Posted by: Sara | July 10, 2013

Dear IT Band: I’m a runner. Deal with it!

In all the years I have been running, which is not a lot but enough, one question that never seems to leave me alone is, “What is the difference between injury and paranoia?” Last week after running the Brownville Half-Marathon, I had that feeling that makes every runner’s stomach sink: the feeling of a brand-new, “you’ve been benched” injury. This time, I felt it in my IT band at the top of my hip and faintly in the area of my glutes in the same area that I had to get physical therapy for last year.

While I have been doubling up on workouts every day for the last month, including a lot of Body Pump and yoga classes to keep up my strength and flexibility, the week I was home for the Fourth of July didn’t include any Body Pump classes or yoga sessions before I ran my heart out at Brownville. I also didn’t have my foam-roller with me, only having packed a rolling pin and a couple of tennis balls. I suppose it was inevitable that I would get an injury setback since I’ve been busting my butt.

Or is it?

Isn’t the very reason for strength-training and stretching supposed to be injury prevention? How have I felt so great just to have been dealt a setback? Or is it a setback at all? And if so, how major or minor?

After running the Brownville Half on Thursday, July 4th, I didn’t run until Monday when I didn’t feel a twinge of IT band pain if any at all. The day after running 3 miles, I felt the pain again but not as severe and my IT band felt incredibly tight. I foam-rolled for over 45 minutes. The pain seemed to subside until I balanced on my leg to put on a pair of shorts and felt a sharp jolt of pain up my entire left thigh. It went away as soon as I set my leg down, but the aftershock was terrifying. My leg cramped up as I crawled into bed and I shook my head thinking, “Of course I would get injured now.” I took the next day off from running out of an abundance of caution. Given what I am going through right now with a tiring job search, running is my stress relief and I can’t lose that right now.

 The hardest part about having an injury that is teetering on the brink of going away with a little TLC or turning into a full-scale “see you next season” setback is determining which is which. After the sharp pain I felt in my leg on Monday night, I went into a frenzy searching for articles containing advice on IT band injury and recovery solutions. It’s hard to find the article that explains what your injury is because people are put together differently and their pain feels different. There is no one-size-fits-all in sports injury prevention because it’s hard to pinpoint what the problem is when you’re an amateur athlete.

So the obvious solution, in my opinion, is to take a rest day from running because, well, I don’t know what else to do. And that breaks my heart. There’s nothing I love more than coming back from a run that makes my legs shake and covers me with so many beads of sweat that I literally shine and glow. It makes me happy to get out of the house and enjoy summer. But is one more run on an injury, however slight, worth the chance of missing out on a season if you don’t get enough rest and recovery? I still don’t know the answer to that question. And even as I write this post, I am staring in the face of an 8-miler that I have yet to do and there’s a slight but detectable cramp in my leg.

Tomorrow will mark one week since I last ran a strong run. I’ll soon be deploying cross-training maneuvers if my IT band hasn’t healed before then. And praying, alongside the numerous prayers I’ve been saying regarding my job search, that my leg heals so I can stay focused and optimistic and in control of the huge difficulties I am experiencing in my life.

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Posted by: Sara | July 8, 2013

Race Recap: Brownville Freedom Run Half-Marathon

The sun coming up over the Nebraska-Missouri state line

The sun coming up over the Nebraska-Missouri state line

On July 4, 2013, Nebraska got its 531st town: the Brownville Freedom Run 5K, 10K, and Half-Marathon. With all the race participants combined, we were all larger together than some of the towns we ran through. It’s true when people say that runners are a community, a sum of all parts, and the sense of community I felt in Brownville on our nation’s 238th birthday was tangible and the small town atmosphere of the run itself was the breath of fresh air I needed when escaping the stuffiness of life in the Beltway.

The morning of the half-marathon, my twin sister Lauriel and I woke up at 4AM in order to leave Omaha by 4:30 and drive an hour south to the tiny little village of Brownville, Nebraska, located just west of the Missouri River. Brownville has a population of 133 people and it’s 384 acres across, but don’t discount it completely: it has a winery, a theatre, and a campsite.  When we drove onto Main Street just before 6AM, the sun was bathing everything in a blue-hued coral and the sun was a fiery ball of orange on the horizon. The street was lined with American flags and just over the bridge at the end of the street was the state of Missouri. It was pure Americana and even through the glazed-eye, pre-coffee stupor I had just spent the last hour fighting my way out of, I was eager to get out and run my heart out and to spend my Fourth of July in a town that is the essence of American heritage.July2 135

The atmosphere of the race start was exciting, even with the small crowd. I started my Garmin, surprised that I found a satellite signal so quickly given that I had no cell phone or 4G service on my iPhone, and shortly after 7AM when the announcer said, “On your mark, get set, go!”, I found myself running nearly right away through a shady little neighborhood and then out onto a sunny road. I started the race with a higher level of nerves than I expected to have: there were some personal issues on my mind and I really wanted to break the 2-hour ceiling I hadn’t been able to meet in my previous four half-marathons. Fortunately, I had the odds on my side: I had race day mentality, a flat out-and-back course, and I was running in my home state with a small crowd and my twin sister somewhere up ahead of me.

My sister Lauriel and me with patriotic bows!

My sister Lauriel and me with patriotic bows!

Mile 1, I finished strong. I ended my first split with an 8:45 pace which, I admit, made me slightly nervous because I didn’t know if I would be able to sustain that pace over the next 12 miles, but I continued moving strong.

Mile 2, the course terrain turned from smooth pavement to gravel in the middle. I had been running close to an 8:00 pace, but the rough terrain made me slow down. I was partially grateful for this because I felt like I needed to slow down or I would risk my 2-hour goal by burning out too soon. I stayed focused, stayed loose, and concentrated on finishing my second mile strong. The view around me was beautiful. It was quiet, peaceful, cornfields with a rising golden sun just over my left shoulder. I could see my sister about half a mile up ahead and, even though I was disappointed that she wanted to run faster than me, I put that out of mind and decided to run as well as I could.

Mile 3, the gravel road continued and the crowd started to thin out. I had finished my previous split at an 8:40 and hovering around 9:00. People were passing me but I reminded myself that I had a lot of race ahead of me and just let them go ahead. I spent the next 8:49 looking at the ground, trying to find tire tread in the gravel where it was smoother and trying not to step on large rocks that would pose an ankle injury if I stepped on it the wrong way.

Mile 4, I was slowing down a lot more. The gravel was hard to run over because I wasn’t used to it and I wasted a lot of energy keeping my core balance and weaving back and forth across the road to accomodate the medical and race personnel vehicles that were monitoring the course as well as a few cars that were confused by the steady stream of runners along 646th Avenue.

Prairie running

Prairie running

Mile 5, we were running back on pavement again, this time through the tiny town of Nemaha, Nebraska, population 148. Some of the locals were out to cheer for us runners, but it was still pretty early so the streets were quiet and sleepy. I grabbed my first bottle of water from one of the race volunteers, slowed to a light jog to recover my pace, and continued onward. The run through Nemaha was short– only about half a mile. Up ahead, I could see sun-bathed cornfields and a long stretch of highway, including a bridge over the Little Nemaha Creek. I looked at my watch: 9:09. Meh…I still had plenty of time to make up my pace.

Mile 6 was tougher to get through. I was in love with the beautiful landscape around me, but the half-marathon pack leaders had already made their turn-about, so I was starting to feel the panic rise in me that I was behind. I put my head down, sucked a chocolate raspberry Gu, and gave my twin sister a high-five as she passed me. Grabbing a bottle of water, I chugged it as I made my way down the hill that was at mile 6.5 and committed my energy to refocusing on this mile. I finished at 8:48.

Browville Trolley

Brownville Trolley

The remaining miles were somewhat of a blur to me having already run the terrain before on the first go-around. I still waved at the locals as I ran back through Nemaha, wished the volunteers a breathless happy Fourth of July, and tried not to think about the sun that had somehow inched its way higher in the sky since four miles ago and was making its presence known as it heated up the pavement and gravel road that I was coursing once again. The temperatures were still nearly perfect: 61 at start time with 82% humidity, but the flat course gave me little to complain about. I finished mile 7 with n 8:54 split, mile 8 with a 9:02 split, mile 9 with an 8:57 split, and mile 10 with a 9:07 split. The heat was starting to get to me.

July2 143Mile 11 was the beginning of the hardest 3 miles of the half-marathon. I was still running on gravel and the sun was baking me, making me work hard to maintain my pace. I just wanted to be done at that point and I knew I was going to have to fight harder if I wanted to finish under 2 hours. I grabbed a bottle of water from the volunteers halfway through and poured it all over myself to cool down, but there was scarcely a breeze and the humidity was still very noticeable as the road was lined with dense brush and cornfields. I finished that split with a 9:27 pace. I looked at my watch and realized that I had to finish the next mile in about 8:00 if I wanted to get 1:55, but I didn’t feel like I had an 8:00 pace in me. The sun was scorching, my stomach was growling with hunger, I was thirsty and sweat kept getting into my eyes, slowing me down as I vigorously rubbed my eyes with whatever dry patch of shirt I could, which wasn’t much considering I had a bib covering most of it. Still, I decided I needed to run my heart out if I wanted 2 hours and, while I’m sure I could have made it if I decided to slow down, I wanted more time in between me and my last PR of 2:04. I put my chin down, focused on getting to the finish line, and getting a strong time.I didn’t have much juice in me, but I could hear my twin sister cheering me on and I didn’t want to disappoint her or myself. I crossed the finish line in 1:57:35, taking 12th place in my age division and 50th place overall. July2 146

 Overall, I’m happy with my performance at Brownville. My only goal going into the race was to finally break through the 2-hour half-marathon ceiling that has been hanging over my head for four half-marathons. I got a good idea of how hard I will have to run if I want to beat four hours at the Air Force Marathon in September. I employed my strategy of taking the race one mile at a time, focusing on my form and breathing instead of the end goals of 2 hours and 13.1 miles and just ran hard for one more mile 13 times. And while I injured my IT band and had to take off three days to let it heal, I went home with another medal for my wall and a shiny new PR.

I want to say thank you to all of the volunteers who helped with the race and for the City of Brownville for allowing it to be overtaken for a couple of hours on a very special holiday. The race was very well-organized, the help was friendly and accomodating, and the course was beautiful. I had a fantastic time and hope to come back next year to run it!

Check out my sister and me on the Nebraska City News Press: http://www.ncnewspress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=IA&Date=20130705&Category=PHOTOGALLERY&ArtNo=705009999&Ref=PH&taxoid=#axzz2YNCfg0V6 

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Posted by: Sara | June 29, 2013

Week 6: Air Force Marathon Training

Week 6 was a toughie in both my professional and running lives. Professionally, the job search continues to roll onward at a painfully sluggish pace. I’ve been buckling down hard trying to find something without much luck. This week, I applied for 21 jobs, which is a lot considering you have to custom-write your cover letter and tailor your resume. Three of those jobs were referrals from colleagues and acquaintences. I also learned that, after being a top-ten finalist out of a pool of over 500 applicants for a job that I would consider a “dream job,” I was ultimately not offered the position. I was crushed. After six months of joblessness, it feels like this process will never end, but to come so close just to miss it takes me into a panicky, dizzying Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole-esque whirlwind. But, as any runner will agree, the trail teaches us a lot about life and somehow, after finding out, I was able to rock an awesome 3-miler–including a 5:55 split– even with a heavy heart. One foot in front of the other, don’t stop until you cross the finish line, courage, strength, resolve. Just keep going…breathe in and out…

I’ve made my peace with the missed opportunity and have shifted my attention back on finding the job that I am meant to have. I am eternally grateful that I still have the gift of running to carry me through this and that (knock knock) I have yet to see an injury. However, after having missed Week 5’s 14-miler and moved it to Monday, my training mileage for this week was skewed. I did take one more rest day than planned to try and even it out a little bit, but knowing that I had 16 miles to run this weekend, my weekly mileage total ended up being 36 miles. Okay, not bad. Weeks 3 and 4 were 31 miles and week 5 was 24 so I’m not doing too much. I’m good!

Except that I wasn’t good.

The night before I have a long run, I eat a lot more carbs than usual (typically pasta but I’m going to start the transition to natural carbs like sweet potatoes) and I drink at least 2 Nalgene bottles of water before bed to make sure I am fully hydrated. I set my alarm for 4:45 for a 5AM wake-up call and a 6AM departure time. But the longer my job search extends, the more worried I get and now it’s starting to permeate my subconcious. Last night, my subconcious woke me up with job stress at 2:30AM after a miserable time falling asleep amidst job-search stress (finally dozed off around 11:30). So, I got 3 hours of sleep. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. I was scared, worried, trying not to panic about my job search. I couldn’t shut my brain off. Finally, just before 4AM and seeing that my two choices were to fall back asleep and wake up even more groggy in 45 minutes or get up now and run earlier, I woke up, percolated a very strong pot of coffee, ate some waffles with peanut butter and chia seeds, and drank another Nalgene bottle of water. I got a late start out the door–6:45AM– after realizing my Garmin was seriously undercharged and having to give it a quick boost.

I had a goal in mind– average pace of 9:45. Given the high mileage I’d just run that week and that temps were already in the mid-70’s and the humidity was over 90%, I figured it was a reasonable ask.

Miles 1-3 went perfectly. The trail was cool and calm, I was running happy.

Miles 4-6, I had managed to maintain splits very close to my goal and I was very pleased. There was some serious fog over the Potomac, masking the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument in a shrowd of silvery  daylight and the river was immaculately still. Would have been a perfect morning for kayaking. I stopped and took a picture.

Sometimes you have to stop and appreciate where you are...

Sometimes you have to stop and appreciate where you are…

Miles 6-7 also went well and I even managed to dip into the 9:30’s, which I figured would make up to my slow first split. I congratulated myself on running faster but told myself to manage my energy because I still had over halfway to go.

Mile 8, however, was when things started to go wrong and I spent the entire rest of the run trying to figure out what got to me. For anyone who knows the Mt. Vernon Trail along the Potomac River, you know you have to run past Ronald Reagan National Airport and a very busy stretch of Interstate. It can get loud. The trail was busy this morning. The fog had lifted and the sun was starting to bear down. I was heading into a stretch of trail that I personally hate for its ugliness and drastic departure from the serenity of nature as it winds past apartment complexes, water treatment plants, and through a busy and pretty ugly part of town. I was getting thirsty for water, not the half-water, half-Gatorade solution in my bottle that was now almost gone. At one point, the noise of the jet engines, the rush of traffic, one-too-many “on your left!”s, and the annoyingly faint sound of Phoenix’s jovial song “If I Ever Feel Better” in my ears underneath all the outside noise, it all just became too much. I was losing control of my form and my breathing, feeling frantic from the chaos, and I got a terrible side stitch that I could feel creep up on me for over half a mile. I ripped out my earphones and decided I was going to run unplugged for the first time ever on a long run. I regained control of my breathing and my form, but I had expended a lot of energy in just that stretch of trail. Or perhaps I was mentally blocking the ugliness ahead of me…

Mile 9, I lost my mojo and started running splits over 10:00. I started feeling delirious, feeling my eyes go a little heavy, like I could fall asleep running right there on the trail. I snapped out of it, told myself to wake up, that I was over halfway through my distance goal. Nothing seemed to work, and I was extremely tired. Not just “I can’t do this” tired; I was exhausted. I didn’t put my earphones back in and wondered if that had something to do with my slow times, but the quietness in my ears was much more inviting.

Mile 10, I stopped to refill my water bottle at a water fountain. I ended up chugging the whole thing (not smart) and refilling it again, taking a moment to splash my face with water to cool down. There was literally not one dry patch of clothing on me; beads of sweat were rolling down my skin and even now as I write this post, my clothes are still wet. Fortunately, my wet clothes helped me cool down a little as the breeze blew when I started running again. But even a short water break couldn’t get me back under 10:00. I was creeping into 11:00 territory.

Miles 11-14 took me back along a forested path where the humidty was oppressive and there was so much storm damage from Friday’s thunderstorm on the trail that I had to dodge tree limbs and mud patches. I literally felt like I was running in place in a steam room except without all the water dropping on my head and instead all over my legs, arms, and torso. I decided to employ the Galloway method: run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute. I didn’t know what else to do. My legs felt like tree trunks, I was sweating profusely, my breathing felt too labored for the pace I was churning out, I was nauseated and exhausted and the lack of sleep was catching up to me fast. I felt drugged.

Mile 15 was the hardest. My feet were screaming at me, my side had stitched up again, my legs were sore all over. I was feeling dizzy and even shivering a little bit even as my skin was flushed hot. All I wanted to do was stop running. I was walking a lot more frequently and the sun was in my face, beckoning my sunglasses which were basically heat shields over my hot face. My pace was over 12:00. Looking back, I wondered if I was overdramatizing how I felt in my head. All I can remember is that I just wanted to collapse on the sidewalk and fall asleep– not just stop running but SLEEP. I’ve felt physical pain from running but running on so little sleep was impairing my ability to overcome the pain mentally. When my Garmin chirped at 16 miles and I was half a mile away from home, I wondered if I should crawl the rest of the way. My finishing time was 10:39.

june9 009I didn’t meet my pace goal. And I let myself not meet it, but I have yet to figure out why. True, I was delirious from sleeplessness, my fears about the job search were enough to keep me in bed worrying all day, but training is the ONE THING I can control through this rough patch and I decided not to excel. I may have to revisit that later….or perhaps the learning curve is steeper than I thought.  But I ran 16 miles on 3 hours of sleep after being awake for nearly 5 hours, in high heat and humidity, and only my thoughts to push me forward. I could have stopped anytime– even at mile 15 when I was over a mile away from home and would have gotten the 16 miles by walking, but no. I kept running until I got my distance goal.

I don’t know when I’m going to find my next job. I’m praying feverishly that it will be soon for both my sanity and my welfare. But I know I will find it because I am exhausted, afraid, dizzy, and discouraged but I will not waiver on my goal to finish what I started. I keep going because I have to….and I want to.

Truth be told, I try not to skip runs. I’ve somehow managed to balance my respect for the Rest Day with my committment to  a rigorous marathon training schedule by rearranging my scheduled runs a LOT. Sometimes, my weekly schedule starts out like this:

Short Run-Medium Run-Short Run-Speed Work-Rest Day-Medium Run-Long Run,

but they more often than not end up like this:

Short Run-Short Run-Medium Run-Rest Day-Speed Work-Medium Run-Long Run, or something like that. But I never skip runs.

My long runs (10+ miles) are always on Saturdays because if I want to go out during the weekend, I won’t have to sacrifice both Friday and Saturday night to run on Sunday and I won’t throw off my weekly mileage totals. It works for me.

But sometimes, life demands its time in court and no amount of rearranging will work. I’m here to tell you, and I’m probably not the first to say it: this is okay.

My friend Erin and me at the Lincoln Memorial

My friend Erin and me at the Lincoln Memorial

My very dear friend Erin unexpectedly announced her engagement Friday afternoon, so I went on a private trolley tour of the monuments with her, her fiance’s family, and some good friends to celebrate. It was summer solstice, the sunset extended past 9PM, and seeing the monuments lit up against a beautiful sunset is a sight that even after 5 years living in the District, I have never gotten over. But I was double-booked, however, to meet up with an old colleague and his wife on the late night bar scene in Arlington. Despite cutting myself off at 9PM and drinking water at the bar (not fun after midnight), I didn’t get home until almost 2AM because, well, that’s life. And people are more important. I went to bed, cringing at my alarm set for 5AM, and thinking, “Well, this will be interesting.” You can probably guess what happened: I overslept my alarm by 2 hours and woke up at 7AM to temps in the 80s and high humidity. My 14-miler was DOA. I rolled back over, trying to ignore the feelings of guilt by telling myself, “Tomorrow, you’ll get it done tomorrow, no worries, it’s just one day, just switch your Sunday 3-miler today and you’ll get back on track.”

Later that day and after sleeping in until 10AM, I was gearing up for a hot 3-miler and a gym class when another good friend of mine called and asked if I would be interested in going to the Embassy of France’s Fete de la Musique at 4PM. It was already 1PM. By the time my class at 1:30 ended, I walked home and showered, I realized I would be late to meet her at 3. Feeling guilty, I kicked off my Mizunos. Admittedly, I was okay with another rest day. The night before had really taken it out of me.

With friends at the Ambassade du Festival de Musique de France

With friends at the Ambassade du Festival de Musique de France

As it turned out, the extra rest I’d gotten that morning when I should have been running was definitely the right decision as far as the French musical festival turned out. The day’s temperatures extended well into the high 80’s and sitting outside in the sun drinking French champagne for 8 hours can really drain you. I had an amazing time at the Embassy and kept telling myself that I would cut myself off at 6PM…then 7PM…then 8PM…and by 9PM, I was just as sun-dazed as I was bubbled up. I didn’t get home Saturday night until nearly 3AM. 14 miles was not going to happen on Sunday.

 Okay, so I didn’t get my long run this weekend. Fortunately, the one benefit of being unemployed is that I was able to get a full day of rest on Sunday and I woke up early Monday morning and got it done. Actually, I probably would have gotten up early to run it even if I was working. Running is a huge part of my life but I could have missed a lot of good things that life outside of running has to offer. I could have missed the chance to be there for my friend while she celebrated her engagement, I could have missed an opportunity to see my good friend who just so happened to be in town this weekend, and I might have missed the chance to take part of another love of mine: learning about and experiencing another culture.

Don’t skip runs. But don’t skip life either.

Sipping French white wine at the Embassy of France

Sipping French white wine at the Embassy of France

Posted by: Sara | June 17, 2013

Running Unplugged

Admittedly, I am not one of those people who is so into running that I run for the sole purpose of seeking zen. Have I felt zen while running? Sure! I remember one specific time on a beautiful, sublime fall evening last September when I was looping the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial on a Goofy Challenge training run and I hit a pace at which it didn’t feel like I was running. I felt like I was flying. I wasn’t working, I was free somehow from the physical repercussions of form and stride and impact. I gazed to my right across the pool at a line of single-file tourist segways that looked like a parade of ants from where I was gliding, the amber sunset reflected off the water in the newly-renovated pool, the smell of wet earth and grass and the dusty fall leaves framing the ivory steps of the Lincoln dotted black with tourists and occasionally glittering with a camera flash. I don’t remember what was playing in my ear buds at the time, but the song in my heart was impressionable. Perfect.

This is the feeling I have heard that running unplugged gives people and lately, I totally understand it. Last Monday evening, the Washington, DC metro region was experiencing cloudburst after cloudburst of heavy rain. Literally every time I laced up my shoes and strapped on my Garmin, I would hear a rising, steady whooooooosh of rain outside and I’d have to wait until the rain stopped before I could run. Running in the rain freaks me out– I’m afraid of slipping and falling– so I would usually wait until the sidewalks had dried up a little before I would attempt another lace-up and then again, the rain would come. Finally, I decided to just get out there and go and screw it if I got rained on, but there was no way I was going to bring my iPhone out there with me in a deluge like I’d been watching. So I ran unplugged.

At first, running unplugged made me feel completely naked. Like I had just embarked on a marathon without having eaten anything for fuel beforehand and I was left with no other choice but to rely on my human condition, however strong or weak, to get me through a run. I took off and at first, hearing my feet strike the pavement was strangely unsettling. It was like realizing you’re in love with someone you always only saw as a friend. It was exciting at first and then I let it empower me. My breathing started picking up and soon I was beginning to worry that I was going too fast, that I was going to burn out, that I needed something to take my mind off what I was actively doing just for the sake of getting it done. I passed people and wondered if they would judge me or think I was crazy for not having something to listen to while I was running. Silly, I know. I just felt vulnerable. On display even….

I finished my first mile with incredible speed for a first split– 8:27. I began to worry that mile two, I would be much slower and would get a worse split time, and would get discouraged with running. But I kept going. My breathing was rapid and rythmic at this point. I admit that I don’t quite know how to breathe when I run. It’s like heeee-heee-hoooooooo heee-heee-hooooooo, but I knew that breathing rhythm well and decided to let it be my cadence. My head was noisy, even without music. I had the theme song from “House of Cards” in my head and, for some stupid reason, started reciting whatever old nursery rhyme that contains the words “singing polly-wolly-doodle all the day.” It was as if I needed something bouncy and repetitive to focus on as I kept going. At the halfway point, I started feeling like I was in the zone I needed to be in to concentrate on running. There was nothing else to think about. I had dark, ominous music my head, a nursery rhyme on my tongue, my breathing in my ears. Somehow, the world started to fade out. 8:34 split.

Mile three was the hardest one. I was getting tired. The music in my head was still there but it no longer moved me. I was super annoyed at the nursery rhyme and I had nothing else to think about except what was happening in my legs and my lungs. All I could think about was the my legs were burning, my lungs felt like they were going to burst, and I could sense my form collapsing inward the harder I pushed to stay below 8:30. I tried to think about anything else I could– what kind of recovery snack I would eat when I got home, how far from home I should be when I stopped running so I could cool down before going back inside the house, where my career was going at this point– but the thoughts were fleeting at best. All I could think about was what I was doing right that moment. I pushed harder, my legs hurt more, I slowed down, my heart sank at my tendency to be “good enough.” I looked at my Garmin– 8:26 split. All I had to do was keep up my pace and I would finish with a negative split. At this point, my head was empty. I just ran….no music, no rhyme, no breath cadence. The only thing I could think about was, “Good God, when is this damn thing going to tell me I’m at 3 miles already??” I started getting a little angry. Frustrated. Annoyed. And then I was there. My watch blinked 3 miles, my split was 8:26.

So, okay, running unplugged wasn’t the most zen experience I’ve ever had. I didn’t feel awe-inspired by my surroundings, I didn’t enter a god-like trance with the possibilities of my biomechanics, I didn’t even have one real thought in my head that pushed me to keep going. I was just present. The whole time. I wasn’t out for a run to sort out my thoughts, I wasn’t out for a run to have some me time, there was no purpose to my run except that: to run. And I was immensely proud of myself that I acheived an 8:29 average without so much a fast-paced Lady Gaga song to propel me forward. I just got it done. Perhaps running without any other intention, no other distraction, no other vice is why running unplugged can be zen. I think I’ll make this a weekly thing.

Posted by: Sara | June 9, 2013

Fourth in Four

I have a goal: finish my fourth marathon, the Air Force Marathon, in four hours or less– fourth in four, as I call it. To accomplish this, I have to run 26.2 miles 38 minutes faster and every mile 1:38 faster than I ran my third marathon, the Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon. A lot of seasoned marathoners may tell me that it is a lofty goal and I know it is, but I beat my 2011 marathon PR of 5:07 by 29 minutes. There’s no way I’ve plateaued with an accomplishment like that.

But I really have to bust my ass for the next 14 weeks to make four hours happen, and I have already been working hard. Aside from running the prescribed mileage under Hal Higdon’s Advanced-1 Training program, I’ve started going to the gym twice a day (the one benefit of being jobless).

Here’s what Week 3 looked like:

  • Sunday: 3 mile run at 9:09, 60-minute Body Pump class
  • Monday: 6 mile pace run in 9:05, 60-minute Ashtanga Yoga class
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 4 x 800 6:50 speed drills over 5.16 miles for a total average 8:49 pace, 1 tour d’estad
  • Thursday: 3 mile easy run in 9:28; 60-minute Body Pump class
  • Friday: 6 mile tempo run at an average 8:30 pace; 60-minute Vinyasa Yoga class
  • Saturday: 8 mile long run in 9:27

Total Mileage: 31.16 miles

This coming week, I have another 31 miles to run in addition to 4 hill repeats and I plan on taking two hour-long yoga classes, another Body Pump class, and two plyometric conditioning classes. I’ve literally never worked this hard to make something happen in my marathon training and I’ve also never been so afraid that it won’t happen. Am I setting myself up for success or failure?

When you have a huge goal like this, it’s hard not to analyze each step in the bigger context of that goal. On Friday night, I had to move my 6 mile pace run indoors since Tropical Storm Andrea was churning up the East Coast. The run actually turned into more of a tempo run– I started at an 8:57 pace, three seconds under my race pace of 9:00. After two miles of what felt like an easy pace, I lowered my pace to 8:41, thinking maybe I should practice for a bigger window of time. Another mile later, I still didn’t feel really challenged so I kept decreasing my pace until I was running at 8:20 for the last mile. That’s when it got challenging to run so I made a mental note to push myself to 8:20 the next time I had to do a pace run. But the intent of a pace run is to gain speed endurance so you can run a certain distance at a certain pace and here I was, running much faster than my goal race pace of 9:00. Granted, I was on the treadmill, but I spent the next hour in yoga class wondering if my goal for the Air Force Marathon wasn’t lofty enough.

The next day, I was back on my running trail with a goal to finish my 8-miler with an average 9:30 pace or 30 seconds slower than my goal race pace, which is typically recommended for long runs since you’re really trying to go for the distance and not the speed. During my run, however, all I could think about was how tired my legs felt from all the work I had put them through this week. While I met my pace goal and finished the 8 miles at an average 9:28, I don’t deny that it was a very tough run to muscle through. My legs felt stiff from the tempo run the day before and I know I had put myself through a lot of work this week with strength-training, yoga, speed work, and heavy mileage. As I am writing this on a Sunday, I feel good. My legs don’t feel overworked but I’m cringing at the thought of running 3 miles and taking a plyometric conditioning class this evening. Two days ago, I was wondering if my goal wasn’t lofty enough and here I am, thinking I’d just put myself through a lot and the next 14 weeks were only going to get tougher. I’m definitely riding in the doubt derby.

My struggle with meeting my fourth in four goal is not that I don’t think I can do it. I know that I can if I really put my mind to it, stick with the foam-rolling, yoga and strength-training, give every run everything I have. It’s that I honestly don’t know how to measure my goal. Some runs are easier than others and I’m adding a lot of strength-training and cross-training that I admittedly didn’t do when training for other races. Partially, I’m terrified of getting injured again, especially when I don’t have health insurance at the moment, so I incorporate a lot of strength, balance, and core work so I can avoid another debilitating injury at a time when I can least afford it. But I have to admit that I’ve noticed a positive change in the three weeks I’ve been training for the Air Force Marathon and sometimes I wonder if I am capable of doing more. It’s dangerous because, if I oversell my goal and make a Boston-qualifying time of 3:35 my goal for the Air Force Marathon, I might push myself to do more during training that may or may not lead to an injury. But if I keep my goal at a modest level, I may risk losing out on valuable training time that will make me stronger, faster, and capable of qualifying for Boston. What’s a runner to do?

I don’t think I can come to a reasonable conclusion right now. Perhaps fourth in four is attainable and perhaps I am capable of more. I think I need to evolve more as a runner. There are some days when I feel like I’m literally flying and a quick glance at my watch shows that my pace is borderlining 7:59-8:00. Other days, I feel like I’m going incredibly fast only to realize that I’m much slower than I thought. I still struggle to get out the door to run. My worst habit is putting it off until the evening, giving me all day to overanalyze my capabilities and plenty of room to rationalize an excuse. When I am running, sometimes I love it and sometimes I’m angry at myself for putting myself through such madness. I still struggle to connect emotionally to the sport, but I know being a runner has made me who I am today and I’d suffer an identity crisis without my running ability. I’m experiencing a growth process in my running and having my fourth in four goal is helping me identify steps in that process which, as any runner can attest, is different for each person.

I still have fourteen weeks left until my fourth marathon and that’s a lot of running to do. Going forward, all I can do is focus on putting one foot in front of the other, keeping my form and my breathing in check, and stay as focused and as present in my runs as I can. Let the bigger picture be what every smaller picture makes it.

Posted by: Sara | June 6, 2013

Summer Running, Had Me a Blaaa-aast…

Ahhh, summer. I’m about to get literary on y’all: the smells of sunblock and chlorine and sun-warmed pavement by the pool, BBQs in the park with classic rock and the clank of beer bottles amidst jovial conversation with friends…..and the sound of every runner’s alarm clocks beeping at unmentionable hours of the morning. Every runner knows that our wake-up calls drop as the temperature rises. Some of us are training for fall marathons with training plans that span 16-18 weeks, often partially if not all the way through the summer. And if you miss a wake-up call on a day when you have to clock long mileage, you face frustratingly slow training times in scorching heat and sometimes oppressive humidity. Ugh, that just makes me cringe. For those of us who have trouble waking up in the mornings, this time of year presents an additional beat-the-clock challenge!

6044I got my first harsh lesson in summer marathon training when I was training for my first marathon, the 2011 Marine Corps Marathon. The morning of my first and only 20-mile run of training, I missed my 6AM alarm clock by an hour and, after eating breakfast and hydrating, I didn’t get out the door until around 9AM. I had literally no idea how long it was going to take me to run 20 miles because I had simply never done it before and I was still on the “wrapping-my-head-around-this” part. The first eight miles started out cool and easy along a lightly hilly and tree-lined path. By now, it was almost 11AM and I had been shaded from the scorching sun. The next five miles, however, the sun was higher in the sky and definitely noticeable but I was cruising alongside the Potomac River with its cool breezes. Still, I was getting tired fast from being in the sun. Miles 13-20, on the other hand, is a seven-mile run I will never forget. It was nearly 12PM and I was about to run along an unshaded cement path next to a reservoir downwind of a water treatment plant with an odor that was detectable for miles. The sun, at high noon, was unbearable and the humidity was simply unfathomable. It sucked every ounce of energy out of me and, two miles in, I was completely out of water and Powerade. All I could think about was the heat and even the motivational playlist I’d created for that run sounded like white noise. Without any drinking fountains for the rest of the way home, the likelihood that I wasn’t going to be able to finish the most important run of my novice marathon training was quickly becoming a reality. Fortunately, after another very labored and slow mile through which I cursed every step of the way past a barrier of angry tears, I came across a gas station and bought enough water and Powerade to get me home. Even then, I practically slithered through the next hot and humid five miles and, admittedly, gave up at mile 19 because mentally I was just THAT over it. The entire run took nearly five hours when it should have only taken me three and a half at my training pace….or hadn’t missed my wake-up call.

Fortunately, I learned my lesson from that horrible 20-miler and have made it my objective to wake up as early as I can on the days I have long runs or know that the summer heat will be high. Despite the heat of the day, however, nothing is more beautiful to me that an evening summer run. DC summer humidity is no joke but the sunset reflecting off the moisture and smog in the air bathes everything along my lush forested running trail in a gorgeous amber light that I find irresistably serene and quintessentially summery. It’s a sight worth overheating or churning out slower running times and, on one recent run, the thought of running in the amber sunset was enough to get me out the door and run.

Sunset over the National Mall, September 2011

Sunset over the National Mall, September 2011

Early mornings are ideal for beating the heat, yes, but summer is the most amazing time of the year and offers beauty at different times of the day.  Last Tuesday, just as I was strapping on my Garmin for an evening 5-miler, I heard the low rumblings of a thunderstorm and checked out the window. Sure enough, to the west, the sky was looking dark with an ominous greenish-black tint to it. I quickly did the math and decided that if I left right that second, I could probably make it back home before it started raining if I ran at a consistient 9:00 pace but soon I was hearing the unmistakenable sound of raindrops on the window pane and my evening run was DOA. After the storm, however, temps had cooled into the mid-70’s and the warm air was humid, yes, but fragrant with the scent of wet earth and grass and sun-warmed pavement cooling off under the puddles. Some of my best summer runs have happened during the evening as well as during the mornings because the environment of lush forests in warm sunsets and clear after-rain air create the most amazing atmospheres in which to run.

Being a native Nebraskan, running the winter time will never bother me because I know how to dress warm and beat the elements; however, running during the summertime has been a hard lesson in timing, appreciation, and discipline. Depending on what kind of run you are attempting to do, the time of day during which you run can either be a blessing or a curse. My advice: skip the Friday night rooftop happy hour, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up early to run on Saturday morning. And if you miss the alarm clock on your mid-week training run (no judgement– I struggle with this), have the patience to slow down during the evening as the heat melts away. The sunsets around here are sometimes simply too beautiful to sleep through.

So tell me…..what is your favorite time of day to run during the summer months?

Posted by: Sara | May 31, 2013

This Is How I Roll

I will admit it here first: I hate foam-rolling. It’s an extra half hour of my day during which I have to be doing something instead of just sitting still and recharging, letting the day soak into me, and just enjoying the simple act of being, preferably with a glass of wine in hand. But it’s as much a part of my running routine as logging daily mileage, so it has to be done so that I can stay injury-free.

Here’s how the foam-roller and I became besties:

Before going to the doctor's office, I marked where I felt pain in my legs. Not pictured: my whole hip region.

Before going to the doctor’s office, I marked where I felt pain in my legs. Not pictured: my whole hip region.

Last summer, just as I was starting my training for the 2012 Des Moines Marathon, I went for a short 4-mile run. It was a smotheringly hot and humid day in the swampy establishment of Washington, DC, and I resorted to the treadmill after the simple act of walking the half mile from the Metro station near my home after work left me drenched and a little loopy. I hopped off the treadmill at the gym after doing some light stretching and, feeling a strained pinch in my hip and groin muscles, immediately felt that something was wrong. I started walking with a gimp toward the disinfectant station, chiding myself for carelessly switching terrain too quickly, even though one treadmill run in between trail runs shouldn’t threaten any seasoned runner’s ability to walk 50 feet let alone run. Nervous, I brushed it off and did a little heavier stretching when I got home, thinking I had just pushed myself too hard that day and that the problem would go away after a rest day, but it didn’t. The problem only got worse and pretty soon, I could barely walk fast let alone run. I went from running about 25-30 miles a week to running around 10 if I was lucky. I started feeling pain in my shins, knees, and throughout my entire hip region and I knew I had to seek medical advice.

A month after the fateful 4-miler, I spoke to a sports medicine doctor who was unable to determine anything seriously wrong, but he prescribed 6-8 weeks of physical therapy. I’d already missed about a month of training and, with it being near the end of August and the Des Moines Marathon was scheduled for mid-October, I knew right then that my chances of participating in the marathon with my sister were look really grim and sure enough, after my first meeting with my physical therapist, I knew that I would not be able to go immediately back to training. My physical therapist determined that the pain I was experiencing was due to overused hip adductor muscles that I had been using to compensate for weak glutes, improper balance, lack of core stability, and poor hip alignment. My IT bands were also very tight and were contributing to a lot of the pain in my hips and all the way down to my knees and even my calf muscles. I was a hot mess. And I was floored. I knew I hadn’t been keeping up on my strength-training as much as I wanted to or should have, but I didn’t think it would land me in physical therapy with a ‘DNF’ behind my name.

I continued with physical therapy through November, working my way slowly back up to the point at which I could keep up with the rigorous training schedule for the Goofy Challenge. My physical therapist was incredible: she knew my goals as a runner, she knew I was on a timeline and that I needed to train every day, and she kept careful track of how many miles I ran and what kind of problems I experienced during my runs. Not every single run was perfect– it took about a month before I could run past 2.5 miles without worrying that every slight twinge of pain in my hip, groin, and IT band was going to set me back another session. But over time and with the help of some exercises she gave me, I was soon running between 30 and 50 miles a week with very few problems and at a much faster pace than I could have dreamed of accomplishing. In a way, I learned that this minor setback in my running was actually a blessing because I was able to learn the proper mechanics of running and develop a hollistic approach to moving that allowed me to unleash my speed endurance and gain the confidence to tackle 39.3 miles in January. It’s not the kind of lesson I would want to learn again because DNF’s are forever, but I took it in stride and I continue to incorporate my rehabilitation months later.

And that includes the foam roller. Shortly after starting physical therapy, I made the best purchase any endurance athlete could make and bought a high-density foam roller. Since having it at home to use every day, I can tell when my old injury sensations are coming back and I immediately reach for it and roll it out. While yes, it has been a lifesaver, to me, it’s paperwork. A necessary evil that you love to hate and hate to love. And as much as foam-rolling is as fun as going to the DMV, I’ve also woken up in the middle of the night to foam-roll out of an abundance of caution and paranoia that I’m going to reinjure my muscles. I’ve also expanded my rolling repertoire to include a rolling pin, tennis balls, and golf balls and have been known to carry tennis balls up to the starting line of the races I’ve competed in, so there’s no way I’m going back to the days of mere stretching after a run. I love to hate my foam-roller but I hate to love it, too.

Since I’m no medical professional and this blog is mainly about my personal experiences with running acquired through my experiences and amatuer knowledge acquistion, here’s some basic information on why foam-rolling pretty much rules.

Here are some of my favorite foam-rolling positions (all pictures were taken with my self-timer so pardon the out-of-frame off-centered-ness!):

For those tight hamstrings...

For those tight hamstrings…

This position is perfect to roll out kinks in the quadricep muscles.

This position is perfect to roll out kinks in the quadricep muscles.

                 

Your IT bands will thank you for this position.

Your IT bands will thank you for this position.

And the super awkward but oh so awesome inner thigh rolling position!

And the super awkward but oh so awesome inner thigh rolling position!

The morning of May 26th, my alarm went off at 5:45 for a 7:30 half-marathon start time. I didn’t feel rushed– I had set out my running clothes the night before and the only thing I was waiting on was my coffee percolator because, despite having gotten over 8 hours of sleep, I was mentally foggy and physically groggy. The only thing clear in my head was the picture I had for how today’s race would go: I would smash my 2011 National Half-Marathon 2:05 PR and finish this race under 2 hours. In all honesty, however, I would have rather gotten back into bed and slept some more.May6 034

The coffee finished percolating and, as I sat down with it and a bowl of oatmeal in front of “Friends” to loosen my nerves, I decided I should call a cab right then to pick me up because the Arlington cabs are notoriously unpredictable, having once taken so long to arrive at my door after I called for one to take me to Ronald Reagan National Airport that I boarded my flight mere minutes before takeoff. Case in point: the cab arrived at my doorstep only 10 minutes later. I had barely gotten any coffee or oatmeal before I had to rush out the door, afraid that if I cancelled the cab and ordered another one, I would have to wait much longer and would barely make it to the starting line. Fortunately, unlike many races I’ve participated in, the coffee and juice bar in the lobby of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (the race start and finish location) was open for business. Many runners know this is a rare start line treat and I lucked out.

The race started promptly at 7:30; however, I’ve only really been accustomed to running races with at least 20,000 more runners and a 10-15-minute corral buffer and was therefore surprised when I started running practically right away. My Garmin hadn’t even located a satellite by the time I started running and it didn’t locate a signal until about a quarter-mile in. I never run my first mile anywhere close to race pace, but there I was, charging away with a slightly-skewed perception that I was already going too fast. I predicted my pace around 10:00-10:30 and was surprised to learn that I was right, but my plan had been to start running at 11 minutes per mile and edge down to my goal pace of 8:51, just like I do while training. But almost right away, the course veered uphill to cross a bridge and stayed mostly uphill for the duration of the race, with the exception of the last few miles where it went downhill before crossing the other side of the bridge prior to sailing across the finish line. My first thoughts were that my PR was DOA within the first mile, but I couldn’t run the remainder of that race with such a defeating thought and I knew that I would have to run this race hard anyway, so I pushed hard. Through the duration of the course, which took us down Eisenhower Avenue, twice through several conjoined parks along Holmes Run, and back along Eisenhower, the terrain went from cement to gravel and even to wood as we crossed a couple of footbridges, and it included a lot of twists and turns that super-challenged my quad muscles. At times, it felt like I was losing control of my form as I would charge up suddenly steep and short hills and struggle to regain my pace and keep my heart rate and breathing under control. I made a mental note to start attending more balance and strength classes and restart my plank-a-day series. The scenary, however, was spectacular– through the woods, along creeks, and into pretty neighborhoods but this was the first time I had to worry about wildlife during a race– I almost ran into a dangling garden spider who was suspended by a thread over the course! I was thankful I had just escaped an adrenaline rush that could have shot my race apart but I did find that pretty humorous.

The miles ticked by pretty quickly, even when there weren’t very many spectators along the way, but there comes a point in a race when you realize that you’re probably not going to meet your goal or PR or both, and that point came for me in the last mile when I looked at my watch and realized that, from nearly three quarters of a mile away, I had about one minute to get to the finish line. This was the part when I was running up the side of the bridge and the sun was in full splendor at nearly 9:30AM and making the pavement beneath my shoes hot. All the while, having just started training for the Air Force Marathon, I was technically logging my first long run of the season. At this point, I realized, I was only prepared to finish my fourth half-marathon and that two hours was not going to happen, but if I put a little bit of effort into the last stretch past the bridge, I could get a PR. The thought was both crushing and uplifting. May6 048I really wanted two hours, but I was likely going to walk away with a new personal best time and my fourth marathon under my belt and I could just enjoy my favorite part of any race when you hear the announcer and the finish line music and the crowd is going nuts and the race photographers are taking your picture and you just feel like a rockstar. That’s a moment that no shortage on time or goal can take away but only the love of racing can give to you. I sailed across the finish line with a heavier heart than usual but I was still proud that the tenth medal in my collection was around my neck. For that, I was proud and I was grateful that I had achieved the point at which any competitive runner is racing for minutes and seconds on the clock instead of the finish line. This was new for me. It was the moment I knew that no other race I would run will be the same.

While I did get a PR of 2:04:38, I didn’t smash the 2-hour ceiling. I’m happy I have a new PR, but I really wanted to break 2 hours and I was positive this was the race where it would happen. After all, I smashed the 5-hour ceiling and broke my marathon PR by nearly half an hour just eight weeks after running the 2013 Goofy Challenge; surely a half-marathon PR under the 2-hour ceiling would be the next logical step! Unfortunately, I didn’t meet my goal to finish under 2 hours and I missed it by 4 minutes and 38 seconds (weirdly, that’s my marathon PR). May6 042It’s easy to want to blame missing my goal on a lot of external factors: the course was not as flat as they said it would be, there were a lot of turns and some gravel-running involved, and there were some open area runs where the wind would push against you. But the truth is, I couldn’t have asked for a better race. The volunteers were full of energy, incredibly helpful, and the water stations were always fully stocked. The police kept us safe from passing traffic and the course was beautiful with near perfect weather, even with the occasional strong wind gust. The problem is that I totally underestimated how painfully difficult it can be to run the half-marathon. It’s a completely different beast than the marathon, wherein anything can go right or wrong within 3-6 hours of running and you have a lot of time to correct it, but in the half-marathon, it all has to happen literally in half that time. If you’re behind on your pace, you don’t have as much ground to make it up in. If you’re only used to the marathon or you just want to finish, you can handle the 13.1-mile distance just fine, but if you want to make it across the finish line in a certain amount of time, that requires a pretty different training plan than just building up the kind of endurance required to go long. Half-marathons are as much if not more about speed than the a full marathon and sometimes that can be harder than just running slower and longer. As someone who prefers the savory openness of the marathon to the half-marathon’s strike now, strike fast nature, I rediscovered this the hard way running my fourth marathon. Luckily, my next half-marathon is in about a month in Brownville, Nebraska so here’s hoping this PR has a short shelf life!

Finally, I want to thank all of the volunteers, the staff and crew of the Marathon Charity Cooperation, Potomac River Running, and anyone else involved in planning and coordinating and also at the local levels of government, including the Alexandria Police Department for putting on a successful race. I was very impressed with how smoothly this race’s operations were on Sunday, especially in light of the irritations presented in two large corporate races I have run in the past. The course marshals were energetic, enthusiastic, supportive, and very encouraging. Also, as someone who loves to give back through running, I truly enjoyed feeling that my participation was supporting several global causes such as the American and Indian Charitable Trust, Iqraa, and Hope for Tomorrow including many others. I would highly recommend this race to anyone looking for a small-town feel with a global and cultural mindset.

Since this race occurred on Memorial Day weekend, this post is dedicated to all those who served our country and lost their lives in the fight for our freedom, our country’s values and principles, and the safety that allows our communities to hold races like this in support of one another. During this run, I used my Charity Miles app to run for the Wounded Warrior Project in solidarity of our fallen heroes and struggling veterans. Thank you, servicemen and women, for your brave sacrifices to this great nation.

Posted by: Sara | May 23, 2013

Did You Know You Can Change?

may5 015 2013 has been a tough year so far.  I lost my job at the beginning of this year (I am still looking) and I ended a serious relationship shortly thereafter. There’s never really a good time to receive that kind of a hand, but those are the cards I’ve been dealt. To say that running has been my absolute saving grace through all of this would be to overlook the toll of what surprised me as real, physical, human emotion. I won’t pretend that finding the strength to go for a run is the easiest thing to do when you’ve been handed a couple of good shocks to your system and all you want to do is stand still and absorb. I will be honest and admit that I have skipped a workout here and there, but I have always regretted that while wondering how some people can run under heavier circumstances. I am human, but I am still a runner, even on the days I feel unworthy of the title.

But to ignore the fact that running has been my saving grace through one of the most trying times I’ve experienced thus far in life would be to deny myself the credit I earned having pushed myself through it this far. Even though it feels like it, I’m not taking on a crusader mentality here. I have a lot of bricks I could throw at life right now, but it’s not the best reason to suddenly start kicking ass. Somewhere in the midst of suffocating uncertainty of where my next paycheck will come from and the inconvenient emotional hiccups I’ve encountered in the past several weeks and months, I came to a “re-realization” that just because I am waiting on forces beyond my control to determine what my next step will be doesn’t mean I should stop moving forward. Since there is only so much I can do to change my professional circumstances through networking and searching, and dealing with the disappointment of a failed relationship is the kind of interruption no one wants or asks for, there is one thing I can do to ensure I am moving forward: take advantage of the opportunity to work towards my goal of becoming a 4-hour marathoner.

The most amazing thing about running is that new beginnings can happen every single time you lace up your shoes. There is no waiting around for someone to make a decision for you– you are the decider. You always have the power to change your circumstances, however grim they are, every single time you lace up. It’s the simplest, yet most effective method of reclaiming authority over your life, even as it hangs in the balance. Sometimes, yes, bad things happen in life against your will and they usually will always derail your determination, your motivation, your ambition to succeed in some way. As I have admitted, some days, it got the better of me. But when you’re in the trenches of life and you can’t see your way out, small successes, small victories, small wins are the way out. As anyone who has ever asked me how I get through hours of running every day of the week and how I’ve managed to run 26.2 miles three times over by now, my answer is always, “Literally, one mile at a time. Only focus on one mile at a time.” Compartmentalize the challenges, break them down into manageable bits, take what you can carry. Never stand still waiting for the change to come, because it will come and you want to be as ready for it as you can be. And in the meantime, you have the power to change. You always have the power to change SOMETHING, even if it’s not the kind of change you want. Leave your mind open to the possibilities of the better unknown and the better unexpected, including the unexpected you never thought you could create for yourself. Someday, you’ll never have wanted it to be any other way.

2013 has been a tough year, but so far this year, I have managed to run 2.5 marathons (the Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge in January and the Rock ‘n Roll USA Marathon in March) and I have my fourth half-marathon on deck to run this Sunday at the Alexandria Running Festival. I’ve just started training for the Air Force Marathon in September and I have plans to run with my Boston-qualifying twin sister (who qualified to run Boston 2013 but deferred to 2014 thank God) in the Brownville Freedom Run Half-Marathon in Brownville, Nebraska over the Fourth of July as well as the Disneyland Dumbo Dare 10K and Half-Marathon over Labor Day weekend. I have high personal goals for all of these races and have just started on two-a-day workouts (with the exception of the week before half-marathon #4 since I will be gunning for a PR at this race). 2013 might just be the hardest year of both my personal and professional life, but it might just become the greatest year of my running life, too.

I know that I will receive my wild cards (or whatever the poker term for that is) one day, but until then, I’m going to lace up my shoes and charge up the hills repeating my goals in my head: “4-hour marathon, 4-hour marathon, 4-hour marathon.”

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