Words to Run by

I’m going to start this blog post out by saying that I’d like to issue a challenge for us all for April. Before I tell you what the challenge is, I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about running.

A few years ago, when I was merely flirting with the idea of exercise and running; I was neither fast nor in shape. I was without any kind of smart watch or phone tracker app, so I was blissfully unaware of what my pace was, and even more unaware about the speeds other people run at. I mean blissfully, because I would run, probably a quarter to a half of a mile, slower than molasses on January. But I would feel like I was working hard, and I felt good about that. As I should have. As so should we all about our efforts. One day I’m out, plodding along, and pass 2 older men walking, and one hollers to me “You’re not going very fast at all!”

While I can tell you that I did keep going, it was mostly so that man couldn’t see how much his words had hurt me. I don’t know why he chose to speak, or why he chose the words he did, but I didn’t run the next day, or that week. I felt ashamed. His words had taken the joy from my steps and replaced them with shame. This is not the end of my story, but luckily the end of this one.

Let me tell you about my most recent race, a Shamrock 5k. I had worn my most green outfit, which included my most festive green shirt from my alma mater, UMass Lowell, that had a giant shamrock on the front. I didn’t really aspire to run my all out; I  just wanted to do my best, and was blissfully plodding along with all my heart. I ran a little harder than I intended to, because you do get caught up in the excitement of a race, and I was feeling that by the last mile. I was tired and struggling, breathing hard, and thinking about slowing down. With the finish line in sight, I passed a man who pumped his arms in the air and yelled “Go Umass Lowell!” and I knew he was cheering for me, and trust me when I say this UMass Lowell did go, passing the woman in front of me, and finishing 3rd female overall.

NDMM5790

These stories are about 2 times that someone’s words changed my run.. And while I don’t remember either of these men, their words will likely stay with me forever. This is the power you currently have. I don’t care how fast or slow you are, how far you run, or what shoes you wear… you have the power to inspire someone, give them a whisper of courage, or send them to a place of shame, and no matter what, change their run or their life by what you chose to say.

I challenge you to chose your words in April. I challenge you to uplift and propel others forward, in their run, or in their lives. Because who knows, those words you chose might just stay with them forever.

IMG_E8157

Advertisements

Clearing the crap from my life: I deserve to enjoy the run

I’ve been watching a lot of Marie Kondo lately, and it’s really inspired me to rid myself of things I don’t need. It’s making my house neater, but I feel like it’s helping me think better as well.

I’m no stranger to attaching emotional value to stupid things: sweatshirts, hair clips, food, paperclip holders. I feel like I’m not alone in thinking we were led to believe that having enough stuff or the right set of stuff would make us happy or worthy, but in buying into that, we allow other people to define what happiness should be, and we get surprised that these things don’t make us happy. So we get more things, and try again. Or, that’s been my take away from watching Marie work her magic. I need to find what is truly joyful for me, and that applies to literally everything, not just the crap in my house.

I’ve excitedly got a marathon coming up in April; the Big Sur marathon. It’s supposedly one of the most gorgeous courses to run. I’ve been trying to train for it in the midst of a really disgusting winter, which has left me hoofing it on my treadmill more often than not. I’ve felt badly about that, to be honest. It’s not as physically challenging, and I’m not able to run as far on the treadmill as I am outside, because as great as netflix can be, I get bored.

So, here I am, feeling terrible about training, and absolutely daunted by the prospect of long runs and continued marathon training, and feeling like not a real runner because I can’t suck it up and run in the freezing cold. I’ve been feeling like crap. Crap that I can Marie Kondo away. I don’t know why I’ve assigned an emotional value to this, or where these ideas about what I should be doing, how far I should be running, or how fast I should be running are coming from, but I’m tossing them out with my old sweatpants I don’t need.

My important new mantra is “I deserve to enjoy the run”. Let me tell you why. I’m a good person, and I work hard. I run every damn day, I cross train, I work core, do my yoga, I strength train. I work hard. I deserve to enjoy the run. I’m setting my own goals for happiness, and while I want to work hard, I want to enjoy running more than I want to be great at running. Because that will spark joy.

Swimming to Boston: Me versus the inner demon

In spite of all of my begging to the skies above, it still rained on marathon Monday. I know, right?

I was a little concerned. I’d never run 26 miles before, and I’d definitely never ran 26 miles in the rain. Would I chafe? Slip? Freeze? Not finish? Who knows, but there was no way I wasn’t going to try to run Boston just because it was raining. I suited up with my best rain jacket, and threw on a pair of sweatpants and and old sweatshirt of my dad’s to keep me warm near the start.

It was so wet, I can’t even tell you. Water was streaming down the street. People had duct tape on their shoes, nitrile gloves on their hands, and a variety of plastic bags on their bodies. It wasn’t just wet, it was cold, which can be a dangerous and miserable combo. And that was just at the starting line.

When I got dropped off in Hopkinton, I wound up walking towards the start line, instead of the athlete’s village area, but I don’t think that mattered. The wave before me was starting, so I tried to stay out of the way. In what seemed like moments later, I heard an announcer over the loudspeaker say something along the lines of “Since weather is terrible, we’re gonna go ahead and start wave 4 early, so wave 4 come on down”.

As a part of wave 4, I came on down as requested, and waited to be sorted into the corrals. I kept moving forward with this big group of people, and next thing I knew, I had already crossed the start line without even realizing it. Well, time to get running, then.

The first 4th of Boston is pretty much downhill, which is a fair amount of eccentric work for your quads. I’ve been told it’s easy to run too fast and wind up regretting it, so I tried to stay slower than normal. I feel like that was a good plan, and I’d recommend it to future Boston runners.

Everything for me started out pretty great, the rain was light, and I was actually getting a little warm in my dad’s old sweatshirt that I decided I couldn’t discard before the start. I knew of 2 people who told me they’d be along the course at about mile 10, then another at the half. I told myself that I’d leave my sweatshirt with one of these people when I saw them.

I never saw either of the people I was looking for, so I kept the sweatshirt. This wound up being a good thing, since the rain and the cold seemed to increase with each passing mile. It was about at the halfway mark that I had no choice but to embrace the suck, as the suck was fully embracing me. I started to feel very cold and wet, and I got a terrible cramp in my side. I had to walk for a short time as I worked out the cramp, feeling a little embarrassed because I didn’t see anyone else walking.

Even in the rain and the cold, there were still fans out there, cheering on the runners, singing, and handing out twizzlers and oranges. I never understood how that could affect the runners, but after having experienced it, I want to tell you it means a lot. I don’t know if I can tell you how much more it meant that you were there in the cold and the wet cheering for people you haven’t and may never meet. Thank you.

It was about this time that I decided that I would start taking water from the volunteers; and I was happy to have an excuse to take a small walk break at the water stations. this is another group of people that I have to say thank you to. I don’t know how long you guys were out there, also in the cold and the wet, passing out water, cleaning up our tossed cups, and generally being kind and sincere. All I know is that I really cherished your being there. Thank you.

In between water breaks, I tried to plug along as best I could. I think it was mile 18 that things started getting harder for me, since I’d never run more than 18 miles before. We all have that inner demon voice that we can chose to ignore or listen to, but man, mine is really smart and enticing, you guys. It started saying “We could stop now”, to which I replied, “It’s just 8 more miles, I can run 8 miles”. Then it said “It’s so cold and so wet out, if you stopped, no one would judge you, everyone would understand”. Well shoot, you got me there.

But the thing is, this may be my only chance to run Boston. This whole thing was meant to be. I would never had said yes if I’d been asked before, but when I was offered the invitational entry after my dad died, I said yes before I even had time to process it. It was such a huge gift I was given to be able to experience this race, even if it wasn’t a beautiful day, even if I was soaked and freezing. To not finish would be an insult to that gift I was given. There’s a metaphor to be had there, probably, and I wish I could embrace days more like I was able to embrace the race experience at that point. I didn’t get to chose that there was a monsoon, but I accepted the gift of this race entry, and it would be an insult to the gift and all my training to not finish. I didn’t have to finish fast, but I had to finish.

I didn’t have any more inner demon battles after that point, but it was kind of a blur until one man yelled “One mile to go!” and that was one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my life.

When I took the right in Hereford, I could see such a screaming crowd of people along Boylston street, it was overwhelming. I knew my mom was there, and I’m so sorry mom, I looked for you, but I was so exhausted and there was so many people that I couldn’t see you. It means a lot that you were there.

Once on Boylston, I could see the bright lights of the finish. I knew I had to keep running until I hit the finish, because darn it, a LOT of people were watching. It was so overwhelming to cross the finish, I couldn’t help but start sobbing. I put in so much mental, physical, and emotional work into this, and it felt like such a triumph.

I’m not going to say that it would have been easy to run this on a beautiful day, in perfect weather; and I’m definitely not here to judge anyone who was unable to finish, because the hypothermia was real. I’m going to say that in a weird way, I’m pleased the weather was obscenely terrible, because it allowed me to show that I could fight harder and persevere in those conditions. My time wasn’t as fast as I would have liked, but I earned the crap out of it.

Thank you to everyone who made this day possible for me. It was one of the most beautiful and best days of my life.

Boston: Before the storm

I honestly had never really “got” the whole marathon thing, despite living here for so long. I think it’s because I’d never experienced part of it. Going into Boston on marathon weekend was an experience in itself that made me feel so proud to be from Boston. The air of excitement and the happiness were contagious. I highly recommend giving yourself time to enjoy the bustle of the expo, and time to walk around Boston. The marathon is such a big deal for the people of Boston, and I don’t know if it’s the same in other cities, but that feeling you get will make you fall in love with Boston. Judging based on sports, I think Bostonians get excited about Boston and really take such pride in it.

My family and I went in on Saturday to the expo for bib pick up, and I may have burst into tears at just getting my bib. I’ve been to expos before, but I’m still such a sucker for walking around to see everything. and I’m lucky my mom humored me on that. The highlight of the expo for me was snagging one of the past pairs of the Dunkin’ Donuts Saucony running shoes. I don’t even like Dunkin’ Donuts, but that’s how greatly the love for Boston can affect you during the marathon weekend. I needed those shoes like no other pair of shoes before them.

30076348_912311908939966_4738083779212476416_n

After we were expo’d out, we walked to the finish line of the marathon. The finish was so overwhelming and emotional even though it wasn’t race day.  It was such a treat to experience, and I’m really glad I did, especially since I didn’t really savour the finish line as much on race day. My brother has run 15 Bostons already, so I’m sure it wasn’t quite as earth-shaking for him as it was for me to see the finish, but it meant a lot that he wanted to take me there to see it.

I’d already started trying to eat low fat/lower fiber on Saturday, and by Sunday I decided to not eat anything that wasn’t a low fat/low fiber carb. Not because I believe the body can store that much glycogen, but because I’d heard that it’s better for the GI tract overall to avoid fatty, sugary, or high-fiber foods. Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure it was indeed a great idea, because I needed no potty stops on race day.

I spent Sunday varying between freaking out about marathon Monday and relaxing on the couch. It was good to essentially have the whole day to do what ever I needed. I got my outfit ready, then changed it, and made a new one. I was still praying for no rain, but coming to grips with the reality that it was going to rain. I sprayed my running shoes with “never wet” spray to hopefully keep them dry. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.

I think it’s always hard not to be nervous before a big event, but I was able to relax and enjoy being at Boston, I did my best to be organized before the marathon to reduce my stress level, and I had an amazing spaghetti dinner with my mom on Sunday night. All in all, I’d change nothing.

 

 

 

Why run Boston?

It’s hard to not get a little emotional when I think about this, so I’ll try to stay focused.

I’ve been running off and on (more “off” if I’m honest) for the past couple of years. Never more than 5 miles, maybe once a week. I’ve done a couple of Disney races, mostly walking, all for fun. So, how did I get from there to where I am now; about to run one of the most prestigious and oldest marathons in the world?

It basically starts last year, the worst year. Without getting into the hard details, last year, the day after the 2017 Boston marathon, my dad died. I didn’t see it coming, and it was and has been harder for me than I would have thought. I’ve been a nightmare for some of those around me, and I felt like I wasn’t the same person I was, and I didn’t know if I would ever be myself again.

It was possibly a month later that a patient of mine asked me if I ever wanted to run the Boston marathon. There are apparently a number of invitational entries that are given out to certain people, this patient was one, and they were willing to give their ticket to me. Without even really grasping the idea or training, I said yes, because you don’t say no to Boston. Then, I promptly pretty much forgot about it until this same patient called me in November to ask if I was still interested and dropped off the entry form.

It’s at this point that I wish I were more eloquent with my words to describe to you how blessed I am that this has happened. First and foremost, this has given me something positive to focus on and work towards this April. It gave me something to be happy and excited about.

I decided I wanted to document my progress on Instagram, which I 100% recommend to anyone. It’s kept me very accountable for my runs. There have been days where I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but I felt like my followers would be disappointed if I missed posting a training day. Then I pushed myself to run longer, knowing that I was meant to for race-readiness, but also I felt like my followers would want to see me run longer. This may not be true, but it gave me motivation.

Most importantly, I can’t begin to tell you how supportive other runners have been. I can’t begin to tell you how moved I am that strangers on the internet want me to feel successful and strong. If you’re reading this, thank you so much; I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me.

The running itself has been very therapeutic. I can’t tell you how many training runs I have literally sobbed through. I’ve been able to get through a lot of things. They say that exercise overall makes you happier, and I think that’s true. I feel like I’ve been happier, and hopefully more of myself.

I feel so grateful and blessed. Being able to participate in this even has been so much for me, and reflecting on it, it really has been in the journey rather than the destination.

I’ve got the pre-race tapers

They say before a race you should taper your training, meaning that you run shorter distances, don’t go for speed, don’t run crazy hills…

The point of the taper is to allow you to be well-rested for the big day. Studies show that you won’t lose your aerobic conditioning in the 1-2 week taper before your race. Other studies show that the taper can give you a 3% increase in performance.

Training hard up to the race can destroy your performance.

That knowledge won’t stop you from obsessing over running less, however. Take me, for example. As I keep saying, I’m not a runner, I don’t really love to run, but now that I “can’t” there’s nothing I want to do more than run. Reverse psychology was created for me.

I go back and forth from relief that I don’t have to spend 2 hours running to worrying that my body will forget how to run for 2 hours. This is also how I would study for classes. I would consistently study for 6-8 hours a day, but I’d still stay up pulling an all-nighter before an exam. It’s the part of me that’s driven, anxious, and a bit of a perfectionist.

I am not alone. Most newer runners get a big case of the tapers. Some people even start getting phantom pains, cramps, or heavy legs, which increases psychological distress. Upside, phantom pains at this time aren’t usually injury so much as your body finally getting the chance to repair itself.

Tapering means you’re also going to gain a few pounds. This will also likely increase your anxiety; it increased mine. Looking into it, it’s related to the body increasing glycogen and water stores. So, while my irrational mind will tell me I’m turning into a lazy potato, I’ll (pretend) to take solace in the knowledge that the extra stores will improve my performance on marathon day.

Much like before the big exam, I’m going to try to tell myself I’ve done all I could have training wise to this point. I know I have. I’ve come a long way since I started training, watching my pace decrease and my distances increase. I’ve had some hard days, and I’ve had some really great days.

I’m in the unique position where no matter what happens, this will be my fastest marathon ever, and I can take some solace in that. As long as this isn’t my last marathon, I can use what I’ve read, learned, and experienced to make myself a better runner in the future.

I hope my fellow Boston runners are able to have an easy taper, because tapering makes use better runners. And I’m going to keep telling myself that.

It’s all downhill from here!

I had a realization today on my hills course that I think may help newer runners, so I figured I’d share my thoughts.

Many people have been kind enough to share their advice and experience to help me prepare for Boston, and the thing that has stuck out the most for me is that I need to reel it in for the first part of the marathon. A lot of runners get excited and run too fast at the beginning in general, but this is especially not great at Boston, because the first part of the course is downhill.

I know, I know, it sounds great, but it’s actually not. In reality, you want to make sure you don’t take those downhills too fast or you’ll burn out. But what is too fast?

My epiphany came while I was thinking about running mechanics while I was running downhill. It’s not just that you want to run slower, but you want to take shorter steps/strides running downhill. This will help you avoid heel-striking (which increases impact forces),  and also hopefully help you avoid full knee extension (or the dreaded knee hyper-extension) which will murder your knees and put extra strain on your hamstrings.

I thought about how someone who was told to “run slower” might interpret that as taking longer, slower strides, which will not be a great idea, mechanics-wise on a downhill course.

Ideally, try to take shorter steps, landing on the midfoot (or at least foot flat), with a soft bend in your knee while running downhill to reduce joint stress.

Of course, me knowing all these things may go out the window entirely when I’m a hilarious combination of excited and exhausted on Marathon Monday. Cross your fingers for me it doesn’t.

As always, this is just a generalization I’m making to the world at large based on my knowledge of body mechanics and joint forces, and can’t be taken as individual prescription. It may be beneficial to seek out a running class or have your gait analyzed in your area.