Progress is Not Linear

When a baby learns to walk, she crawls for a while. In time, slowly and with the support of adult hands, she stands up and moves forward. Finally, one day she takes her first steps, free of parental support. But seconds later, she falls. She gets back up, takes a few more steps and inevitably she falls again. This process is repeated over and over and over for months on end, until eventually, she stops falling. As she develops into a young child, her early childhood will be riddled with scrapes and bruises from countless trips and falls. She won’t fall every day, maybe not even every week, but she will still fall until at some point in her life, she will stop falling almost completely. Even as an adult however, there will be a fall from time to time, whether it’s tripping over a root or falling over a shadow. Even every adult falls.

Progress is never linear.

Eating disorder recovery is a lot like learning to walk. It starts slow and choppy, and you may feel like you’re failing most of the time. But overtime with commitment and support, it slowly becomes easier and more consistent. No one masters eating disorder recovery in a day (or month, or year). Eating disorder recovery is a long and challenging process. Even when you think you’ve got it down, like an adult surprised by a fall, you will hit a bump in the road.

This isn’t to scare you off from recovery. Yes, eating disorder recovery is arduous but it is also one of the most beautiful things in the world. But far too often, eating disorder recovery is packaged up neatly with a curled ribbon on top. Eating disorder recovery is frequently portrayed as a before and after, an image that can be detrimental for those living in between. Eating disorder recovery is a courageous journey to embark on, but it is just that; a journey.

Eating disorder recovery is beautiful, but it isn’t pretty. Recovery is messy and anything but linear.

For years, in college and beyond, I was consumed with guilt when I ate something “unhealthy” (what does that even mean?!) and I went to extreme measures to negate the “extra” calories I consumed. Track and cross-country practice were never enough, especially if I’d eaten lunch that day. I’d convince myself the extra core-work or rest-day-cross-training I did was for my running success, but it was always in an effort to make myself smaller. I regularly cried myself to sleep and made myself miserable, forever in a fight to change the way my body looked.

My recovery began before I could even admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. Close to four years ago, I was still suffering from a tumultuous relationship with food, exercise, and my body. But around that time, I moved to a new city, made new friends, and began to look at running differently. Slowly, I felt a shift in my mindset and over time I grew to hate my body a little less. It took a couple of years, but in time I was finally eating pizza again, I dreaded bikinis less, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried myself to sleep. I thought I was all better. Wrap in shiny paper, add ribbon, end of story.

But like I said, that’s not how recovery works. My recovery continued, but certain behaviors stuck with me or returned. I hadn’t weighed myself in at least a year but then my roommate got a scale. At first I weighed myself a few times out of “curiosity” but before too long it was back to weigh-ins two or three times a day. I was eating foods I once feared, but gluten remained fully restricted from my diet. And rest days? Still wasn’t a fan of those. I kept trying however, taking it one day at a time. Baby steps and plenty of falls.

This time last year, with the birth of Lane 9 Project, I found a community of women with experiences similar to mine to connect with. I began to talk about my experience and for the first time, admitted to myself that I had struggled with an eating disorder and that I am still in the recovery process. With this community I have had the opportunity not only to reflect on how far I’ve come, but evaluate how far I still have to go.

I’ve written about recovery, my personal journey, and the freedom there is in being recovered from an eating disorder, but there’s something missing in all that. Although I’ve progressed and I’m no longer that baby trying to walk, I’m still human and I’m always going to fall down.

For example, I love Cheez-Its. Like really really love Cheez-Its. But while I was eating them the other night, I said out loud, “I really need to stop eating these”. Why?! I was hungry, Cheez-Its taste good. There were zero reasons for me to stop. The voice of my eating disorder, the one I’ve been able to silence so successfully, was creeping in. And again, just tonight, I finished up my easy training run and grappled with the idea of doing some core exercises. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I should. Again, the eating disorder voice I’ve worked so hard to leave behind, was trying to sneak back in. I believe I am mostlyrecovered from my eating disorder, but there is always room for growth, and progress is never linear. I may feel amazing for months and then have a few bad days. That’s OK, the goal is to keep moving forward.

This week, I’m teaching my 3rd grade students about story mountains. In stories, characters face a bunch of problems as we climb the mountain, we reach the climax at the top, and then the character’s problems are resolved as we make our way back down the mountain. In my eating disorder story, I’m on my way down the mountain, I’m beyond the climax, the height of my eating disorder, but the path isn’t clear. The trail ahead is winding, with rocks, roots, and the occasional uphill in the way. I will not turn around and climb back up that mountain, but I am prepared to get a little lost on the way.

No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third).

I am an adult in my recovery journey, but even the strongest among us fall down sometimes. You will fall and you will fail and that is OK. No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third). Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy. When you fall, remind yourself that you are not alone. There are so many others who have fallen down with you, help them up. When you fall, do not stay down. You are not a failure, you are a human. You are doing the very best you can and that is always enough.

 


 National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236

Originally published on Medium

Breaking all the [food] rules

As I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe’s this weekend, a container of animal crackers caught my eye. In a matter of seconds, I went from noticing them, to placing them in my cart and moving along. I thought animal crackers would make a perfect snack to fill the void I’ve been feeling in the afternoon since I’ve been running early before work. That was all the convincing I needed to take them home with me.

Later, as a munched on a handful of lions, and tigers, and bears (oh my!), what I tasted was familiar yet nostalgic.

“When was the last time I ate animal crackers?”

I began to rack my brain. Throughout my childhood, and into my high school and early college years, animal crackers were a staple in my pantry. A simple, yet relatively filling snack I could grab as I headed out the door for karate class or after a run while waiting for dinner. Thinking about it, I realized I probably hadn’t enjoyed animal crackers in about five years.

It was my senior year of college when I stopped eating gluten. I did it because I had so-called stomach issues and I thought that maybe I was ‘gluten intolerant’. It never occurred to me that maybe the reason I constantly felt sick and lethargic was due to the stress and guilt I struggled with every time I ate bad food.

For me there was a clearly defined line between good foods and bad foods. Was it green? Good. Did it contain sugar, carbs, or fat? Bad. I was all in for spinach and egg white omelettes, grilled chicken salads, and fruit smoothies parading as meals. I internally praised myself any day I didn’t eat more than an apple and peanut butter or carrots and celery for lunch. I silently applauded when I said no to ice cream while everyone else headed to the on-campus Friendly’s.

I was constantly keeping score in my mind. If I ate something healthy my score went up, if I ate something unhealthy my score plummeted.

It happened gradually, but overtime I placed all foods into one of the two categories; yin or yang. If a food fell on the side of evil (in other words, if it tasted delicious or actually satisfied me) it required planning and preparation to be eaten. If I ate something I wasn’t supposed to, breaking an arbitrary food rule, I’d bury my head in guilt and shame. In order to rid the guilt, I’d punish myself with something like endless sit-ups, skipping dinner, or brutally negative self-talk until I cried myself to sleep. It was exhausting, but my food rules were the Ten Commandments and they were to be obeyed.

Looking back, I never realized all the rules I’d created for myself, so when I began to heal my relationship with food and my body, I didn’t anticipate all the undoing that would be necessary. Little things, like ice cream once in a while or fries with dinner began to creep back into my diet on occasion, giving me the illusion that I was ‘better’. I was no longer micromanaging every little thing in my body so in my mind I was ‘healed’.

My food rules were so ingrained that I didn’t even notice how vehemently I was still following them.

In August of 2016, we were at the beach, laying in the sun while snacking. In the bag of snacks we toted, alongside some fruits and veggies, was a box of Cheez-It’s. I still hadn’t eaten gluten since 2012, but Cheez-It’s sounded really good, so I thought “what the hell” and dove in. For the first time in four years, I ate gluten. And absolutely nothing happened. I enjoyed the Cheez-It’s, I felt satisfied, and I immediately began to think about all the delicious and fulfilling foods I could finally eat again now that I had officially broken my “no-gluten” rule (GIMME PIZZA!).

No gluten was certainly my most far-reaching food rule, and I’d love to say that once I broke it I began eating intuitively all the time, but that just isn’t the case. I continued to subscribe to a number of food rules for a very long time and I’m realizing there are still many I’m working to break. Just in the past year, I’ve finally begun to allow white bread, white pasta, and white rice back into my life rather than scrutinizing every food label to see if it’s really 100% whole wheat. A couple of months ago I ate a cupcake a student brought in for his birthday for the first time in my four years of teaching. And honestly, eating pizza on a weekday still takes a little dose of courage. But here’s the difference, instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.

Instead of passively following the arbitrary food rules I created, I’m working to actively break them every chance I get.

I don’t think I was holding onto a specific “no animal crackers” rule, but I do think I’m still working to loosen the reins on what I see as an acceptable snack. Animal crackers didn’t fit that box before and now I’ve let them in. It’s a teeny tiny victory, but it’s a step in the right direction. I can think of some food rules I’m still working through and I’m probably still holding on to some that I do not realize now but will eventually be confronted with. For now, it’s a work in progress and there is no longer a clear line between good foods and bad foods. Except that good foods are the ones I enjoy and bad foods are olives.

 


 National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236


Originally published on Medium

Boston Recap: Make a party of the process

As I’m sure you already know, the 2018 Boston Marathon was one for the books. Cold temperatures, persistent rains, and an unrelenting headwind led thousands of runners (elites included) to medical tents seeking aid for hypothermia. There were remarkable upsets in the elite fields and the winning times were a far cry from the best efforts of the professionals on the course. Simply put, Monday was not a day for fast racing or setting PR’s.

IMG_0353.jpg

Boston 2017 wasn’t a day to run personal records either, but for the opposite reason. It was brutally hot. Last year, I thought I was in 3:15 shape and despite the heat I went out at a pace to run just that. Before I was even hitting double digit miles, I knew I was in trouble. I was walking by the halfway point and just getting to the finish line took everything I had. If nothing else, I was determined not to repeat that fate this year.

As Boston 2018 approached, I knew I was in the best marathon shape of my life and that I was ready to better the 3:14 I ran in Chicago this fall. However, after last year’s race I was scared of the Boston course. Early in my Boston buildup I came to terms that if we were dealt another hot day, I would just run easy and have as much fun as possible. Luckily, as the 10-day forecast began to reveal itself, we learned it wasn’t going to be a hot one. I began looking ahead to race day nervous, but excited about the chance to run fast in better conditions.

But then, the conditions didn’t look so good anymore.

By the time I got to Hopkinton on Monday, I’d readjusted my expectations for the expected cold, rain, and wind, determined not to make the same mistake as last year. I turned off the GPS and decided that it would be a day to have fun. I knew I wouldn’t PR so I didn’t even allow myself to entertain the thought. I decided to start conservatively and have fun soaking up the experience that is Boston. Even on a nasty day, the crowds would be out. I wanted to erase last year’s experience from my mind and move forward with happier memories of Boston. I was also hoping to stay warm enough to avoid hypothermia and stay out of the medical tent.

When the race started, I immediately felt great and knew that I was going to have a blast splashing around in the rain. I floated through the first few miles with ease, before finally looking at my watch at 5k mark. I found myself running much faster than I planned on for the weather, so I took a deep breath and tried to settle in. I didn’t look at my watch again until the 10k, which revealed I hadn’t slowed down at all and had actually sped up slightly. Again, deep breath, settle in.

As I began to encroach on the half-marathon mark I felt like I was still out for a training run; exactly what I wanted. I was feeling comfortable and confident, sure I’d settled into a leisurely pace. Then I looked at my watch. I’d split a 1:34.15. On pace for a 6 minute PR. My confidence wavered and I started questioning when it was all going to blow up in my face. Newton probably, I thought. But after a few panicked minutes I steeled myself. Deep breath, settle in.

At this point, I was feeling more comfortable than I ever have at 13-14 miles into a marathon and I kept feeling that way through miles 15, 16, and 17. During those miles I stayed as calm as possible and finally, I made a deal with myself: hold this effort through the Newton Hills and then reassess. I was still worried the hills were going to break me.

As the first hill began, I focused on November Project. I knew they’d be at the top of the hill and the cheering crowd would help my legs to recover quickly. I bounded my way up with surprising ease and got the boost I hoped for at the top. Then, between miles 19 and 20, a woman caught up to me to say that she loved my attitude and that she was running faster than she should be just to stay with me for the encouragement. This was one by far one of the proudest running moments I’ve ever had. I’ve been carried for miles by the encouragement of others, it felt great to do the same for someone else.

Riding the high of helping another runner on such a tough day, I made it up and over heartbreak with relative ease. My legs barley registered the same uphills that slowed me to a crawl last year. Before I knew it, I was hearing that Desi won and I was passing the 22 mile mark. Four miles to go.  At that point, I glanced at my watch again and started doing the math. That’s when I realized if I didn’t slow down in the next four miles, I’d be running a big PR and likely breaking 3:10.

For the next four miles I smiled my face off. The more I smiled, the more support I received from spectators. The more support I received from spectators, the more I smiled. On a day that you weren’t supposed to PR, on a day I didn’t set out to PR, I was about to PR. I just had to keep putting one front in foot of the other.

The rain picked up and the pain set in, but before I knew it, I was turning right onto Hereford and left onto Boylston. There’s something about those two iconic turns, they get better every time. I looked at my watch as I approached the finish line and I think I started laughing. Crossing the finish line in a 3:08.27, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I wasn’t confident I could break 3:10 on a perfect day, I couldn’t believe I was doing so in the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in. I also never thought I’d actually negative split Boston, even if only by 3 seconds.

Chicago this fall was hot and before the race I scaled back my goal from 3:15 to 3:20. My GPS didn’t work so I went out conservatively and ran by feel. Unexpectedly I finished in 3:14, an 8 minute personal best. On Monday, I did the same thing. I threw my expectations out the window, turned off my GPS and trusted my body to know what to do. Of the 9 marathons I’ve run, these happened to be the fastest, but more importantly they were the most fun. I spent 6 or 7 marathons taking myself way too seriously and putting far too much weight on a really expensive long run. Chicago and now Boston have taught me that the only way to achieve a great result is to let go and make a party of the process. I happen to run great times, but I wouldn’t have done so if I wasn’t having so much damn fun.

Boston Bound: Weather is Weather

The Boston Marathon is known for many things, among those things is its unpredictable weather. Marathon Monday has seen everything from blizzards to 90 plus degree days. There’s a lot of information out there about how to prepare for the Boston Marathon down to the mile by mile, but one thing you cannot possibly prepare for is the weather.

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 6.57.00 PM.png
Screenshot of the B.A.A. website. “Unusual” weather. Isn’t Boston weather always unusual?

 

puppy raincoat GIF-downsized_large
Image from Reddit

We’re now within a week of the 2018 Boston Marathon and it seems like the weather is all that anyone is talking about. Participants are glued to the Weather App, as if willing a mild forecast to appear. After two hot years, many runners, myself included, believe we’re due for a good weather year. Unfortunately, it looks as if that might not be the case. The current forecast is calling for rain and high-winds. But remember, this is Boston we’re talking about so we actually have no idea. (Bring multiple race day outfit options.)

Looking at the current forecast it’s easy to freak out and think it’s impossible to have a good race. Don’t do that. That’s so far from the truth. Weather is weather and you can’t do anything about it, so instead focus on controlling the controllables. Control what you do this week as far as running, eating, and sleeping. Control how much time you spend on your feet on Sunday. Control your attitude.

If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is.

It might be hard to believe but you can have a great race regardless of the weather. A great race in bad conditions may not mean a personal best time, but there’s no reason it can’t be your smartest, strongest, or toughest race.  

boston
Taking a quick time-out on the course during Boston 2017

Last year’s race brought temperatures in the mid-70’s with relentless sun. The Boston Athletic Association sent out an email to participants before the race, warning of warm temps and urging runners to slow their pace to account for the conditions. I didn’t listen. Although I’d been training through the winter and only had a handful of warm days under my belt, I thought to myself “I’ve got this, I’d rather run in heat than cold anyway”. I was dead set on running a PR and I didn’t think the weather would get in the way of that. I took off in Hopkinton with the same race plan I would have had if it were 45 degrees and overcast, and I expected to achieve the same result. I refused to adjust my expectations to account for the weather and I learned my lesson the hard way. I ended up walking before I reached the half and I was lucky to even finish, something many runners who made the same mistake that day couldn’t say.

 

When I ran the Chicago Marathon this fall, it was a similarly warm day, reaching the low-70’s with significant humidity. But this time, I took the lesson I learned in Boston and applied it. I adjusted my expectations for the weather and reminded myself to control the controllables. I pushed my goal time back by about five minutes and told myself that the only thing that mattered was running a smart race. As a result, the same heat that had crippled me in Boston barely phased me in Chicago and I managed to run the second half of the race fast enough to hit my original goal time.

22366282_10155847835642783_5398458080976219492_n
Chicago 2017, having the best time

We won’t likely have to worry about being defeated by heat in Boston this year, but the idea stays the same. Control the controllables and adjust your expectations for the weather. If we’re facing rain and a head wind, know you won’t be able to hold the same pace you would have if there was no wind. Dress appropriately and try to stay warm in athletes village. Don’t decide that you can’t run well because the weather isn’t perfect. If you believe this you certainly won’t. The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way. If the weather is such that it is likely to slow you down, accept that and slow down from the start. You can always speed up if the weather improves or if you’re feeling great, but you’re much more likely to punish yourself by running too fast early on than by running too slow. Instead of aligning your goals solely with pace, base your goals on effort. Aim to make those early miles as easy as possible and run just beyond comfort for most of the race so that you can gut it out in the end rather than slog to the finish. If you adjust your expectations and run a smart race you can absolutely run your best marathon yet, no matter how bad the weather is. Your best race may not be reflected in your time, but you’ll feel it in your legs and in your heart.

The time on the clock is one way to measure the success of a race. One way. Not the only way.

Finally, if you do make the mistakes I made in Boston last year, don’t let that take the experience away from you. You’re running the Boston Marathon. Again, you are running the BOSTON FREAKING MARATHON. Do not take that for granted. Running this race is an incredible privilege and although it may not seem like it among the mass of people during the race, you’re one of a small fraction of runners who has made it here. If you make mistakes and you suffer because of it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Everyone has those races. Instead, shift your perspective. Soak up the experience a little more. High-five kids, thank volunteers, and encourage those around you (last year, a fellow run-walker got me through some of the toughest miles of mile life). And no matter what the time on the clock says when you cross that finish line, celebrate.

Boston Bound

We’re 8 days out from the 2018 Boston Marathon and the buzz is real! As I head into this final taper week, I’m reflecting on the two years since my first Boston Marathon and the training I’ve put in leading up to this year’s race. This will be my third Marathon Monday and we all know, third time’s a charm.

30221387_10156355225227783_1857118419699105792_n

I ran the Boston Marathon for the first time in 2016. It was a fairly hot day but I managed to eke out an 11-second PR. At last year’s race, things didn’t go so smoothly. Having run a PR the year before, I didn’t consider how difficult the course actually is or how much the weather can impact marathon performance. It was a hot day (like really hot) but I didn’t adjust my expectations for the weather and I paid for it hard. By the half, I was done for and the rest of the race was a crawl to the finish. I ran my slowest marathon to date and didn’t earn my ticket back to Boston that day. (Fortunately I found a small race to enter in May, where I was able to run a qualifying time.)

After last year’s race I began working with a coach for the first time since college. I had run some respectable marathon times, but I knew I had not touched my potential and that working with a coach was what I needed. Since then, my training has changed completely and I’ve been a far smarter runner than I ever was before.

I would argue that the build up to this year’s Boston Marathon has been my most successful training cycle ever. With the exception of a small injury that interrupted a couple weeks of training, I’ve run longer long runs, faster workouts, and (slightly) higher mileage. In April, I ran a 3 minute half marathon PR with gas left in the tank. Before the half marathon I ran a workout that consisted of 4×5 minutes at half-marathon effort with 2 minutes easy jog recovery. This Thursday, I ran the same workout but my average mile pace was 15-20 seconds faster than the previous workout, and it felt much easier.

IMG_0240.jpg

As I cooled down from that workout on Thursday, I thought about how far I’ve come since June when I began working with my coach and how much progress I’ve made in just this one training build-up. My senior year of college, I ran a 5k on the track in 20 minutes and 9 seconds, a pace of 6:29 per mile. During Thursday’s workout I ran 4 miles, in the middle of an 8 mile total workout, at roughly 10 seconds per mile faster than that. The actual pace is arbitrary, but the difference in the pace I ran in college versus the pace I ran this week isn’t. When it hit me that I could run 4 miles faster than I could race a 5k in college I had to hold back some happy tears. Although I had already seen improvement in my times during April’s half marathon, for me this workout was confirmation of just how far I have come.

When it hit me that I could run 4 miles faster than I could race a 5k in college I had to hold back some happy tears.

When I left college, I truly believed I would never run fast again.  I was convinced that everyone peaks in college and if you don’t, you’ve missed your chance. I also didn’t think I could ever wholeheartedly love running again. For years, I’ve been trying to run fast again in order to prove to myself you don’t have to peak in college. But I’ve also been stuck believing that fast race times were the only way I would enjoy running again.

This time around, I’ve found the joy in the process and the journey has been more fun than hard work.

For the first time in 7 or 8 years, I’m heading into a big race and I don’t feel the need to prove anything to myself or to anyone else. This time around, I’ve found the joy in the process and the journey has been more fun than hard work. I have goals in mind and I truly think I’m ready to run a great time, but regardless of the outcome I already feel as though I’ve accomplished so much. I’m healthy and I’m having so much fun running. I’ve proven my speed and fitness to myself in my workouts and I’ve come to really, truly appreciate what my body can do for me. Running a fast time in Boston would simply be the cherry on top. To step on that starting line in Hopkinton happy and healthy is a privilege that I will not take for granted.


Will you be running the Boston Marathon? What are your race or training goals?

Shamrock Half Marathon

This weekend I ran the Shamrock Half Marathon in Virginia Beach, my fifth half marathon. Previous to this race I ran a half in the spring of 2014 back home in upstate New York, weeks after recovering from pneumonia (it wasn’t pretty), and the Rock and Roll D.C. half the next 3 springs after that. The first two races were rough and didn’t yield great times, but the third and fourth we more fun, faster, and fueled a desire to find out what I can do at the distance. Rock and Roll D.C. is a pretty tough course, featuring a brutal hill around mile 7. My PR was run on this course, so I knew I wanted to race something flat. According to Google, the Shamrock Half Marathon was exactly what I wanted.

IMG_0087

Over the past few months I’ve been preparing for the half, as well as the upcoming Boston Marathon and my workouts told me I was ready to run a PR, but I wasn’t sure by how much. Having run so few half marathons in a 5 year span, I have a hard time predicting what I can do. I decided my goal was to run happy, smart, and try to run under a 1:27, which would give me at least a 90 second PR.

Leading up to the race I had a rough week. Teaching is hard and parent relationships are even harder. After taking an extra rest day on Wednesday to sit on my couch and cry (#transparency), I couldn’t wait to get away for the weekend and leave the stress behind. Friday and Saturday I fought an upset stomach, but I was determined not to let anything stand in the way of a fun race and a fast time.

Race morning was the type of weather distance runners dream of-something I hadn’t experienced in my previous 4 half marathons or any of the 7 full marathons I’d run. It was around 40 degrees, overcast, and no wind. I knew it was going to be a good day.

As the start time approached and we headed to our corrals, I felt excited and confident. I knew I was capable of running faster than I ever have before and I was ready to go out and prove that to myself. Before the race, my coach wrote to me, “the race is a celebration, not a test”. This became my mantra for the weekend. I didn’t realize until later that with this in mind I hardly felt a single nerve before the gun went off. I was simply ready to celebrate.

After a chilly wait, the countdown began and before I knew it, we were off. The night before, I wrote down my race plan, in short, it was: have fun, start conservative, make the last three miles the fastest. When I passed the first mile marker, I worried I was going to be in trouble. Instead of the 6:45 I’d planned on, I went out in a 6:33–a pace that would result in big PR, IF I maintained it. For the next mile, I tried to back off, ease the pace a little and just feel good. I ran a 6:39 and tucked in behind a couple I overheard saying they wanted to stick with 6:40’s for a while (they didn’t run a single 6:40, they ran much faster). The miles passed and I continued to tick off miles between 6:30 and 6:36 consistently. I felt good, but since I was already running faster than anticipated, I was hesitant to try speeding up.

The race is relatively large, but around mile 6-7 I found myself isolated. There was a pack up ahead, but I wasn’t in a position to make up the 15 or so seconds and try to hang on. For a while it started to feel like a time trial as I passing less than one person a mile. Miles 8 and 9 were quiet and lonely and they felt long as my body started to feel fatigued, but as I looked at my watch, my pace remained consistent. I knew if I could make it to mile 10 on pace without too much pain, I’d be in a great place.

Finally, there were 3 miles to go and as I got closer to the end of the race the number of spectators began to increase, a relief after the miles of silence. At mile 10 I began to push the pace a little and managed to run 10, 11, and 12 under 6:30. Finally, for mile 13 I tried to give it my all and dipped below 6:20 for the first time. I was happy to achieve my goal of running the last few miles the fastest but was a little frustrated I didn’t run them faster. Every time I pushed a little too hard, I felt like I was going to throw up. After throwing up with 200 meters to go at the Chicago marathon I wasn’t going to risk that, so I pumped the brakes a little each time and let the feeling pass. Finally, when I crossed the finish line, I was greeted with a 3 minute PR.

I am thrilled with the race I had and am so happy I ran a smart, consistent race the whole way but I also have a lot to take away from the experience. It wasn’t perfect and I finished with way too much left in the tank. My biggest takeaway from the race is I want to run more half marathons. Although I’m pleased with my time and my race, it felt a bit like a long tempo workout. I ran consistent and I felt uncomfortable in the last few miles but I never truly challenged myself. I was so scared to fall apart in the last few miles that I didn’t have the guts to push the middle miles. I put pressure on myself to run a smart race this time around, but I’ll need to experiment and take chances in future races if I want to see what I’m truly capable of. I need to practice the distance more to figure out how much I can make it hurt without falling apart.

For the next few weeks I’ll turn my focus solely to prepping for the Boston Marathon, but after that, I look forward to racing more and taking some risks.

I’m done letting my college running failures define my ability

At 17, I was a senior ending my high school running career on a high note. After years of hard work, I was at the top of the section in my event and for the first time I had the opportunity to compete at the New York State Championship meet (as an individual). My last two races of my senior year were the fastest races I’d ever run. I was lucky enough to finish up my high school athletic journey in the most ideal way. I could close that chapter of my life and package it up neatly with a ribbon on top.

I got to college with big goals of improving upon my high school successes and those around me shared those dreams and expectations. But the success I had in high school didn’t follow me to college. After a decent freshman year I began to feel the pressure to perform and the joy of running started to slip away. I was used to being the best; my senior year of high school had conditioned me to believe that winning was easy. But I wasn’t winning anymore and to some, if I wasn’t winning I wasn’t successful–a belief I started to internalize.

By the winter of my sophomore year burnout was setting in. I was tired and overtrained.  Stepping on a starting line brought me more and more anxiety each week. I no longer felt the butterflies-in-my-stomach type of nerves that most athletes experience before competition, now I just felt pure dread. I hated running but I stayed on the team because I was a runner and running is what I did. I had no identity outside of running and I felt that if I stopped competing I wouldn’t know who I was.

Running was my enemy for the next two and half years.  It seemed like the harder I tried, the slower I got. Somewhere in the back of my mind I always felt like my breakthrough was just around the corner and I would formulate some great comeback, so I kept slogging away despite my misery. Spoiler alert: there was never a comeback. 

For years after, I allowed my college running experience to define who I was as a runner. I went into college thinking I was above average and left believing I was below it. My mindset for the next three to four years was that because I didn’t run well in college I must be a bad runner. I created this idea that a runner could only peak in college and now that college was behind me, I would never get any better.

Fortunately, with the help of some great running friends (shoutout badass lady gang) and an incredible coach (shoutout badass lady coach), I’m turning this idea upside down.

I’ve finally realized the notion that everyone peaks in college is bullshit. We refer to our high school and college athletic careers as glory days and when we graduate we refer to ourselves as NARPS (non athletic regular people) and joke that we’re washed up, but that doesn’t have to be the case. If you’re not a successful runner in college, it doesn’t mean you can never be successful and it certainly doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on your peak. 

If you’re a runner, whether in high school, college, or beyond and you’re struggling, take comfort in the fact that your underwhelming performance right now does not define you as an athlete. Maybe you need a break, maybe you’re dealing with other stressors, maybe you’re struggling with mental health, maybe you need to change up you training or work with a different coach. A lot of these scenarios applied to me in college and for the most part, I’ve figured them out. It wasn’t right away and it certainly wasn’t easy but now, 5 years after ending my collegiate running career, I’m doing things I never would have thought possible.

Don’t be afraid to set new goals and go after them. Don’t let past failures lead you to believe your potential is limited.

running

This morning, I ran 18 miles, a distance that would have been unthinkable to my college self. Not only did I run that distance, but I ran it faster than I ran most of my 6-8 mile runs in college. These days my tempo pace is faster, my 5k pace is faster, and my marathon pace is fast enough to put me in the top 5% of finishers at the Chicago Marathon. Five years ago, if you tried to tell me this would be the case I would have laughed in your face. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I’m finally done allowing my collegiate running failures to define my potential. I’m not sure what I’m capable of but I’m sure that I’m ready to find out. Running is fun again and I’m back to feeling those butterfly type nerves before races, not dread. And I’m not necessarily working harder than I was 5 years ago but I am working smarter and running happier.

Stop defining yourself by your failures and maybe you’ll see what your potential really is.