Guilt and Balance

This picture pretty much sums up how my long run went this weekend….

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I was hoping that after 2 days of just being a bum in the mountains, my legs would be all fresh and springy and 21 miles would feel like rainbows and butterflies. Clearly not the case. It was just a hot mess, to say the least. I stopped and cried twice. I questioned my sanity more than twice. I ran out of water. It felt like a disaster, but I survived all 21.1 miles.

We are less than a month out from Boston and I am working through my toughest training weeks. My motivation is lacking, my body hurts, and everything feels really hard. I’m also learning that I can be super Type A and if left to my own devices, I could let training totally consume me. I’ve been so focused on my training that a lot of other things (and people) have taken a backseat. Training takes time and energy… at the end of the day, I often find myself too tired to do very much. I often feel that I don’t have the energy to invest in other people, which pretty much sucks.

Training takes its toll on relationships. I was perusing the wide world of the internet and found that “divorce by triathlon” is a real, and unfortunately common, thing. I can see how it would be easy for people to be resentful of their significant other’s training, especially if they are not also endurance athletes. I can also see how someone might feel guilty for not being fully present during their training cycle. I love running – but I feel bad for being tired, for being unmotivated, for being a little boring during my training buildup, for being a little obsessed with my training.

I didn’t even make it 2 miles before it all set in… my lack of motivation, my guilt, everything. This run already felt hard, I hated it, it has put some tension into my relationship, why the hell was I even out on the road?! I felt tired, I felt guilty, I resented the race, I resented my choice to train for a marathon. Why would I do a thing that makes me and those close to me miserable? What a stupid idea.

Three hours later, I had a sunburn but no answers. As the emotion settled, I realized that what I need in my life is balance. Not every race has to be an “A Race”. Not every race has to be a PR attempt. I can go out and run races and do my best and not take it so damn personally (I think!). I enjoy being active, but training doesn’t have to be this all-consuming ordeal.

And that’s the best I have come up with. Somewhere in this mess is a place of balance. Where I can train hard and enjoy it, be present in my life, and not get so wrapped up in a number that I don’t have anyone to celebrate with me at the finish line. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but like so much of life, I’ll just keep failing until I get there!

 

My #wcw

Today’s hashtag is #wcw. For “Woman Crush Wednesday”, a social media trend that invites people to share or tag pictures of women they find attractive or inspirational or whatever. I was looking at some recent photos of myself from my Crossfit gym… for what feels like the first time, I noticed how strong I look.

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For years, I have waged war against my body. I put on a bunch of weight partying my face off in college and when working with a personal trainer and running a little bit didn’t give me the results I wanted as fast as I wanted, I turned to extreme caloric restriction and ramped up my exercise. And I destroyed my physical, mental, and emotional health. I lost so much in pursuit of an arbitrary number. A number that I thought held the key to my happiness… if only I could get there, things would be better. I would be happier.

I became incredibly sick at work one night… but I stayed there because I was afraid to be alone at home in case things got worse. I decided I needed to do something different. I spent the next year working towards recovery.

After I left for grad school, it was all too easy to slip back into old patterns. I was working out 2 or 3 times per day,  not eating enough, and my health started to fall apart again. I knew what I was doing, I knew it wasn’t right, but I felt like I couldn’t stop. I became a vegan in part to save some money and partly because it was a socially acceptable way to restrict myself.

I came home that summer, almost as light and as sick as I had been two years prior. I met with a functional medicine doctor who ran a hormone panel and found that my hormone levels were similar to those of a woman who had gone through menopause. I was 24 years old. Scared that I wrecked my body forever. My dreams of having children someday gone.

I worked with that doctor for the next several months and I’d like to think we made some progress. If nothing else, I started eating adequately again and found a bunch of treatments that didn’t work. I spent the summer in physical therapy for a knee injury, so over-exercising was out of the question and perhaps a blessing in disguise, as devastated as I was to not be able to run.

I started grad school (again) shortly after and it was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I started running again and found Crossfit not long after.

 

I ran my fastest half marathon that spring and the possibility of running a Boston-qualifying time was now more than just a silly pipe dream. It was in reach. I would have to work my ass off, but I could do it. At the same time, I fell in love with Crossfit and pushing myself in ways I never would have before. Prior to both of those things, fitness had been 90% about my weight and what I looked like and what pants size I wore. Now I had goals. Big goals.  Things to work towards. I started caring more about my deadlift weight than my body weight. I started caring more about my mile time and less about my pants size. The Boston Marathon might as well have been the Olympics when I first started running and now there was a chance I could qualify.

If you have read other posts, you might have gathered that I did, in fact, qualify. I’m training for my 3rd Boston this year. And slowly but surely, my priorities are shifting. I still catch myself sliding back towards old habits and a destructive mindset, but I am doing my best to keep my thoughts in check. I love being in the depths of training because I focus so much more on what I am capable of and less what I look like.

I am about 9 weeks out from my race and I am trying to drop a few “vanity pounds” to get down to race weight. As the scale and I have a rough history, I have been so intentional about getting my head in the right place before I step on it. I ask myself if the number I am about to see is actually going to impact my worth as a person. And if the number isn’t what I was hoping for, I then ask myself if I am less worthy now. The answer is always no, but a powerful reminder for me.

Slowly but surely, I am becoming gentle towards myself. I am not only making peace with my body, I’m starting to appreciate all the things it does. The rigorous training it endures, the miles it has carried me. I ask so much of it and it gives me everything it can. I’m starting to appreciate my calves that don’t really fit into skinny jeans, the definition of my quads, my strong shoulders.

It’s not always perfect, but for the first time in years, I can honestly say that I am proud of myself. Proud of my body. I’m my own damn #wcw!

Mind Games

Some of my hardest runs are the ones that say “easy” in front of them on my training plan.

The long runs are obviously hard as the time on your feet grows longer. The interval work is hard, but they are supposed to be hard. They are supposed to hurt a little bit.

But the ones that say “X miles, easy” are deceptive. They seem like they ought to be easy. What it doesn’t say is “X miles at an easy pace on legs that feel like they have been through a meat grinder”. “X miles at an easy pace on a body that is beat up and tired”. “X miles at an easy pace as you push through mental fatigue”. “X miles at an easy pace, which will take all of your mental fortitude”.

I talk myself into these runs by breaking them up into chunks. “1 hour run and then a 15 minute run”. “2 sets of 40 minutes”. “30 minutes, 20 minutes, and then 10 minutes”. “Just a 10k and a 5k”. I’ll change playlists every 30 minutes to break up the time – “just 2 x 15 minutes per playlist”.

Just to make it seem manageable. To focus on something other than the long lonely miles in front of me.

I felt mentally broken before I even started my long run today. My body hurt, my mindset wasn’t where it needed to be, and I can tell when I am especially unmotivated – I will find literally anything else to do besides run. I’ll starting cleaning out my closet or reorganizing things or taking care of bills or whatever is not running.

There is a great quote by General Patton – “Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

But what if your mind is tired?! How do you push through? Today I broke 21 miles down into 6 miles, 5 miles, 4 miles, 3 miles, 2 miles, and 1 mile. I changed playlists at the beginning of each section. I think it helped. It made me feel like I was making progress and not just running for an eternity.

How do you keep your focus during training?? I’d love to hear your ideas!

One Foot in Front of the Other

One of my favorite things about running is that it is simple. You don’t even have to think. Just one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. All you have to do is take the next step. What a nice parallel to life. Sometimes, you don’t even have to think. Just take the next step. Do the next right thing. Put one foot in front of the other. Repeat as necessary.

It’s amazing how running can shut your mind up. Run hard enough and for a moment, all you feel is your legs on fire, your lungs burning, you are out of breath, your heart might explode out of your chest, and time somehow stands still. There is something so cathartic about that moment. Perhaps something in you needs to scream and there is nowhere safe to just let it out. So your legs will scream for you. Everything hurts and it is a beautiful, if temporary, break from reality. Sometimes life hurts and it’s scary and nothing makes sense.

The nice thing about the pain of pushing your body past where it wants to go is that the pain makes sense. It has a logical explanation. I hurt because I am running faster than I want to run. Life isn’t so simple. The answers aren’t so easy. There aren’t as many logical explanations. 

But it ultimately comes down to taking the next step. Doing the next right thing. Even when you feel like you are on fire and everything in you wants to quit. I’ll leave you with two quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

“Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right, always.”

How to Train for a Marathon

I tell people that I am training for a marathon and the response is “I could never do that”. For the record, I have also uttered those words and here I am getting ready for my 6th marathon and my 3rd Boston. Never say never.

I am about 10 weeks out from race day and would like to share the wisdom I have gathered over the last few years.

How to Train for a Marathon (11 easy steps!):

1. Let yourself go a little bit insane.

Seriously, it’s easier if you don’t care about your sanity. 3 hours of running on a Sunday? Totally normal. Start saying “just” in front of every distance you run. “Just 20 this weekend”. “Just an easy 8 miles this morning”. “Just a half marathon”.

2. Obsessively check the weather.

Mostly so you can dress yourself. Also, in case you need a backup career.
If it is a rest day, it will probably be perfect running weather.
On a long run day, the wind will be blowing in your face whichever way you are facing, so checking the weather is pointless. Running in the wind is good for your character.

3. Eat all most of the food.

There is an overwhelming amount of information on what you should and shouldn’t eat, when to eat it, and so on. I’m not going to give you more.

Eat food that makes you feel good. Eat enough of it. Marathon training is a convenient excuse to indulge every now and then. Word to the wise – you can actually gain weight marathon training, so perhaps not every pizza needs to be a personal pizza.

4. Buy “fat shoes”.

Ideally in black, so they match everything. Your feet will thank me. Trust me, there will come a day when your feet don’t fit in normal shoes. You will have a new sense of sympathy for pregnant women. I like Sanuk shoes… they are made out of recycled yoga mats and stretch to fit nicely.Image result for stair chair

5. Move into a house with no stairs.

Those things are awful.

Or find yourself a chair lift.

 

 

6. Invest in body glide/aquaphor/your anti-chafing drug of choice.

Apply liberally and often. It’s like sunscreen… you think you have everything covered, and then you find out that your back muscles can get chafed by your sports bra. Surprise!

7. Be prepared to cry a lot.

Because breaking out of your comfort zone and doing something big does not only challenge you physically.Because you are hungry and tired and overwhelmed. Because your feet hurt and you need a nap. You will probably revert to a 3-year-old version of yourself. Your significant other will be thrilled.

9. Buy good shoes and socks. 

This is not negotiable. Unless you like your joints to hurt and you want a bunch of blisters. Go to a running store and get some quality gear. Trust me.

8. Wake up earlier than you want to most days of the week, work harder than you want to, and repeat for 12-20 weeks. 

I’m not going to pretend to be the most motivated person you know. I’m just dedicated. I’ve committed myself to doing this slightly ridiculous thing and I know how bad it hurts if you don’t train. I built a habit. I get up, I run, and that’s just what I do. It’s so much easier if you don’t have to think about it. You just accept it and go. Some days feel great, some days suck a lot, and some days are a little bit of both.

9. Break things into manageable chunks.

It’s not a 12 miler, it’s just two 10Ks. Or a warmup 5k, a 10k, and a cooldown 5k. My last 18 mile run was just three sets of 6 miles. An hour of running is really just 4 sets of 15 minutes. I’ve gotten myself through a lot of awful things this way. Runs, nasty Crossfit workouts, lectures that never seemed to end, long car trips, you name it. Break it down into smaller pieces and tackle the “mini-goal” at hand.

10. Find at least one person who doesn’t think you are insane.

Talk to them often. Let them remind you that you are actually doing a cool thing. Remind yourself that you are actually doing a cool thing.

11. Don’t quit.

Even if you really, really, really, really want to. The finish line is worth it. I have felt completely exhausted and completely invincible at the same time – it’s an amazing experience. And you can ride that glory train for the rest of your life.

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I trained for 4 months to eat this dinner

Motivation comes in all forms. My current motivation is my epic post-marathon dinner indulgence. Looking at the incredible menus from restaurants all over Boston and thinking about what a glorious meal that will be.

Gluten free, dairy free waffles at the Red Lentil in Watertown, MA. 

To eat a glorious post-marathon meal, you have to run a marathon. It is the most well-earned meal I eat all year. 4+ months of training to eat dinner. I hear the training is a helpful step. This time last year, I was still in decent half marathon shape. I ran an incredibly unmotivated half marathon yesterday for the first time in 6 months. I’m starting to remember that there is a reason lots of people don’t run marathons and that it takes a special kind of person to run for hours on end “for fun”. Yes, I’m running that far on a weekend. On purpose. Because I choose to. Image result for will run for food

I then spent the rest of the day hammering out the intricate details of my training plan. Every day for the next 20 weeks is planned out. I am fortunate that my life can start to revolve around training. I’ll lose one weekend day each week to a long run and recovery. I hate it by week 16, but I also secretly love it. There is something so addicting about feeling simultaneously exhausted and invincible. And it gives me so much time to plan my victory meal.

 

 

A new season, a less neglected blog

This poor blog. Sits quietly for months and months until I feel inspired to write. It is the first thing to get pushed aside when my life gets busy. It’s a good thing it doesn’t have to be a money maker. Just a place to share and be creative and do the things I enjoy – running, lifting weights, cooking, and talking about those things!

The last few months were no different. I got busy and this blog got pushed aside. I had these epic plans to start a nonprofit organization and it fell through because the other founder and I disagreed on the best way to run it. Everything was ready to go, our first board meeting was scheduled, and it became obvious to me that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride if we continued.

So then I had this grand idea to start my own business – people ask me for fitness and nutrition advice all the time, so I might as well make a business out of it. And while I really enjoy doing that, I learned that the grind and hustle of starting my own business is perhaps not for me. I don’t want to think about selling myself and building my brand all the time. I know that it is usually for a short period of time, but I am a workaholic and every free moment will be spent “hustling”. And that’s not how I want to live my life.

Fortunately for me, a position opened up in the department that I used to work for/where I did grad school. And they were pretty adamant that I should work there. It’s been wonderful. A little busy and chaotic as I realized that I shouldn’t work two jobs, but things are settling down and it’s great. I’m remembering that I like doing science. I get to be home at night. Things are busy but I have a great team. I have time to run and lift. And write.

I miss writing. Hopefully this new season brings more time to do that. I got my letter from the B.A.A. informing me that I got into the 2017 Boston Marathon and I am so excited to start training for that! So many good things on the horizon for me. Stay tuned 🙂