These are a few of my favorite things: Gifts for Runners and Triathletes

These are a few of my favorite things: Gifts for Runners and Triathletes

So, Black Friday. I never quite got into it. I mean, why fight in a Walmart parking lot at 10 pm on Thanksgiving (I can’t even stay up that late), when every single merchant out there is offering crazy deals online already?

If you hate going to the mall at this time of year — or any time, really — chances are that, like me, you’ll be doing most of your holiday shopping online or at your favorite small businesses. So I decided to put together a list of my favorite things, many of which happen to be on sale through Cyber Monday, or the end of November.

If you’re looking for gifts for your runner or triathlete friends, I hope these suggestions will spark some ideas:

The price we pay for good runner legs: bad runner feet

Marathon runners take 40,000 to 45,000 steps, and that doesn’t include walking around after the finish. How many more in training, I don’t even want to know. It’s no surprise that a runner’s feet are beat-up, callused things that rarely have all 10 toenails present, plagued by the dreaded plantar fasciitis or some other -itis… They deserve to be pampered.

I was recently in a running shoe store trying out new shoes, when this foot massage roller caught my eye. I was in my socks anyway, so I decided to give it a try and… ohemgee so good! (And I never say ohemgee!). And for $10? Yes please! I’ve been rolling out my feet regularly while I sit at my computer working, and – no other way to put it – they’re in heaven!


Flip flops that won’t flop

Earlier this year, meanwhile, I was feeling the marathon training miles build up in my feet like never before. My coach insisted that I stop wearing flip flops… but it was summer! And hot! What was I supposed to do?

A friend told me about this brand of flip flops called Oofos and after asking around, all I got from runners was incredibly positive feedback. So I ordered a pair and oh yeah: I am never going back to regular flip flops, ever again! Oofos have a thicker sole that feels super soft on the bottom of your feet, and the thong reaches further back around your foot, so the flip doesn’t flop. You’re wearing flip-flops, yet you feel as if you were in your cushiest sneakers. Not to mention, they come in all sorts of fun colors and have extra-wide sizes. Perfect to switch into after a race, go to the pool, or for walking miles and miles during those hot summer days!


Loosen up the legs

And butt. Let’s not forget the nemesis of almost every runner I’ve ever met: tight muscles. If you (or your runner) doesn’t own a foam roller yet, that is obviously something you need to remedy ASAP. Physical therapists usually recommend starting with the basic kind, which is usually white in color and least dense. Once you get used to that (and it becomes all bendy, which might not take that long with regular use), you can progress to a blue, medium density roller. And finally, the black, high density roller.

I’ve been using the blue kind for years and have been meaning to upgrade for a while now. Finally pulled the trigger a few weeks ago with this deep tissue massage foam roller and oh boy, talk about taking things up a notch. It’s been a painful experience so far, but I’m already feeling my quads get better (using it daily has had a lot to do with that, too).


Must look good while running

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Skirt Sports. Founded by triathlete Nicole DeBoom, Skirt Sports is a small, women-run company in Colorado that seeks to empower women – of any size! – through sport and, well, with incredibly cute and high-quality running skirts (and capris, tights, tops, tanks… you get the idea). I bought my first Skirt back in 2006 and have been a loyal fan ever since. Since 2014, I am proud to be a Skirt Sports Ambassador!

Skirt Sports is running a Black Friday sale through Cyber Monday:

Discount codes cannot be used during the sale, but any time after that, you can use code SSCCM20 for 20% off any item (regular-priced or sale).

My current Skirt obsession: anything in the Tantrum print:

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on


Badass is Beautiful

Speaking of sales and beautiful clothing, another ultra-favorite brand of mine, Betty Designs, is currently offering 10% off everything (including sales items), through November 29. Betty Designs is owned by Kristin Mayer, who has an incredible talent for designing the most beautiful swimming, cycling and triathlon gear I’ve ever owned. Read more about Kristin’s story here.

Impressed? To support yet another women-owned small business this shopping season, use code THANKS2BETTY.

betty insider thanksgiving15

I recently found out that I was accepted to Team Betty 2016 and could not be more thrilled to join a group of #BadAss women on the triathlon scene next year! My current Betty obsession, the Garden Party trucker, $29.99:

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on


Books for the soul

First up, a runner’s classic, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. I dare you to begin reading that book and not want to lace up and go running not even 10 pages into it. Truly, one of the most wonderful books about running ever written. You won’t find any training advice in it, but you will definitely find inspiration and understanding.

For those looking for a solid training book: even though I’m not a fan of using cookie-cutter plans to train for a race, I found a lot of useful information in Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster, especially on setting realistic goals in training and racing. (Unrealistic time goals are what lead to the majority of injuries in training and disappointing results, especially among marathon runners… but don’t listen to me, read the book.)

Finally, another classic that I’ve been reading for the past few weeks. (Not that it isn’t an interesting read, on the contrary — it’s just quite long and I’ve been busy!) For history lovers: Bowerman and the Men of Oregon: The Story of Oregon’s Legendary Coach and Nike’s Cofounder.

Believe, Train, Adapt, Compete

I’ve had a training journal since I started training for my first marathon back in 2003. I find it incredibly helpful, not just to keep a tally of those miles (I do that online now, anyway), but for motivation. Last year, I got the first edition of the Believe Training Journal — the one in classic red – and instantly fell in love. There’s much more than motivation on those pages. You will find a wealth of information and inspiration! I just ordered a new one and can’t wait to start using it, just as soon as the last two weeks on my original one are filled up! (And yeah…. I had trouble deciding between the black and lavender… so I got both. I guess I’m all set until 2017!)


So that’s it from me this shopping season. There are, of course, lots of other stuff you could buy for your runner or triathlete – medal hangers, jewelry, safety items, a Garmin 920XT, a bike (one could never have too many bikes!). But I will leave the rest for you to research and tell me: What are your favorite running or triathlon things?

Disclosure: This posts contains affiliate links. That doesn’t affect the item price when you shop, but any time you do buy using one of those links, a tiny percentage of your purchase goes to this blog. Thank you for your support.

When all signs point to being ready to jump back into training

When all signs point to being ready to jump back into training

It’s been a while since I posted a training update. But that’s because I haven’t been training much.

True to my “offseason” observations – in particular, why everyone needs it – I took one. I’ve still been swimming, biking, running, and even hitting the weight room at the gym once or twice a week, but in a strictly unprescribed fashion. I haven’t had a single structured training week since the See Jane Run Women’s Triathlon on September 27.

Well, I did run Ragnar Napa Valley in October. I got the incredible opportunity to do it with a team sponsored by Nuun Hydration (#TeamNuunNowWineLater FTW!) – and I had an absolute blast! My three legs added up to more than 28 miles, including 13.3 for the last one. It was awesome!

I’m still planning on writing a recap of the whole crazy experience, by the way. Better late than never?

Other than that, though, and the three times a week when I have a scheduled swim, run or ride with my tri group, every day in the past almost two months has been a “Hmm, what do I feel like doing now?” kind of day.

I even went to Zumba class — twice. It was fun, but dangerous for everyone around me, and so I think I better stick with forward motion from now on!

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

I’m one of those people who thrive on a schedule, so my level of enjoyment at the lack of it took me by surprise. As did my lack of enthusiasm and desire to impromptu-sign up for a race when I had the chance to jump into the Mermaid Sirena 10-miler at the beginning of November. I volunteered at one of their events, which gives me credit for one free run, yet I didn’t do it. Who are you and what have you done with my former self?

Goes to show that I really needed the break, I guess.

But a few weeks ago, my friend asked me if I want to do the local Turkey Trot and I didn’t feel at all disgusted at the thought of racing. In fact, I felt… tempted.

The Silicon Valley Turkey Trot is the largest in the country, with 30,000 people running a 5K or 10K on a flat, fast course, custom-made for PR-ing. If you’re in shape, of course.

Someone who’s been off-seasoning for the past two months? Not so much.

So I registered for the 5K and, with exactly three weeks to train, put myself on a “get some speed back NOW” plan.

My crazy Jump Out of the Offseason and into the Deep Plan

Three weeks are obviously not enough time to get into anywhere close to the 5K shape that I’d like to be in, so what I’m trying to do is probably stupid and won’t work. But the good news is, I don’t have an official 5K PR that’s all that great, so with this Turkey Trot, I can hopefully register somewhat of an improvement on Athlinks.

I’ve re-introduced two quality runs a week: one track session on Mondays, and a tempo run on Thursday. On Saturday, I do my usual tri-group trail run, which is usually around 7 to 8 miles, with a good amount of hills (which I take as easily as I can).

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

On Monday, Nov 9, I headed to the track for some spadework: 5 x 1000 meter repeats (after a one-mile warm-up), with 400-meter walk/jog in between. Pace for the 1000m reps was 6:38-6:32-6:32-6:28-6:33. I actually think I might have cut a second or two off those paces, had it not poured rain almost the entire time. Which was actually quite fun! If you ever need to get a run in and it’s raining, and you hate the dreadmill, consider going to your local track. It’s safe, it’s flat, and yes, you’ll get wet – but that’s part of the experience!

Thursday, Nov 12: After an easy warm-up mile (8:48), the following tempo interval: 2 miles at 7:26-7:24, 1 mile easy (10:59, including walking the first 0.25), 1 mile at 7:20, 1 mile easy (10:28), 2 miles at 7:30-7:40. I was supposed to hold a 7:20 pace for all fast miles and, believe me, I tried! But I just didn’t have that in my legs. It was pretty frustrating, to be honest, because only months earlier, I’d pulled off quite a few more challenging tempo runs, like a similar pattern where the two consecutive miles were at 7:20 and the single ones 7:15, or a straight 5-mile tempo run at 7:25. Then again, I had to remind myself, I spent the last two months offseasoning. Prolonged lollygagging will take away some of your speed.

Saturday, Nov 14: Low-effort trail run, 8 miles.

The rest of the week, I did some easy weight-training (practically a day off), swam, and rode my bike.

Onto this week:

Monday, Nov 16: 3x 1600 repeats at the track with 400m rest (walk/jog) in between. Oh man…. mile repeats. Barely held onto 6:39-6:38-6:42, thinking all the while that I am too old for this sh%^ and why do I do this to myself?

Because I can’t help it, that’s why.

The next day, I took completely off.

Wednesday, Nov 18 I swam with my tri group in the morning and that was going to be it for the day, but then I got new running shoes and couldn’t resist lacing up. A super easy-pace run around my neighborhood, 5K in 27:22 (8:48 avg pace).

Thursday, Nov 19: The dreaded tempo run. Three miles, which I was supposed to run, after a warmup, at 7:19-7:20 pace. Guess what, though: I couldn’t. I tried, but I just didn’t have it. No excuses, it is what it is: after a first easy mile at 8:56, I ran 7:31-7:23-7:18. And that felt so, so hard. I have no idea how I held that pace earlier this year, during the last 3 miles of a half marathon, at that! Or how I held an average 7:09 in a 10K (actually, that course may have been 0.14-0.2 short, so my pace would’ve been closer to 7:20)? Or how the heck I ran a 21:55 5K in the summer: a timed, but non-USATF sanctioned run overseas that is therefore not on Athlinks and doesn’t officially count as my PR… unless I can meet or beat it next week, which is exactly what I’ll try to do.

So there you have it, the reality of coming back from an offseason: it’s hard, it should be done gradually — much more gradually than what I’ve been putting myself through, but after next week’s 5K, I plan to reinstitute a more relaxed schedule for a slower comeback.

Surprisingly, I’ve been looking forward to and enjoying these workouts, which is proof enough for me that it’s time to come out of hibernation and start building a base for 2016.

The Boston Marathon awaits… and oh yeah, my very first Ironman in July!

How I (Barely) Qualified for the Boston Marathon: Training Plan Overview

How I (Barely) Qualified for the Boston Marathon: Training Plan Overview


I started this blog post many times and dropped it, asking myself, “But why would anyone care?” I squeaked into the 2016 Boston Marathon. I barely made it, only eight seconds within this year’s cutoff time. One potty stop or lingering a few seconds too long at a water station or two, and I would have been out of a dream. How would my training, then, be of help to anyone?

I don’t have an answer to that, other than, I just wanted to sum up my experience – if not for others, then for myself. A forever reminder that what I once thought impossible, was not.

So here it is: the marathon training plan that helped me squeak into the Boston Marathon and a bit of the story behind it. I hope it helps you in your marathon training and goals!

The long story short

For those who don’t have time to read the whole thing:

  • My marathon training cycle was 10 weeks long;
  • I ran every day, with the exception of three days off; one after a race and two for travel;
  • I ran on average 45-55 miles a week;
  • My top-mileage week was #8 (two weeks to go before race day), with 58 miles;
  • I did three to four quality runs a week (tempo, speed intervals, long runs), in between were easy (recovery) runs of anywhere from 30 to 60-90 minutes;
  • One two-a-days day almost every week, with a morning quality run (progression or short intervals) and an evening easy run, to get used to running on tired legs;
  • Most long runs included progressively longer intervals of three to five miles run at race pace or faster;
  • Only one 20-miler, 12 days before the race;
  • In the last four weeks pre-race, each week had one long run (16 to 20 miles) and one medium-long run (12 miles)

A crazy thought

The Boston Marathon has always been on my marathon bucket list. But with a marathon PR of 4:22 and half-marathon times at just below the two-hour mark, I just thought of it as a distant dream. I could never qualify.

I’m an average runner: not fast; definitely not Boston-fast.

Last year, my triathlon group got a new coach and, with his training — swimming, track workouts and biking hill repeats, as well as the weekly plans he developed for my many races — I slowly began cutting time off my PRs. In June, my half-marathon best went from 1:55 to 1:49:35. While building up mileage for a half ironman in October, I ran a half in August and took another 16 seconds off. Tiny as this improvement was, it planted a thought: my average pace, an 8:20 min/ mile, was roughly what I would need to run a Boston-qualifying marathon. Could I?

Screen Shot 2015-08-27 at 8.26.54 PM

I took the question to Coach and he said that would be an awesome project for 2015. So once I wrapped up my 2014 racing season, I took some time off of structured training, registered for the 2015 Santa Rosa Marathon in August, and built my entire race calendar around it.

Building a base; confidence; belief

I spent the first three months of 2015 working on my speed and building up to run a strong half marathon. At the end of March, I ran another PR, 1:42:12. This was a big confidence boost. If I could pull off a half at an average 7:48 min/ mile, I could run a marathon at 8:15?

I raced very little in the months that followed, but trained hard. I completed my fourth half Ironman at the end of May, with what I thought was a solid time given the course and conditions, and a week later, had a great run at Escape from Alcatraz. Then I racked my bike and marathon training officially began.

Run every day

One of the things my coach told me before we started this marathon cycle was that I would run every day. I am used to training seven days a week, so that didn’t scare me. With triathlon, though, we have swimming or easy-ride days that act as active recovery days, at least from the pavement-pounding of run training.

I ended up taking three days off running for the 10 weeks of this marathon cycle: one after a 10K race on week 2 (I rode my bike to work that day; a great way to loosen up the legs), and two rest days during which I was either traveling internationally (15 hours on a plane), or in a car for a day-long road trip.

Recovery runs
The key to surviving a 7-days-a-week running plan: easy run days must be just that, easy. Feel good? Hold back. Don’t be tempted to go faster just because you think you can. Ironically (or logically?), my easy runs slowed down quite a bit as the weeks progressed and I began to feel the miles – and fatigue – pile up. In the beginning, I was knocking off easy runs at 8:40-ish pace; towards the end I was running 10-minute miles on heavy legs.

Quality runs

My program was built around three to four quality runs every week. There was a lot of speed work and running at tempo pace, since speed is where I needed to make progress the most.

Tempo runs: usually 5-7 miles at a pace that is 45 seconds to a minute per mile faster my goal marathon pace. I started my tempo runs at 7:25 min/ mile and gradually brought that down to 7:15 min/ mile. My goal marathon pace was 8:10-15 min/ mile.

Progression runs: start at an easy pace (1 min slower than marathon); gradually pick up to marathon pace or tempo pace. A 45-min progression run would be 15-15-15; a one-hour progression run might be 30-10-10-10, etc. Often, I would have a progression run scheduled on a day between an easy/ recovery run and a hard quality run.

Intervals: short intervals (200s or 400s) helped me work on speed; longer intervals (1-mile repeats or a ladder) added an endurance factor to the mix.

Short races: I ran one 10K race at the end of Week 2 of my training, to gauge how my speed was coming along. In Weeks 5, 6 and 7, I ran 5K races on Saturday; those were in place of short-interval work (200 or 400 repeats). Warm-up runs of 1.5-2 miles pre-5K and cool down runs of 1-2 miles post race rounded out mileage for the day to 6-7 miles.

Key long runs: Some long runs were at an easy pace, but several key long runs were made up of interval work at race pace; for example: 18 miles = 3 mile warm-up, then {3x 4 miles at 8:00-8:15/ 1 mile recovery at 9:30}.

One single 20-mile long run

I admit, I was nervous about not running “long” all that much. A few years ago, I followed a marathon training plan that had three 20-mile runs, in addition to all other weekend long runs of 15 to 18 miles. That got me injured, though, so this time whenever I’d ask Coach when he would finally have me run 18 or 20 and he’d invariably say, “You will, don’t worry about it.” — well, I didn’t.

I didn’t run my first truly long run — 15 miles — until week 6 of training, only four weeks to go before race day. After that, I ran 16, 18, and 20 in the week before the race.

Hills and long-run intervals

The Santa Rosa Marathon is flat, but I ran on a hilly terrain at least once a week or so. (Hills make you stronger and faster, blah blah – most importantly, trails are gentler to your feet and joints, and when the weekly mileage creeps upwards of 50, that matters a great deal.)

A photo posted by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

One of my long runs (16 miles) was on trails, with about 2,400 feet elevation gain, and one 18-miler was a somewhat hilly road run, with roughly 1,400 feet elevation gain. The rest of my long runs were structured to the T. After a short warmup (usually two miles), a run would have three intervals of three to five miles at or slightly faster than race pace, with one mile recovery. My last long run, 20 miles, descended each race-pace interval from slightly above, to slightly below, training me to pick up the effort as the run progressed and, basically, get used to suffering.

Mid-week mid-long runs

Despite not doing very many long runs, every week I had what I called a medium-long run of seven to 12 miles. The shorter of those, usually seven to nine miles, were often tempo runs or longer interval workouts, and the longer ones (10 to 12 miles) were easy-pace recovery runs. This added mileage and quality to my weekly schedule without having me spend too much time on my feet on a single run.

Boy, when I write it all out like that, it seems like a lot of work… It was worth every drop of sweat!