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.

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Ready to Compete

I always assumed my competitive running career had an end date. Run for four years in high school, run for four years in college, and then become a recreational runner. I was fine with that. College robbed me of my joy for racing, leaving me anxious rather than competitive. Leaving the competitive running scene was exactly what I wanted.

I graduated college and ran my first marathon the following fall. Being a bucket list item, my marathon plan was ‘one and done’. My only goal was to make it to the finish line without injury, a lofty goal considering I’d just healed from a stress fracture and my longest lifetime run was 12.5 miles, but I did it. I still remember the pain I felt after crossing that finish line, I legitimately feared I had done irreparable damage to my body. But I hadn’t. I was healthy and once the pain subsided, I decided I needed to do that again. I had more in me and I wasn’t going to sit back and accept that race as my marathon PR.

I set my eyes on Boston. A goal that seemed insane, but I thought maybe with some actual training, I could eek out the BQ. A year later, in a 27 minute PR, that’s exactly what I did. Looking back at the lackluster training [in comparison to what I’m doing now], the failure to fuel during my race, and the surely inadequate amount of water I consumed, I’m still not sure how it happened. I had literally no idea what I was doing, but with some combination of ability and luck, it happened. I continued this [strongly not recommended] method of training and racing, improving upon it only slightly, for four more marathons. I was running some decent times on some OK training, but after finishing three marathons within 3 minutes of each other I began to crave a breakthrough.

Last spring, with 6 marathons on my Garmin, I decided I wanted to up my game a little. I wasn’t quite ready to compete again, but I wanted to get a little faster. I hired a coach, started working harder, and set a goal for the Chicago marathon in the fall. I wasn’t going to race per se, but I was determined to run fast.

For many, setting goals and trying to run fast is the same as competing, but I was scared to call it that. I was terrified to let my competitive side take over. In college, my competitive side destroyed me. My drive to be the best came above all else and manifested in a very unhealthy way (and caused me to never actually become the best or reach my potential). I worked myself to the point of overtraining, I lost my period, I suffered injuries, and I struggled with an eating disorder. I wanted to get fast, but racing again seemed out of the question.

 

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2017 Chicago Marathon

 

But today, as I finished up my long run, the desire to compete was strong. My run in Chicago went better than I had hoped, but I didn’t toe that line with the mindset that I was going to compete. Instead, I thought, “let’s see what happens”. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high because I was so scared to let myself down. For so long in college, I was left feeling disappointed and ashamed after races. I didn’t want to do that to myself anymore. But I am sick of being afraid. Five years after graduating college and leaving my competitive running career behind, I’m ready to reclaim it. I want to race again.

I have no intentions of setting unrealistic goals of winning big races, I know where my abilities lie. But I am ready to set big, scary goals, that may be a bit crazy while remaining just inside the realm of possibility. I’m ready to toe the line at races and be fearless. I’m ready to start a race with the confidence that I will do what I set out to do rather than to just see what happens. From now on, I refuse to let myself be comfortable in the last miles of the race. I will no longer allow fellow runners to pass me in the last mile without a fight because I’m content with my projected finish time. I’ve spent the last five years teetering on the line of giving it my all and holding something back but I will not hold back any longer. I am ready to test my limits. I am ready to see what my best really looks like.

I’m going to compete again. I’m going to race again.

Competing isn’t for everyone, people run races for different reasons. But I feel like I’ve been robbing myself of my true potential for years and I’m ready to see where my limit really is.