Get Ready to #RunForestPark With These Six Professional Tips

With around 30 miles of paved trails and chat paths that wind through Forest Park’s tulip beds brimming of pinks, oranges, and yellows in the early spring, over historic Victorian Bridge, behind the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage where you might glimpse an exotic bird or two as you pass by, it’s easy to see why runners flock to this iconic space regardless of the weather or the time of day.

“For me, running in Forest Park feels like coming home,” says Mona Vespa, the Executive Director of GO! St. Louis. “You’re there in the morning and you see the faces of other runners and everyone says good morning. We’ve made it into our own community. As runners, sometimes we don’t realize what a gem we have in Forest Park, and we’re in it every single day.” 

For the first year in its 19-year history, the GO! St. Louis Marathon weekend is based in Forest Park. All events from the 5K on Friday night to the marathon, half marathon, marathon relay and 10K on Sunday will begin in the Park. “I think all runners know Forest Park, but to have 12,000 people lined up at a start line ­— it’s such a cool thing,” says Vespa.

Mark Spewak and Mona Vespa running in Forest Park

Mark Spewak and Mona Vespa running in Forest Park

To celebrate this and the continued relationship runners have with the Park, Forest Park Forever and GO! St. Louis are teaming up to present Run Forest Park Week from March 2 - 8. The week kicks off on March 2 with free bananas, coffee, and bagels behind Forest Park’s Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center. Throughout the week, there will be exclusive running guides with videos in the Park and training tips with Mark Spewak of Spewak Training. Also, runners will have a chance to take part in a #RunForestPark Week Scavenger Hunt from March 4 - 8. There will be one prize hidden in off-the-beaten paths in the Park at 6:00 a.m. each day. And if you haven’t yet signed up for I Love Forest Park 5K, which takes place on August 25, 2019, or the GO! St. Louis Marathon or Half Marathon on April 7, you’re in luck because a special discount package will be offered throughout the week.

Running is a sport that welcomes everyone from the novice runner who’s just starting out to the accomplished runner increasing their mileage with the hopes of finally qualifying for the Boston Marathon. Regardless of your fitness level, Mark Spewak offers the following tips to help you get ready for the racing season:  

1.     Run a training plan that works for you.

It’s essential that you know yourself as a runner. Some people can handle running six or seven days a week, while others are more susceptible to injuries and need to incorporate a cross-training into their weekly workouts. “There’s no one right way to the finish line,” advises Spewak.

Runners should focus on their own progression instead of comparing themselves to other runners. Typically, running about 10 miles above what you normally run in a week is your sweet spot. “When you try to run a number that is too much outside of your fitness level, that’s when injuries pop up,” he says.  

2.     Cross-training can be a good way to maintain fitness and gain strength.

Cross-training offers a way to sustain your fitness and build a strong core which can prevent injuries. “Nothing really stimulates running like running does, but there are different exercises that you can do that engage your body in a similar way,” says Spewak.

Biking, swimming and pool running are great options to get your heart rate up. If you are beginning a new strength-training workout, Spewak recommends seeing a personal training to make sure you have the correct form. Strength training can be a deterrent to injuries, but if you’re not doing it correctly, it can cause injuries as well.  

3.     The proper diet can fuel your running.

If you are training for any distance of a race, you are burning a lot of calories so it’s important to make sure you’re fueling your body properly. A nutritionist or a sports dietician can help you build a program that ensures you get the most from your food.

When Spewak was in middle school, he received sound advice on nutrition that he has carried with him to this day: “Your body is like a car and if you have a car that runs on normal gas, but you put diesel gas in the car, it’s not going to run efficiently.”

If you’re training for a longer race, you also need to consider how to properly fuel your body when you are running. Local running stores sell a variety of sports nutrition options. Spewak recommends buying a lot of them to try and see what works best for you. “If you’re out there more than 90 to 100 minutes, you want to be using this nutrition,” he says. “Try to stick to fueling every 30 to 45 minutes.”  

4.     Race day is not the day to try new things. 

There’s an old adage in the running community about not trying anything new on race day. When I asked Spewak about this, he agreed: “I think it’s great advice.” Race day is not the day to break in new shoes or try a new out a way to fuel. Do what you know works for you.

“I’m overly superstitious,” Spewak adds. “I think a lot of coaches and athletes can be that way. For me, everything that I do in terms of coaching is on the conservative side. Trying something new might not be the end of the world, but it’s just making rational choices.

5.     Don’t ignore an injury.

Injuries happen, especially when you are increasing your mileage. If you have a pain that is outside of the normal aches from running a new distance, don’t overact. “It’s almost like when you get sick,” says Spewak. “Sometimes if you get a head cold, you think you might have the flu and four or five days later you feel just fine.”

If you are injured, the best thing you can do is rest and see a doctor or physical therapist who can figure out what the problem is right away. Spewak says that most times when he sees an injury prolonged it’s because the athlete didn’t listen to their body and instead tried to continue training. “I get that perspective because you don’t want to stop training, but the earlier, the better,” he says. “I think just understanding that there’s no perfect training cycle. Running is such a great metaphor for life — you don’t have this perfectly laid out plan in front of you that you’re going to live every single day of your life. Running is the same way.”

6.     New runners: don’t feel intimidated. 

Running can seem intimidating to people who are just starting. To make sure you’re starting on the right foot, so to speak, Spewak advises that new runners get properly fitted for running shoes at any of the local running stores.  

A running coach can help make sure you have the right form when you’re first starting.

Focus on your progress and don’t compare yourself to others. If you’re just beginning to run, sign up for a 5K instead of some of the longer distances. “If you want to do this for a long time, and you want to enjoy this sport, stick to the smaller stuff first and work your way up,” says Spewak.  

Never be ashamed of where you are. “I think it’s really important to celebrate the fact that you are doing this,” says Spewak. “And just remember that the running community is one of the most supportive around — they will cheer you on every step of the way.”