Positive Affirmations For Pessimists: Thinking my way to my first sub-four marathon

I have been trying to break four hours in the marathon since 2015. This year’s attempt was at a hometown race, the Onward Shay Boise Marathon. Although initially I was not thrilled about running in such a familiar place that I knew would have little to no crowd support, by the end of my training cycle I appreciated the benefit of knowing the course well and being able to visualize every mile of the race. There was no magic of New York this year. This was the year to focus, to push hard, and to break four hours.

From that standpoint, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. In my mind, I had never executed a marathon property. Always fading significantly towards the later part of the race, the 26.2 mile distance eluded me. I had never performed to my capabilities in the marathon. I wanted to prove myself. If I didn’t this time, I was scared I might give up and never run another marathon again.

Physically, I knew I was capable of running a sub-four time. I put almost 650 miles on my legs over 18 weeks of consistent training, hitting all of the prescribed paces. Day after day I showed up. I worked hard and consistently. But my mental game had to be strong. I couldn’t give myself an out, and I couldn’t beat myself up and force myself to the finish line with unkind words. Close to the end of my training cycle I read a Hansons article entitled, When Do I Know I’m Ready? The part of this article that really resonated with me was the part about focusing on the process. So many times in racing I have tried to force the result or berate myself to the finish line. I took these words to heart and set the intention to focus on the process while also working on confidence and preparing myself for the difficult task ahead.

The last 10k in particular terrified me. I had a history of slowing down significantly during this portion of the race, and I had a bad experience in one race of getting hurt during this segment. I wanted to go into this marathon with the mindset that I could push through without fear, that I could Be Brave. I loved this piece from Carrie Mack about giving it all in Chicago. I thought about her words often both before and during my run, reminding myself to be patient during the first 20 miles and Be Brave during the last 10k. I wrote “I AM BRAVE” on my arm.

The week before the race, I wrote several positive affirmations on post-it notes on my bathroom mirror. Things like “Be Positive,” “Be Brave,” and “Sub-4.” I later decided that I should write them as “I AM” since that is a much stronger statement that adopts these things as true: I am brave, I am positive, I am a sub-four marathoner. I wrote these things and more in my journal and read them over and over before the race. I acted as if it had already happened. Normally, I would feel that behaving in such a way would “jinx” my performance, but I was going to try this. My mental game had been the weak link for so long that this was worth a shot. What did I have to lose? I felt like I needed to go into this race with the unwavering confidence that all of the things I was proclaiming to myself in the mirror – positive, patient, limitless, flowing, letting the race come to me, brave, transcending discomfort, strong, ready, a sub-four marathoner – were true. After all, my coach and teammates believed these things about me, why shouldn’t I believe them about myself? It felt weird, saying these things to myself, but I kept doing it. Even if just a small part of me believed, maybe it would make a difference.

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The morning of the race, I had sore areas on my posterior tib and my heels that I was slightly concerned about. I gave them a pep talk. Out loud. “Ok legs, we’ve done 600+ miles and you can do 26.2 more. Then we rest. You are strong, you are ready. Let’s do this!” And again, I repeated my affirmations in the mirror. “I am brave. I am a sub-four marathoner.”

I lined up at the start and was pleasantly surprised to see pacers. There was even a 3:55 pacer. I thought “Great! I just need to stay comfortably behind her!” I followed her for the first mile. 8:57. Perfect. Second mile. 8:44. She was going way too fast! But I didn’t freak out that I had run the second mile that fast. I took a deep breath. I told myself, “You know how to adjust,” (words directly from my coach to help counteract my tendency towards catastrophic thinking), and I let the pacer go. Banking time was not the strategy I was going for. I lost sight of the group several minutes later, even though I was running under the average pace needed for a 3:55.

As the miles ticked off, one by one, I remembered to be patient. “I am patient. I am relaxed.” My coach had told me not to be scared when I started to feel discomfort, and those were very important words for me to remember. When I started to feel discomfort, I acknowledged it, and moved on. “I’m getting warmed up. Each mile is different. One mile at a time. I am flowing. I am letting the race come to me.” I focused on the process. Mile by mile. Keeping my splits in check and being careful not to go too fast. Around mile 13, the 3:55 pacer was in sight again! However, also around that time, the wind picked up and I found myself running into a nasty headwind. My next two splits were 9:07, even though the effort felt harder. My initial reaction was discouragement and I could feel the negative thoughts trying to creep in. My body started to tense up and I could feel the fear and anxiety in my stomach. I had to work hard to stay positive. “I am positive. This is fun! I am doing it! I feel great!” I thought if I told myself I feel great, it might be true. I knew that my coach and teammates would be at the mile 16 aid station, which was also the turnaround point. I reminded myself that I was running towards them, that I was excited to see them, and that once I turned around the wind would be at my back. Seeing my coach and teammates at mile 16 was wonderful, encouraging, and definitely provided me the mental boost I needed at that point in the race.

I glanced at my watch and noticed after seeing my friends and turning around with the tailwind and slight downhill I had picked up the pace a little too much. So I held back, reminding myself, “Be patient. The race doesn’t start until mile 20. This is your warm-up. You are doing great.” I knew from experience how much can go wrong in the last 10k, so every time I started to think it was going well, I worked to temper any excitement and to just stay with the moment. To stay present and to run the mile I was in. Mile by mile, I was working my way to the finish line. When I got to mile 20 the 3:55 pacer was still in sight. “Be brave,” I said out loud. “Go with her.” I picked up the pace a bit for miles 20 and 21. However, that proved to be a little too much and by mile 22 I was back to 9 min/mile. Mile 23 was difficult and at the end of that mile a biker got in my face and said, “Do you need help?” The course was not a closed course and I didn’t know if the guy was a race volunteer or a spectator joking around with me. Either way, it messed with my mental game. This is the part of the race where your mind is overriding your body’s signals saying “Hey, can we stop or slow down?” and you are leading with your heart, and when this guy asked me if I needed help I started thinking “Do I look that bad? Do I look like I need medical attention? Am I about to collapse, but I’ve somehow convinced myself I am fine?” It took me a good half mile to collect myself and get back on track. Miles 24 and 25 were my slowest at 9:10 and 9:20. I could see the 3:55 pacer, who I had almost caught, getting further away, and was trying so hard to keep her in my sight. “Don’t let this race slip away from you now. Keep going. To that tree. 400 meters at a time, 200 meter pickups. You can do it.”

Coming into mile 25 my friend Kylee appeared like an angel in white on the side of the Greenbelt. She ran beside me to the end saying words of encouragement, but never expecting a response, as she knows well the pain cave you are in at the end of a marathon. My family was there at the last .2 and Kylee took photos which I will treasure forever. I crossed the line in 3:55:59, an eight minute PR and my first sub-four time after three years of trying. It was so special to have both my family and Kylee there to share that moment with me.

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Coming into mile 25. Dying. Photo by my friend Kylee.

Although of course you need the training and a healthy body, I firmly believe that it is the positive and process focused thinking that got me to the finish line in under four hours. There were three points that I looked at my overall time during the race: the 16 mile mark because I told my friends what time I thought I would be there, the 20 mile mark because I knew what time I wanted to hit that point, and when I saw Kylee so I could mumble to her how much time I had to will myself to the finish in under four hours. The rest of the time I was focused on the process. On each mile and properly executing the mile I was in. On staying positive, relaxed and keeping the right mindset. I didn’t try to force it. And when I did all of that, 3:55:59 was there waiting for me at the finish.

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Did I just luck out and happen to have a good run that day? Maybe. And certainly things like weather and the way I physically felt on that day were important.  But I don’t think that was all of it. I think the positive self talk and intentional confidence, as weird and unnatural as it felt to me (and even if it felt like I was faking it), made a big difference. So I have made a commitment to implement it throughout my training (not just during the taper) as well as in other areas of my life. Let’s see where it takes me. Onward!

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Scout Mountain Race Report

I have crazy friends. Mostly because like minded people seek out like minded people and crazy = fun! Some of these crazy friends convinced me to sign up for a 55k this summer called Beaverhead. It is on the Idaho-Montana border, much of it on the Continental Divide trail, and looks gorgeous! However, it is also at 10,000 feet, contains a 3+ mile scree field across a ridge starting around mile 23 which is then followed by a very steep descent down a game trail. I am neither a fan of heights nor steep downhills, yet somehow my friends talked me into this. They are convincing, particularly when I am under the influence of endorphins. But this post is not about Beaverhead. This is about Scout Mountain, a 21 mile trail race I did as part of my training for Beaverhead.

Scout Mountain is a trail race in early June in eastern Idaho near Pocatello. Like Beaverhead, it involves about 5000 feet of climbing and descent, but without the scree, the altitude and the steep downhill. Sold.

The first several miles were awesome. Steady uphill, beautiful wildflowers, perfect spring weather – I love trail running!

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The aid stations were awesome too. The volunteers were the kindest and most helpful volunteers you will find at any race. If you are within 50 feet of the aid station they are running up to help you. “Can I fill up your pack with water? Tailwind? What do you need?” And these people are out in the middle of nowhere for hours supporting runners. Superheros. Then there’s the food. It’s like trick-or-treating. Gatorade and GU doesn’t cut it. Here we’ve got candy, chips, cookies, fruit, fig bars at an all you can eat buffet! Who knew this was the race fuel I needed! But afraid to break the cardinal rule of not trying anything new on race day, I just refilled with tailwind, grabbed a fig bar and headed out.

As we climbed above 7500 feet I could definitely notice the thinner air. Running took more effort and power hiking was more comfortable to me. At that point I wondered if the 10,000 feet at Beaverhead would be a problem.

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But look at the views!

Just over the summit is where my problems started. First, there was this snow/ice patch to slide down. Wait, what? This race involves sliding down ICE? I didn’t sign up for this! But ok, here we go!

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Where’s the sled, yo?

I made the mistake of putting my hands down to slow the slide. Bad idea. If you find yourself in this situation DO NOT USE YOUR HANDS TO SLOW YOURSELF DOWN. They will burn. And they will burn for awhile. Consider yourself warned. Also, the Oiselle Long Roga shorts held up remarkably well on the ice patch. They have endured both this and multiple falls without any sign of wear or tear. But I digress.

After the summit, there was a STEEP descent. We lost about 1,000 feet on the first mile alone down a technical trail full of loose rock. WHAT?! Nobody warned me about this! Had I known, I might have carried poles. It sucked. I passed lots of people going up. But on the way down, all of those people, their parents, grandparents, dogs, and three-legged cats all passed me. It was not fun. I did not like trail running anymore. I was tripping over rocks constantly and cursing their existence. “Are all trail races like this?,” I thought. “I’m not coordinated enough to do them.”

At one point, a nice woman ran up behind me saying “oh do your knees hurt like mine do?” I thought, “oh, great. I am running like my knees hurt? It’s obvious to people? I thought this was just between me and my knees. I didn’t know I was broadcasting it.” How much more of this? Around mile 12 I tripped, landing hard on my knee, elbow and shoulder. I was actually surprised that this was the only time I fell during the race.

The last several miles of the race were on grass. Although grass is hard to run on, I was so happy to not be on rock anymore. And I was even more thrilled to come upon this sign:

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My first thought upon finishing was “F* another 13 miles of that!” My friend who also did this race later said to me (not knowing that this was my first trail race), “That was hard. If I had done that as my first trail race, I might never do another one again!” I was so glad she said that because it validated my feelings and gave me hope that maybe I can still run in beautiful places like this.

My knees were trashed after this race and I was mentally burned out for awhile. I ended up not doing Beaverhead, but had a good training cycle and a great time running on the trails in the Boise Foothills this spring with my friends. I probably would do this race again – it’s so beautiful and extremely well run – but I need to learn how to properly run down technical downhills.

Keep Showing Up

After yesterday’s historic win at the 122nd Boston Marathon, Desiree Linden, the first American woman to win the race in 33 years tweeted, “6th time’s a charm! Keep showing up!” Her winning run was her 6th running of the Boston Marathon. Five previous attempts had ended in an 18th place finish in 2007, a heartbreaking 2nd place finish in 2011 where she lost by only 2 seconds, an 8th place finish in 2014, and two 4th place finishes in 2015 and 2017. It would have been easy for Des to say after 3, 4, maybe 5 attempts at winning Boston to say, “You know what, I gave it a good shot.” After all, an American woman had not won Boston since 1985. But she wanted to win Boston. And she never gave up on that dream.

Des is an inspiration to women, people around the world with all sorts of dreams and she sends an important message that hard work, persistence and patience pays off. Not only that, but good deeds are rewarded. Earlier in the race Des slowed to help fellow American and race favorite Shalane Flanagan catch back up to the lead pack when Shalane made a quick bathroom stop. This amazing display of sportsmanship demonstrates that we are truly better when we work together. It turns out that Des was not feeling well earlier in the race. By helping fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle she was able to distract herself enough to reset herself mentally and refresh her legs. Those of us watching her charge the Newton hills and dominate her way to the finish would never had known she had considered dropping out earlier in the race. There is an important lesson here. If you don’t feel well early in a race, just wait until the next mile. Smile and thank the volunteers. Help a fellow runner. Don’t despair because your race could easily turn around in the next mile.

Des’ message to keep showing up really resonated with me. I have a dream to run Boston. Of course, I will never find myself in the front, but rather will enter the race as a squeaker who gets in by barely making the cutoff. But to me this would be a dream come true and the same as winning a marathon. It will take a lot of hard work, patience, and resilience to get there, but I believe that if I keep showing up, I can do it. The same is true for other endeavors.

There are many days when I don’t feel like getting up at 4:45am to go running. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I feel like my writing is not good enough. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I feel that my parenting could use some work. Keep showing up.

There are many days when I wonder if I am being a good friend. Keep showing up.

As long as we keep showing up, we cannot fail. We are making forward progress towards our goal and moving towards ultimate success. Des is proof of that.

Back to the Basics

Since the New York Marathon last month, I have focused on two things: 1) Making All The Things from Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky’s Run Fast East Slow Cookbook and 2) Getting Stronger. Since eating All The Things hasn’t yet resulted in effortless six minute miles (or any six minute miles for that matter), I must need to focus more on part two.

Like many athletes who have faced injures and multiple visits to the physical therapist’s office, I have a litany of prescribed exercises that I should be doing to correct imbalances, stave off injury and keep my body strong and healthy. Or as Mitt Romney might say, I have binders of exercises. Do I do these exercises on a regular basis? No. I do them when something hurts. And then I focus on that particular area that is speaking to me at the time. Since the body works together as one kinetic chain, however, this is neither a smart nor a workable plan.

I am a flashcard nerd. I always used flashcards to study in school. I used them for tests in high school and college, and I used them to pass the Virginia, Texas and Idaho bar exams. So enter the Physical Therapy Flashcards!

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PT Flashcards

Here is how they work and how you can make your own set of PT Flashcards:

  1. Take one section/color for each body area you want to strengthen and/or maintain. You can see here that I have Core, Hips, Glutes, Legs/Feet and Stretch(ing).
  2. In each section, write your exercises on a different color of flashcards.
  3. Set your timer for a prescribed period of time. I do 15 minutes for the first 4 categories and then 5 for stretching at the end. Total of 20 minutes.
  4. While the timer is running go through your categories pulling an exercise from the front. Do the exercise in the section and then put it in the back of the section.
  5. Do this a few times a week! Enjoy! Get stronger! Run without getting hurt! When you come across a new exercise that you like, add it to your cards!

So far, this has been a great way for me to keep up with a variety of my Physical Therapy exercises, focusing on all areas of my body that need attention. It is my hope that this will be good maintenance exercise (in addition to the lifting/regular strength training I do) which will help prevent injury.

Speaking of preventing injury, if you are looking for a good book to read on the topic or need some exercises for your flashcards, I highly recommend Running Rewired by Jay Dicharry. I went to see Jay in Bend last summer, but now you don’t have to because he wrote it all in this book for you! He is an expert and writes in a straightforward and funny manner. The book has specific exercises and routines with photos and detailed instructions on how to do them. (Bonus: Mel Lawrence is one of the models!) Highly recommend!

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And when you’re done with all of that hard work don’t forget to refuel with some good nutrition from All The Things in Run Fast East Slow. In fact, I think I hear a Superhero Muffin calling my name…

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Let’s Talk About the Beer Mile

Holiday gatherings got you stressed? Worried about keeping up with your running routine? Did someone just bring up politics at the dinner table? I’ve got a solution for all of that. Might I suggest an impromptu beer mile.

This one was not impromptu. This was planned. Which beer should I use? Will I need some La Croix for backup? How ’bout pretzels in case I puke?

I had never tried a beer mile until earlier this year when a few friends of mine and I got together one Friday afternoon for some beer mile shenanigans. A beer mile also serves as a great happy hour and start to the weekend. I will admit, I was nervous about the timing of ours. I was in the throes of marathon training with back to back long runs scheduled for the weekend and questioned the wisdom of trying a beer mile the night before. The good thing about the beer mile is that by beer number two you are no longer concerned with any workouts you might have scheduled for the next day.

So here’s how it works: drink a beer then run 0.25 miles. Then do it again. Then again. One more time. Total of four beers and four 400s for a total of one mile of running. Ideally you do it on a track but the only track we had access to was at our local neighborhood high school so we chose to do laps in the neighborhood. Also, you are supposed to use beer with a minimum alcohol content of 5%. I don’t think any of our beers met that threshold. Next time. I used Coors Light which is 4.2%.

I wasn’t too concerned about the alcohol content of my beer because, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t think I would be able to do it. I know, I know, if I don’t believe in myself, who will? I need to work on being my own champion. Or maybe I just need to do more beer miles. Either way, my prime drinking days are long behind me and even when I was in tip top drinking shape, much like in running, I was more of an endurance kind of girl. Chugging, like sprinting, was never my forte. Nevertheless, I wanted to give a beer mile the old college try. Because beer. And running. Together!

So we set off chugging our beers and running our laps and, as you would imagine, each one got progressively harder. Trying to run on a stomach full of beer is hard. Is there some technique? Like a waddle run?

Woah, we’re half way there! Woah, livin’ on a prayer! Two down, two to go!

My goal going in was to at least complete half. A beer 800 is legit, right? But once I got two down and was still having fun I was determined to do the full mile. Go big or go home! BELIEVE!

Coming in for the win! Who has form this good after four beers? This superstar! Beer mile champ x 2.

After finishing we enjoyed some good laughs and pizza as well as some discussion on strategy and how to improve future beer miling. But mostly pizza.

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Was I really on the ground like this? Because I don’t recall being down on the ground like this. Must’ve been doing some post race stretching. That was smart!

My Garmin clocked me at 16 something for the mile. Jesse Thomas suggests that a mid packer beer mile should be around ten minutes. TEN MINUTES?!?! First of all, that seems super fast. Secondly, I’ve got some work to do. And finally, the off-season is a great time to practice.

So if things start to feel like too much inside over the holidays, grab some beers and Cousin Joe and go outside for some beer mile practice! Even a beer 400 will leave you feeling refreshed, relaxed and able to stay unengaged from political debate. Cheers!

Post beer mile bliss

 

Choosing Happiness: My 2017 TCS New York Marathon Race Report

“So I went to New York City to be born again. It was and remains easy for most Americans to go somewhere else and start anew. …. and when the [train] plunged into a tunnel under New York City, with it’s lining of pipes and wires, I was out of the womb and into the birth canal.” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Like most marathoners, I have a love/hate relationship with the 26.2 distance. I am drawn to it for its elusive nature and unpredictability. As a type A control freak I want to control and dominate the marathon, yet it refuses to be controlled. I come back again trying to control and it will continue to teach me that it cannot be controlled until I let down the walls of perfection, let go, and open my mind to the possibility that perhaps what I had in mind for the race is not what the race had in store for me.  I come out of each marathon a better, more self-aware person.

Prior to the November 5, 2017 TCS New York City Marathon I gave some real thought to the why of the marathon. Why do I do this? Why do I intentionally put myself through this pain and suffering and call it my hobby? Lauren Fleshman says that as runners we are privileged to be able to choose our form of suffering. Not everyone can be so fortunate. For me, being able to go to that place of suffering and to push through to the other side helps me realize that I am stronger than I think I am. There is beauty in the suffering, particularly when it occurs collectively. The struggle offers  the ability to practice coping skills that are needed in real life, and allows me to learn more about myself and about humanity.

New York was marathon number six for me. Marathon number five (California International Marathon in December 2016) did not go as planned. I had trained to run a sub 4-hour marathon and my training went really well – right up until the taper when I started to develop pain in both of my femurs.  As a result I found myself in an MRI just four days before the race. I had some swelling in the bone, but was cleared to run. I rested until the marathon, had a good 22 mile run and was on pace for that sub-4 time, but ended up limping through the last 5k and hobbled over the finish at around 4:22. Aside from the extremely disappointing last 3 miles, it was a good run and I learned a great deal about pacing and positive thinking.

The sub-4 hour marathon time is like that cute, popular boy in high school that would flirt with me but never ask me out on a date. At times the possibility feels so real to me I can taste it, but it has remained just out of my reach. In training for New York, rather than focus on a time goal, my coach had me run fewer miles and less often with the goal of getting me to the start line injury free. Even with this plan, I developed some shin pain in my left leg. With some last minute modifications and physical therapy we accomplished the goal of getting me to the start line feeling healthy, yet I felt under-trained. My mind wanted that sub 4-hour time, but I understood that my body may not be trained for it. All of the stars would have to align just perfectly. And in a race like New York, with the long wait before starting, the crowded course, and the bridges and multiple turns in the second half of the course, I wasn’t sure if I should attempt my BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) on minimal marathon training.  Regardless, it was in the back of my mind.

I left my hotel room at 5:20 a.m. and took an Uber to meet my friend and teammate Sarah in midtown Manhattan. We waited in a very long line that wrapped around several blocks to catch a bus out to Staten Island.

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On the 90 minute bus out to Staten Island

Once we arrived in Staten Island we went through a security check (thanks NYPD for keeping us safe!) and then waded through the masses at the start village to find our starting waves. Sarah was wave 1 green and I was wave 2 orange.

My friend Jessica was also wave 2 orange so we had the pleasure of waiting in the corrals and starting together!

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At the start!

I will never forget standing at the start line and hearing and feeling the thunderous boom of the start cannon followed by “New York, New York” and thousands of runners climbing the Verrazano bridge to begin their 26.2 mile journey through New York’s five boroughs. It brought tears to my eyes.

As we started our run, a light rain began to fall. The first mile is a gradual uphill to the crest of the bridge with the second mile being a gradual downhill to the bottom of the bridge. This is the greatest elevation change of the entire race. My first mile was around a 9:30 something and my second mile was around an 8:30 something. My coach and I had discussed anywhere between 8:45-9:15 as a suggested marathon pace and I was trying to feel out what was comfortable, while keeping the pace reigned it. I did not want to run under a 9 minute per mile pace (with the exception of the downhill mile). I ran comfortably through Brooklyn and tried to relax and follow the runners in front of me while enjoying the crowds and the neighborhoods.

The day before the race I had the honor of hearing Meb Keflezighi speak. Before Meb spoke, Mary Wittenberg, the former race director for the New York City Marathon, also spoke. She gave a great overview of the course and some wonderful tips on course strategy. But the piece of advice that she gave that really stuck with me was this: “When I was the race director I used to always tell people to keep their heads down and run. But then I ran the race.” (Wittenberg did not actually run the New York Marathon until after her time as a race director.) “Now I tell people the exact opposite. The crowds are what make this race. Enjoy every moment. High five every child, every police officer.”

There are three start waves in the New York Marathon: orange, blue and green. The three colors run a slightly different course until mile eight in Brooklyn when all three colors merge. The merging caused a large bottleneck which was exacerbated by enthusiastic spectators that were migrating onto the race course. To make matters worse, the rain had picked up slightly making the roads slick. Suddenly, I was unable to run even a 9:30 pace without significant weaving or throwing elbows.

I tried to keep close to a 9 minute per mile pace in a effort to stay on track to finish in around 4 hours, but I found it extremely difficult. I was having to zig-zag in and out of runners, I slipped slightly on a GU packet, and ran up suddenly on a wheelchair participant that I was unable to see due to the crowds. I was also elbowed by another runner trying to jostle his way through the pack and witnessed a curse word laden fight between two runners, one of whom believed she had been wrongly shoved. It was not a pretty scene and it was not how I wanted the next 18 miles to play out. I could feel the frustration growing inside of me as my pace began slowing. And then I made a choice.

For the month prior to the marathon, I had struggled with finding happiness in my running. Filled with paranoia of recurring injury and fear of being too “slow,” my workouts had been marred with feelings of unworthiness and doubt. Instead of congratulating myself for showing up, I would beat myself up for not being good enough. This led to two of my workouts being cut short in the month leading up to the marathon due to my anxiety while running. Both my coach and my mental health therapist had expressed concerns to me about going into a race in the mental state I was in. I was not confident in my ability, not confident in my body’s health, and I was constantly beating myself up. I would try to relax and do positive visualization in the week prior to the marathon and end up in a panic. It was not good.

Before leaving for New York, I had written down all of my negative feelings about my running and the race and given them to my coach to destroy. I did not want them anymore. And in mile 8 in Brooklyn, I chose happiness. I chose running to build myself up, not beat myself down. I took Mary Wittenberg’s advice to heart. I high five’d all of the kids, thanked the police officers and volunteers and tapped on the signs in the crowd that said “Tap Here for Power!” When I saw my husband at mile 17, I stopped and gave him a big sweaty hug. After all, I was running THE NEW YORK CITY MARATHON! I would never again have this chance in my life, so I better enjoy it and get the most out of it!

When I made that choice there was a small voice in the back of my head that wondered if I was somehow giving up, if I was making an excuse not to try my best, or if my coach would be disappointed in me. I quickly quieted that negativity and told those voices that choosing happiness is the best choice, the stronger choice. Mental strength is so important in running and in life and I was making a choice that would not only get me to the finish line healthy, but would also help me enjoy the experience along the way. Having a mind that can stay relaxed, focused and positive will help me post faster times when my body is physically ready.

I smiled my way through Brooklyn and Queens, enjoying the crowds and going with the flow. I enjoyed seeing the different neighborhoods, reading signs, listening to music. Running over the Queensboro Bridge was amazing: going from the silence, solitude and camaraderie with other runners to the loud cheering on First Avenue is something I will never forget. Around Mile 21 runners cross the Madison Avenue Bridge from the Bronx back into Manhattan. When I crossed it there were two people at the top of the bridge with signs reading “Last Damn Bridge” and shouting “Really! It is!” It gave me a good laugh at a point during the race when I really needed one. I so appreciated all of the spectators who came out to cheer in the rain!

At Mile 22 I started to feel something tightening in my hip flexor. This is the point in the race and the point in my body when things started going south in my last marathon. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this was not my story any longer, that I had left my fear and negativity with my coach, and continued running. Before I knew it, my mind drifted on to to the fact that I was running towards Central Park and towards the finish line! Turning into Central Park and the last two miles of the course in the park were probably my favorite part of the race. At that point, I knew I would finish, and finish running strong! Being able to run across the finish line and run across the finish line of New York — the same one that Meb, Shalane and Stephanie Bruce had crossed just a couple hours earlier — was absolutely amazing.

I crossed the finish line in 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s 4 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of not beating myself up mentally. Four hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds of choosing to race happy. Do I still want that sub-4? You bet I do! And when I get it, which I will, I will enjoy every bit of it. I will not feel disappointment because I ran a 3:59 and not a 3:57. I won’t get there by beating myself down. I will only get there by building myself up. One good choice at a time.

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Run Strong, Run Happy

I love sarcasm. I practically speak it as a second language. Just ask my children. My sarcastic nature was forced on them at an early age. “Mom, you’re not serious are you?” “Mom, you don’t really mean that. — Do you?” But there is a place and time for it.

Yesterday runner and writer Matt Fitzgerald posted this sarcastic tweet:

MF Tweet

Now, he was joking. He does not think he needs to lose weight. However, just the posting of this photo and the joking around about weight rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it is because I am sensitive about this issue that I was unable to find the humor in his joke.

I would like to back up and say that I am generally a fan of Matt Fitzgerald. I have read and learned from many of his books, I follow him on social media, and I think that he has done a lot of good for runners and the running community. However, some of his commentary, particularly those in regard to Racing Weight have led me personally down a dangerous path, and I believe they could do the same for other runners as well.

As runners it is easy to get caught up in the idea that less weight equals faster times. Indeed, this is often true. However, it can also equal injury, long term health problems, eating disorders, unhappiness, and all sorts of negative things that you do not want in your life. And you know what weighs a lot that you do want on your body? MUSCLE. So I love you Matt Fitzgerald, but I reject your Racing Weight idea and everything that goes along with it. I think our energy is better focused on Racing Strong and Racing Happy.

Rather than focus on a magical number that may or may not be attainable, work on getting stronger. Work on muscular imbalance. Work on your mental game. Read Matt Fitzgerald’s book How Bad Do you Want It? which is full of stories where runners gave up mentally long before their bodies physically gave up.

We are all unique and strong and capable, just as we are. There is no magical Racing Weight number, and if we go searching trying to find it we are wasting precious energy and perhaps setting ourselves down a path to injury and unwellness. Instead, work on unlocking the strength and power that is already within you.