Game Changer: RunKeeper

“How many miles do I run a month? How many minutes do I spend running a week? What is my average pace?” These are all questions I used to ask myself when I began running. Based on these inquiries, I began to track some of this information (mostly the total miles run) using very primitive ways.

Implementing a whiteboard technique, I was able to track how many miles I was running weekly. That, linked with “MapMyRun”, an app that you can use to plot out a route and know the distance, I was doing pretty good. I set goals for myself at the beginning of the month and strived to hit the number of miles or days indicated. For the few months I was doing that, I was hitting all of my marks. It was great.

My whole running adventure changed when my sister suggested I try an app called “RunKeeper”.

What’s great about this app is that it offers you a multitude of options and information to help you improve your running. Although there is a free version of the app, I prefer the upgraded version, “RunKeeper Go” (formerly “Elite”) because I have access to more insights to my running. Some of the information this app offers:

  • GPS tracking of your run, along with audio cues at your specified distance or time.
  • Tracking of total miles for the week as well as for the month that even compares your previous week or month to the current.
  • Archiving of all previous runs.
  • Insights including total miles since using the app, average pace over time, mileage per month, and average run distance.
  • Tracking of calories burned per month as well as weekly.
  • Comparison of number of activities completed weekly or monthly.
  • Elevation climbed weekly or monthly.
  • Optional tracking of weight over time.
  • Goal setting capabilities in several different fitness areas (weight, longest distance, finishing a race, or total distance).
  • Challenges set forth by “RunKeeper” to earn prizes or discounts.
  • Tracking of Personal Records

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The aspect of this app that I think has helped me the most is the audio cues. I have cues set at every 5 minute interval and every .5 mile interval although there are several different options to choose from. These cues of the person telling me, “Time: 4 minutes 45 seconds. Distance: 0.5 miles. Average pace, 9 minutes, 36 seconds per mile,” really helps me keep my pace, especially during races. I am the kind of runner who likes to know how far I am fairly often.

Other great options that “RunKeeper” offers is that it will play the music from your phone or iPod. You can select a playlist you have already created or you can use a new feature, “RunKeeper DJ” where you select your intensity level and “RunKeeper” will take music from your phone that matches that intensity. And just like any great and fun to use app, RunKeeper allows you to “friend” people and follow their progress and running adventures as well.

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The only issue I have ever run into with using this app is that sometimes when I am tracking a run using the GPS, it will start to glitch and the person will tell me I have just run 5 miles in 12 minutes (and I don’t know about other people but that is nowhere close to my average 5 mile time). I have been able to fix that problem every time by deleting the app and re-downloading it.

Overall, “RunKeeper” has been a definite game changer when it comes to my running. It provides motivation in its initiative to provide challenges for it’s users, as well as reminders to run. Being able to see your progress and keep track of every run or activity you do is beneficial when you are training or a half marathon or just a 5k. “RunKeeper” even offers training options and plans for people who need the direction and coaching. I highly suggest runners use this app in order to help themselves improve and archive the progression of their running careers. I know I have benefited greatly from it.


Mayberry Run

For most runners, there are no vacations from running, even when you are on vacation. Not only is it a great way to stretch your legs after being in a car or on a plane for several hours, running gives you the perfect opportunity to explore your surroundings and can help you plot out fun places to visit that you might not have noticed while making the drive in your car.

IMG_1137My dad recently moved from Cleveland, Ohio to the small town of Mount Airy, North Carolina. Never heard of Mount Airy? Most haven’t. Ever heard of Mayberry? I bet you are whistling the theme song to ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ right now, aren’t you? Mount Airy is the real life Mayberry. This is the place where Andy Griffith was born and the place that inspired the quaint and quirky town from the show.

Currently in the midst of training for a half marathon, I needed to get an 8 mile run in while visiting my dad during Labor Day weekend. I love running in new places especially since I have better runs when I’m not sure how long or far things are. I left my dad’s house and headed towards town, feeling confident and strong. Eight miles is a pretty average run for me these days so I wasn’t at all intimidated by the streets of Mayberry.

If ever there has been a place that made me feel like an inadequate runner, it is Mount Airy. No matter which way you go, what streets you take, or if you double back, you will be going uphill. Or at least that is how it feels. And not just steady incline hills, but long, steep hills that look daunting from the bottom, are exhausting half way up, and once you get to the top, guess what? You’re not at the top. I trudged along for four miles before I ended up back at the place where I began and decided to call it quits.

My route had taken me down Main Street past the tourist shops selling Mayberry gear, the Mount Airy Museum of IMG_1138Regional History, and other attractions featuring names of places and characters in the show including Emmett’s Fix It Shop, Wally’s Filling Station, the Courthouse, and the Andy Griffith Homestead.  Not many people were out and about that morning and I enjoyed the alone time. Mount Airy seems to be pretty “runner friendly” (minus the hills). On the sidewalks you will see indicators or different routes and loops you can take, some of which have the approximate distance of the loops on them.

My sister Carolyn and I outside the mock Courthouse.
My sister Carolyn and I outside the mock Courthouse.

Although I didn’t get my designated amount of miles in, I still considered it to be a great run for a vacation. Will I ever run Mount Airy again? Absolutely. I’m all about conquering runs that in the past had me gasping for breath or had me walking up hills and taking breaks every so often. 

The Half Marathon Epiphany

In August 2014 I had a problem. My 5k times were slowly getting worse and I was struggling to make it through a race without stopping and walking. I felt like something was wrong. I was running races in 30 or 31 minutes when in that year my best race ever was a 28:54. To most runners that might not seem fast but I had only been running for a little over two years. I thought I was content to be running 5ks.

I was talking to one of my best friends and “Coach”, Lori, when she offered a suggestion. She thought that maybe I was just getting bored of doing 5ks. Maybe I needed more of a challenge. The whole idea sIMG_1670cared me. Running three miles was hard enough for me, how could I run more than that? With encouragement from her, I signed up for my first 5 mile race. It was going to take some training though.

  I had just began my first year of teaching health and physical education along with coaching volleyball to start the school year. With all of that going on, I
made a commitment to my training. Everyday, I got out of bed at 5:30 and went to school. I would park my car and run in the neighborhoods around there, following a training plan by Hal Higdon ( I was feeling great. The accomplishment that was being able to run more than three miles was more than motivating for me. I was incredibly proud of myself.

IMG_1672While I was training for the race, I had a few other 5ks that I signed up for. One of those races was a part of a running series with a marathon and a half marathon. Lori would be running the full marathon so I was able to be there when she finished as my race was obviously done first.

Standing at the finish line, watching the half marathon runners coming in, I felt like I could do it too. This was my “Half Marathon Epiphany” moment. I’m sure it has happened to other runners too. That random spark in your brain where suddenly, even though you may have been hesitant in the past for such a feat, you were ready. You tell yourself, “I can do that!” My training for the five mile race was getting me excited for the possibility that I could conquer a half marathon. I just needed more time.

In November of 2014, I ran my five mile race. It was a difficult but fun course where runners flew through a cow barn, a corn maze, and fields with mud that we were warned prior could “suck your shoes right off your feet if they aren’t tied tight”. I finished that race in 54:25. I was exhausted but I placed first in my age group which mIMG_1664ade the whole day worth it. Let’s be honest, it was worth it anyway.

This coming October, I will be running my second ever half marathon which also happens to be the half marathon that sparked my interest in the first place, the Northeast Ohio Half Marathon. I’m looking forward to dominating the course and beating my first half marathon time, 2:20:32. Although I have only completed one half marathon so far, I have already set a goal for myself that I will run a full marathon by the time I am 29 years old.

I think a lot of people are afraid to run because it seems hard. And it is. And it’s scary. But just like anything else in life, if you want to get better at it, you need to practice. If you want to make it easier or less scary, the best thing to do is face it. Running gets easier every time you run. With the right shoes, a commitment to training, and epiphanies of confidence, who knows how far you will run.

My Running Team

On the days when running seems impossible, it always helps if you have someone to keep you accountable and motivated. This could be their team or their coaches. For some, they might not have a “team” in the traditional sense of the group taking their positions at the starting line with you. Their team might not ever cross the finish line, but there still is the team, the group of people who keep you going and help out any way they can.

My First Teammate: When I started running for fitness in college, I was never image1all that concerned with competition or running a race and trying to get a medal. It was all about my health and fitness. Being a PE teacher, I always think I would be a hypocrite if I was preaching to my students about needing to be up and active if I wasn’t doing it myself. I had hit a plateau in my running when I first talked to my best friend, Melissa, about my agitation. She was the one who suggested that we train for a 5k. Although we didn’t always train together on our runs, we Skyped weekly to give updates on our progress. She was the first person to ever hold me accountable and I consider her my first teammate and the first person to ever cross a finish line with me. She is the reason I got hooked on running.

My Coach: I still considered myself a novice runner when I met my “Coach”, Lori. A year older than me, at that time she had already completed four full marathons (currently she is now up to six). We talked often about running and I was constantly asking for help, tips, and advice. Running had become my new sport and I need someone like Lori to help me image1 copyout, especially because she is what I would consider an expert. Even though she runs faster and longer than I do, because of her motivating me and encouraging me to try longer and harder races, I have exceeded all of my own expectations. While I thought I was content on being able to run 5k’s, I can now say I am a half marathon runner. I swear I will never beat her at any of the races we do together (which is a lot) but I wouldn’t mind coming in close behind her.

My Cheering Section: There has only been a handful of races in the past four years (which is how long I have been running competitively) where I have not had anyone there to cheer me on. I consider my cheering section to be an important part of my team.

  • Mom: My mom, Gina, Often brings signs to my races saying, “Run Pretty”, or “Go, Bert!”. She is always ready to take pictures and drive me home after a long race and maybe even stop for breakfast with me.
  • Dad: My dad, Craig, comes to as many races as possible and has gotten up early to drop me off at races so I can run home. After my first half marathon, he was the first person to come find me and give me a high five and a hug. I believe his words were, “Give me some of that!”
  • Kait: Kait is my best friend and one of my biggest motivations. She has always told me that I can do any race at any length and has even volunteered me for races I didn’t know I wanted to do. Texts from her mid-race make me run a
    After completing my first half marathon on June 7, 2015.
    With Kait after completing my first half marathon on June 7, 2015.

    little more at ease and she does her best to help me out when I’m done with the race. That’s love, right there.

  • Nate: Lori’s husband who is always at the races with us and is kind enough to provide some comic relief in the stress before a race and also hold my keys and waterbottle when no one else in the cheering section comes to watch. He has even offered to come to races for me when Lori isn’t running.
  • Chelle and Pam: The first race they came to see me in way my half marathon and they drove everyone around to see me and Lori during the race. They also make sure to make it to some of my other sporting events as well.

My running team is very important to me and I appreciate every single one of them and what they do for me. I’m a better and more confident runner all because of their support.

I can’t say that I think running is an individual sport, because it isn’t. Obviously there are running teams ranging from the middle school level to professional level but for those of us who are not or have never been on a traditional running team, you have to know that you still have that support system. There are people in your life that even though they won’t be next to you on the course, they are there when you finish, and that is just as important.

Still an Athlete

If you would have told me a year ago that I would not only have completed my first ever half marathon but was also in the midst of training for a second, I would have laughed.

Growing up, I hated running. It was boring. It was hard. It’s not to say that I wasn’t an active kid, it is just that there were other ways that I preferred to induce sweating and an elevated heart rate. I have always played softball and was involved in basketball until high school. I love outdoor activities like kayaking and rock climbing and hiking. I always had an interest in fitness and exercise which was one of the reasons I decided to major in physical education in college.

Although I was having great success my freshman and sophomore years of school, there was one major difference from high school; I wasn’t on a team anymore. From the time I was five playing t-ball to the time I was 18 playing softball for my high school, I was always a part of a team and no longer having that group to fall back on was difficult for me and my fitness was struggling too.

I realized that I needed to find something to do that was active. I wanted to continue feeling like an athlete. After being denied a spot on BGSU’s club softball team (twice), I decided to try running.

I’m not going to lie, it was a tough start. I had good days and I had bad days. Days when running seemed to come so easy and I could bust out two miles to days when one mile seemed like a marathon. I wasn’t about to give up. I still wanted to be an athlete. This was about the time I voiced my concerns and frustrations with the sport of running to one of my best friends, Melissa. She listened to what I had to say and then simply said, “Let’s run a 5k.”

Looking back, That was just what I needed to fall in love with running. I had something to train for, a goal to look towards. I had a training buddy and someone to keep me accountable. We crossed our first finish line together on October 4th, 2012 at a time if 29:16 and I’m not afraid to admit, that she actually finished first. We celebrated, as any athlete should, with a trip to the apple orchard to pick apples.

I was hooked. In 2012, I ran a total of two 5k’s. In 2013, due to a surgery, I was only able to run one race. I bounced back in 2014 where I was able to run ten 5k’s and I also completed my first 5 mile race in which I came in first in my age group on a course where you ran through corn mazes, cow barns, and fields with tall grass and mud that I was warned would “suck your shoes off your feet if they aren’t tied tight”.

In January 2015 I set a goal that I would run a half marathon. The name of the race was the Lake Health “Hill Yeah” Half Marathon. If the name doesn’t give it away, the course was super hilly and pretty daunting in the moment. I was able to finish the race in 2:20:32. Looking back, I know it is one of the greatest accomplishments in my running career so far.

Training for my second half marathon, which will take place in October, is currently underway and thus far I am feeling faster, stronger, and more confident in my running. It is amazing how quickly your body adapts if you push yourself. It is also a great feeling when you can say to yourself, “Oh, it is just a 3 mile run” when exactly a year ago today, 3 miles was the ultimate max you could run.

Every runner has a different reason for running. I’ve come such a long way with my health and fitness in the past year and I feel more like an athlete now than I did when I was on a team. I have committed to a training schedule and make sure I plan around it, much like others would plan around a practice schedule. I think a lot of athletes will agree it is hard to give up that title. This is one of the reasons I make it clear to the middle school students that I teach that EVERYONE is an athlete, maybe they just haven’t found their sport yet.