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 ninth and tenth 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

Summer Running: You’re Doing Just Fine

Every year, around this point in summer, I begin to feel a little bit of burnout and lack of motivation. It’s been hot for months now, but there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight and the doubt begins to creep in. Paces that should feel easy are leaving me lying on the floor in a pool of sweat with a popsicle in my mouth. Workouts that sound challenging and fun turnout to be damn near impossible. And long runs? Yikes.

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I began my summer training this year coming back from a minor injury I had after the Boston Marathon. Now, this comeback did happen in May, but  in D.C. May is already hot and humid, so that’s when summer training begins in my book. Building my fitness back up during 80 degree runs with 80% humidity was discouraging and for a while I couldn’t seem to figure out what I was doing wrong. I ran a 10K after a few weeks back and although I had zero expectations for myself, I still felt a pang of disappointment when I ran splits close to my marathon pace. Despite knowing what heat does to the human body and how it affects running, I let the idea that I was unfit creep in. I began to think I wasn’t working hard enough and I wouldn’t reach my fall goals. After DNF-ing virtually every hard workout I ran in June, I was letting the Negative Nancy in my head take over.

I tried to keep things in perspective though. I went back and reviewed notes in my training log from last summer before I ran a huge marathon PR in the fall and was reassured by the fact that I was running even slower and felt even worse last year than I did now. I read this article by David Roche again and again and forced myself to stop putting so much weight on the watch. I started doing my workouts on the treadmill to eliminate the heat factor and finally hit the paces I’d been hoping to.

Nearing the end of July, I toed the line to run the Crystal City Twilighter 5k, my first 5k since December of 2016. The race is notoriously hot and I was totally unsure of where my fitness and speed stood, so in the week leading up to the race I backed off my hopes of setting a PR and I set out just to have fun and set a benchmark for my next race. But when the day came and it was rainy (like poured for 12 hours rainy) and cool. The buckets of rain coming down were not exactly the ideal race weather for most people but if I learned anything from Boston 2018, it’s that rain might be my thing. Despite what to me seemed like a poor couple months of training, I ran a 17 second personal best. I was reassured that I’m progressing just fine, but I have still had to word hard to remember that.

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A little over a week ago I was on vacation in Costa Rica. Although I ran pretty regularly and only took one extra, unplanned “rest” day (we hiked so it wasn’t true rest), my running was not the same quality as at home. The weather was similar, but I did the same run each day I was there and it consisted of a steep mile-long down hill, back and fourth miles on the beach, and back up that steep hill. After the first two runs I could barely walk down stairs and by the third, my legs were toast. Regardless, I maintained a pretty solid attitude throughout and focused on enjoying my trip, but when I got home and went back to usual training the negative thoughts swirled around my mind once again. I started the week off with some slow, heavy miles but had an OK run mid-week. I was feeling a little better before I had a long run that left me feeling more beat up than anticipated over the weekend and I worried about my strength. But here we are on a Monday rest day and I’m taking a minute to reflect and remind myself, I’m doing totally fine.

 

Seriously. I’m doing just fine and so are you. One or two or three runs don’t define your fitness. One or two weeks don’t even define your fitness. The summer is so tricky and if you live somewhere hot and humid, it’s virtually impossible to really know where your fitness is. So for the next month or two, I’m going to keep reminding myself of that and remember that if I’m putting in the work I will be ready when the heat subsides. Summer running is hard and it’s even more mentally challenging than physically at times, but hard, slow, sluggish summer miles are when fall breakthroughs are made.