Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to get back in the (running) game as fast as possible

It has come to my attention that there is a pretty crazy rash of injuries amongst the runners I know right now. Between my Oiselle teammates and my Bull City teammates, I need both hands to count the number of folks who are down for the count/on the DL/benched....whatever you want to call it. The bottom line is, a ton of folks are hurt. And, if you have been following twitter or Facebook or have (gasp!) had a live conversation with me, you would know that I spent a month on the injured list as well. I even missed running with my best friend when she came to town for my 40th birthday.  Luckily I am now back in the game, ready to start rebuilding my speed and returning to racing shape.

This isn't the first time I have been sidelined by an injury. As distance runners we are, unfortunately, prone to overuse injuries and injuries that result from anatomical imbalances. I am additionally prone to injuries borne from total klutziness and bad luck so I have a higher than average experience with injury.  Fortunately this has given me the opportunity to become pretty darn good when it comes to injury recovery. So, in light of the current popularity of getting injured I thought I would share my techniques for getting back on your feet as quickly as possible.

This is the part of the post where I have to include a disclaimer. I am not a doctor nor am I a physical therapist. I am, however, a total klutz who is great at getting injured, a pro at getting healed, a USATF Level 1 certified coach and a lapsed certified personal trainer. So while my recovery secrets are not rooted in medicine they have been tested and refined and retested multiple times on me by me and are rooted in my education as well as in good, old-fashioned common sense.

So, what's the secret? Lean in, really is.......PATIENCE. The biggest secret of all is patience. It isn't the only part of the equation, but it is the most important. You simply cannot rush your body through injury recovery and if you try to, I can guarantee you that you will be out of commission for a longer total time than if you were just patient from the get go.

So what goes with patience? Let me list off all the elements of my formula for successful recovery. If you have questions or feel like I missed anything, please don't hesitate to comment!

1. Patience. Obviously. I know that I already said this but I still can't stress the importance of patience enough. I am not, by nature, a patient person. Ask my husband, my coach, my parents, even my kid. I am seriously lacking in this department. But when I get hurt I turn into a totally different person, if only in this one area. And it has served me well over and over again. So when your doctor says "you are going to be in this boot for 4 to 6 weeks" I recommend that you just suck it up and make your follow up appointment for 6 weeks out. Because you know what? Two extra weeks in a boot isn't going to hurt you long-term. But the demoralization of going into a follow up appointment at 4 weeks thinking you are going to get the boot off and then hearing that you have to stay in it for 2 more weeks is much more devastating than just patiently waiting for the entire prescribed time.

2. Get a thorough diagnosis, both of the injury and the cause of the injury. So, say you develop a spontaneous (i.e. no pain preceding the break) stress fracture in the second metatarsal of your foot 7 and 1/2 weeks before a major marathon. It is all well and good to get a proper diagnosis of the injury ("stress fracture of the second metatarsal") but if you don't get a proper diagnosis of the cause ("patient tweaked their orthotics and ran with an adjusted gait for a week") then guess what? You are likely to re-injure it over and over again. Often times a proper diagnosis doesn't require lots of fancy, expensive tests, it just requires an observant doctor and a patient who is willing to be brutally honest about their behaviors leading up to the injury. I have had many injuries that have healed completely and never, ever recurred. I also have one injury that recurred "mysteriously" for almost a year. Only when I teamed up with a doctor who looked at my biomechanics from head to toe and asked me questions about the incident that led to the injury in great detail were we able to get that injury licked permanently. (And in just a matter of weeks.)

Also in this category I would like to mention the importance of finding the proper medical professional. If you are working with someone, be they a physical therapist, a chiropractor or an orthopedist, and you aren't getting relief from pain or progress towards recovery (or if you just don't feel comfortable with what they are telling you) then do not hesitate to get another opinion. I have worked with plenty of medical professionals who are stars in their field but who just were't the right person for the particular injury I had at the time. Don't be afraid to try out another doc! Now, this isn't suggesting that you just bounce around until you find someone who gives you the news that you WANT to hear (a.k.a. that you are fine and can just resume running). This means look around, ask fellow runners for recommendations, even ask your current medical provider for recommendations, until you find someone who you feel confident is looking at you holistically and who has both knowledge of your specific type of injury and a plan for recovery.

3. Once you have found a doctor/chiro/PT who you are comfortable with, have received a thorough diagnosis and have asked all the questions you can think of, FOLLOW THE DOCTOR'S ORDERS. Again, if the doc says "6 weeks in a boot" don't start testing it out just because the pain is gone after 3 weeks. Pain goes away before healing is complete. If the doc says "do these exercises every day for a month" and you choose to not do them and then re-injure yourself, well, don't blame the doctor. Obviously no medical professional is perfect; they are human and they don't have a crystal ball that can guarantee that their recommendations will be accurate all the time, but you would be amazed by how many athletes I know who have not followed the course of treatment laid out by their doc and have then wondered why they are not healed.

4. Don't take any short cuts. Cortisone shots and anti-inflammatories like advil can be very tempting when you are injured: they reduce inflammation and mask pain. When you are limping around that sounds awfully tempting, doesn't it? Unfortunately these therapies can reduce inflammation so much that they remove the body's natural inflammation response which is a critical part of healing soft tissue and they can mask pain so thoroughly that you may think that the injury is healed sufficiently to train on. Both scenarios lead to one thing, and it isn't good....they lead to testing out the injury before it is healed. Now, I am not saying that there aren't specific situations in which cortisone is the best course of treatment and in which the inflammation is SO severe that NSAIDS are a prudent therapy. But I AM saying that, again, runners tend towards impatience and all too often turn towards these risky treatments more out of desperation than common sense.

5. Have a pity party. Every day. This one is really, really important. The truth of the matter is that it just plain stinks to be injured. I would hope that you all run for the same reason that I do: an irrational, indescribable love of the sport. So when we are temporarily unable to participate in this sport that we have an ongoing love affair with, well, it is miserable. I have found that it helps to acknowledge the degree to which injury sucks on a regular basis throughout the duration of the layoff. I take a few minutes each day to pout, throw (soft) things, even cry. And then I dust myself off and get on with the business of the next part of the plan.

6. That said, DO throw everything that is prudent at your injury. Make it your mission to be the most compliant, thorough patient that ever graced your doctor's office. When I broke my foot before the New York City Marathon my doctor suggested I incorporate the use of a bone stimulator to my arsenal of therapies. After a little research that taught me that bone stimulators can help heal breaks up to 40% faster (than just letting the bone heal on its own) I was all in for the idea. There was no downside, no risk, as long as I used the device correctly. And guess what? It totally worked. Other therapies I have used in injury recovery include the traditional ice and heat rotation, calcium citrate when recovering from bone injuries, crutches, a walking boot, hydrotherapy, active release technique, nerve flossing, stretching, not stretching, specific rehab exercises, Graston and good old fashioned rest.

7. Take the long view, part one. With my most recent injury (caused by mowing my lawn), after 3 weeks of aqua jogging my doc and I realized that even the aquajogging was aggravating my injury and the only way my soft tissue was going to fully heal was for me to take full, complete rest. No cross training AT ALL. Limited walking. Nothing. He prescribed 7 to 10 days of such rest. I took 9 and took it very seriously. After 7 I had healed so well that I was cleared for light walking and cycling, after 9 I was cleared to test run. Guess what? The rest totally did the trick and I have had a successful return to running. Did I loathe the idea of sitting on my rear for 9 days doing NOTHING, especially during my big 40th birthday weekend? Heck yeah. It was pretty sad. But was it worth it? Absolutely. The bottom line is that sometimes rest is the best treatment available. And contrary to popular belief, a little rest isn't going to kill us as runners. (Also along these lines, my 7 year old son wants me to tell you that I took the long view and bought a better [used] lawn mower that will help me not re-injure myself. A little pricy but much, much cheaper than all the doctor's appointments!)

8. Take the long view, part two. If rest isn't the best option then work with your doc and figure out what cross training is safe for you to do. There are plenty of options out there: I have swum laps with a pull buoy between my legs, aqua jogged, cycled, used the elliptical, run on an Alter-G treadmill, even used the hand cycle. The "right" method of cross training depends entirely on the location and nature of your injury. I know, I know...cross training is BORING. And it isn't RUNNING. I can hear people whining about this right now. But you know what is even more awful than cross training? Being totally out of shape when you are healed and ready to return to running. Obviously there is a time and place for full rest (see above) but otherwise there is no reason to lose your aerobic fitness during an injury. Nothing will ever keep you as fit for running as running can but proper cross training will definitely keep the fitness losses to a minimum and will help you get back on your feet faster.

Another thing about cross training: as boring as it is, it can also be the avenue towards keeping a long term goal alive. I have trained for more than one marathon while injured and have been able to successfully complete every one. Two examples: in 1997 I broke my femoral neck (the top of my thigh bone) and was restricted to crutches and swimming with the pull buoy for 8 weeks. It was miserably, mind-numbingly boring to swim freestyle for 60 to 90 minutes a day, but I had a marathon 12 weeks post-injury that I really didn't want to miss. And guess what? I maintained enough fitness to be capable of running, my bone fully healed and I finished that marathon in 3:24 with no ill effects. In 2008 I broke my foot just 7 and 1/2 weeks before New York. The plane tickets were purchased (for my entire family no less!), the rental house was paid for, the entry fee was paid. I was NOT interested in missing out on this marathon. So I worked with my coach and translated all my running workouts over to time and aqua jogged each and every one of them. I did VO2 Max intervals at such effort that I nearly lost my lunch in the water multiple times. I completed long LT efforts that bored me to tears. And I did all the long runs in the pool. Twenty two miles translated out to 2 hours and 45 minutes of aqua that is exactly what I did. And guess what? I finished that marathon too, in 3:37, without a problem and the foot was 100% healed.

9. Use the time that you are injured to improve your strength and your form...and then continue that when you are back on your feet. I learned this one from Shalane Flanagan. When she was forced to take a layoff to recuperate from surgery on her foot she used the time off to work on her core strength. Hey, if it is good enough for Shalane then it is good enough for me! So every time I have an injury layoff I look at it as an opportunity to work on my weak points: my core, my glute medius, any stride imbalances I may have at the time. I find that all too often I let these "little things" slip out of my training program when I am healthy enough to run full time so I actually have come to enjoy having the chance to prioritize these critical aspects of my fitness and strength. Just like the cross training, this part of the recovery equation also helps me return to full training faster and more successfully.

So there you have it. Like I said at the beginning, my method for recovering from injury is nothing fancy, has no super-secret elements and isn't, unfortunately, going to help you recover at a lightening-fast rate. I just rely on the all too elusive methods of common sense, patience and hard work. I'm sorry if this is disappointing to some who thought I was going to divulge some top-secret info here, but I hope that for the rest of you this can help provide a successful path to full injury recovery and a little hope that whatever blip is currently on your training screen need not signal the end of your short or long term running goals.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On turning 40

Tomorrow I am going to turn forty. Those who know me know that I have been looking forward to this birthday for a couple of years now...unlike so many folks, I cannot wait for this milestone birthday. The primary reason for this is that, as a runner, I can finally exit the "open" ranks and move up to "masters". After chasing around speedy, much younger women for the past few years I am really, really excited about this.

There is also another reason that I am excited to turn 40 though, one that is much more private to me but that I think really needs to be discussed more. I am going to do my best here; if I jumble my words, please forgive me.

In short, I am in awe of the fact that I am about to turn 40 for the same reason that I was in awe when I got married and when I became a mother...because there was a time when we (my family and friends and I) didn't know if any of this was ever going to happen. See, half my lifetime ago, I wasn't the healthy, strong, incurably optimistic gal I am now...I was this girl:

I was 72 pounds and I had literally forgotten how to eat. I was in danger of dying, right then.

As you may have guessed, that photo was taken when I was in the throes of anorexia. It was actually taken the day I checked myself into my second inpatient treatment program, midway through my junior year of college. And, fortunately for me, it was taken at my turning point. That was, quite possibly, the greatest day of my entire life. 

But before we get to the turning point, the upswing, let's talk about the downward spiral and the illness.

If you follow popular culture, you may have surmised that I became anorexic because I felt fat or (since I am now a runner) because I wanted to be thinner to run faster. While those are the commonly held beliefs they are simply untrue, both for my situation and for the bulk of women who have struggled with eating disorders. I became sick when my life fell off its axis and I became stressed beyond a degree that my body and brain could manage solo. I needed a coping mechanism and I fell into controlling my food much by accident. 

Every eating disorder has a trigger: an event or phase of life that, for a healthy, strong mind would be tough but manageable, but for someone predisposed to an eating disorder is decidedly unmanageable. For me, the trigger was twofold. First, my oldest, most treasured friend needed to step aside from our friendship to take care of her own stuff. At 17 years old I couldn't understand what had happened and I blamed myself, thinking that the problem was that I had failed her as a friend. I was never angry, just confused. As an adult I now can totally understand the situation but at that point I just became unmoored. Almost simultaneously my family began the toughest period of our existence, one that was overwhelmed by not knowing if we were going to be able to keep our house, the company my dad had built over decades, anything. It was under these circumstances that I went off to college. I was stressed to the max and felt very alone. Heartburn became a daily occurrence and the only thing I could do to combat it was not eat. At the time it seemed so sensible. That said, I felt physically awful all the time. I was intensely confused and afraid...I wasn't eating because I was afraid to feel physically horrid if I did but I began to feel pretty darn awful because I wasn't eating. When I dipped down to 68 pounds my family and I realized we needed to pull the plug and I went home for inpatient hospitalization. 

At this point none of us understood that I had an eating disorder. The explanations we were given made no sense for me. All the professionals I encountered at that time seemed to think that anorexia was for models and runners who wanted to be thinner, not for stressed out, type-A, perfectionistic but always feeling inferior women. I know now that they couldn't have been more wrong, that I was, in fact, the poster child for this psychiatric and physical illness.

Let's skip to the nitty gritty. My first hospitalization was unproductive, and actually pretty counterproductive. No one explained the truth about eating disorders to us at the time, the just kept slapping labels on me and making inaccurate assumptions. Yes, I gained some weight, but sadly I didn't gain any understanding of the predicament I was in. It actually took a few more years to fully understand the truth about eating disorders:

It's not about the food. It's not about being thin. It's about control. It's a coping mechanism.

When I say it's a coping mechanism I don't want to confuse you into thinking that by restricting food I was coping with life well. I really wasn't. I felt pretty out of control and miserable (physically and emotionally) during the years I was sick. But I suppose that my eating disorder distracted me from the situations that triggered it. Unfortunately, once the eating disorder settled in, I didn't really know how to kick it. I think that this is pretty typical: fear or a traumatic event tends to trigger an eating disorder but once the habit forms it becomes very hard to let it go. There is a massive codependency between the patient and their eating disorder. And because the illness itself messes with brain chemistry due to malnutrition it is next to impossible to be reasonable. 

I was stuck in that loop for a good 2 years. Looking back, I kind of lived a double life: I was excelling in school, carrying a dual major and enough credits for 2 minors, coxing the varsity 8 boat, having, for all intents and purposes, a wonderful college experience. But all the while my illness kept me on the sidelines, slightly detached from the whole experience. When one is sick with an eating disorder it is really impossible to fully participate in and enjoy life; the eating disorder just demands too much energy. 

Some of the fab rowers who loved
me dearly when I wasn't doing a
great job of loving myself.
As I limped along throughout college, I was really extremely fortunate that I continued to have the absolute support of my family away from home: my crew coach and all my rowers. Looking back I really can't imagine how frightening the whole experience must have been for them at times. I know that none of them had any understanding of what I was going through, but through it all they saw me for ME: a friend, a coxswain, a teammate, not just as an anorexic. The normalcy of my life as a collegiate coxswain gave me a life-line to the real world that I really believe kept me from spinning entirely out of control and helped give me purpose to take just enough care of myself during the years when I didn't have the motivation or know how to do so for myself.

Fortunately for me, by my junior year of college I was reaching the end of my patience with the existence that I had slogged through for well over 2 years. I wanted to be well again but unfortunately by this point I simply didn't know how. I had forgotten how to eat, I had forgotten how to structure my life without my eating disorder. I came to realize that I needed the illness at that point; I needed the discipline and the focus. And I knew that until I found a better coping mechanism I had to keep forging along with this one and hope for the best. Every night for months I would lie in bed and pray that my body would just hold on long enough, that I would wake up in the mornings until my mind found a better coping mechanism. 

And then, one day, everything just changed. My roommate, whom I barely knew, sat down next to me on my bed and asked, very simply, "what can I do to help?" I realized that I had no answer for her. And in that one moment I knew that if I couldn't answer such a basic question then it was time for me to get myself some serious help. Within a week I had withdrawn from school, again, and entered a month-long inpatient treatment program. Checking into the hospital was the biggest relief of my life. I was, all of a sudden, ready to get better. 

Being type-A, I set out to be the best patient on the planet, but in this case I was doing so because I really, truly wanted to get better, not because I wanted to please other people. I relished the opportunity to have people teach me how to eat again. I had truly forgotten. And I studiously ate everything that was put in front of me. I dedicated myself to repairing my bone density and followed a nutritional program that supported that with incredible zeal. I went to therapy, I journaled, I learned how to meal plan, everything. And one day I literally walked to the end of the driveway, thanked my eating disorder for helping me get through my toughest stretch, and told it that I didn't need it anymore. And I knew, deep, deep down, that I would never, ever get sick again. And guess what? I haven't. By recognizing that at the time I had become sick I had needed the anorexia as a way to cope with stress but that I now had an entire arsenal of better ways to handle the curve balls life would inevitably throw my way in the future, I felt confident that I was never going to need this one deadly, miserable illness. 

Over the years that followed I managed to become physically and mentally whole again. I graduated from college magna cum laude. I got married to a wonderfully patient husband. I became pregnant on the first try and gave birth to a happy, healthy boy who is the absolute joy of my life. With each one of these little victories my years of being sick faded father and farther into my distant memory.

I even finished an Ironman, which to many would sound like a very bad idea for someone who had a history of not caring for their body very well. But I registered for the race with the intention to use it as a very private test: I wanted to prove to myself that I could train for something incredibly extreme in the most rational of manners. For me the Ironman was a fitting metaphor for the stresses that would be thrown at me throughout the remainder of my life. That 10 months of training was like a final exam of sorts in terms of my ability to care for myself physically and mentally; it was physically exhausting and mentally and emotionally challenging. But ultimately I knew that I passed the test with flying colors. Even before the race itself began I knew that I had succeeded; race day itself was a huge celebration for me. And while the experience was nothing but positive for me, I also found the sport of triathlon to simply be too intense and stressful for my tastes so I was mighty happy when that experience, too, was in my review mirror. Obviously as a competitive runner I do still enjoy purposefully pushing myself physically and mentally on a regular basis. But while I love to train hard and push myself to meet goals of time or pace, at the end of the day I run because I love the  camaraderie of the sport, the social aspect of training and racing with a group, and simply the way I feel when I am in motion. 
If I were you, I would wonder what kind of coping mechanism I replaced restricting food with. I was actually asked this recently and I instinctively and immediately replied that I replaced anorexia with optimism. The one phrase that dictates my whole life nowadays is the deceptively simple statement that "everything's going to be okay in the end. If its not okay, it's not the end." My husband recently referred to me as an "unstoppable positive force of nature"; a description that I strive to embody every single day. Just like anything else, there are times when it is HARD to be optimistic! But honestly, this happy, sunny side of the street version of me is just a much more authentic representation of who I have always been at my core. So in a way this is an even more natural way for me to cope with the stressful situations life throws my way. 

I don't want you to think that because I am naturally happy these days there haven't been some really dark periods in my life; there have been. None of the issues that triggered my eating disorder were even resolved when I began to get well. And it isn't even like I bid my eating disorder farewell and was instantly "normal" again. That couldn't be further from the truth. It took years and years of hard work to get back to a place that I think is fairly healthy. But, from the moment I gave up my illness I have had the patience and faith to move through the anxieties and sorrows and angers and freak outs that come with daily life, knowing all the while that, eventually, things will get better. I also want to be perfectly clear: I am definitely not "perfect" when it comes to my relationship with food. I have, and probably always will have, a bit of a skewed relationship with it. The effects of forgetting how to eat have long, long term ramifications on this front. Fortunately I get more and more "normal" every year. That said, I honestly don't know a single person who is "normal" about food. We all have our quirks, but when you know my history mine may stand out more because of it.

Ultimately though, I have to tell you that I am grateful for my experience with anorexia. Granted, it cost me dearly in self confidence and achievement and long term memory (many thanks to my friends who have filled in the holes over the years), and I still have some permanent physical issues (such as high cholesterol). But I am more grateful for what I gained from the experience than what I missed out on. Because of my illness I have an incredibly close bond with my parents; they moved mountains for me and loved me through a situation that was unimaginably frightening for them. I am actually grateful that my best friend and I missed out on each other's toughest years. Obviously I was initially devastated that I had to be apart from her, but I can now look back and see that the wonderful friendship we have today is blessed to not be clouded by having had to go through our darkest times together. I am incredibly blessed by the relationship I have with my husband of 11 years. I nearly married the wrong man and then my inquisitive, philosophical, drive-me-crazy-but-force-me-to-see-myself-more-honestly husband came along. I fought him kicking and screaming for a bunch of years (still do sometimes) but he has encouraged me to accept myself for who I am much more than I think I ever could have without him. And although it is completely cliche, I simply wouldn't be who I am today without having gone through those difficult years. And you know what? You couldn't pay me all the money in the world to trade the person I have become for that version of my self.

Now that you have read through all of this, I want to ask a favor of you. Maybe you can think of it as a birthday gift to me.  When I was ill I searched and searched for success stories, stories of women who really, really beat their eating disorder. I couldn't find any. That was both frightening and demoralizing to me. Because of that it has always been my hope that perhaps someone in a similar position will see my journey as an example that they can become well again, and permanently. Whenever I see a visibly ill woman in the grocery store, out on the running trail, wherever...I want to stop her and hug her and tell her that everything can be alright again if she just has the patience and faith and bravery to work through the process of becoming well, of truly understanding the root of her individual illness and taking the steps necessary to rebuild her life. But I can't hug everyone out there who is struggling. I also wished for my family and friends that they could have known the right words that might have helped them to help me earlier on. So, if you have a friend or loved one who you suspect is ill with an eating disorder, I would like to ask you to be brave and to ask them the same question that was asked to me 20 years ago: "what can I do to help?" And while you are at it, you may throw in another: "what's really going on?" Those simple questions can sometimes be enough to reach through to a person who is suffering. Compassion can move mountains. And someday, when they are on the road to recovery and they, too, are looking for little beacons of hope, please feel free to tell them about what I went through and where I got to. I am far from the only person who has slogged through this illness and made it out intact, but I am offering myself up as an example in hopes that it can help some other folks who are still stuck.

Fortunately for anyone who is brave enough to reach out to a loved one who is struggling, the mental health profession has come a long way in the last 20 years and there are now some amazing resources available for individuals who are ill with an eating disorder. If you or someone you love is in this position, a great first point of contact is the National Eating Disorders Association: When I was hospitalized for a second time I went to the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, PA. They continue to be leaders in eating disorders treatment and now have multiple facilities around the country:
If you would like assistance finding further resources, please contact me directly.

Thanks for reading this. It is never easy to put an experience such as this into writing and I hope that I did it justice. And as I go off to celebrate my fortieth birthday with my incredible circle of family and friends I hope that this post, hard as it was to write, may someday, in some small way, help another woman to make it through her struggle so that she too can see a milestone she never thought she would see.

With my son throughout the years. Running is great, but being his mom is AMAZING. I am so grateful every day for this life I have.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Racing x 4

For 4 weeks recently I raced every single weekend. The last time I did this was when I was about 32 years old and I have always looked back on that stretch of time with awe that I was able to make it through that a whole month of racing. I remember how exhausted I was by the fourth race and I thought that I would never be able to accomplish a streak of hard racing like that again. And then all of a sudden I found myself back in a 4 week streak. This wasn't even supposed to happen: I threw the third race in "for fun". Unlike the first time I raced for a month I also kept my mileage between 54 and 65 miles each week (far more than my last time I tried this stunt) and kept up my regular weekly training schedule of a VO2 max workout, a LT workout, drills and 2 core workouts per week throughout the month. Every single week I thought I was going to if you want to find out if or when that happened, read on!

Week one was the Capital City Classic 10k. If you want a recap of how that race went you can simply refer to my previous blog post. But to review: the first 5k was fantastic and was terrible. Truly awful. I couldn't breathe and struggled through the second 5k a full 3 minutes slower than the first. When all was said and done, I found myself sitting on the curb looking like this:

Pretty much sums up how I felt about the race as a whole.

I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I was pretty freaked out by that race. I had NO idea what went wrong: did I go out too hard and blow up? Was I affected by the heat, humidity and pollen, all of which were very high that day? And most importantly, was it going to happen again? We (my coach and I) figured that the culprit was the pollen since my problem was breathing-related, but there was just no way to know for sure. Fortunately I felt pretty good during my workouts that week and managed to keep my nerves at bay as I prepared to set foot on the track (!!!) for race number two: the Southeastern Masters 5,000 meters. 

Southeastern Masters was my second EVER track race. Since I didn't run competitively in high school or college I really haven't been on a track much at all. I was excited about this race for two reasons, one of which was completely silly. First, in my first ever track race (back in 2007) I ran 18:00.51 for the 5,000 meters and it has haunted me ever since. That was the year that I set all of my PR's from the mile through the 10 mile and until this spring I figured that those PR's would stand forever. But all of a sudden I am finding myself running faster than I thought I ever would and I knew I had a chance to vindicate having missed out on running sub-18 by the narrowest of margins. So my goal for this track race was to break 18, and I really felt fit to do it. Second, I was excited to wear my spikes again! Nike had generously provided the Bull City teams with some sweet spikes for XC Nationals last winter and I love them! I know, I know, I am a total rookie wearing XC spikes on the track, but these things are so comfy that I can't see any reason to replace them with a proper track spike. So I simply switched out the actual spikes so as to not impale my fellow racers, cleaned off the mud and headed to Raleigh for the race. 
It's all fun and games
until the gun goes off
I was nervous about this race: have you ever seen an outdoor track???? It looks HUGE when you have to race around it 12 and 1/2 times! But I kept my cool pretty well throughout a long warm up and set foot on the track feeling mostly calm. And sweaty, unfortunately. Thunderstorms were in the forecast and it was about 90% humidity at race time! Just before my race my trusty split timer and Oiselle teammate, Allison, showed up, and when I saw her all my nerves just melted away. I was excited to have my own personal cheering section and ready to get to work!

This race was an all-ages, co-ed masters race, so we had everyone from a 20 year old college girl to 70+ year old men and women on the track at once. The upside of this was that I had a lot of people to chase and lap, which helped the time pass. The downside was that, after the 20 year old blew up 600 meters into the race, I ran solo. I did get into a nice pace groove pretty quickly and the laps passed at an astonishingly quick rate. (I remember getting just bored to tears at my first track race and I was dreading that. But it never happened on this day!) Before I knew it I was halfway, then at 2 miles, then 1200 to go and so on. I really never felt like I might not finish; while I was certainly working hard I was also always well within myself. Before I knew it it was time to kick for the final 200 and all of a sudden I was over the finish line. In 18:18. Bleh. Nowhere NEAR my sub-18 goal! Sigh. It is definitely frustrating to know that all I needed to do was run 1.5 seconds faster per lap and I would have hit my goal. I heard Allison calling out the splits of 88 and 89 instead of 87 but I just never shifted gears! Upon reflection I realized that I didn't pick it up mostly because I was afraid to redline and blow up. I also know that the heat and humidity played a big role. My last track 5k was run in cool, foggy San Francisco and I am still becoming accustomed to racing in the southern heat and humidity. So I chalked this up as a good time trial and mental exercise and moved on.

Race 3 was a last-minute addition, thanks entirely to my awesome LUNA sponsorship. Part of the LUNA sponsored athletes program is a stipend that provides for race travel and entry expenses. When Allison said that she was going to race a road mile in Savannah, GA on Memorial Day weekend I got really excited and decided that I wanted to jump on that bandwagon too! I have always wanted to go to Savannah, my family hasn't had a proper road trip in a long time and I was extremely interested in running a low-key road mile as a benchmark before I race 2 bigger deal ones later in the year. So my husband, son and I loaded up the truck and headed off to Savannah to meet Allison! 
pre-race hugs post-warm up
Race instructions printed right on the
bib...genius! Wish I had followed them!
I cannot say enough great things about this little race. The scenery of Savannah is gorgeous (I noticed this during warm up and cool down, not during the race itself), the race is extremely well organized and all the proceeds go to a wonderful foundation that supports the families of police and firemen killed while on duty. The race itself is a point to point race and you can actually see the finish line from the start line. A little daunting, but also kind of cool. 

On to the race itself. The goal was to go out controlled and then pick up the pace steadily. This plan went pretty well at the start: the first quarter was a totally in control 81 seconds. I watched as a few women blazed past me but resisted the urge to chase them. About 500 meters in I passed a woman who had gone out in 75 seconds and was already slowed to a veritable walk; from this point on I was in second place. Somewhere around 800 meters in another woman came up on my right shoulder briefly but I was able to accelerate just a little bit and she quickly disappeared from my peripheral vision. I went through the 1200 meter split right around 4:01 and instantly got really excited! I knew that all I needed to do was run one more hard quarter and I could run a PR! I hadn't thought I was fit to run THAT fast but now all I needed to do was hammer home and I would be set. Unfortunately I spent so much time doing split math in my head and getting excited about a fast time that I forgot to actually speed up. I know that I was pushing pretty hard, but I also know that, once again, fear of tying up and bonking was at the front of my mind. As a result, I was distracted (by math) and cautious (of tying up) that I ended up crossing the line in a disappointing 5:29. It doesn't sound like a big difference to run 5:29 versus 5:25, but when you are only running one mile it is a pretty big deal. All in all though, I can't be too disappointed: I finished second overall, I beat the masters female winner by about 90 seconds, I got the cobwebs out of racing this distance and Allison, Demian, Z and I had a great Savannah vacation!
Wondering why I had run so slow, looking much better than
after my previous race and collecting my very cool award!
Last but not least, I raced Bull City Running Company's hometown event: the Running of the Bulls. This race is in downtown Durham, NC and is notorious for being hilly, hot, but also a lot of fun. Not sure how those 3 features go together, but I was excited to find out. I was also pretty worried about the toll that the three previous weekends of racing combined with three consecutive days of mowing my gigantic lawn had taken on my body. So to say that I was apprehensive as I stood on the starting line would be the understatement of the century. I may have even commented that when the gun went off I was just going to stand still and let everyone else go.

Just a few of the amazing BCTC
women who raced at Running of
the Bulls!
Fortunately, when the gun went off I decided to race. I focused on not going out too hard: my goal was 6-flat, my coach's goal was 5:50. Ultimately my coach won and I went through the mile at 5:50. At this point I was cruising along in 6th place and just trying to run my own race. Mile 2 went through a residential neighborhood and had some nice little short uphills. During one of those hills I passed two women and settled into 4th place. I crossed mile 2 in an alarmingly fast 5:46 and instantly began waiting to blow up and get passed back. I was SO worried that I had gone out too hard! I didn't have to wait long to start feeling like I was blowing up: mile 3 was an incredibly hard mile with a long uphill and I was pretty much redlined from here on out. I wanted so badly to just pack it in and give up but for some reason I was able to hang tough and convince myself that I should keep going. During this mile, just before the long uphill by the ball park, my shoe started to bug me. If you know me well, you know that my shoe lacing is my achilles heel when running. If my shoes get too loose it totally messes up my gait and I run with an uncomfortable, choppy stride. I know that I should be able to get over it but once it starts irking me I just can't! Honestly, I haven't had this issue in a long time, and never with my beloved New Balance 1600's. But as I was tearing down the hill before the biggest uphill of the race I just started feeling like my left shoe was super loose. I made the decision to stop and fix it, which I think is the wimpy thing to do, but I did it anyway. I was probably only stopped for 10 seconds during which my heart rate went down below the red line and I got my shoe fixed up. Obviously I wish that I hadn't lost those 10 seconds, but at the same time I have to wonder if they really were "lost" since I caught right back on to the group of guys I was running with by midway up the big hill.

After my little break I felt a little more in control but still utterly exhausted. Mile 3 was a dismal 6:23, but it sounds like everyone had a slow mile so I was right on par with the crowd. Mile 4 was still a bit hilly and I took a few "pace adjustments", a.k.a. jogging breaks, to keep me from utterly dying. I am not proud of them, but they were better than walking! Finally, finally I made it to the last mile. With about 1200 meters to go I heard someone yell that "it is all downhill from here! Pick it up" and I wanted to yell back "No!!!!! I can't!!!!!" but I just kept going. Much to my surprise I even closed on the woman in third place! As we charged down the final hill into the athletic park I was able to pass her, thinking (foolishly) that I had closed on her because she ran out of steam. But no...she answered my pass with a blistering kick that lasted the entire way around the park and I had zero ability to challenge her. But as I came around the final corner and squinted at the clock I was AMAZED to see it just tick over to 30 minutes! The goal had been 30 flat, which I thought was entirely out of reach even before the race began and which I thought was gone for sure after the middle miles of the race (I had stopped looking at my watch at mile 2). I really thought I was finishing in 31:xx. But I charged as hard as I could to the finish line and finished in 30:15, good for fourth place, 1st in my age group (which is hard to win around here as one of my favorite teammates is incredibly speedy and also in my current AG!) and a 4 second PR. 

AG cow bells all around
for Oiselle Team NC
At the end of it all I have to say that I am incredibly satisfied with my month of racing. If you had told me that my best race of the month would be my last race I would have laughed out loud, but when it was over that was exactly what happened. And frankly, I think that was my best race because of the experience I gained with the other 3. At Running Of The Bulls I gave up my trepidation about blowing up and I just kept getting after it in the latter miles even as I felt exhausted. My coach has theorized that I have been racing too easily for a few years and I hadn't really tested my limits. Now that I managed to survive ROTB I must say that I agree with him!

pre-race eats
full race kit
A few constants regarding all of my races, just in case you are wondering: first, I eat the same thing before each and every race: a LUNA toasted nuts and cranberry bar or Lemon Zest bar about 2 hours before race time and a double espresso Clif shot about 5 minutes before. I also sip water until an hour before hand. Doesn't matter what the race distance is. This routine has worked really well for me and I have not had any GI issues thus far. I learned the habit of taking a pre-race gel from an old Excelsior teammate in CA and have done this for years. For a long time I figured that it may or may not give me a glycogen boost later in the race but regardless I knew it gave me a psychological boost...when I get tired I just think about that gel kicking in and giving me a second wind. Recently though, when reading the book "The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition" by Matt Fitzgerald I came upon a section in which the author discussed the actual physiological benefit behind this practice! I am very happy to know that my mind game actually does work :) As for what I wear when I race, that is always the same too: 2 sports bras (that is another blog post in and of itself), my Oiselle singlet (unless I am racing in an official BCTC team event, in which case I wear my BCTC singlet), my comfy Oiselle stride shorts, LUNA and Oiselle temporary tattoos, orange New Balance socks and my fab, lightweight New Balance 1600's. I am a creature of habit so I really don't like to change ANYTHING up from race to race. One weekend I thought that I had misplaced my orange socks and I freaked out! Mind you, I have 5 other pairs of the exact same socks in different colors, but they weren't the ORANGE ones! 

And one final piece of advice: don't mow your giant lawn with a non self-propelled lawn mower the week before a race. As I write this I am laid up, unable to run for almost 2 weeks now...not from the running but from the mowing. We still don't quite know what I did but it looks like I am going to have a nice long layoff as my TFL (or my glute minimum or whatever muscle is actually the problem) heals up and reattaches fully to my bone. Sigh. But hey, at least I got an awesome month of racing in before the break and, for the time being, I don't have to mow the lawn :) 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My worst race ever

Sorry folks. I really tried to come up with a wittier title for this post, but humor eluded me so I decided to go with the truth instead. But before we talk about the race itself I want to reassure you that this post isn't going to be a pity party. I am actually not upset about the fact that I ran the worst race of my career this morning. Maybe I should be, but I just can't figure out how to do that. I know I am fit. I know I am mentally tougher than I have ever been. In a nutshell, I know I am capable of racing well. Unfortunately today just was NOT my day.

Everything started out fine: good workouts this week, great warmup with my teammates. Granted, this was the first hard effort we were going to do in anything resembling heat and humidity this year, but the weather wasn't that bad. Overall I felt good at the start. When the gun went off I was amazed by how good I felt running. I felt totally strong and in control as we charged through the first mile. I honestly thought that when my first mile split chimed I was going to look down and see a 6:15, but instead I saw 5:53. That freaked me out a bit and I consciously slowed down in the second mile. I was hearing people breathe laboriously all around me but my breathing was fine. I was working very hard to keep pushing but also to stay decidedly in control of my effort. Mile 2 came in in 5:57. These first two miles were both full of rolling hills; they weren't easy. But they felt manageable! Mile 3 included a nice long downhill and came in at 5:56. As I passed through the 5k my watch read 18:16...1 second off my road PR for the distance. And yet I still felt great. My coach and I had discussed the fact that I am in better shape than I probably thought and that I needed to just race by feel, so even though I was a little freaked out by the paces I just tried to concentrate on my effort.

And then, much to my surprise, everything went wrong. I was still on a downhill and all of a sudden I just couldn't breathe well. If I had been on an uphill or even on the flat when this started I would assume that I had over-run the first half and was now paying the price. But on a downhill? When my legs still felt great? It was pretty strange. I tried to slow down but I couldn't get my breathing under control so I finally had to throw in the towel and walk. (Ugh.) I was able to get enough of a grip on my breathing that I was able to start back up running again, but I could literally only make it a tenth of a mile or so before having to stop again. I just couldn't breathe.

Needless to say, the second half of the race was enormously frustrating. I pondered dropping out but I really, really didn't want to do that, so I walked and ran, walked and ran. I watched my A goal, my B goal and my worst case scenario goal all slip away. Finally, 21 minutes and 36 seconds after I crossed the 5k mark I finally finished. And in a new all time low I LAY DOWN in the finish line chute. Makes my habit sitting down in the chute look totally cool and civilized!

Now that I have run the world's worst positive split I guess maybe I should be a little bummed out but like I said, I just can't muster it. Because you know what? Bad races happen! Who knows what the cause of this disaster was: it could have been the pollen, could have been the humidity, could have been my lack of sleep over the past few days...I have no clue. My lungs and chest still hurt like the dickens hours later and that is a bummer, but overall I really have no major ill effects from those ridiculous 3 miles.

I can't coerce myself into getting upset about the race but I am pretty happy about a few aspects of it. First of all, I am pretty darn excited about my first 5k split! Honestly, I had no idea I was capable of that right now! As I get ready to finally race on the track next weekend I am happy to have a good 5k in my back pocket; all of a sudden I am more excited than nervous. I am also grateful to have had a wonderful day with my fab Bull City Track Club and Oiselle teammates; knowing they were all out there really helped me keep plugging along when I felt terrible. And, best of all, maybe I got my really, really bad race out of the way for a good long while. How can I complain about that???

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Boston 2013

It is finally time for me to add my chapter to the big, huge story that is Boston 2013. Believe me, I have tried to write this post over and over again, but I haven’t been able to find the right way to talk about my weekend – how to address the terrible situation that will forever define such a venerable and beloved marathon, how to describe the wacky, bizarre 3 hours and 28 minutes that was my race, and how to share the truly amazing weekend full of love that was all the hours and days before and after those horrible moments on Monday, April 15th.  Hopefully this effort at articulating all of those disparate events will be successful enough to convey my thoughts.

I think it is really only right to address the bombings first, before I get to the wacky, the bizarre and the fantastic. Like everyone else who was in Boston on marathon Monday, the bombings rattled me to my core.  I was, more than anything, numbed by the shock that this could have happened. While many felt immediate sadness or fear or alarm, I just felt numb. And frankly, I think that I may still feel that way. As a self-professed optimist I just cannot begin to comprehend why anyone would choose to carry out such a horrific act. That said, I also was acutely, instantly awed by the response to the bombings. I was amazed by the rapid and thorough response by the emergency responders in Boston. The bombs went off while Ellen and I were 
retrieving our car from an underground garage and by the time we were above ground emergency vehicles
Of all the photos from the week
in Boston, this one of a cop
delivering milk to a Watertown
family on lockdown is one of
my favorites.
were streaming by. Before we left the city over a dozen police cars, fire trucks and ambulances sped by us on Beacon Street. Nine big old unmarked, tinted window-ed, lights flashing SUV’s careened around me while I was stopped at an intersection. During the 3 short miles we were on the Mass Pike I counted over 20 emergency vehicles flying towards the city, sirens blaring. When I passed the National Guard building, not 30 minutes after the blasts, the parking lot was teeming with uniformed folks ready to load up and head into the city. And so on. The city of Boston has always been proud of its emergency responders and on Monday (and throughout the week) they demonstrated to the world why they had earned that pride. 

I have also been mesmerized by the innumerable stories of civilians, regular folks like you and me, who ran towards the explosions, right into a melee of severed limbs and blood and screaming and crying, who pressed their hands onto ruptured arteries and who removed their belts and shirts to make the tourniquets that saved a stunning number of lives. We Americans are not always the best at looking out for one another but these folks showed us all how it should be done.

On a personal level, I was absolutely dumbstruck by the outpouring of love, concern and support from my  friends, family, acquaintances, the friends of friends, the family of friends…you get the picture. Never have I ever received so many texts, emails, phone calls, tweets and Facebook messages. (Just yesterday I received a lovely card from Ellen’s Aunt Rose, whom I have never even met!) And even though I was unable to personally reply to them all, these communications all collectively meant the world to me. It fills my heart to know that on such a terrible day over 22,000 runners plus all those observing all likely experienced a similar outpouring of love and concern from their personal communities. 

But even with all that bravery and help and love and support my heart still breaks for a few specific groups of people. Obviously I am deeply, deeply saddened for the families who lost loved ones last week. I cannot begin to imagine their grief. I am also distressed for those injured and their families; so many of them have incredibly long and arduous roads ahead. But I have spent most of my week heartbroken for 2 groups in particular. First, the families of the victims of the shooting in Newtown. Some of these brave families came to Boston to witness a celebration of their loved ones. They were seated in the grandstands at the finish line to watch runners complete the 26th mile, which was dedicated to the 26 victims of Newtown. Instead, they witnessed a horrible tragedy when the first bomb exploded directly across Boylston Street from them. I simply cannot imagine their trauma. Second, I am grief-stricken for all the folks who witnessed the bombings and walked away without any physical injuries but with a depth of psychological trauma that many Americans cannot imagine…especially the children who suffered these wounds. As a mother of an anxious child I cannot even fathom how challenging it will be to help these children and adults negotiate the invisible trauma they experienced.  I hope that all of these folks will experience an outpouring of love and support that far trumps what I received on Monday but that lasts for all the days and weeks and years necessary until their hearts and heads have healed.

It would be far too easy to end this post here; to let the bombings be the story of the entire trip. But, as many other folks have already said, to do that would be to let the young men who planted the bombs win. So, if you will stick with me for a little bit longer I would like to tell you about the rest of my trip to Boston.

before and after the race we
sported our BCTC jackets,
as did Alex Varner (on the right).
But he got to put his back on
much sooner than us: he ran 2:21!
all excitement before the bus ride
First, let's talk a little bit about the marathon itself. As seems to be the 
norm for me, I spent the week before the race fretting about whether I would be able to start, or finish, the whole 26.2 miles. After a completely uneventful training cycle I managed to tweak something in my left glute 8 days before the race. I ran all of 6 miles the week before the race, promised my coach to stop if I felt that I was doing damage that could mess up my season and greeted Monday full of contingency plans. After all that, the glute was the least of my issues. While it did harass me on and off throughout the run, the real problem was….well, everything else. You see, on this particular Monday every single thing that has never happened to me in my 10 previous marathons happened. In one race. It seems impossible, but it really happened. From the moment the race started I felt “off”… a little dizzy and woozy. At mile 3 I took my first sip of water and my stomach did some backflips. Despite this, I soldiered on and took a gel at mile 6 as planned. Instantly my stomach rebelled and began to ask for a bathroom trip. I patiently waited for it to calm down, but at mile 9 I knew that I needed to defer to my knotted up GI system. I reluctantly parted ways from Ellen, whom I was pacing, and my teammates Kara and Nancy. As I sprinted off towards a porta john I promised I would find them when I got back on course. After emerging from the bathroom (only about 45 - 60 seconds later) I sped off in search of them. They were running 7:45 pace, I was running 6:24. I figured I would catch them within a mile. Or not. I ran and ran, all the way through Natick and up into Wellesley, searching the crowds of runners around me but never finding them. Distraught, I 
SO happy to see Tessa
and Blazer, just past
the Wellesley scream
stopped in Wellesley, first with my dear friends Tessa and Beth for about 2 minutes, then  for another 7 minutes with the fantastic Oiselle cheering section in front of GettiGear. No one had seen Ellen. We scoured the crowd but didn’t see her go by. Finally I started up again, only to discover that I needed to go to the bathroom a second time. As soon as I emerged from THAT porta john I received a text from Tessa telling me that the athlete alerts put me 2 minutes ahead of Ellen at 20k. I had passed her in my mad dash to catch up. With my “rest” breaks in Wellesley I had crossed the halfway mark (21k) 7 minutes behind her. Honestly, at this point I was utterly demoralized. I had completely failed in my pacing duties. Ellen, Kara and Nancy had run right by me at some point and I hadn’t seen them. But I gathered myself together and sprinted off, hoping beyond all hope that I could catch up. And then, minutes later, a side stitch set in. It was bad enough that I simply couldn’t run through it; I had to walk it off. More time down. I stopped in Wellesley Hills to talk to my amazing friend Mary Mazzio to see if she had seen Ellen…no dice. Side stitch behind me I dashed off towards the Newton Hills. I charged up the hills as best I could, trying to make up time. Finally, at about mile 20.5, I came upon our Saucony rep Jeff Caron, who saw me and shouted my name. Once I registered that it was him I turned around, ran back, and asked where Ellen was. “5 minutes ahead” was his answer. Less than six miles to go and I had 5 minutes to make up. I just didn’t think I could do it, but I raced off once again, determined to try my best to catch her so that we could at least, maybe, finish together. I charged down the backside of Heartbreak Hill and…my calves began to lock up. Big, painful knots just took over where the muscles had been moments before. Somehow, instead of freaking out I was able to convince myself ease off a little bit…just enough to get the knots to loosen up so I could keep ploughing along. Over the course of the next 4 miles I fretted about Ellen, I considered just throwing in the towel, I decided not to. That cycle of thought dominated my brain so completely that I barely remember this portion of the race. And then, at mile 24.5, I looked ahead about 100 meters and saw some orange compression socks. But unlike the dozens of other sets of orange compression socks I had seen along my frantic journey, these ones were topped by a Oiselle singlet and magenta arm warmers. ELLEN! I had done it! One last sprint and I was even with her. As relief flooded over me my first words were “I’m here. Can we walk for a minute?” Thank goodness she obliged; otherwise she would have dropped me instantly. :) While I will never get over the disappointment I feel in not being able to pace and entertain her through the bulk of the race, I cannot put into words the joy I felt in being able to run the last 1.7 miles and cross the finish line with her. 

Looking back, I honestly cannot believe the day I had. I ran 26.68 miles (extra distance for weaving around people and sprinting to and from those bathrooms) and stood stock still for at least 9 minutes of my "race time".  I had almost every physical glitch one can experience in a marathon befall me, but despite it all I still finished. Right next to Ellen, just like we had planned. I am obviously extremely sad that the whole race didn’t work out anything like I had anticipated, but honestly, a week later I can’t do anything but laugh when I think back on it. The marathon is about as unpredictable as it gets and this particular race was my own personal reminder of that fact.

Now, onto the last chapter…the fantastic parts of the weekend. Because really, in so many ways it was an incredibly special weekend for me. First, I got to go to yet another marathon with my running BFF/top notch travel partner Ellen. We just have so. much. fun. We are also both shameless running of the 

hanging out with the incomparable Meb
sport and all its stars. So imagine our delight when we spent some time wandering the mall and chatting with Meb, whom I invited to my house just before he gave Ellen some kick ass marathon advice. 
Oiselle teammate Lauren
Fleshman, her lima bean
and us

We hung out with the delightful Lauren Fleshman, who is absolutely as cool in person as you could possibly imagine. I had tweets favorited by not one, but TWO Olympic athletes whom I respect and admire (marathoner Kara Goucher and 1992 Olympic rower, documentary filmmaking badass and, full disclosure, friend, Mary Mazzio). I spent time with 4 of my most favorite people on earth: my college crew co-captains Inga and Amy who graciously hosted us and my spectacular friend (also from Mount Holyoke crew) Tessa and her amazing partner Beth. 
Some of my nearest & dearest:
Amy, Inga, Beth, Tessa & Ellen
I got to meet and get to know a bunch of my Oiselle teammates, who all proved to be even more delightful in real life than on the internet. I experienced some awesome unanticipated benefits of having sponsorships while out on the marathon course as people shouted “Go Oiselle!” and “Go LUNA!” as I ran by. Each time that happened I felt a little more determined, a little bit stronger and immensely proud of my affiliation with these fantastic companies.

evidently if you send Kara
Goucher a pic like this...
you get this in your inbox!

As if all that weren’t enough, after 22 years I was reunited with the four phenomenal women who were my varsity four (crew boat) in high school. A celebration of the 35 year career of our coach Andy Harris happened to take place on the Saturday before the marathon and Ellen gamely trekked with me out to Southborough to meet up with my coach and rowers. The evening was amazing ... an event packed with folks whose lives Andy had made better with his quiet, paternal, expert coaching and his love of the sport. But the absolute highlight of the evening for me was being reunited with my varsity four, most of whom I had not laid eyes on since high school graduation. If you are not familiar with the sport of crew let me explain a few things. I was the coxswain (or "cox" which is both a noun and a verb): the on board coach, strategist, mom and steering wheel. The four immensely tall women you see below were my rowers; the engines. Their job was to propel the boat by moving with fluid strength and in perfect unison. All together, a boat basically has one heart. A good boat is intensely connected on the water, operating as one unit. And, as I have learned, in a good boat that connection - rower to rower and between rowers and their coxswain - remains a constant off the water and, at its best, never goes away. I can't quite put into words how joyful it was for me to be back together in one room with these women: although we are all now grown women, scattered around the country with unique lives, as soon as we came together we were instantly, once again, the St. Mark's varsity four of 1991. These women and Mr. Harris were really collectively responsible for stoking my passion for the sport which still in many ways defines who I am. If that makes no sense to those of you who are reading this and know me as a runner, perhaps it will become more clear when I tell you that one of my rowers (upon hearing that I had trained alongside Ellen for months and was planning to pace and entertain her through the marathon) exclaimed “oh! Now you cox runners!”  It had never occurred to me that this was the root of my love of training and pacing other women, but when it was said it instantly made perfect sense. I may be a runner nowadays but I will always be a coxswain at my core. 

St. Mark's 1991 girls varsity four, all grown up:
Katrina, Emily, Kara, Charlotte, me and Andy Harris

Before, during and after the bombings that will forever define this weekend in history, I experienced a weekend full of love and support beyond my wildest dreams.  I really believe that this love provided a foundation for me on Monday that allowed me to contend not just with the wackiest marathon I have ever experienced but also with the awful aftermath created by the bombings. I am also intensely proud of the loyalty and love that the running community and the people of Boston have shown towards those directly affected by the bombings. Both runners and Bostonians are, by nature, incredibly tough and this was demonstrated last Monday and in the week plus that has followed. As I wrap up this post, I would like to implore you to remember that while the acute memory of the bombings will fade for many of us, the physical and emotional scars will last a long time for many others. My hope going forward is that somehow we can all continue to find ways to send love, support and assistance to the hundreds of folks who lost their loved ones, their limbs or their sense of safety in Boston.  Even a small fraction of the love and support shown in the last week will make a world of difference to someone still struggling with this tragedy. Whether you make a financial donation, give blood (I understand that NOW, after the acute emergency has passed, is the time to give), or simply give your time and attention to listen to someone still struggling with processing the events of the day, we can all keep working together to ensure that these 2 young men don’t ever win, don’t defeat the spirit of our communities and that, instead, love wins.

To donate to the one fund, please click here:

To find out how to donate blood in your community, please click here:

 A few more gratuitous scenes from the weekend:

Fab Oiselle teammates Rebecca, Paulette, me, Ellen and Meghan

A little pre-race Bull City love from Ellen,
me and Kara!
In the ocean of runners passing
through Wellesley