Category Archives: food for thought

Cooked

Update: A timely article from Outside Magazine on why breaks (and two week breaks at that) are pivotal for runners!

As I alluded in my Week in Review last night, this past week was a bit of a miserable one in terms of running. Long term training is grinding and very rarely glamorous; anyone who tells you they love it every.single.day is absolutely lying to you, themselves or most likely both parties. That said, there is almost always joy in the process even when it grinds a tad. For me, the past few months have felt…aimless. Some of this is out of my control. My job as a fourth year is to obtain a Residency so I am obligated to travel, socialize and work hard to find my fit for the next few years. Because I have no predictable schedule, it was hard to choose any one goal race and led to a training approach that kept me fit but totally non-specific and in many ways, unmotivated.

It wasn’t until this past week, however, as I was looking over my training year and thinking about 2017 that I realized that I hadn’t taken a break in an incredibly long time. I estimated that it had been about six months, figuring that I must have taken a bit of a break after the half in Chicago or at least Plattsburgh. At the MOST, it had to have been right after Philly. As it turns out, my last “big” break was 5 days in November of 2014. The one prior to that was 6 days the month before, after my marathon but before I geared up for the November half. Since I mandate that my athletes get at least a week between seasons (preferably two weeks), this was a bit embarrassing to realize. Although I wasn’t training hard (for me), I was still running almost every day for over two years. In contrast, my athletes generally take 4 to 6 weeks off a year.

I am signed up for (and excited for) my return to the New Bedford Half Marathon in March 2017. This was my PR course for a few years (I ran a 1:27 then a 1:25 on this course before my 1:21) and I love the event. Before I gear up for that event, however, I’m taking a full week off from running. Admittedly, Will would like me to take two weeks off but I’m resisting this right now. I’m open to considering it but want to see how one week goes before I commit to two. I will be active over the next week and the only thing off limits is running. This break is certainly about a physical reset but it’s also about a mental reset too; after a week or two, I am sure to be desperate to be back out there.

While I’m resting/resetting, my other job is to come up with my goals for 2017 and reflect on what approach is most feasible given the confines of the coming year. I have a heavy schedule in February, March and April (I opted to take the fall for easier things rather than sliding towards graduation, just personal preference) followed by a move in May to wherever I’ll be and Intern Orientation in June. I don’t know exactly what my intern year schedule will look like but I do know that no matter where I end up, I can expect to be busy and exhausted and I need to set running goals that work with that rather than fighting it.

When was your last big break? What do you do when you’re on a running break: complete rest or other activities? Ever found yourself cooked on running?

When Does A Run Count As A Real Run?

For starters, the title of this post is intended to be tongue in cheek. You can count whatever you want as a real run. It comes from a train of thought I had at 5 am the other morning as I was struggling to get from my hotel room to the hotel treadmill. As is my recent pattern, I woke up at 3 am and was wide awake. In Cleveland, I gave up on trying to fall back asleep and went and did my run earlier than planned. In Providence, however, I fell back asleep after about an hour which made getting up at 5 to run MISERABLE. I was in slow motion and by the time I was ready to run, my time to run had whittled down to about 20 minutes and I had a fleeting thought that I should just scrap the whole thing because “a 20 minute run doesn’t count.” I managed to get myself out the door and got 20 minutes in anyway.

As I was thinking about it later in the day, this is a train of thought that I need to reframe as I head into Residency. There will be days when 20 minutes is a luxury and I need to relish those days just as a much as I love a bonus hour. I experienced this during my recent travel bender; when I had a bonus hour in Salt Lake City I jumped at the opportunity to get an hour in even though I only needed 5 miles. Normally I’m a stickler for not doing more than my training plan calls for but in this case, gotta make hay while the sun shines as it were!

Am I the only one who thinks this way? Has anyone else ever scrapped a run because they didn’t have time for the full planned run?

Calm (Alternative Title: Mindfulness I Can Tolerate)

I am one of the least intentionally mindful people on the planet. I move at 100 miles an hour, I always have ten projects in the air and generally consider it a successful day if I get through half of my to-do list. Recently, however, while on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, I was introduced to calm.com which is a website and app dedicated to simple mindfulness exercises. What I like most about the site is that it has 3 minute guided mindfulness exercises, which are a tolerable length even for me. There are also numerous options for calming noise on the right sidebar which is a nice feature for when I’m working or reading something that doesn’t require 100% concentration.

As I’ve shared many times on here, I struggle with significant running anxiety. Interestingly, my race anxiety has decreased a ton over the past few years (maybe too much as sometimes I feel like I don’t care about race outcomes any more) but my workout anxiety remains incredibly high. I don’t sleep the night before a big workout and as I get ready to start, I’m nauseous and in full on panic mode. Flooding one’s muscles with cortisol is not exactly the way to prepare for success so I made a deal with myself to try to incorporate some mindfulness features into my pre-workout prep. Now on workout days, my routine goes warm-up –> 4 laps of jog the curve, stride the straights –> drills –> eyes closed, mindfulness moment. I close my eyes, work through one of the mindfulness actions of wiggling my toes and attending to that action and take some deep, intentional breaths. It sounds hokey and one of my biggest challenges is not rejecting the idea but my workouts have improved MARKEDLY since starting this. It could certainly be incidental but it seems that taking a few moments to focus before starting helps to bring my heart rate down and narrow my focus.

For me, a few minutes of intentional mindfulness a week is a much more tolerable way to work on focus and anxiety than yoga, which has the paradoxical effect of making me significantly more stressed about my schedule, my lack of flexibility and so on. I do still do my 20 minute routine for runners but beyond that, yoga has never seemed to work to help my mental game. I’m hopeful that adding this small touch of mindfulness will be a good addition to my pre-race routine and help me move back towards a healthy dose of anxiety and race anticipation.

Do you practice mindfulness? How do you focus yourself before workouts and races?

Don’t Believe Everything You See on Instagram

Disclaimer: I love social media. I once coordinated the volunteer response to a hurricane on social media and continue to do research on the role of social media in public health promotion. I benefit from social media; my relationships with Skechers and Nuun and with countless other companies who send me free things to review or comp my race entries are closely tied to my social media presence.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I am also deeply concerned about the way that social media is changing the way we run. Is is possible to go for a run without posting a picture of your Garmin? Is it possible to eat a recovery meal without first snapping it in pretty light? How many shots does it take to get a good daily run shot and WHO THE HELL IS TAKING ALL YOUR RUNNING PHOTOS?!?

Much of this has come up for me over the past few months as I continue to figure out how to balance the PR and training components of my running. I am deeply grateful to my sponsors and want to represent them in a good light and demonstrate how their support makes it easier for me to meet my training goals. That said, I also don’t have time to set up a photo shoot after every run nor do I have someone around to take a photo of every workout or run. All of this came to a head a few weeks ago when I was down in our gym doing legs after a workout. I wanted to get a picture after a good workout and was busily trying to set up a timer app on my phone to capture me in the middle of a single leg squat. After 15 minutes of trying to get a shot with decent lighting, however, I was out of time both for squats or to post a picture and as I was showering started to reflect on the sheer ridiculousness of compromising both my social media presence and training to get a good workout shot.

My bigger concern, however, is around the authenticity of content on social media as it pertains to running. No one, and I repeat no one, has good runs every day. Perhaps every run has moments of good but the reality is that if you run regularly, most of those runs are average and run of the mill. And that’s okay. No single workout or run makes a training cycle. It’s the stacking of average run on average run that leads to breakthrough performances and personal records. So why the pressure to talk about how amazing every run was or how fast you were on every repetition? Why the cultivation of the myth that running and training should always be glamorous and photo ready? Some of my biggest breakthrough workouts are the ones where I miss my paces but stick it out anyway or the ones where I drench through my mismatching clothes. Where’s the rush to post those moments?

Part of the story but not the whole story.

Part of the story but not the whole story.

In general, I think I do a good job of being real on this blog. In fact, I think I am a little too rough on myself which is something I noticed when reading through race reports recently. On Instagram, however, I fall into the trap of cultivating my content. Some of this is unconscious; if I don’t have time to post a picture, I don’t. Some of it, however, is 100% intentional. When Will and I have time to run together, I regularly ask him to take pictures of apparel and shoes while I’m running and we do way more than 1 take. As I was flipping through my phone photos this week while planning out this week’s content, I busted myself (thus the impetus for this post) for taking pictures of all the amazing veggie concoctions I’d enjoyed all week. The issue was not that I took pictures of pretty summer vegetables, it was that if I posted just those, it would create the image that I eat perfectly healthy meals and erase the reality that one of those nights of a bright salad was only because we’d opted to eat chips and salsa for the rest of our dinner. It erased the reality of Friday where we had tons of cookies leftover from a dinner party and I literally ate only cookies for breakfast and dinner. Why was THAT not on my camera to share?

Going forward, my personal plan is to be more mindful of what I’m choosing to put on my social media accounts and be less self-conscious about sharing the real moments while taking everyone else’s content with a grain of salt. Hair a tangled mess and face blotchy from working hard on the track? Resist the urge to filter the sh*t out of it. Posting a picture of a great, healthy meal? Own up to cookie breakfasts and lunches or to the days when I eat zero vegetables.

Would you engage with a social media account that was more…average? How do you decide what to post on social media? 

Everything Is Extraordinary

In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary. 

I don’t know what my problem was on Monday. The Heels won on Sunday night, taking us to the Final Four. I had a great weekend full of sunshine and amazing runs. But whatever my problem was, I woke up on Monday to driving rain and wind and I was grumpy from minute 1. I stormed around the apartment getting ready for work. I stormed (internally) around the hospital all day with more consults than we had time for. I barked at an ED doc who called with a ridiculous consult. By the time I was done on Monday, I had whipped myself into a full on tizzy. (Is that a word that only my grandmother used? That happens not infrequently to me…)

I had previously planned to head back to Mianus River Park so when I got home, I grabbed my trail shoes and threw on running clothes. My shoulders were up by my ears and I spent the whole drive convincing myself that the trails would be soaked from the rain, that I should quit medicine because it’s so f****** frustrating sometimes and on and on. Whew.

Then I got to Mianus. I got out of the car, I shed my top layer because the sun had come out and it was warm and I ran. And ran. The trails weren’t too muddy or slippery. The park was quiet save for a few peepers and birds. My shoulders relaxed. I zoned out and worked on trail running technique. Minutes passed and the weight of the day, unidentified as it was, lifted. By the time I got back to my car, I felt human again. Ashamed of my day long grumpiness, but human.

Don't mind the storm clouds floating over Fairfield County...

Don’t mind the storm clouds floating over Fairfield County…

For me, running can lift the weight off my shoulders, even on the worst days. The ability to pink my cheeks and make me feel like I can handle anything, so long as I have my running shoes. For that alone, I should be eternally grateful but sometimes I just plain forget how good I have it.

How long can you stay grumpy on a run? Anyone else prone to storm cloud days?

Recently Read: The Trials, The Trials and Thoughts from the Interwebs

The Trials are tomorrow and on everyone’s minds. In fact, I opted to work long call Sunday instead of mid call tomorrow so that I can give the Trials my full attention!

I loved this perspective from Mike Cassidy, who missed the Trials this time around. It’s so hard to see everyone arriving in LA and feel left out but it’s amazing to even FEEL left out, like it was within reach at all.

I also loved these stories from four women who aren’t competing for Olympic spots but are high level runners with real jobs. Full time professional runners are amazing but I’m more inspired by women who have real jobs too, as their experiences and training are a lot more similar to mine.

Rocking a singlet with Vermont on my right chest would be awesome! Patrick Rizzo’s suggestions for making the Olympic Trials Marathon more accessible and interesting to the general public are spot on. I’m skeptical that USATF will take note, but here’s hoping.

Skechers is sponsoring the LA Marathon this weekend, with something like 16 athletes running for them including Meb and Kara. Of note, they also signed a contract with Meb until 2023, long after his big racing days will be over (although with Meb, never say never). I love that they are sending a message that an athlete’s value is more than just their race performances.

I love the internet and I LOVE social media but I also see the dangers inherent in broadcasting only parts of your life and your day. No one is glamorous all of the time. I still haven’t mastered the selfie but rest assured, if I took one when I start my run at 3:30, it would be terrifying. As such, I like the point this woman was making with her recent Instagram post (although a little bit of irony given why she started her account in the first place…)

Finally, this article cracked me up because I am QUEEN of multitasking on the treadmill. I mastered the art of reading on the treadmill in college (Pro Tip: If you have a fat book or text book, a big binder clip does wonders to hold your pages open). This morning, I watched a board review video for my 6 mile run. I do understand where she’s coming from, however, as I feel that way about outside runs.

It’s My Body and I’ll Billboard If I Want To

As my post on Thursday alluded, it’s a rough time for endurance sports. Perhaps some of this comes from the insanity associated with chasing after and keeping sponsorships, most of which have performance requirements tied to them. When you have to perform to pay the bills, it’s not a huge leap to see why people might be willing to bend or outright break the rules.

That’s why I find this letter by Nick Symmonds incredibly timely. As he says, major contracts are few and far between (and increasingly a thing of the past). As such, many of us cobble together sponsorships to support our running. When we race, we want to acknowledge the companies who support us. We want to make sure everyone knows which products we believe in and count on. As the rules are now, however, my body isn’t my body at USATF events. The Nuun tattoo I wear to thank that company isn’t allowed. If I want to recognize a sponsor in addition to my team, I essentially have to rely on pre and post race gear to get the word out. It’s not that this doesn’t work: I spent 2 hours after the Craft Brew race answering questions about Nuun thanks to my trucker cap and tattoo. But it would be nice to have my singlet adorned with the logos of the companies that got me there.

In nordic skiing, for example, athlete uniforms reflect all of their sponsors. This year, for example, the US women have white uniforms that have nordic related sponsors like Craft Performance, Fischer and Rossignol next to non-nordic specific sponsors like Visa and Subaru. The other nice feature of the U.S. Ski Team is that although there are team specific sponsors (Craft, L.L. Bean and others), athletes can also personalize their uniforms and hats with other sponsors, such as their boot maker or fuel company.

I’m not saying I want to look like a NASCAR rig. I neither have that many sponsors nor the intention of making my quads a billboard. What I am saying (and what Symmonds is saying) is that athletes should have the opportunity to recognize all their sponsors on their race gear without penalty and that companies should have their logo readily visible on the athletes they so graciously sponsor.

What do you think the solution is? Should USATF be able to dictate what athletes put on their bodies? Where do we draw the line on bodies as billboards?

A New Low in Cheating

It hasn’t been the greatest year for running with the NOP scandal and Russian doping bust but I guess we can take some solace in the fact that we have at least avoided putting motors in our legs (to date). For those who missed the headline, a professional cyclist at the World Championships for cyclocross was busted for having a hidden motor in one of her bikes. A motor.

What is going on in professional endurance sports that we have given up on chasing the next level the natural way? Is winning worth a lifetime of knowing you cheated and the risk of getting caught? What is the punishment for someone (arguably barely an adult) who participated in this?

Recently Read: Orthorexia, Gender Equality and Mental Toughness

Although I have a lot of articles bookmarked this week, I don’t have anything bookmarked about the ongoing doping scandal or the provisional suspension of Russia by the IAAF. I have plenty of thoughts about it, but I haven’t found a way to put them into words that doesn’t just devolve into screaming. I imagine I’m not alone in this. For so many of us, running is pure and simple and scandals like the Nike/Salazar issue and like the systemic doping uncovered in Russia taint everything. It’s hard to look at the success of a runner now and not wonder “Is she doping?”

Orthorexia is an issue with which I’m highly concerned, especially with the proliferation of running and healthy lifestyle blogs. I’ve written about it before but was happy to see this article about the issue. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for healthy eating and fueling the body with real food, but not at the expense of balance or the development of an obsession.

We had QUITE the spirited debate in our house the other night about the issue of equality in running last Friday. With others, Kasie Enman has started a campaign to improve equality in distance running and nordic skiing. At the core of the issue are two facts: 1) teams are not always the same size and 2) distances are often shorter for women. On the first point, I’m in 100% agreement that the teams should be the same size. I cannot fathom why they are not besides some old argument that men are inherently more interesting to watch race than women. On the second, however, I disagree with Kasie and others who are calling for equal race distances and fall more in line with Lauren Fleshman’s view. Injury and eating disorders are extremely prevalent at the college level (in men too, see my sub-point in a moment) and that only goes from 5K to 6K for women. If women had to go from 5K to 8K over the course of the summer, the mileage required and the increase in workout length would increase injuries enormously. From another perspective, it would make developing college level talent difficult on high school coaches and recruiting a nightmare for college coaches. The athlete who is successful at the 5K may not have the ability to stretch out to the 8K. Furthermore, the athlete who excels at the 8K in cross country may not have the cross over to also be your middle distance runner in track. Joe’s perspective on the issue is that there isn’t a compelling reason NOT to have them be the same distance and Alex Hutchinson at Sweat Science agrees. Joe said it “sucked for guys to jump in distance, so why not have everyone do it.” While I don’t agree with spreading the misery just for the sake of fairness, perhaps there’s another way to achieve equality. Why not bring everyone down to the 6K?

Speaking of equality, I loved this YouTube video that kicks off the #covertheathlete campaign.

A great clip with Jenny Simpson about being calm at the starting line. As an athlete and coach, I’m always interested in tactics for race day zen and I loved her quote that This is home. It reminds me of the wisdom my captains brought to the team before the State Meet, gleaned from their leadership class: “Same race, different day.”

Finally, an article shared by my friend Annie who played lacrosse for UVM and still satisfies her need for competition by randomly showing up and running marathons about preparing for the end of a competitive career.

Quiet the Doubts in Your Head

In the vein of Halloween, some workouts haunt you forever. Steady state long runs are one workout that spikes my anxiety enormously, dating back to the first real disaster I had training under Will. It was my birthday and we had a meet so I needed to get my workout in early and headed to the bike path. It was something like 13 miles total with 6 at steady state pace, which was probably 6:45 pace that year. Within a couple of miles, it was clear that the workout wasn’t going to go well. I couldn’t breathe, my legs were heavy and hitting 6:45 pace seemed impossible. I ended up crouching on the side of the bike path because I was crying so hard at my “failure.” I remember dragging myself to the meet, not wanting to make eye contact with Will because I was so ashamed. I would later be introduced to the term “misfire,” which is what he writes in his coaching spreadsheet when a workout goes awry. A cute term, but challenging to bounce from as an athlete. Later that cycle, I would try the workout two more times with full success, even noting in my training log that it was “easy” the second successful time.

I had a similar workout on the calendar for Monday: 2 hours with 8 miles at 6:30 pace. Despite the fact that I’ve run longer workouts at a similar pace with no major issues and that I just raced a 10K significantly faster, I launched right back into the mode of “this is a workout that I can’t do.” I told Will 1000 times that I was anxious about the workout, that I didn’t think I could do it, that 6:30 pace was too fast. Although it was three years ago, the memory of crouching by the bike path thinking “failure, failure, failure” felt like it happened yesterday.

As most workouts do, my run on Monday turned out fine. In fact, it turned out great. With a very honest steady state effort, I clicked off 8 miles at 6:23 pace and 15 miles total. Despite this, I wasn’t excited after my workout, I was just happy that it was over. Why is it that we’re so willing to dwell on one bad workout for years but won’t celebrate a good one for even a day? When another steady state run comes up, I guarantee that I’ll think back to the “failed” one and not remember the one from Monday where I felt fit and fast.

What workouts haunt you? How do you erase the memory of a bad workout or race? What workouts always make you smile when they show up on your schedule?