Here’s a hard truth: getting back into shape isn’t easy, or glamorous, or fun, or sexy. It isn’t quick, it isn’t painless, and it isn’t pretty.
This is what it is: it’s staying in on a Saturday night so you can hydrate and get enough sleep before a long run that is exactly a quarter of the distance you used to run on long run days. It’s convincing yourself that that run even matters, short as it is. It’s convincing yourself to take that run seriously, short as it is.
It’s wearing compression socks under your jeans to work, hoping your over-worked legs will miraculously feel better by the time your run rolls around. It’s using every mental trick you know – just get to that lamppost, just get to that fire hydrant, just get to your street – to keep yourself running when they don’t.
It’s rolling out a mat and doing core work at the foot of your bed after you run, even though you’d rather be in that bed, preferably watching Netflix with a glass of wine. It’s doing yoga videos alone in your basement. It’s bringing your foam roller with you wherever you go, and trying to laugh it off when your friends make fun of you, again, for taking it so seriously.
It’s schlepping it to the gas station during a snowstorm so you can buy two bags of ice. It’s shivering while you carry them inside your house. It’s shivering even harder when you lower yourself into a homemade ice bath and force yourself to sit there for 20 minutes. It’s hoping that it works.
It’s two plates at dinner, trying to make sure you’re eating enough. It’s forcing yourself to drive to the store on a weeknight when you run out of frozen vegetables. It’s praying that that thing you heard about bananas speeding up recovery is true because everything hurts and you have a run on the schedule and you can’t skip a day because you’ll lose momentum.
It’s learning that momentum is a precious thing – the most precious thing. It’s realizing that it doesn’t matter how bright the fire burns, as long as it’s still alive. It’s dedicating your entire existence to stoking it, in the big ways and the small ways, doing whatever you can to make sure that when you wake up in the morning, you’ve still got a spark to work with.
It’s not easy. It’s not glamorous. It’s not fun, or sexy, or quick, or painless. It really, truly is not pretty.
But I have to believe it will be worth it.
Sorry I’ve been MIA. Been keeping quiet, putting in work, trying to earn the right to toe the line again (or even just to be able to work out again). Coming back to this space as often as I can!
It’s the spring of 2014, and I’m packed into a van with 9 other girls. I’ve just run 8 miles, 4 of them at tempo effort, and I’m sweating so profusely that it’s hard to sit upright in the leather seats; they are slick with my sweat, and my legs struggle to find purchase as the van bounces up and down on the dirt road. The weather is unseasonably warm for this time of year, and we have all paid the price for our lack of heat acclimation.
I clutch the row of seats in front of me, trying to avoid touching the sweaty bodies that flank me on either side. Hozier is playing in the background: take me to church, he sings, and in my half-drunk rest-starved post-workout state, it occurs to me just how appropriate that is. How the long, hot run I’d just coaxed out of my now-slack body had been a sacrifice of sorts; my daily devotional, laid down at the altar of pain.
At the time, I was a 22-year-old senior preparing myself for the last of my four track seasons at Kutztown University. In a mile race, this season would be my bell lap, and in the most ideal of scenarios, I’d be in the best shape of my life, readying myself to unleash a blistering kick.
Instead, my worst nightmare had happened. I’d fallen down the stairs in November of that year in a freak accident and sprained my ankle so badly that I was unable to walk without assistance for three weeks. A second of clumsiness had take me off the roads and relegated me to the indoor pool, where I “ran” in the deep end with a flotation belt strapped around my waist.
It was a new kind of pain; both mental and physical. I’d been injured before, but I had not been planning on it in this, my last chance at a successful track season and a podium finish in the steeplechase. Before I got injured, I’d come off of an unexpectedly encouraging cross country campaign. I’d run some massive PRs, and was expecting track to be more of the same. Now, I floated in the pool helplessly and tried to imagine coming back from this injury triumphant. I couldn’t.
Luckily, I had a great athletic trainer, an excellent coach, and the wisest of best friends and training partners. The day that I was cleared to run, I was barely able to limp through 10 minutes. It was agonizing, and when I finished, she held me while I cried. “It hurts,” I told her. “It hurts so bad.” She paused for a second before answering.
“Let it hurt,” she said. “Let it hurt every single day so for one day in the spring it doesn’t.”
I had been alone in the pool for two months, and when I rejoined my teammates I was put back in the distance group. At the time, that group was only four strong. Three of those girls were in the shape of their lives – one would go on to qualify for the national meet in cross country the following fall, and the other two set huge PRs that winter and spring in the 5k – and the fourth girl was me.
I was not in the shape of my life.
Easy runs were fine. I could run my own pace, or fall in with one of the mid-distance girls. But during workouts, there was no such easy out. We shared a track with the sprinters and the jumpers, the throwers and the hurdlers – the people who would be counting on us for points at the conference meet. There was no place to hide, and no way to take it easy.
It was, quite simply, awful.
It was the same story every time. I would start with the other three girls, then watch as they effortlessly sprinted away from me, even when I was running at maximum effort. On the rare occasion that I could stay with them, I was working harder than I’d ever worked in my life, just to hang off the back of the pack.
There were days where we’d finish and they’d launch casually into their cool down laps while I stood over a trash can, vomiting from the effort of trying to keep pace with them. There were workouts where I’d run all out just to finish more than 10 seconds behind, where I’d stand stock still with my hands on my hips, head back while I gasped for air and prayed to god to get me through the day. There were tempo runs where I asked my coach not to tell me my time, because it hurt too much to know exactly how far behind I was.
Most days, I’d go home and cry. And my friend would tell me: “Let it hurt today so that the one day that it counts, it won’t.”
I won’t lie to you. My story doesn’t have the happiest of endings. I did not end up finishing atop the podium that year. I missed placing at conferences by two places, five seconds.
But what I did instead was set a collegiate best in every single distance – from the 800 to the steeplechase – in the space of a month. I made myself a factor in a race that I wasn’t even sure I’d be healthy enough to start three months before. I had what was arguably the best performance of my career at the indoor conference meet, when I came from behind in the first leg of the DMR with a huge kick to hand off in third, in front of girls who went on to notch All-American finishes at the national meet.
And I was so, so proud of myself.
I read an interview with Kate Grace recently, in which she says that the biggest lesson she’s learned over the last year is that “improvement comes when it hurts”. I have to agree, because the year that I truly learned what it means to embrace pain was my miracle year: the year that I came from behind to do what no one – including me – thought was possible. The year that I learned the price of success is a daily sacrifice to that altar of pain; whether that means forcing yourself through yet another impossible workout, forcing yourself to get out and put the miles in when you’d rather do anything else in the world, or even just forcing yourself to start what seems, at first, to be an impossible task.
Alternate title: I made all these mistakes so that you don’t have to!
It’s June. You took your requisite two weeks to a month off after track season ended, and now you’re not only looking forward to summer training, you’re itching to get started. You have big goals this year – you imagine taking a minute off of your personal best, winning that state championship, crushing that fall marathon, setting the home course record, qualifying for the national race, every time you close your eyes. You want to put in the best summer of training you’ve ever had in your entire life, and you have no shortage of motivation to do it.
I get it. I’ve been there. Over and over, I’ve been there. But here’s what I learned: when you’re that motivated, it’s easy to adopt a dangerous all-or-nothing attitude that blinds you to the mistakes you’re making on a daily basis, that will eventually prevent you from achieving any of your goals at all. That might even sideline you for the season, taking you out of the equation entirely.
Luckily for you, I already made all those mistakes. I learned the hard way what happens when you ignore them. And I wrote them all down here, for you, so that you don’t have to suffer the way that I did.
I want you to run happy and healthy and love the sport, and I also want it to love you back. So without further ado, here are six (and a half) tips for getting the most of your summer training:
1. Your runs don’t have to be blazing fast to be effective. Your body can’t recover as quickly from a hard session as it can from an easy or moderate one, so odds are if you go all out on Monday and Tuesday, by Wednesday you’ll be tired and sore and more likely to need a day off. In the sport of running, consistency is key. It’s more effective to string together a bunch of average, medium-paced runs in a row than to go all out for three days only to have to take off on the fourth.
1a. There’s a misconception that if you’re not running fast, you’re not working hard. That’s wrong. It takes hard work and discipline to run slow when you want to run fast. It takes a lot of self-awareness to slow down when someone you think you can beat is ahead of you, especially on an easy day. People tend to think the hard part of competitive running is pushing yourself. It’s not. It’s NOT pushing yourself. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.
2. If you’re able to choose between sleep and running, do your run later and get more sleep. It’s not hardcore to skip sleep, it’s unproductive. Your body needs at least 8 hours to absorb the training and recover effectively.
The one caveat to this is if you live in a very hot and/or humid climate and need to run in the morning to avoid the heat of the day. That’s a whole different monster. Waking up early is smart in that case, but try to compensate for the lost sleep with a post-run nap or an earlier bedtime.
3. Don’t do AB workouts, do CORE workouts. What’s the difference? An ab workout addresses the abdominal muscles only. A whole core workout addresses not just the abdominals but also the obliques, glutes, pelvis, lower back, and more. The purpose of working out just your abs is vanity; gettin’ that six pack, lookin’ good on the beach. The purpose of working out your entire core is getting functionally strong so that you can better handle the physiological stress of training, recover more quickly, and eventually run faster as a result.
4. Do some of your runs on grass and trails for the relief of training on soft surfaces (and because in the winter you’ll miss the color green, believe me), but don’t worry about your pace. The terrain will naturally slow you down, but it will also force you to use different muscles than you usually do, which will make you a stronger and more resilient runner.
5. Don’t just hydrate with water. Well, definitely DO hydrate with water, but combine it with an electrolyte-replacing sports drink. Cheap examples: Gatorade or Powerade (if they’re too sweet for you try diluting a cup with a little water, it’ll taste better but serve the same function). Pricier Examples which are probably worth the investment if you are running a lot of miles/sweat a lot: Nuun, Skratch, SOS Rehydrate.
6. Most most most importantly…ENJOY YOURSELF. Setting only outcome-based goals (“win state”; “break 19”; “take a minute off my PR”) drains the joy out of the sport that you love very quickly. Remember that. Set another, more important goal: to enjoy the process. To love the sport more in July than you did in June, and to love it still more in August. Actively cultivate your passion, and let the rest take care of itself.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Let me know if you have any burning questions or tips to add, and I’ll do a follow up post. But for now…
I don’t go to the gym very often; I prefer to exercise outdoors, on the trails or the roads. But my hamstring and my back have been feeling banged up since the New Jersey Half, and the pain got bad enough today that I thought I should just delay my training for a week in favor of some more low impact activity.
So I drove to my local YMCA, and after hitting the elliptical for 50 minutes, I made my way toward the exit. My strategy during cross training is “distract yourself from how bad it sucks to be on an elliptical by working as hard as you can for as long as you can”, so my legs were pretty heavy, and I was looking down, taking the stairs one at a time. I was moving so carefully I almost ran into a staff member who was making his way up as I made my way down.
“Hey,” he said, “you did a good job today!”
I was taken aback, and pleased. I smiled and thanked him. I left in a great mood, and that mood carried over into the entire rest of my day. His comment has stayed with me for hours, and it’s taken me until now to figure out why.
Most workouts aren’t easy. Everyone who exercises knows that. It takes a lot of mental willpower to get yourself out the door, to slog through a run or a circuit or a class when you’re tired or bored or just plain unmotivated. Despite how it may appear on Instagram, it’s really, really difficult to maintain a consistent workout schedule, particularly if you also have a job, a social life, a family, or all three. It’s a thousand times easier to sit on the couch after work and binge watch Breaking Bad while shoveling pasta in your face than it is to hit the gym. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying or trying to sell you something.
Despite knowing all this, however, it is extremely rare that I actually congratulate myself after completing a workout, especially on the days that are “just” an easy run or “just” a cross training session. I might occasionally post a picture when I’ve gotten in a particularly difficult track session or text my boyfriend if I negative split a hard training run, but I’m not very likely to brag about getting in the 5 mile recovery runs, or the 50 minute elliptical sessions. In fact, I’m more likely to drive home thinking about how I need to prep dinner and take a shower and do some work than I am to take a second to feel proud of myself.
And I think that’s why that comment stayed with me all day today. Why I’m still thinking about it, 10 hours later. Because you know what? It felt really nice to be recognized for getting the work in. It might have been “just” a cross training session today, but his recognition of my hard work made me stop, consider, and recognize it myself. In that moment, I was proud of myself for showing up and toughing it out when it would’ve been easier to take a nap or watch TV.
And maybe that’s something we can all learn from. Maybe instead of hating yourself for missing yesterday’s workout, you can be proud that you killed today’s. Maybe instead of leaving the gym thinking about the next 3 things you need to cross off your list, you can take a moment to think about how you killed that workout because you’re a BOSS. Maybe instead of telling someone you “just” did an easy run today, you can tell them how proud you are that you did the work even when it was hard, and you didn’t want to.
Maybe before you mentally move on, you can even tell yourself that you did a good job today.
Well, I did it. I finished the New Jersey Half Marathon in 1:45:57, about a minute off of my goal of 1:45 flat.
I was running 7:50 pace through 8 miles, and then my watch died. I have no idea what I ran for miles 9-13; I just know 9 and 10 were fast (probably too fast) and 11, 12 and 13 were veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery slow.
I’m not totally sure how I feel right now. Last year was a really awful year for me in a lot of ways, and even just finishing this race should have been sweet redemption. But I’m also a really competitive person, and I’m feeling a little bummed. The 1:45 pacer passed me in the last mile and I was totally out of juice. All I could do was watch her go.
I think I did the best I could with what I had. I just wish I had had a little bit more.
I don’t mean to sound totally negative; I did have a ton of fun with my friend which was what I was really, really looking forward to. I think I just need a couple of days to process the race and figure out what’s going to be next for me! When I have, I’ll post a full recap.
Thanks so much to everyone that texted or called or messaged me to wish me luck on Sunday. When I started to fall apart I thought of all the people rooting for me, and it got me to that line. I truly appreciate the support!
I also want to congratulate everyone else who raced this weekend; especially my good good friend Crystal Burnick, who FREAKING WON BROAD STREET ON SUNDAY (<–that video = #relationshipgoals). It was horrible weather in PA/NJ so an extra special congrats to all the Broad Street, Pittsburgh, NJ Marathon runners!
Wow. Before I say anything else today, I have to start with this: THANK YOU so much to all the Oiselle Volée members who reached out yesterday to welcome me to the team. I am completely overwhelmed with gratitude. If this is any indication of what the next year is going to be like (and I think it is!), then I am even more convinced that my purchase was worth it. Head up, wings out!
Ok – half marathon training. I said in my last half marathon training post that I was going to be writing weekly updates…but then, of course, life got crazy. We had a fire in our apartment, I moved back in with my parents (then out again), my friend came home for a very limited time before leaving to become an officer in the Marine Corps…time just got away from me, and other things took priority. But I’m back! And just in time, because I race the Novo Nordisk New Jersey Half Marathon on SUNDAY MORNING (what!?).
So without further ado, here’s the last month of my training:
Tuesday: 3 miles easy
Wednesday: 6 miles easy
Thursday: 5.5 miles easy
Friday: 3.5 miles easy
Saturday: 1.5 mile warmup, 6x400m hill sprints with jog down recovery, 1x800m hill sprint, 1 mile cooldown for about 5 miles total (shout out to my boyfriend for waking up early and pacing me through this even though it was FREEZING and pouring rain – he’s a saint)
Sunday: 8 mile long run
Total: 31 miles
Tuesday: 1 mile warm up, 1 mile time trial in 6:04 (so close to breaking 6, but I dropped 22 seconds in just one month! this was a big confidence booster), 1 mile cooldown for 3 miles total
Wednesday: 1 mile to get the lactic out
Thursday: 1 mile warm up, 12x400m cruise with 200m recovery (first 8 were all between 1:40-1:42, last 4 were 1:37, 1:37, 1:35, 1:32), 1 mile cooldown for 7.5 ish miles total
Friday: 5 miles easy
Saturday: 3.5 miles easy
Sunday: 10.5 mile long run (FINALLY HIT DOUBLE DIGITS!)
Total: 30.5 miles
Wednesday: off (this was when the apartment fire happened and life got insane and I just…didn’t run)
Thursday: 6 miles easy
Friday: 4 miles easy
Saturday: Race Against Racism 5k in Kutztown, won in 21:13! 1:13 improvement over 5k in 1 month. Another big confidence booster!
Sunday: 11.5 mile long run averaging about 8:05 pace <–was psyched about this
Total: 25 miles
Tuesday: 1 mile warm up, 4 mile progression in 7:45, 7:39, 7:25, 7:10, 1 mile cool down for 6 miles total
Thursday: 5 miles easy
Saturday: 6 miles easy
Sunday: 6 miles easy
Total: 23 miles
Thoughts and Race Goals:
I’m now in race week (week 9), and all I’ve done is some shakeout runs with strides afterwards. I have felt completely terrible everyday but everyone has been assuring me that that’s totally normal so I’m not (too) worried.
I’m running the race with a friend/teammate of mine from high school and I am SO EXCITED to see her. Like, probably more excited for that (and going to the expo with her) than the race even.
My goal for this weekend was originally to run around sub-1:45, but after seeing the weather forecast and talking to some smart people, I’ve (mostly) let go of that goal in favor of just finishing. I think I can at least run close to 8 minute pace on a good day, but there’s just no point in beating myself up if I can’t do it in the pouring rain and wind. However, I am crazy competitive and if I feel good that day and someone is near me I’ll probably try anyway because I get wound up and can’t help it 🙂
I can’t believe race weekend is actually here. When I signed up for this race, I was literally not running at all. I could barely comprehend running 13 miles, much less at the pace I think I am currently capable of (whether I run that Sunday or not). After such a long time being unable to train at all, I am infinitely grateful for every mile I’ve been able to run so far. I actually get really emotional thinking about it and have a very real fear that I am going to start bawling as soon as I cross the line on Sunday like the HOT MESS THAT I AM.
But again, thanks so much to everyone for your feedback on my post yesterday, and GOOD LUCK to all my friends and fellow birds racing this weekend! Let’s all send each other speedy vibes 🙂
Last week, after thinking about it for months, I signed up to join the Oiselle Volée team.
If you’re scratching your head saying “oy-who?” let me give you some background: Oiselle (pronounced Wa-Zell) is a Seattle-based company that designs and produces beautiful women’s running apparel. The Volée team is their pet project: hundreds of like-minded ladies racing in the same singlet, all with the same commitment to community, sisterhood, and the sport of running as a whole.
It’s not free. You pay an annual fee of $100 – $25 of which goes towards Oiselle’s Emerging Athletes Fund and $75 of which covers your singlet, spike bag, and a slew of discounts.
That’s not cheap to me. I’m a 24 year old girl-woman with the word “coordinator” in my job title. I very recently started paying rent for the first time in my life, along with a monthly loan payment and a slew of other bills you don’t realize you’ll have to pay when you’re 18 and deciding you want to be an English major. I’m not broke by any means, but I drink the free coffee at work, I buy generic brands, I carpool to save gas money, I wear hand-me-downs; I don’t have room in my budget to spend $100 on a whim.
But I spent it on this, and I don’t regret it.
Because you know what? I miss being on a team. I miss getting my hair braided before big races, dancing in the bus aisles on the way to cross country meets, striding in unison down the back straightaway of the track. I miss the shared pain of Tuesday intervals, Friday tempos, Sunday long runs. I miss running mid-pack during an easy day, losing myself in the throng of swishing ponytails. I miss screaming at the top of my lungs for my best friends as they desperately fight for just one more second, one more place. I miss having a uniform and the sacred ritual of laying it out the night before my race, pinning my bib just right. I miss hitting the hard part of a 5k and knowing I’m competing not just for myself but for all the girls I train next to everyday, and all the girls that came before us. I miss the strength that gave me.
I know that the Volée can’t magically give me this back. I know that most of my runs will still be done alone, when the sun is setting and no one is around to help me out or get me through. That’s ok. That’s growing up.
But I also know that when I finish those runs, I’ll have sisters to turn to. A group of women who care how my run went, what I felt like, if I hit my splits. They may not physically be there that day, or the next, but I can feel them out there, rooting for me. A whole new flock of swishing ponytails for me to get lost in.
I know a hundred dollars is a lot of money, but in the end, the decision for me was a no-brainer. Head up, wings out.