Friday, December 2, 2016

Pregnant Race Report - Richmond Half Marathon

Months ago, when I was hiding my reasons for not putting together a racing schedule for the summer and fall, I tried to take some of the pressure off by announcing my plan to run the Richmond Half Marathon. I was moving to Richmond, it made perfect sense. (Why it was the only race on the calendar made significantly less sense.) I didn’t reveal that I wanted to waddle it instead of race it, as I hoped to be a few months pregnant at that point, but I wasn’t lying saying I wanted to do it.

I realized early on that I would miss the running scene. As soon as I started trying to get pregnant, I missed competing and suffering through the hard workouts beforehand. I missed the anticipation of race day, the excitement of the start, the enthusiastic spectators, the spilled Gatorade, the joy (and guilt-free food fest) at the end. I knew jogging a half marathon mid-pregnancy would not satisfy all those longings, but at least I’d experience the fun of race day and be around fellow runners (including my GRC teammates who were actually racing).

I didn’t have any plan for the race itself; pregnancy has a way of keeping you on your toes: some days you feel like a runner, some days like a balloon filled with lead. With a take-whatever-I-get attitude, I wasn’t at all nervous (an unheard-of race morning experience). I was just out to enjoy a long run with a few thousand people.

My only concern was how many times I’d need to stop to use the bathroom. General nervousness may be down, but the pre-race pee anxiety was increased by an order of magnitude. After one Porta Potty trip, I needed another but the line was too long and I had to skip it to make it to the start. Heading off to run 13 miles, nearly 5 months pregnant, already needing to pee? This is sure to go well.

I decided 8 minute pace was probably fair, which had the immense bonus of allowing me to run with Husband, something that never happens and made the race a lot more enjoyable. I’m used to pushing myself and fighting to beat those around me, but this race had an entirely different flavor and I wasn’t sure what I’d focus on. My focus (albeit a cheesy one) became how special it would be to run this race as a family.

We settled in the first few miles, trying to shake off the chilly air and savoring every sunny stretch. I giggled to myself listening to two runners discussing the crazy people ahead who could run 6-minute pace. Sigh, I used to be one of those crazies.

By mile four, there was no denying a bathroom break was imminent. I picked it up a bit in the hope that I’d be able to catch back up to Husband not long after. Amazingly/luckily/fortunately I’ve never had to stop in a race before, so the pee-and-dash was another new experience. I was in and out of that Porta Potty so fast I thought I was forgetting something. Are my shorts around my ankles? Is there TP on my shoe? But all seemed fine and before long I spotted Husband ahead. (An advantage of his height: he’s easy to find in races.) I picked it up to catch him and was shocked I felt good at that pace, but was also happily relieved to slow it down again when we reunited. I was reminded of Brother and his valiant effort in Boston 2011, but was well aware my own quick stop and catch up after having jogged a few miles is not exactly the same as what he did 17 miles into running a marathon at PR pace.

After that I felt better and was determined to stay with Husband. We knocked off shockingly even splits and, to my immense surprise, I didn’t have to stop to pee again. The course was autumn perfection, with gorgeous colors and leaves falling. But by mile 9 or so, I was getting a little bored; shocker: races go by slower when you’re going slower. I wasn’t used to not racing and I had to accept people passing me, something else new. (Ohh, I get passed all the time. I just usually hate it.) I thought about how someday, post-baby, I’d like to race this course for real and get back to being one of those 6-minute crazies. I started doing recon, thinking about what it’d feel like at this point, turn, etc. I may not be racing now, but one day…

With about half a mile to go, we made a turn to head down a long hill to the finish. I’d heard about this hill (and even seen part of it while spectating a few years back) but I was not prepared for how extreme the drop was. We were flying. And of course, husband, with his legs that are approximately the length of my body, was cruising down it at what seemed like world record pace (a disadvantage—for me anyway—of his height). I tried to keep up without falling over and rolling down the thing (a serious achievement while pregnant) and we finished side by side.

Mom and Dad might not have PRed, but Baby did.
In yet another first, I realized later that my belly button—which has moved into its new pregnant, popped out position—got chafed, which has also certainly never happened before.

No matter how much you’ve run, there are always new experiences.

Dream big,

Friday, November 4, 2016

Halfway: The Peebody Awards

This week, I’m 20 weeks, officially halfway through the pregnancy.

Of course, I can’t help but compare pregnancy to a marathon. (If—instead of a full body collapse into a vat of fries and ice cream—marathons ended with the not-so-trivial responsibility of caring for a tiny human being.) If it was a marathon, I’d be at mile 13.1: still feeling pretty good, but scared about what’s to come (especially that last 0.2—i.e. the actual giving birth part).

In the last week or so, things have improved. For most, some of the early woes end with the first trimester, but I was still completely exhausted well into the second. Some people blamed my running; combined with growing a baby, it was clearly enough to exhaust me. But at 19 weeks, I finally got my energy back. The stairs aren’t the monster they used to be and I can make it through a whole day without wanting to collapse in a heap on the floor. (Mostly. I mean, who couldn’t use a nap right now?) Like the marathon, there’s an ebb and flow to pregnancy: good days/weeks and bad ones, good patches and rough ones. I’m currently in a good patch, but who knows what’s around the corner.

I’m also sort of still in denial as to how pregnant I am. I feel like I look way more pregnant than people expect at this stage. (Before seeing me, people ask if I’m showing yet. When they do see me, their “Oh geez, yes, you certainly are showing” reaction is hard to disguise.) I have no clue what I’m *supposed* to look like at this point (every body is different) but some part of my brain is still in denial: I’m not even *that* pregnant, why don’t my pants fit? Do I already need maternity clothes? Like the dangerous denial of the early miles (I don’t need the Gatorade yet, I’ve just started, I’m not even thirsty!) this thinking backfired brutally a few weeks ago when I ripped my last pair of jeans that fit and had a complete “I literally have nothing to wear” meltdown. Turns out, yes, I am *that* pregnant and yes, I do already need maternity clothes.

But at this point in the race, mostly all I can think about is that I really need to pee.

Always, constantly, day and night. This is what I personally blamed on my extreme tiredness; I haven’t slept through the night since that life-changing pee back in July. (But it’s just getting me ready for nights with Baby!) Now that the exhaustion has subsided a bit, the getting up in the night to pee multiple times doesn’t bother me so much. What really bothers me is when I’m running.

Even if I pee right before I walk out the door, I need to pee again within the first mile. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially because I moved to a suburban neighborhood and my routes pass very few stores/gas stations and no woods, just house after house after house. It’s sapping the enjoyment from my runs; it becomes all I can think about and when I’m done I’m just immensely relieved that I made it home to relieve myself. The happy endorphins seem to get overpowered by my annoyance with my bladder.

This was a major concern in my first pregnant race. Could I even make it through a 5K?

Predictably the warm up was full of thoughts about how I needed to pee, but after a porta potty stop before the start I surprisingly didn’t think about it much during the race. The course was on a trail, and while I didn’t have much of a sense of what time I’d run anyway, the nature of the trail made times even more irrelevant. It wound through the woods, up and down hills covered in threatening roots, across bridges I had to tiptoe across so I wouldn’t slip. (My poor record of falling makes me a particularly cautious pregnant runner.) The course took me back 15 years to cross country races through the woods of South Jersey; the constant winding giving the runner the sense that the race could either end around the next bend or possibly go on forever. A fall morning spent looping through the woods—this was the type of run I first fell in love with. In the end my time was pretty close to what I ran in high school, a fitting tribute to what seemed like a throwback day. (Well, except for the maternity shirt…)

Best of all, even though completely surrounded by woods and all alone for most of the race, I didn’t have to stop to pee. Maybe I’m hitting my stride.

On to the next 13.1 miles...

Dream big,

Friday, October 28, 2016

The First Trimester: Fear and Secrets in the Empty Room

Twelve weeks in is when many people choose to reveal their pregnancies. The reason is largely due to the risk of miscarriage; it drops from about 20% in the first few weeks to 3% after twelve weeks. (Bumps also become much harder to hide around the same time.) Miscarrying is shockingly common; I’ve had many friends and family members lose a baby, and while this used to be ignored and not talked about, I’m glad my generation seems to be more open to sharing it. But the commonality doesn’t do too much to alleviate the fears of it; I was so excited to be pregnant, but simultaneously so worried it was too good to be true. I tried not to get my hopes up too much (yeah right) or believe it was too real until we hit that magic twelve-week checkpoint; I wouldn’t even let Husband refer to the spare bedroom as Baby’s room, as if that might jinx it. 

But for anyone who thought twice about that bedroom (why do we need an extra, completely empty room?) it was pretty obvious anyway. The most telling sign that a woman is pregnant is that she suddenly stops drinking (if she drinks to begin with, of course). I tried to avoid social situations involving drinks (“Happy hour? Nah, let’s do lunch instead!”) but it became pretty impossible. At a baby shower serving mimosas in champagne flutes, I tried to whisper to the bartender that I’d like plain orange juice, wink wink. He put it in a juice glass. “Oh sorry, could you put that in a champagne flute? WINK, WINK.” He skipped giving me the fruit garnish. “And could I please have the raspberry? WINK, FREAKING WINK! … And could you please realize we are at a BABY shower, with at least three obviously pregnant women and likely some others trying to hide it?!” (Many women have similar stories from weddings, etc. — Can we give bartenders a briefing on this or something?)

Obviously, we need this totally empty bedroom. Just don't ask why.
That baby shower was with my teammates. If they hadn’t noticed the strangely dark hue of my “mimosa” (I didn’t continue my whispered fight with the bartender long enough to ask for a splash of seltzer) or the fact that I was sweating profusely (Oh hey, did you know pregnancy makes you sweat more? It’s delightful!), I’m pretty sure they saw right through my “race plans.” Or lack thereof.

For months, I kept putting off nailing down races, which is pretty atypical of me. I generally announce them here before each spring and fall season. But I had no summer or fall schedule and no explanation of why. “Oh, you know, just enjoying my post-Trials break… for six months…” I couldn’t explain it and I dreaded the “What’s next for you?” question, through the months of trying and the first months of pregnancy. While it’s probably hard for everyone to disguise, I wondered if it isn’t way more obvious for runners—forget the sketchy drinks, I was suddenly a competitive runner who wasn’t competing.

But despite not competing, in some ways I still seemed like a marathoner. Pregnancy is a lot like marathon training in that:

(1) You’re exhausted all the time.

I used to be able to say I was tired because of a morning twenty miler. Now I go up the stairs and I’m tired? (Well, I was also busy making an eyeball.)

(2) You’re hungry all the time.

I craved mountains of purely bad-for-me foods: french fries, burgers, milkshakes (exactly the food I scarf post-marathon… because, you know, those stairs were such a Pheidippidiesian task). I luckily avoided the classic puke fest so my appetite was in no way diminished, except for an aversion to anything remotely healthy. (I did feel nauseous sometimes but the lack of anything more extreme made me more worried, since many friends experienced worse morning sickness during healthy pregnancies than ones in which they miscarried. My doctor later refuted this and says it’s totally normal (and lucky!!) to not be super sick.) I wondered if people speculated my new little paunch was a baby bump or just assumed it was a big lunch. (Answer: both.)

But I wasn’t running like a marathoner. My worries about running mostly went away after we conceived (running does NOT increase the risk of miscarriage, just like it doesn’t hurt your knees or kill you) but I still didn’t increase my mileage much or jump into workouts. My main concern was that it was the middle of summer and many things I read cautioned against running when humidity or heat is too high, but there were no numbers indicating what “too high” meant. (And news flash: it’s humid here Every. Damn. Day.) I spent some of the worst summer days on treadmills, hating every treadmill step, but when my doctor said I’d be fine so long as I was smart (i.e. go early in the morning, hydrate well), I felt better about getting back outdoors and started enjoying it a lot more.

When the twelve-week mark came and we were blessed with everything being fine, I was obviously immensely relieved. People say many of the other stresses and annoyances of early pregnancy (exhaustion, nausea, the constant need to pee) also go away at the end of the first trimester. (Although some make a not-so-welcome return in the third.) They didn’t for me; I’m now well into the second trimester and still feeling much of the same. And even after I told people what they already suspected, it took a while for me to believe it myself. Maybe my paranoia/fear of jinxing it set in a little too deep. We officially started calling the empty room Baby’s room, but still, I couldn’t quite grasp this was real. Does it ever set in? I’m pretty sure I could be holding a newborn and still in disbelief. (Check back in a few months.) My worries about this little one haven't subsided either, and I'm sure they'll last years as it hopefully grows much bigger than a little one. (Check back in a few decades.)

But at least now every one knows it wasn’t (just) a big lunch and no, that’s not a mimosa. And not having to try to hide that is another big relief.

Dream big, 

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.
UPDATE: Thanks in part to your comments, I was inspired to look into this more deeply (and get some real advice from professionals) for a Runner's World article. Check it out here. 

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 combined 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,

Friday, April 29, 2016


After every marathon, whether race day goes well or poorly, I end up in a slump. I excitedly stuff my face with every baked creation imaginable and that’s fun… for like a week. Then I start to feel like a waste of space. I feel so much more accomplished, centered, and fulfilled when I’m running.

I know that I need that time off—physically and mentally—so I take it, treating myself to indulgences I don’t get mid-season (staying up late, sleeping in, eating multiple doughnuts in a sitting…) and reminding myself this is just part of the racing cycle. And post-race blues are totally normal.

Still, I suspected the post-Trials blues would hit me harder than previous races. Not because the race went poorly (I enjoyed the hell out of a non-PR for the first time ever) but because it was such an epic goal/life moment and now it’s over. And because the race was in February, the spring season was kind of a bust; I was taking my post-marathon break while my teammates were peaking. I told myself I’d come back in time for summer 5Ks, but that meant I’d be staring at a longer race-less abyss than usual.

So I anticipated post-Trials emotions might be a drop off a cliff: the most exciting race, immediately followed by the most depressing off-season.

But oddly, it didn’t hit me right away. I made it through the first few weeks with both hands in the cookie jar and both eyes on 2020. Mouth full of junk food, I would declare to anyone that listened that I was taking a nice long break and that was totally cool with me.

Instead, the drop off the mountain was more like a slow roll down to the side. I kept eating crap, staying up late, skipping runs for no good reason, and beginning to feel like 2020 is one hell of a long way away. And suddenly I was stuck at the bottom of the abyss with no way out. Would I ever be able to get back into the shape I was in? It seemed more unlikely with every day of laziness but I just couldn’t get myself to get back to it. Some of the other Trials competitors were racing already. I was making my couch dent more permanent.

A lot less overheated and exhausted than this
moment, but equally as ready to get back out there.
[Photo by Melissa Barnes.]
I’d get back to it briefly, but then hit a minor snag: a cold that took forever to kick, a crazy couple of weeks of work. But I think I know the major issue. I seem to have forgotten the kind of runner I am; I should know better by now.

First of all, I’ve often said that the only thing that motivates me is a marathon. That’s what got me back into running in 2005 and, oh hey, eleven years and a serious running obsession later, it’s still 100% true. I have no marathon in sight. (After some summer 5Ks, I’m going to focus on half marathons and ten milers in the fall.) I know working on speed is a good strategy for the long term, blah blah blah. It doesn’t get me going. (Also, I hate 5Ks.) I know this, but thought I’d conquer it somehow. Instead, I’m struggling, completely unmotivated without 26.2.

I thought a 4th of July 5K might get me motivated.
But sorry, I'm not feeling it. 
I also know I’m a morning runner. But I’m coaching Girls On The Run twice a week and I do my own runs after our afternoon sessions. At first I figured it’d be nice to keep up the same routine the rest of the week: start work earlier and run later in the day. It doesn’t work. There’s a reason I’m a morning runner; I don’t do it otherwise, something inevitably comes up. I know this about myself, but I chose to ignore it and ended up with a lot of skipped runs.

And here’s another thing I should know, but seem to have forgotten: running when you’re out of shape sucks. Non-running friends ask me all the time how I can stand running when it’s so terrible. I try to tell them it gets better, that you have to push past those first few weeks of agony, that it takes time but it’s worth it. They don’t believe me. Instead they think I’m so running obsessed that every day is sunshine and rainbows and zero suckiness. But it’s not. Post-layoff, I’m in their sneakers; it feels like running will never be as fast or as effortless again and my motivation takes another pounding. But as I say, repeatedly and desperately to those unconvinced non-runners, “It gets better.” Right? Why have I forgotten this too?

This slump has taken longer to get out of than all the others. So my prediction was right, the post-Trials free-fall slow unraveling was a doozy. But despite anticipating that, I didn’t set myself up to overcome it very well—I lined up races that don’t motivate me, picked times of the day I’m least likely to go, and forgot that the first weeks back will always be a (temporary) struggle.

I'm trying to fix those mistakes. I’ve run more this week than any other since the Trials, and I’m trying not to beat myself up that the motivation isn’t there just yet. (Don’t compare yourself to other runners, don’t compare yourself to other runners, don’t compare yourself to other runners...)

But still, I worry I’ve dug myself too big a hole. Summer is around the corner; I’ve got to find a way to claw out.

Dream big,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Caffeine and Running

This post was originally featured on Salty Running.

Caffeine is everywhere these days. It comes in gum, gels, and jellybeans, and even in sprayable cans, powdered form, and, briefly (pun intended), in underwear. And certainly, for many, it comes in the form of a morning cup of joe.

Runners especially seem to cling to the caffeine. After all, training can be exhausting, often taking place in the wee hours of the morning or after a long day at work. We need a jolt to get out the door … and maybe a caffeinated gel to get through the final miles … and maybe another cup to revive us enough to tackle the rest of our jam-packed days ... and then maybe an afternoon latte to stagger through to 5:00.

But there’s a lot of talk about caffeine and whether it’s good or bad for us, especially as runners. Does it give us a boost or give us the trots? Does it dehydrate or replenish? If we drink that morning coffee day after day (along with the afternoon mug) will it still give our run a boost? Below is a summary of what we know about our daily cuppa.

Not exactly unbiased:
 Caffeine contributed to the writing of this post. 
The Good

Caffeine is a known performance enhancer, so much so that it used to be banned by WADA. Caffeine helps reduce perception of effort (it feels easier to nail a fast pace), increases muscle contraction, and ups the circulation of free fatty acids during high intensity workouts, sparing those precious carbohydrate stores. And of course, it perks us up during exhausting training weeks. Many of us couldn’t get through the daily grind without our morning grind. In fact, one reason it’s no longer banned is its ubiquity in our culture; 85% of Americans consume caffeine daily.

The Bad

Sadly, there’s bad news brewing too. If taken before or during exercise, caffeine can reduce blood flow to the heart. This is troubling because the heart is pumping harder during exercise, so it needs more blood, not less. Some speculate this may be a cause of sudden death in marathons, although no death has been specifically linked to caffeine yet. Based on the possibility, the International Marathon Medical Directors Association warns runners not to consume more than 200 total milligrams of caffeine before and during a race. Those most susceptible are people who don’t regularly consume caffeine, have heart disease, or take it in high doses (like those found in energy drinks). If you have heart trouble, please don’t use this post as a reason to start chugging energy drinks. Talk to your doctor first and be cognizant of the caffeine levels in your drinks and gels… and how quickly they can add up.

The (Could Be) Ugly: Bathroom Issues

This could fit in the good or bad categories, depending on your situation. Some runners love a cup of coffee before a run; it gets things moving so there’s no need for a bathroom stop later. Others find it works a little too well in that area and end up with the trots. If you’ve been experiencing bathroom issues on your runs lately, you might consider examining your caffeine consumption and see if adjusting it helps.

One oft-cited con of caffeine is that it makes you pee more often, potentially dehydrating you. Fortunately, this has been debunked in recent years; there appears to be no difference in fluid balance (i.e. urine volume) after drinking water or caffeinated beverages, particularly if you’re a regular caffeine user.

How Much?

To get a helpful performance boost, the recommendation from most studies is 3-6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. For a 130-pound woman, that’s about 180-350 milligrams of caffeine, or around 12 ounces of strong coffee or three 8-ounce cups of tea. (Note: the high end of this is much more than the International Marathon Medical Directors Association recommends.) More than that doesn’t seem to provide any additional benefit.

Obviously, it’s important to know your body. If you have heart problems, are on certain medications, or are pregnant, you may need to limit your intake. Furthermore, people metabolize caffeine at different rates. A genetic test can tell you if you metabolize caffeine quickly (you get a jolt quickly, but it fades quickly too) or slowly (it takes longer to work, but lasts longer too). But based on your own experience, you probably already know this without knowing your genes. If caffeine takes a while to kick in, you might want to try drinking it an hour or so before the race, while if it hits you quickly, you might try taking a gel just before the start and supplement during.

Do You Need to Give it Up Before a Big Race to Get a Boost?

Some coffee addicts have success tapering caffeine leading up to the race. Since your body is habituated to its daily dose, lowering your tolerance may allow a cup of coffee or caffeinated gel to give you a bigger boost on race day. But some think it’s not worth the misery of withdrawal symptoms when you’re already cranky from tapering. The science is mixed; there seems to be no consensus whether your tolerance matters for performance benefits.

Anecdotal evidence is mixed too. I tried cutting back on tea (my main caffeine delivery system) before my last race, but didn’t sense much difference. But my friend Laura (aka Salty's Barley), an avid coffee girl, has had great success. If you want to try it, she recommends slowly easing off it starting one to two weeks before the race. To counter the withdrawal, she starts by drinking half-caf and then progresses to decaf.

My caffeine delivery system: A cup of tea for T. 
Coffee for Recovery: Is it the New Chocolate Milk?

Consuming carbohydrates along with some protein, like in chocolate milk, after a long workout is crucial to replenishing fuel stores and promoting recovery. But research also shows that combining caffeine with the carbs could give an additional boost. One study found that a post-workout combination of carbs and caffeine led to increased glycogen stores (the energy supply we use up during long runs) a few hours later compared to post-workout carbs alone. Another study found the combo may help runners bounce back after a long workout; people given both carbs and caffeine performed better on a sprinting test a few hours later. (Some caveats: both studies were small and used a LOT of caffeine, equivalent to about 5 cups of coffee.)

Though the research doesn’t seem as robust as for chocolate milk, it is comforting, especially when you're slamming a coffee post-run on the way to work. Who knew that was helping you recover?

In Summary

Overall, the studies provide some good news for coffee lovers to contemplate as they sip their morning mug. But for those new to caffeine, start slowly (perhaps with tea or a gel with 25 milligrams) and if you are at risk for heart trouble, consult your doctor first.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Visualize Your Way to Success

This post was originally featured on Salty Running.

I ran the Olympic Trials marathon course dozens of times before I ever made it to LA. The repetitive loops, the water stop navigation, the turns through the University of Southern California, the elation of the finish. I ran it all in my mind—never having taken a step on the streets. On race day, my mind was as prepared to handle the grueling 26.2 miles as my legs.

Visualization is a powerful tool for athletes. When we visualize performing an action, it activates the same brain areas we use when we actually perform that action. Visualizing a race primes your mental muscle the way speedy intervals condition your legs and lungs. By mentally rehearsing running relaxed and smooth in a goal race, you get your brain used to that state of things, so you’re ready to run relaxed and smooth on race day.

Want to use visualization to help nail your next goal race? Here are a few ways to add it to your running game.

Dedicate some time to it. I find it fits in well during the taper; I replace some of the time normally spent running with a few minutes of visualization. Find a quiet place, get comfortable, and try to relax.

Rehearse the entire race. I start with the moments leading up to the race: getting to the starting area, not freaking out over the length of the Port-a-Potty lines, staying calm and relaxed on my warm up. Then I go through the whole race, mile by mile or section by section, trying to be as detailed as possible. Watch the course video beforehand if one is available. If not, study the course map and picture yourself running along it, following the twists and turns. Include major hills, terrain changes, water stops, and cheer zones. And yes, picture that finish and the joy you’ll feel knowing you gave it your all.

Stay positive but realistic. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows for the entire race. Picture certain things going wrong (it’s hot, it’s raining, you have to go to the bathroom) and how to handle them. I imagine having a slower than expected mile and calmly moving past it to focus on running well for the next mile. The key is to anticipate the inevitable pain and possible mishaps, and then practice accepting them and not letting them derail your entire race.

Rehearse the mental techniques you’ll rely on during the race. Whether it is a certain mantra or inspirational people to think about, practice the things you’ll tell yourself to keep you going. I try to anticipate where it might be tough (the later miles of the marathon, a hilly stretch, a section with little crowd support) and picture myself staying strong regardless. For example, a mental preparation for Heartbreak Hill might be: You’re going to feel like you can’t make it and will want to give up. But remember this is what you’ve trained for, all those hill repeats are about to pay off. Stay tough, get up and over this, then it’s all downhill and onto the crazy cheers of Beacon Street.

Repeat. Do this a couple times before the race; I generally do it every morning of race week. It should become ingrained in your mind, like the miles are ingrained in your legs. On race day, you might find you’re more relaxed: you know what to expect and how to handle it. Then just go through the routine you’ve practiced, stay strong in those tough spots, and celebrate your finish.

Dream big,

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What's Next

When I signed up for my first marathon, I didn’t think of it as my first. It was simply the marathon to check off the bucket list, my once in a lifetime 26.2 mile race.

But eventually, I can’t remember exactly when or where, I realized I wanted to do another, to try to qualify for Boston.

When I signed up for Boston in 2009, I didn’t think of it as my first Boston. It was simply running Boston. A once in a lifetime chance to race on the most storied course in the country.

But somewhere along the way, I can’t remember exactly when or where, I realized I wanted to keep going, to run Chicago and NYC, to keep dropping that PR, to race Boston again.

When I started this blog and signed on to this goal of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, I didn’t think of them as my first Trials. They were the big, once in a lifetime goal to hope I could maybe, just maybe meet. (See where this is going yet?)

But at some point, I can’t remember exactly when or where, I realized I didn’t want them to be once in a lifetime. So… (drumroll please) I’m going for twice in a lifetime. I’m hoping to be able to call that race my first Trials.

Why? Because I’m not happy with my place or my time. (I still think I did the best I could on that day, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied.) Because making one goal just paves the path to another one. Because dream big... and then dream bigger.

I'm seeking re-election. Four more years!
I think most runners can relate to having a goal, achieving it, and then aching for more. That’s one of the things I love about running: the goals are limitless. Reach one, celebrate, and suddenly another appears, looking awfully appetizing. Hey, let’s do that again, only faster/farther/better.

I still think I have a sub-2:40 in me, so I’m out to prove it. I could pursue that time in any marathon—and trust me I will—but why not do it en route to my second Trials in 2020? And, while we’re at it, why not dream a little bigger? I’m also aiming to get the A standard (and a free trip). If I get to a second Olympic Trials, I hope to improve my place.

Sorry to all the people I thanked last week who thought that was it. They went above and beyond, so I’ll let them off the hook: Thank you for your duty, you can retire with honors. (Although Husband has already signed on and promises 2020’s t-shirts will be even more epic…) Sorry, but I'm not ready to retire. Not yet.

There will be more Trials and, with that, more miles to run to get there.

Will I make it? I don’t know. Will there be new challenges and curveballs along the way? Absolutely. But that's what keeps it exciting. I hope you’ll continue to follow along.

A lot can happen in four years. From left to right:
2008: Watching from the sidelines.
Last race before 2012 Trials. (Watched them from the couch.)
2016: Taking part.
Dream bigger,