By Dara Kelly
Dara Zall Kelly is a Boston born and raised middle aged runner, athlete, and fitness and wellness consultant. She is a master trainer through ACSM, NASM and CSCC and has completed over 25 marathons chasing down that Olympic Trial dream, plus some Olympic and 70.3 tris for fun. She has written for numerous fitness publications and has been featured multiple times on local television as a fitness and lifestyle expert. Dara spends most of her day with clients of all ages and abilities, from teen athlete to elite athlete to nonagenarians. Between client engagements, she attempts to wrangle her three teenagers, two dogs, and one wily tortoise named Wally. Don't judge, Wally is much faster than you think. When she's not mom-Ubering, coaching, or training for various marathons/70.3s, she loves to travel with her very patient husband. In her one free hour per week, she hits the ice with her hockey team, the Honey Badgers. It's not pretty, but it sure is fun.
Fuel for thought...
FEB 3, 2023
Once upon a time, there was a girl who ran. She ran for a long time and then stopped. She was hungry. And very tired. She ate something and felt better. Stronger, in fact. Could it be that food could change the way she ran and recovered???
EUREKA! THE FUELING REVOLUTION HAD BEGUN! Actually I’m sure it was a bit more complex than that, so huge apologies to all of the scientists who have actually done the legwork on this. And thank you. Because it seems like overnight, there has been an explosion of tantalizing (and disgusting) treats to keep your body fueled for the long run. So to speak.
Head into any running store these days and there is literally a wall of flavored sugar in various stages of goop for every discerning runner. From fruity to chocolate, gummy to gel, waffle to bar, runners are now inundated with choices on how to properly fuel for an endurance event. But, as my insanely speedy, multi-marathoner father-in-law would say: “Is this a buffet or a race??!” How much do we need, and what kind?
The answer is…who knows? It’s up to you. Training for a marathon also includes training your oh-so-unique GI system. What’s a girl to do then? Practice, practice, practice. With all the fuel.
This marathon training period I have promised myself that I am truly going to practice. Really. After much (too much) research, I have found that Huma seems to be the best source of fuel for me for this type of race. Looking at the ingredients, I was intrigued, yet tentative. It’s one of the only gels I’ve found with no maltodextrin, a substance that my poor body does NOT like. Huma consists of fruit puree, brown rice syrup, salt, and Chia seeds? On a run? That seems…dangerous. But, after a few trial runs, quite literally, I found that Huma was in fact, quite tasty – like lemonade or strawberry jam – and hallelujah, did NOT make my stomach explode into a bowling ball. Let’s be clear. I have run with a bowling ball belly for over 27 months during three pregnancies. I’ll take that any day over a gel-induced bowling ball, thank you very much.
Run a marathon and it is, in fact, a buffet of sorts. Watching runners fuel, and what option they choose, could be a bingo card for spectators. I feel like I’ve seen pretty much everything out there.
There was that one New York Marathon where one of my running besties was keeping me company while I ran, graciously running up ahead to grab water or Gatorade as I plodded along. She came back at mile 18 with a piece of pizza. People were handing out slices of pizza and people were RUNNING AND EATING THEM! I mean I guess that’s just New York for you… but still.
Then there was the friend, absolutely brilliant in his medical field, who told me he wasn’t feeling so well after some of his runs. Turns out he was stopping at the gas station, buying two king-sized Snickers, and eating them during the last half of his long run. Which does sound delicious, but holy cow it takes more energy to actually eat that thing than to do the run. Plus they must be 3 pounds each so it’s like running with weights on top of everything else.
(All of the ultra marathoners out there, sit back down. You can write your own article on fueling for an ultra later, in which you might discuss the merits of eating snickers and pizza on a long run. In the woods. In the middle of the night.)
Anyhow, for most people running a marathon, it turns out that a simple carbohydrate with very little to no fat seems to be a fairly digestible fuel source. I did once see a group of runners zoom by me with lollipops hanging out of their mouths and maybe it’s the mom in me but my first thought was: “Oh my god, someone’s going to choke.” Or lose an eye. But then again, 95% of the planet is more coordinated than I am, so there was less of a likelihood of death by lollipop than I imagine.
At the start of yet another race, I saw a woman whip out a full jar of honey from her pocket, ALONG WITH A SPOON, and wolf down a few dollops. She then put the jar back in her pocket and off she went, in the 3:20 pace crowd. I have no idea how that ended, but huge props for carrying a jar of honey with you for 26.2 miles. Better woman than I.
For awhile, my running partners and I were all about the chews. Gu Chews. Or Clif Shot Bloks I have a distinct memory of running my good friend into the finish of the marathon. With a mile to go she was feeling a bit woozy, so what did I decide? THE GIRL NEEDS A SHOT BLOK! So here I am, heading over the bridge to Kenmore Square, literally shoving gummies in her mouth and making her chew. And perhaps choke a tiny bit. All the while cheering at the top of my lungs and hitting her in the head with her water bottle that I was supposed to be holding. Worst. Partner. Ever. (Sorry, Mere.) Marathons make us do stupid things sometimes. Because timing is everything with fuel and turns out, stuffing a wad of shot bloks in your mouth 10 minutes before the finish does not actually improve your speed or strength.
For me, in the past, mid-race fueling has been nearly impossible. My stomach simply doesn’t seem to like eating and running at the same time. I’m usually horribly nauseated by the end of a marathon and have indeed puked at the end. In front of a cafe with people enjoying a lovely Sunday brunch. But this time I’m practicing. I have my Huma ready to go and am following directions. One 40 minutes into the run, and then 45-50 minutes later. Still figuring out how to deal with those sticky wrappers and wondering how I always seem to get it in my hair but I’ll keep you posted.
I’m also intrigued a bit by the whole Honey Stinger waffle thing, sport beans, and the maple syrup craze. Stay tuned…watch for me during the marathon. I might be able to fill your whole fueling bingo card with my variety of snacks. It truly might be a running buffet.
Remember, as always, running is an individual sport. Everyone has their unique combo of fuel and training that works best for them, so go with it! Whatever your plan is, just make sure you practice before the big day.
JAN 27, 2023
I saunter down the stairs, sashaying past my 14-year-old son, a brief fashion show for the completely uninterested. Today’s middle-aged model is sporting 3 layers of shirts, a vest, windbreaker, and long insulated tights. Weather said “feels like 30 degrees,” so I’m prepared. I kicked my shiny new black and gold Saucony Endorphin Speed 3s up on the coffee table (I’m the mom, I can do that) and said: “I’m off for my long run”! AHEM, “I AM GOING TO DO MY LONG RUN!” My son looked at me from under the full length curtain that is now his hair – at least I think he looked at me?-and said: “Is it really that cold out, Ma? Really?”
Lordy. Now I have to mentally access my teenage translate button, because Google, despite my helpful suggestions, has not added teen speak to Google translate. Is it really cold out? Is it sarcasm? Sigh. I open the door. Oh. Sarcasm.
I peel off the vest and the first shirt layer, pulled back the hair curtain, and mouthed goodbye to said teenager. “K. Bye, Ma. Nice kicks.” Ah… He DID notice.
And off we went, my new Sauconys and I, for our first adventure together. Usually my first two miles entail me awkwardly trying to find my pace, my footing, and convincing myself that it's really not that long at all, it’s an out and back, and if I make it to the turnaround, I’m really almost there. So today it's actually more like 7 miles, than 14. Easy peasy!
Today is a whole different animal. From the first step of the run, I literally bounced down my street like Tigger, as opposed to the usual Eeyore shuffle. My knee drive was up where I had always attempted to train it to go, but it was happening naturally. My stride felt lengthened and easier. Again, still a little wonky as I struggled to get used to the feeling for the first few miles, but then there I was, bouncing down Beacon Street like Tigger on a mission.
After those first few miles comes the real test. It’s a test in agility and core strength. Remember how I am a big fan of NOT running at 5:00 am? I like my coffee and my oatmeal and my stretching after the sun comes up. So here I am at 11:00 am, bounding down the road when I am confronted with the major issue that arises on a Sunday midmorning run. The hungover BC gauntlet that is Cleveland Circle. Coming down that stretch is a game of frogger on level 12. Bleary-eyed kids whip open doors, clutching burritos and coffee, nary a glance to either side as they roll onto the sidewalk in little gangs full of gossip and guffaws. Jump to the right there, avoid the hooded teenager; crouch low to avoid burrito swinging basketball players; weave in and out of the parking meters. Jump the curbs, leap over potholes – Sunday morning Urban Parkour.
Feeling light on my feet with the success of not falling on my face in Cleveland Circle (celebrate the little things!), I take stock of my pace. Generally, I try not to look at my pace/time too much when I run because then I get in a race with myself and usually lose. But today I felt like I was moving faster along the course than normal, yet my breathing was easy and steady. HOLY COW! I am running 25 seconds faster per mile than intended. Which is stupid for a long run, so I tried to slow myself down. However, the change in knee drive and foot strike seems to be organically moving me along at a faster pace. Here come the mind games. I’m going DOWN Heartbreak Hill now, so do I use the speed, or do I control myself and conserve energy for the uphill? I know myself well, so I simply go with the current pace but don’t push the downhill. I know that my slow-to-awaken body truly kicks in around mile 7, and I’m on mile 5.
Here comes the Johnny Kelley Statue -- my signal that I’m closing in on 6 miles. Once I pass Johnny, only a mile to go ‘til the turnaround. Huh. This mile seems a lot longer when you run it than in my head. But no, here I am! My watch dings 7 miles and I flip around. Let’s take it up the hill. Homeward bound!
Still feeling strong, I look at my watch. I’m now almost a minute faster than I should be for long run pacing, according to my plan. But here’s where I kick in. So I let it ride. From Walnut Street to Centre Street is a piece of cake. Heartbreak Hill Running Company is such a welcome sign at Centre Street -- it’s the 20 mile marker of the marathon, and gives you a boost as you head into what I consider to be one of the most difficult stretches of the marathon. Centre Street to BC. It’s a sneaky little hill with a hill on top. Almost every Boston I run, I end up swearing up this hill that I will NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. Today was no different. Agh. TIgger has lost some of her spring. I make it to the top with huge apologies to the owner of the design store on the corner, outside which I swear loudly every week.
My pace picks up again as I pass BC, head down Comm Ave, right on Chestnut Hill Ave, and back onto Beacon. Urban Parkour has diminished in the hour I’ve been dealing with Heartbreak Hill, which is a relief since my little legs are starting to feel a bit less agile at this point. With 2 miles to go, my quads are speaking to me in a loud whisper that they’d like to stop now. “Look, there’s a coffee shop. You could grab coffee and walk home.” NO! We’ve got this. We CAN do it.
As my quads move from a whisper to an angry shout, I push down the last mile to home. This mile is definitely longer than most miles. I see it in the distance…the turn onto my street. I pick up the pace and give a little sprint to the end, envisioning that bright yellow strip on Boylston. I did it!! Longest run yet. And in my sparkling new shoes. I bounced up the stairs to announce my victory, where the cheering was markedly more subdued than the actual finish line. According to my teen translate app, I think the cheer/mumble was “Way to go Mom”. Sarcasm? Nah.
Fast forward one day. Oy. My back. Let's face it. I’ve broken yet another cardinal rule of running. Don’t take your brand new shoes out for a 14-mile run. The difference in gait and knee drive definitely hit my body differently than usual. The bounce was… well, a lot for 14 miles. BUT - I wouldn’t change a thing. This is a normal adjustment. The Saucony Endorphin Speed 3s were everything they promised. The forward propulsion/rocker movement truly increased my pace without a huge cardiovascular effort. The fit, feel, and performance of this shoe delivered a solid, speedy run that was FUN! Can’t wait for our next outing together. Stay tuned.
1: No teen feelings were injured in the writing of this piece. Son is unharmed and unphased per usual.
2: I’m just an average runner doing my little thing out here, reporting from the road on my adventures in training. Make sure that you follow your OWN plan and do what is right for you, from shoes to running to fuel to all the things training related. I like to test out different gear and let you know my thoughts. Whether you asked for them or not.
JAN 20, 2023
If the shoe fits…
It’s the night before Friday and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… except me, obviously, since the minute my head hits the pillow 8 million thoughts go zooming through my head. But tonight’s thoughts are all centered around one thing. SHOES.
I know. Go to bed, Dara. But no. First, I have to tell you all about my chat with Brian Metzler, the shoe guy. I had so many questions. I could have spoken to him for HOURS on the ins and outs of running shoes, from laces and lasts to cushion and carbon. But I began with the standard: “Will this shoe make me run faster?”
Because seriously, what’s the point of new shoes if they don’t make you go faster?
Well, there are many points to consider, I soon learned. From the density of the foam, to the tightness and durability of the last, to the shape of the shoe, each brand is unique. And it’s up to us as runners to figure out which shoe works best with our body mechanics, structural feetures (haha, foot joke pun), and what we’d like to accomplish in those shoes. Are we in it for daily mileage? Speed? Trails? Each brand has its own take on how to address these issues, and since each of us has a unique physical/emotional makeup, it’s important to give the shoes a try rather than rely on marketing, popularity, or style.
I happen to have a neutral foot, on the wider side (thanks, pregnancies!), and have a midfoot strike. And a heel strike when I get tired. I know. It’s not pretty. Brian and I discussed the options and after much deliberation, I was sent off to Marathon Sports with a list in hand.
My mission was to try on three different types of shoes, each with a different heel drop, cushion, and style. But each COULD feasibly work with my body. The Brooks Ghost, the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3, and the Altra Torin. All amazing shoes. But which one would get me to the finish line without injury? And faster. Because despite all this I’m still holding out hope that one of these shoes has a secret rocket that will make me go faster.
Brooks are up first. As I slip my foot in, I smile. It’s like coming home. I feel completely natural in these babies. Like a blue extension of my foot. They have both cushion and spring, with a supportive midfoot. 10 mm heel drop. My happy place. I’ll just set those off to the side there for safe keeping.
Next up, the Altra Torin. Now I’ve heard some great things about the Altra, and I’ve always been intrigued. I’d thought of them as more of a trail shoe but these are made for the road. Sliding my foot into the very pretty purple shoe (fine, I’m a sucker for style, too), I literally yelped. My foot could FEEL the floor underneath me. I felt like a platypus flopping across the floor. Flat footed and definitely not springy. Zero millimeter drop sent shockwaves (not the good kind) up my spine; my hamstrings said what the actual heck?? and my quads braced for impact. That was all from walking to the cash register. Nope, nope and triple nope. I would love to be a zero drop runner. It has been all the rage. And the Altra is a fabulous shoe. But sadly, not for me.
Final stop on the shoe journey – the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3.
First thoughts…it’s cushiony, but less so than the Brooks. And the shoe fits nicely around my midfoot. Supportive. Time to stand. WHOOOOOOAAAA. What the?? There’s a little rocker-like action going on there. Is that…good? It’s like someone’s giving me a little sendoff each time I take a step, propelling me forward. Brian the shoe guy tells me that this is a flexible nylon propulsion plate, with flared out wings on each side for stability. This is interesting. Do I love it or do I hate it? It feels fun. Do I want fun? Maybe I do. It’s an 8mm drop, which is less than I’m used to, but more than the Altras. There might be an adjustment period where I see some stress in my achilles, but if I ease into it and stretch well, the transition should be fine.
Now, what’s a girl to do in a situation like this? The Brooks feel like home. They are my safe place. I know what they can do for me. But the Sauconys offer a little something different that could help with my gait, making me a bit more efficient, therefore less fatigued, therefore… FASTER when I run. But I know the Brooks have always treated me well. Agggghhh. I hate decisions. The lovely people at Marathon Sports might want to close the store soon though. A decision must be made.
So here we go. Drumroll, please!
The winner is…SAUCONY! I simply couldn’t resist the propulsion and energy of the shoe. It’s new and different and maybe that’s what I need to carry me across that line on Boylston Street. Stay tuned for more on my first adventure/outing with these babies. I can’t wait to see what happens. We’re all in this adventure together now, folks. Let’s go!!!
The Mental Game of Marathon Training
JAN 18, 2023
Every time I say I’m training for a long distance event, like say, a marathon, I get a few repeat questions. From everyone. First up, the always fantastic: “How long is THIS marathon?!” Immediately followed by: “Why?” And rounded out by: “What in the world do you DO for that long? What do you think about?”
First question – generally pretty easily explained. Um, it’s the same as well, all the other marathons. 26.2 miles. (Gasp, that seems like a LONG way to run!). Second, why? I don’t know. Challenge? I like running? It’s my zen?
It’s the last question that always gets me. What do I think about? Everything! Nothing! I get to the end of my run and immediately forget what I was thinking about so it’s a tough question to answer. But I’ve been trying my hardest to jot down my thoughts after running these past few weeks, and came up with some fascinating answers.
I think about math. How long is this run? What should my splits be? If I take that detour for water, how much off the course will I be and how do I factor that into my mileage? What happens if I go .33 farther in one direction but I have to cross the street and it ends up being longer back. I’m literally sitting on the couch writing this and I just gave myself anxiety. I even made those numbers up and I can’t for the life of me figure out how they factor into mileage. Math is not my strong suit. I usually get tired and give up on that after my first panic attack.
Then I move on to life events. I have found that during my runs, I have come up with some of the most fantastic business ideas; ideas of what I want my dream house to look like; what I want to do AFTER I finish the marathon…
Which brings me to the most important part of my thought process. Somewhere along the line I start pondering my training -- how it’s going, and where I want to be. Which, circling back to my first post, can be hard. It’s very, very tempting to compare yourself to others, or even your past self, when you are listening to the world around you. I remember a few events so clearly, that have stuck with me over the years, that I should really let go, but reappear as I lug myself up Heartbreak Hill again.
First off, the big one that always makes me laugh. I LOVE to run at 11:00 am. I am up. I am fueled. My body feels right for running. I cannot TELL you the number of times I have been told that “real runners” run at 5:30 am. Now don’t get me wrong. Some of my closest friends and running partners love the early morning run (I’m looking at you Sarah D) and thrive on the energy of the sunrise. I have tried and tried to be an early morning runner, but what usually happens is that my legs feel like lead, my eyes water, I’m hungry, maybe thirsty, I can’t breathe, and then I trip over a crack in the sidewalk. Nope. I’ll do it every once in a while, and love that sunrise, but man. No thank you. And yet, I have toed the line at more than 25 marathons and triathlons, plus a zillion other distances. I’m pretty sure that when I cross the line, I’m a real runner. And so are you. Get out there when you can, and don’t let the clock or peer pressure tell you when you’re considered a runner.
Second, pacing. Once upon a time, there was a girl and some running friends. They were young and wild and free. And had a bit of speed. Words were spoken. “If I ever run X minute miles during a race, drag me off the course. I’m not a runner anymore.” That literally makes me tear up now. Because if I had adhered to those words, I would have stopped running years ago. But that little shred of doubt sometimes creeps in. In fact, a few years back, I ran a marathon, popped a hamstring at mile 10, but limped along to the finish. I ran into a friend, who asked what I’d been up to. I proudly said that I was able to do this marathon, and before I could tell the story of the exploding hamstring, she said “Oh my god, I could NEVER run a marathon that slowly – you should just give up.”
First of all, when someone says something proudly, you just say: Congrats!” Second, the pit in my stomach followed me for days. Was I not a real runner any more?
And then I remembered who I am. I’m a runner. I like running. It’s my zen. It brings me joy. It makes me proud.
So if you feel any of that when you move your body forward one foot in front of the other, you’re a runner, too. No matter what time it is, or how fast you go. Because running is an individual sport, and you’re in it for you.
Training, day 1
JAN 13, 2023
What in the world have I gotten myself into? There is nothing more nerve-racking and exciting than the first day of training for a marathon. The road is your oyster and the possibilities are endless. Optimism flows, and your skin glows with the joy of that first step.
Until you open the friggin’ door and remember that it’s winter in New England. Training for Boston ALWAYS seems like a fantastic idea in September, when the sun is shining bright and you are warm and toasty in your apple-picking outfit. Let’s all take a minute to remember that yes, I was born, raised, and STILL FOR SOME REASON LIVE HERE in Boston. Despite being born and raised in Boston, every single year I do an internal scream as soon as it drops below 65 degrees. Sometimes it is actually not internal and in public, which is wicked awkward. You’d think I’d remember the winters. It’s like giving birth every year. You blank out the messy/mind-numbingly painful stuff.
But I digress. A huge part of training is the mindset, and the mental games we must play to stay on target. Time to suck it up, woman up, and layer up. With a giant puff of my inhaler and a final zip of the coat, I step out the door.
Oh hey now. This isn’t so bad. Legs are a little stiff but I’m ok. I’m really OK! I can do this! First 200 yards are right on target.
As I happen to live right on the Boston Marathon route, it seems like a good idea to train on the course as much as I can. Off I head to Beacon Street, to tackle the Boston route in reverse. I am ignoring the cold, envisioning the race in April. I’m flying. Ish. Or at least it feels like I’m flying.
Mile 1.5: How is this even possible? I’m hyperventilating. I have completely disregarded the cardinal rule of running the marathon. DO. NOT. GO. OUT TOO FAST. Let’s keep that in mind, shall we? Settle down. Settle in. Relax. Anyone else get antsy right out of the gate?
The Boston Marathon is downhill for the first four miles. DO. NOT. GO. OUT TOO FAST!
Mile 3: Settling in. Why is it so hot out here? Who turned up the heat? Is that the sun? Mittens off. God, that wind is cold. Mittens on. There sure are a lot of potholes on Beacon Street. I hope they fix them before April.
Mile 4: Heartbreak Hill, here I come! Well, backwards Heartbreak. Starting at the top and zooming downhill. I am flying again. I am truly flying. Like Kara Goucher flying! Wait. What the? How on earth did those two just pass me? I’m not competing here. Gonna let that go. No, I most certainly cannot let that go. I always say that I’m the least competitive person I know. UNLESS SOMEONE PASSES ME. Which is all the time.
Mile 5: WTF how did it get so hot again? Unzip jacket.
Mile 6: I think I might be bored. And possibly tired. Am I tired? It’s too early to be tired. But I think I’m tired. Or maybe bored. Both. I’m both. Nope. I’m hungry. What am I going to eat after this run? I’m definitely hungry.
Mile 7: Is that actual snow? OMG it is actually snowing out. Friggin’ New England. Why am I doing this? I HATE cold. I hate winter training. Zip jacket. This is going to take forever.
Mile 8 Wait what? I’m done?! How did that happen? I’m just getting started! I love running! Actually I’m hungry. Snack time!
A solid stretch and a little foam rolling complete today’s adventure. Sadly, my run ended at a hockey rink so warmth had to wait. Nothing like sitting in wet running clothes at a hockey rink. Note to self, change of clothes for destination runs.
All in all, I was very excited about the first outing. Truly, it’s the first time I have set foot on Heartbreak Hill in years, despite living 3 miles away. To run those hills is a) hard and b) brings up a slew of emotions that can be hard to sort through. To run them today meant shelving thoughts of faster pacing and days gone by. It meant learning to settle into a new pace and a new race strategy. It meant learning to listen to my body and get out of my head. Something that is key to ANY marathon training. Silencing the negative thoughts barreling through your mind as you encounter fatigue, rough patches, and pain over 26.2 miles takes training as well. One foot in front of the other, steady as she goes.
The Road to Boston
JAN 11, 2023
The Road to Boston.
Literally. The Boston Marathon is one long road into the city of Boston. For many athletes, it is considered the pinnacle of racing, the ultimate marathon, the most historic race of all. This year will look a little bit different.
Ten years ago I finished the marathon with two of my closest friends and running partners. The sun shone brightly, and the weather was perfect for both spectators and runners alike. We crossed the finish line with wide smiles and cranky legs, ready to celebrate our run at the Lenox Hotel with our families, who had followed us down Boylston Street. We joined up in a suite to shower and change, and as my good friend began to feed her 6-month-old, we heard a loud explosion. Within moments, a second explosion rocked the building and smoke filled the streets right below us. Boston would never be the same.
I ran Boston a few times since, but with a sense of trepidation as I turned the corner onto Boylston. And then I put it to bed. I’ve run Boston over 10 times. I met my husband running the Boston Marathon 25 years ago. Hard to top all of that. I said no more winter training, no more Heartbreak Hill. Until this year. On the 10th anniversary of that fateful day, it somehow seems important that I line up once again to celebrate this event, and take a look at how far we have come as a city, as a community, as runners.
And guess what? You’re coming along for the ride. In all of its messy glory. We’ll tackle the hills, chat about nutrition, gear, and how to prepare for the 26.2 mile road to Boston. Get ready. As with every marathon, the actual date is simply the party to celebrate all of the training. The real journey lies in the daily grind; the running, the strength, the fueling, the gear, the weather, and all of the emotions that come with preparing for the biggest running party in the world. The great Boston Marathon.