Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Trying Time

This past spring, whenever I went to CVS for a pregnancy test or prenatal vitamins, my receipt included a coupon for tampons. (Other purchases warranted different coupons.) “Nope,” said CVS with a sneer. “No baby this month.” It was like a slap in the face. Because dammit, CVS, for months you were right.

I was originally optimistic about the ease of transitioning from serious runner to mother-to-be because of how many young mamas raced at the Trials. But once I was stressed enough to overanalyze it, I realized that in all the stories I’d heard (or Googled) the women got pregnant right away (within two months at most). But then I started to wonder: What happened to all the women that took a while to conceive? Those that had to step away from the sport for longer, for all the months of trying, before they got pregnant? What about women who miscarried? Statistically, these women must exist. Do they not share their stories? Did I selectively forget them in an effort to be positive about quickly conceiving? (Very possibly yes.) Or does staying in the sport require getting pregnant right away to minimize time away? I read a blog about how to plan your pregnancy around your running life, even down to scheduling it so you can be sidelined during your least favorite season, and—while the post tried to gently mention this wasn’t possible for everyone—it made me want to punch the computer. Who can conceive with such precision?! I’d just like to get pregnant sometime in the near future, please and thank you.

More recently I found an old post from Lauren Fleshman about how the unrelenting Olympic cycle makes this a serious problem for women pro runners. “You better hope your pipes work in the first few months of your off-season because the clock is a’ticking. Miss your window and you have to wait.”

But I’m not a pro runner. And while I do think in Olympic [Trials] cycles, my job/earnings/etc. don’t depend on my ability to run. So it felt incredibly selfish to be stressed about getting pregnant right away because of running. I wanted a baby quickly for other reasons of course (I wanted to start a family, and generally when you want something, you want it to start as soon as possible). But every time I honestly thought about why I wanted it to happen ASAP, it came back to running.

Because my running was already a mess. At first I thought I could race some summer 5Ks, or at least aim for them, and then possibly skip them once The Stick told us the good news. But then I started to worry even that was too much… the books and literature made the odds of conception each month seem shockingly small. (I would not recommend them for a high school Sex Ed class.) There’s not much you can do to help the process; you can try to time it correctly, pray about it, not stress over it. (Good luck on the last one). And—as nearly every book will gently remind you—you can stop all that running nonsense.

Most books about pregnancy (nearly all) aren’t written with a serious athlete in mind. They talk about hormones and how running too much (like over an hour) will mess up your chances of getting pregnant. But what if an hour run isn’t a hard effort for you? And pros have gotten pregnant in the middle of serious training or in the Olympic village, without giving their bodies a break. But obviously not everyone is that lucky, and who knows where I fell?

As the stress grew (What if this run is a hair too long or a beat too fast and I’ve screwed up this month’s chances??) the risk seemed too great. I gave up workouts, races, and long runs. Now that I’m happily and blessedly pregnant, I regret that slightly. I have a long road of reduced running ahead, and I wish I had started in slightly better shape. But it’s easy for me to say that now; at the time, I didn’t know who to believe and was too worried about everything I was doing. For the record, there are books (like this one) and doctors (like my new one, thank goodness) who say it’s totally fine for athletes to keep up their running routine while trying to conceive (so long as you are normal weight and get your period). I didn’t have those influences at the time.

As soon as I stopped training, I missed it. I was still running, yes, but I immediately missed the hard workouts, looking ahead to a race, really pushing myself and feeling simultaneously completely spent and exhilarated. The books warned not to worry about the extra flab or squishiness you may gain while trying to conceive, but I didn’t give a crap about any of that. I missed the competition and the readying myself for it. And I kept ruminating on this idea of what if it takes a long time to get pregnant? Every failed month meant one more month away. But those worries devolved into wondering: What if I can’t get pregnant, ever? And then I’d berate myself: Why the fudge am I worrying about running?! Who cares about such a dumb, selfish hobby?! I just want a baby!

But, in July, we got that happiest news that pee can deliver. Five months post Trials and I was pregnant. I’m fully aware of how incredibly blessed I am to have gotten pregnant and to have had a healthy pregnancy thus far. But just because my struggle turned out to not be that long, I didn’t want to forget how frustrating it was. In my anxious Googling, I didn’t find much about balancing running and trying to conceive, just article after article about running while pregnant. And I certainly didn’t find anything about the emotional battles of being a runner and trying. Times of stress normally make me turn to a hard run for an emotional cleansing—but, in this case, that just led to more questioning.

I wish I had helpful advice for those struggling, but I don’t. (One of the unexpected annoyances of pregnancy, in my opinion, is the ever-constant reminder, “Every pregnancy is different.” There are no hard and fast rules about anything, including exactly how hard and fast you can work out. You’ll need to talk to a doctor—preferably one with a healthy appreciation for a running obsession—for individualized advice.) But I can lend some understanding and agree that it’s really hard and frustrating and annoying and discouraging and stressful and feels impossibly long.

But I really hope it’s not impossibly long. And that one day, you’ll get the pee result that will give an ultimate F U to those CVS receipts.

Shut up, CVS. This time you're wrong.
Dream big, 

Monday, September 19, 2016

A New Challenge

Back in March, fresh off the Trials, I talked about what’s next: many more miles in an attempt to make the 2020 Trials. But I also mentioned the possibilities of new challenges and curveballs along the way. And while I certainly can’t anticipate what all of those may be, I was secretly hoping and praying for one in particular.

Since then I’ve been pretty silent about what’s immediately next. But I suspect savvy readers might have figured it out:

I’m in my early thirties, happily married.

We just bought a house that has at least one more bedroom than we need.

My list of races in 2016 is uncharacteristically short, and I haven’t mentioned any upcoming ones…

So yea, you guessed it:

We’re expecting a new addition this spring!

Yes, I’m still running. (Yes, it’s slow.) Yes, I realize my life is absolutely going to change in every conceivable way (and some as yet inconceivable ways). But no, the name—and mission—of this blog won’t change. I’m incredibly inspired by the many mothers of young children who have made it to the Trials, and I’m hoping to join their ranks. Family will always be my number one priority, but we all know I love a good challenge and this is set to be the cutest one of all.

Dreaming big for two,

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer Reading List, Olympics Edition

It’s the time of year for summer reading lists… but, this year (in just two weeks!!) it's also time for the Olympics, so I've combine the two into an Olympics edition of the typical summer reading list. As an Olympics super fan, I’ve read many books about the Olympics over the years and have compiled some of my favorites below. Take your pick to read now to get excited, in between events, or afterward when you’re depressed over the long wait until Tokyo.

Best of the Best: Rome, 1960: The Summer Olympics that Stirred the World, by David Marraniss

This is my ultimate favorite Olympics book. It follows a remarkable cast of characters (Wilma Rudolph, barefoot Abede Bikila, young Cassius Clay before he was Muhammed Ali) as amateurism began to die and drama from drug scandals, politics, and equal right issues exploded, all while the world followed along on TV for the first time. When I read this, I wished there was a book like this for each Olympiad. But other similar books haven't measured up, proving 1960 was truly special.

For the Marathoner: Showdown at Shepherd’s Bush, by David Davis

This book tells the story of the 1908 Olympic Marathon—the first time the marathon (back then just roughly 25 miles) was the absurdly arbitrary 26.2-mile distance we know today. It follows the three favorites and a stunning, controversial finish that made the marathon the must watch sport of the time.

For the Biography Lover: Triumph, by Jeremy Schaap

While the book is about Jesse Owen’s life, the main focus is of course on the 1936 Games in Nazi Germany. You may know the rough story, but I enjoyed the extra details of Owens’s early life and particularly the in-depth story behind the ’36 Games. I watched the movie Race recently, but was left thinking (as always), “The book was better.”

For the Ancient Historian: The Naked Olympics, by Tony Perrottet

This book is about the original Olympics in ancient Greece, not the modern Games as we know them today. I always assumed our Games were nothing like the ancient version, but when reading this I was surprised at the many similarities: political fighting, professional athletes, cheating. (Although the latter was by performing magic, not taking drugs.) Of course there were also huge differences, with very few events (one of which was an extreme version of Ultimate Fighting), naked competitors, and an unreal amount of olive oil.

From the Non-Running World:

I love the Olympics not just for the track and field, but also for all the niche sports that get their quadrennial moment to shine. Here are my two favorite Olympics books that have nothing to do with running:

Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown

Another book about the 1936 Games, this time focusing on a rowing team out of the University of Washington struggling through the Depression. I knew nothing about rowing when I started the book, but the underdog story was captivating. 

The Three-Year Swim Club, by Julie Checkoway

This book starts in 1937 and tells the fascinating story of impoverished Japanese-American kids in Maui trying to make it to the 1940 Games. (Minor spoiler alert if you think that through…) Against all odds and a particularly tumultuous time for Japanese Hawaiians, they become world-renowned swimmers. While some parts seemed a little long-winded, the story is truly special.  

Have another favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

Dream big, 

Friday, July 8, 2016

The (Un)Loneliness of a Long Distance Runner

We leave DC today. While the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of figuring out what exactly goes into buying a home and excitement about having a whole house, there have also been jolting reminders of what I’m going to miss: all the friends I’ve made in my seven years here.  

Particularly, my running friends.

I’ve talked about my GRC teammates a lot: their help getting through workouts, their constant support, even the science behind increased pain tolerance when working out together. But of course there’s more, like the simple camaraderie of long runs.

Fast friends.
I’m painfully shy. Sometimes I try to pretend I’m not and dive headfirst into a new situation or conversation (fake it ‘til you make it, right?) but inside I’m screaming with awkwardness. (Often not just inside…) Usually, though, I can’t repress my shyness. I feel incredibly vulnerable when I share too much (and yes, this happens a lot when publishing posts), but somehow, on the run, that loosens. Endorphins (and whatever else causes the runner’s high) can act a bit like a stiff drink, evaporating the awkwardness. You quickly get to know someone if you run with them for a few hours. Do it week after week after week and you’ll cover a lot of ground, in more ways than one. (And that’s before the additional layer of friendship that comes with suffering through the agony of 2K repeats together.)

Before I joined GRC, I was worried about the team dynamic because I was so used to doing my own thing. But, I knew a team would make me faster and I thought it’d be nice to have some friends that shared my love of running. So, shy as ever, I dove in. The first long run I did with the girls occurred a few days into the London Olympics. They talked about the Olympics with the same excited obsession as me and I remember realizing, “These are my people.” That’s been confirmed a million times in the last four years, but most recently as we all gathered together to fan girl the track Trials, while scarfing chips and guac and brownies and casually dropping Friends references.

Part of me is in denial. Richmond isn’t far, so it’s no big deal, right? And obviously we’ll stay close. But there’s something special about doing long runs together, week after week after week, that can’t be achieved over text message. That's what I'll miss the most.

Dream big,

Thursday, June 30, 2016


A while back, I wrote a story for New Scientist about the neuroscience of habits: how they are formed in the brain and why they are so hard to break. The context matters a lot with habits; when we’re in the same environment, doing the same routine, it can be hard to change things. One of the best times to break a bad habit or start a new one is during a big upheaval: when you’re starting a new job, going on a trip, or moving. So I'm hoping to use the big move to change some bad habits. 

I take a similar approach with each new training season. Maybe it's not a major overhaul, but it’s a fresh start. If you’re currently gearing up for a fall marathon, with a crisp, clean training plan in hand, consider adding one new good habit (practicing race day fueling, getting more sleep) along with the miles and workouts. Dedicate yourself to it before you get too deep in the routine of extra long runs and carb feasts. I’ve found that if I can get through the first few weeks, my habit sticks around even through the monster weeks of hard training.

In the New Scientist article, I outlined a few tips for changing your habits. A big one is to schedule your new habit into your day. Figure out a time you’ll squeeze in that core work. Will you leave for your run earlier and do it after? Will you do planks while you watch TV? Another is to be specific. Don’t say, “I’ll be better about recovery.” Say, “I’ll foam roll every day.” Better yet, have a cue that will remind you of your specific habit at the scheduled time. Leave your foam roller with your running shoes, so you see it before and after your run. When I wanted to track my gratitude, I put my journal beside my bed so I would remember to write in it every night.

And if you miss a day, don’t give up on yourself and declare all hope lost until next season. Slip-ups happen on the way to forming new habits, but if you accept it and get back at it the next time, you’ll make progress. Finally, be patient. Breaking bad habits or starting new ones can take weeks. (One study found an average of around nine weeks, but there was a wide range.)

A current bad habit of mine is skipping my drills. After my last injury, my PT gave me a new set to do as a dynamic warm up and, while I did them all last season, my dedication has dropped lately. The problem is that—rather than do drills on the sidewalk—I like to do them in our apartment building’s backyard. But more often then not, I’m running late and I can’t take the extra step to go back there. (It requires going down a set of stairs, out the back door, doing the drills, and then—geez, the effort—back inside and down more stairs to end up out front to start my run. I mean, seriously guys, it’s a whole ordeal.)

Doing drills in my parents' driveway.
Oh, the luxuries of having a house. 
But soon, I’ll have my own yard. There’s no extra excursion required to do drills. (And I’m sure galloping around doing carioca drills will be a good way to meet the neighbors.) I’m using moving as motivation to get back into the habit of doing drills, but the start of the new season can be a good time for a change as well. Or perhaps watching the extremely dedicated competitors at the track trials this weekend will be a powerful motivator. Although one expert I interviewed just said simply, “The best time to start is now.”

Do you have any bad running habits you’d like to break? Or good ones you want to start?

Dream big,

Friday, June 17, 2016


We bought a house.

No, wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re under contract on a house and hoping to close early next month. We haven’t exactly bought it yet.

Which brings me to this post's title: patience. Buying a house (our first) is a lesson in a lot of things: legal speak, perfecting your signature, not having a heart attack over the biggest purchase of your life. But mostly it’s reminding me that I need to work on my patience.

I'm not a very patient person. We order a pizza and I want it immediately. What do you mean they can’t bake and deliver it in 30 seconds??  I’m hungry now. We put an offer on a house that we love and I want to move in immediately. What do you mean we have to wait seven weeks? Who cares about paperwork and packing? I want to live there now.

And, obviously this applies to running, too. I want results immediately. That’s why off days/bad weather/disappointing races are so frustrating. I have to wait six months (or four years) for another opportunity? I want a PR now.

Patience is vital to running. You can’t force things too quickly—you’ll end up hurt or burnt out. One of the biggest keys to long-term running success is faith in the process, the slow accumulation of miles and workouts over years. In some races it comes together beautifully, sometimes not.

When it doesn’t, it can be tough to take. But as I’ve said before: training pays off even when races don’t go as planned. In the meantime, we need to be patient in two ways. First, mentally: trusting that our chance will come again, that one race is not the only race there ever will be, that our faster/stronger/tougher bodies are still there and will prove themselves another day.

And second, we need to be patient in our approach. If you’re looking ahead to a fall race, annoyed by a spring result, keep patience in mind. Don’t double your mileage, dedicate two more hours a day to lifting, and overhaul your entire training process (especially if race day was an anomaly in an otherwise great season). Focus on a tweak or two to make here or there: maybe more miles at goal pace, or foam rolling for a few minutes every day, or a renewed commitment to core work. Doing too much too soon is a consequence of impatience, and it only leads to injury. (And injury will require even more patience.)

It’s not easy, and every off-season I’m reminded of my struggles with patience. But I’ve found that focusing on a slight tweak each season helps remind me that I’m making progress. Maybe you’ll get stuck temporarily, feeling like you’ve hit a plateau, but with patience you’ll break through.

I came to DC for graduate school seven years ago and stayed longer than I thought I would. The house we (haven’t yet) bought is in Richmond, Virginia, where Husband and I met a decade ago. For the last few years, we’ve dreamed about moving back, “settling down” in suburbia, where we can afford a big house with a yard, where Target and Trader Joe’s are a quick drive away (and they have parking!!), where Husband's family is nearby. Now, finally, we’re making moves in that direction; we’ve found that suburban house and are currently just three weeks away from closing.

I suppose I can wait a few more weeks.

Mr. RunnerTeal and I met at the University of Richmond and then got married 
(and practiced our handoffs) there a few years later. Now, we're headed back.

Dream big,

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Passing Games

Here’s a situation played out daily on running paths around the country:

Woman is running along, la de dah, and gradually catching the man in front of her.
She reels him in, easy peasy, he’s clearly going slower than her current pace.
She passes him.
He starts sprinting until he’s passed her back.
Inevitably, because he sped up too much to make the pass, he slows.
Woman—now probably annoyed—reels him in again, because she’s been going the same pace all along and it is still faster than annoying guy.
And repeat.

I realize I’m stereotyping here, but I’ve heard many women complain of the same thing and I’ve never had the same experience when passing a woman (unless it’s a race, and all’s fair in love and racing). To their credit, the vast majority of men don’t give a crap if I pass. They often share a kind wave or smile.

But then there are the dudes that have to prove themselves.

Getting lapped in high school...  
A couple of weeks ago, a guy took it more seriously than usual. The scene played out as above: me jogging along, catching up to dude, passing him, he sprints, then slows, I pass again. Repeat. But this guy was so adamant about staying in front after the second pass he started running through red lights to ensure he stayed ahead. (I stopped, being that it was rush hour in DC and not exactly safe to be running through those intersections.) After the second red light dash, I was particularly annoyed: Let it go dude. I just want to enjoy my run without offending you every time I run by. But also, I don’t want to have to slow down just to save your ego.

Admittedly, I have certainly tagged behind guys (and girls) before to try to boost my motivation or pace. I generally try not to do it in such an annoying and obvious way (staying a good distance behind), but maybe that’s all these dudes are doing. But from the many stories I’ve heard and the sideways glances and angry headshakes I get when I pass, I get the impression that many of them just really hate being passed by a girl.

... and at the Trials. See, it's no big deal!
When not racing, do we really need to make
such a fuss over getting passed?
But the other day, the opposite thing happened. I got sucked up and passed. I don’t mind being passed by a guy (or girl) and this guy looked like he was cruising, so no biggie, he was gone.

He made it look easy, and it snapped me out of my jogging cruise control. I picked it up a hair and felt good. He was still way ahead; I had no intention of catching him.

But then he started slowing. And while I don’t mind when people go by, if you make a show of passing me and then start slowing, you’ve got a bull’s-eye on your back. (See above.)

Still, he had seemed a lot speedier than the normal dudes who try to prove their manliness. I never want to pass someone just to stick it to them, so I made sure I was still running comfortably and relaxed. I had picked it up since he passed me, but it felt effortless and smooth.

After a lot of stalling and sitting awkwardly on his butt, I passed him. But soon enough he passed me back.

And I felt like a huge hypocrite. Was I one of those dudes I hate, just trying to prove something? Speeding back to the front just to slow down? I didn’t feel that I had sped up too much to make the pass or slowed down after, but who knows. After he passed me the second time, he created another big gap. But slowly, over the next mile, I reeled him in again.

Before I could catch him, I hit my turn around spot and headed home. I was shocked to see the halfway split, how fast I had been going without killing myself. And I had enjoyed the distraction. Was there anything wrong with that? Maybe that’s all these macho guys are doing—using me to snap out of a funk or get some interval training.

And I realized another hidden benefit of these passing games that I hadn’t considered: they can also help you practice staying relaxed and taking note of your effort
 “You can’t force fast running, you relax and let it happen.” –Desi Linden
Sometimes I try too hard to lock into a pace. On dedicated workout days—tempos, track intervals, races—I often try to force it and end up missing the mark. But when I’m doing these unplanned workouts with strangers, I stay relaxed. There’s no real pressure, so no reason to overanalyze the pace or berate myself for a missed split.

Sure, we weren’t going race pace that day, but I still found a new gear that felt effortless, which was surprising given my recent slump. Maybe there’s more to this than I thought.

You’d think the macho dudes would be a bit more appreciative and less visibly annoyed…

Dream big,