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.

16463325_1827828874095797_3815666749131118298_o

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!

Advertisements

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.”

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.

 

 

Bourbon Bacon Brownies

If the title doesn’t make you excited, I don’t even know what to tell you.

I have a friend who is vegan… and he decided to celebrate his birthday with a BBQ. A non-vegan barbecue. So naturally, if you are going to be un-vegan for the day, bacon is a necessity. I feel like bacon is the ultimate non-vegan food.

I love any excuse to make elaborate desserts. So naturally, I love it when people have birthdays and let me make treats for them. It’s really not too hard to make that happen. Plus, I have an office full of taste-testers again, so I can make all kinds of experiments and not be stuck eating it all myself, for better or worse. I am all for eating whatever, but “healthy” or not, a pan of brownies is still a pan of brownies. Usually sugar is involved and I think sugar is best in moderation. Bacon, on the other hand….

I based this recipe off of my current go-to for gluten free brownies that don’t taste like crumbly cardboard. They got a stamp of approval from gluten-eaters in my life, so I had to add that to the rotation. Plus I covered them in bacon – there’s no way that can end badly. The only change I made was omitting the vanilla extract and adding 1/8 cup of bourbon whiskey. They have a strong whiskey flavor, so if whiskey isn’t your thing, feel free to reduce the amount. Or omit entirely. Or use some other liquor – tequila, rum, Bailey’s, or Kahlua would be great in these!

Bacon Salted Caramel

3 strips bacon (I like Niman Ranch)
~1/2 cup brown sugar or coconut sugar (maple syrup might also be awesome here)
~1/3 cup full-fat coconut milk (from a can)
1/2 tsp sea salt

Chop up your bacon and cook in a small sauce pan for 5-10 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add your brown sugar, coconut milk, and salt. Bring to a boil for a minute or two and then reduce the heat. Allow to simmer for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. It will thicken as it cooks and even more as it cools.

For a smoother texture and smaller bacon bits, I used my immersion blender to puree the caramel while the mixture was still warm. I didn’t make it silky-smooth because I still wanted that bite of bacon-y goodness.

 

Boston recap

I would love to have some really inspiring and clever lead-in to this post. Alas, I do not. So we’ll just get into it.

Monday was the big day. Boston #2. I had high hopes for this race. I trained my ass off. I was consistent with my training, I missed very few runs. I pushed hard on the road and in the gym. I weighed and measured everything I ate and successfully got down to my race weight. I was leaner, faster, stronger than ever and I was expecting a PR.

Always ready to party.

I wish obsessively checking the weather meant that you actually had some control over the weather. It was warmer than everyone wanted it to be and the wind (a headwind, of course) picked up around mile 14.

I’ve been staring at my splits. Trying to figure out where the wheels fell off. I never blew up… but maybe the wheels were never on in the first place. I pride myself on my ability to redline for a long time. Not the case on Monday.

I felt toast by mile 7. I struggled mentally.

I felt alright at the half. I was a little behind my goal pace, but I figured I could push hard after Mile 21 and bring it home. I could never put the hammer down. I could never push myself any harder. I tried at the end. With some success.

With less than a mile to go, every fiber in my being wanted to quit. My determination to finish was paper-thin. I wanted to give up right then and there. To not move another step. To walk. To quit. But I kept going. I pushed with everything I had. My time was good enough for another BQ. Only 74 seconds slower than last year (my PR). But I suffered immensely.

Was it really just the heat? The crowded course? Did I make a mistake in training? In fueling? In hydrating? Was it stopping and walking at the aid stations? Was it the wind? Was it a little bit of everything? Am I obsessing over this too much?

It’s just over a minute. Over the course of 3 and 1/2 hours. It could have been a lot of things. But I was so confident, so mentally prepared to crush it this year…. and to feel like the best I can do is hang on is disheartening.

Perhaps the only reason I could hang on is because I was in good shape. Because I put the work in. That logic still feels like settling… and there is little satisfaction in that. However, I did not collapse, I am not injured in any way, and while I am sore, it is not debilitating. Perhaps another way my training paid off.

I’ll be back to running in the next few days. I’ll get back in the gym. I’ve got some strength goals to pursue – I need to take a break from racing for awhile. But I’m still after my sub-3:25. This time with a vengeance. Perhaps a fall marathon. Once my mind has recovered.

For now, it’s back to the gym, more trail running, training my puppy to be a good running partner, and actually sleeping in on a Sunday or two.

Hello Again!

My poor blog has been abandoned for quite some time. I had a rough last year of grad school and some things just fall by the wayside. Like sleeping, running, cooking, lifting weights, and blogging.

But I hope to be back. To write regularly. I am working through “Bread and Wine” by Shauna Niequist and I am so in love with that book. It makes me want to be a writer and a chef and spend my days feeding people. I told the BF yesterday that I wanted to “lovingly tend to a risotto”. Case in point.

Anyway, stay tuned. I am headed back to Boston this year and while my training took a huge hit over the holidays, I am determined to bounce back with a vengeance. And great food!