Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Race Report: Richmond Marathon

2:50 is my white whale. I have felt like a runner capable of a sub-2:50 marathon since 2012. From 2012 to 2016, I ran five marathons with a goal of 2:50 or faster. I broke 2:50 just once.

So what do I do? I decide that my first marathon post-baby should be another sub-2:50 attempt. There was a reason for this nonsense, namely that I had run exactly that pace for a 12-mile marathon pace workout. A few weeks later, I comfortably cruised through 10-plus miles at that pace again… until a bad hamstring cramp freaked me out enough to cut the workout a few miles short. Before my last few marathons, I had done 16 miles at goal pace, but I consoled myself that I used to run big PRs off just 12. But stopping that workout early also meant I only ran two twenty milers, when I usually do three or more.

And so I fluctuated between thinking that 2:50 was crazy and trying to convince myself that maybe it wasn’t. But I knew I had to go for it; my recent confidence issues wouldn’t be fixed by finishing a marathon, but from challenging myself like I used to and seeing what I was capable of. As an added motivation, the top five would win prize money and, based on results from the last few years, 2:50 seemed like it would get me fourth or fifth. So I repeatedly tried to silence all negativity… or was I silencing logic? Whatever, just ignore it.

Race morning temps were in the twenties; I’m not sure I’ve ever run a marathon that cold and I was thrilled. (I would much rather be too cold than too hot when racing.) Just before the start, I removed my last layer: a long-sleeve I planned to ditch. As soon as I took it off, I put it right back on. I’d take it off once I warmed up after a few miles. (A few miles turned out to be 17.)

Early on I just tried to relax. I couldn’t believe the marathon was here and that I had to somehow get through 26.2 miles at my second fastest pace ever; I tried to not think about it. My hope all through pregnancy was to run this (now) hometown race as my first marathon back, and the fact that it was all working out—I am here doing it!—was special. I focused on being grateful and continually tried to ignore how far I had left to go.

All smiles early on.
 I hit the first few miles right around goal pace and at six miles I was in 5th place (thanks to the enthusiastic spectators for letting me know!) After a speedy downhill seventh mile, we crossed a bridge I used to run in college while training for my first ever marathon. On the bridge, a woman and a man caught me and I tucked in to form a little pack. We hit the mile 8 marker and the guy said something like, “Yes! We crushed that mile, let’s keep it rolling!” It reminded me how nice it was to have constant encouragement at your side, but I saw the split and knew it was a bit too fast for this early. (My plan was to wait until much, much later to get competitive.) I dropped back slightly. The guy gestured for me to get back with them, but I begrudgingly let them (and my podium spot) go. Maybe she’ll come back to me…

The whole race was fall perfection, but miles 8 to 10 were particularly gorgeous: the James River on one side and a canopy of autumn leaves overhead. Someone had set up a bonfire in his front yard, which seemed like the perfect way to spend a crisp fall morning. That, or going for a long run, which is what I truly love to do at this time of year. Right, enjoy this.

The next few miles had some hills and I tried to focus on little landmarks: when I’d take a gel (mile 10), when I might see my family (mile 11), when the course flattens again (mile 12). Somewhere around mile 12, I caught and passed the woman who dropped me at mile 8. I was back in 5th and for a stretch I felt really good. I hit the halfway a few seconds ahead of pace—perfect—and I didn’t dwell on the fact that I had just run farther at that pace than I have in a year and half (and now had to do it all over again). At a cheer zone around mile 14, the M.C. started yelling, “Alright everyone let’s cheer for this woman in pink!! Alright pink woman!” There was no else around, but I felt special nonetheless. I was having fun; I was doing what I set out to do. Maybe I can even pick it up? No. Still too early.

Around mile 15, the course goes over a long (~1.5 mile) highway/bridge heading back into the city. I knew from the elevation chart we were heading uphill again, but it was one of those long stretches where you can’t really tell you’re going up, except you’re slowing and it feels inexplicably hard and it’s windy and, Ugh, this is just the worst. The bliss I’d felt around mile 14 faded quickly. In any marathon this is a tough stretch for me; the early miles are taking their toll but you’re not yet close enough to start counting down to the finish. My feet were really starting to hurt, which seemed earlier than usual: Are my shoes too old?? Did running fewer miles in training mean I’m not prepared for all this pounding??  But then, I’m running a freaking marathon, of course my feet hurt! I refocused on taking it one mile at a time: Get to mile 17 and the course will flatten, get to mile 18 and take your last gel, get to mile 20 and you’re in the homestretch.

Near mile 19, I got passed again and this time I knew it was trouble. This was the point in the race to fight and go with her, but she flew by so fast it didn’t seem possible. My pace had slipped in the last few miles and I was now in danger of not getting top five or sub-2:50. C’mon, fight for it. But she was gone. There was a little blip of a hill over a highway and as I ran toward it I was praying, “C’mon, God, give me the motivation to get back in this race and not give up.” As I crested the hill, I saw the girl who just passed me blow by another woman and suddenly I knew I could catch that woman too. There had been no woman in my sights for miles; she must be slowing. Here we go.

Also in this stretch I heard the best cheer of the day. After I removed my long sleeve shirt, people could finally see my number, #22, and were cheering for it. One girl screamed, “I don’t know ‘bout you…” I knew it was directed at me, but I didn’t put it together for a few strides: “… but I’m feeling 22.” I was too far past her to say anything, but I wish I could tell her that is the most thought out cheer I’ve ever heard. Thank you.

As I focused on my new target, I passed the 20-mile mark. I always memorize my goal splits for 20 and 25 miles; I know that seems silly (especially 25) but it’s helped me in numerous races. If I’m anywhere close, it gives me a boost to know I’m ahead of pace or a kick in the pants if I’m just over. (If I’m nowhere close, I’m already well aware and not looking at splits anymore. See: Boston 2013, 2014 and the Trials.) I knew I was probably a few seconds slow, but when I saw the clock, it seemed I was nearly 40 seconds slow. Can that be right? That doesn’t seem right...? For some dumb reason (I am not exactly logical mid-marathon), I didn’t just look at my watch, which would later tell me that whatever I saw wasn’t right. I was only 11 seconds slow. I wish I had known that, 11 seconds seems within striking distance; 40 seemed unlikely. I tried to put it behind me; I can still get 5th. Focus on getting 5th.

Mile 24, all focus.
I caught 5th place a little after mile 20 and tried to make it decisive. She stuck with me for a bit before falling back and I tried to keep pressing. I was running scared, but it was helping. Once again, I felt good. I can do this. Maybe I can even pick it up and get back on pace. Miles 21 and 22 were faster and I started counting down: one more mile until I take PowerAde for the last time, then one more mile until I see my family, then one more mile and I’m done. I can do this. I AM DOING THIS. My feet hurt, my bones hurt, my left calf was tightening. Doesn’t matter, I’m picking it up, I’m finishing strong. Except, after mile 22, I wasn’t. I was slowing. Miles 24 and 25 were the slowest of the day. But I felt like I was trying; I felt like I was giving it my all. I knew sub-2:50 wasn’t going to happen, but I could get close. And more importantly, I could hang on to 5th. I had to hang on.

With just the 0.2 left, the course turns toward the river and you go flying downhill. People were cheering: “You’re in 5th!” “It’s the last podium spot, go get it!” As I got closer to the finish I swear I heard multiple people screaming, "She's on your tail!" I was sprinting all out, flying down the hill, praying out loud: “Please, please, let me get 5th. Please, please don’t let me give up now.” All the way to the finish line.

2:50:20. Fifth place.

So I did get my top 5 finish. Sixth place finished two minutes later. Once again I have no idea what those people were cheering about (or how I conjure up these hallucinations of cheers). The half was finishing simultaneously, so maybe they were cheering some rivalry among those finishers. (The top places had been decided long before.)

Women's Podium. (1st place left before the ceremony.)
But once again I did not break 2:50. Did I really push hard enough? What if someone had told me there was a woman on my tail a bit earlier? What if I hadn’t miscalculated the 20-mile split? Could I have knocked off 21 seconds to get my other goal of 2:49:XX? I don’t think so. Even “sprinting all out, flying down the hill” my split for the last 1.2 wasn’t all that fast. When I ran a huge ten-mile PR of 60:19 in 2014, someone commented that I should have gone just two seconds per mile faster to nab my original goal of sub-60. When you put it like that, it sounds easy (here, it was just one measly second per mile), but it’s not so simple. In those final miles, I really thought I was pushing it and picking it up, but my body wasn’t responding. Even if I had been under goal pace, I think I would have lost it in the final miles. Miles 24 and 25 were the slowest of the day, despite telling myself I could finally give everything I had left.

On the one hand, I’m a little annoyed I just missed it… but on the other hand, I’m also more than a bit surprised I did it at all. As always, God carried me through the race. He gave me a motivational boost right when I needed it most and proved once again that I capable of things that seem more than a little bananas on paper. The time is my second fastest EVER, fifteen seconds faster than I ran at the Trials when I was in MUCH MUCH better shape. (Case in point why I will happily take a day in the 20s over one in the 80s.) How did I do that? The training was not the greatest. The tune-up races were slower than goal pace. There were many times (that I was actively trying to ignore) when all the miles left seemed insurmountable, but unlike most races there wasn’t any particular moment where dropping out seemed like a real possibility. I’m not sure I vanquished all the demons I talked about in my last post, but I certainly proved I am still a marathoner who doesn’t give up. (Also: We are all capable of so much more than we realize, if we just believe it.

And that’s what I’m most excited about. Because the training for this marathon was shorter than normal, I wasn’t as eager as usual about a taper or time off. I’m already anxious to get going again (but am forcing myself to take my usual time off anyway). I’m dreaming of spring races and I’m excited to see what I can do on training that’s closer to 100 percent. All season, I considered this race to be the ultimate rust buster: just get the first postpartum marathon out of the way, it wouldn’t be perfect, it wouldn’t be a PR, but I’d prove I can conquer it again… and then next season I’ll get back to business.

I can’t wait.

Dream big, 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ready or Not...

The Richmond Marathon is Saturday. Am I ready? Yes… and no. I’ve done the long runs, the tempos, the track workouts. Some went well, some didn’t, that’s pretty par for the course; no buildup is perfect. I went in with lower mileage goals and lower expectations to match. But despite doing pretty much everything I set out to do, I still don’t feel as ready as I’d like.

I think it's because coming back from Baby was so unpredictable. Some things were easier than expected, so in some ways I feel like I haven't done enough to deserve to run well. Other things were a lot harder than expected, totally blindsiding me, and they’ve left lasting scars on my confidence.

It's been a long road back, but I've done the work.
My body is ready... now to get my mind there...

Easier than expected:
In early summer, I wrote out a plan that slowly increased my weekly mileage and my long runs. It looked a little daunting, considering I was coming back from six weeks of zero running and many months of short walk/shuffles. But the long runs came back surprisingly easily; twenty miles is once again no biggie, which seemed impossible just a few months ago.

As hard as expected: Speed.
I suspected speed would come back slower than endurance and that was/is definitely the case. All season, I’ve run basically one pace, whether it’s a half marathon, a ten miler, 12 miles at goal pace alone on the roads, a trail 5K. I can’t speed up in shorter races… but I also haven’t really slowed down in longer workouts. I may not be able to crush a 5K (when can I ever?) but if I can run that same pace for 26.2… then speed schmeed, I’ll be just fine with that.

Harder than expected:
1. Not having control/ownership of my body. One thing I didn't appreciate fully was the role nursing would play in my running. I figured I’d have to time workouts around Baby’s meals (definitely true in the early days, less of an issue now) and that I probably wouldn’t get to my racing weight this season. (I don’t feel comfortable worrying too much about weight loss while I’m nursing and see no need to rush things in that department.) I didn’t anticipate the ab issues I’d have, which my PT says won’t resolve until I stop nursing since the hormones can cause ligaments to stay loose. Because of that, I haven’t been able to attack core or strength workouts with my old gusto. My body is still not my own, and I can’t treat it as such. I didn’t anticipate that. The fact that I slacked off on these “little extras” makes me feel a bit like I didn’t put in enough effort, that I don’t deserve to run well.

2. But the much bigger issue that I did not see coming, AT ALL, is the hit that labor/delivery gave to my running self-esteem. I knew labor would be a doozy, to say the least, despite everyone assuring me, “You’re an athlete; you’ll be fine.” Well, I wasn’t. I always knew I’d get an epidural—I didn’t see the point in suffering when relief is possible and safe—but I didn’t anticipate how bad actually taking it would make me feel afterwards. All the women who do it naturally? How the fudge do they do that? And why couldn’t I? That mattered not a whit to me before labor, but somehow afterwards I felt really defeated that I couldn’t take it. (Though I do believe there’s something to be said for going in knowing I was going to get an epidural eventually. You can’t do anything your mind isn’t set on.) And ultimately I needed a c-section. While I am beyond grateful for modern medicine and a healthy happy Baby (albeit one with an off-the-charts-enormous head), I still feel like my body failed me. My body that I rely on so much to run well, it couldn’t do this thing it’s made to do.

One thing I hear repeatedly (I even wrote about it myself before Baby) is that labor toughens you. All these women say, “Running is easy after labor, nothing compares.” “If my body can do that, it can do anything.” Well, what if my body can’t/didn’t do that? Maybe everyone who says those things made it through naturally (and to them I say, “Heck yea, you are crazy tough and CAN do anything), but that would put them in the minority.

Maybe I’m alone in this (I hope so... I don't wish self doubt on anyone!), but I feel the opposite; my sense of toughness has been seriously questioned ever since labor. One person who labored naturally told me contractions just feel like bad menstrual cramps, but in my opinion they are at least an order of magnitude worse. Which makes me wonder: Maybe I’ve never had a bad cramp. Maybe I’ve never felt real pain. Maybe I’m a giant wuss.... And it spirals from there.

This attitude is absolutely terrible for the marathon. I do not think I’m a particularly talented runner; I certainly did not start off all that fast. I’ve always thought any success came from being tough and determined and now I’m left wondering… am I really?

This is the part where I’m not sure I’m ready. The marathon is a mental beast and your mind has to be ready to tackle it. I grappled with whether I should run at all. But giving up now—not even showing up at the start line—is giving into those demons that have haunted me for almost eight months. That’s not the answer. It’s time to shut them up.

It will not be easy; these last few days I’ve been preparing myself with mantras and battle strategies to have ready when the doubts start. In a recent episode of Lindsey Hein’s podcast, Deena Kastor explains that when the race gets tough you have to dig deep and "define yourself," and that’s what I feel I need to do. Remember what I am capable of and prove it to myself. Find the old Teal, deep within me somewhere. The one who IS tough, maybe not in the delivery room, but on the race course. Somewhere on the streets of Richmond, when the miles are taking their toll, and the pace starts to slip, she damn well better be ready to come out... or we're going to have to get her out, one way or another.

Dream big,

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Race Reports (2 for 1!) – Navy Half and Army Ten

For my first postpartum race, the Navy Half Marathon, I was overly concerned about the logistics: getting there on time, feeding Baby beforehand, what to do with my bag while I warmed up… I hadn’t raced for real (i.e. while not pregnant) since the Trials, 19 months before. I worried I’d forgotten some crucial part.

I should have been more concerned about the weather, which is my normal pre-race pre-occupation and while I did realize the weather wasn’t great, it wasn’t until I was running my warm up—sans any warm-ups—that I realized just how not great it was. Warm and humid: welcome back to DC. (Sadly, Richmond is just as bad.)

My plan was to start on the slower side and run the first four miles around 6:40 pace, and then see if I could pick it up. I focused on not running the first mile too fast, as I’ve had a tendency to do in workouts lately. (My sense of pace hasn’t yet made its postpartum return).

I impressed myself with a 6:46 first mile, which I took as a good sign (not too fast!) and didn’t care that it was on the slower side. The next few miles were 6:37-6:38 and I made it 4 miles on 6:40 pace, exactly as I’d planned.

That boosted my confidence and I passed a few women. I was back in a race and seemingly handling it well. My sister was cheering around mile 6 and when she asked how I felt, I shrugged. “I dunno… hot?” I did feel hot… but also, not too terrible. I focused on making it to mile 7.5 where Husband and Baby were cheering. Seeing them felt like rocket fuel. (Though the double-caffeinated gel I took just before may also have contributed.) Suddenly I felt really good. Look at me, running a smart race in this weather. I’m going to negative split the heck out of this thing! I picked it up slightly, hit the turn around, saw my family again at mile 10, and picked it up some more. Maybe I should have started faster, maybe I’m in better shape than I thought… but then the 12th mile hit and I fell apart. When I had been feeling good, I told myself I’d really start pushing in the last mile, but the last mile came and I couldn’t go any faster. I got passed with about a mile to go and had no response. Despite not finishing on the greatest of notes, I still felt like I had done a pretty OK job at my first race back.

For my second postpartum race, the Army Ten Miler, I was hoping things would go even better. Navy had busted the rust, now it was time to work on racing a little better and digging deep at the end. Except the weather was—amazingly—even worse. Warm, humid, gross. Again. It was so bad, in fact, that the race organizers eventually shortened the course and stopped recording times.

Going in, I wasn’t too sure of an appropriate goal pace, which seems to be a trend of the season. I’m finding it difficult post-baby to know where I’m at. I end some workouts feeling like I should have gone faster while others (particularly tempo runs—my nemesis—that have often fallen on terrible weather days) are disasters. Coming off a great (weather) week and an excellent marathon pace run, I thought 6:20 pace would be doable. But at Army I didn’t hit 6:20 for the first, or the second mile, and by mile 3, 6:30 pace seemed more realistic.

But that wasn’t either. The next few miles were slower still. It started misting but not enough to provide any relief, somehow things just got wetter and grosser. I struggled to force down my caffeinated gel, telling myself even a placebo effect would be great. (PSA: Use tune up races to practice your goal race fueling. I don’t really need a gel in a 10 miler, but I definitely will in the marathon, so I made my stomach practice.) I felt like it helped, but my splits don’t show it. I focused on my other mid-race booster—seeing Baby and Husband, this time at mile 8.5. Just get to them. One more mile until I see them. Half a mile… When does this fudging bridge end?? Somewhere in the middle of the race I decided if I could just run my Navy Half pace (6:36), that would be something. (Would that be something?? This race is shorter… and it’s later in the season, when I should be in better shape. But sometimes you just need to come up with any goal, no matter how silly, that can stop you from totally throwing in the towel.)

Seeing my family again inspired me to pick it up slightly, mile 9 was at least faster than mile 8. But the mile-9 marker also made me realize I’d run 9 miles slower than my 10-mile PR. That was eye opening. Yipes, this is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Trying to remind myself why the heck I'm running
this terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad race.
[Photo credit: Cheryl Young]

But am I really pushing as hard as I could be? Post-baby I feel like I’ve forgotten how to push through hard workouts/races. So I tried to really dig and I was able to pick it up in the end, rather than slow down like at Navy, so that’s something. And I did finish in the same average pace as Navy, so at least I hit that totally-random-mid-race-I-need-something-to-go-for goal.

But that’s not saying much, as the race was my personal worst ten-mile time ever. I’m not even listed in the results and I’m totally fine with that. It appears like I didn’t run at all… and I started wishing I hadn’t. I felt bad I dragged my family up to DC for the weekend, just to run a race that left me feeling much worse. I ran faster for farther in a workout by myself. But that reminded me that I did at least get a workout in, if only a crappy, overly hyped one. It was clearly a bad day, and while I feel like I am always blaming the weather, it does appear to be somewhat legitimate in this case.

Besides, the trip was worth it because I got to spend the afternoon with good friends, eating all things pumpkin flavored, while Baby babbled race strategy with her future GRC teammates. Sometimes the best part of racing is the post-race.

Dream big,

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dream Big, Mama

Given how I sign all these posts, there is a lot of appropriate gear for my Baby:

Dream big, little one.

It seems the phrase "Dream big, little one" comes on just about anything you can imagine.

It’s left me wondering, where are the “Dream big, Mama” signs? We can’t expect kids to do things (be kind, say please, eat vegetables) that we don’t model ourselves. Yet one thing I’ve been (mostly subtly) reminded after becoming a mom is that I should quit all this dreaming big nonsense.

Since having my daughter, lots of people have asked me if I’ll ever get back to running, as if it would be strange to do so. When I say yes, the follow up question comes with a sneer and a heavy dose of cynicism, “Will you try to get back to the level you were at?” When I say, “Yes, I’d like to qualify for the 2020 Trials,” there is often a silence as if I’ve answered the question wrong, and the topic usually changes. (After I responded that I am running and would like to get back to where I was, one person completely ignored my answer to say that, even though parenting can be overwhelming, “at least you don’t have to worry about running so much anymore.”)

Others are not at all surprised I’d want to get back to running or try to make the Trials. But when I say how much I’m already running and that I want to race soon, I feel the need to temper it. “I’d like to run a marathon this fall,” I say. Then I quickly add, “But I’ll drop to the half if I need to, if that’s not realistic.” Because people give me a look like it’s not realistic. (Note: I know of both pros and amateurs who have PR-ed 7-9 months post-baby. And I’m not trying to PR, I’m just trying to race again.) I know they mean well; they are afraid I’ll hurt myself or become too overwhelmed. They’d rather I’d relax about it and take my time.

These responses make me feel obliged to defend myself. I’ve actually stalled writing this post because I’m not sure I ever do it sufficiently... but here goes:
(1) Like everything about pregnancy/postpartum/parenting/life, everyone is different. Some runners come back quickly, some take their time. There are reasons for both approaches and all that matters is you do what works for you and your family.
(2) I realize the injury risk and I’m increasing my mileage and training load carefully, focusing on eating right, and (trying!) to sleep as much as possible.
(3) Running helps me be a better, happier, less anxious Mom and reminds me that I’m still me, even with this new role. And, for me, the fun of running lies in challenging myself and training for races, so that’s what I’m going to do.

...Saying (3) means I have to also add that (4) OF COURSE I love my daughter/being a Mom/spending time with her. (That should go without saying, but it seems like if a Mom ever says she wants to do something selfish (e.g. run because it makes her happy, spend many hours training/away from her daughter), there’s some backlash as if that means she doesn’t care enough about her kid. Which is ridiculous.)

Being a parent requires sacrifices, absolutely. But I don’t think you should stop being yourself and pursuing healthy hobbies and passions. If you can find a way to chase your dreams that works for your family, then you should. Your kids will get a lot out of watching the pursuit: the work you put in and how you deal with both the failures and the successes.

So the short version is: Yes, I’m running again. Yes, I’m training for a marathon this fall. And yes, I'm racing soon... as in, on Sunday.

Here’s my fall schedule:
Navy Half Marathon: September 17
Army Ten Miler: October 8
Richmond Marathon: November 11

My training plan is looser than normal, with my goal pace ever evolving as I see what I’m capable of in workouts. (That should always be the case, but I’m typically more stubborn/rigid about my goals.) The buildup to the marathon is shorter than usual (12 weeks when I prefer 16) and I won’t hit the mileage I have in the past. All that means that I won’t be chasing a PR, but I’m excited to be working my way back. I know this season is a stepping-stone to the next… and to 2020. So I’m aware of my new reality and where I’m at right now. But I’m still super excited to race again and to…

Dream big,

Friday, July 14, 2017

Abs of Mush... And More Doctors

Postpartum is a high-risk time for injury. I’m trying my best to stay healthy: build back up slowly, eat right… and sleep…? (Riiiight... Well, I’m doing what I can.)

Normally that routine would also include core workouts and yoga. A strong core helps prevent injury and its role in running was never more obvious than the first few postpartum runs when my abs were getting more of a workout than my legs, heart, or lungs. I find that yoga helps as well so, in addition to almost daily core exercises, I usually do short, at-home yoga routines once or twice a week.

But since Baby, I’ve been scared to reintroduce either of those pre-hab activities. When researching coming back from pregnancy for this article, many sources said you should be checked for diastasis recti—a separation of the "six-pack" abdominal muscles. The ab muscles that were stretched apart to accommodate the growing baby sometimes don’t come back together on their own, and if the space is larger than two finger widths your core isn’t able to function properly, potentially leading to back and pelvic problems. Many doctors recommend getting checked before resuming exercise and certainly before starting core work, as certain exercises (such as the ever popular plank) can make the separation worse.

When I asked about it at my six-week checkup, my doctor said it was too early to check for diastasis, but she still gave me the go ahead to resume running, core work, yoga, whatever I liked.

So I did. But I continued to worry about my core, which was complete mush. Certainly that’s normal to some extent post-baby, but when I did the self-test it seemed I did have a separation. And it felt like it was getting worse (although who knows if I was self-diagnosing properly….)

From all I read, it seemed like my doctor should have checked. But I was reluctant to see another doctor and get assessed. I didn’t want to make a fuss, taking the time to go to appointments and see more doctors. (Haven’t I been to the doctor enough in the last year??) I felt guilty worrying about it, like I was being overly or prematurely concerned, when everyone else was telling me to relax about running, give it time, and just focus on enjoying/surviving being a new mom.

But when I was able to run again, it was like a switch flipped and I was able to survive—and enjoy—being a mom that much more. I want to keep doing it, which requires staying healthy. An anonymous comment on my last post really hit me; just go see a doctor, it said. “You aren’t meant to be hopeless.” My mom also encouraged me, and having your mom say it’s okay to do something as a new mother is pretty freeing.

So I made an appointment to get a “belly check,” a quick ten-minute assessment at a nearby women’s health physical therapy practice. (Honestly, the fact that it would only take ten minutes and not be a whole big thing made it a lot easier to go, so I suggest looking into that if you find yourself in a similar situation.) And I do have a separation, of three or four fingers’ width in different areas. At my belly button, the doctor said it was so deep she could almost feel my spine. (Told you my belly was mush.)

Mommy and daughter exercise time.
So now begins the process of correcting it. I have weekly appointments in which I’m learning to reengage my tranverse abs, which basically means a lot of subtle movements focused on breathing properly. And here’s the best argument for seeing the doctor/not being as hesitant as I was: all the exercises I had found online to correct diastasis weren’t helping because I wasn’t doing them properly; my tranverse needs to do the work, but my other, overachieving ab muscles take over. Meanwhile, as I suspected, nearly every kind of core/yoga/stretching position (anything on hands and knees, deep twists, forward bends, planks) is off limits at the moment.

Going to the doctor (with Baby in tow) that often is a pain, as is finding the time to do the exercises four times a day. And at my first real appointment I felt silly explaining what was wrong: Was I in pain? No. What every day movements couldn’t I do? Well I can run, but I’m hesitant to do the things I need to do to run well. Yeah, I’m only a few months postpartum... but there's nothing wrong with getting my body back to working properly sooner than later. 

Besides, lifting this growing beast of a baby will be a lot easier with a functional core.

Dream big, 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A New Starting Line

To answer the unknowns from the last post, my longest race to date started eight weeks ago (four days later than estimated) and ended with one hell of a finisher’s medal.

The short version of the race report: I labored an ultra’s length of time and pushed for multiple marathons worth before ultimately getting a DNF and requiring a c-section. Baby and I are healthy—obviously far and away the most important thing—but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about needing the C. The disappointment didn’t come from worries of a serious operation, or in failing to finish the traditional way, or even the more intense initial recovery—and longer stay—at the hospital. The disappointment was mostly in the long-term recovery: when could I run again?

While that might sound ridiculous—given I was going on no sleep, had the demands of a new baby, and couldn’t even sit up in bed unassisted or lift anything heavier than Baby—in those stressful first days and weeks, all I wanted was a good mind-clearing, endorphin-releasing run (even more than a nap). As everything in my life drastically changed, I wanted to do something that felt like me again. I had gained this huge new role (that I didn’t really know how to take on) and I needed a reminder that the old me was still there too.

Before giving birth, my doctor had told me, based on how my pregnancy had gone, that I would be able to resume exercising pretty quickly, “unless you have a cesarean.” At the hospital, a doctor told me I might be fine after a month, but I was scared given everything I had read about c-section recovery. (It should be noted that, just like every pregnancy is different, every recovery is different. Once again, that ambiguity proved frustrating.)

I was able to go on walks, but they didn’t have the same effect as a run, so after a month or so I sent a note to my doctor in desperation, asking if there was anything I could safely do besides walking. A nurse emailed me back, saying I could increase my exercise in intensity and duration as I saw fit. I didn’t know what to do with that; it was so vague. Why can’t someone just tell me exactly what to do? (The same goes for parenting; although everyone loves to give advice, it’s all contradictory, negating any helpfulness. What should I actually do??) How can I listen to my body when my body feels so different these days? My abs were complete mush; although expected, it was shocking to be so devoid of working muscles. I was desperate to do something, but simultaneously terrified I’d hurt myself.

Walking with Baby.
I decided to start with a couple elliptical workouts that were so short they didn’t feel like workouts at all, but more like a waste of time; I don’t think I broke a sweat. But caution was key and when those seemed to have no ill effects, I went for a little longer, taking a least a day off in between. I started walking faster and one day broke into a run for about 30 seconds. Running felt foreign; I was completely stiff and uncoordinated, like an un-oiled Tin Man trying to jog. And my abs, not my legs, were clearly working the hardest. (A reminder that we use our core a lot when we run, though we don’t notice until it’s gone.) A few days later, I ran for one minute at a time, walking a few minutes between each, for a total run-walk (mostly walking) of 30 minutes. My boobs hurt more than my abs or incision, which I took as a good sign (and learned to wear a better sports bra).

After what seemed an eternity (one’s sense of time is totally morphed by a baby), at six weeks, I had my check up with my doctor. Seeing her in person and hearing I was healing well made me feel a lot better about my attempt to start exercising again, and she confirmed I was fine to run, lift, do yoga, etc. so long as I took it slow, taking a day off in between efforts and stopping if anything felt weird (and waiting a week to try again).

Armed with new confidence, I’ve continued my run/walks while slowly inching up the run parts and decreasing the walking. I don’t feel like I get my heart rate up or get out of breath, but it's surprisingly tiring. I feel uncoordinated and heavy, even though I’m much lighter than the last time I ran (at 39 weeks with an 8+ pound baby in me).

Since Baby, I’ve often felt overwhelmed—not unusual in a new parent, of course. I have no idea what I’m doing 99% of the time and I’m constantly worried about this perfect little child and how I can screw things up. The first few weeks involved many moments of tears and thinking I just couldn’t do it. I couldn't possibly keep up this constant crying/feeding/crying cycle. But my running-centric Instagram feed offered this quote, which struck me as perfect for a new mom: “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” (As many people told me, it gets better and indeed it already has.)

A part of me feels overwhelmed by the long road ahead of me in running as well. I haven’t been this out of shape in nearly a decade and I have a whole new load of responsibilities at home now. I’ve never come back from pregnancy or major surgery, so I have no script to follow. I worried about this constantly on my walks-that-weren’t-runs. How will I ever get back to where I was? But now that I’m running, even for just a few minutes, those endorphins have started working their magic. I don’t know how to be a mom (though I’m learning), but I do know how to run (despite what I look like on my Tin Man-esque jaunts). 

The pregnancy/labor finish line means a new starting line—as a parent and a runner with eyes on 2020—and overcoming the things I once thought I couldn’t.

Getting back in shape might be tough,
but I've got an adorable new fan to cheer me on.
Dream big,

Monday, March 13, 2017

Preparing for the Race of Undetermined Distance on an Unknown Date

Imagine trying to get ready for a race you don’t know the date of. There’s a roughly four-week window that it’s most likely to happen, but it could also come before then. How would you prepare? Maybe you’d be totally 100% ready at the beginning of that window, ready to hit the starting line. And then you’d wait… get a little antsy (You’re packed and ready! You’re tapered and eager!)… and wait some more. Or maybe you’d tell yourself it’s unlikely to be right on that first day, so you’d dilly dally and focus on other things… “There’s no way it will be before the last possible moment”… and then you’d find yourself scarfing down a gel as you rush out the door because HOLY CRAP, the race is starting.

As an added twist, you also don’t know the race’s distance. It could be anywhere from a marathon or two to some crazy-a$$ ultra that is 48 hours of wandering around in the woods for two days losing all your toe nails and your sanity. (And oh yea, all you get for sustenance are some ice chips.)

Right, obviously not a race anyone would be eager to sign up for. But such is the end of pregnancy. I’m 39 weeks, so the baby could come at any moment… or not for many more moments. The likelihood that a baby arrives on its due date is just 5%; really it’s perfectly normal that the baby arrives anytime between 38 weeks and 42 weeks. (A friend’s doctor referred to it more accurately as a “due month” rather than a due date.)

Am I ready for this race of undetermined length that could start at any moment? Yes and no. I don’t think it’s possible to be fully prepared for childbirth (let alone BEING A PARENT), but ostensibly, we have the supplies, our bags are packed, and we’re beyond eager to meet our little one.

It's no longer an empty room,
lthough it is still missing one major element... 
In that way it feels a little like the days before a marathon, fluctuating between feeling eager and ready and feeling scared and ill prepared. You can’t wait to just get out there and finally do what you’ve been preparing for months to do, but simultaneously wish there was just a little more time to nail a few more workouts and boost your speed/endurance/confidence. I can go from “OMG, get this baby out of me!” to “OMG, this baby is going to come out of me?!” in ten seconds flat.

And like a pre-race taper, things are calming down. I’ve handed in my major work assignments, am attempting to rest up, and am repeatedly trying to assure myself I can do this crazy thing I told myself I could do. Even Husband is feeling his usual mix of emotions before one of my marathons: nervous, excited, and also sure that in a few days everything will be okay.

But also it’s not at all like a marathon, because of that not so minor detail of not knowing when the heck it’s coming. Without a time frame, it’s hard to be fully prepared. You can’t just sit around twiddling your thumbs for four weeks. (Well, I suppose you could, but ugh.) But anything else you do could be interrupted by baby’s arrival. And importantly, how do you know when to start carbo-loading for your ice-chips only ultra?? (Oh right… 9 months ago.)

When I told Husband that I didn’t totally agree it feels like the lead up to a marathon, he said he could tell because I’m not as nervous. That’s a bit shocking, because I’m actually a lot more anxious about labor since I have no experience with it and no idea what to expect or when to expect it. (I have a feeling that as soon as labor does start, I’ll have a surge of panic, and Husband’s experience in calming down my pre-race panic attacks will come in handy.) So far my defense mechanism has been to try not to overthink it.

And also to refuse to believe it’s going to happen. After a mad dash trying to get all the essential things done, in the last few days I’ve gone into denial she’ll arrive anytime soon. I’ve been thinking about this for so long (since the Trials ended/since high school health class where they try to scare you from ever reproducing/since childhood days of carrying around a baby doll) and the fact that the moment is almost here is hard to wrap my head around.

It’s unbelievable to think, but she could even come before I get around to posting this blog…

...but she didn’t. So we’ll have to keep waiting for the starter’s gun to fire. 

Dream big,

Friday, February 17, 2017

One Year Later, One Month Left

One year ago, I was lining up for the Olympic freaking Trials.

Now, eight months pregnant, I feel like that was another lifetime ago. Did I really do that? I am still running shuffling a few days a week, but—while I realize cutting back/slowing down/stopping entirely is a normal part of pregnancy—I have this weird blur (pregnancy brain?) about my previous running self. I am so far removed from that version of myself I struggle to picture it.

For example, I was recently in the grocery store, debating which flavors of Halo Top to buy. (Unsponsored plug: Halo Top is a low-calorie/high-protein ice cream that is surprisingly delicious. Not that I don’t scarf Ben and Jerry’s as well... but sometimes it’s nice to tell yourself you’re eating ice cream for the protein.) A stranger asked me for a flavor recommendation (Red Velvet is a current fave) and if I ate it because I was really into working out. (My bump was hidden under a winter coat.) I said no. 

No? The stranger walked away before I realized that wasn’t actually true. I am really into working out. Maybe not at this particular moment, but that is a pretty big hobby in my life and a pretty essential part of my sense of self. But for some reason it felt more natural to say no, because I don’t feel like that person anymore.

And honestly, that’s the worst part about pregnancy. I’ve been blessed with a pretty easy pregnancy thus far, and what I miss most—by a landslide, since before the beginning—is being able to push myself in workouts and races. I’m not complaining—I’m super pumped to start a family and taking time away from competing is beyond worth it, no hesitations there. But the nausea/heartburn/sleepless nights/constant pee issues/back aches/24-hour uncomfortable-ness and eight zillion other less-than-pleasant symptoms don’t have anything on the not competing. So maybe I’m repressing my former self as a coping mechanism. Telling myself (and grocery store strangers) I don’t even like working out.

These days, I’m run/walking maybe three times a week, between 4 and 6 miles, with more walking and less running each time. I elliptical on some of the other days, but I also take more days off than I used to. I’ve completely given up on strength training, which I’m bit bummed about since I promised myself early on I would at least stick to that. But I haven’t because (a) I’ve never been particularly great about keeping up with strength training and (b) I’m exhausted and there’s just too much to do, especially when getting in four miles takes almost twice as long as it used to.

So, as expected, the third trimester brought the most drastic cuts to my mileage and frequency, but I’m lucky to be running (okay, shuffling) at all. From a not-at-all scientific survey of my running friends, about half of them were able to run through their pregnancy and half hit the third trimester and had to stop, because it just got too uncomfortable. (From an actual scientific survey, only 31% ran through their pregnancies.) (I wear a maternity belt, which I think helps back issues, but I also wonder if it makes the needing to pee worse.) If you’re pregnant, the most important thing is to do whatever your body is comfortable with and be happy with that. My runs take a completely different form these days than they used to, but I'm grateful to be doing anything.

Running through pregnancy is like normal training in reverse—rather than runs getting faster and easier, they get harder and slower. Obviously, that’s totally fine (and necessary) when your body is more focused on forming another person inside of you, and I’m running these days to keep Baby and me healthy, not because I believe these shuffle/walks will lead to some breakthrough performance down the road. That’s quite a different attitude than I usually have, so maybe that’s contributing to my different opinion of myself. Also, I don’t know if you noticed, but pregnancy lasts a really fudging long time, so it’s been a while (i.e. exactly a year) since my competitive/always-striving-to-beat-my-past-self side was allowed out. No wonder she's been a little forgotten.

But as I jealously watch runners glide effortlessly down the road, I try to remind myself that I used to be like that. And someday I will again.

Dream big,

Friday, January 6, 2017


Happy 2017! What better way to move on from 2016 than by looking ahead to… 2020?

So get your goal books ready: the standards for the next Olympic Marathon Trials have been set. Well, mostly.

At the annual meeting last month, USATF set the B standards to be invited to the Trials: women need to run a 2:45:00 marathon (6:17 pace) and men a 2:19:00 (5:18 pace).  The qualifying window will open in September (and likely remain open until a month or so before the Trials). UPDATE: The qualifying window will close Jan. 19, 2020.

You can also make it to the Trials with a half marathon time: women need a 1:13:00 (5:34 pace) and men need a 1:04:00 (4:52 pace). The window for qualifying with a half time will open a year later (the fall of 2018).

Unlike four years ago, the standards were pretty predictable; USATF kept the marathon times the same as the final 2016 standards, probably because of a last minute mess they found themselves in last time: a month before the window for qualifying for the 2016 US Trials closed, IAAF changed the standards for entry into the Olympic marathon, making the times slightly slower (2:19 for men/2:45 for women) so more countries could send full squads of athletes. USATF quickly revised their Trials standards to match the new IAAF Olympic ones, either because of the immediate backlash from people (“I can qualify for the Olympics but not the US Trials?”) or to avoid a possible legal mess. (Although other countries, like Canada, have standards much harder than IAAF’s, USATF has a rule that it can’t have standards that are harder than IAAF. But that rule applies to qualifying for the Olympics, not the Trials.) I had mixed feelings about the whole thing; I was psyched for the women with times between 2:43 and 2:45 who became qualifiers, I’m sure they were beyond excited, if not also totally blindsided. (“I’m running the Trials in two months? I was enjoying my off-season binge!”) But what about those who had gone for 2:43, realized en route it wasn't happening and given up to finish just over 2:45? Had they known 2:45 was the ticket, they might have made it.

And I have mixed feelings about the standard staying the same. I get that USATF probably doesn’t want a repeat of the 2016 fiasco (although what will happen if IAAF changes their standards again?? UPDATE: If IAAF's get easier, USATF will ease them againbut I am generally pro-raising the bar. Set the bar higher and people rise to meet it. (Despite the standards dropping from 2:47 in 2008 to 2:46 in 2012 and 2:43 2:45 in 2016, the number of qualifiers increased each  time.)

Also not surprisingly, the half marathon times have gotten a tad quicker (one minute faster for the men, two minutes faster for the women). The idea behind the half times is to allow people that haven’t yet tackled the full marathon distance—but have the potential to be speedy endurance beasts—to enter the Trials. (See Galen Rupp in 2016: He hadn’t run a full until the Trials, but got in because his half time showed his capability. He then won the Trials and got bronze in Rio.) So the half marathon standards are meant to be harder than the marathon times. But on the men's side, that didn't seem to be the case. In 2016, 86 men qualified with a marathon time and 125 with a half. (Though it helps that you can run multiple half marathons in a season, where as you can only race a marathon every 6 months or so.) For the women, 198 qualified by the marathon and 48 by the half.

The A standards are still unknown. (The B standard allows you to enter the Trials, the faster A standard means USATF will pay for your travel. The two standards used to mean more -- you had to finish in the top 3 and have an A standard to actually go to the Olympics in 2012 -- but now the IAAF has just one standard, so the A just means a free trip.)
UPDATE: The A Standard will remain 2:37 for the women and 2:15 for the men.

Also unknown: where the Trials will be held, which will also determine when exactly they are. They seem to be sticking with a mid-winter race date (January in 2012, February in 2016) so perhaps 2020 will be a similar time. 2018 UPDATE: The 2020 Trials will be held in Atlanta, Georgia on February 29, 2020.

(I’ll update this post as we find out more...)

But even if we do have to wait on a date and a place, we know what it takes to get there: set your quadrennial resolutions for 2:45.

Dream 2:45 big,