Has This Ever Happened To You?

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 11.29.53 PMOne morning last week, I felt the need to do 400 meter repeats on the track.

Mind you, this out-of-the-blue urge arrived despite the fact that I’d…

worked the closing shift the night before, and…
woken up before the sun to babysit, and…
done a heavy lifting session at the gym the day before, and…
not set foot on a track in, wow, at least a year? two maybe? and…
been a happy member of the “Anti-Formal Training Camp” (re: zero speedwork), also for quite some time, and…
resolved to not to run races (and thereby need to do speedwork) for a while, and…

The list could go on for reasons why I shouldn’t have gotten this lovely little burst of inspiration. But there it was. That day, I had to do 400 repeats. The decision was made before the idea had even crossed my mind.

So I got home from babysitting and informed my boyfriend I was headed to the oval. 400s were on the menu. If he was game (which he was, this is one of the reasons I love him) we’d do them together, relay style. And that was that. Hello, rubbery red track, my old friend. So nice to see you again.

[An aside: Does this straight-up random need to do random workouts happen to anyone else? And do you actually follow through with them? Please tell me I’m not the only nutty one.]

I ended up doing 8 400m repeats. We ran the first four together, then I did the last four on my own. I surprised myself by keeping a pretty consistent pace start to finish and even ran the second set a couple seconds faster on average. Looking back at old training logs, I was about 10 seconds per lap slower than I was for a similar workout during my best season at Lehigh. Given the factors listed above, I’ll take it!

Although 400 repeats are, by definition, torture, and should’ve been especially torturous on this particular day, I rediscovered the groove I’d worn in that track over the four years I ran at Lehigh. Instantly, I was transported back to those warm spring afternoons during track season when my teammates and I would take turns leading intervals. My form fell back into its natural stride and cadence. I found my rhythm, even though I hadn’t tapped into it in years. I finished each repeat hunched over and heaving but eager to bang out another one. My body knew what to do. It just felt right. And damn did it feel good.

This time around, though, I relished the fact that I was pushing myself just for the sake of it. No end goal in sight other than to say I accomplished something that day. The feeling of hitting the last split was so incredibly satisfying. AND I got to tap into a part of myself I hadn’t felt in years.

Thank goodness for that random spark of inspiration.

A week later, we returned to the track, this time for 800m, 400m, 800m, 400m, 800m. As we finished, another runner began circling the track. He was maybe in his 40s or 50s, but you could tell by his lean, muscular figure that he was a fast, seasoned veteran. He asked what workout we’d done. I told him and explained the random reasoning behind it. He laughed but admitted he was very much in the same place with his running, saying he was considering a fall marathon—he hadn’t done one in 10+ years—but could very well end up training for a 5K instead. Before we parted, I asked what he planned to run.

He still hadn’t decided yet.

Maybe I’m not the only nutty one.

Going (Way) Off The Beaten Path

IMG_6076Running. For the past four years, nearly every aspect of my life revolved around running. My job at Runner’s World magazine meant 40+ hours a week of writing, reading, tweeting, and talking about running. My friends? All runners. When I wasn’t at work, chances were good that I was running or recovering from a run.

Was a life consumed by running a bad thing? Heck no. Most of it was amazing.

But here’s the catch. That lifestyle—one that might seem idealistic for most, one that I once dreamt of living—slowly began to unravel. In part, I realized that in some ways, aspects of the gig at RW (and the publishing world, in general) simply didn’t fit my personality. To fall back on a cliche, many days it felt like I was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. (I’ll save you the gritty details.) It wasn’t helping that the industry has been crashing harder than marathoners at mile 20. (Again, I’ll save you a few thousand words worth of venting on that subject.)

After more than a year of trying to fit said square peg into the round hole, I began considering other options. I wanted to do something meaningful, something worthwhile, something that makes an impact on others, something stable and that allows me to live anywhere, and maybe most importantly, something different.

Late last year, my thoughts began to shift away from all things running to thinking long and hard about going back to school to become a Registered Nurse. (Side note: My boyfriend is an incredible RN at a local ER. Needless to say, he’s pretty darn inspiring.) I knew that meant taking on a year’s worth of prerequisite classes followed by another year-and-a-half of nursing school, not to mention more student loans and putting full-time work on hold for three years.

Yikes.

But deep down, that wildly different path felt like the right one. Terrifying? Uhh, yeah! Exciting? Absolutely.

The decision was underscored by the fact that my position at RW was unexpectedly eliminated in January. Yes, the news stung, mostly because I knew I would miss seeing (and running with) the crew that had become my second family every day. But it didn’t take long for me to realize the drastic change of pace would be a blessing in disguise.

After two months, I’ve settled into a wholly different kind of normal. And with a new goal of becoming an RN clearly in focus—even though its finish line is nearly three years away—I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. My days are spent taking classes (to my surprise, I’m actually enjoying learning, in the formal sense, again!), working a part-time gig, and doing some freelance work.

I’m still running. I doubt that part of me will ever change. It keeps me sane. But these days, I’m doing it 100% on my own terms. No pressure. I run when I want, the distance determined by my mood and/or motivation level for any given day. I don’t beat myself up if I haven’t logged what I’d usually consider an “acceptable” amount of miles each week. I’ve also started weight-lifting again. Yes, this girl can finally do more than two push ups for once.

I also haven’t toed a starting line since the New York City Marathon in November. And I don’t have any plans to run a race, much less put effort into earnestly training for one, any time soon. Having absolutely nothing on my calendar has been freeing, especially after running competitively for years and then making the brilliant decision to cram 10 marathons into three years. I’m patiently waiting for the inspiration to sign up for a race to come along. I don’t care how long it takes.

(Oh, and did I mention how stoked I was to get the May issue of RW in the mail and read it cover to cover with fresh eyes?)

So where does all this leave me? Well, now that I’m not writing on the reg, I want to officially brush off the layers of dust that have accumulated on this blog over the past two years and start writing here again. I can’t say what I’ll write about or how often I’ll post. But I’m craving a return to this outlet, nonetheless.

Anybody game to follow me on this new journey (way) off the beaten path?

 

Does Free-Bleeding During a Marathon Really Help Women?

Before you read this post, I want to start by saying that I don’t actually have strong feelings about Kiran Gandhi’s free-bleeding London Marathon. I really don’t. More power to her for doing what she wants with her body and shedding some light on important issues. That said, I wanted to voice the opinion of how Gandhi may’ve missed the mark on this one. Most women I’ve spoken to about this have reacted with “Ewww…why?” but the majority of news outlets have framed the story differently. I don’t disagree with the coverage, but I don’t fully agree either. Here’s my perspective. I am totally open to other opinions. Did I miss the mark?  

On the morning of my goal race, the Marine Corps Marathon, I got my period. Crap, I thought. By no means an ideal situation. But I lined up and ran my race. I wasn’t about to put four months of early-morning long runs to waste because of my period.

I ended up running a PR, and it was awesome. That’s not to say I wasn’t doubled over with stomach pain afterward. That part wasn’t so awesome. I was still pumped that I’d run my fastest marathon ever given the circumstances.

So when I read about Kiran Gandhi, a 26-year-old who ran the London Marathon free-bleeding, I was a little confused. On her blog, she says she got her period the night before race day, and she was afraid that running with a tampon could be uncomfortable. During her months of training for this marathon, had she never run wearing a tampon or pad? That seemed nearly impossible.

But it was more than that. She writes that she viewed this as an opportunity to raise awareness for women in developing countries who don’t have access to sanitary products or live in countries where having your period is considered tabboo. I do applaud Gandhi for bringing to light those issues. They need to be addressed. But you can still be an excellent example of a woman who can finish her first marathon while on her period without literally bleeding down your leg.

Gandhi goes on to say that women shouldn’t have to hide their periods, saying the fact that women can’t talk about their periods openly—regardless of where they live—is a problem that needs fixing. Gandhi seems to think her act was a way to “transcend oppression” and to “run a marathon in whatever way you want. On the marathon course, sexism can be beaten. Where the stigma of a woman’s period is irrelevant, and we can re-write the rules as we choose.

“As I ran, I thought to myself about how women and men have both been effectively socialized to pretend periods don’t exist,” she added in her blog. “By establishing a norm of period-shaming, [male-preferring] societies effectively prevent the ability to bond over an experience that 50 percent of us in the human population share monthly.”

Since when did wearing a tampon become a symbol of oppression?

The fact that she brought up the issue in such a blunt manner only perpetuates the stigma of getting your period—yes, it’s gross, yes, it’s uncomfortable. But most women just deal with it. And why wouldn’t we? Isn’t that the point? Having to manage a totally natural, albeit annoying, bodily function and still be able to tackle the marathon proves we, as women, are pretty badass, right? Isn’t that the message we want to send to countries who ostracize women during their periods?

During my marathon, I did my best to channel other women I knew who had raced—and raced well—while on their periods. Paula Radcliffe broke the world marathon record while enduring period cramps. In college, I witnessed one of my teammates, who always seemed to get her period during big meet weekends, overcome debilitating cramps to go and win her races.

Not to mention other runners don’t want to look at it. It’s unhygienic and in some ways, disrespectful to the other runners. We’d rather not watch someone vomit during a race, but it happens. That’s not controllable. Containing your period is.

Just because it’s a thing only women get doesn’t mean we should share it with the world. In this case, hiding it is absolutely OK. This is why we have bathroom stalls. Sure, I might feel embarrassed to have it leak onto my pants, but who wouldn’t? I’m proud and amazed that my body has the ability to do what it does. If dealing with my period once a month allows me to one day have babies, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. And I’m beyond grateful that I live in a world where tampons and menstrual cups and super-absorbent pads exist. Those things enable me to run.

I feel like there are much more important topics to address in regards to sexism. (Equal pay, anyone?) Managing my period isn’t one of them.

(Also, the fact that I’m totally OK writing about this private matter in public proves we’ve at least made some progress toward advancing women and women runners.)

Race Report | 2014 Wineglass Marathon

*clears dust off of keyboard*

Wondering where I’ve been for the last few months?

Well… I trained for and ran a marathon, my eighth at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York.

Wondering why I didn’t blog about it like I normally would?

Well… One: I needed a hiatus from blogging. Two: I decided I really wanted to train for this one and fully own my efforts from the first long run to the finish line, if that makes sense. I wanted to keep it personal. The highs, the lows, all of it.

Here’s the long and short of it.

In June one night over a couple beers, I sat down with one of my RW colleagues (and tried-and-true long run buddy) to map out my game plan for Wineglass. We pored over his old training logs and discussed what I needed to do to take my marathoning to the next level.

We decided to try some speedwork (either mile repeats or 2-5-mile long tempos) or hill work on Wednesdays. Then I’d add a few extra long efforts (hello first 22-miler!) buffered by shorter, recovery long runs into my progression. The other three days each week, I’d aim to run between 5 and 10 miles easy. The goal was to bump up my weekly mileage a tad without crossing over the overtraining/injury line that, for me, hovers right around 45-50 miles per week.

Compared to my build up for Marine Corps last year, I ran about 35 more miles over my four-month cycle.

Along the way, I discovered the glory that is morning running. Yes, the girl that still likes to sleep in ’till noon whenever possible actually started preferring to get up at 5:30 to beat the sauna-like hell that is PA in the summer. A side-effect of this was adding in slightly longer Friday runs that ranged from 8-10 miles. Those allowed me to sneak in a few more miles without sacrificing my pre- and post-long run off days. And let me tell you, I had some of the most euphoric sunrise runs. Honestly, they bordered on religious experiences. I was hooked.

The only hiccups I experienced were a couple weird tweaks–a strained God-knows-what pulling at the ball of my foot followed by a super tight Achilles and calf muscle–after two of my longest runs at the peak of my cycle. They forced me to take my Monday-Wednesday runs off or easy (and skip two key workouts), but I was able to ward off the pain and still get my key long runs in successfully. Missing those big speed workouts killed me, especially since I was otherwise on a roll. But I had to remind myself that getting to the starting line healthy was more important that those two runs.

Other than that, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother training cycle. Every long run went off without a hitch, and I can say I felt nearly as fit as I was in college. It felt amazing to finally be genuinely motivated to put in the work. And for once, marathon training felt normal and wasn’t intimidating at all.

Come race day, I felt prepared to execute the game plan. Pace-wise, the goal was to run the first 13.1 in the 7:40s, then “unleash the horses” and run in the 7:30s (or faster if possible) through to the finish. Mentality-wise, I wanted to replicate the positive mind games I played at Marine Corps. That said, I spent the first half literally pumping the brakes, telling myself repeatedly to be patient, run like a f-ing metronome, and settle in. The first 13 were only a warmup.

When I reached the half-marathon mark–still feeling fresh, by the way (heck yes!)–I told myself, Hey, only 13.1 left. That’s nothing. Now you can get after it! I finally let myself really race, picking up my turnover to a pace that still felt within my ability but without overdoing it. Seeing splits in the 7:20s to 7:30s was a huge positive mental boost. Negative splitting is serious fun.

Despite the fact that the race slowly started wearing on me, I was able to keep up the faster pace through about 22-23. That’s when my right quad started calling it quits. But I kept every split through to the finish under 8:00. I knew a PR was coming, which felt awesome.

I crossed the line in 3:21:19 officially, which was about a 5 minute PR. (My watch actually read 3:22:10, but don’t even get me started on that discrepancy.)

For once, I actually felt like I knew what I was doing. I felt confident in my abilities, especially since I actually had the training to back it up this time. To tell you I’m stoked about my race is an understatement.

—–

So here I am, over three months later, staring down four months of training going into my third Boston (to Big Sur!) Marathon in April. I can’t say exactly what I’m looking to do at each race; it’ll depend on how training goes, I think. (And here’s to dry roads this season, amiright?)

 

When A Crappy Run Happens…

…a truly great one is bound to follow.

Let me explain.

Whether it’s rational or not, sometimes I get fixated on covering a certain distance. Last weekend, my plan called for 12 miles, but deep down, I wanted to do 14. Hey, I thought, I want a PR at Wineglass, a big one. So why not step it up a notch? 

Sensing my greed, the marathon training gods cursed me with a (literally) crappy run, the kind of crappy that required a mad dash to the nearest Dunkin’ for an unplanned pit stop. Oh yeah, and it was humid as I’ll get out, too.

Feeling blehhhh…

giphy

…I made my way home early logging — you guessed it — just 12 slower-than-molasses miles, the wind effectively knocked out of my sails.

Damn.

But yesterday, with 16 on the menu, things were different.

Once I warmed up, I almost felt giddy, the kind of giddy that puts a spring in your step so you drop your pace a bit just for the heck of it. The kind that feels so good you can’t help but smile a little from the inside out. The kind that almost convinced me to like summer.

Yes, it was one of those runs that can only be described with a high level of cliche and corniness. The air was cool, the sun made the trees a vibrant green and the creek sparkle. I even ran into a herd of deer and past still-snoozing ducks.

And I ran all 16 miles quite a bit faster than the 12 I did the Sunday before.

Hells. Yes.

I told my mom today, after she’d had a less-than-pleasant workout, that the reason I choose to endure the crappy runs is because they make the amazing ones, the ones where you feel weightless and powerful and free, THAT much sweeter.

I know this is by far a groundbreaking realization, but…

Daily reminder: Check.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Remember, the feeling you get from a good run is far better than the feeling you get from sitting around wishing you were running.” – Sarah Condor

5 Ways I’m Weaning Myself Into Summer Training

Around this time every year, I find myself in the same position:

I’m out of shape and/or recovering from a goal race (or two), which means I’m wheezing like a chain smoker, struggling to keep up with the group on the easiest of runs;

Springtime allergies add a snotty element to said wheezing;

Warmer temps that leave me a tomato-red, sweaty (literally) hot mess;

A metabolism that hasn’t quite gotten the signal that I’m running less that normal, so I’m still eating like a garbage disposal to the point where I feel like Jabba the Hutt — without running any of it off…blergh;

And frankly, I’ve got a sh***y attitude about it all.

I find it incredible that I can go from such a glorious high to God-I-actually-hate-running in the span of a month. But it happens…every year…without fail. I get frustrated, almost to the point of tears, after regular runs. Motivation is nonexistent because my training cycle for my next race hasn’t started yet. I loathe running in the heat. But what I hate even more is that I let myself fall into this pit of pissed off unhappiness. Every single year.

So during my run yesterday, I decided to — as cliché as it sounds — find the silver linings so I can start climbing out of this pit. What with my running has felt good during this recovery phase? What can I learn this time around to help make next year suck a little less?

Here’s what I came up with:

  • Running alone Lately, running with the group at lunch as been demoralizing because I haven’t been able to keep up. But ditching the guys for a few solo, watch-free runs has been incredible. I can run as slow as I want and not care for a second what my pace is. The silence allows me to focus of the feeling of running and how beautiful the green trees are now that spring has finally sprung.
  • Running in the rain Last week, we ran eight miles though a torrential downpour. I finished, soaked to the bone, feeling refreshed and fabulous. Just what the doctor ordered. No matter what pace or distance you’re running, you feel like a badass running through rivers of water. Not to mention rainy days are cooler. Gotta take advantage of that while the getting’s good!
  • Taking the weekends off That means no running at all. Long runs have been replaced with sleeping late and making myself pancakes with strawberries, two things that rejuvenate me both mentally and physically.
  • Reminding myself that I’m in recovery mode And that it’s OK to take it easy. It’s totally normal to feel like crap after a marathon, or in my case, two marathons. In one week. An occupational hazard working at RW is that almost everyone does crazy, extraordinary things with their running. Doing Boston to Big Sur is “no big deal.” But I have to tell myself that my body ran more mileage in two days that it normally does it a week and that I need to cut myself some slack. Our staff coach says that you need one day of recovery for every mile you raced. In my case, that means 54.2 days. No wonder I still feel cruddy.
  • Remembering that it does get better Yes, I will get used to the heat and humidity. Yes, the pep will return to my step. And yes, I’ll likely be back on the bandwagon in exactly one month from now when Wineglass Marathon training starts.

The kicker?

There’s no science to prove the theory just yet, but for the past two years, my best marathons have been my fall marathons. Is it because summer running made me tough and fast? I’d like to think so. At the end of last summer, I wrote a note to my future self, saying: This is your mantra: Summer marathon training IS worth it!” 

I need to write this on, like, a million sticky notes at put it everywhere so I don’t forget it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Nothing is more certain than the defeat of a man who gives up.” – George Sheehan

 

Race Report | 2014 Big Sur International Marathon

10245396_10152080618037467_8683777888693800241_nThe Big Sur International Marathon is a literally epic reminder of why we run, proving with every step that our sport is awesome. So much so that the high I rode from start to finish muted the throbbing pain I felt in my quads thanks to the fact that, well, I ran Boston six days earlier.

In my course description for RW, I wrote: “… if the rolling hills don’t leave you breathless, the turquoise waves lapping over rocky cliffs beside soaring green mountains most certainly will.” Big Sur proved, yet again, that this fact is totally true.

Earlier in the year when I got offered the opportunity to run Big Sur again with Challenge, I accepted without hesitation. I had such an amazing experience last year that I just couldn’t pass up the chance to go again. What I didn’t realize right away was that Boston was just six days before Big Sur this year, not 13 like it was for my first Boston to Big Sur go-around. But then I figured, Ehh sure, why not? Challenge accepted. 

So after not running a step after a quad-busting Boston Marathon, I found myself more sore than I would’ve preferred after a short, 2-mile shakeout on Saturday morning before the race. I was in enough pain that I decided to take a dip in the (mother f-ing freezing cold) Pacific for an ice bath. Yeah, I’m a major wimp when it comes to cold water. I’ll be honest here and say that I wasn’t convinced I’d finish the marathon. What had I gotten myself into?

But come Sunday morning, there I was lining up to run my seventh marathon. Like last year, I opted to run naked (read: without a watch – didn’t even pack the thing!) and just run for the sake of enjoying the journey. I had no idea how the race would go, but I figured I’d take my time and listen to my body. This game plan worked like a charm last year, so I figured I’d try again this year and pray it would work its magic.

Well, it totally worked.

I started off nice and easy with a colleague through the first six miles or so, letting the downhill carry us along. I could already feel my quad, which freaked me out a bit, but it was still run-able. But once we reached the open road with the pristine beaches on our left and the towering, misty green mountains on our right, the runner’s high hit me like a tidal wave. Screw my quad, let’s have some fun! I thought.

When I get jazzed up in a race like that, my instinct is to run fast and ride the high. It just carries me along, overriding any pain I might be feeling. So I picked up the pace, cruising down toward the taiko drummers whose beats carry you up Hurricane Point, the biggest hill on the course that starts at mile 10.

Since the quads actually felt better going uphill, I took advantage of the opportunity, shifted gears, and churned up the 2-mile incline. Like last year, I could feel my hill training paying off. Heck yes.

But then came the lonnnnnng downhill toward the halfway point on the Bixby Bridge. You better believe I winced with every step I took, trying to figure out how to adjust my form to take the pressure off my quads. Ouch, ouch, ouch! My body was rebelling against this second marathon in a week. Ahhh well, suck it up, Meg, carry on.

The Bixby Bridge a.k.a. quite possibly the coolest 13.1 mark in any marathon ever was up next. While I ran by, the tuxedoed Piano Man played “Hallelujah” on his baby grand piano. The whole scene brought me to tears, a true pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming moment. I closed my eyes for a second and soaked in the moment. This is why we run.

The next eight-ish miles — save for a scary second at mile 18 when I felt a particularly concerning twinge in my left quad that thankfully went away — played out as close to perfectly as I could’ve asked for. I was still riding the high (somehow?! – I think I have the spectacular scenery to thank for that one), feeling solid on the flat and uphill portions while taking things carefully and conservatively on the downhills. Through mile 20, my quads were killing BUT I was able to keep up my pace. I didn’t question it, so I kept plugging onward, thoughts focused on the strawberry station at mile 23.

Believe it or not, I think I managed to work out my quad soreness — again, didn’t question it! — so the final miles, rejuvenated by a ginormous strawberry, really felt no different than they normally would at the end of a marathon. In fact, I was able to run the final .2 feeling strong and in control. Say whaaat?

And get this, I ran Big Sur faster (!?!?!?) than Boston. Talk about the power of a runner’s high, amiright?

I can’t explain the faster finish beyond the fact that I still haven’t quite figured out the Boston course and that Big Sur is freakin’ incredible. In my opinion, it’s hard NOT to run well on the glory that is Highway 1.

I learned that two marathons in one week is no joke, but it’s certainly doable. (Read: I ran more miles in 2 days than my typical average weekly mileage).

I also decided that I want to do Boston to Big Sur every year that I physically can. It’s exhausting, but there’s nothing quite like running two completely different marathons back-to-back. You really get a sense of how unique both experiences are. In one week, I went from a 36,000-person field to a 3,500-person one. I went from navigating Frogger-like aid stations to having adorable middle-schoolers shlepping my H2O. Screaming spectators that were at times 10 people deep transformed into the sound of crashing waves. But no matter how you look at it, both races are unforgettable.

These races remind us why we run.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Go fast enough to get there, but slow enough to see.” – Jimmy Buffett

 

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