If Running Were My Bread & Butter, Last Month I Would Have Starved

Running may have to be added to my “enjoyed in moderation” list—right under refined carbs and saturated fats.

I missed several days of running last month, making a huge mess of my beautifully laid out NYC marathon training plan. 45 percent of the blame lies in a seriously tough work schedule the first two weeks of September (those of you who have anything to do with NY Fashion Week can offer a knowing nod here) and the other 65 percent goes to an angry left hip. (Noticing my math skills? I’m sure I’m not the only person who gives 110% when training for a marathon…)

I had some incredibly positive long runs heading into September. My pacing was great, my body felt sound, and mentally I was flying high. Then a nagging little popping sensation showed up in my left hip and put a wrench in the whole thing. I had hoped the crazy work schedule—which prevented me from hitting my (almost) daily runs and forced me to skip a long run altogether, would give my hip a much needed break. But now that I’m attempting to build back up and finish out my long runs before the taper, I’m realizing a slow September didn’t offer much relief. My hip still hurts.

I’ve officially gone OTP (off the plan), and I don’t know if this new run-until-it hurts-then-stop  routine will get me to the start line on Staten Island on 4 November. At this point, I think I have two options:

  1. Forget my time goal and just run the marathon slow—walking if necessary to be kind to my hip. (And set my sights on next season.)
  2. Cancel my marathon plans altogether, so I don’t risk any more damage—physical or mental, because not finishing would be really depressing. (And set my sights on next season.)

What would you do if you were in my sneakers?

Feeling Flirty In My Skirt-y

As if the skirt weren’t enough to prove I’m tough, sometimes I run around with a girly pink backpack, too.

When running skirts first hit the scene, I thought they were lame and too girly to be taken seriously. I even made fun of a friend for wearing hers around Central Park. But then I discovered how comfortable, yet chic they are compared to split shorts. I got a basic black one from Brooks and happily wore it on weekends. I could pull it on and instantly be ready to go to the farmer’s market, pick up dry cleaning, or meet friends for brunch. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to actually run in it.

Then I had a conversation with Missy Park, founder and CEO of Title Nine. She’s a huge fan of “skirts with benefits,” because they’re perfect for the active lifestyle she promotes through her catalog and website. “You can get up and move in any direction, whenever you feel like it in a running skirt,” says Park. And that’s where she thinks we gals have an advantage over the guys—“We’ve got more [clothing] options that allow for unencumbered movement,” she says.

But we didn’t always come out on top in the movement department. Park remembers a time when women’s sports teams didn’t get the same funding that the men’s teams did. “Being among the first to play basketball at Yale under Title IX certainly shaped me,” says Park. “I learned leadership skills, ways to deal with stress on the court, and that, as a woman, I have value.” Park brought those sensibilities to the office when she started Title Nine. “Back then, women would wear two jock straps sewn together because sports bras didn’t exist,” she laughs. “The fitness apparel market just wasn’t ready for girls.”

From sports bras to running skirts, times have certainly changed for the better. The Title IX Education Amendment prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving any type of federal financial aid. President Richard Nixon signed it into law on 23 June 1972, and schools across the nation had to offer equal opportunities in sports to boys and girls. Since then hundreds of thousands of women and girls have set foot on fields, courts, and tracks across America. “It wasn’t about being treated like the boys,” says Park, “It was about having the same opportunities.”

I’m now the proud owner of three running skirts. Park sent me one shortly after our meeting, I still have the Brooks skirt I mentioned earlier, and I recently bought this ruffled Lululemon number (pictured). And I actually take them out for loops in Central Park. They no longer seem frilly or silly to me. Instead, these skirts remind me of the opportunities and options that I’m so thankful to have.

It’s good to be a girl! Happy 40th Anniversary, Title IX!

Do you own a running skirt? Do you feel confident when you wear yours?

Bear Mountain Half Marathon Recap: The Camera Loves Me!

Politely jockeying for position at the start of the race.

Have you ever been in one of those races where everything just goes right? The conditions are perfect. You’re solidly trained. The weather couldn’t be better. The course is a dream. Well, The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in Bear Mountain, NY wasn’t one of those races. But the photos of me participating in it would certainly lead one to believe otherwise. (What can I say? The camera loves me!) Still, I have to admit those smiles were 100% genuine. I loved this event!

The morning started out in a bit of a panic. Our GPS device sent us to the wrong address and we ended up on the wrong side of Bear Mountain. (All together now: “The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see!”) Luckily, we planned to be at the start 45 minutes early, so we had time to correct the mistake. It took 22 minutes to drive west, find the right exit, and get to the parking lot—and I was an anxious mess.

The laid-back start line was nerve-soothing. Unlike road races where directors line you up in corrals based on your pace, this was a free for all. Runners casually milled about in a grassy area in front of an inflatable archway that demarcated the start/finish. Instead of feeling like we were about to embark on the toughest trail half marathon in the region, the atmosphere was as calm as a backyard barbecue. Thank goodness—after the hectic drive, I couldn’t have handled a stressful line up.

Early miles were no indication of the intensity to come. I got into a decent mid-pack position within the first two miles, knowing that the trail would turn to single track soon and I wouldn’t be able to easily make passes after that. From there, the course wound around through the woods, progressively getting steeper, the ground changing from dry to muddy, and the terrain becoming increasingly treacherous. I was prepared for roots, rocks, and the occasional branch across the trail, but there were sections of this course that we were simply unable to “run.”

Lively conversation made the death-march climbs bearable. There’s an unwritten code among trail runners that if you can’t see the top of a hill, you stop running and walk up it instead. My signature is all over that imaginary document! Hiking up the inclines that make the Bear Mountain course a five-out-of-five for overall difficulty and a five-out-of-five for technical terrain, would have been daunting had I been alone. But chatting with the girls just behind me made the climbs fly by. (Have you ever seen people hiking with a pair of caged pet birds? One of these girls had! Hilarious!)

Minutes after taking a tumble—you can just make out the bruise beginning to form on my lower left quad.

Wiping out hurt, but I kept going. With a little less than three miles to the finish, the trail opened up and I found some speed. It felt good to pump my legs harder. But at that point I was mentally fatigued, and I wasn’t concentrating enough on where I was planting my feet.  I hit a rock in the center of the path and went flying, crashing hard onto my left side. Momentum and a slight decline caused me to roll forward, so I ultimately finished the fall on my back with my head pointing down the trail. I got back onto my feet a little dazed, and started moving forward immediately. A man in front slowed to make sure I was okay—I was, mostly. A guy behind clapped and shouted, “You’re doing great! Your pace has been even this entire time and you’re almost to the finish.” I shouted my thanks to both of them and went back to a slow jog.

Working the camera and crossing the finish line mats—all in a day’s work.

My heart soared when I heard the cheers at the finish line. “Finish strong with a smile,” is a mantra that I use during the last mile of every race. And it was especially helpful for this one. Half a mile from the finish my body was starting to realize that it was in pain—from the fall and from the intense workout that I’d just put it through. I came out of the woods onto a parking lot that stretched towards the grassy field where the journey began, and I started to sprint. I was done, and I was happy.

And I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Have you ever fallen during a run? What helped you get back up?


Guess Who’s Not Feeling Ready for Her Half Marathon Next Weekend?

My mind isn’t there yet, but at least my feet will look confident in The North Face Single Track Hayasa sneaks!

Surprise, it’s me. (Not really a big shock there, huh.) Between stressing out over work for the past month and coming down with a chest cold (gotta thank the boyfriend for that one—every time he gets on a plane he comes back with the sniffles!), I’m not feeling super confident going into what should be a taper week for the upcoming The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon at Bear Mountain. But thinking back on every single significant race I’ve ever participated in, I’ve never felt ready.

The morning I toed the line in Hopkinton for the 2011 Boston Marathon, I was full of dread—I didn’t think I could handle the hills. Minutes before the gun went off for the 2010 Marine Corps Marathon I briefly considered crossing the barricades, finding my dad in the crowd, and telling him to drive me back home—I wasn’t sure if I had put in enough mileage. And in the first mile of the 2009 NYC Marathon I almost pulled over to throw up on the Verrazano Bridge—the anxiety over not being positive that I could complete 26.2 miles was making me nauseas.  I finished all of those marathons. Clearly, my body was ready and this is all mental.

Still, going into my first ever trail half-marathon presents new hurdles for my head. Did I run enough on actual trails to prepare my legs, ankles, feet, tendons, and muscles for the inconsistent terrain? Should I have practiced carrying my water bottle more? Was my training enough? Am I enough?

My mantra for this week leading up to the race: “Yes, I am enough.” I have no doubt that I will finish all 13.1 of those woodsy miles on Sunday 6 May. It just might not be pretty. And I might be sniffling on the way home.

What helps boost your pre-race confidence? Got any trail running tips? 

My Ego Is A Big Jerk!

This water bottle got all cozy with the milk and bananas because of my ego.

I could have (should have!) gone to a speed workout with AGTC this morning at 5:45am. But I didn’t. And I only have myself to blame.

I had every intention of making it happen. I went to bed early. I remembered to set the alarm—even double-checked it was for a.m., not p.m. But this morning when the clock started bleeping, a negative little voice in my head began to talk…

“You haven’t worked out like this in months,” it said as I climbed out of bed. “You’ll be slower than everyone else,” it whispered to me in the kitchen when I tossed a nuun tablet into my water bottle. “You’ll look stupid coming in last on every sprint,” it shouted while I pulled on a pair of running tights.

That nagging voice wore down my resolve, and sadly I gave in. I tossed my pants back into the closet, put the water bottle in the fridge, and climbed under the covers. And now, I’m annoyed.

Instead of working my butt off with a bunch of like-minded people this morning, I have to go for a run alone. I could have (should have!) had fun working with teammates to push myself harder. I could have (should have!) been done already. But no, I allowed my ego and its fears of looking stupid, being slow, and experiencing pain to prevent myself from doing that.

I’m challenging myself to ignore my ego for the rest of the week.

Do you have any good comebacks for the negative little voice in your head? Has your ego ever held you back?

Everest Base Camp, Baby!

Giving out hugs at Everest Base Camp.

Standing at the bottom of the world’s highest peak, 5364 meters above sea level, makes you feel pretty small. But it also makes you realize how significant you are in this world.

Last Sunday I made it to Everest Base Camp in one piece with a big smile, and not even a blister to complain about! (Photo to come ASAP.) It’s taken me a while to process the experience and internet connections in Nepal’s Khumbu region are spotty and expensive—which explains why this post is a week late.

Climbing up hills that on any other part of the globe would be considered mountains was physically tough (duh), but it was mentally challenging too—something I really wasn’t expecting. I found myself relying on running mantras to get me through hours of grueling ascents. I repeated the simple-yet-effective, “I feel good,” when I thought I couldn’t go any further.  (Thanks, Tim Catalano!) And at one point the words “I run marathons. I don’t quit!” floated through my head. That’s when I remembered how truly loved I am.

In all three of the 26.2’s I’ve completed, I’ve had the endless support of my family and friends. I couldn’t have crossed those finish lines without them. So up there, just a few meters away from the base of a mountain half a world away from the people who mean the most to me, I tapped into those connections and felt a sense of warmth and love. It was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the oxygen-deprived stupor and convince me to keep moving my feet.

Today, I’m heading to the Annapurna Circuit where I will encounter 18 more days of hiking at elevations up to 5400 meters. And you can bet I’ll be soaking in all of the good vibes you send my way. Love and Namaste to all!

Pre-Flight Entertainment: Run While You Can Documentary

T-1.5 hours until I leave for the airport. I’m packed. I’m full of sushi (probably won’t see that for the next 6 weeks!). And I’m killing time watching this film trailer. Hello, motivation!

I’ll be wearing my trail running shoes on the plane tonight, which means they’ll be on my feet when I arrive in Nepal on Friday morning. (Yep, it takes a day and a half to get there.)… After watching Sam Fox try to break the speed record for running the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness and money for The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (in honor of his mother who suffers from the disease), I’m temtped to run portions of the trail on my Himalayan trek. I’ll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, you can go out and do great things on your run today! “You don’t have to be given an opportunity, you just have to believe you’re capable of something, and then go after it and give it a try,” says Fox. Find out more about his journey at runwhileyoucanfilm.com.

What inspires you to run? 

Penny For My Thoughts (That’ll be $456,982, please.)

Almost smiling! Brightroom captured me thinking happy thoughts at the finish.

Sometimes I have moments of incredible clarity when I pound the pavement and I’m able come up with answers for everything—including the solution to world hunger (Hint: It involves entomophagy). On other runs, I don’t think about anything at all and I get into a peaceful zone that feels like a full-body smile. Sadly, I didn’t achieve either of those mental states in Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon this past weekend.

Everything that popped into my head last Saturday felt negative. And that bad energy caused me to concentrate on all the wrong things—namely, an achiness in my hips. I had to think past the race just to get to the finish line. Around the 7-mile marker, I reminded myself that as soon as I got through this half marathon, I could focus on my next endurance challenge, hiking in the Himalaya.

I was in a just-get-through-this state of mind, and I’m a little bummed about that now. I don’t know why I didn’t pay more attention to the positive aspects of that race: the camaraderie of fellow runners out to have a good time, the cheerful volunteers who shared their morning, the shout outs from friends on the course.

This isn’t the first time my head has sabotaged what should have been a really fun experience. I was clouded by negative thoughts during the Boston Marathon back in April, too. And I’m wondering if my mental funk is a sign of something bigger. Or, more likely, maybe I’m over-thinking everything.

What’s on your mind when you’re running? What helps you stay positive during a race?

Book Report: Running The Edge by Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano

I’ve been excited about the debut of Running The Edge by Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano ever since I stumbled upon their blog. These guys regularly post fun, personal comments on the world of running and share their love of the sport with humor and thoughtfulness. When the book landed in my mailbox, I figured I’d zip through it in one night, and  I was a bit surprised when I didn’t.

This is not the type of read you’d expect from elite runners. Adam doesn’t lay out, lap-by-lap the workouts that helped him qualify for the Olympics in 2000, and Tim doesn’t wax poetic about his speedy days at the University of Colorado. Instead, the message is bigger than that, deeper—it forces you to slow down and think.

Adam and Tim ask you to look at your running and consider whether or not you are being honest (with yourself and the world) about your training and goals. And once you’ve evaluated where you can improve, you’re prodded into considering how that translates to the rest of your life. Are you doing all that you can to be the best runner you can be? Are you doing all that you can to live your best life?

Imagine if we went to the same lengths to improve our life stories as we do going after a new PR, goal time, or qualifying standard. Imagine how much better our lives could become if we applied the same level of commitment, determination, tenacity, and creativity to improving our lives as we do in improving our running. (pg. 188)

Adam and Tim want you to recognize that by improving your sense of initiative, responsibility, determination, adaptability, integrity, and person-ability [sic], you can become your ideal self.

… We run the risk of living passive lives waiting for things to happen. We wait for love, for our big break, for a problem to disappear. We are waiting for our lives to live us, instead of going out and living our lives with purpose and action.  (pg. 84)

You are in charge of creating your best life. You have the ability to be a positive force in the world. These messages are universally appealing, ones that everyone should hear, not only runners. Which is why I think this book could be one in a series: Mothering On The Edge, Accounting On the Edge, Dry Walling On The Edge… (I can only imagine how different the world economy would be now if Investment Banking On the Edge had come out in the late 1980’s.)

Adam and Tim never ask where personal integrity and accountability have gone in today’s society or why we all feel so entitled. Instead, they show us through personal anecdotes how they failed on occasion in their own lives, where they have succeeded, and what they’ve done to improve themselves. And they implore the reader to live their lives—as runners, and as sons, daughters, friends, and neighbors—as close to the edge of greatness as possible.

Their stories lend a personable feel to this call to action, making the book feel more like a conversation with friends than a self-help workbook. The writing itself is clear, ideas aren’t complicated, and the text isn’t sprinkled with psychobabble words that require a dictionary, making it an easy read, though not a quick one. By asking you to reflect on your life and your running, the message begs to be savored.

Well done, Tim and Adam—I’m impressed! And I’m recommending it to all of my running buddies. (Get your copy here.)

What’s The Plan, Stan?

I’m training for Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon on 1 October and I’d like to do well. Of course, well is relative. My last half marathon was in January—it was 14 degrees outside and I finished in a respectable 1:57:02. This time, I’d like to push myself harder and cross the finish line in 1:49:00.

I’ve learned that when you set a goal (in running and in life) it helps to have a solid plan to get there. Figuring out that plan can be a challenge. Do you ask Google for one? Get it from a magazine? Hire a coach? I’ve tried all of those routes and they’ve all gotten the job done… when I’ve stuck with them.  That’s the key: A training program can’t tie your shoes for you—it only works if you’re dedicated to seeing it through.

Today my plan had me knock out three easy miles. But for some reason getting started was tough. I didn’t feel like getting out of my pajamas. I didn’t feel like going to the park. And I questioned whether a slow, low mileage run was really worth my time. (Clearly I woke up on the wrong side of the bed!) So I thought about my goal and I visualized what it would be like to look up at the finish line clock and see those numbers. Suddenly, snoozing for an extra 30 minutes just didn’t seem worth it.

What keeps you dedicated to your plan? What motivates you to run?