Tag Archives: mental health

Boston Marathon Race Recap

If I’m being perfectly honest, I actually have very little recollection on the specific details of the 26.2 miles I ran during the Boston Marathon.

It’s not because I was too tired and cloudy-headed; in fact, the entire time my mental energy was mostly upbeat, and I felt very aware of everything going on around me. But when you have an experience that wasn’t about pace, goals, or PRs as I ordinarily do, something different happens. Or at least, it did for me.

You see, my experience wasn’t really about my race. Because this time around, perhaps for the first time ever, very early on I let go of my always-competitive, tooth-and-nail means of running a race. And in doing so, I became aware of everything else: the other runners, the volunteers, the kids handing out orange slices, the college girls offering kisses, and the millions that came together to make this marathon come to life.

All those factors carried me throughout the Boston Marathon, and when you use as many distractions as you can to pull your aching legs and tired body to the finish line, you tend to forget the nuances of each and every mile.

Let’s see what I can remember though, because it was a special day.

This is happening!

This is happening!

As I’ve talked about perhaps one-too-many times, I went into this race with a lot of self-doubt regarding my running abilities and my stomach’s disabilities. I accepted that it wouldn’t be a great performance by my standards, and I accepted that more than likely it would be a personal-worst time. Knowing those things ahead of time certainly lessened the pressure, but I also envied those with big goals and impressive training.

Nevertheless, I wanted to enjoy the experience no matter what, which is exactly the mentality I woke up with on Marathon Monday. Shockingly, I slept great the night before. Perhaps at least 7 hours, with a few wake-ups here and there. Solid gold by race-eve standards, so I was feeling chipper and excited when it was time to get up and going.

Does anyone ever not take a picture like this?

Does anyone running a marathon ever not take a picture like this?

I ate a quiet breakfast by myself before starting to get ready, which was a nice time to really try and relax and focus on the day to come. Before too long though, it was time to suit up in my race kit and all my various throwaway layers and make the short walk over to the Boston Commons with Adam.

I met up with the wonderful Julia and we loaded up on the buses to head out to Hopkinton. I tried not to focus too much on the distance it took to get from Boston all the way to our starting point, but between chatting and admiring the scenery it wasn’t all that bad. Generally, there was an excitement among all the runners, and it was pretty contagious.

Arriving in Hopkinton and heading into Athlete Village was a little surreal; it was something I’d read about and heard about so much before, however to actually be there myself preparing to run the Boston Marathon was a pretty crazy feeling. The Village was totally outfitted with all pre-race necessities, including water, bagels, coffee, and lots and lots of port-a-potties. There were long lines even so, and I feel like a lot of our time was spent waiting in line multiple times.

Mckendree and Julia. Both are kickass runners and people.

Mckendree and Julia. Both are kickass runners and people.

Here’s where I tell you that despite months of having unhappy and overactive intestinal issues…on race morning, I had nada. Zilch, zero. WTF? While ordinarily this would have been a welcome change, it was not part of my “maybe I won’t have to stop a lot” race plan. My biggest fear going into this marathon wasn’t the hills or the distance…it was urgently needing to make pit stops. I’d gone over lots of bad-scenarios in my head, and none of them were pretty at all. Needless to say, this lack-of-activity I was experiencing on race morning wasn’t a good sign.

The show needed to go on though, and knowing there would be plenty of places to stop along the route helped ease my mind. Those none-goals I already had? Yea, they became much more lax given this new factor.

Enough already, let’s get to the race.

Once the B Wave was called to the start line, we all headed out, I made one more bathroom attempt (fail) and there was no turning back: it was time to run the Boston Marathon!

It all seemed to happen faster than I anticipated. All of a sudden, there was the start line, lots of television cameras, screaming fans, and holy shit…we’re running!

The first few miles felt very downhill, as expected. I’d heard over and over again that going out too fast was the surest way to screw up during Boston, so I drilled it into my head to not do so. I dialed it back, watched people fly past me, and did everything I could to feel really comfortable and relaxed. Of course, still, these miles ended up being my fastest overall, although the 8:35-ish pace I was holding felt so slow. It was really nice to be cruising so comfortably though, and I tried to soak up the atmosphere and be as present as possible.

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The whole time, though, I was worried about my stomach. Full disclosure: recently when I’ve been running, the urgency comes on without much warning and very quickly, so I was really hyper-aware of where the upcoming aid stations would be. It was around mile 6 or so that I decided to duck into a bathroom for the first time. I’m not going to provide the details of every stop (there were 5 of them total) but none were necessarily satisfying, and I ran the entire race with a good deal of bloat and some unwelcome cramping. Love you, Crohn’s.

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Lucky for me, there were plenty of distractions along the way. Every time we entered a new small town, the sides of the roads were completely lined with cheering people. In fact, I would say that 95% of the course had people supporting all the runners, and it was pretty unbelievable. I noticed early on that wearing your name on your shirt was a huge crowd-pleaser, and I think it would have been helpful to have had my name on me somewhere. Although I did get a fair amount of “Oy-sell!,” “O-sell!,” and my personal favorite, “Go Giselle!”

Regardless, the energy from the onlookers was palpable, and I definitely used their encouragement to keep me motivated.

I don’t remember much between miles 6-10, except that it was getting warm. I’ve definitely said this too many times, but I am NOT a fan of running in hot weather. Not one little bit. It’s the reason I typically dislike spring marathons (disregard the fact that I’ve run 3 of them now). I was happy for my tank top and shorts and remembering to wear sunscreen, but I could tell that the heat was going to take its toll on the race. The road was fairly exposed the whole time, and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. Lovely for a spring day, not lovely for running a marathon.

I was paying marginal attention to my pace, but mostly to make sure I was staying comfortable and not running too fast too soon. I was around 9 minute miles which felt really smooth, although it was hard to guess exactly since I had stopped already and didn’t know how that had affected my pace.

After mile 10, I began to notice that my quads, specifically my left quad, was feeling a little sore. Fantastic. I had heard so many times of those downhill beginning miles taking their toll later on, but I suppose I didn’t really believe it until it snuck in all at once. Of course, my downhill training was nonexistent, but even still I figured that I might be spared since I started off conservatively. Wrong. Sad.

I spy...bathroom stop #2.

I spy…bathroom stop #2.

I began focusing on checkpoints, since I started to get overwhelmed by the thought that I wasn’t even halfway done. I thought about getting to mile 13, since that’s where Wellesley would be with all the screaming college girls I’d heard so much about. After that I thought about getting to 16, since I’d heard that if you feel good at 16, you’d have a good finish to the race. I didn’t exactly feel “good” at this point, but my spirits were still high and my legs still felt (mostly) strong.

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I didn’t stop smiling the whole way. Fake it til you make it, right?

Right on cue around mile 13, all the Wellesley girls showed up in full-force, and it was awesome. They were so enthusiastic, so encouraging, and hilarious. I appreciated all of their signs and watched many of my fellow runners accept their kisses. I myself opted to stay on the shaded side of the road, but I definitely blew the girls a few kisses. It was really fun to see that tradition, and the whole time I kept thinking that college girls look really…young. Has it really been 4 years since I was there?

It was time now to focus on 16, since thinking that I still had the entire second half to go was too overwhelming. Ordinarily, I really like reaching the halfway point in a marathon, but this time I had more a feeling of dread than one of “it’s all downhill from here!” My legs were definitely feeling tired, specifically my quads, and I knew the hills were coming soon. And it was hot. I took another bathroom stop around this point, and decided to start taking water at every aid station instead of every other. I had a system where I’d grab two waters, slurp most of one down, and throw what I had left on my shoulders and my back. The temporary relief from the sun was very welcomed.

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I kept pressing on, pretty oblivious to my Garmin. I don’t know if it was denial or the fact that I truly didn’t care, but I just didn’t want to do the math of predicting paces and finishing times. I knew I’d be slowing down on the hills, and I knew I’d be stopped more at the bathrooms, so I suppose that I just didn’t want to add the mental exhaustion of hoping for a certain time.

After mile 17, I was really excited that I was into single digits in terms of miles left to go. Even so, the thought of running so much longer was daunting, and I knew the best mode of operation would be to stay in the mile I was in. It became a systematic game of, “Okay, get to 18.” Then at 18, I would take my short walk break through the water station, gather myself up, and repeat the whole process over again. I’ve never really needed to go mile-by-mile that early in a marathon, but it was necessary on Monday.

I direct contradiction to "not paying attention to my Garmin." Busted Broker! I swear this was one of a handful of times :)

A direct contradiction to “not paying attention to my Garmin.” Busted Broker! I swear this was one of a handful of times 🙂

Between my precious water stops, I did everything I could to stay distracted and stay in the moment. I’d written “Be Here” on one of my wrists that morning, and I really tried to focus on remembering the fact that I was running the Boston Marathon. It was never lost on me how cool of an experience it was to be having, and I thank the spectators for that in large part. They never stopped reminding me of the pride that’s held for this race and its runners. Multiple times I heard, “Thank you for running!” and saw signs like, “You make us Boston Strong,” which was such an incredible reminder of the honor it was to be running the race. There would be moments where I was so enamored with the energy of the crowd that I’d temporarily forget my wavering stomach and my fatigued legs.

See? Smiling!

See? Smiling!

The hills of Boston begin in Newton, and while I didn’t really think they were anything to write home about, they definitely do not come at a welcome time. My quads were getting more tired by the mile, and when we started on the uphills I focused a lot on trying to get different muscles to engage. Regardless, each uphill was met with another downhill, and I had to accept that the true marathon pain wasn’t going away. On my other wrist I’d written “embrace” which was supposed to be a reminder to embrace the pain when it came. This was that time, and I knew it would be a battle to the finish.

Things are getting real now...

Things are getting real now…

I’m pretty sure I tried using a bathroom again around mile 21 (as evidenced by the stellar pace below), but it’s all kind of blending together at this point. Like I said, there were 5 total stops, one of which was useless since the person using the singular port-a-potty decided to take their sweet time and I bailed after over a minute of waiting. That was a little blood-boiling.

Heartbreak Hill came during mile 20, and I didn’t actually think it was too bad. Sure, my pace sucked big time and my legs were dying, but the people were incredible and carried me up the entire way. I discovered that smiling and acknowledging the crowd was the surest way to solicit some cheering, and I smiled as much as I could up that hill. Heartbreak was definitely one of my checkpoints though, as I knew the bulk of the climbing would be done after it was over.

A fairly accurate representation of how I felt from miles 16-26.1. I'm also convinced this was on a hill which makes my form a little more excusable...yikes.

A fairly accurate representation of how I felt from miles 16-26.1. I’m also convinced this was on a hill which makes my form a little more excusable…yikes.

I was still playing my “stay in the mile” game, and it had turned into, “Just get to mile 22…23…etc” I think I managed to trick my brain this way, especially since I’d surrendered to walking every aid station we came by. In part, I felt a little lazy since I’d never done this before, but more so I think it was necessary to keep my energy up and to keep my head in the game. Quite simply, I just wasn’t in shape enough nor prepared for the heat enough to fight through the pain of those miles, and without a goal other than to finish…why suffer more?

Yep, definitely some stopping and walking in there :)

Yep, definitely some stopping in there 🙂

If miles 21-24 were a chug-a-long fest, I’d say that I started to rise in spirits when we got to mile 24.5 or so. The crowds were thick and loud, and knowing I had less than 2 miles to go was encouraging. Anything more than that had seemed demoralizing before that, but now I started to feel the excitement of finishing. While I didn’t have a lot of doubt that I would finish the race, I realized early on that I would be completely heartbroken if for some reason I wouldn’t be able to finish. That thought was motivation enough to push through, no matter how slow it felt.

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And slow it was. I knew my pace had dropped considerably and my form was nowhere to be found. But I kept smiling, and it was hard not to with the support of the cheering crowds. I tried to focus a lot as well on the other runners around me. Thinking that we’d all taken on this journey together was a really moving thing, and I tried to take in the moment of being one of the people who were nearing our way to the Boston finish line. After mile 25, I vowed to ignore my desire to walk, push the pain aside, and take in the rest of the race. I remembered my mantra that the marathon is supposed to be hard, and that’s why it’s so great. Channeling that internal motivation didn’t stop me from grabbing a grape ice-pop from a little boy at this point though…desperate times, man. And oh baby did that taste good.

25-26

Approaching the right turn onto Hereford, I started to get really excited. Excited to be done, obviously, but excited to experience the moment that 5 months ago I didn’t think was possible. I remembered how running this race was just a dream to the girl who was too sick to leave the house, and how I owed it to her to savor and love every moment of the finishing stretch. I drew so much energy from the crowds, and despite how slow I may have been moving and how tired my legs were, I don’t really remember feeling anything other than joy.

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The left turn onto Boylston was euphoric. It was the picture that kept me motivated through these past few months of frustrating runs, and to see it in real life was the most beautiful and satisfying thing. I soaked it all in, smiled at every face I saw, and choked up a bit when I finally saw my fiancee cheering for me near the finish line. After a few more strides, the blue paint came into view and I had made it: I was a Boston Marathon finisher!

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I stopped my watch and looked at the cumulative time for the first time since the halfway mark. 4:08, an average pace of 9:25/mile, and over 20 minutes slower than I’d ever run a marathon before. But I couldn’t have cared less. My heart was so full, and I was so happy to have just been a part of a race that was so much bigger than the time on the clock or the outcome of individuals.

Afterwards, it was fairly standard post-marathon procedure: I received my medal (a highlight!), was draped in my finisher’s cape, and very, very slowly made my way toward the exit. Luckily, I didn’t really feel sick or light headed much at all, but my legs were like bricks. I met up with my cheering crew, and Adam and I made our way back to our temporary apartment to rest, shower, etc. Climbing the two flights of stairs to get to the apartment was laughable.

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The rest of the day isn’t all that exciting. I took an ice bath (big self-pats on the back for that one), laid on the bed in a curled up ball for a while, and made all necessary phone calls to my family. I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of support I’d received throughout the day, and I floated like a cloud throughout the rest of the night.

pain...lots of pain.

Pain…lots of pain.

Soreness, stomach, and personal-worst times aside, this was an incredible experience. I felt so honored to have been a part of such a historic race, and the outpouring of love for one another was an incredible thing to witness. This race was a true testament to the glory of the marathon; the demonstration of the power of the human spirit. This glory was glowing throughout every runner, fan, and volunteer out there, and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Thank you all so much for your support over these past several months and this past weekend. This community has been an incredible source of comfort and strength for me through the good times and the bad, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.

image_3Congrats to all who participated in Boston on Monday!!!

Playing Catch-Up: Running, pets, and Boston

Hello! Long time no talk. How is everyone?

It’s so exciting that fall racing season is in full swing—it’s been fun to hear about everyone’s super long runs, tapering, and race results! I’ll admit I’m a tad jealous that I’m not doing a fall marathon (ahem, Chicago), however it’s made scheduling more relaxed and gets me even more excited for whatever’s next.

For now I thought I’d just give some updates—on running and otherwise.

Lately, I’ve been running between 40-50 miles a week, and recently it’s been closer to 50. It’s been fun, and feels surprisingly manageable. A year ago this would have been really high mileage for me, but it’s starting to feel a little more “normal” I guess you could say. I feel like I’m developing a really good base, and by alternating between speed, long runs, cut back weeks, and easy runs, I’m hoping that my base will be really strong by the time I gear up for my next marathon.

This is what a typical week has looked like lately:

M: rest, always

T: ~10 miles, no watch

W: ~8 miles, some kind of speed work, mostly tempos, and Maximum Sculpt class

T: ~8 miles easy

F: 6 miles slow and Maximum Sculpt class

S: 14-18 mile long run. I did do one random 20 miler last weekend, but otherwise I’m normally around 16

S: cross-training, normally swimming

My Wednesdays are Fridays almost always look the same, but otherwise things float around a lot. I’m starting to switch my long run days to Sunday for the fall/winter because the only thing better than finishing a long run is finishing a long run and laying on the couch watching football for the rest of the day.

Football season=Sunday long runs

So, despite the “not training” higher mileage, I do have some method to my madness—in the form of fall half marathons where allegedly, I’ll be testing my fitness.

Full disclosure/honesty: I’m 99% sure I’m not ready to run The Big Goal Time at the Bellingham Bay Half, which is two weeks from now. I could ramble away on a variety of excuses, but instead I’ll just take ownership and admit that I haven’t put in the amount of work necessary. Yes, I’ve been running and I’ve been diligent about workouts and miles, but I never feel like I jacked things up to the level I need to be at. It might have been fear, laziness, burnout, etc—but whatever the reason, the result is that I’m not feeling prepared to attempt a 1:35 half marathon in two weeks.

However, I do feel like the work I have done could be worth something, and I think I’ll use Bellingham as a fitness test and benchmark race as opposed to an A race. There is the chance of a PR (my current is 1:38:25), although I won’t be all that disappointed if I don’t break that either.

Do I want to be in shape to gut out 7:15 miles at Bellingham? Absolutely. Do I feel guilty for not being there yet? Not really. And here’s why:

I spent the summer having an incredible time running spur-of-the-moment races, spending hours in a van and on the road in two ultra relays, and generally living a life that didn’t revolve around A-race training. And it was fantastic! I don’t regret it for a minute. It was so good for my hyper-competitive self to take a break from the grind and live life a little less strictly. However, my summer didn’t come without some hard work—and in fact it left me more exhausted than I anticipated.

So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that while I don’t feel ready for a 1:35 just yet, I do feel like with a little more time I’ll get there. I have a few more half-marathon plans up my sleeve this fall, and in no way have I discounted those as opportunities for fast races. I’m also secretly hoping that as the temperatures drop, all my hot weather training will have miraculously made me faster without changing anything else. 🙂 Point blank, my goal to get faster and to be a better runner hasn’t changed one bit, it’s just taking a little more time in the short-term than I originally hoped for.

In other news…

In case you haven’t seen on my social media posting spree:

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We got a kitten!!!

His name is Jasper, he’s 11 weeks and 5 days old, and he’s perfect.

He’s completely stolen our hearts, and every day I love him even more. I’m also a paranoid kitten owner, and I’m chronically afraid that something’s going to choke him, electrocute him, or that he’s ill with some rare kitty cancer. This definitely bodes well for how I’ll be with a baby.

Nevertheless, he’s a happy, healthy, curious little kitty and makes my day brighter.

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He is also very helpful at drawer organization.

He is also very helpful at drawer organization.

And lastly…

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Stay tuned folks! Boston registration is still open for all us “barely there” qualifiers, and this morning at exactly 7:08 AM, my registration was sent in. I’m guessing we won’t hear until the end of the week, but I do know that if space does fill up…every second counts. Let’s hope that my -2:54 minutes helps me!

I do have my hopes up, admittedly, but even if I don’t get in, it felt so incredible to even have the chance to register. Two years after I ran my first marathon, I never imagined I could be on the Boston Athletic Association website hitting “submit” to my very own application. It was awesome, and I can only imagine what it will be like to actually run the race, whenever that may be.

That’s all for now! I think it’s safe to assume most people are as excited as I am about the upcoming crunchy leaves and cooler weather. And as much as I scoff at all the “scarves!” and “boots!” and “OMG PSL!!!” yammer, I have to admit that fall is seriously my jam, and I plan on soaking it up to the fullest.

Happy Monday!

What’s Worked: Reflections on Marathon Training

As I approach these last few weeks of marathon prep— namely, the taper stage— I’ve been reflecting a bit on how this bout of training has fared compared to others.

There were a lot of different strategies I incorporated this time around which made for a lot of new experiences. And while it’s still 17 days ‘til race day (*shudder*), I think it’s pretty safe to say that these strategies have worked.

As of right now, I feel healthy, strong, and mentally prepared to make Eugene an “A” race. Since I’ve had more than a few marathon-training mishaps in the past, I thought I’d write a bit about the things I’ve implemented this time that seemed to have made the biggest difference.

Following an actual training schedule.

I know, right? NUTS.

But honestly, other than roughly sketching my first marathon training around a Hal Higdon program, I’ve never really followed a “schedule.” Before, I would just try to gradually increase my mileage and my long-run distances. And somehow I kept winding up with injuries that forced me to take weeks off at a time. I didn’t go into my last two marathons 100% healthy. In fact, I was more concerned with my injuries flaring in those races than the actual running. Luckily, I was able to complete both races—but they didn’t have that climactic, “I gave it everything I have” feel that 26.2 is supposed to have.

So I changed my method. I bought the Advanced Marathoning book by Pete Pfitzinger and decided to let him take the reins. I made a few tweaks to the prescribed programs (long runs on Saturday instead of Sunday), but otherwise—it was all up to Pete. The schedule wasn’t too much more demanding in terms of mileage, but if definitely offered components that I’d never used before.

Suddenly, all of my runs had intention behind them.  There were paces I never, ever trained at—both fast and slow—and workouts I’d never done before. I liked it though. This new approach was refreshing and interesting—and it added some color to the “10 miles at an average pace” runs that had become too frequent in my schedule.

I now have a pretty good idea of how my 5k pace, half-marathon pace, and goal marathon pace all feel according to effort as opposed to solely by my watch. I feel more in tune with my exertion levels and when to push and when to hold back. I also have a much better gauge of my strengths and my weaknesses—which feels good both going into race day and future training. For instance, to work on: hills, tempos, and workouts in the middle of long runs. To capitalize on: race day brain/competitive nature, speed work, and finishing strong.

I love that this new schedule has given me new favorite workouts, too. Somehow I’ve developed an infatuation for 800 repeats as well as half-marathon pace shorter runs—both of which require hard, fast rap…which I also kind of love right now.

Rest Days

I think there has been one week this entire training cycle that I didn’t take a rest day. Otherwise, they have been as integral to each week as the long run. I’ve gone from avoiding and hating any rest days at all to welcoming them with open arms whenever they come.

I am certain that this change has made a critical difference in my body’s health, but perhaps more so—I’m convinced that they’ve done wonders for my brain. While I definitely still get a little restless on rest days—it’s the temporary holding back that gets me excited to get back out there the next day. My workouts or runs the day after rest days always feel so fresh and strong, and I’m having a hard time remembering back to the time when I disliked rest days.

Through this, I bluntly have to state that, IMO, any runner who doesn’t take at least one day OFF a week is fooling themselves. There is everything to be lost, and nothing to be gained, by not letting our bodies recover. I’ve learned this the hard way too many times, and it took me too long to realize that this habit was actually the thing holding me back.

In our sport, sometimes the greatest strength of all can come from when we go against our instincts to keep pushing. It’s a strange concept in a country riddled with laziness and lack of motivation— but something I’ve come to realize is that there can always be too much of a good thing.

Running-specific strength training

On a similar self-preservation topic, I think a key component of this training cycle has been the strengthening I’ve incorporated.

I’ve always been a regular “lifter”—but mostly in an arms-and-core-only kind of way. Part of it was that I didn’t like straying from routine, and the other part was that I never wanted my legs to be too sore to run.

Overuse injuries that were all stemming from muscular weaknesses kind of forced me to change my habits. I started going to the total-body strength class that I always talk about, and all of a sudden—the aches that always plagued me weren’t there anymore.

The class toasts every single muscle group—including my glutes, hammies, and quads, and it also incorporates a lot of plyometric work that improves balance and ankle strength. All of it is so very good for runners, and while I don’t love the weekly DOMs screaming in the back of my legs, I have also seen my recovery time and speed increase.

And fine, maybe—MAYBE—PSJJ has helped too. I still hate it. Day 101 today, woof.

What’s interesting to me about this whole strength-training concept is that I’ve actually decreased the amount of other cardio-cross training during this cycle. I spin or swim maybe once a week, and otherwise it’s just running and strength classes. I used to be a big believer in a more-is-better approach to cross-training, but I’m starting to think that for me—my body can handle running better than I previously thought, so long as I’m diligent about strength. Which is encouraging, because if there’s a choice of activities…I think you can guess that run > everything else.

Food

I love food. I’m very non-discriminatory when it comes to the food I love. As in, I love a big bowl of vegetables and quinoa as much as I love a piece of chocolate pie.

Really though, I’m all about diversification and all-encompassing love when it comes to my food choices. It’s part of what helps me feel balanced, and I like to think that it helps me become not too obsessed with what I put in my body.

However, the fact of the matter is, I have a digestive system that really does not appreciate being deprived of the things it really needs, therefore ample portions of fruits, vegetables, fats, and protein are essential to ensuring I’m not keeled over in abdominal pain every night.

And not to mention running. I’ve done a bit of experimenting this training cycle to see exactly what types of fuel (food) are best on my stomach for both comfort and performance. Instead of focusing on, “Okay, I know I need a lot of water and a lot of pasta before my long run…then I can have whatever the f I want afterwards,” I’ve started focusing more on the before-and-after fueling of every run. Through this, I’ve discovered that food is really magical. Good, whole, nutrient-dense food can make such a monumental difference in how we perform and how we recover, and it’s this special attention I’ve given to figuring out what works for me that’s yielded a greater understanding of what’s best.

A list of my current staples: sweet potatoes, kale, peanut butter, avocados, eggs, oatmeal, almond milk, apples, bananas, spinach, berries, quinoa, almonds, rice cakes, pasta, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, chicken sausage, squash, Picky Bars, and black beans.

Of course, I stray from these staples often—there’s lots of chocolate and cookies to be found too—but around my long runs and around key workouts, these are what I’ll go for. A lot of it has to do with my bad digestion, admittedly, but I suppose it’s a blessing in disguise because it’s forced me to think about fueling as opposed to rewarding.

….

Along with all these things, I think that being keenly focused on a tangible, quantitative goal has really helped me through this training. Whenever I get the urge to fall back into an over-training or haphazard habit, I remind myself of the truth that nothing changes if nothing changes.

Do I want to get in an extra couple of miles, or do I want to qualify for Boston?

Whenever I put things in this perspective…the answer’s always the same.

I’m ready to see if the changes I’vee made, and the habits I’ve broken, will yield something great—something I’ve wanted for a long time.

More than anything, I’m happy to have had a solid training cycle that has helped me improve as a runner and has helped me rediscover so many new and wonderful things about the sport I love so much.

 

What works for you in marathon training? What doesn’t work? What changes have you made that make the biggest difference in your training?

Resolutions Revisited

As the end of the year draws nearer, I’ve started thinking back to the resolutions I made at the beginning of this year to see—you know—if I’ve succeeded or, well, sucked.

My resolution for this year was a bit simplistic and also not necessarily super tangible. All I really wanted was to do more things that ordinarily scare me.

At the end of last year, I was thinking a lot about how I shy away from things that are either hard, inconvenient, or simply unknown. We all do it—it’s in our natural protective natures—but I wanted to do something about these fears. I wanted to take away their power by facing them head on, no matter how big or small they may be.

It’s a little silly actually…it really all started with admitting how much I hated running hills. I would drive to various parts of West Seattle that I knew would be hill-free, all because hills made me nervous.

As a runner, I knew this was a weakness, and it was something I could very easily change. So it began with the hill fear, and then my resolution expanded out to encompass all the other things I’m afraid of in my life.

So how have I fared over the past 10.5 months?

Well, when I first started thinking on my progress with this resolution, my first thought was:

Wow, I did nothing.

But, upon a little more scrutinizing…I realized that somehow I’ve actually done a pretty good job at following this resolution. But admittedly, it wasn’t on purpose.

So let’s do a little trip back down 2012 memory lane. By the way, can you BELIEVE it’s almost the end of the year??

Here’s some of the ways I’ve been successful at facing my fears this year:

I am no longer afraid of hills, in fact…I seek them out. Sure, I prefer for a race course to be flat and happy, but I now recognize the benefits of incorporating hills, and I regularly try to keep them in most of my runs. And as someone who’s currently desperate to get faster, I don’t really have an option.

Hill fear? Win.

-I quit my job.

Oh yea, that little thing. This was frankly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do—and I don’t really wish that conversation with your employer on anyone. I left a cushy, some would say “ideal” job without much knowledge of what my next job would hold. So while this wasn’t necessarily something I was actively avoiding like the hills, it was definitely something that I was petrified for a long time to do.

-I started a new job.

No matter how you slice it, starting a new job is tough. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know where to go, you don’t know where to sit… it’s kind of terrible. And with my new job particularly…not only did I not what to do, I also barely knew the subject matter. I took a grand total of ZERO finance or business classes in school, and all of a sudden I needed to know what terms like “hedge fund,” “crossing,” and “enhanced asset allocation” meant.

Needless to say, it was a process. A scary process. However, it definitely fit the bill for taking on scary things.

I met new people.

This really might not seem like a big deal, but to me…it actually was. As someone who prefers to be alone most of the time and has a hard time even getting together with good friends, I’ve never been in the business of “putting myself out there” or however you say it. But this year, I put my introvert tendencies aside every so often and met some pretty sweet people along the way.

-I got beat up by the marathon, and then did another one.

After the horrors of Tacoma started to wear off, there was never really a doubt in my mind that I would—at some point—run another marathon. However, the closer and closer Chicago came this year—I began to realize just how much of an impact Tacoma had made on me. While I had all the ordinary taper worries, I was also paralyzed with fear that something like Tacoma would happen again. It was the reason that I was more worried for Chicago than any other race—although I didn’t necessarily confess it to anyone. I knew I had an easy way out of not doing Chicago. Since my ankle was questionable, it would have been understandable, some would say smart, to just not run Chicago. However, this was an opportunity to face the unknown instead of walk away from it—and while I didn’t realize it at the time, it was a great test of my resolution.

So now that I’ve talked about how great I was at following my resolution (insert snarky tone here), let’s take a look at the “room for growth” in regard to facing my fears.

{In my company, “room for growth” is code for “weaknesses” on performance reviews.}

I suppose the good and bad thing about this resolution is that it’s never quite done. Even if I have taken on a few things that previously scared me, there are always going to be more things out there—even if I don’t know about them yet. And in all honesty, I could probably write a whole post about the things I’m afraid of ever trying, fixing, getting better at, etc. But, that would be a little overly self-deprecating and depressing, so instead I’ll focus on one…because it’s been on my mind recently:

I realized, or more like admitted to myself, that I’m afraid of the 7s.

Whenever I see a time on my Garmin that is under 8:00, I immediately panic: I convince myself that my lungs are on fire, my legs are going to fall off, and I’m going to start heaving on the side of the road whenever I see a pace starting with a 7.

And while paces below 8 are certainly a bit faster than I’m used to, I think I’ve let my fear overrule my determination to make these paces stick. It almost feels like if my watch just lied to me and said that a 7:50 was actually 8:10, I wouldn’t even know the difference. And while I definitely try and keep in check my “comfort” and “discomfort” with certain speeds,I think that my brain has a big effect on how my body “feels” at those speeds.

I’m fairly certain this is very normal for most runners, and it’s why training our mental game is just as important as training our legs.

So back to my resolution…although it’s getting toward the end of the year, I’m going to try to stop being so afraid of the 7s.

It seems a little strange to try and “get in” my resolution so late in the year, but isn’t that what they’re for? I think most people forget about their resolutions around mid February or so…myself included…but sometimes a little retrospect can do us some good, as well as show us that while we may have made some progress, there’s always “room for growth.”

What were your new years resolutions this year? How have you done at achieving them? What scares you?

Central Governor Theory

I’ve officially indoctrinated myself into the ranks of serious runnerd.

I bought a running textbook. Not a novel, not a book of motivational quotes, not “Runner’s World.”

A mother effing textbook. The Lore of Running, to be specific. And the worst part? I’m stupid excited about it. I’ve already planned early bedtimes of sitting with a highlighter and going through each chapter like I’m studying for a test.

Who am I?! Either this is a sign that I might need to go back to school sooner than I thought, or I’ve really got it bad for running. And because I’m really digging the whole not-ever-having-homework-or-taking-tests lifestyle right now, I’m gonna go with the latter.

It all started with another running book, Eat and Runthe one we’ve already talked about. Scott Jurek was merrily telling me all about his adventures in 100 mile races and whatnot, when he said something that hit me straight between the eyes. Or, more so, it hit me straight in the part of my brain that is haunted by the Tacoma Marathon.

{Yes, still talking about that one—sorry. I thought I was done, but this discovery was just too enlightening to ignore. I promise I’ll stop talking about that race someday}

Truth be told, in many ways I have left that race behind me as I’ve moved onto other endeavors. I certainly learned a lot from it, but it was a fairly traumatic event and I don’t want the bad parts of it to overwhelm my ambitions and love for this sport.

However, to this day I haven’t been able to answer exactly why what happened, well, happened. I was completely depleted and fatigued, and I’d reached my own physical threshold. However, I still hadn’t been able to come up with why, after 26 miles of running, my body decided to quit when the finish line was in view.

Enter, Scott Jurek. He was telling a story about the Western States 100—a notable race in California that courses up and down mountains for a hundred miles. Scott was pacing a friend, who was about to win the race, and right when they got to the local high school track (the location of the race’s finish line) and the finish came into view, his friend collapsed—unable to move.

The circumstances sounded very similar to mine—and as Scott continued to tell the story, my interest heightened and it all started to sound frighteningly parallel. Scott stated that in his opinion, when his friend’s brain processed the finish line in sight, it told his body, “Hey dude, you’re done. You can quit now.” Subsequently, his body gave out, just stopped, because his mind had resolved that it could stop working so hard.

It’s all very hippy dippy stuff, but hear me out. This guy was able to run, up and down mountains no less, for ONE HUNDRED MILES without faltering. Of course he was tired, battling, and exhausted, but there was something that was able to keep him going. But then, right as the finish line comes into view, that same body that’d been working toward this finale just decided to stop? The timing seems all too peculiar, just as my own seemed in the Tacoma Marathon.

Scott goes onto describe some actual scientific rationale behind this occurrence—termed the Central Governor Theory by  Dr. Timothy Noakes. In essence, the theory advocates for the power of the mind over the body in endurance sports.

“The central governor is a proposed process in the brain that regulates exercise in regard to a neurally calculated safe exertion by the body. In particular, physical activity is controlled so that its intensity cannot threaten the body’s homeostasis by causing anoxia damage to the heart.”

In lamens terms, our endurance is not only an effect of our training or our VO2 max, but of a part of our brain that strategically plans out our exertion levels based on the required mileage, time frame, etc. It’s essentially a case for mind over matter, and it advocates that our Central Governor has means of protecting us from overexertion.

It’s a debatable idea, have no doubt. But, it is one that has been cited and used in many sports studies and theories for years.

The thing that struck me about it is that it spoke so closely to the feelings I experienced during the Tacoma Marathon. I had passed my own limits for a good deal of that race: I was hurting, I was done, but for some reason I was able to keep going. And it wasn’t pride at that point—because no matter how much I wanted that BQ and I wanted to keep going, my fatigue had overtaken my pride.

But I was able to keep going, and my legs seemingly had a life of their own. Until, that is, I saw the finish line. I was grateful to see it, have no doubt, but it felt like my desire to be done had overtaken the strength that had kept me going. When I fell, it was because my body had given up, and although I had been able to continue to push it along for all those miles of pain, for some reason—so close to the end, they’d won the battle.

If you attribute the Central Governor Theory to my experience in that race, it makes a whole lot of sense—particularly the part where I fell right before the finish line. In a direct comparison to Scott’s story about his Western States 100 friend, my brain resolved that it could be done upon seeing the end, and my body responded with absolute abdication.

Now, I fully realize that there are a number of factors that could have come into play in the end of that race. I was entirely depleted, have no doubt; a 105 degree fever, cramping legs, and complete fatigue undoubtedly contributed to the time I spent in the medical tent afterward.

However, those factors would have existed whether or not I collapsed so close to the end. I’ve thought all along that it was my mind more than anything else that was the ultimate reason for the disconnect that occurred at mile 26. It felt like a cord between my body and my mind was snapped, and I couldn’t get the two to work in sync any longer.

So yes, my physical exertion was beyond a manageable level. But there was something more that occurred on that day—and the Central Governor Theory, at least to me, explains better than anything else the final factor that came into play.

Again, I promise that I have and will stop analyzing that race. I have gotten over it, and I know one day it’s going to be an ancient memory. But once this idea of the power of the mind was presented to me, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to that day. Because that day was the first time, and perhaps the only time, where I can say that I relied solely on my mind to carry on when my body was done. My mind was the only thing I had left for a long time in that race—and this theory presented an explanation for just how that dependence actually worked.

I think what I love so much about the Central Governor Theory is the theme that running is so much more than just our physical abilities. We hear time and time again that “Running is a mental sport,” and yet it’s so much easier to measure the physical side of it. We concentrate on times, VO2 max, lactate threshold, maximum heart rate, and mileage so often as the means in which we measure our physical abilities.These things have a lot of merit, of course, but there is something more to running than just the physiology. It’s the reason we can get out of bed in the morning when our bodies are so much happier staying under the covers. It’s the reason why we can sprint to a finish line even though we’ve been dead for miles. Our brains have a lot more power over our abilities that we even realize—and while that’s not to say that we shouldn’t concentrate on the tangible numbers, I truly believe that to be a good runner, we must remember that one of the most valuable tools we have is the one inside our head.

So, in going back to the textbook—The Lore of Running was written by the Central Governor Theorist himself, Timothy Noakes. The book discusses his theory, but also any and all things related to running. It’s definitely somewhat biased and opinion based, as essentially all running books are, however I’m excited to read what more this South African bloke has to say in favor of the power of our minds in relation to the power of our running.

The only problem? Everything is in kilometers, meaning he’s forcing me to exercise my brain while siphoning through chapters. Tricky man that Noakes.

Happy Friday! Happy running 🙂

This Time Around…

Warning:

This post is going to be all about running.

But that’s not too off-beat, I suppose.

Running!

This is what a stupid runner’s high-enduced smile looks like

I have been stupidly excited about my runs recently. Like, smile plastered on my face, greeting every person/biker/car/rollerblader I see going by with a toothy grin and an in-your-face “GOOD MORNING!”

Here’s an example about how this elation has taken over my better senses: Tuesday, I finished a 10.3 mile run feeling on top of the world, both literally and figuratively. I had just climbed the super steep hill up to my house, and I felt super confident about my overall speed. Also, my IT band/knee was completely unnoticeable, which took my runner’s high to a recovered runner’s high—a whole new degree of giddy. THEN, later as I was driving back down said hill I’d just climbed, I saw a fellow runner girl grinding back up, and you know what my thought was? “I wish that was ME doing that right now! Jealous!”

Seriously, someone cage me.

But overall, I think these euphoric (bordering on obnoxious…I know, you can say it) feelings are stemming from two things:

1) My return from injury

2) My new-and-improved approach to marathon training

Obvs returning from injury (and please knock on every wooden item near you right now) is great reason to dig your runs. You have such a heightened appreciation for running after being away from it for so long. Relatively speaking, I wasn’t away too long, but I think any unplanned time away from running can totally revamp your love for it. I always love running, but there’s something so renewing about it when you come back from injury.

I know I haven’t discussed much about my new training mentality, partly because it wasn’t complete, but I love what it’s been doing for both my physical and mental strength.

So what, pray tell, is this new approach?

Very simple: Take myself less seriously, try new things, and be flexible.

These things are working together quite well so far, and I think they’ve done wonders for my training.

I’m having more fun, I’m looking forward to workouts more, and I’m less stressed out about the whole shebang.

So what are the steps I’ve been taking to ensure that my new approach works correctly?

Well, to begin, I think that the biggest thing I’m working on is very intentionally caring less. This sounds counterintuitive, because…um, hello, doesn’t marathon training take a butt ton of self motivation?

Yes, but hear me out.

As I realized after the Tacoma Marathon, the physical training—meaning the daily workouts, the mileage buildup, and the general grind of it all—isn’t the hard part for me. By nature, I enjoy the physical challenge, and my brain is programmed to go!go!go! all the time in terms of pushing harder and getting stronger. I realize that this can be a benefit, particularly for someone who runs marathons, however it can absolutely be taken to a destructive level. Take the TCM for example, or the fact that to this day I have to force myself to be okay with taking days off.

No hard feelings, Tacoma. Kidding! There still are. I hate you. Oh, it was all my own fault? FINE. I still hate your hills though.

So, I needed a new mentality. And that entailed letting myself off the hook and focusing more on the day-to-day victories. I realize this may only make sense in my own head, but essentially what I’ve done is I’ve taken the pressure off of performing at an unreasonable standard. I still want to run fast, and I still want to run many miles, but those numbers aren’t the reason I love this sport. What I love more than anything is to just run—fast, slow, long, short, outside, inside (okay…that’s pushing it), alone, and with others. So although I am training with number and mile goals in mind, they aren’t my primary concern.

With that said, I am also trying to get myself out of my normal exercise comfort zones. Sure, I can muster up the energy for an easy run or a gym workout—but within my own agenda. Ask me to go to a class I’ve never been to before or try a crazy lifting move I’ve never seen—fogetta about it!

However, I am a big believer that it is outside of our comfort zones where we find excitement, challenge, and—ultimately—improvement. So I committed myself to trying new things, yes in hopes of building my physical strength, but more so in hopes of shaking up my routine.

And I’ve found that you never quite know what you like until you venture into the unknown. I have absolutely loved trying new things (weights classes, different running workouts (tempo!!), new yoga poses) and I think the best part is that they make me excited for each daily workout. Instead of just being a means to an end (the end being Chicago in this case), I’m taking pride in my day-to-day sweat sessions and enjoying the smaller victories they present.

In addition to trying new things, like lunges, squats, and mountain climbers (I want to go on record saying I HATE THESE), I’m also getting very cozy with my rest days. They are scheduled into my training, and I’m taking comfort in them instead of letting them make me anxious. I’m realizing that if you are training at a hard enough level, you should want your rest days instead of fear them. I think before, when I was avoiding any rest at all, it’s because I was operating on an at-threshold activity level just for the sake of not wearing myself out. I wouldn’t push myself too hard for the sake of not needing a rest day.

DUMB

I’d much rather work hard, recharge, and stay healthy. Plus, now that I need to wake up a 4:45, days off are like a beacon of light every week.

Resting must involve rehydrating with a tropical beverage.

I know you’re probably getting bored (that’s presuming you’re still reading…and if so, hi!) so I’ll be brief in finishing up my last approach to marathon training.

Be flexible…that’s the motto I keep telling myself.

Flexible, yes, in the sense of stretching and yoga (jk I haven’t been in two weeks). But more so in being okay with the fact that life is going to get in the way of marathon training. And I’m letting it—because when marathon training starts to take over all other joys in life, such as an extra beer or three the night before a long run, a weekend visit to see your friends, or a lazy Sunday, it starts to drain us.

Running is a huge part of my life, but it’s not all of it. I like to use running to enhance the other great things in life, not take away from them. This means that my training schedule is amendable, and I’m not freaking out over hitting every target workout every day of the week.

A perfect example would be this upcoming weekend. BF and I are going down to my Summerhouse to play with my family…meaning LR plans needed to be altered. Ordinarily, this would stress me out. But instead, I rearranged, I front loaded the weekend with some extra miles this week, and I’m allowing myself to be excited about everything else I’ll get to do.

I’ll probably run there, but I feel a lot less pressure to break X number of miles with so many other wonderful things to occupy my time with.

So there it is: Robyn’s New Approach to Marathon Training. I am sure someday I’ll be gunning for a specific time goal, BQ, etc. But for this training cycle, I’m more interested in enjoying the running, fundraising for Girls on the Run, and getting excited to run in one of the biggest races in the world.

Based on my current mood and euphoria about anything involving Body Glide or Brooks, I’d say my new technique is working.

What do you think is the best way to approach marathon training? Relaxed? Goal-Oriented? Nutella in one hand and Nuun cocktail in the other?

 

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde: Injured Runner Brain Dichotomy

If you were sitting around on Saturday wondering why you all of a sudden you felt void of any stress or unhappiness, it’s because I had taken EVERY NEGATIVE FEELING IN THE WORLD and conglomerated it all into my own personal pity party. Yep, all my Friday positivity decided to completely dissipate come Saturday morning, and it took essentially all day to work myself out of my I-hate-everything-and-everyone funk.

Also, if I really could take away all your sadness, that would be very neat and I’m sorry I have not yet figured out how to steal away bad feelings.

It took until late Saturday night (imbibed with Footloose musical fever, tequila, and sleepovers with friends) til my grumpy self got over herself and I returned to a more stable, level-headed place.

Oh wait no, that’s never happened—stable and calm are not exactly my “strengths,” so let’s just say I returned to a happier, I-actually-don’t-want-to-throw-rocks-at-people state of mind.

Why the freak out, you ask?

Well, there are two things that send me into panic mode: picking the wrong dessert and not being able to undo it, and not being able to run. Since I had a fantastic helping of strawberry shortcake Friday night (read: a bowl of whipped cream sprinkled with bits of cake and some strawberries), I bet you can guess why I was pissed.

I want to run, I cannot run, seemingly everyone in the world is running, and I was/am sad.

I got all down and out on Saturday because all I was hearing about were PRs, registrations, long runs, carb loads, etc. and it all felt very far away. Truthfully, I’ve been out of the running game for just over two weeks, but in a runner’s brain that is approximately equivalent to forever. Every day without running counts for about three weeks of real time, and it feels like the further away I get from it, the less accessible it seems.

There is a big, gaping, holy-hell don’t fall in that hole difference between what I know and what I think. My knowing self is rational, practical, and reasonable. She’s the part of me that graduated from college, that listens to my mom, and that decides, “Okay, you probably don’t need dessert number 3 of the night.”

Then there’s my thinking self. The self that spirals herself into a state of senseless panic over absolutely irrational thoughts. She is the over-reactor, the freak-out mode professional, and the reason behind a lot of my less-than-finer moments. Sorry BF for reminding you about all those.

Okay, my “thinking,” of-the-moment self isn’t always such a whiny little bitch, and there are certainly redeeming parts to her, however she tends to get in trouble when her spasms overrule her knowing counterpart.

Case in point: I know I will be fine. I know this isn’t *too* serious. I know I ran a marathon faster than my training and no-shit-sherlock I’m probably still feeling those effects. I know that I can maintain my fitness without running. I know that I will race again before long. I know that Chipotle is the best food ever.

Commence Saturday’s “thinking” routine: I think I won’t run all summer. I think everyone else is going to have fun and run fast and improve while I disintegrate into a running-less glob of rage. I think I’m going to have to start  over from scratch when I can run again. I think I will never stop being injured. I think everyone loves their life while I have to be sad all the time.

STOP ME NOW. And eventually I did. Shut the eff up Robyn…that’s what my knowing self eventually came and said, while she fed me lemonadey cocktails and hit me over the head with my running shoe.

Fact: No I can’t run right now.

Fact: I will run again.

Fact: Things could be a lot worse, and I need to eat my own words.

Seriously, one of the things I like about blogging is that it keeps us accountable. Despite the fact that I kind of hate the power of the internet, it is pretty impactful to go to your own website and see the words that you’ve so ardently preached. It’s a really good kind of humbling, and it keeps my in check with my rational self when my crazy lady takes over.

So I can’t run for now. I still have all my limbs, a roof over my head, a very wonderful male friend who lives with me, and a lot of other good things going on. Yes I’m sad I can’t take off on a long run, or even a mile-long run, without fear of IT pain. But hopefully maintaining a more sensible outlook and a relative perspective will keep the storm calm.

I apologize for revealing the whiny pity-party that I went through on Saturday. Afterward I felt silly and I actually a little embarrassed. However, I think it’s an important message for runners to remember, as I am always and endlessly reminding myself of it:

Running is important. It’s part of who we are, and we love when we get to do it. However even when we aren’t doing it—we’re still runners. Being injured is a part of being a runner, the two go hand-in-hand. I know I still think of running friends and bloggers that are injured as runners, and there’s no reason I should count myself out of the game due to a temporary decrease in mileage.

The hardest part is keeping this lesson in the front of our minds. Even as I was typing all that out, I could hear the small voice in my brain aching to be out running, and crying over the fact that I was not.

Those voices don’t need to be shut out, in fact they should be listened to, but they shouldn’t overwhelm us. All the sad non-running thoughts exist because it’s something that we love—and, frankly, because you always want what you can’t have.

But you know what? Bodies heal. And the best part about running? It’s going to be right there waiting whenever that healing is complete. Races are always going to be happening, training is always going to be readily available, and all the running routes in the world aren’t all of a sudden going to get up and skip away before you get a chance to trot them again.

So what am I trying to say here? Well, honestly, most of this writing was for myself. I hadn’t really planned on this post going in this direction, which I think is a sign that I needed to do some therapeutic reflection. And I do feel better. I’m still confident that the longevity of this lingering pain is getting shorter and shorter, and in the mean time I’ll be planning my future race endeavors (info on that soon!) and staying off my Twitter feed on weekend mornings.

In fact, I think I should do that no matter what my current state of physical health may be. The internet is great, hello stress-relieving-blog-posting and meeting sweet people , but there’s also a black hole effect to it. Stepping back, living real life, and letting all the ramblings of the world sit for a while is always a healthy practice.

And just so you know, I actually do love hearing about everyone’s PRs and goals and such. I was just a negative nancy for a while in there, and please don’t be afraid to tell me about your running-filled fun.

Thanks for reading about my two-faced mindset on being injured. I know I’m not alone in this type of back-and-forth ness between being okay with not running and hating every single person with fully functioning legs. It’s the nature of the running bug beast—that little devil.

Now tell me, if you feel so inspired, what was the best thing you gained from a time when you could not run? Dare I say—how did being injured make you thankful?