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!

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.

You have to suffer

Running a marathon is such a glamorous idea.

If you want people to think that you are overly ambitious/insane/motivated/a total health nut/whatever, tell people you are training for a marathon. People tend to respond one of two ways: they are impressed or they think you are crazy. In their eyes, you have turned into someone who also drinks green smoothies made with cage-free, fair-trade, organic kale.

The usual response is either, “wow, that’s awesome!” or “I could never run that far”. Sometimes it is both. To go on a small side rant… you couldn’t do that now. Believe me, I know what it is like to be completely out of running shape. I remember the first time I ran 5 miles and called it a long run, which happened about a month after my trainer told me to go out and run 5 miles. I frequently reminded him that only crazy people ran that far. End rant. For now.

The finish line is a magical moment. You feel invincible. You also feel like you got hit by a bus.

To round out your magical moment, don’t forget that you may be suffering from a myriad of maladies, including blisters, chafing, and digestive distress. You may need adult supervision because you are glycogen-depleted enough to put your shoes on the wrong feet. I finished one race in so much pain that the only thing that felt good was to lay on the ground with my feet on the bumper of my mother’s car.

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However, there is an incredible sense of accomplishment for even finishing. For tackling something so mammoth. Most people don’t even get to the starting line.

Running a marathon is a glamorous idea.

Training for a marathon is ugly.

Your feet suffer, your energy suffers, everything starts to ache all of the time. In the last few weeks, as my mileage has increased and my workouts have gotten more intense, I have cried more than once for no reason other than I am tired and tired of being tired.

8 miles into my long run on Sunday, I felt like my legs couldn’t carry me another step. My body felt so heavy and and the miles felt so long. And sometimes you just have to stop mid-run to cry. So I did. Tears of exhaustion and frustration. I am just over 3 weeks out from Boston and the workload is taking its toll on my  body and mind.

As I stood on the side of the road, contemplating calling someone to come get me, I was hit with an unfortunate truth…

You have to suffer.

You have to suffer. No one gets to take that from you. No one can save you from this. It is your burden to bear. You are doing something big and you will know the cost of success. You will hurt. Physically, mentally. You have to suffer. It is part of the process. You must learn to endure. You must learn to press on when you feel like you can’t take another step.

You have to suffer. There are things you can learn no other way.

Marathon training teaches you how to fight. How to endure. How to take another step when you are entirely certain that you can’t. How to persevere. That your body is capable of amazing things.

I believe Ted Corbitt said it best: “I wanted to quit because I was suffering. That is not a good enough reason.”

Strength is earned. And those of us who decide to do extraordinary things will know the cost. But we also get to do really cool things. Press on, my friends.

 

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!