Thursday, January 28, 2016

On Making Comparisons: Your Mileage May Vary

This post was originally featured on Salty Running.

This week, I posted my first training log with a little bit of hesitation. You might look at my training and think it’s a lot. But sadly, I look at it and think it doesn’t compare to what my peers are doing.

It's the Internet's fault. I’ll be scrolling through other runners’ Twitter, Instagram, or blogs and suddenly come across posts/photos/workouts that make me feel really bad about myself. How can So-and-so run those workouts? That many miles each week? That fast?

I don’t mean superstars like Shalane and Desi. Obviously I can’t do what they do, so I look at their posts with pure admiration. But I mean the women I’m supposedly close in ability to, other Trials qualifiers with marathon PRs similar to mine. They all seem to be logging much higher mileage, running more workouts, doing more pull-ups (I can do exactly zero pull-ups), just absolutely crushing it day after day after day. It’s hard for me to look at the mileage and workouts others do and not feel totally inadequate.

It only matters what I do and what I've done
when I'm on the race course.
For years, I thought there was no way I—or anyone—could qualify for the Trials on less than 90-mile weeks. In general, the more you run, the faster you’ll be. To me, 90 seemed like the magic number everyone else was hitting. It’s not the 100-plus weeks that the professionals do (although some of my non-pro peers do over 100 as well) but it was the next tier down. The tier I assumed I’d need to be at to get to the Trials. I told myself I wouldn’t make it on my “measly” 70-mile weeks.

So I kept gently bumping up the mileage. And ended up burnt out, feeling flat, or, worst of all, hurt. I am not an “in general” case; I’m not faster on more miles, I’m broken. When I went back to focusing on nailing the hard workouts and taking it easier on the others, I ran better. I did qualify on 70-mile weeks.

Any good coach will tell you that you need to individualize your training to what works for you. But that’s easier said than done, especially for the uber-competitive types. I often feel like my training is so inadequate it’s embarrassing. I’ve never hit 90 for a single week. I still take a day off every week. When this somehow comes up when talking to other qualifiers, my admission of a day off is met with silence that I feel acutely. A day off? Every week?? I jump in to explain myself, “Yeah, I know it’s nuts ... hahaha ... but I’m just coming back from injury…”

In my head, I start making excuses: if only I had all the luxuries that pro-runners have, maybe then I could do it. But my teammates, all non-professional runners with seriously time-consuming day jobs, can do back-to-back long runs and I just can’t. We debate the Saturday verse Sunday long run; I always pull for Sunday because I need to take Saturday off, after a long-ish run Friday. I feel like an overprotected child that isn’t allowed to cross the street. Oh sorry, Mommy says I can’t do that because I might get hurt.

But why do I need to make excuses? And why am I so embarrassed by what I need to do to stay healthy? Fixating on these things devolves into thinking I’m not good enough or I can’t be at this level. Obviously there’s a lot of insecurity here (clearly these girls are going to kick my butt on Feb. 13!!) and a hefty dose of jealousy (why can’t I run that much??). I tried to explain these insecurities to my husband and he didn’t get it. Because, obviously, it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I am at this level aren’t I? I may run less, but I still made it. And do my teammates really care or think I’m a baby? No. Is the silence following my day off admission all in my head? Probably.
Years ago, psyched for my first 80-mile week.
It seems obvious, but sometimes we get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, being wowed by what they can do, that we forget to be proud of what we can do. Seventy-mile weeks was not something I would have dreamed possible years ago, and now I’m complaining about it? Really? I’ve come so far as a runner, and I’ve learned along the way what works and what doesn’t work for me. Knowing my limits is an asset, one that will hopefully carry me to the Olympic Trials starting line injury-free. Comparing myself to others serves no purpose but to make me feel bad about myself. And running is such a mental sport, getting down on myself will only hurt me. So I’m trying—really trying—not to do it.

And I urge you not to do it either. Stop comparing; stop feeling like less of a runner because of what someone else is doing. Your mileage may vary, and you have to do what works for you. Not what works “in general,” but what works for your body, your schedule, and your personality.

If you run ten-mile or 100-mile weeks, go three days a week or every day for three weeks, great. If you like strength training or hate it, like running in the cold or prefer the treadmill, enjoy double days or would rather just shower once (an under-appreciated perk of single days!), that’s fine. Don’t let what you read make you feel bad about what you’re doing. There will always be people doing more and other people doing less. But if you find what works for you, and stick to that, you’ll get a lot farther than if you try to force yourself into someone else’s training plan. Do your own thing and be proud of where it takes you.

Do your own thing... and be proud of it.
Dream big, 

Monday, January 25, 2016


Last time I alluded to one of the annoying things about a February marathon. Here’s the other, more serious one: the weather. I live in Washington DC, not northern Minnesota, so I can’t complain. Or rather, I shouldn’t. But I’m going to anyway.

Because I had my biggest, most important workout scheduled for the weekend Snowzilla decided to invade the East Coast.

Yea, it's pretty... but it's not all about looks, people.
Where can I train?? 
I rearranged all my workouts, moving my last big workout (a long run with most of the miles at goal marathon pace) from Sunday to Friday (pre-Snowzilla attack). I figured, after my big workout, I’d be content and relieved to be on the treadmill the rest of the weekend, glad to be done with the monster workout before the monster snowstorm.

Except the content feeling never came, because Friday’s workout went terribly.

It was slow—way too slow. I ran a loop I have always hated (Hains Point) because my go to route (Beach Drive) is only open to runners on weekends. The wind seemed brutal, my gels were solid rocks, and my stomach didn’t want to handle anything. But those excuses don’t seem to justify why it went so poorly. I was desperately trying to talk myself back into it, to not be negative, to put the last bad mile behind me and try to get back on a reasonable pace for the next one, but nothing seemed to be working. My legs just would not go faster.

The redeeming quality of multiple Hains Point loops was that Kerry had again offered to help out, and she could jump in for a mile here and there. And once again, I owe her eight zillion thank yous. I wanted to give up. Brutally. Alright, running demons, you win, I’m done. I knew I shouldn’t give up on the workout—even though I was going WAY too slowly—because I needed to get in a workout somehow. There’s no making up this one (we’re too close to the race and now all the roads are covered in snow), so slow was better than nothing. I knew that and kept reminding myself of it, but it didn’t matter. It was Kerry’s presence—and her bright vest coming around the bend like a neon angel—that made me not.

When the struggle fest was over and I finally warmed up inside, it seemed all hope had been sucked out of me, by the wind, by the demons, by my evil watch for telling me splits I didn’t care to see. I wanted to run much faster for this workout; I wanted to prove to myself that my goal pace for the marathon is possible. If I hit it in this workout I’d be ready, just like before CIM. Once again, I needed proof I wasn’t being bat$#*! crazy about my goals. But this was slower than the marathon pace workout I did over Christmas, which I also declared as too slow at the time. And it was slower than this workout pre-CIM.

I started to think I’m being completely nuts. I’ve actually adjusted my outlandish goals from the beginning of the season to be ever so slightly more realistic, and now even those seem entirely delusional. I started thinking about all the people who warned me to just to enjoy the LA race, not put too much pressure on myself, not go for some crazy goal only to end up upset. That approach isn’t me, but during and after this workout, giving in suddenly seemed logical and inevitable. Maybe I shouldn’t be going for a PR; I’m not in shape to anyway. Why stress about it?

Man, the demons know exactly what to say to bring you down. I know my goals aren’t always rational or logical, but going for them anyway is what I love to do. I remember this same workout from last season. It also went poorly, only much, much more so. (In fact, every marathon pace workout from that season was a disaster.) I didn’t have time to complain about it, because I ended up hurt instead, but I do remember the day after that terrible workout I was talking myself back into believing my ridiculous goal was still possible. I had less to go on then. Where did that Teal go? And how do I get her back?

After spending the remainder of Friday in a total I Hate Running Funk, I woke up Saturday and tried to find a glimmer of hope, a small piece of evidence, that I’m not crazy to still chase my ambitious goal.

For starters, I am in better shape than ever before. I can’t base everything on one workout; everyone has bad days. The rest of this season’s workouts (and the half) have been slightly faster than past seasons. So that’s good.

But how much faster? Not enough. I never hit the pace I want to hit on race day in a long workout. I relied heavily on the fact that I had run 16 miles at 6:12 when I attempted to run 26 miles at 6:12 at CIM. I don’t have that this time. How the fudge can I expect to go faster for longer?? But I think—perhaps similarly to not basing everything off one workout—I need to stop comparing everything to one race. CIM was the best race of my life, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that to have another great race everything has to align in exactly the same way, right? (Not necessarily a rhetorical question, as I seem to be having a hard time convincing myself of this.) 

But as I searched through my logs from previous marathons, I found my glimmer:

Before the season I ran CIM, I rarely (i.e. never) hit marathon pace in workouts. I almost always ran faster on race day. (Boston 2014 is the only exception.) Also, my workouts where I tried to hit goal pace used to be shorter than they are now. So I had much farther to go on race day and I still ran faster.

Part of me feels like that was another lifetime ago. That was some other Runner Teal—can I really still do that?

But part of the reason I was super bummed after Friday’s workout was that it drained some of the Trials excitement out of me. Listen, I’m a running super nerd: I am so excited to line up with my idols, I can’t wait to see the men speed by me, or to get a live account of the women’s race as we do our out and backs on Figueroa St. I am still beyond thrilled to be invited. BUT I’m also excited to race myself—literally, to race against myself—and to try to get this big PR I’ve been dreaming of. When I think it might not be possible or that I shouldn’t go for it, I get really bummed and it steals some excitement from the whole enterprise. Because no matter what those demons are trying to tell me, I really do want to go for it.

Snowzilla dumped its snow and moved on, up the East Coast. Yet it continues in my head. I got walloped with two feet worth of cold reality this weekend, and I still feel like I’m sitting in a blizzard of negativity and reasons to give up. But I have a little morsel of hope, providing just a little light and warmth: I’ve run faster in races than in practice before. It’s years old and fading fast… but I’m clinging to it, as the storm rages on.
Trudging forward. 
Dream big,

P.S.- Gratitude update: I’m still healthy. At this point last time I was dealing with a season-ending injury, but so far I've made it through, into the taper, in one piece. And that is HUGE. So no matter my mental demons, I’m incredibly grateful for that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Recently there’s been some big news in the GRC world: we’ve started a partnership with Pacers and New Balance. It’s awesome for many reasons (some sweet new gear, more funds to support the team), but it got me thinking a lot about how special our team is. Not just because we’re fast enough for Pacers and New Balance to notice and want to support us, but for the many more general and more sappy reasons: that my teammates are some of my best friends and that we support each other on and off the track—whether or not free shoes are included.

An example of the off-the-track support: 
Turning 30 is more fun with good friends. 
Last Wednesday’s practice was a good example of the on track support.

The not such a wonderful thing about the marathon trials being in February is that January is a pretty weird time to be peaking. My teammates ran Clubs XC or CIM, took a nice December break, and are just now getting back into hard training. Wednesday was the first or second workout back for them. I, on the other hand, am shockingly close to race day. So our schedules are off a bit.

But Coach had a plan for everyone: I’d run 3 x 2 miles and the other girls would jump in and out. They’d run 1200 meters with me, then jog a recovery while I continued 800 meters more, then hop back in for the final 1200. We’d all jog a recovery together and repeat. The paces started easy but got fast by the third rep.

On each rep, Kerry took the lead on the first 1200 and Maura hopped in for the second. The rest of the pack followed on my heels, subliminally pushing me forward with their presence. Maura had the not easy task of jumping into the lead as I was still running, like hopping into a Double Dutch game.  She had to go fast enough to not trip me up, but not fast enough to drop me, and oh yea, she had to pace me at exactly the right pace. She nailed it. So did Kerry.

I’ll be honest: if I was in their flats, I don’t think I could have done it. I’m not sure I can ever run a 1200 at those paces right after a break, and they not only had to run them but to pace them. Plus it was dark and cold and very January-like. Ugh, not fun.

And certainly, in my own flats, I couldn’t have done my workout without them. Studies have shown what we know intuitively: working out with a group is easier than going it alone. With the long (for a track workout) reps, the main battle was mental. With the help, I was able to break it into segments; three laps behind Kerry, two by myself, and then—oh thank God—help again, with three more behind Maura. That made it less intimidating than thinking about all eight laps at once. (This strategy works for the marathon too, which I also mentally break into three segments—ten miles, ten miles, six miles—rather than thinking about all 26. Words of advice: DO NOT THINK ABOUT ALL 26.) 

And with their help, we crushed it. The last rep was a two-mile PR and the last mile was even faster than expected. That would not have been the case had I been alone.

Actually, I’m putting too much emphasis on this workout by devoting an entire post to it. It was a good workout for me, certainly, but really the setup was pretty typical. Teammates working together to help someone reach her goal next month and others to nab their goals later this spring. And tonight, we'll do it all again--in the cold dark of January.

See? I told you: these are some really amazing friends.

Dream big, 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

One Month

BREAKING NEWS: The Olympic trials are in one month.

One. Month.

How the hell did that happen?

The fact that time is passing first dawned on me this past weekend, when I realized with a start complete shock minor panic attack that the race was five weeks away. Five weeks! I typically taper for three weeks, which means two measly weeks left of real training.

The Holy Crap/How Is This Marathon Sneaking Up So Fast feeling is pretty typical, for me at least. You’re in the thick of training, la de dah, it seems like you have so many more workouts and weeks left and then… all of sudden the race is upon you.

But this season feels worse. Maybe because it’s the biggest race of my life, or because things were a bit wonky at the beginning, or maybe the holidays being smack in middle of things threw me off. I still got in all my workouts, but it wasn’t my usual routine. I haven’t been on the track with the GRC girls in what seems like forever. And the race is in a month???

Of course my main freak out is because I don’t feel ready. I want more time—more weeks of big mileage, more long runs, more of everything. Surely I could be faster and nail my goals if I had just a little more time??

That’s pretty normal, too. I’m feeling particularly out of sorts this season, like things just aren’t going quite right, but I think I feel that way every season. It’s easy to look back fondly on seasons that ended well as if everything went smoothly; all the doubts and fears seem forgotten when the PRs happen. If only I could get back the confidence I had during my best season… But the grass is always greener on the other side; I wasn’t brimming with confidence back then either. Truthfully, the grass on both sides is full of doubts.

But no matter how much I doubt myself or my preparation (Have I put in enough work? Will I be able to hit the pace I want?), the reality is it’s better to be under trained than over trained. Over trained too easily becomes injury (and I’ll have none of that, please and thank you).

But all this Only A Few Weeks Left business also makes me oddly sad. I love the training: the routine of it, the constant hum of tiredness, the endless peanut butter jars and banana bunches. Once the race gets closer (oh God, it’s going to get even closer?!) I’ll get the normal combo of super excited and intensely nervous, because of course I love racing, too. Until that happens, though, it’s a little sad the training part is ending.

But the excited nervousness is already starting to surface here and there. The hype is building: Team Teal is busy crafting the most extravagant spectating squad in the history of Trials spectating (I swear I’m not exaggerating on this), my planning is shifting from scheduling workouts to figuring out water bottle strategies and racing outfits, the Trials is the talk of the (ridiculously small) town. I’ve even put in my order for the post-marathon Girl Scout cookie eating binge (i.e. ALL the tagalongs). And every time I see a headline about how Shalane or Desi or [insert your favorite marathon star here] is ready, my heart skips a few beats. It’s coming…

The realization of having only two big mileage weeks left has made me approach them with renewed vigor. I'm going to try to nail the last few workouts, obviously, but also work extra hard to do all the little things to take care of myself. After all, these are also the weeks everything fell apart last time, so despite my freaking out that I’m not ready, the priority needs to be on staying healthy.

Just one month to go.

Dream big,

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Race Report: Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon

It’s been a while since I updated. Here’s a quick recap of my holiday season:

I PRed (officially, this time) in the 5k.

I only run 5K PRs while wearing holiday socks.
I baked (and ate) approximately 8 million Christmas cookies.

And I ran.

Did some running drills.  

(Ate some more Christmas treats.)

And ran some more.

(Such is training through the holidays.)

At the end of the holidays, full of chocolate and miles, I flew to Jacksonville for a half marathon.

The Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon is a generally low-key affair; without much prize money, it doesn’t tend to attract elite athletes. But this year, Richard Fannin (the elite coordinator for the Gate River Run) transformed it into THE place to go for a final chance at a Trials qualifier. (You can qualify for the marathon trials with a sub-1:15 half marathon.) He recruited around 100 elite and sub-elite athletes, a combination of athletes going for the standard and those that had previously qualified. (On the women’s side, twenty women were going for the standard and twenty others, like me, had already qualified and were using the race as a tune-up/hard workout.) For those going for it, he put together pacers to take advantage of a pancake flat course and took care of every detail to make the experience seamless. Each athlete (even the stars that were volunteering their pacing duties) paid their airfare, but Fannin hooked us all up with hotel rooms, coordinated rides to and from the airport, and rented out an entire restaurant for a massive pre-race pasta dinner.

Photo by Salty Running.
Check out their site for their awesome coverage of the race! 
I was thankful to be blessed enough to not have to attempt to run 1:15—the pressure was off for me—but I did want a big PR to give justification to the goals I’m shooting for in LA. I feel like I’ve had a half PR coming for a while; last season’s didn’t go so well. While my recent workouts have not hit my out-of-this-world ambitions, they are faster than they were in the fall of 2014 (when I set my current half PR). Doing some math based on comparing this season’s workouts to that season, I thought I was in shape to break 1:18. An ambitious, 90 second PR, but I’d take advantage of the elite treatment, the speedy field, and the pancake course.

Race morning was dark and rainy, but that was better than heat by everyone’s accounts. My stomach was off from the minute I woke up, but I attributed it to nerves. When has my stomach ever been right on race morning? I hadn’t slept well, but when do I ever sleep well before races? These are normal race morning stresses, whatever.

My race plan mainly consisted of NOT. STARTING. TOO. FAST. A large pack was going out at 1:15 pace (aka I-would-need-to-drop-out-by-mile-2 pace) so there was no way I could get sucked into that. I held back as people zipped by and it seemed quite a few other women had my plan, to relax and not go too crazy.

After a mile or so, I found myself behind a group of three or four women, staying exactly the same distance behind them. Even though I wasn’t really with them, they helped keep me on pace. Remaining the same distance behind them seemed to be perfect. Through 5K and 10K, I was right on. There were moments of doubt (I can’t do this! I can’t keep up! I’m slowing!) but I kept reminding myself to be positive; I was doing exactly what I planned and I wasn’t slowing.

Around mile 6, though, I caught the women, thereby losing my pacers. They must be slowing, but I’m feeling good! But when I saw the next split, I realized we were all slowing, and I only caught up because I was slowing slightly less. One woman came with me and encouraged me, “Let’s keep picking them off!” I was relieved to have someone to run with and kept working to stay with her.

I was starting to struggle though. Our pace continued to slow, even though I felt like I was working to get it back and to stay with Encouraging Chick. Around mile 8, she gapped me. Looking back, I wish I had tried harder to stay with her, but that’s too easy to say after the fact. Why didn’t I just try harder?? Easier said than done.

From then on, I was alone. My splits seemed more and more discouraging, but they actually remained about the same pace since the mile 6 slow down. I was just more and more discouraged that I couldn’t get back on my planned pace. And my math (and my thoughts) were becoming more and demoralizing… well I won’t get my A goal… or my B goal…

I told myself I could pick it up at mile 10. (Just 3 measly miles left!) I reminded myself I had successfully picked it up at the end of Raleigh. But not this time… my 11th and 12th miles were the slowest of the day.

Somewhere in the 11th mile, all at once, I started hating the rain, realizing how much it sucked and how completely drenched I was. My shoes were soaked—I was carrying around my own little puddles to splash in every time I stepped down. With one mile left, I tried again to talk myself back into it: Pick it UP!! Almost done! I started counting to myself (a strategy I often rely on during speedy track workouts). If I count to sixty six times, I’ll be done. (Not really, but close enough.) It at least worked to distract me, but my legs weren’t moving any faster.

At last, I made the turn onto a grass field towards the finish on the track. Still I couldn’t find a sprint. As I finally made it around the bend of the track and saw the time on the clock, I realized how close I was to sneaking under 1:19. I pressed, but it didn’t seem enough.

Afterwards, I went to the end of the track and let out some of my emotions. I wasn't sure of my official time but I knew that, while a PR (I know, I know! I’m the most ungrateful brat), it was at least a minute slower than I wanted to run. And that makes me seriously question my goal for the marathon.

But I quickly felt stupid for being upset—there were people that had gone for the qualifier and missed it. My silly little goal and frustration (Just a PR? Who cares, no big deal, I want more!!) was nothing compared to their disappointment.

Happily, seven women and twenty men did get their qualifier. Which is a HUGE amount when you think about how low-key this race was and is entirely due to Richard Fannin’s efforts. Thanks to him, and some seriously on-point pacers, a whole new flock of runners had their dreams come true. The whole weekend was full of a spirit of camaraderie—about people working together to go after a singular goal. It was awesome to be around that and the entire trip was unforgettable.

But as I left the excitement of Jacksonville and headed home, my post-race grumpiness resumed. I wondered if I could blame the rain or my stomach (which was off for the entire day)… but there was no obvious scapegoat. I just didn’t have it. I still didn’t know my official time (there were some timing glitches due to the rain) but I lost any hope that I had broken 1:19.

Monday afternoon, I finally found out I had officially run sub-1:19 (1:18:55 by chip time) which eased my disappointment a bit. It’s still not the PR I hoped for, and the race caused some new doubts to sneak in, but it was a PR, so I’m trying to remind myself that I am running better than ever. (It seems obvious, but somehow I need to keep repeating this to myself.) Hopefully a few more weeks of hard work will bring my (as always) ambitious goals back into my grasp.

Dream big,