Exposure Therapy

Yes, that’s me, perched on an uncomfortably narrow rock 13,000 feet above sea level. You can’t see my face but I’m intensely focused on the placement of my hands and feet, carefully trying not to glance away from anything but the rock beneath my fingertips because… ummm… a sheer, deadly cliff casually existed on either side of me. Holy eff.

If I have a true, unwavering fear of anything, it’s unprotected drop-offs. The technical term for this is “exposure.” I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, per se. I just really don’t love the concept of taking one bad step and falling to your death.

Yet somehow, I found myself on the ridgeline between the South and North Arapaho peaks last weekend, clinging desperately to rocks jutting out into nothingness, ascending slabs with minimal foot and handholds, and yeah, crawling across a rock that defined “unprotected drop-offs.” Yet somehow, I didn’t completely lose my shit. And I made it back to the car in one piece but with an entirely new perspective on what it means to push my limits. An important note: This insane adventure would absolutely not have happened without my utterly fearless guide Mario, who kept me from calling it quits more than once and most importantly, kept safe and smiling (most of the time!).

So how did I end up in the precarious position I did on Sunday? Let’s rewind a bit, especially because I haven’t touched this blog in a year.

I’ve been a runner for more than half my life, about 17 years to be exact. In that time, I’ve covered a quarter mile in 60 seconds, hurdled my uncoordinated self over barriers with water pits, covered 26.2 miles alongside the immaculate California coastline and through every borough in New York City, logged miles in Japan and New Zealand and Italy and Ireland, and run alongside (and shared post-workout donut holes with) Olympic medalists. The sport has introduced me to more incredible and inspirational people than I can count. It’s kept me sane and helped me navigate each and every high and low life has thrown my way. And as cliche as it sounds, running has allowed me to go beyond what I thought were my physical and mental limits.

At its core, running is just putting one foot in front of the other, right? When I think about it like that, it doesn’t make sense that running has made such an immense impact on my life. I’d need a novel to really articulate that appropriately. But running has very much defined who I am today. To be honest, I didn’t think I had much else to learn about running. Or that running could teach me more about myself than it already has.

Insert –> trail running.

A (somewhat) quick review of how this lifelong road runner found herself navigating rocks and roots more often than not this year:

In January, I found myself at rock bottom in regards to my personal life. The thought of spending this year rediscovering myself proved to be one of the few silver linings that kept me moving forward and helped me emerge from the darkest place I’d ever been in. I was also in the middle of preparing for my 11th marathon. Those miles were a godsend. During those runs, I quite literally cried midrun to relieve the emotional stress. I used the time to either process my thoughts or zone out and focus on nothing but my breathing and the sound of my footfalls on the gravel. I also intentionally tried to stop for few moments to catch my breath, acknowledge the beauty around me, and find gratitude wherever I could. At the time, I mostly felt grateful for my ability to run and the fact that it seemed to keep me afloat.

After the marathon, I inadvertently discovered springtime in Colorado is nothing short of perfection. Think blooming wildflowers, grasslands transformed into nearly Ireland-level green, and crisp, cool temperatures. Oh, and there are literally hundreds of miles of trails within a 30-minute drive of my doorstep, all of which are breathtaking and challenging in their own way.

Though I’d lived in Colorado for about a year at this point, I hadn’t ventured very far beyond my local route and a handful of spots in the Front Range. Covid also became a thing, so solo outside adventures quickly became one of the few safe activities to do. Because racing was off the table, I set an unofficial goal of trying a new route each week.

I started conservatively, exploring more routes near me with the goal of adjusting to being comfortable venturing out on my own. I realized I needed a vest to carry water, fuel, and other supplies. I upgraded my AllTrails subscription so I could navigate despite my being directionally challenged. And I bought a fresh pair of trail shoes because my road shoes weren’t cutting it on the technical terrain. Another early key revelation? One trail mile *does not* equal one road mile, so I had to adjust anticipated time spent on feet and fuel/water needs accordingly. This would prove especially true as I added elevation gain and altitude to the mix.

As spring transitioned to summer, I gradually began trying routes a touch farther and higher up in the mountains. Another fun fact: If it’s blazing hot down in the Front Range, drive an hour into the mountains and it’s gloriously cooler. In fact, snow is still on the ground most of the summer. I hate running in the heat, so this discovery was a godsend.

I also began to truly appreciate the seemingly limitless epic terrain that existed in my still-new-to-me home. It was not hard to find a different route to explore each week, and somehow, each spot was more incredible than the last. I let myself slow down and hike at times so I could soak in my surroundings. (This change in mindset is significant in that I’ve always thought faster is better.) And let’s be real, high altitude terrain with ample elevation gain makes running start to finish pretty much impossible. But most importantly, I was having SO. MUCH. FUN.

With each effort, my confidence in the mountains grew. And it occurred to me that, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like a newbie in a sport I thought I’d mastered. Trail running is practically an entirely different activity. It’s challenging in its own twisted way and, to put it bluntly, I have *a lot* of room to learn and grow and improve. For the first time in my life as a runner, I found myself bringing up the rear during the RMR group runs that restarted late this summer. That feeling was unsettling at first, but it made it all the more satisfying to start noticing incremental improvements with each passing week. (Green Mountain still kicks my ass, but it no longer leaves me nauseated. Heck. Yes.)

The very best part of it all so far? I started forming new friendships with a run crew that was more than willing to bring me into their fold and patiently teach me all the things. The summer was enlightening–you can read about the humbling experience I had on the High Lonesome route here–but unsurprisingly, there is so much more to learn. Like… how do I properly fuel for a 30-mile run with 7,500 feet of climbing without ending up curled up in the fetal position on the side of the trail? Or not feel entirely intimidated by exposed ridgelines? Or, let’s be real, can someone teach me how to use the water filter I bought?

Speaking of ridgelines…when Mario suggested we attempt to hike both of the Arapahoes–that meant trying my hand at Class 3 and Class 4 terrain for the first time–I found myself saying, “Yes,” without much hesitation. I knew without a doubt the route would freak me out and put me clear outside of my comfort zone. I also warned him there was a considerable chance I’d bail after eyeballing the route in person. But I wanted to try nonetheless.

We summited the south peak with ease, which made me smile because that fact in and of itself proved I’ve gotten stronger this year. Then we started the traverse to the north peak. I very nearly called it after he lead me up the first difficult climb. It felt as sketchy as I anticipated, and I wasn’t convinced I wanted to continue. But after successfully navigating a ridiculous downclimb and some expert route-finding from Mario, we continued on.

After some tricky, exposed but doable scrambling, we found ourselves facing the notorious Class 4 slab. Again, I very nearly called it, desperate to return to the safety of our car. There was no way I was getting my body up over that rock. It seemed impossible. But then, almost miraculously, a pair of women followed by a small group of hikers demonstrated the technique flawlessly. Once they’d finished, I felt confident enough to try it myself. And up I went! I don’t think I’ve ever surprised myself more. Then came the narrow rock portion described above, which was, by far, the most terrifying part. A highlight of the trek was celebrating the small victory with Mario and the folks that had crushed the slab before us by whooohoo-ing from across the ridge. (They had already put quite a bit of distance on us, of course.)

We continued on until we had less than a quarter mile to the summit. But after more downclimbing, we still had a considerable ascent to cover. And we had been out on the ridge alone for almost four hours. And I was fried in every way possible. And I knew we still had the return trek to complete. So I made the decision to call it early and head back. Full disclosure, I cried with relief. Mario, being the incredibly supportive person that he is, was on board without hesitation.

The relief I felt once we’d returned to the south summit was unreal. Even though I didn’t officially finish both peaks, I’d completed the most difficult parts. I had absolutely accomplished what I’d set out to do. In fact, I had exceeded what I thought I was capable of physically and mentally at this point in my new life as a trail runner/hiker.

I was deliriously happy.

We celebrated with beers and pizza, of course.

Between the sunrise runs atop spectacular peaks and the postrun IPAs after another successful Green, that feeling has become more common lately. Thanks to the incredible support of my newfound friends, I’ve embraced my newbie status. This year has been a transformative one, in the best way possible. And that’s despite all the hellfire this year has thrown at all of us.

Delirious happiness. Immense gratitude. I can’t stop smiling. And I know there is so much more to come. So many more mountains to summit. So many more trails to explore and (dare I say ultra?) distances to cover. So much more to learn.

I can’t freaking wait.

Going Long—Really Long—Again

14 miles.

I’ve had this arbitrary distance floating around in my head for awhile now. As per usual, when I get fixated on tackling a certain loop or workout, I need to do it. ASAP. But I’ve been flirting with this distance for a few months, and the closest I got was 13.1 miles a couple weeks ago because I decided midrun I could manage an unofficial half marathon that morning.

But 14 miles? That seemed… far. Too far for what I can manage these days, I told myself.

Regardless, I wanted to check it off that mental to-do list before marathon training kicks off this fall, which—fun fact!—I signed up for my first marathon since 2015! I plan to run the El Paso Marathon next February. I’ve always wanted to run 26.2 in my hometown and it seems like the perfect comeback marathon after my hiatus from serious racing.

Anyway, one night last week before a shift at work for which there was a chance of being called off, I told myself that if I did get the day off, I’d make the most of the early wake-up and do a really long run. And for whatever reason, 15 miles was the new goal.

Sure enough, I got the call and promptly pulled off my scrubs and laced up my running shoes to head to the Boulder Reservoir. I started off down the gravel road around 6:45 a.m. The sun was shining but the air was still cool (thank God for dry air in the summer!) and I felt fresh. For the first time in years, I tried to settle in mentally for the long haul. I told myself, find an easy rhythm, no need to go fast, enjoy the insanely gorgeous scenery, remember I get to do this, I don’t need to do this, and just cover the distance.

A couple hours later, 15 miles buzzed on my watch. It certainly didn’t look or feel pretty, but the epic views more than made up for it. I was exhausted but elated.

 

Heading into this marathon cycle, after a break long enough that the distance feels more like a stranger than an old friend, my goal is just to complete it and enjoy the heck out of racing with my family on the sidelines for the first time ever. Because it’s been so long and I feel like my body is in an entirely different place, I have no idea what I’m capable of running time-wise. Who knows if training at altitude (and a moderate drop in elevation for race day) plus winter temps (i.e. perfectly mild desert coolness) will magically add some zip to my stride that I haven’t felt in ages?

Along the way, I want to get my feet on as many trails as I can in this stunning new home of mine and hope to meet new running friends along the way. I have no expectations but for the first time in a long time, I’m freakin’ excited to run again.

Craving Simplicity

I often start my runs without a set distance in mind. I’ll pick a range, say eight to 10 miles, and make a game-time decision before the turnaround point. I’m also a creature of habit, treading the same handful of routes without experiencing an ounce of boredom.

A week or so ago, I set out for my weekly long run. It had recently snowed and the trail was an obstacle course of melting snow and mud. Despite it being midday, the overcast sky had a purple, dusk-like feel, which blended into the blanketed white grassland. I had the trail to myself, save for a prairie dog scurrying across the path here and there. And because I’m a firm believer in running without music, my breaths and the crunching snow beneath my feet were the soundtrack.

At first, I figured I’d bail at the four-mile mark—eight miles were more than enough in the tough terrain. But within steps of pulling the u-ey, it hit me. Despite my slowed pace, this run felt borderline euphoric. Here I was, leaving a path of footprints through a stunning snowy landscape, lost in my thoughts yet finely tuned into my body. I suck at formal meditation, but this felt like my own form of meditation. So I pressed on for another mile with a renewed sense of purpose, yearning to prolong this sensation for a few more minutes. Hello, ten miles and an unexpected runner’s high.

These days, since I still don’t have a formal race on the calendar, running has served as a mental escape, a quiet break from all things digital. I started my first job as an RN just over a month ago (which I absolutely LOVE!), so running in the fresh air with the birds chirping balances out full days spent indoors with call bells buzzing haphazardly. And the hour or so spent on the gravel unglues me from my phone (thank goodness).

I can’t say I spend the time thinking about anything in particular nor am I working through the minutiae of my last shift. If anything, I’m constantly assessing how I feel — Does my breathing feel relaxed or strained with the altitude? Do my legs feel springy and fit or is yesterday’s 12-hour shift still weighing them down? Why do I feel warm but my thumbs still feel like ice cubes?

Throughout my life as a runner, my runs have served many purposes. They’ve erased stressed and maintained my sanity. They’ve inspired me to push myself to new heights and allowed me to connect with others. These days, they feel like a routine cleansing of my mind. It feels good to focus on how it feels to just move and breathe. It’s almost as if, after three years of the sheer insanity that was changing careers, my mind is craving simplicity.

 

The Hiatus Is Over. It’s Comeback Time.

One Monday a couple months ago, I found myself at the base of the towering Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado, a trail of dusty orange gravel stretched out before me and into the mountains. It was still August, but the cool evening air was hinting at autumn.

We set off along the path, which quickly turned narrow, steep, and rocky. My lungs, still not acquainted with the altitude, began to burn almost instantly. Not long after, my quads followed suit. But we continued to climb, briefly quickening our pace to a slow jog on occasion when the path leveled out before we returned to a slow, painful trudge upward through the trees.

The loop called for more than 2,400 feet of climbing in 3.5 miles, followed by a 3-mile descent. God knows I’m always up for a challenge. But it became clear early on that I had possibly bitten off more than I could chew.

It’s been over a year since I’ve written on this blog. When I last checked in, I wrote that I’d finally decided to start taking running seriously again. I imagined I’d have more time to run because, after a year of working part-time plus taking classes, I’d finally (theoretically) have a regular schedule again. I even planned to sign up for a fall half-marathon to keep me motivated.

Well, shortly after that post… a little life detour called nursing school started. And so began the most challenging 15 months of my life.

Thankfully, running stuck around for the relentless, insane, and incredible ride.

When school started, my life was quickly consumed with all things nursing. My weekends, which were once filled with long runs followed by even longer naps, turned into nonstop study sessions. And instead of waking up early to escape the heat for a sunrise run, I found myself in scrubs listening to a 6:45 a.m. shift report.

But I tried my best to squeeze in a few runs each week because running, as it has my whole life, keeps me sane. Running seemed to help me process this new chapter of my life and the crazy new career I was pursuing. It kept the stress from becoming all consuming and released the tension that would inevitably build up.

Running and I still had a haphazard relationship, however, which evolved with each passing semester. I did sign up for a fall half-marathon, so despite my ever-present exhaustion, I spent the summer trying to rebuild my endurance. Long runs were rewarded with coffee and a donut, because that was literally all that got me out the door. Then for a couple months at the end of the fall semester, a classmate and I dedicated ourselves to completing a 10-mile run, a distance she hadn’t run in years. Each weekend, we pushed ourselves a little farther, spending the miles trying to clear our minds as the leaves changed and fell around us. The morning after our last exam that semester, buoyed by the fact that we’d successfully endured finals week, we laced up on a frigid December day and ran 11.

The spring brought with it a streak of amazing mid-week “mini” long runs. My schedule worked out so that I’d have Wednesday afternoons off. I wore my workout clothes to school and, after sitting for five hours straight, ran 7 miles on the rail trail nearby. During some of those runs, I physically pounded out stress, while others felt effortless thanks to news of a successful exam or an amazing clinical day. Those runs felt like a way to reclaim my life in a small way when school felt all-consuming.

Throughout it all, though, I was never able to run consistently. I missed feeling like my old self, the one that somehow ran marathons not too long ago.

Despite my failing lungs and legs, we reached the crest of the mountain and were rewarded with spectacular views of the sunset. I sat for a moment, gasping for air. I hadn’t felt this spent in months. But wow did it feel good to genuinely push myself again. With spaghetti-like legs, we jogged back down the mountain. On the drive home, I felt I’d run a marathon. Sure, what we’d just finished would be difficult regardless. But boy, did I realize I have my work cut out for me.

Next year is shaping up to be a big one – now that I’m officially an RN, I hope to start working sooner rather than later and get the ball rolling on this new career of mine. (I am beyond excited to start this new chapter in my life.) I also can’t wait to finally settle in to my new home in Colorado. And running wise? 2019 is going to be my year to make a comeback.

I’m not exactly starting from square one. But I’m nowhere near where I was at my best. In theory, “The Plan” is to run a half marathon or two next year and try the good old 26.2 again in 2020. My goal? To feel like myself again. No time goals just yet. The hiatus has been marvelous but it’s officially over.

The climb up the mountain reminded me of my potential, of what it feels like to push myself out of my comfort zone physically and mentally. I hadn’t felt like that in so long and it made me crave it more.

Hey Running, Let’s Be Friends Again, OK?

Today, it finally bubbled to the surface.

(“It” being the urge to pin on a bib and race again, FYI.)

It only took a year and a half, but it happened. If you take a moment, you’ll notice I haven’t touched this blog since last year. That’s because well, aside from being consumed with school and work, running and I have been on a sort of hiatus. I’ll run at least two or three times a week with a gym session, track workout, or mini long run sprinkled in if the motivation strikes. But the only drivers behind my running lately have been 1) maintain at least a shred of fitness 2) stay sane and 3) eat all the pizza.

That said, my fitness compared to where I was a couple years ago has taken a nose dive. For example, on our run to the gym yesterday, what used to be my easy pace felt like a tempo workout. I questioned the pace twice, but my boyfriend assured me we were going much slower than I thought. I tried to pick up the pace in a vain attempt to retain some amount of dignity. My internal speedometer is all out of whack because my fitness has changed in a way I’ve never really experienced in my life as a runner. It’s a jarring feeling, I think because I’ve tricked my brain into thinking I haven’t gotten *that* out of shape.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret backing off from running. My brain and body needed the downtime. But I think I finally miss the old me, a “serious” runner who sets goals and does her best to achieve them.

So today, I texted my boyfriend telling him we should sign up for a half marathon (or two!) this fall. I even threw in the fact that I want to try race it. (And let’s be honest, I hope this post will force me to actually register, too.)

A side note: I’d consider taking on another marathon, but… there’s this little thing called nursing school looming in the not too distant future, and I know better than to subject myself to studying after a Sunday 20-miler. I’ll pass, thanks.

Speaking of nursing school, classes officially start in 37 (!!!) days. Even though part of me is worried school will sap my energy and time to run, I’m hopeful the consistent schedule will help me return to a more regular running routine.

For the past year and a half, no two weeks have been the same. I’m very routine oriented, so this haphazard lifestyle hasn’t been ideal. Because of that, it’s been too easy for me to find excuses to skip a run or workout. I’ve found myself getting into a good workout streak for a few weeks only to lose that fitness (no) thanks to an unexpectedly busy work week or travel or something else.

But I’m tired of feeling like I’m back on track only to have a day like yesterday, running a pace that used to be a breeze but now felt like trudging in sand.

I’m officially over it.

Now with all that said, if anyone has advice for regaining the self-motivation to train consistently again after a hiatus, I would love to hear your insight. Also, thoughts on good fall half marathons in the northeast?

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