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

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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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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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!