Thursday, March 22, 2018

One Year of Baby

This week Baby turns one year old. Looking back at the last year, the number one thing I wish I knew—or rather wish I believed when people told me—is that it gets easier. Eventually, Baby started to sleep, stopped needing to eat seemingly every five minutes, and stopped crying all the time (mostly) and the effect of a little sleep for Husband and me and a little more time between nursing/pumping/washing bottles (so many bottles!) made everything better. The hormones finally settled, the fog lifted, the totally overwhelmed feeling shifted to a lesser, just constant hum of overwhelming-ness that I can (mostly) ignore.

One helpful piece of advice came from a prenatal class about breastfeeding. The teacher warned that nursing would be really hard at first and not to think about how long you hoped to do it for; don’t think about six months or a year or even a few weeks. Just take it one day at a time. I hated breastfeeding so much at first that almost as soon as I was done one feeding I was already dreading the next. So I tried my best not to think about how long I wanted to keep it up. And soon enough it got easier.

I think that’s good advice for all overwhelming things baby/running related. Don’t think about how long it takes to get back or how far you are now from where you were. Just take it one (sleepless) day at a time. And one day you’ll look up and realize it’s been a whole year and it’s not nearly as difficult and exhausting as it used to be.

So yes, babies get easier. So does running. Below are a few more things (besides the art of diapering, the words to every Sandra Boynton book, and that children’s songs are malicious ear worms on long runs) I’ve learned in the last year. (Or am still learning…)

1. It may take longer than you’d like, but your core/strength/speed will come back.

One of my most tangible issues postpartum (besides exhaustion and feeling like the Tin Man running) was diastasis recti, separation of the abdominal muscles. I spent months going to the PT, often feeling like it might be a waste of time and money. In early fall, I was wearing an ab splint 24/7 and hating every uncomfortable moment and doing an hour and a half of exercises each day to fix it (in three sets of 30 minutes, all while Baby was sleeping, when I wished desperately to be doing a million other things). When my PT told me it was essentially hopeless for a few more months (because of hormones from nursing), I had a bit of a meltdown. My abs wouldn’t be back to normal as soon as I’d like, no matter what I did, so I just had to be patient. To save my sanity, I cut myself some slack and stopped wearing the splint and doing most of the exercises.

Instead, I spent my time and energy focused on other issues, like tightness in my hips and pelvis. Finally, in January, my abs had made some progress, I was able to resume doing my old core workouts, and a few weeks ago I had my last appointment with my PT.

When I was two months postpartum, a friend of mine told me she didn’t regain core strength until eight months after her c-section and I thought: Eight months? OMG, that’s an eternity! Well, it turned out ten months was about what it took for me. (It was around the same time that workouts also started to click and I began to get glimpses of my old self.) Know that even though it may seem like an impossibly long time to wait, your strength/speed/etc. will come back someday. Patience is key for all things postpartum. Do what you can, but don’t drive yourself crazy forcing anything.

2. Relax about the weight stuff.

My weight is now close to where it was when I was in peak shape. Running helps of course, as does nursing, but so does relaxing about it and just letting your body find it’s new groove. This season, knowing I’m still helping feed a growing baby AND training for an Olympic Trials qualifying attempt, I’m eating more than ever. I’m focusing on trying to eat plenty of really nutritious (and delicious) things (thank you, Run Fast, Eat Slow!) and keeping Baby and I healthy and strong. As a result (or maybe because of time passing; there’s that patience thing again...), my weight is now getting back to my old normal. But really, that number doesn’t matter. My weight may be back in a similar range, but I feel different; stronger here or there perhaps, or maybe just shaped a little different. My body will never look exactly like it did before because, DUH, it grew a human in it for nine months. And that’s totally fine. In fact, it’s pretty flipping amazing.

3. Your body is flipping amazing (and it just may surprise you).

There were (are) many days when the road back seemed (seems) impossibly long, but there are also days I surprise myself. There’s evidence of at least one postpartum advantage: a boost in oxygen-carrying red blood cells, the same sort of effect people try to get by doping. Supposedly this boost only lasts about four months, so by the time I was back to real training it was long gone. But there were days where I would surprise myself; I’d run a pace that seemed unimaginable only a few weeks earlier, a long run would feel effortless, I’d catch a glimpse of something like the old Teal. Even now, when a workout goes well I wonder if there’s some special new mom juice still coursing through me. Because as much as I dream big and expect a lot of myself, I also have moments of sitting back and thinking: Geez, it’s really incredible I’ve even gotten this far. I truly believe God gives us more potential than any of us know and over the last year I’ve been reminded of that. Our bodies are pretty flipping amazing. They make babies, they run marathons, they bounce back from injury, inactivity, illness. Sometimes in the middle of the struggle it can be hard to see, but every once in a while you may catch a glimpse and see how your amazing body is working for you and getting better/stronger/faster.

4. You’re still you.

I’m a mom now, and that is undeniably life changing. But I’m also still a runner, with big dreams. When you become a parent I think it’s easy to assume you have to give up some part of yourself (your body/your sleep/your mind to a whole new set of worries) but you are also still the same person when that sleepless fog lifts, with the same strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams. I can once again run far, I still struggle with speed, and I still get immense joy out of pushing myself. No matter how much my love for my daughter grows (and it does, every day, in an incomprehensible incredibly overwhelming way that is also impossible to fathom even though people try to tell you), I still have room to love running.

5. Quit comparing.

Don’t compare your postpartum journey to others. You may come back faster or slower; maybe your abs will cooperate, but maybe some other issue will come up. There are plenty of women who are doing things quicker than I did/am, and others more slowly, but there’s no sense comparing. It’s hard to resist—and social media doesn’t always help—but remember that everyone’s situation/pregnancy/body/babies are different. Focus on taking care of yourself, taking it one day at a time, and trusting that it will get easier.

I promise, it does.

Dream big,

Friday, March 16, 2018

Race Report - RnR DC Half

Going into the Rock-n-Roll DC Half Marathon I was nervous about all the logistics with Baby (as is the reality these days) but also excited to be racing for real again. It isn’t that last season wasn’t for real or that I wasn’t doing the best I could at the time, but it seemed impossibly far from where I used to be. I’m still not quite there, but I know I’m closer, back in the general vicinity of my old paces and times.

My early season goal (written back in January) was to break 1:20, which is what I did in the half marathon before I qualified the last time. But my early season goals often get shifted a bit as the reality of training sets in; my updated/hopefully more realistic goal was to run 6:10 pace. (Sub-1:20 is 6:06 pace.) I planned to run as close to 6:10s as possible until about mile 10 and then to press from there to the finish. (I really wanted to practice digging deeper and pressing earlier than I have been in workouts lately.) Maybe things will go amazingly and I’ll hit 10 miles ahead of pace and could possibly push to finish in 1:20 after all. I’ll certainly lose time on the hill at mile 6, but maybe I’ll make up more time than expected on the downhill...?? This is where my pre-race (lack of) logic always goes; I think of a seemingly realistic goal and then somehow twist it into a (not very sound) plan that can get me my crazier goal. But it’s not rational; I couldn’t make up all that time in the latter stages of the race unless I was really holding back in the beginning. And I didn’t think 6:10s would be holding back. In fact, in my normal pre-race pendulum swing of ambition and doubts, I worried 6:10s might also be a reach goal.

As we lined up at the start, I found myself near three women I knew were super speedy and assumed they would take the top spots. Maybe I can get fourth; I’ve been third here before and am hoping to run faster today. Then the gun went off and it seemed like twenty women passed me. Where did all these ladies come from?!? I took a break to have a baby and now I’m old and washed up and getting my butt kicked. (For the record, I don’t actually feel old—and many of the women who beat me are around my age—but you know what I mean.) I told myself I was being smart and running my own race, but I didn’t have much hope they were all going to come back to me. (Spoiler alert, they didn’t.) Whatever, my focus is on time anyway.

On pace at Mile 4.
I tried to relax and run my 6:10s, but the first split was still a little fast and the next a little slow. I focused on seeing my family at miles 2.5 and 4 and by mile 4 I was exactly on pace. We headed up Rock Creek Parkway, my old stomping ground. I remembered how good I felt running on this same road in my first race back last fall; it's my territory/my place to shine (even though I moved a year and a half ago and suffered many totally awful runs there when I lived in DC). I felt in control and optimistic, despite losing a couple seconds here and there. My focus switched to getting up and over the hill at mile 6 without doing too much damage physically or mentally. Like all hills, it started out tolerable (oh this isn’t so bad, I can do this) then got terrible (OMG, I am basically walking, when does this thing end?) and then, thankfully, it was over. I tried to regain my composure and pace so the 7th mile split wasn’t too abysmal. I was about 30 seconds over 6:10 pace at that point but I knew I’d successfully made up that much time on this course before.

Rock Creek Parkway
Photo credit: RunWashington
The next section rolls a bit, but I reminded myself: There’s more down than up. I felt good; I’ve always liked this section of the course. A few friends were out cheering and my watch seemed to say I had picked it up. But the 8th mile split (at the bottom of a big hill) was only a few seconds fast and the 9th mile split was somehow slower than 6:10. This wasn’t the plan.

But mile 10 got me back on track; I made up nearly 20 seconds (and later realized mile 10 has the most significant downhill) and knew my 6:10 was in reach. I had told myself I’d start to really push here, but I was mentally hesitating. Fortunately, just as I was talking myself out of attempting to sustain a sub-6 pace, a girl caught me. She had been one of the very few women I assumed I had successfully vanquished around mile 3, but here she was again. (All those other women were still ahead of me, though there turned out to be ten of them, not twenty-plus.) I knew it would be helpful to stick with her, so I tried to hang on and surprised myself that she didn’t immediately drop me.

We stayed together for maybe a mile, with me getting back in front of her a bit. We dropped another sub-6 mile and I was so grateful she was helping me stick to my original plan, but at mile 12 she finally gapped me. My split was slower (though that mile is slightly uphill) and this is the part of the race that’s plaguing me now: Did I give up too early? Could I have pushed harder to stick with her? At the moment I didn’t think so, but I still wonder. I tried counting in my head, which is a strategy that often keeps me focused and helps me pick it up at the end of hard workouts, but it didn’t seem to be working. But the pace for the last 1.1 mile (~5:55) was the second fastest of the day, so maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

Mile 12ish, getting dropped.
I finished in 1:20:27, which is a postpartum PR (not too hard since my only other half was 6 months postpartum) and a course PR (a way more significant stat, since I’ve run this race six times, in various degrees of shape). It's also my third fastest half ever. My final pace (6:08) was exactly halfway between my two goals of 6:10 pace and sub-1:20 (6:06 pace). 
Last push to the finish.
Photo credit: Cheryl Young
Still, I don’t entirely know what to make of it. There were many pre-race moments I didn’t think 6:10 was possible, yet I managed even better that that. Of course my season isn’t exactly matching my crazy pre-season hopes, but I’m not too far off.

The problem is I worry that I am "off" because I keep comparing everything in this season to my buildup to CIM, where I qualified for the 2016 Trials. Having the stats of what has been successful before can be a helpful gage, but I have to keep reminding myself that this season is different and the buildup can’t possibly be exactly the same. For starters, the tune-up races are different; this half was three weeks earlier in the season than Raleigh, the pre-CIM half where I broke 1:20. Back then I felt like I was putting the finishing touches on the buildup, right now I’m smack in the middle. Also, the time I now need for the marathon is two minutes slower than what I needed back then. (And I ran almost exactly a minute slower for half the distance, so the math works out. And yes, I'll look for just about any stat to help my ambitions seem mathematically sound.) But every time I think about how the standard is easier, I remember how much harder the course I’m trying to run it on is and how quickly those two minutes will disappear on those hills.

For now though, all I can do is get back to the grind.

Dream big,

Friday, March 9, 2018

Track Work

There is an endless assortment of workouts you can do before a marathon, with different schools of thought touting one type over another. I think most will agree that the closer to race pace and distance you are, the more the workout matters. To me that means marathon pace workouts are the ones to nail and the ones I put the most emphasis on, followed by tempo runs and finally track workouts. Although least important, track workouts are still a staple of my prep: pushing yourself at shorter, faster efforts can teach you that you have more to give, even when you already feel like you’re sprinting. And sometimes it’s just fun to fly down the track.

But there’s no consensus on just how to do them. Some training plans (for example, Advanced Marathoning) include shorter efforts (like 5 x 600) in the second half of the season, as you start to peak, to work on VO2max (how much oxygen you can take in and turn to energy). On the other hand, Renato Canova (a renowned coach of many top Kenyan marathoners) sticks with what I said above—that efforts closer to race pace matter above all—and does the opposite, emphasizing intervals that get longer and slower (closer to marathon effort) as the season progresses. I’ve been curious about Canova’s methods (read more here) for a while, but have yet to make the (rather drastic) jump. My track workouts are somewhat in the middle of these two extremes.

Below are some of my favorites to do during a marathon buildup. I need to credit Coach Jerry of GRC for inspiring most of these. Under his tutelage and weekly track workouts, I dropped ten minutes off my marathon time and was able to hit paces in workouts that intimidated me when I first read them. Just writing these down makes me miss all the laps (and commiserating over a shared hatred for 2Ks) with the speedy GRC ladies!

These intervals are generally done on the slower end of 5K pace. (Or right on/slightly faster than 5K pace for me, because my 5K times have never quite measured up.) For simplicity’s sake, I almost always jog a lap between reps, but I give myself a little extra (maybe a minute more) for intervals in the 1.5-2 mile range. (One rule of thumb is to take rest for 50-90% of the time it takes to run the interval. If an interval takes 6:00, the rest—mostly easy jogging—would be 3:00-5:24.)

THE TUNE UP: 6 x 800

I always run at least one half marathon or ten miler in the lead up to the marathon (see my upcoming races here) as a tune-up to see where I’m at fitness-wise, to get a hard workout in, and to practice racing and all the logistics that go with it. Three or four days before a tune-up race, I do 6 x 800 meter repeats, starting at a very comfortable pace and progressing with each one. I don’t do any too hard; the goal is to feel fast yet relaxed and to remind your head and legs of the speed you’ve got but not do anything that will leave you tired for the race.


There are endless variations of ladders: some building up and coming down (400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400) or just coming down (3200, 2400, 1600, 800). You could also go by minutes, more fartlek style, if you want to do it off the track. (For example, 2 min, 3 min, 4 min, 5 min, 4 min, 3 min, 2 min). These are fun because each interval is different, so it’s a different challenge, which can make it less mentally tough. The next interval may be longer than the last, but it’s slower (or faster but shorter) so you can talk yourself into focusing on whatever aspect is getting easier. I think these are good earlier in the season when the longer stuff seems too intimidating, but it can be fun to switch up the paces whenever.


These are the longer intervals that really teach you to keep grinding at a pretty tough pace. I’ll do either 3 x 3200 (2 mile) or 4 x 2400 (1.5 mile) with a slightly longer rest than the other workouts. These can also be done off the track to better simulate road racing conditions, although I’d still opt for a flat route. Of course all these workouts could be managed on a road if a track is unavailable, but I tend to think the longer, slower stuff is easier to translate. It’s tough to hit super fast splits for the shorter stuff off the track.

THE DREADED: 2K repeats

I hate 2K repeats. I don’t know why I hate them more than the longer stuff (see above), maybe it’s because the paces are always slightly faster. Something about 5 laps just intimidates me; I can wrap my head around 4 laps, even 8 laps (telling myself I’ll be going slower) but 5 laps are dreaded. That said, the workouts you dread are often the ones you need to do most; dreading them is probably a sign they are taxing some system that needs work. I usually do about 4 repeats of these.


This is my favorite track workout of the season. About 10 days out from the marathon, I do my last track workout, 3 x 1600. The first rep is relaxed, the second is faster but controlled, and the last one is basically all out. I usually set a PR on the last (yea, it’s a little strange to set PRs in workouts but I haven’t raced a mile since high school), which gives me the confidence I need for race day. (See the video below, when I set a (then) PR of 5:22 ten days before CIM.) 

That’s really the biggest thing track workouts do for me; ostensibly, they’re helping my lungs and legs, but really it’s about building confidence and feeling fast.

Dream big, 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Gut Training

I’m often surprised how many runners, even at the sub-elite level, don’t practice their race-day nutritional plan. I recently talked to a woman (a sub-3 hour marathoner) who had fallen apart in the later stages of a marathon; she didn’t realize until after the race that the drinks she diligently took at each aid station had no carbs. When I talked to Trent Stellingwerff, a physiologist at the Canadian Sport Institute, for an article a while back, he said, “So many athletes show up to the race and then find out what drinks there are. That’s just insane, that’s just bad preparation. Get on the websites, find out what’s going to be there and practice with it for a couple of months.”

Most physiologists would suggest to not only practice, but to push your stomach's limit so you're taking as much carbohydrate as possible. The Breaking2 project tried to get their athletes to practice consuming between 60 and 90 g of carbs per hour, although it doesn’t seem like the athletes successfully tolerated that much. In a podcast, Stellingwerff talked about testing his athletes to find their puke point, which is exactly what it sounds like: forcing down as many carbs as possible until they come back up. There's some new evidence that your GI system can be trained to tolerate more, so you can (and should) train your stomach to handle race day fuel just like you train your legs to handle race day pace. You can find your individual limit in practice so you don't discover your puke point mid-race. (60 grams of carbs an hour seems to be the upper limit for most people; gels generally have about 20 g and 12 ounces of Gatorade has 22 g.) 

Below is what I drank and ate before, during, and after a recent marathon pace workout. Pace makes a huge difference; I have no trouble scarfing gels at an easy jog, but it’s always more of a digestive challenge when trying to run fast, which means that's exactly the time to practice it.  And, of course, the ‘after’ matters a lot in training, too, because you need to be sure you’re giving your body what it needs to recover and get ready for the next effort.

Note: This is what works for me, after fiddling with it over the years. Do whatever works for you, not what your friends or Shalane Flanagan or the makers of Gatorade want you to do. I’m just trying to give one example and (more importantly!) to convince you to practice your own fueling.


I eat a plain bagel and a half, with peanut butter and banana, about ninety minutes before the run. I used to just eat one bagel, but then decided I could probably tolerate some more so I went for it. For most long runs, I often just have oatmeal (still with nut butter and a banana) but for the marathon pace runs I really try to eat what I would on race day, which is as many carbs as possible. I also have some water and a cup of tea (I don’t like coffee).


One thing I can’t emphasize enough is to practice with whatever you’ll take on the course. Unless you plan to bring your own fluids, look up what the race is serving (even down the flavor) and practice with it. This year I’m being anal enough to practice with Gatorade Endurance (not just regular, store-bought Gatorade which is my general go-to) because that’s what Pittsburgh serves. If the race serves low or no-carb drinks (as more and more races are doing these days), you’ll need to supplement with more gels or food along the course. (Usually those races up the amount of food served—pretzels, candy, fruit—but you should practice eating those foods at pace too!) I try to sip every 2-3 miles, depending on where water stops will be.

I’ve also been experimenting with two Clif gels, each with 100 mg of caffeine. (More on caffeine and running here.) I tried that once in the lead up to Richmond and had a disastrous run, with a muscle cramp coming on soon after the second gel. I blamed the caffeine (whether fairly or not) and went back to less caffeine, more spread out. (At Richmond, I took a 35 mg caff gel at the start--purely for the caffeine, I hadn't even used any carbs yet--the 100 mg caff gel at mile 10, and another 25 mg caff gel at mile 18.) Determined to get that extra boost, I tried again this season (taking them about 8 miles apart), to no ill effect, so I’ll keep trying that strategy.

I admit I do one thing wrong: I don’t carry both sports drink and water, so I sip sports drink when I take my gels. You should take gels with water; having them with sports drinks can overload your system and lead to trouble. I sometimes put a water bottle on my porch and plan a route to go by there at the same time I'll take a gel but more often than not I just go with the Gatorade I carry. Maybe it’s toughening my stomach that much more (??)... but this strategy is not advised by the experts.


I drink chocolate milk basically as soon as I get in the door. (If I don’t finish the run at home, I bring Horizon Organic Chocolate Milk with me and drink it before driving back. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so it’s easy to bring along to the gym, a race, etc.) The studies on chocolate milk are numerous and I’ve never really needed much convincing: it’s delicious and easy. Also water, lots of water.


This is the only one that will be significantly different on race day. Post-marathon I’ll have a big juicy burger, fries, possibly a milkshake, and definitely a beer.

But during training, I try to have a healthier mix of carbs and protein; on this day it was French toast, made with whole wheat bread and covered with blueberries and maple syrup. If I don’t have it right away, later in the day I’ll often have a smoothie (with Greek yogurt, milk and fruit) to make sure I get enough calcium. I’m still nursing, which means a lot of my calcium goes to Baby, so I need to be sure I’m getting enough to keep those bones strong.

I also drink tart cherry juice. It helps reduce inflammation and may improve sleep. If you want to try it, be sure to get 100% tart cherry juice (i.e. not juice made with sweet cherries or “watered” down with other juices). Some people say it takes some getting used to (it is tart, not sweet) but I don’t mind it. Trader Joe’s brand is the best I’ve tried.

What are your favorite ways to fuel and re-fuel?

Dream big,