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.)