Well I Guess I’m Injured

Navigating injury is always difficult, but doing so during a global pandemic certainly adds an extra layer of challenge.

I haven’t said I’m injured, but when you don’t run for a month because it hurts, at some point you’ve gotta call a spade a spade. Most of my past injuries have been obvious and undeniable, like stress fractures, but this one is less clear. I haven’t gone to a doctor to receive a diagnosis and I ran for a long time debating if it was an injury or if I was just sore and tight. I didn’t want to call it an injury because being home on lockdown, running was my only ounce of normalcy among the chaos and I didn’t want to give that up. 

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In the late fall of 2018, I was diagnosed with a stress fracture and spent most of November and December in a walking boot. That injury healed well and by the end of January I was back to my regular weekly mileage again. As I trained for the 2019 Boston Marathon however, I started having some soreness in my hip that I now credit to being on my feet most of the day in a walking boot throwing my body off balance. I got through Boston training and the race without it being more than an annoyance after long runs and hard efforts and with the week I took completely off after the race, I felt good again for a while. I’m not sure when it came back because it was subtle, but at some point it did and I remember spending a lot of time with my double lacrosse ball to try to relieve tightness and soreness as I prepared for the Richmond Half Marathon in November 2019. After that race, I took a couple days off and continued prepping for a 5k I was running  a couple later. I PR’d both of those races and was having the most fun running I had had in a long time, but after the 5k, I finally realized my hip pain wasn’t going to resolve itself and I needed to back off a bit. I took 3 days off of running to cross train as well as taking my weekly rest day and that was enough for things to feel good again for the next couple of months. But I wouldn’t be writing this if it stuck and before long the nagging pain that was growing all too familiar was back. 

Again, I can’t pinpoint when the hip pain returned, but I had some posterior tibial tendon pain that was almost certainly related. The post-tib pain began in mid-February as I began training for the yet to be cancelled Boston Marathon. At the time, I still didn’t recognize the hip pain as a real issue but I did take a few cross training days and significantly reduced the length and intensity of some long runs to deal with the post-tib issue. That was enough to allow me to maintain my Boston training and although it didn’t feel amazing all the time, I felt that I could get through the marathon and evaluate whether more significant time off was needed after the race. And then everything closed. 

The cancellation of the Boston Marathon sucked, but for me it was definitely a blessing in disguise. By mid-March my hip was really beginning to bother me and the race being cancelled allowed me not to run a 22-miler that I probably had no business running. The pain wasn’t that bad but it was constant and that can’t be a good sign. Hindsight is 20/20 and if I had a do-over I would shut it down completely as soon as the race was cancelled, take some rest and cross train for a bit before it got any worse and I’d be happily running pain free by now. But if years of injuries have taught me anything it’s that even when you learn to rest and listen to your body, you’ll still make the wrong choice sometimes, and I kept running. As we shifted into this strange ‘new normal’ running helped to ground me. Running allowed me to spend time outside and gave me a reason to get up early(ish) and start my day. Lacking the structure of the workday, running provided some semblance of routine and I was reluctant to give that up. 

Finally, I caved. The third week of April my mileage was half of what it was the previous week. I ran like usual on Tuesday and Wednesday but on Thursday I turned around less than half a mile into my run with the sudden return of post-tib pain. I cross-trained for two days and tried to run again on Sunday, but that run proved I needed to shut things down for longer than I’d expected. Since April 20th, I have only run two 20 minute runs to check in and see how things were feeling (which spoiler, was not great either time). 

For the most part, I’ve been inside on the bike trainer cross training, but I recently put air in the tires of my very fancy bike purchased at Target so I could get outside and enjoy the nice weather. Getting outside to cross train has been a huge game changer for me. Although it definitely isn’t the same and I’m jealous of any runner I see, I’m glad I’m able to get some fresh air. 

This week, I also did something I often preach but haven’t done in a very long time. After weeks of cross-training, I finally gave myself some total rest. I was getting sick of the monotony of cross training, especially since it was primarily being done in the same room I work, read, watch TV, and eat (yay tiny DC apartments), so I decided not to work out at all for a few days and see how it felt both physically and mentally. I had just spent a week on the elliptical and I recognized that I was doing it more out of the disordered idea that I have to exercise more than anything and I felt it was important to challenge myself and take some rest even if it felt uncomfortable. Usually I take 5-7 days of complete rest twice a year, but because I haven’t run a marathon since last spring, I hadn’t done that in such a long time. I didn’t even notice how badly I needed it. I took 4 days completely off and by day 4 my hip felt better than it has in a year and I was itching to get outside. I went for a nice easy bike ride on Friday and have started getting back into a bit of routine again in the last few days. My hip is feeling a bit irritated again, but I plan to rest tomorrow and continue to monitor how things feel before I begin a return to running. We’ve had some great weather lately and I have an intense urge to lace up and hit the pavement, but I am not going to let the last month off of running to go to waste. I’m not sure when I am going to be able to get back to running normally, but I know that when I do I want to feel confident that I’m healthy and truly ready to go. 

Navigating injury is always difficult, but doing so during a global pandemic certainly adds an extra layer of challenge. I’ve kicked myself a few times for not being smarter and shutting it down sooner, but I’m trying to lend myself the compassion I would give to my athletes. We all make mistakes and beating ourselves up is never helpful. I’ve made a decision to give my body the time it needs to heal now, and that’s really all I can ask of myself. If you’re dealing with an injury right now, know you’re not alone. We’re missing so many important aspects of our life right now and not having the thing that grounds us and allows us to escape from real life for a bit is an exceptional challenge. Know that whatever you’re feeling is valid and you have people who love and support you no matter what.

Does pace really matter?

Does pace really matter?

Short answer: Probably not nearly as much as you think. 

I’ll preface this with the caveat that this post is one of personal experiences as a runner and coach, not a research article. You can get some of that from David Roche and Mario Frailoi.

When runners think about a workout, what comes to mind is likely running a prescribed distance at a prescribed pace and then doing it again for a prescribed number of times. For example, in college one of my favorite workouts was 18-20 200’s every minute on the minute beginning at 35 seconds and decreasing the pace (that sounds terrible, why did I enjoy that?!). Thinking of workouts this way isn’t incorrect, but it’s also not the only way to think of them. In fact, for most runners it is probably more beneficial to toss out that pace subscription and tune in to how your body feels instead. 

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Pace matters to a degree because when you’re aiming for a PR at a certain distance, you want to go into the race confident that you can hit your goal. But running race pace all the time, or even frequently, is far from the answer you need to get there. Those of us who aren’t professional runners don’t have the privilege of kicking our feet up and watching hours of Netflix to help us recover from a tough workout Wednesday or weekend long run. Instead, we have jobs, families, dogs, chores, cooking, and a slew of other life components to factor in. All of these factors, as well as sleep, nutrition, stress and weather, influence each and every run we do, and rarely (if ever), are they within our control. 

Because of the unpredictability and stressors that come with being an adult human, it’s useful to focus on effort over pace as a method of monitoring your training. Pace may feel like the end all be all, but while maintaining an 8 minute mile for 6 miles on Tuesday may feel like a jaunt through the park, that same pace may feel like a miserable slog for a 3 miler on Thursday. Rationally, you know you’re fitness didn’t up and leave in the 48 hours between those two runs, but if you’re stuck in a pace-based mindset, it can be frustrating and worrisome nonetheless. 

It sounds pretty straightforward, but I know how challenging separating pace from effort is in practice and how many runners are resistant to it. In an attempt to convince you, I’ll tell you a bit about my journey. 

I got my first GPS watch (a Garmin Forerunner 25 that required a cord to sync to my computer and seems totally ancient now) a little while after graduating college in 2013. Having been on a team my entire running career up to that point, this was my first time without a coach or running buddies. I was alone, but I was armed with (to be read with sarcasm) the wisdom and power of constant pace feedback every step of the way. As an already numbers obsessed person, I quickly found myself determining a pace I needed to run before lacing up each day and judging every run by how much faster than that predetermined pace I ran. At the time, I wasn’t really doing workouts, but with my focus on pace, I was running moderately hard to hard, every. single. day. Eventually, as I began training for my second marathon, I added in some workouts and continued to prescribe paces and force myself to hit them no matter what. I disregarded the fact that I was in the midst of a stressful first year of teaching and often sleeping too little as I tried to cultivate a social life and community in a new city. I continued on my way, running hard most days and very hard some days, believing I was on the right track because I was hitting the paces. I even qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, so I thought to myself, ‘this is definitely working’! 

Oh how wrong I was. Long story short, I ran my first Boston Marathon with a tear in my hamstring and was then shackled to the stationary bike the entirety of the summer. A major injury, the result of going too hard too often. Butttt I’m a runner so naturally I didn’t learn my lesson right away. Honestly, I didn’t even start to learn my lesson until over a year later, when I began working with my coach, Megan Roche. 

When I started working with Megan, one of my first workouts was “10x1minute efforts at a pace you could sustain for an hour”. So I’d think about what pace I could run for an hour in ideal conditions and head out in the heat and humidity of D.C. summer aiming to run that pace the whole time, disregarding any and all factors that would indicate I should probably slow down (for the record, you really should slow down in heat and humidity). I trained like this for a while (and still get stuck on it often) before I started to sip the Kool-Aid Megan was serving just a little bit and play around with taking off my watch or turning off the GPS for an easy run here or there. Overtime, watch-less runs became liberating and I slowly allowed myself to run slower on easy days without fear of the pace tattling on me to my Strava followers. 

Running slower on easy days was a huge first step for me and I wholly believe it was a key factor in a marathon breakthrough I had in 2018. When it came to hard, quality sessions though, my eyes were still glued to my wrist, as recently as this past September.

This fall, my job was more stressful than it has ever been and it took virtually every ounce of my physical and mental energy to make it through the school day. Because of this, I really wanted running to be going well so that I could feel successful at something. So I tried to force it. I stared at my watch as I ran workouts at 4pm when it was 90 degrees and then cried when I couldn’t keep up with the pace I had in my head. I felt defeated, slow, and ready to throw the towel. But great coaches don’t let you do that, they problem solve and get you through it. Megan’s solution for me was to turn off the GPS during workouts. I didn’t like the sound of that, but I trusted her wisdom and went for it. Admittedly I left the GPS on, but I took away the pace feedback and only looked at my paces after the workout was over. The amazing thing was, most of the time, my workouts were faster than they’d been just a few weeks earlier when I was driving myself into the ground aiming for a particular pace but I was finally running the appropriate effort rather than running too hard for the sake of a number. Over the course of the next couple months, I began really tuning into my efforts and not overextending myself to reach unrealistic goals. I did a lot of very similar long runs with bouts of half marathon effort mixed in during that training cycle and I found that one Saturday my goal race pace felt like a breeze and the following week 30 seconds slower than that was a challenge. Neither run was objectively better than the other (although I’d argue the slower one was probably better for the mental toughness aspect), the effort was similar and therefore so were the gains from it, but I finally allowed myself to run by feel and not get as caught up in judging the pace. The best part of it all was that when it came to race day, I ran about 20 seconds per mile faster than I what I typically did at the same effort in a race-pace workout (a 3 and a half minute PR), proving to myself once in for all, that it never really mattered that much what my watch said day to day.

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I still have a long way to go in letting go of the pace and truly running by feel, but this morning was a proud moment for me. I got up early to run before work, which is something I don’t do often, and before I even started running, I acknowledged that my paces during my tempo and 6/4/2 minute 5k effort  intervals would be slower than my actual 5k race pace because I’m not an early morning runner and I was sure to be a bit tired. This mindset allowed me to run my workout hard but not too hard and avoid crying mid-interval out of frustration that I wasn’t hitting my ‘pace’ (which I really, really wasn’t).

 

Clearly, changing this mindset doesn’t happen overnight, but if I’ve convinced you to give it a shot, here are a few suggestions:

  • Start with easy runs! Don’t go straight to pace-free workouts, it will probably stress you out more. Start by mapping out one easy run a week so you can leave your watch at home and just run your planned route with no attention to time. 
  • Change your watch screen. I used to have time, distance, and pace displayed on my watchface. Now I have time, distance, and lap time displayed. Lap splits make workouts easy and with this display I can keep the GPS  running without constantly seeing the pace. I still like getting my mile splits, but now it’s usually to make sure I’m not going too fast on easy days! 
  • Transition to time-based workouts. Instead of running 800m, 1000m, or mile repeats, run for time. If you plan on running 800 meter repeats, do the same workout with 3-4 minute intervals instead. Same workout, less room for judgment!
  • Finally, get off social media/Strava if that’s behind your attachment to pace. Literally no one cares if you’re running 6 minute miles or 12 minute miles, but if you find yourself speeding up because you’re worried about what your Strava followers will think, stop running and delete the damn app right there. 

So bottom line, once again, pace sorta kinda matters, but not nearly as much as you think! 

This post was about 700 words longer than anticipated, so thanks for sticking it out and happy running!

A Call for Responsible Content

“Weighing yourself is a disordered and ineffective coping strategy for managing the anxiety you feel about your body”. -Emily Fonnesbeck, RD

When I was younger, I lived on the scale. I’d wake up in the morning and weigh myself before I even brushed my teeth. Stepping on the scale was the very first thing I would think of each day. That wasn’t the only time I’d weigh myself, either. I’d weigh myself before I showered and after, before and after I ate or went for a run, and then I’d weigh myself before bed. I probably weighed myself at least three times a day and I’m sure there were days I weighed myself as many as six or seven times. I weighed myself constantly in hopes of seeing a smaller, more acceptable number. There was always a number in my head, a goal I was striving for, and I thought if I ever saw that number, it could all stop. I thought if the number was small enough, I could give myself permission to stop obsessively weighing myself, stop counting calories, stop cutting out food groups and skipping meals, and stop punishing myself when I slipped up and ate something “bad”. I thought that if I reached the right number on the scale, I could let go of all my stress and anxiety around food and my body and I would finally be happy. Now I know how wrong that was. The number on the scale was never going to bring me happiness.

The scale, and the number on it, controlled me. No matter how much I weighed, I’d convince myself I needed to weigh less. As long as I was weighing myself, I was bound to a number that was certain to make me unhappy. 


If at 16 or 18 or 20, I saw an image of an elite runner standing on a scale and I could see her weight, I have no doubt I would I have been devastated. The eating disorder and body dysmorphia I was already struggling with would have been intensified in an instant. This is why now, a few years wiser and more recovered from my eating disorder, when I see an elite runner who has built a platform as a body acceptance advocate share an image of herself on a scale where you can easily see her weight, I feel a strong responsibility to speak out.

You can promote body acceptance or advertise for a scale. You can’t do both. 

I feel extremely grateful to say that I am no longer triggered when I see someone else’s weight, but I know how deeply this can impact others, especially vulnerable young women and girls, because I’ve been there. If you gain popularity and a platform by speaking out against the idea that you need to be rail thin to be fast, then you have a responsibility to your supporters to use that platform wisely. If you create a message intended to help a following of vulnerable young women and girls, you owe it to those followers to not promote messages or products that can lead directly to harmful thinking and behaviors.

When speaking out against this athlete’s promotion of a scale and the carelessness of posting her weight, I received a lot of criticism. I was told that in requesting she be more conscious of how sharing her weight can harm her followers, I was being controlling. I was told that it’s unreasonable to ask people to censor their posts so that others aren’t triggered and that anyone triggered by someone’s weight is “bound to fail”. I was told that I was projecting my own issues onto the post and that if I see this post as negative, I need to take a look in the mirror. I was told that if someone is “that sensitive to the number on a scale, they should be the one to moderate what they ingest”. These comments are so incredibly stigmatizing and it pains me to think about how many people are potentially being hurt by reading them. 

So let’s take a look at some of this criticism. Is it too much to ask someone to censor their posts so that others aren’t triggered? Maybe. But if that person claims they are sharing their journey to help people struggling with body image, I really, really don’t think it is. In fact, I don’t see it as censorship at all. It’s a call to be more responsible, and to stay true to your message. If you want to post numbers like weight and bod pod results, fine, but then you can’t also say you want to help people struggling with body image. Posting those numbers does nothing but harm individuals struggling, along with solidifying the idea that runners have to be lean, and a lower than average weight. Many people make the argument that it’s refreshing to see an athlete that “weighs more than most elites”, but the fact of the matter is, she still weighs far less than the average American woman and sharing her weight opens up a breeding zone for comparison. If you truly want to help people struggling with disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and their body, then refraining from posting your weight shouldn’t be much of an ask. If you truly want to promote body acceptance, be more aware of what triggers body dissatisfaction.

Next, am I projecting “my issues” onto the post? Totally. I’m projecting because I know 30 million people suffer with eating disorders in the US and that eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness. I’m sharing “my issues” with the hope that others struggling with the same thing can see they are not alone. This line of thinking—this “you’re projecting your own issues, look in the mirror”—is why the stigma around eating disorders and mental illness continues to exist. It’s why people continue to suffer in silence.

Now, let’s address the idea that if you’re triggered by a number on a scale it’s your responsibility to moderate the content you ingest. Sure, if you are struggling with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia and you are aware of your illness, it would be in your best interest to moderate what you ingest to the extent that you’re able. But if you’re following a “body positive” account, shouldn’t this content be considered safe? If an account is truly body positive, there won’t be content triggering to those with disordered eating or body image concerns. Anyone working to help individuals who are struggling, and doing a good job of it, is mindful of what they post and any potential harm their words, images, or numbers could cause. Of course, this is all if you already recognize you’re struggling, which most people don’t and in those (read: most) cases, this type of content will just fuel the fire. Again, I know because I’ve been there.

Finally, if you are triggered by a number, be it weight or something else, you are not bound to fail. I’m honestly not sure what the failure we’re referring to here is, but I know you’re not bound for it. If you are triggered by an elite athlete posting their weight there is nothing wrong with you, you are human. (Even if you didn’t feel triggered by it, but feel upset about it like I do, you’re human.) We live in a culture that assigns worth to numbers like size and weight, it’s not at all surprising if seeing these numbers brings you anxiety and stress. These numbers are meaningless in that they don’t actually tell us anything about a person or a person’s health, but unfortunately in our society, they matter a lot. It’s easy to tell someone not to look or not to care about someone else’s weight, but it’s a lot more difficult to actually ignore these numbers in practice, especially if you’re battling a mental illness. If we want to move our society forward in a way that values humans over bodies, the comparison-breeding numbers need to go. 

If you’re following accounts that trigger you or make you feel bad, its OK to unfollow them. Unfollow them even if you think they are *supposed* to be helping you. It’s OK to be skeptical, not every post with #bodypositivity is useful, sometimes it’s just a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You know what’s best for you and if someone is praised for their transparency and bravery but you still find their message triggering, know that your feelings are valid and it’s on them to fix it rather than on you to get over it.

As always, you are not alone and you deserve any help and support you need. You also deserve actual body acceptance, and resources that follow through on helping you with it. 


If you’re struggling with disordered thoughts or behaviors around food, your body, or exercise, help is available. Visit the NEDA Help & Support Page Here or call the NEDA Hotline: (800) 931-2237

Here are a few accounts that I’ve found helpful on my recovery journey! Let me know what accounts you enjoy!

On the Mend

On November 4th, I ran my second fastest marathon to date, despite some foot pain and lots of stomach issues. I finished the race slightly disappointed in my time, but proud of myself for fighting through adversity to a strong finish and even prouder for managing to have fun some fun along the way. A few hours after the race, I had done some processing and reflecting, and I decided I was content with the result of the day, but the fire inside of me was burning brighter than ever. I knew I needed to take some time off, and was looking forward to doing so, but at the same time, was eager to run again with sights set on big goals in the spring.

“You can be proud of yourself and want more out of yourself at the same time.” -Alexi Pappas

I took a full week completely off after the race before going for a 10 minute jog with my puppy one day. To my surprise (and dismay), the foot pain I’d experienced on and off before New York and then significantly during the race, had not resolved itself during my week of rest. For the first time, I realized I might actually be injured.  A week later, I found this to be true, receiving my third stress fracture diagnosis.

 

I experienced a range of emotions over the next few days, most significantly, frustration at feeling like I should have known better, but overall I coped pretty OK. Fortunately, a number of running injuries, including the previous stress fractures, have taught me lessons in patience. In addition, I am lucky to have a tremendous support system, including the Lane 9 community and my coach, to lean on when I felt defeated. At times I felt like it was my fault, but I knew deep down that I trained smart and treated my body as well as I could have.

Sometimes injuries just happen.

So let’s fast forward. It’s now the middle of January and I can confidently say that I am fully on the mend. Progress started slowly. Very slowly. But now I am beginning to feel like I’m gaining momentum.

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It began a month ago, December 23rd to be exact, with 15 minutes of 1 minute running, 1 minute walking. Those 15 minutes were incredible. I was just so grateful and thrilled to be outside again, moving my body in the way that I love. From there, the running increased slowly and the cross-training days became less frequent. But as I began my third week of running, frustration began to sink in. I was finally starting to run continuously, without the walk intervals, but it felt slow and hard, and like I wasn’t making any progress. I was quick to get down on myself and started to wish I did not have a spring marathon on the horizon. But each time I let the doubt creep in, I forced myself to take a deep breath and practice patience. I reminded myself that I’ve been here before and chances are, I’ll be here again.  Progress will come in due time, but fitness cannot be rushed, especially if I hope to remain injury free.

I am nowhere near where I hope to be come April and honestly, I probably won’t reach peak fitness by then. But on Saturday, I had the best run I’ve has since that race on November 4th. For the first time in months, running felt smooth, natural, and dare I say…fun! I even felt a little fast again. Sunday, was the opposite and I felt slow and robotic as I surged into a strong headwind, but I kept Saturday’s run in mind. I tucked away that memory of feeling good on the run and reminded myself I’ll feel that way again soon.

I’ll have my first mini-workout this week and no matter how it feels, the fact that it’s on my schedule at all is a testament to how far just one month has brought me. I’ve still got some cross training on the schedule, but Saturdays are getting longer, hill strides are getting easier, and my pace is getting just the slightest bit quicker. Progress is slow, and it’s not linear, but damn does it feel good.  

 

Injuries Happen

Originally published in the Lane 9 Project newsletter. Subscribe here! 

Sometimes you think you do everything right and you still end up injured. That’s the boat I’m in right now.

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A few weeks before the NYC marathon I felt a little pain in my foot. Not even pain really, just something I noticed, an area feeling a little off. I took note of it in my training log and ran a couple more days before backing off because the feeling was still there. Once I backed off, the discomfort subsided, and it was back to business as usual. Just a little niggle, maybe a close call, but now I was in the clear. Until I wasn’t.

A few days later, the (sort of) pain returned, so I eased up again. I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back, I eased up, the pain vanished, I ran normally, it came back. Wash, rinse, repeat for the next couple of weeks. Again and again it vanished then came back, but it never exceeded just a slight discomfort, so I never suspected anything serious. In the end, I chalked it up to soreness resulting from a long training cycle and the concrete floor of my classroom that I spend most of my day walking around on. Before I knew it, it was the week of New York and the pain was so subtle I had to think about it to notice it. I deemed myself fine and set off for the marathon. I knew I was wrong around mile 8 in New York, when the pain intensified and I worried I wouldn’t finish the race.

Since mending my relationship with running, I’ve worked hard to train smart and listen to my body, and I am very proud of the progress I have made. I’ve taken more unplanned rest than ever before, I’ve slowed way down on easy runs, and I’ve prioritized sleep and nutrition. I try to do everything “right”, but I ended up with a stress fracture anyway.

When my doctor gave me the dreaded stress fracture diagnosis, I felt all the injury feels. Mad, annoyed, frustrated, sad, the list goes on. But most of all, I was disappointed. I was disappointed in myself because I felt like I failed at taking care of my body, something I’ve worked so hard on. For a little while I blamed myself and believed it was my fault  that I was injured. For a few days, it left me feeling pretty low.

In the days following the diagnoses, I rehashed my training and my pain leading up to New York. I pictured every run and tried to think if there was more pain than I had wanted to admit. I wondered if I should have done something different so I wouldn’t have ended up in this walking boot. But the more and more I analyzed it, the more I realized that there’s probably not much I could have done.

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My old friend, walking boot

The last time I had a stress fracture I wasn’t taking care of myself. My eating was disordered, my mental health was a mess, and I was without a doubt overtraining. This time, I didn’t fall victim to any of those things. I ate enough, I rested often, and I balanced my training with my busy work schedule so I wouldn’t overtrain. Sure, maybe I should have rested longer when I first felt the pain, but as any runner knows, oftentimes the line between soreness and injury is a blurry one.

I got injured, pretty seriously, but it isn’t my fault. Sometimes, we do the best we can and we get injured anyway, it’s a natural consequence of endurance sports. Even the most high-level athletes with ample access to recovery and injury prevention techniques get injured. Seriously, it happens. So the next time you’re injured, because there is going to be a next time, give yourself a little grace. Don’t beat yourself up and look at it as an opportunity instead. Right now, I’m biking and aqua jogging in an attempt to keep some fitness for spring racing, but I’m also taking a much more relaxed approach, as to give my mind the break it needs from intense, focused workouts. I’m also focusing on strength, something my schedule has led me to neglect this past year.

Maybe I should have taken my pain a little more seriously, and I’ll work hard to be more in tune with my body once I’m running again. I’m a work in progress. I don’t endorse running through injury, but sometimes all of us make the wrong call when we’re walking that line and there’s no use punishing yourself when you make that mistake. In the end, I’m not stressing myself out or beating myself up because injuries happen and that’s life.


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A longer than necessary NYC Marathon recap

Last week, I had the privilege of running the streets of New York City with over 50,000 other runners. It wasn’t a perfect race, because that doesn’t exist, but it was certainly a different experience than any other marathon, one where I had to make some decisions I have not previously faced and one where I was able to test my resilience in a new way.

In the weeks approaching New York, I struggled with a lot of doubts. Training through D.C. summer makes it nearly impossible to know what actual shape you’re in, and training through the first few months of a new school year is down right exhausting. I originally had a goal of breaking three hours, but going into the race, I put that goal on hold and vowed to focus on running smart, strong, and having fun.

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New York is unique in that you get on busses to shuttle to the start before the sun comes up, yet you don’t start racing until around 10:00 am or later, depending on your wave. The Boston Marathon is similar, but in my experience, because the shuttle to the start is shorter, I’ve been able to sleep in longer than I did in New York. I knew since I was getting up before 5:00 am but not racing until 9:50, I’d need to focus on getting an adequate amount of calories in before the race. So before catching my Lyft to the midtown library around 5:30, I ate a little bit of oatmeal.

Once I got to the library I jumped in the massive line for the busses. Shockingly, I was able to spot the top knot of my friend (and NPDC co-leader) Maria just ahead. I shouted her name and was lucky to catch up to her and ride the bus together. Having someone to chat with during the two hours it took us to get to the start area in Staten Island was a relief. Not only did it help pass the time a little, but it took my mind off the race and any nerves I had. During the bus ride I ate some more  (a Kind Bar and a Honey Stinger Waffle) and drank Nuun.

We got to athlete’s village (or whatever they called it in NY) just after 8:00 am and went through security. We then went our separate ways to wait for our wave to be called to the corrals. I immediately got in a bathroom line (which was long but nothing like the lines I’ve waited in at Boston or Chicago) and ate a second Honey Stinger while finishing up my Nuun. This was the last I’d planned to eat or drink before the race. By the time I made it in and out, they were beginning to call my wave, so I hopped into my corral and kept my eyes out for another friend I had plans of meeting.

As we began being ushered to the Verrazano Bridge, I ran into Claire. We excitedly shuffled onto the bridge while we caught up and swapped race plans. It was a crowded and overwhelming start, so it was nice to have a friendly face around. Before we knew it, the howitzer fired, we wished each other good luck, and we were off!

The first mile was more crowded than any race I’ve ever run, but I didn’t mind because it kept me from running too fast. I also spent my energy focused on not tripping over the people around me and I honestly didn’t notice we were running up hill at all. My first mile was around 7:30, slower than planned, but that was perfect.

The next 4-5 miles flew by and I felt like I was running downhill for a lot of it. My frozen feet had finally warmed up by mile 3 or so and I was just cruising along. My mile splits were a bit fast, but the effort felt even easier than I wanted it to, so I wasn’t worried. Around mile 6 I caught up to the 3:05 pace group and settled in with them.

Fueling during the marathon has been my weakness since I started running them and I wanted to really focus on getting it right this race. I feel like I nailed my hydration in my last couple marathons, so nailing my fuel was the next step in improving my race and really finishing strong. I decided to take my first Huma gel around mile 7 while I was feeling great and surrounded by a pace group to do the work for me. Between mile 7 and 9 I took most of the gel and kept cruising along. The miles were going by so fast I couldn’t believe that I was already coming up on the half. I knew I was running faster than planned, but I felt like I was jogging, so I figured I was safe.

Around mile 11, my stomach started bothering me and that’s when things took a bit of a turn. I debated for a while, but just before the half I took a quick pit-stop at the porta potty. I’ve never stopped for the bathroom in a race before and I was hesitant, especially when I was running so well, but I made the choice and hoped it wouldn’t ruin everything. To my surprise, my legs felt fine when I started running again and I only lost about 30 seconds on the mile. Unfortunately, I still felt sick and took another stop at the end of mile 14, just before heading over the bridge. I lost a bit more time there, but was still on pace to run under 3:05 if the rest of the race panned out, so I kept pressing.

I got going again and fell right back into the rhythm of low-7’s and my stomach was feeling much better. The dreaded Queensboro Bridge felt like nothing to me and I didn’t slow down at all. I flew off the bridge, taking advantage of the downhill while others hesitantly scooted down. I clocked some of my fastest splits from mile 18 to 20, averaging around 6:50. During those three miles my stomach was feeling fine again and I knew that if I didn’t at least try taking another gel I’d risk bonking, so I took the chance of feeling sick again and took about half a gel during those miles. My stomach quickly turned sour again and at 22 I took another pit stop (which was conveniently timed with an untied shoe) and lost about another minute. Stopping at 22 really had me worried about being able to move my legs and run fast again, but after a few steps they felt fine and I was able to run a decent mile 23.

After the second gel my stomach just didn’t recover and during mile 23, although I maintained a decent pace, I was fighting getting sick. Just past the mile 23 marker, my body took over and I found myself keeled over on the sidewalk, throwing up for about 3 minutes. The crowd and volunteers were amazing, cheering me on and checking to make sure I was alright. A woman handed me a mini-water bottle which I walked with and sipped on for about 30 seconds before getting back into a run headed toward the finish. It crossed my mind to walk jog to the end or to walk to 25 and jog the last mile, but I knew I still had a shot of running a solid time, so I wasn’t ready to give up.

Central Park was amazing and I wish I could have enjoyed it more than I did. I was really freaked out about the hills heading into New York, especially the hills at the end, but those fears were unwarranted. The hills in New York seriously are not as bad as people make them out to be. Honestly, I felt like I was running downhill through most of Central Park. I tried to run hard and kick to the finish but I could only do so much without puking again. I was also in a lot of pain from a nagging little niggle that flared up during the race and caused some compensation during the later miles.

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That last .2

Despite the nauseous feeling I ran with through the park, before I knew it I could see the finish line. Fighting up the hill to the finish, I heard my name and turned to see a friend of mine finishing right beside me. It was pretty amazing that out of over 50,000+ people. we happened to finish side by side! We crossed the finish line and after I spent a little more time emptying the contents of my stomach, he and I waddled through the shoot together and rehashed our races. Just like at the start, it was nice to have a friendly face around.

 

I made it back to where we were staying and spent some time drinking water and resting before hopping into a long and glorious shower. I waited quite a while before finally eating and fortunately, my stomach was ready for food again. The rest of the day was filled with mimosas, pizza, beer, nachos, and friends. It was fantastic. We also went out to the finish around 7:00 pm to cheer on the final finishers, which was incredibly inspiring and made me tear up over and over again ( I later connect the dots that one of the woman I watched finish is a fellow SWAPPER).

I felt better the rest of the day and the following days than I ever have after a marathon and I think that’s in part because I wasn’t truly able to test my fitness. I’m ok with that though. I had so much fun and enjoyed running a beautiful course on the best marathon weather day I’ve ever experienced. I think New York forced me to persevere in a different way than races in the past have which definitely taught me a lot about what I’m actually capable of. A couple of years ago I would have definitely given up on myself, if not at mile 13-14, definitely at mile 24. I have no doubt I would have walked it in and regretted it later. But I didn’t do that because in the past few years, and especially since working with my coach, I’ve learned so much about the marathon and about myself. I know I am capable of so much more than I think I am every time I’m out there.

I didn’t leave NYC with a shiny new PR, but I did run my second best time, a time I would have killed for only a year ago, and that’s pretty damn cool. Sure, there’s a level of frustration when I think about what I could have run if I didn’t have stomach problems, but I’m comforted knowing I gave it all I had, I controlled what I could, and my fastest days are still ahead. I am proud of myself, but I am hungry for more.


2018 New York City Marathon

Marathon 9

3:10.34

Empire State of Mind

This time five years ago, I would have been recovering, and beginning to run again, after completing my first marathon, the Corning Wineglass Marathon in October. Those days feel so long ago, but also like just yesterday. Looking back, I am baffled by how far I’ve come.

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During the fall of 2013, I was living in NYC and “training” for my first marathon. A few months prior, I had run my last college track race and with that, I shut the door on my competitive running career. At the time, there was no place in my mind for serious post-collegiate running, and even if there had been, my relationship with running was so broken that I would not have entertained the idea. I had registered for the Wineglass Marathon only to run a race with my mom  and to check “Run a Marathon” off the bucket list.

In the summer leading up to the race, I worked at a summer camp where I was a bunk counselor and running counselor. I spent my days running loop after loop around camp with high school girls who were aiming to stay in shape for their upcoming field hockey or soccer seasons. Since most of those runs were slower than I was used to, in addition, I’d run early in the morning or during my off periods in order to get my “actual” marathon training in (even though I had NO idea how to train for a marathon). I didn’t count much of the running I was doing with the campers toward my mileage, and as a result I was likely, without realizing, putting in the highest mileage of my life. Since my relationship with running, food, and my body was so poor at the time, I wasn’t eating enough, resting enough, or listening to my body either. By August, I had a stress fracture in one of my metatarsals.

Fast forward to fall and few weeks into my time in NYC, I was given the clear to run again. If I remember correctly, I was about 3 weeks out from Wineglass and my long run PR was still just 12.5 miles. In those three weeks, I ran as much as I could around Central Park. I tried forcing fitness I didn’t have and running mileage I wasn’t ready for. It was dumb, painful, and it definitely didn’t make me happy. I absolutely loved running around New York, but I never fully enjoyed it because not a single run was done for the right reasons. Every run was a means to an end. A way to get thinner and be better. Whatever that means.

Finally, race weekend arrived and I took the bus back upstate to meet my mom in Binghamton and then drive to Corning. Don’t ask my mom about that day. She would tell you I was an absolutely miserable person to be around. I was grumpy about running the race, I knew I was unprepared, and the idea of waking up at 5AM to run more than double my longest run ever was daunting at best. But I did it and to my surprise, I finished a little but under four hours. I really can’t remember feeling anything other than tired when I finished, but it was pretty awesome having run the same marathon as my mom. That’s not something most people get to say.

It didn’t happen right away, but not long after crossing the finish line in Corning, I knew I wasn’t ready to put the marathon to rest. I didn’t have any big dreams of being competitive again and I didn’t even want to qualify for Boston yet, but I knew I wanted to race again and that I wanted to go faster. In two weeks I’ll be back in New York for marathon number 9.

I find it fitting that five years later this marathon takes me back to where it all started and in the past few weeks of training I’ve done a lot of reflecting. I didn’t expect running my 9th marathon to feel like some huge milestone, but it kind of does. Five years and 8 marathons ago I was unhappy, and I was struggling with disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with running and myself. I hated the sport I’d once loved and I never thought I’d enjoy it again. I had no clue what my plan was past students teaching and really, I just felt lost.

Since then, so much has changed. It began when I moved the the D.C. area for my first teaching job. My environment changed, my friends changed, and relationship with running started to shift. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 2014 and qualified for the Boston Marathon for the first time, which started to bring back a little bit of my competitive fire. It didn’t happen quickly, but over time things began to change and by the time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon again in 2016, my fourth marathon, I think I could actually say I enjoyed running again.

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In the early summer of 2017 I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I was hesitant due to my relationship with running the last time I had a coach, but I can say with confidence it was one of the best decisions I ever made. In the fall of 2017, I ran a 9 minute PR at the Chicago marathon, officially reviving my desire to be competitive, and then in the spring of 2018, despite horrific conditions, I shaved off another 6 minutes to run under 3:10 for the first time in Boston.

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Although Chicago and Boston were my seventh and eighth marathons, I feel like they were the very  beginning. For a long time I thought I had potential to break 3:20, on a perfect day, but now I know it’s so much more. After Boston, I set my sights on breaking 3 hours.

Training for New York has been far from perfect (as most training blocks are). For one, summer in D.C. is brutal with heat and humidity, so I rarely felt successful during a workout or long run. Then came the stress of switching back to teaching kindergarten at a new school and adjusting to the incredibly busy schedule of the school year. And finally, in the past month, the kindergarten germs knocked me down and I was forced to adjust some training because I just didn’t have the health or energy to get everything in.

October has been littered with doubt and fear. I’ve been holding on tight to the goal of breaking three hours, but my training hasn’t necessarily given me the confidence to believe that’s realistic. I’ve had a difficult time keeping things in perspective and not being too hard on myself, but this week I’ve finally started to get past that mental block and take on a more optimistic attitude.

I don’t think I’m ready to break 3 hours in New York, and that’s OK. I’m confident that I’m ready to run a great race. New York is a tough course and it isn’t known for impressively fast times. My training has been hard and I’ve dealt with a lot of life stress. Is it possible that I could have a perfect race and make it happen? Sure. But that’s not my goal at this point.

I’m turning this race into a celebration more than any other, because not only do I get to celebrate finishing another marathon, but I get to celebrate five years of tremendous growth in my life. Once again, I love running and I have fun with it. Finally, I eat food and I enjoy it. For the first time, I am comfortable in my own skin and I no longer spend time hating my body. Running fast times is great, but there is so much more to running and life. In the grand scheme, the time I run on November 4th does not matter at all. My life won’t change whether I run a 3:10, a 3:05, or 3 hours. It won’t even change if I run 4 hours. But I do believe my life will be a little better if I savor every step I run around the beautiful city of New York and appreciate what an amazing opportunity it is to be where I am today.

I’ll break three eventually, when the time is right, but I don’t need to rush. I am focused on the present moment and I am meeting my body and mind where it is.


Corning Wineglass Marathon, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon, 2014

Boston Marathon, 2016

Marine Corps Marathon, 2016

Boston Marathon, 2017

Pocono Marathon, 2017

Chicago Marathon, 2017

Boston Marathon, 2018