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!

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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Things you learn when you start running

I have only been running for the last 5 years. Prior to that, I only ran if I absolutely had to. Sports practices, mainly. And I was definitely one of the slow ones. I still am one of the slow ones, but now I can run that slow for hours. My forte is a moderate pace for a long time. I’m sure I could get faster if I worked at it… but I don’t like it.

Anyway, I have spent a lot of time on the road in the last 5 years and I have learned a lot about exercise and myself and training and the cities I’ve lived in. I’ve learned important things and trivial things and everything in between.

And then there are things that you only learn when you are a runner:

1. Your own clothing can make you bleed. Seriously, chafing is a nightmare. If you have never heard of BodyGlide, I strongly suggest you look into it.

2. Toenails are overrated. But the people at my nail salon are awesome. I currently have an acrylic toenail to replace one that fell off. It looks real, my feet look slightly less horrible, and I think it is absolutely hilarious to have an acrylic toenail.

3. Some foods and exercise don’t mix. Some people can eat whatever they want before/while they run and it is totally fine. I am not one of those people. I’ll spare you the details.

4. The location of gas stations within a 10 mile radius. And parks with nice bathrooms.

5. Exactly one mile from your house in every direction.

6. Exact distances between arbitrary landmarks. “Hey, it’s only 2.7 miles from here to [insert random location here]!” “This intersection means I’m only 1.35 miles from home!” 

7. You also learn how many people actually have no idea how far a marathon is. I cringe every time someone asks me how long my marathon is. Well, you know, marathon distance. Or when people tell me their sister ran a 5K marathon. With her unicorn, because that exists too.

8.  You learn that you do, in fact, have a favorite flavor of gel. Montana Huckleberry for this girl.

9. How many muscles you use when you walk down the stairs. Because all of them hurt after a race. Especially when that race is a downhill marathon.

10. Weird things you do when you run – according to my latest race photos, my right thumb likes to stay in a “thumbs-up” position. I also like to think about food (imagine that!). For a long time, I only felt comfortable holding my water bottle in my left hand. My ipod always gets clipped to my left hip.

11. More than you ever wanted to know about your training partners – how happy or unhappy they are at 6:30 am, their bathroom habits, and their chafing problems, among others.
On the other hand, some of the best conversations I have had were on the run. I have rarely found better listeners than my running partners.

12. That you will have to learn to evade small (and large) animals. Cats, dogs, snakes, geese, prairie dogs, turkeys… normal things.

 

What totally random things have you learned on the road?

 

Joy

For the longest time, I thought that joy would be found in my “goal weight”. In a size 4 pair of jeans. In being “the hot friend”.

It never occurred to me that my joy would come with calloused hands and calloused feet, with missing toenails, bruises, scars, blood, sweat, and tears.

I never thought joy would be found on a rainy road in the middle of Boston.

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I never thought joy would look like pulling a lot of weight off the floor.

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I never thought joy would be the product of early mornings, two-a-days, long runs, and workouts that crushed my soul.

But these things continue to bring me joy. Maybe not in that exact moment, but they bring joy to my life as a whole. I have found that I am happiest out on the roads or in the gym. I continue to surprise myself with what I am capable of. I mentioned in my last post that I don’t always like doing these things, but I keep coming back because they help me feel like my best self.

I have fallen in love with my own strength. The more I train and the more I feel like an athlete, the less I care about what size my jeans are. Plus the fact that I lift means that they won’t fit right anyway. The more I learn who I am, the less power the scale has over my happiness.

I know my strength and that enables me to act confidently and to be bold, because I know what I can do. I know what I can endure. I am able to trust myself and take chances because I know that I can surprise myself.

I hope you find the same. I hope you find something that brings you joy. Something that makes you feel strong and powerful and bold. If not, keep looking. It might be in the most unexpected of places. But you’ll find it.

 

The Biggest Fitness Myths

I think there are 2 big myths when it comes to fitness.

1. Fitness is fun all of the time.

That is completely false. If you are having fun 100% of the time, you are probably not working hard enough to challenge yourself. Sometimes it really sucks. It hurts. It makes you want to throw up and cry at the same time.

If you try to avoid the hard work, your goals will always stay out of reach.

I love running. But I also hate it. It hurts and some days I don’t want to go do it and sometimes I sit on the side of the road and cry. But I always come back to it. Because there are moments where it makes me feel so alive and strong. Because it makes me feel limitless. Because I love being a runner and I love what running has done for my life. I don’t always like running, but I keep coming back to it because I love it.

2. Fitness is awful all of the time.

If you genuinely hate what you are doing, do something else!!! Seriously! There are so many ways to get in shape; I’m willing to bet that you can find one that makes you happy at least some of the time.

If you hate your gym time, it is so easy to make excuses to not make it happen. Suddenly you are really tired, and there’s this other thing that I’m sure you are supposed to do and I’m sure you’ll go tomorrow. Or you will come up with another excuse because you would rather do anything else.

So try something else! Try a couple group fitness classes. Get off the treadmill and run outside. Pick up some weights. Do Zumba. Experiment. You will probably find something that makes you feel alive and strong and you won’t always like it, but you will love it. And you will keep coming back to it. Because fitness is supposed to be fun.

At least most of the time.

Why you aren’t reaching your goals

How are those New Year’s Resolutions going? It is actually amazing how many of them fall through before we reach the end of January.

Why do we fail to meet our goals?

1. Too general.
So many people resolve to “get healthy” in the New Year or “get in shape”. But how do you quantify those things? What is your definition of “healthy” or “in shape”? I have been complaining about being “out of shape” when I really mean that I’m not in marathon shape and I am actually reasonably fit. It’s all subjective. What do you want to do? Lose 5 pounds? Get rid of some belly fat? Run a 5k without stopping? The more specific and measurable, the easier it will be to track progress towards your goal and actually reach it.

2. Poor Planning
Now that you have determined your goal, your next step is to figure out how you are going to get there. Sometimes this means meal planning or developing a training schedule. Maybe it means calling in an expert to help you map out your path to your goal.

3. Unrealistic expectations
Is your goal physically attainable? Is your goal attainable for you? Everyone is different. I once went on a crazy quest to get to my “goal weight” and when I got there, I was sick and unhealthy. Sometimes a goal is feasible, but it doesn’t necessarily work with your schedule or your timeline. It’s crucial to be realistic.

4. Prioritization
Life gets busy. How are you going to make sure that you have time to work towards your goals? I recommend scheduling it in like any other appointment. Do it first thing in the morning. Making time to chase your dream is critical for actually attaining it.

5. Lack of Accountability
You can’t dream big on your own. You need people to keep you encouraged and on track. There will come a point where you will lose steam. You need to make sure you have a “safety net” to fall back on, whether that is a friend, a training partner, a coach, or a family member.

6. What is your big “WHY”?
Why did you start chasing this dream in the first place? What inspired you? When you want to quit, remember why you started.

And remember, if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. Dream big! It’s scary, but so worth it!

I am not a runner

I am not a runner.

I think Lauren Fleshman put it best –  “Running is not who I am. It’s something I love, something I do”.

Running is not who I am. Running does not define me. And some days I am very thankful for that because I run slow and I run ugly and sometimes I whine a lot.

For a long time though, running did define me. As if my worth as a person was somehow intimately linked to my mile splits. A personal best meant that I was “good enough”.  It never seemed to be enough though. There was always something else that I felt like I needed to accomplish before I felt like I could call myself a “real runner”.

I’ll be a “real runner” if I can run a marathon. But it will only be legit if I break 4 hours. So I did that. But then I still didn’t feel like a “real runner” because it really wasn’t that fast. So maybe if I had better times at shorter distances, I would finally feel like I made it as a runner. So over the last couple years, I have set new PRs at every distance. I have done well in my age group and I have a couple 2nd and 3rd place finishes to my name. But I still didn’t feel like a “real runner” because my mile time wasn’t that great. Or my weekly mileage was low compared to other runners. There was always something else. Some new standard that I had to meet in order to be legit.

So then I decided that I would be a “real runner” if I could qualify for Boston. Which I did! It took me a lot of time and a lot of hard training, but I did it. Still I wonder if I could have run a qualifying time without the downhill advantage. Like I didn’t really earn Boston and somehow I am still an imposter. Still not a “real runner”. I guess I’m a great fake runner!

Part of my struggle to see myself as runner is the fact that I am not built like a runner. I’m built like a small truck. When I think of distance runners, I think of SmartCars. Very small, very light, very efficient. On the other end of the spectrum are strength and power athletes, who are more like jacked-up pickups. I’m more like a small utility vehicle. I’ve heard of people and their pets starting to look alike – apparently that can also happen with a person’s car. And that’s okay because I also enjoy being strong. It’s a good balance. I know that hauling around excess muscle mass isn’t the most efficient distance running strategy, but I’d like to be able to put up a fight in case I can’t outrun someone. Being strong just makes life so much easier.

I think like a runner though. I suffer through speedwork and long runs like a runner. I experience the running highs and the running lows. I persevere. I have run in all sorts of weather conditions – 100 degree heat, far below freezing (4 degrees), windy days, a snowstorm, and those beautiful mornings that are sunny and 48. I am horribly familiar with carbohydrate gels, chafing, and blisters.  I eat like a runner. As far as I know, I actually run when I leave my house in the mornings.

I race like a runner. I have probably beaten people who consider themselves “real runners”.

But running is not who I am. It’s something I do, something I love. It’s something that brings me immense joy, pain, pride, laughter, social bonding and everything in between. My running shoes are my constant. But it does not define me.

No number can tell me who I am – a weight on the scale that tells me I’m too heavy to be a “real runner”, a race time that tells me I have room to improve, a race time that tells me I’ve come a long way, or my weekly mileage. I am a “real runner” because I run. The end.

And for the record, we are all “real runners”.

“If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
(John Bingham)

“I often hear someone say I’m not a real runner. We are all runners, some just run faster than others. I never met a fake runner.” (Bart Yasso)