Friday, November 15, 2013

Science Friday: A Good Night's Sleep

Exercise helps you sleep—that's not particularly shocking. And most runners aren't surprised to hear of its role in stress relief. So it stands to reason that when you're so stressed out that you're tossing and turning at night, going for a run could provide a double benefit: less stress and more sleep.

Monika Fleshner's group presented data at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in San Diego (a great place for a run
—stressed or not) that investigated, in a number of ways, the relationship between exercise, sleep, and stress. One study, led by Robert Thompson, a PhD student at University of Colorado-Boulder, asked if exercise could help stressed rats sleep better. Half of the rats were able to run on a wheel, while the other half remained sedentary. (The rats weren’t forced to run, but were given access to running wheels in their cages and could run as they pleased. Rats voluntarily run about 5K each night.) After six weeks, the rats were stressed with shocks to their tails. Their sleep/wake cycles were studied both before and after the stress.

Before stress, exercised rats spent more of their time in REM sleep—the stage of sleep when dreams occur—compared to non-exercising rats. Directly after the stress, all the rats had a rough time sleeping—they got the same amount of REM sleep whether it was day or night. But by the very next day, the running rats were able to recover their sleeping habits. The sedentary rats struggled for a few more days.

But rats are rats, what about people?

Most of the studies on people (described here, here, and here) don't look at stress, but agree that running helps sleep in general. In contrast to rats, however, exercise decreases REM sleep in humans, while increasing non-REM sleep (including deep sleep). When looking at people who have trouble sleeping, like insomniacs, exercise takes longer to have an effect. But the moral of the story is the same: exercise will eventually help you sleep, no matter how stressed.

Another interesting story from the Society for Neuroscience conference: When asked if mental games (like crosswords) or exercise is better for brain health, scientists agreed that the jocks win. So put your crossword down and go for a run! If nothing else, maybe you’ll get a better night's sleep instead of tossing and turning over the answer to 7 Down.

Dream big and sleep well, 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five minutes

On Tuesday, I ran for five minutes.

It was exactly five minutes longer than I've gone in over six weeks. I haven't been running seriously in over two months.

To clarify, it was actually a ten minute "workout," alternating between one minute of walking and one minute of running. So I have yet to even run two minutes consecutively. This is a precipitous drop from eighty mile weeks of the past.

When my physical therapist told me last week I could attempt running this week--and then revealed my plan--I was simultaneously overjoyed and disappointed. At my first appointment, the prognosis was that I'd be running again within 4 weeks. (I was even told I could still compete in the Philadelphia Marathon, but I abandoned that idea.) The four week deadline came and went. The appointment the week before was bleak: I was to tack on additional appointments and running still wasn't on the radar. But armed with new exercises, I seemed to make a turnaround. I could run.
Back in five... 

But five minutes? Really? I didn't know I would be starting so slowly. In the past, no matter my fitness, I have always assumed a baseline of four miles. I can not workout for months (namely in college), but I can always struggle through and make it four miles. But this isn't a problem with my fitness. This is a very real injury, and caution is key.

And so, I embarked on my Big Run:

Minute 1: Sheer bliss. It may seem like an exaggeration to be so enamored by running that one minute can transform you, but that is how addicted I am. Just speeding up from a walking pace to a slow jog felt amazing. Damn, I've missed this. I knew I did, but this reminds me how much.

Minute 2: Still feeling great, the morning is just breaking. The weather is perfect autumn, shorts and long sleeve tee weather. I make it to the trail, there are leaves underfoot, pure joy.

Minute 3: Geez, it's already time to turn around. Oh wait, what's that? My hip?! I feel it, working. It doesn't feel like sharp pains like it used to, but I feel something, and I'd really rather feel nothing at all.

Minute 4: My hip feels like it does when I'm doing my exercises. Maybe it's just out of shape and/or tired? After all, that's the point of the exercises, to get it working again. In the old days, it was letting the surrounding muscles (quads, hamstrings) do the work and that was the beginning of the problem. It doesn't feel like it did when I first realized I was injured, so that must be progress, right?

Minute 5: Almost done. The hip feels as it did in minutes 3 and 4, no better but no worse. I'm still loving the running, as the early minutes, but the carefree attitude is gone. Everyone told me that coming back from injury would be filled with paranoia (among other not-so-pleasant emotions), and they were right. It's starting.

My physical therapist was clearly right to be so cautious, if a quick five minutes can begin to trigger something. It was certainly a mixed bag of emotions and a reminder--as if I needed one--of a long road ahead. But overall, it does seem like I covered all the bases of a solid run: both pure joy and discomfort, both moments of doubt and moments of triumph. Okay, no triumph with that run, but maybe when I tackle ten minutes.

Dream big,

Friday, October 4, 2013

Science Friday: The Ten Percent Rule

As I recover from an injury the questions loom: What caused this? Will I make the same mistake again? Was  "too much, too soon" to blame? I've admitted before that I sometimes break the ten percent rule. Is that where I went wrong?

The ten percent rule--that the safe, injury free way to increase mileage is by ten percent each week--is repeated often by running experts and in training books. It's simple, concise, and easy to remember. But is it true? What does the science say?

Unfortunately for ten percent rule advocates, the science isn't on their side. There aren't many studies that examine the rule, and, to date, none that agree with it. The study that is often mentioned as the best test of the rule was published in 2008 by a group in the Netherlands. 

The participants in the study were 532 novice runners that signed up for a four mile race. The researchers divided the runners into two groups, carefully accounting for past history of sports and previous injuries. The control group was assigned a "frequently used beginners training program" that was 8 weeks long, with an average weekly increase of 23%. (The increases each week varied greatly and included a down week.) The intervention group was assigned a more gradual program that was 13 weeks long, and carefully increased the time spent running by ten percent each week. (One week had only a 2% increase but the rest were pretty consistent.) Both groups were to run three times a week.

The injury rates were shockingly similar. In the control group, 20.3% of runners became injured. In the intervention group, 20.8% were injured. A gentle ten percent increase didn't help.

(Not entirely relevant but interesting: They followed up their work with another study looking specifically at a preconditioning program. Prior research suggested that people who participate in sports that involve jumping and pounding to the joints (soccer, basketball, or volleyball) get injured less often when they start to run than those who participate in sports with less pounding (swimmers and cyclists.) They designed a four week program that simply included a few sessions of hopping mixed with walking. The preconditioning/hopping program was completed before the running program began. The hopping had no effect on running injuries, however, as the control group and the hopping group were injured just as often.)

Recently, a smaller study was published using GPS watches to track increases in mileage. The authors wanted to do away with the subjectivity of subjects self-reporting how far and fast they ran, so they gave them Garmins (Forerunner 110s), asked them to run for ten weeks, and tracked their injury rates. The Garmins couldn't lie: runners who became injured tended to have a greater weekly increase in mileage. But the increases--for healthy and injured--were higher than ten percent; injured runners increased mileage an average of 32% while runners who remained healthy increased mileage by 22%. The difference between the two groups' mileage wasn't quite statistically significant, however, which means that while it's interesting, it's not quite enough to make sweeping generalizations. They also calculated that injured runners had a large (and significant) jump in their mileage the week before symptom onset, with an average increase of 86%*. It may be surprising to the ten percent folks that people can get away with greater than 20 percent increases and remain injury free, but injury following an 86% increase isn't terribly shocking.

The authors of the GPS study summarize nicely: "No clear evidence for safe progression of weekly volume exists." The ten percent rule may be convenient, but it's not accurate. In fact, some people can safely increase weekly mileage over 20 percent and remain healthy. But others (1 in 5 in the first study) get injured even with an increase of just 10 percent. It seems like it's up to you to know your body and what it can handle, which unfortunately is learned by trial and error (and injury.) It's probably best to err on the side of caution, and maybe not try to bump up by 86% in one week. 

Dream big, 

*It should be noted that the number of participants in this study was small, and the number of injured was even smaller, only 13. So while this may seem like a high number, it's probably because of the small number of people. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Injury Is A Pain In The Butt

Fall is my favorite season, mostly for the perfect running weather. Yes, the overabundance of all things pumpkin flavored is delicious, but it's that other smell in the air that is so inspiring. It smells of cross-country season, of marathon season, of running season. 

But, for me, it's biking indoors season. My hip is not yet healed enough to run, and although I am still thrilled I don't need surgery and thankful it isn't a worse injury, I'm not exactly enjoying my time away from running. I try to keep my head up and continue to look forward, but I do have some observations to share. Okay, they are mostly complaints, but perhaps other injured runners can share in my misery. 

One unsurprising discovery is my jealousy when I see other runners running. They don't know how good they have it as they trudge up that giant hill, red faced, struggling in sheer desperation to get to the top. Oh how I miss that agonizing delight. I want to jump in and jog alongside them while raving, "Isn't this wonderful?" (The irony is that this does not mean I don't want to go to races. When invited to cheer on friends in a November half marathon—the same weekend that I was to run my marathon—I couldn't say yes fast enough. If I can't race myself, there's no place I'd rather be than cheering others as they race, even despite my jealousy.) 

What was unexpected—to me, at least—was how much seeing my running routes would make me jealous. I run some of the same paths all the time, to the point of monotony. But now, I'll drive past one, and the grass has never looked greener, the path never more inviting. That cross-country/marathon season smell wafts in through the window, teasing me. I want to be out there! 

Since I'm biking to stay in running shape, I use very low resistance and very high RPM. Most experts would say that's a dangerous recipe for runners (i.e. inexperienced bikers) to get seriously hurt on the roads. So I'm stuck indoors, watching terrible television and cursing the inefficiency of biking. To get a similar workout to running, you have to bike about 1.5 times longer. But it's awful, particularly because it's incredibly boring and early morning television is the worst. I can't watch the Kardashian sisters fight over something blown out of proportion one more time. (Oh, but there's a marathon on, with new episodes? Okay, then, well I just want to see what happens with Khloe and Lamar...)

Fortunately I have a wonderful husband who listens to my complaints,
and, instead of getting annoyed by them, draws motivational pictures.

And dieting, forget it. There are many reasons I run and one of them is I really love cupcakes. Biking doesn't allow me the same gluttony. (That'd be too many Kardashian episodes to handle.) But despite working out at a fraction of what I'm used to, I still want to eat everything in sight. What do you mean I don't deserve a large stack of syrup covered pumpkin pancakes?! I ran a twenty miler six months ago, that doesn't still count?

Even chores are harder. Living in the city, sometimes it's just easier to run somewhere. On weekends I run to work or to do errands. But now I take some combination of buses and subways and can't help but calculate how much faster it would be to run, and how much more enjoyable. 

But the most tangible problem with biking is the bike seat. The bikes at the gym have wide, cushioned seats; although they aren't exactly Lazy Boys, they are much more comfortable than what true cyclists use. But thanks to kind triathlete family and friends, I currently have a real cyclist's bike with a real cyclist's seat set up in my living room. The first day wasn't so bad. This is so convenient! The second day, if I even tried to shift one inch, a wave of pain went through my butt, punishing me for anything anti-biking I've ever said. If this is some cruel torture device to force me to have more respect for cyclists and triathletes, congratulations, it worked. (Thank you family and friends??)

Of course, there are psychological struggles, too: the questions of getting back to where I was, how far behind I'll be when I can run, if the injury will return, how the recovery seems to be taking longer than originally anticipated. But it's simpler and easier to repress those worries and to focus my anger on that bike seat, because it's a serious pain in the butt. 

Dream big, 


Friday, September 13, 2013

Science Friday: Diagnoses and Discoveries About Hips

Note: This is not a typical Science Friday, but Part 2 in the unexpected series identifying what is wrong with RunnerTeal.  (Let’s hope for no Part 3 anytime soon.) 

Last week I told you about my not-so-hip hip and my upcoming doctor’s appointment.  Everyone’s well wishes and thoughts paid off, as I do not have a surgery-requiring labral tear, but tendonitis in my hip flexor instead. (Yippee!!) Tendonitis means no running for a few more weeks, being forced to confront my hatred for biking, and no fall marathon. (The Philadelphia Marathon has now stolen my money for the last two years. I’ll get you back some day, Philly…) But, it isn’t surgery, and that is a huge relief that indisputably makes a few run-less weeks and hours of boring biking seem like a blessing.

Given the crash course I’ve had the last few weeks, I thought it might be nice to share some of the things I’ve learned about hips, both their tears and tendons.*

The hip is a ball and socket joint, like the shoulder, where the head of the femur (the ball) sits in the pocket (called the acetabulum, the socket) of the pelvic bone. This allows for motion in almost all directions and allows us to walk, jump, and of course, run. It absorbs a lot of forces; when we run, the forces are many times our body weight. The hip is the superstar of joints.

The acetabular labrum is the cartilage that surrounds the socket, helping to keep the femur securely in place. Running repeatedly over years and years (as marathoners are wont to do) can cause the labrum to wear thin and tear. (This can also occur more instantaneously in contact sports or accidents.) The pain occurs on the inside of the hip and it may present as stiffness and tightness or it may feel like it’s clicking or catching. The latter is the symptom that had me (and Dr. #1) convinced I had a tear. If the tear is bad enough, arthroscopic surgery may be required, where the torn portion is cut out. After seeing my x-ray and hearing my description—when the pain was worst, what time of day it hurt, etc.—my doctor was less than convinced that I had a labral tear, and did an ultrasound to check. If I had a tear big enough to need surgery, he’d see it on the ultrasound. Fortunately, he found a healthy looking labrum! He diagnosed me with tendonitis of the hip flexor instead.

The hip flexors are a collection of muscles that mainly function to pull the leg and knee upward, towards the body. Two of these muscles, the iliacus and the psoas major (together referred to as the iliopsoas), are the most susceptible to hip flexor injuries, and tendonitis can occur in the tendons associated with these muscles. (Tendons attach muscles to bones.) When under repeated stress, tendons can degenerate and become inflamed. (The suffix “-itis” means inflammation.) The stress could come from doing too much too soon or from overuse, pushing too hard for too long—again as marathoners are wont to do. If the tendons are inflamed or aggravated, most likely the surrounding muscles are as well. During my appointment, the tightness and stress on these muscles was obvious. The psoas major connects the lumbar part of the spine (the lower back) to the front of the pelvis. When my doctor pressed on my lower back, I could feel pain in the front of my hip—a strange sensation that convinced me he knew what he was talking about. (An interesting side note: only about 50% of people have a psoas minor. It seems not to matter whether you do or do not have this weak muscle.)

Treatment for tendonitis includes anti-inflammatories, physical therapy, massage, and, of course, the most hated treatment: a break from running. The tendon is able to heal itself; the purpose of the initial inflammatory process is to promote healing. As with all injuries, the trick is patience: let your body work its magic (and have a really good PT to help coax it along.)

Here’s a quick run down of other hip issues that affect runners:

Bursae are lubricating sacs that cushion areas where muscles and tendons slide against bone; bursitis is an inflammation of these sacs. Trochanteric bursitis will cause a dull ache or rubbing on the outside of the hip. Again, the treatment includes rest and ice/anti-inflammatories.

Stress fracture:
In the hip region, the most common place for a stress fracture is the neck of the femur. A stress fracture causes a throbbing pain that gets worse with more running and will probably leave you limping. If you can’t hop on the affected leg, a stress fracture is probably the issue, and you should immediately stop hopping and stop running. Here the treatment is 6-8 weeks of no running.

Iliotibial (IT) band syndrome:
This can present as a jabbing pain on the outside of the knee, but it starts up in the hips. IT band syndrome is from irritation of the ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin. You can get it from doing too much too soon (always trouble!) or even from running the same direction on the track (too many left turns!) IT band syndrome can be helped with rest, ice/anti-inflammatories, and massage before starting a program that strengthens the surrounding muscles.

Piriformis syndrome:
This is literally a pain in the butt, as pain shoots from the butt down the back of the leg. It can be treated with massage and physical therapy.

Staring at images of skeletons, muscles, and joints and learning all the things that can go wrong makes me appreciate how amazing it is that, most of the time, things work smoothly to allow us to move around. And, someday soon, to run again.

*Note: I am not a doctor, just a scientist who likes to teach herself things. You should see an actual doctor if you’re having hip trouble.

Dream big, 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I have never been injured. 

When I admit this to someone, it is not to brag. Rather, I confess it sheepishly, full of guilt, fully aware that I don't deserve to be an injury-free runner, fully aware of all those runners who have been frustrated by injury for years. (My sister, who will always be a far superior runner to myself in my eyes, has been hit with one too many injuries. Why can I run and she can't? It isn’t fair.) 

In high school I had a problem in my foot that flared up a few years later while training for my first marathon. Before my first Boston, my Achilles started acting up. In these cases, the remedy was a few days off and then carefully resuming running. I've never been to the doctor for these minor glitches. 

When asked how I remain injury free, I list the usual reasons: I watch my mileage and have built it up slowly over years. I take careful inventory of what hurts and stretch/ice/rest when anything feels off. I know what works for me and what my body can handle. But honestly, I'm just lucky. I've broken the ten percent rule. I've gone weeks without a day off and felt a sense of pride about it. Busy mornings mean skipped stretching and icing. The injured runners reading this now hate me. Don't worry. Karma will get me soon. Maybe it already has. 

While training for this spring's Boston, my hip acted up a bit. Some days it would feel tight and go away, some days it would be a quick pang of pain, and then disappear. Looking over my log, there is one day it bothered me enough to cut a workout short. Instead of logging 15, I cut it to 9. Still, I ran 9 miles; I wasn’t debilitated. I worried about it a bit, but it wasn't serious enough to slow me too much. 

After Boston, I took off more time than usual. I did a short test run; the hip was still tight, so I took some more days off, and repeated this process a few times. By June, I was aching to run and getting out of shape. I started slowly and built back my mileage. My hip made its presence known a few times, but nothing to sideline me. I religiously did hip exercises and iced it. It seemed to be going away. Three weeks ago, I did a tempo run that wasn't a complete disaster. I was coming back. 

The next day, while visiting Brother in Philly, he took me on a run along the river, following the same course the marathon would. It was a gorgeous day, the kind of beautiful morning that makes you glad to be a runner. My hip was tight in the beginning, but loosened up. I hit a pretty decent pace, and felt happy with it. Afterwards, I did my stretches, grabbed some ice and hopped in the car for a wedding in the Hamptons. 

On the drive the hip stiffened and throbbed. But after we got out of the car, it felt fine. We danced and celebrated, all fine. The next day, Husband and I tried to go for an easy run. It tightened immediately. “Maybe it will loosen up like it usually does,” Husband said. But I couldn't even make it two steps to try and see. I was hurt.

I took a few days off before testing it again with an easy jog. After five minutes of pain-free running, it tightened. I could have pushed it to see if it would stretch out like I have in the past. But remembering not being able to take two strides a few days before made me realize it wasn't worth it. At that moment I switched from someone who defied injury to someone who was injured, and accepted it. Time to see the doctor.

I called the best hip doctor around, as recommended by a teammate. I couldn’t get an appointment for three weeks. Three weeks? That seemed like an eternity. I am supposed to be training, what the heck do I do with myself?

After the aborted test run, I cross-trained to maintain sanity. On Friday (day 7 of no running), I saw my doctor to get a referral to Dr. Hip Specialist. She thinks it may be a labral tear, to be confirmed by the specialist with an MRI. She warned me a tear could require surgery, although it may be possible to rehab it with physical therapy. She also said I can run in the meantime, provided I decrease mileage and avoid hills. I can run? This happy news clouded the rest of the appointment. But as I walked away, the reality of what else she said dawned on me. Possible surgery!?

I was able to run for five pain-free, glorious days before the tightness was back and I was sidelined again. Tomorrow I have my appointment; the three weeks of waiting are over. I’m eager to get a real diagnosis: will I need surgery? Is cross-training aggravating it? When and how can I get back to running? I’ve come to accept my immediate goals may need to change, but I want to get started fixing this as soon as possible, so my long term ones don’t need to.

Dream big,

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Science... Wednesday(?)/Shameless Plug

Much to the chagrin of my Science Friday fans, most of my science writing this summer has been concentrated on my internship at NOVA, where I contribute to the NOVA Next website. This week I wrote a feature about focus in sports and devoted half of it to discussing focus in running. (Interview people about running marathons for my day job? Yes please!) Get a dose of Science Friday Wednesday and check it out here.

But first, a warning! There is a spoiler; if you haven't read my Charlottesville Race Reports, I suggest (in a completely non-biased way) you read Part 1 and Part 2 before the NOVA piece. 

Hopefully I'll have some real Science Fridays finished soon!

Dream big,

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hey Stranger, Good Workout!

Friday’s run was an out-and-back route. I hit halfway in a decent-for-these days time, nothing impressive. Shortly after the turn around, a few paths merge into one and I found myself between two runners: one who I had just passed as the roads came together, and one thirty meters ahead. Well, I couldn’t let the guy I passed pass me back, because I’m too prideful/competitive/stubborn. Once I pass someone, I have to stick to it. It’s embarrassing to get passed right back, admitting you couldn’t handle it. If you make your move, you better commit to it. Except I had kind of fallen into my move; rather than one of us gradually overtaking the other, we had just emerged on the same path at the same time and I had gone in front. Oh well, better commit.

So I picked up the pace a bit and put some comfortable distance between us. The acceleration shook me out of the shuffling trance I’d been in lately.  I felt surprisingly good at this new pace, just pushing it slightly, opening up the legs and getting in the rhythm. I realized the guy ahead wasn’t getting any further away, but I wasn’t catching him either. He was keeping up a decent clip, so I decided to make a game of it, to stick with the pace to maintain the constant gap between us. Mr. Blue Shirt and I ran that way for close to three miles, him setting the pace, me trailing behind by about thirty meters. At one point, I thought he might turn a different way, but was glad when he didn’t. This was fun!

I have no idea if he knew I was there. He very well may have hated me—I know I despise when people do this to me. They force me to go fast, just because of my stupid pride of not getting passed. (See above for example.) In the end, though, it amounts to a better workout. Everyone ends up being pulled or pushed a bit faster, and so everyone wins. (Although if it’s a scheduled easy day, better to just let them go.)

Finally, Mr. Blue Shirt turned around and passed me going the other direction. He didn’t acknowledge me at all, not even in an ‘I hate you for following me’ kind of way. He may very well have not known I was there. Meanwhile, I had to refrain myself from giving him a high five, “Good workout, stranger!”

I tried to keep up our good pace the rest of the way, but it wasn’t as fun without my (oblivious) workout buddy. Thanks to his rabbiting, our second half was three minutes faster than my first. More importantly, it snapped me out of a running funk. Thanks, Mr. Blue Shirt. Same time next week?

Dream Big, 

[Image courtesy of Roland Tanglao]

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Return of the Watch

Last week, I finally dusted off the old Garmin. The stats on the screen were still there from Brother’s marathon—which he ran two months ago. The last time I used it was a month before that. It probably would have been better for my self-esteem if I left it collecting dust, but it was time to know the truth.

I wore the watch for my “long run,” but I didn’t let it dictate the pace. I just wanted to see: how out of shape am I really? Give me a number.

Sorry I asked. The number was embarrassingly slow. I could blame the heat—which is a valid excuse these days—but the truth is I’m still just out of shape. I take comfort that even though my “long runs” are still shorter than what would qualify as a long run to an in-shape Teal, they are twice as long as a month ago. Progress.

A few days later it was time for an actual workout. Use the watch to time things. Set goals and splits. Compare actual times to predicted ones. Celebrate hard work paying off or get a well-deserved kick in the pants.

The plan was a tempo run of four miles. I had a modest goal pace in mind, but no real idea how I’d feel. Considering how slow I had gone a few days before, this could be trouble.

The first mile didn’t feel so terrible, and I hit my pace dead on. Hey, maybe I’m not so out of shape after all! Mile two I slowed slightly, and reality set in. Nope, you can't keep this up. There’s no salvaging this. You are only going to slow more. The debate began at mile 3: to cut the workout short or to push through, even if that meant a slow time?

The devil on one shoulder listed the pros of calling it at three miles: Sometimes, it is better to call it—it’s just an off day, you may not be fully recovered from a previous effort, it may be better to save it for another day. It’s silly to dig yourself deeper into a hole if you just don’t have it.

The angel on the other shoulder fired back with the cons of slacking off: This was my first workout in months. I wasn’t overtired; I was out of shape. I didn’t need to save it for another day. I needed to suffer through for the hope that I’d be able to handle this workout another day. If I start making excuses now, where will that get me? A month from now I’ll be in the same spot. Four slower-than-expected miles is a tougher workout than three miles. And what I needed was a tough workout.

In the end, I ran the fourth mile. And yes, it was slower than I liked.

But, you know what? It was faster than my third.

That's why you wear the watch. To give yourself a kick in the pants when you need it, and then to do something about it.

And that’s why you keep going. To witness progress, even the tiniest bit.

Dream big,

[Photo credit: purplemattfish]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Welcome Back

Dear Readers,
I’ve missed you. Sorry it has been a while. Life got a little crazy for a minute there; I got married (that’s Mrs. RunnerTeal to you!), honeymooned, and moved to Boston for an incredible internship. Running has been minimal to say the least.

After Boston, I took my usual post-marathon time off. Then, thinking I should be recovered, I went for a few short runs but I still wasn’t feeling quite right. It was as good a time as ever to give my body a break, and it was telling me it needed one. Unfortunately, I had to maintain my pre-marathon wedding dress shape, so I was forced to cross-train (which served its purpose in reminding me that I love running, not cross-training). After I got married, I let myself go. (Sorry, Husband, I’ve got you now!) I enjoyed the honeymoon like a normal person would (with an abundance of tropical drinks, great food, no running, and not a hint of guilt). But it's back to business (and blogging) now.

Mr. & Mrs. RunnerTeal.

Dear Running,
I've missed you. I wanted to start up again as soon as I got back from the honeymoon, but I had promised my body a longer break. Finally, this last week, it was time. In the few moments we’ve spent together this week, I can tell you’re punishing me for ignoring you. Sunday’s excursion was the most time we’ve spent together in a long while, but two months ago (gosh, has it really been two months??) that would have barely qualified as a date. I can tell this upsets you; I can feel it with my whole body.

I’ll have to work hard to earn your forgiveness. It seems like an impossible task at the moment, like we’ll never get back to how we used to be. But we’ve come out of worse before; I know we can pull through this, and be stronger than ever.

Dear Boston,
I’ve missed you, especially your running routes. When we parted a few years ago, I didn’t know if I’d see you again. But you kept your paths and trails just the same, waiting for my return. It was here, on these roads, that I fell in love with running and marathon training. It was here, right along this river, that I chased alongside the Trials competitors to see if I could keep up. (I’m still chasing the dream that started here.) I’m going to have to get in better shape quickly, because I can’t wait to spend more time with you.

I’ve missed you all. It’s good to be back.

Dream big,

[Photo credit: Liz Reese Photography.]

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston 2013

Yesterday I ran the Boston Marathon. It was not the day I, or anyone else, had hoped for.

It started with a disappointing race. The details are meaningless now; I had hoped for a five minute PR, but struggled with cramps and a cranky hip just after halfway, and I barely managed a PR at all. I crossed the line in tears, and fell into my FiancĂ©’s arms, heartbroken.

But then it got much, much worse. A few short hours later those tears seemed like the silliest thing ever. And my heart would break many more times over before the day would end.

When we left lunch, my family and I tried to board the T near the finish line. It was closed; no one knew why. There were rumors of some threat on the T, and we saw police car after police car drive by. Firetrucks came too, but no ambulances, so I was comforted that perhaps no one was hurt. As we walked up the street to another T station, my sister sent a desperate text: “Please let me know you are alright, heard there was an explosion.” Then the ambulances started coming. I got an email news alert simultaneously, and when I read the headline, I crumbled to the sidewalk in a fresh set of tears. Explosions at the finish line—no one knew why/how many hurt/what to do. Fortunately I was able to get a few texts through to my sister and brother who got the news out to family and friends that we were okay. My teammates started an email chain, and quickly almost everyone responded. One teammate, unable to get through as the cell phone towers went out, wouldn’t be heard from for a few anxious hours. We were comforted knowing she had finished long before, and had no reason to be near the finish anymore. We kept walking, trying to figure out a way out of the city, and the news kept getting worse. As we tried to hail cabs, we found out people had died. More tears were flowing, real tears for people’s lives and limbs lost, lives forever changed. 

We couldn’t make it to my parent’s car to get our bags, so we left them behind and headed to the airport. At the airport, we saw the footage for the first time. I struggled to watch it. I could not, and still cannot, believe what happened. I feel ridiculous for having cried over some silly time in a silly race. The events of yesterday quickly put that in perspective. Life, family, and friends are so much more important. Who cares about a running race?

But that’s what makes me so angry. This race, this event, is not offensive to anyone. It is a celebration of hard work, of hope through adversity, of triumph over diseases and tragedies just like this one. Spectators line the entire 26.2 mile course, standing for hours, cheering for strangers. There is no ill will; from the starting corral to the finish line, everyone is bonded together as they run, as if they have been friends forever. I don’t think there is a friendier environment anywhere. Why would someone ruin that? The runners yesterday are people who have spent years trying to qualify, who have worked hard to become better athletes for a chance to compete at Boston. Other runners raise millions for charities—supporting cancer research, veterans, and victims of Newtown. The spectators yesterday are those people that stand by their sides, giving these runners the encouragement to keep going, to keep up the training, and to keep fighting through the whole grueling race to the finish line.  The fact that an event like this, a celebration like this, would be targeted is unreal. The fact that the spectators—our constant support team—took the brunt of it is not right. A day later and safe at home, I am in shock this happened.

In the airport, we met others who shared the story of where they had been and how fate had saved them. Two parents talked about their daughter, how she was set to run but an injury prevented her from being on the starting line. Instead they watched from near the finish line. They left before the explosions, but the daughter said she would never run a marathon again, not after this.

I’ll admit, I was thinking the same thing—even before the day changed forever. I was selfishly moping, thinking I had spent a year working hard to improve my marathon time and had only come away with only 30 seconds. I was thinking how hard the race was, and how I didn’t know how I’d be able to do another one, faster. I was thinking the same thing many marathoners think at the end of the race, how that will be the last one. Time, healed legs, and encouraging supporters will eventually change our minds, but that’s the important thing: we will get to make that decision ourselves, in our own time. No terrorist should be able to take that away from us. We cannot live in fear. We will band together, as runners always do on our way to a far off finish line, and we will pick ourselves up and get through this together. We can’t let these terrorists get what they want—to ruin our celebrations or crush our spirits.

I am moved by the generosity already exhibited. The influx of donations crashed the Red Cross’s websites, their blood banks are full, donations are being offered from around the country in the form of food, coffee, places to stay. The running community has always been a supportive one, and it will continue to support us all, even when a tragedy crumbles us.

Dream big and pray for Boston,

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Highs and Lows

Just a graph today. Good luck to everyone in Beantown or wherever you may be racing!

Click for a larger version.

Dream big,

Friday, April 5, 2013

Science Friday: High Fat Tapers

We all know about carbo-loading. A couple days before the marathon, we suppress our tapering woes with heaps of carbohydrate goodness. There’s a lot of research behind it and so inevitably the Italian restaurants on marathon weekend are teeming with runners.

But what about a few days before the carb-fest begins? I’ve heard that the week before is a good time to make sure you’re eating healthy fats. What’s the logic behind this?

The idea is to get the body to oxidize (i.e. break down and use for energy) fat more than glycogen (that precious molecule we so carefully try to stock up and save). This can be achieved to some extent with training; the more we train to become endurance athletes the more we teach our bodies to use fat. But can we help out by eating a high fat diet?

There’s a lot of research into this idea; the problem is not all the studies agree. Some use long periods of fat-loading (seven weeks!), some only a few days. Some use different percentages of calories from fat, some look at endurance, others at speed... it’s hard to know what to think. 

I looked up the article that’s often cited for the recommendations I’ve heard. In this study, the researchers had well-trained cyclists eat 10 days of a high fat diet (>65% of calories from fat, see below for an example day), followed by 3 days of typical carbo-loading (>65% calories from carbohydrates). They compared this to a separate trial where the same subjects ate their normal diet followed by 3 carbohydrate filled days. They had the subjects bike for 150 minutes before completing a 20 km time trial. The high fat diet increased fat oxidation and decreased oxidation of muscle glycogen, as the researchers hoped. Moreover, when the cyclists had eaten the high fat diet, their times for the time trial were slightly (but significantly!) faster.

A fatty day!
So this study suggests 10 days of high fat diet followed by the typical carbo-load helps improve performance. The inclusion of the carbo-load is important; studies that don’t include it often don’t see any benefit from the high fat diet. It seems like without the carb-fest, the fat-fest won’t work. You always need to eat that pasta.

Now available in
stores research labs.
One thing that jumped out at me was that they also gave the subjects easily digestible fat solutions just before the time trial and a combination of digestible fat and carbohydrates during the trial. I picture a fatty version of GU. The authors say this was done to maximize potential fat and carbohydrate oxidation during exercise, but they don’t have any controls to see if this is necessary to reap the benefits of the high fat diet. I've never eaten any fat during a race, so I wonder the real world relevance of this.

I’m fine with eating some healthy fats (bring on the guacamole!), but I don’t know about 65% of my diet from fat. That seems like a lot of fat at a very delicate time in the lead up the marathon. It’s certainly an interesting idea, and I’ll keep a look out for more studies. In the meantime, has anyone tried this drastic of a pre-race diet?

Dream big,

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Race Report: Rock-n-Roll USA Half Marathon

I’ve mentioned before my goal of a sub 1:22 half. Early in the season, I thought for sure I would get after it this time. But as the reality of my training set in, a 6:15 pace seemed a little crazy. A few days before the race, though, I started believing, based mostly on some sketchy statistics. I've run the 8k a week before running the half for the last two years. Last year, I ran 11 seconds/mile slower in the half compared to the 8k. This year's 8k was 6:04 pace, which means the half should be/could be (drumroll please) 6:15 pace. Also, I had been thinking I've never run that pace for anywhere close to that long in my life. Then realized I ran 6:14 pace for 10 miles last October, when I was feeling terrible and training wasn't going well. Surely by now I could add on another 5k at that pace. But the weather could be a factor...

Side-ramble about technology: It annoys me to no end that we can’t predict the weather with 100% accuracy. (I understand that we can’t, but that doesn't mean I’m okay with it.) Particularly with a race on the way, I get obsessive about the weather. Rain was predicted on race day all week, so I had conceded to wearing my rainy day duds. But the morning of the race, in one last moment of hope, I grabbed my laptop and checked it said no rain! Then I checked on my phone. (Not the App, which is always way off the website (unclear why?), but I opened it in my phone's browser.) It said it would rain. The same website, run on the same browser (Safari), predicting two different things on two different pieces of technology. I risked it, trusted the laptop, and assumed no rain. The laptop was right. (I tried this again since, and the two are often different. Anyone have an explanation?)

So it turned out the weather was pretty perfect. Nothing to hold me back from a great race now. We had some trouble finding our way around the start, and arrived on the line without much time to spare. That meant not much time to get nervous, which was perfect. The first mile was smooth, I hit 6:15 on the nail. The next couple of miles I just tried to keep my rhythm and was pretty close to dead on. I remember at one point thinking about how awful I had felt in the last half I ran, and how this was completely different. This was my day.

We started up Rock Creek Parkway and a couple miles were a tad fast, but I knew the Big Hill was looming. I also realized my teammate J was close behind me (I could hear the cheers for her.) She had originally planned for a bit slower; I knew she must be feeling good and en route to a great day herself. Two big PRs, here we come.
Shot from above-- taken from a bridge over Rock Creek Parkway.
The Hill in the USA Half (a slightly different course than year’s past) is also a hill I run often in my training (I live close by, so it’s unavoidable) and it’s a Beast. In the weeks leading up the race, while slowly shuffling up it, I would wonder how the heck I’m going to race up this thing. On the way up race day I actually felt alright, I just tried to keep an even effort even though I certainly had to be slowing. I passed the woman right in front of me halfway up and that gave me confidence—maybe my hill skills are back. At the top, I think I looked like death (friends said I looked pissed.) I was glad it was over, but I just wanted to get my legs back under me asap.

But the next mile or so I was still going slow. (The split for the hill mile was incredibly slow—as expected.) The course is perhaps ever so slightly uphill at that point; I was just aching to get some downhill, gain some time back, and get back to nailing 6:15s. I remember really liking the rolling hills through miles 8-10 last year, so I looked forward to those. I got my rhythm back, passed another girl after another hill, and then managed a quick split for mile 10 (mostly downhill) but realized I was still ~20 seconds off pace for a sub 1:22.
Between miles 10 and 11.
There were two women not far ahead, and I used catching them as motivation to pick it up. I somehow completely missed the split for mile 11 and at mile 12 was still 20 seconds slow. With only a little more than a mile left I had to move. I had passed the women, but now a man was running in front of me and every time I came close he took off sprinting. Well, I didn’t like that one bit, so I got a little mad and went after him. (More motivation!) J was close on our heels, speeding along to her own huge PR. I knew it would be achingly close to 1:22 and so I sprinted as hard as I could. I could see the clock and I knew I just barely had it.

1:21:57, three seconds to spare. According to my GPS watch (so take it with a grain of salt), my pace for the last 1.1 miles was 5:49 (!) J also annihilated her PR by 8 minutes. (I don’t know what happened to the guy who tried to beat us.)

Afterwards I felt pretty good. I took a longish cool down and my legs felt fine. I was pleased with my 1:22, especially since I was pretty unsure that was possible a few weeks ago. I certainly have had loftier goals in the past (ugh, Philadelphia) and fallen flat on my face, but this time I did exactly what I set out to do.

Using the same sketchy statistics I used above (comparing half marathon to full marathon times from past years) it seems like I’m in shape for a big PR in Boston. Now that the taper has started and the race is looming, the doubts and questions are trying to creep back in, but hopefully I can silence them on Patriot’s Day.

Excited for Boston, too? Here are two of my favorite Boston-related posts:

Dream big,

Friday, March 29, 2013

Science Friday: Stress-ercise

I've been a little stressed lately. There's work, wedding planning, and plenty of workouts, enough to make anyone a little crunched for free time. Some people's response to my hectic life is to suggest I give up running. I have to work of course, and the wedding will be the wedding of the century. (She says without a hint of Bridezilla in her voice.) But running, that's just for fun. Why add any unnecessary stress?

My response is always something along the lines of running is my stress release. Sure, as the Big Race gets closer it can seem quite the opposite, but in general, running keeps me sane. Even though it robs me of mornings spent sleeping in, late nights socializing, and lazy Sundays, I love it. I'd rather metaphorically run around a little hectically than literally not run around at all. 

But it has got me thinking, is there a point where the pressures of lots of miles, big races, and goals of PRs negate the stress release provided by a daily jog? What if it starts to feel like just another item on a long to-do list?

An interesting article came out recently about forced exercise--if you really hate exercising but your doctor or gym teacher is making you, do your stress levels still benefit? Or does the agony of it all just lead to more anxiety? To address this, the researchers used rats forced to run on treadmills and on running wheels. Previous research has shown that rats forced to run on treadmills don't have the same reduction in anxiety as rats that voluntarily run when they please on a wheel. (Rats: I totally understand your perspective here. Treadmills stink.) Was it the forced nature of the running? Or was the treadmill running just unnatural for rats? Rats tend to run in intermittent bursts, so the researchers rigged running wheels to do the same. (I.e. the wheels rotated quickly for a few minutes then stopped for a bit before starting again, uncontrolled by the rats.) Another group of rats ran on wheels whenever they wanted, a third group was forced to run continuously on a treadmill, and a final group did not exercise. After six weeks, the rats were stressed by a standard rat-stress-paradigm (shocks to their tails.) The rats’ behaviors following the stress showed the no exercise group and the treadmill group were the most anxious. The voluntary wheel runners had less stress (as expected), but interestingly, so did the forced wheel runners. Even though they were being told when and how to run, their anxiety levels still went down. The take-home: even forced exercise (doctor, gym teacher, or Jillian Michaels prescribed) is better for stress relief than no exercise. (Provided the exercise isn’t “unnatural” for humans.) Also, treadmills are the worst. (See previous comment about unnaturalness.) 

Of course I don't feel my running habit is forced upon me. I do it because I love it. But it’s nice to know that even on those days when it might feel like another chore, it is actually helping me relax. But if I was really pressed for time, would it help to give it up for a little while? 

A different study hints at the answer to that question. What happens if exercising mice stop exercising? Do they return to baseline (the same as non-exercising mice), or do things get worse? Here there were three groups of mice: mice that exercised for three weeks, mice that did nothing for three weeks, or mice that exercised for one and a half weeks and then did nothing for one and half weeks. Continuous exercise reduced some measures of anxiety, but the group that stopped exercising looked the same as mice that never exercised. On other measures, the exercise-quitters were worse than the ones who never exercised. The authors suggested these could be withdrawal symptoms; maybe the mice were addicted to running. Finally, the authors measured the number of new neurons in the hippocampus. (Exercise has been shown to increase neurons in the hippocampus, an important area for memory.) Once again, the mice that kept exercising had the most, while the non-exercisers and exercise-quitters looked the same. The take-home: Reducing exercise can increase anxiety, negating any benefits from previous exercising. So no, you shouldn't give it up even (especially!) if you're feeling stressed. 

Remember, these are rodents. But from my own human experience, I almost always feel better after a run. Maybe it's because I've already checked one item off my day’s to-do list, making the others seem do-able as well. Maybe it's because I’ve got new neurons in my hippocampus and endorphins in my bloodstream. Maybe it’s because I love running, even when it’s hard to fit in my schedule.

The take-home: I'll keep on running and not stressing about it.

Dream big,

Friday, March 15, 2013

Race Report: St. Patrick's Day 8k

The Fear has set in. Only a few weeks left until the Big Race, have I put in enough hard work to beat my previous self? Workouts this season have been different than the past; they're more frequent, but (purposefully) slower than last season. The marathon pace runs, which are one of my standard measuring sticks from season to season were faster, but never quite as fast as wanted. Worse yet, a disastrous last attempt made them end up shorter than last season. And there's no time left for another go.... 

Going into a marathon with shaky confidence is a dead man's game (DNF man's game?) so something had to be done. After the upsetting marathon pace run, I decided to give the 8k a try. 

I've run this race the last two years, it's always a fun day with lots of green and lots of costumes (despite being a week away from St. Patty's.) I figured all I needed to do was run faster than last year to prove to myself I'm in better shape. Last year I ran 6:15 pace (31:02, 8k is a hair under 5 miles) and beating that should be no problem at all. After I'd proven that to myself I'd feel better. 

As in past years, I didn't taper and took it more like a workout. On the line, I was shocked to realize I wasn't even nervous! (If I could summon this attitude for every race, we'd really be talking.) The first mile was a little fast, the second a little slow, but I tried not to let it phase me. Last year at that point I was dying, getting passed by people, hating racing. This time I felt fine. Good, even. And I was the one passing people. At four miles, I tried to push it a bit, but I'm not sure how much I actually picked it up. I finished in 30:05; if I had known how close I was to sub 30, would I have pushed more? I think I could have.

So the race served its purpose: I got a good workout and a confidence boost. I really needed the boost now, before tomorrow's half marathon. I didn't want to go into the half marathon with shaky confidence, race poorly, then be even more worried for Boston. But I proved to myself I'm in better shape than last year, so there's no reason not to go for a big PR in the half.... 

And then another one in the full... (one month to go!)

Spectators beware: Fiance had a spectacular showing. On a course that is <5 miles, he saw me 4 times. The parents will be down this weekend to join him in their own final Boston tune-up; can they set a spectating PR? 

Dream big, 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Science Friday: For the Love of Chocolate, Bite Two

Happy day after Valentine’s.

I’ve crawled out of my chocolate-induced coma to bring you the second annual installment  of Chocolate Is Good For You News.  This study came out last year, too late for Valentine’s but in time for Easter. (Do I need to start having an April edition of CIGFY News to justify my Cadbury egg consumption?) It doesn’t have anything to do with running or exercise, but it’s chocolate, so I couldn’t resist. (As is usually the story with me and chocolate.)

In this study, they asked over a thousand people about their eating and exercise habits, evaluated their BMIs (Body Mass Index, a ratio of height to weight) and mood, and most importantly asked the age-old question, “How many times a week do you consume chocolate?” (More than you’d like to know, Researcher. More than you’d like to know.) As you might expect, they found that people who ate chocolate more frequently consumed more calories overall, including more saturated fat, and had higher rates of depression. But they also found that people who ate chocolate more frequently had lower BMIs. (Emphasis is theirs. Even they were so surprised by this that they had to add italics.) They found no link between chocolate eating and exercising. 

What’s really remarkable about this is the issue of calories. There’s an idea that a calorie is a calorie, meaning that no matter what you eat, if it adds up to more calories, you’ll gain weight. Of course that’s overly simplified. Studies show some calories are better or worse than others: protein has been shown to keep you lean, monunsaturated fat to reduce your risk of heart disease, trans fat to raise your risk. Most people would put chocolate in the bad calorie column; it’s full of sugar and fat. But this study suggests it’s not so bad; that a chocolate calorie isn’t just a (delicious!) calorie. Even though chocolate lovers ate more calories, they were still thinner. The authors cite other studies that have found chocolate helps regulate insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Maybe these advantages of chocolate offset the sugar and fat. The authors finish by concluding that a randomized clinical trial of chocolate may be needed. Count me in!

Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t ask about the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate gets all the good press and is getting more popular, but considering the ubiquity of milk chocolate products in our supermarkets, I can’t imagine these people were eating only dark chocolate. It would have been interesting if they had included that distinction, especially if it gave some credit to poor old milk chocolate. 

Dream big,

Friday, February 8, 2013

Science Friday: Hunger Games

The link between exercise and weight loss is controversial. Lots of studies and personal testimonies (yours truly included) indicate that exercise leads to weight loss, but there are other studies that swear it doesn't. (Some studies just throw everything you thought you knew on its head.) I've talked before about the idea of "fit and fat;" it seems that even people who may not experience weight loss still experience many healthy benefits of exercise. But what's the deal with the lack of weight loss? Of course exercise burns calories; one worry is that people over estimate what they burned and overeat, consuming more than they lost. Also, exercise makes us hungry. (See my current amount of food consumption, which has sky rocketed with marathon mileage.) 

An interesting recent study investigated the link between hormones released before and after an exercise intervention and the amount of food eaten. The hormones studied (CCK, obestatin, GIP, and leptin) help to regulate your eating; CCK and leptin tell you to stop eating, GIP tells you to eat more. (Obestatin's role remains controversial.) Obesity may disrupt these hormones' ability to accurately regulate food intake. For example, some obese people have high levels of leptin but seem resistant to its effects. (Leptin should decrease eating.) Some evidence suggests that exercise can help get these hormones back in check, which should help prevent overeating and improve weight loss.

In this study, both male and female overweight participants underwent a 12 week exercise program. Before and after the program, hormones levels were measured after fasting overnight and then directly after breakfast. Other days, participants were given a milkshake and then treated to a pasta lunch. (Milkshakes and pasta? Count me in!) The amount of pasta eaten and the amount of food consumed for the next 24 hours was assessed. The trick was the milkshake: one day it was filled with malodextrin, a mostly flavorless substance that more than doubled the calories. Another day malodextrin wasn't added. The researchers asked how the milkshake affected the rest of the day's eating. Will the participants' bodies sense the extra calories and eat less after the megacalorie milkshake? Will an exercise program help?

First of all, the participants lost weight in the exercise program. That's an important note because it's more evidence that exercise can lead to weight loss, even though the participants were told to maintain their normal diet throughout. After the exercise intervention, leptin levels were decreased during fasting and remained decreased after a meal. This may seem counterintuitive, but leptin decreasing with exercise may help the body become more responsive to its effects. (Remember, obese people may have too much leptin and be insensitive.) The milkshake and pasta lunch combination didn't change after the exercise program. Both before and after the exercise program, the participants ate less pasta after the megacalorie milkshake than after a normal milkshake. However, their food intake over the course of the day changed: after the exercise intervention, the mega milkshake led to less food eaten the rest of the day. (Prior to the intervention, the mega milkshake actually led to more food being eaten the rest of the day, see graph below.) This indicates that the exercise program helped to regulate the body's ability to count calories. It's not that exercise makes you eat less (the days with a normal milkshake had increased food intake compared to days before the exercising, compare hatched bars below), but that your body is better able to judge how much you're eating and when you've had all you need.

 Before the exercise program ("All-Baseline," at left) the participants ate more after the mega milkshake (HEP, solid bars) than after the normal milkshake (LEP, hatched bars). After the exercise program ("All-End", at right), they ate less all day following the mega shake.
It's important to note this study looked at participants who were overweight to start with. Previous studies on this subject tested normal weight people, which isn't as relevant to the population of dieters these studies aim to help. The good news for people trying to lose weight with exercise is that exercise may get your body to help out, by teaching it to better regulate eating.

Lastly, the study is an important reminder to know what you're eating. Restaurants (and researchers!) can trick you into consuming way more calories than you may be aware of. This study suggests your body might be able to compensate to some degree, but do yourself and your body a favor and eat fresh and homemade whenever possible!

Dream big,