Catching the Unicorn! My 2019 California International Marathon Race Report

I ran my first California International Marathon (CIM) on December 4, 2016. I had been running on pace to break four hours, but also running with a questionable femur. Things had been going well, but with less than 5k to go, I felt a pain in my leg that I could not run through. I stopped to stretch it and was not able to start running again. By the final mile, I could barely walk. I hobbled my way to the finish line, limping over it in 4:22. I received some crutches and a femoral stress reaction diagnosis to go along with my medal, and I could not ski all winter. It was my second stress reaction diagnosis of the year, and my second marathon (of the five I had completed) that had ended with crutches, which left me wondering if my body just could not handle the distance.

In spite of my broken, depressed, and defeated state, I still had my dream of running Boston. I had joined the Boise Betties in 2014 when my friend Gretchen started this coached women’s running group in hopes that I would become a faster and better runner. When I told her that I wanted to run Boston one day and she told me it was possible, I didn’t really believe her. I thought that she was just being nice and encouraging, as any good coach would be. I didn’t tell other people that I wanted to run Boston because I thought they might look at me as if I had just told them I wanted to build a rocket ship and fly to the moon. However, slowly, over the years, I began to admit to people, one by one, and then to everyone, that this was my goal. Someday. I would inch towards a place where it would seem somewhat attainable, but then the qualifying times would get harder. It is a moving target.

There was also the issue of my brokenness and inability to run a marathon. Or at least that is the story I was telling myself. In 2018 at Onward Shay Boise Marathon, I was finally able to execute a marathon properly and break four hours. It took me seven marathons to run one well. After seven marathons, I finally felt like I had the capacity to run the distance. Now I had to convince myself that I could run a Boston qualifying time. It didn’t matter how much my coach believed in me. If I didn’t believe that I could do it, it wasn’t going to happen.

Ever since my heartbreaking run at CIM in 2016, I dreamt about going back in 2019 to run a Boston qualifying time. I knew the course. I knew what the finish line looked like. I pictured the last 5k, except instead of limping the last 5k I pictured feeling strong during those miles. I had the 2016 poster in front of my treadmill with a Boston 26.2 sign right in front of it.

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View from my treadmill for the past three years

The week before CIM 2019, I was not in a good headspace. My anxiety was high (partly seasonal, partly due to the race), I was stressed out about the weather (the forecast included lots of rain and wind), and I wasn’t sleeping well. At one point during the week, I was standing in the kitchen in tears telling my husband that I really needed my mind to participate in this run and I wasn’t sure how to get it on board. I went to the library and checked out every book I could find on mental training in a last ditch effort to fine tune my brain game. I picked up a few tips from a book called The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion (the title really spoke to me!), and I’d recommend it.

I got a migraine the day I flew to Sacramento and it never completely went away before the race. I almost gave up on my goal and thought “well, I can try again in June.” But I also remembered how hard I had worked, all the money I was spending on travel, all the time spent away from my family for training and to race, and all the extra work my husband does so that I can train for and run marathons. And then I recommitted to my goal. Or at least leaving it all out there. If I left it all out on the course and didn’t give up on myself when it got hard, I would consider the race a success.

1st 10 miles – Grateful

I thought about how thankful I was just to be there, just to make it to the start line with a healthy body and the fitness to go after a big goal. As my friend Sarah reminded me, “it is a gift.” I thought of my coach and family who were instrumental in getting me there, my training partner Amber who was also running, and anyone who had run miles with me to help me through this training cycle. I thought of all of the people tracking me and cheering me on. By miles 3-5 I started wondering if I was going to get tired too early. I went back to feeling grateful. “Run with joy,” I thought. “This could be IT. This could be THE run. Enjoy EVERY step. Run like you never want it to end.” At mile 8 I definitely was worried I was too tired for that point in the race and I started to tell myself that it wasn’t going to be my day. I got scared. Then I remembered what my coach had told me before my marathon last year. “Don’t get scared if it starts to feel too hard.” I also identified it as “just a thought,” (a tip I got from The Brave Athlete!) and tried not to attach too much meaning to it, to let it float on by. I kept running, tried to notice other things around me, and soon forgot about it. I eventually saw the 3:45 pace group ahead of me and felt reassured that I had not gone out too fast.

2nd 10 miles – Grind it out

Miles 13-16 had a headwind. After a brief panic, I thought to myself “ok you have done this before” and remembered my marathon last year with the headwind. I also thought about how unlike my marathon last year there were all of these people to help block the wind. I tried to find a group to run behind and also reminded myself we’d be turning in a few miles.

I stayed behind the 3:45 group and noticed that the pace felt relaxed. I thought “oh my gosh I am almost at mile 17 and I feel GOOD!” and then I remembered that I was only at mile 17 and never to get excited during a marathon at any point until you see the finish line. But I did allow myself to feel THANKFUL that I was feeling good at that point and just kept running. I also saw a spectator dressed as Santa on the sidelines cheering and told him I had been good and could I please have a PR. I think he heard me.

I reminded myself that the race had not started yet.

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CIM spectators are awesome! I saw this gentleman at least twice on the course and he brought a big smile to my face. Thank you, sir!

Last 10k – Grit

At mile 20 I told myself, “OK, this is the race. This is where it starts. 10k to Boston.” I had my Believe journal sitting in my hotel room which contained entries of the 1500 miles I have run this year in preparation for this race. I just had this 10k to go. And there were all of these people around to support and encourage me. I looked at my watch and knew I was about where my coach and I talked about me being at the 20 mile marker. I just had to hang on. It’s a big request for the last 10k of a marathon, but there was a lot on the line.

After one of the aid stations I kind of naturally went ahead of the 3:45 group and I just kept going. Once I passed them I was running a little scared because I felt like if they passed me it would be mentally defeating. I had no idea how far behind me they were, but I figured they were just a tad behind me because I could still hear the crowd yelling “3:45!!!” at the pace group as they saw the sign that one of the pacers was carrying. Every mile for the last 10k I told myself “OK, just one more mile like that. Just one more 8:30.” I said out loud, “BOSTON.” I told myself, “You have worked SO hard for this. Do NOT lose this race in the last 5k.” I told myself that I had done track workouts or tempo runs during this training cycle that were harder than this. I vividly remembered the last time I was at the end of that course and could barely walk. To be able to run strong down those streets was such sweet redemption. I can’t even describe the feeling. The last mile I looked at my watch and knew I could make it in under 3:45. I told myself “this is your victory lap!” I had the *intention* of speeding up and it sure felt like I was, and I was picking people off, but in reality I was just hanging on to my pace. Which at the end of the marathon, I will take! I ran down those last blocks before you make the two turns towards the finish wanting to cry. I felt so much emotion, but I was still running my heart out and trying not to feel all of the emotions yet because I still had to make it to the finish line. When I turned and saw that finish line, it was amazing. Since I was there in 2016, I have imagined going back to CIM and doing this. I have visualized this moment SO. MANY. TIMES. Every track workout during this training cycle that was hard, I visualized turning the corner and running towards that finish line victoriously. I would look at the poster in front of my treadmill during treadmill runs and picture it. For months and weeks before the race, I would lie in bed and night and visualize it. AND IT WAS FINALLY HAPPENING. My coach was right. If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, your body can achieve it.

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When the moment you have dreamed of for years becomes a reality

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The best sound!

 

The Girl in the Arena

Man in the Arena

Growing up I was never an athlete. I was usually picked last in gym class, unless my friend Katie was the team captain and would take pity on me. (Thanks, Katie!) I played field hockey for a season, but spent most of the time on the bench. During adolescence, I hated my body and abused it through vicious cycles of bingeing and purging. In early adulthood, I discovered distance running and gradually learned that if I treated my body well and fueled it right it could do some cool things. I was strong, I was capable. My body could run long distances. It could make babies and birth them. If I gave my body the respect it deserved, it would perform well in return.

In 2005, my friend Laurie convinced me to run my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon. Sometime during the training cycle I looked up the Boston qualifying times out of sheer curiosity. They seemed totally and completely unattainable. I remember thinking that if I was still running in my 60s, I might have a chance of getting in. Fast forward to 2014. My friend Gretchen, a fellow mom I knew from preschool, mentioned that she was thinking of starting a coached women’s running group. I sheepishly asked if I might be able to join, not knowing if such a group would include middle of the pack runners like myself. Fortunately, the group was for all types of runners. All paces, all ages, all distances.

I joined. I got up early. Really early. In all sorts of weather. I began doing more structured speed workouts. I committed. I got injured. I got back up. I recommitted. I kept going. And I kept this idea of Boston in the back of my head. Maybe? Could it be possible? Someday? I shared my goal with my coach and my family, but not many other people. I didn’t want to share with too many people because a) I didn’t want for them to think my goal was ridiculous and unattainable, and b) what if I tried and failed? Also the qualifying times and accepted qualifying times kept getting harder so that when the goal might seem within reach, the goalposts would move further away.

As I told more and more people, I realized that those around me (at least the ones that matter) believe in me and support me, but the only person that needs to believe that I can reach this goal is ME. My coach believed in me from the very beginning. Now I realize that it doesn’t matter how much she believes in me. If I don’t believe in myself, I cannot get there. As for the failure part, if I am not willing to risk the failure, I can’t get to the triumph. Big goals come with big rewards, but they also come with risk.

On December 8, I am going to chase that big goal. After years of hard work, many training cycles, and years of thinking “maybe someday, but not today,” that someday is now.

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Dear Santa, I’ve been good this year

Famous Potato Half: Say yes to the pain cave

Since Boise races are notoriously inaccurate and I had heard this course was long (spoiler: it was), I did not go into this race with a time goal in mind, only an average pace goal. I have found that I do better with average pace goals anyway, as it helps me focus on the process and run the mile that I am in.

The start of this race was a little hectic. It was delayed due to the fact that not all of the busses had arrived. The port-a-potty lines were long. I was standing in line with my friend Laurie when she pointed out to me that I really needed to calm down. I know that my pre-race anxiety is an issue and one that I need to get under control in order to keep my heart rate low at the start of races, but what I did not know is that it is an issue that is apparent to those around me. I thought I hid it well. I guess not. While we were still in line, the MC suddenly announced, “ok, everyone is here, let’s start!” Laurie was kind enough to offer to drop off my bag at the gear check for me and I ran off to the start line, trying my best to get a place at least in the middle of the pack. This was not the best way to begin a race.

I plodded along on pace and did fine until about the 7th or 8th mile, when it started to feel hard, as it typically does in a half marathon. Around mile 10, things really started to feel awful. Also around mile 10, the race goes by the finish line and then loops around the last 5k. I do not like races that give you a preview of the finish before you finish.

The 10 mile mark of this race also marked the entrance to the pain cave, and it was a place I did not want to go. I was afraid of the discomfort, fearful of failing, so I let the negativity creep in. “You could just stop right here,” I thought. “Just step off the course right here and this all stops. All of it. The pain, the agony. You don’t have to do this. Why are you doing this?” I thought about stopping. Then I wondered what I would say to my kids at home. That I stopped because it was hard? That I didn’t know if I could stay on pace the last 5k? That I didn’t even try? No, that wasn’t acceptable. As in life when things get hard, we must stay the course and keep going. One step at a time. Because the way out is forward. So I moved forward. Slowly, painfully, up the hill, past my teammates and coach who were so kindly cheering but who I can only remember in a blur because I was so deep in the pain cave, and towards the finish line.

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In the pain cave. Unhappy. (Photo @boisebetties)

Although it felt like I had slowed exponentially in the last 5k, I had really only slowed down one, maybe two seconds per mile, and when I crossed the finish I had met my average goal pace.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t fight the pain cave. Say yes.
  2. The only way to get to the good stuff on the other side of the pain cave is to run through the pain cave.
  3. Keep going. Always keep going.

 

 

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Outside of the pain cave with giant potato. Much better.

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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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.

My First Cycling Race: Bogus Basin Hill Climb

Those of you who know me know that I have a love hate relationship with my bike. Love the cross training benefits. Lots of anxiety surrounding the whole balancing on two skinny wheels while traveling at high speeds with my feet clipped in part. Coordination has not historically been my strong suit. I like triathlon because it motivates me to cross train and forces me to become a more well rounded athlete, and since most of a triathlon is spent on the bike, I must confront my cycling anxiety.

My friend Barb has helped me confront my fears head on this summer. Through practice, repetition, and finding a pedal system that works better for me (Thank you, Barb!) I was able to gain a bit more confidence on the bike. One of the training rides I like to do is up Bogus Basin Road, a 16.5 mile winding road that leads to our local ski hill. The total ride has about 4000 feet of elevation gain. At the end of August there is a race to the top called the Bogus Basin Hill Climb. I had never ridden my bike all the way to the top (the furthest I had gone in training was to mile marker 13) nor had I ever done a cycling race, but this year my husband and I decided to do it. My coach Gretchen also signed up.

There were three options on signup: the dirt race (you can get to the top via approximately 20 miles of mountain biking trails as well), the non-competitive road race (which is not timed), and the competitive road race (which is timed). I looked at the times from last years’ race and approximated my time based on my training rides. Based on my projected time, I would finish squarely in the bottom 25%. Nevertheless, if I was going to do a cycling race, I wanted a number and proof on the interwebs that I had done a cycling race! Competitive race it is!

On the morning of the race, my husband and I rode our bikes to the start. The weather was nice: not too hot or cold and no wind. We assessed the group and lined up behind the group of junior high and high school kids. After about 4 or 5 miles of hard climbing, my legs started to feel tired. While I had done long or hard rides before, I had never done a cycling specific workout outside and I was wondering if signing up for a cycling race had been a bad idea. During long or hard rides I would stop and get a drink or a snack. I was not planning to do that during this race. I had a Camelbak on my back and was just planning to drink from that and keep going. I wondered if I was last or close to last, but noticed a few riders behind me. I pushed my doubts aside and kept pedaling.

Once I got out of my head and to the second half, I felt much better. I was enjoying the ride, occasionally passing a person or two, and appreciating the tree coverage that the higher elevation brought. I even noticed that when I would sip from my Camelbak I would continue to pedal with one hand off of my bars. I must be getting more comfortable on the bike! Before I knew it I was just a couple of miles from the top. I finished the ride in 1 hours and 35 minutes, well under my projected finish time of 2 hours.

My husband, coach and I enjoyed the post race beer, tacos and music and then headed back down the mountain. For me, riding back down was just as hard (if not harder!) than riding up. By that point in the day the wind had picked up a bit making the downhill a bit scary for me. Nevertheless, I made it home in one piece very proud of my almost 40 mile round trip up and down the mountain!

 

 

lululemon does law school

I wear many hats. Mom, wife, friend, runner, wannabe cyclist and blogger. In a former life I was a full-time practicing attorney, and I teach part-time at a law school. The first time I walked into a classroom of law students I was struck by the air of idealism in the room. I wanted to harness the positive energy and catapult it into the community, immediately putting all of that idealism to good use. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. Turning the dream into reality requires planning, action and consistency. This is why I use lululemon’s goal setting worksheets in some of my classes, including the interns I taught this summer.

On a warm afternoon earlier this summer as students trickled into class after a long day of working at their internships, I prepared to speak to them about goal setting and creating a business plan. Some students rushed in just before the start of class still wearing suits, others strolled in at a more casual pace, having had time to change into more comfortable attire. Living their lives from semester to semester as most students do, not many take the time to think about a five or ten year plan. Survival through exams until the next break is more the name of the game.

Planning is important, however, to ensure that the steps we take today are taking us towards the life that we want. In the areas of health, personal, and career, these worksheets invite you to envision your future, examine what you want and don’t want in it, and then help you create a ten, five and one year plan. You create ten year goals, working backwards to the one year goal and even to what you can be doing today to help you make progress towards that goal.

I first used these worksheets at a goal setting workshop hosted by my coach and found them incredibly helpful in creating a vision for my own future. Every time I ask my students to complete these worksheets, I complete them with my students, and every time I complete them my goals and vision change slightly. And that’s okay. Just because you write it down doesn’t mean it’s written in stone. But writing down a goal is an important part of the process.  Gary Blair said, “A goal is created three times. First as a mental picture. Second, when written down to add clarity and dimension. And third, when you take action towards its achievement.” I encourage you to give these worksheets a try to help add clarity and dimension to your goals. These are not just worksheets for yogis or runners, but for anyone who wants to create a happier and more fulfilling life. That includes law students!