Category Archives: food for thought

Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can’t Lose…Updated

Three and a half years ago (omg…) I shared a blog post right after VCM about what I wanted to accomplish in running. At the time, I structured it into 18 month Goals, Someday Goals and Pie in the Sky Goals. I was about at the end of my first year of medical school and didn’t know that I would pick General Surgery, move to Asheville, have breast surgery etc. That post continues to sit in my mind, however, because it was a vulnerable position to put myself in. What if I never crossed a single thing off?! Did that make me a failure or mean I had poor insight into my abilities? Would I always wonder what if?

It turns out, that list hasn’t changed much in terms of checking things off. I ran a PR in the marathon the fall after I wrote that. And I just won my first marathon last weekend which prompted me to revisit my list. I’m leaving out the 18 month time frame on my new version and just doing To Do and Pie in the Sky. I tried to come up with a combination of goals that are participation based (on me to complete), time based (again, on me to achieve) and competition based (on me AND other athletes).

To Do:

PR in the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Full Marathon (18:44, 38:33, 1:21, 2:54 respectively)

Run a Trail Marathon

Win a National Championship

Run a Beer Mile

Run the Shut In Trail Race

Pie in the Sky:

Olympic Trials Qualifier in the Marathon

Run a US Running Circuit Race

Earn an Elite Bib at one of the US Majors (Boston, New York or Chicago)

Run for the US on a World’s Team

Just Be Nice

I hesitated to write this post for over a week. I talked it over with friends, both running and non, and mulled over it on multiple runs. I ultimately decided to post this fully knowing that some of the people involved may eventually read it (or may already have found my blog). If they do, perhaps this will serve as a wakeup call as to how they might be perceived.

Last week, I forced myself to go to a group run in Asheville. I am not opposed to running with other people but going as a stranger to a group run in a new town was terrifying. I was nervous all day and checked their website 10 times. Open to all. Social run. All welcome. Get out of your comfort zone Sarah. I showed up a little early for the 6:15 run in hopes that I could find some other attendees to connect with so I had a “friend’ for the run. As it turned out, there were two groups meeting to run that night, one for a birthday party (not the open one) and the open one I was supposed to meet up with. I walked over to a group of women and asked if they were there for the Thursday run and they confirmed that they were. Then, crickets. After some awkward silence, one asked if I was sponsored by Skechers (the gear and shoes give it away) and I answered yes. Again, crickets. One of the other women had to pee so I asked if I could go with her, since I had to pee too but wasn’t sure if we could use the bathrooms at the start.

When we got back from the bathroom, the group had circled up and the leader was describing the route. I, however, was on the complete outside of the circle with one other girl and we were neither included, nor able to hear. Thankfully, I knew the route from being in Asheville this summer. Then the run started, no, took off. The group literally took off from zero to 7 minute pace and left this other girl and I behind. As readers of this blog know, 7 minute pace isn’t a big deal for me. In a workout. When I want to do a workout. When I’m going to a social Thursday night run, however, I’m not running that pace. Thankfully this other girl who was also relatively new to Asheville was happy to run a more pedestrian pace of 8 minute miles and we did 5 miles together, chatting about endurance related things.

We waited for the rest of the group when we got back (the plan was to grab a beer as a group) but it turns out, no one would have cared if we did or not. No one could be bothered to acknowledge us and when we went to buy beer, they sat at a different table. It was the closest thing to my high school experience that I’ve had in 15 years and I coach high school!! We ultimately got up and went and stood awkwardly near the group for the remainder of our beers.  As soon as mine was done, I drove home and was mortified/sad/angry.

One of the things that I LOVE about the running community is that it is open and welcoming to all, regardless of pace. Yes, people may not run together during a run or workout, but before and after, we’re all runners. This experience rattled me enormously and it made me never want to attempt a running group again. As my sister said when I told her about it, “Jeez, I would quit running altogether!”

Now that a week has gone by, I find myself wondering if I should go back. In general, I have a pretty low threshold for people who treat me poorly but this is the post-collegiate USATF group in town and if I want to do USATF events, I’m almost obliged to join. Maybe they’ve been burned by newcomers before? Maybe everyone had a bad day before the run?

Have you ever had a negative group run experience? Am I overreacting?

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?