sort of frustrating. I found that a Lara bar 30 minutes before the run, VegaSport maintenance drink during the run, Honey Stinger gel at mile 5, cashew butter packet at mile 8.5, and VegaSport at mile 10ish is what ultimately works for me. I do sort of feel like I’m eating my way through the whole back of the race– but if you gotta spend money to make money, I think you probably need to consume calories to burn ’em.
  • The Ugly: The first time I tried to go over 10 miles I did it with only one fuel pack,and boy was that a disaster. I think several people on Florida Avenue must have assumed the zombie apocalypse had come because I was looking ROUGH and running worse.
    Turns out that (for me) the big difference between a run fueled with wheat and sugar and a run fueled without those things is the difference between replacing and maintaining– I used to sort of run down the tank until JUST before my gas light came on, and then do a quick top-off with a GU gel, whereas now I need to try and stay at somewhere around half a tank so that my fueling program is pulling me back up to three-quarters of a tank.

Now all that’s left is actually running the race… after which I’m gonna look at good ol’ KMBGKef and say:


Many thanks to for the cool GIFs!

3 Responses to “Training for a Half Marathon in the Arctic Vortex: The Good, The Bad, and the Buttpaste”


  1. Off to the Races! | Cooking Up Kefi - March 14, 2014

    […] my last bit of breakfast at home. During training, I had some fueling issues. Obviously without gluten and sugar, I’m fueling differently than lots of other runners, but […]

  2. RnR USA Race Recap | Cooking Up Kefi - March 17, 2014

    […] Calvert Hill. The drummers at the bottom of Harvard St were totally amazing. My butt didn’t chap. None of those things compared to the amazing cheering team I had- it is a true friend who will […]

  3. Runner’s Low and Boozy Blueberry Banana Bread | Cooking Up Kefi - June 30, 2014

    […] come back to bite me in my big ol’ butt. First there was an MPL sprain in early April. Next, more fueling issues in May. June brought some high temps, hydration woes that I can’t get into, and finally a […]

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