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,