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!

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.  

 

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

Running Scared

In high school, running scared was my favorite thing to do.

I had a very different definition of running scared back then.

My senior year of high school, my 4×800 meter relay teammates had a knack for handing me, the anchor leg, the baton in first place. I’d accept the exchange, and run like hell, visualizing my competitors on my heels. I never looked back, always willing myself to reach the finish line before I was caught. For an entire season, I fearfully ran myself across the line first. Running scared was fun. Running scared was a thrill.  

Today, I’d do anything to no longer run scared.

This evening, as I laced up my Cliftons, strapped on my Garmin, and situated my phone in my Spibelt, I left my headphones behind. I almost always wear headphones when running alone. I see running as time for myself and enjoy listening to my favorite podcasts on easy days. I keep the volume low enough to hear my breath and my footsteps but today, that didn’t feel like enough. I approached what should have been a relaxing and stress-reducing recovery run with fear and trepidation.

Less than two minutes into my run, my heart raced as I made eye-contact with a man walking diagonally across the street toward me, only to realize he was on route to the entrance for CVS. As I continued up the street, I took a wider than normal breadth around male pedestrians. By the time I reached the National Mall, I was holding back tears, my fear juxtaposed to songs of ice cream trucks and idle chatter of tourists. Continuing on, I noticed every man I passed and felt my stride quicken just slightly each time one reached his hand into his pocket. In my 15 years of running I’ve experience catcalls, cars repeatedly passing by, harassment, and men lunging at me and as a result, I haven’t felt truly safe in a long time. But now, this fear is heightened as I am faced with the question of whether or not I will make it home alive each time I leave to train.

This may sound dramatic. It is.

This evening, I exhaled a sigh of relief as I walked back into my apartment building upon ending my run. Relief because I’d made it home, something Wendy Martinez was not lucky enough to do just two nights ago. But with this relief came grief and guilt, as well. Guilt and grief over the fact that on Tuesday evening, I ran the streets of D.C.,  just miles away from where Wendy would be murdered roughly an hour later.

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Finishing up tonight’s run

This is not the first incident of its kind that has led to the feelings of grief, fear, and anger I am currently processing, but I’d be lying if I said this didn’t hit me a little harder and make my fears feel a bit more real. This time it was Wendy, but how easily could this have been me or one of my closest friends? We all run these streets, and like Wendy did, we often run them alone.

We’ll see articles and news reports filled with safety tips for runners. Uninformed men will ask why we don’t just run inside or find a male friend to run with. Someone will try to make this Wendy’s fault.  To all of that, I give the middle finger. The problem is not that we, as women, are making unsafe choices. The problem is a world where women are unsafe simply existing.

To be very blunt, we live in a world where women are forced to think, “I really hope no one tries to murder me on this run”, as we leave the house. This makes me sick to my stomach. And it sure as hell ain’t fair.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I’ll admit I considered staying in my apartment gym and running on the treadmill tonight. But in the end, I went outside because really, what else can we do? We female runners, will not retreat. We cannot and will not hole up in gyms and seek refuge on treadmills. We will not allow senseless violence to rob us of our passions.

Running is mine and I’ll be damned if I ever let fear take that from me. Yes, I am running scared, but I’m still running. And I’m running with a little more passion and purpose as I remember the lives’ of women whom I did not know. Women who were taken from us far too soon.


My deepest condolences are with the friends and family of Wendy Martinez. I did not know Wendy, yet my heart is broken.

No Thank You

Inspired by Lauren Fleshman and Oiselle

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No thank you to covering up and hiding behind clothes that feel safe. No thank you to keeping the tank on while running in 100 degree weather, for fear of being judged as not thin enough. No thank you to ideal body types and unrealistic standards. No thank you to diets, restriction, and food rules. No thank you to excuses like “I’m not hungry” or “I just ate”, when your mouth is watering and your stomach is rumbling. No thank you to gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free. No thank you too anything ‘free’ other than my own body. No thank you to BMI charts. No thank you to earning desert and exercising away guilt. No thank you to arguments about macros and why “that diet worked for me”. No thank you to Weight-Watchers and Flat Tummy Co. targeting teens.No thank you to scales. No thank you to diet culture.

No thank you to gazing eyes of strange men. No thank you to catcalls and “you should smile more”. No thank you to “hey baby”. No thank you to “bitch”, when I ignore you. No thank you to older men calling me honey. No thank you to looking over my shoulder when I’m walking alone. No thank you to holding my keys between my knuckles. No thank you to checking the backseat before getting in the car. No thank you to pretending to talk on the phone in parking garages and on the street once the sun has gone down.

No thank you to undermining educators. No thank you to scripted curriculums and shackles on creative freedom. No thank you to teaching about Christopher Columbus as if he were a hero. No thank you to standardized testing. No thank you to taking resources from “failing public schools”. No thank you to buying books for my classroom with my own money. No thank you to taking work home every night, yet barely earning enough to make ends meet. No thank you to iPads as babysitters. No thank you to neighborhoods so unsafe that kids can’t play outside. No thank you to low expectations placed on low-income students and students of color. No thank you to segregation. No thank you to guns.

No thank you to gender stereotypes and unequal pay. No thank you to questions of marriage and children. No thank you to “that’s so cute” in response to my profession as an educator. No thank you to mansplaining. No thank you to fear of failure. No thank you to the linear career path. No thank you to settling. No thank you to the appreciation of what you have as an excuse not to want and work for more.

No thank you.

 

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.

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Screenshot of the B.A.A. website. “Unusual” weather. Isn’t Boston weather always unusual?

 

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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.  

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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.

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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.