Category Archives: food for thought

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?

Doubt Versus Faith

The last few weeks haven’t been the best in recent memory. Some of that is the weather; it’s hard to have any faith when you feel like you’re melting into the sidewalk. Weather doesn’t tend to rattle me for long though: almost everyone is dealing with it and it always gives way to training perfection by mid-September.

What IS rattling me is this creeping sense that things just aren’t going to pull together for me this year. The logical side of my brain tells me that it’s way too early to tell anything but the emotional part nags that I’m behind past years and certainly behind the markers that would predict the run I’m seeking in Philly. There are a few recent moments contributing heavily to that sense of doubt. The first is the Montpelier Mile. In a vacuum, it was a totally acceptable race run off very little specific training at peak mileage but I am struggling to let go of the fact that I a) missed my (arbitrary) time goal and b) got outstepped at the line. Since then, I’ve felt…deflated. Not long after the Mile, I had a horrible training week where running was painful and slow and my legs felt like they were filled with concrete. I slogged through my miles and ended up in tears after almost every run. My recent adaptation week helped me to feel better but as soon as I did, the heat settled in and all of my workouts have been effort rather than pace based. Even though I understand that effort is the way to go, it’s extremely hard to work at interval effort that turns out to be usual tempo pace (or slower). All of this is compounded by the fact that I went out on a huge, terrifying limb and took time off school to train and feel like I might be the world’s biggest failure if I don’t get a huge PR out of the effort.


There are plenty of factors that can explain my funk, both actual and perceived. I’m barely sleeping courtesy of third year and when I do sleep, I need to recover both from my workouts and from standing all day. I’m in a constant state of flux (the curse of third year: you’re always new somewhere and almost always in the way) and because everything is so new and unfamiliar, prone to microbursts of adrenaline every time a new situation crops up. Even my nutrition is suffering. The past two weeks on clinic were better because lunch breaks were built in but on other services, it’s “grab what you can, eat when you can” which is the enemy of effective fueling.

One of Will’s philosophies is that the process is the goal. That is, it’s more important to build day by day and week by week than to be hyperfocused on only the final goal. Self-doubt is diametrically opposed to the idea of process as the goal. Doubt is fixated on the end goal only. Trusting the process requires enormous faith in self and faith in coach. And the training sweet spot is somewhere right between the two, where you have enough doubt to stay hungry and humble and enough faith to persevere through a training cycle.

Since I started thinking about this post two weeks ago, I’ve actually made some progress towards the middle of the doubt/faith teeter totter. I’ve slowed down my non-workout runs to try to spare my legs, adjusted my expectations significantly before heading out for workouts and am trying to be more honest and open about my feelings of doubt, rather than bottling them up to manage on my own.

How do you ward off self-doubt? Which side of the teeter totter do you naturally fall on?

You’re Too (Muscular) (Fat) (Thin) (Tall) (Whatever)

A couple of weeks ago, I was lifting in the gym, headphones on and minding my own business when another gym-goer came over. “You know, if you lift lower weight and higher reps, you’ll be lean without looking so…muscular.” It was not a compliment. For whatever reason, this stranger thought I might need guidance on how to look more appealing to him. I turned bright red and stammered out “thanks?” I tried to pretend it didn’t bother me; I’ve worked insanely hard to have any definition in my arms but in one sentence, he managed to make me feel like some ugly masculine freak. Thanks dude.

Then over the weekend, I came across this story. It breaks my heart that not only did someone make him feel that way and gloat about it, it got spread across the internet. I’m thrilled that some other strangers stepped up to try to mend the situation but also imagine that no matter how many people step up to say “dance on,” he’ll carry that (and whatever other abuse he’s subjected to daily) forever.

As Suzy said upon hearing about my experience at the gym, “What’s with people telling us what they think about our bodies? Did we even ASK THEM?”

Anyone else entirely fed up with the body shaming trend? How do you avoid it? How do you address it when it happens?

What We Can All Learn from Super Bowl XLIX

I love sports. And I REALLY love football. My first choice is college but I’m a Boston sports fan and have been rooting for the Patriots since I was old enough to toddle around my grandparent’s yard in South Boston. Needless to say, I’m thrilled (stunned?) with the outcome from Sunday. We had a ton of people over and it was a blast to watch the Patriots win again. As I’ve been reflecting on the game, two major themes emerged for me.

1. Coaches are human and by and large, believe in their athletes far more than the athlete does. In the last seconds of the game, Pete Carroll made the very questionable call (or his OC did) to throw the ball instead of run it a yard to the end zone. I’m not an NFL coach but that is a call I would never have made, just given the potential for a pick. I’m also not Pete Carroll and while I was watching an interview with him, it became very evident to me that to Coach Carroll, throwing it made all the sense in the world. Why? He trusted his players to get it done. When it didn’t work out, he took full responsibility for the error and accepted the immense criticism from “experts” all over the world. I had a similar situation at the State Meet this year, where I was forced to make a difficult call about who should run, what was fair and what our goals were for the season. Even before the meet, I took enormous flak for my decision. After the meet, however, was the worst I’ve ever felt as a coach, not because my call didn’t turn out as we’d expected, but because some athletes and parents were downright awful. I cried for a solid 24 hours when I finally got home and it took weeks for the sting of that to wear off, but from where I stand now, I’m happy I made the call that I did. As much as we like to try, coaching is not all science. There are general principles, of course, but you can never discount heart, soul, chance and rookies like Malcolm Butler.

2. It ain’t over til it’s over. I tell my athletes this ALL THE TIME but until it happens to them (either the Seahawks or Patriots direction), they never believe me. It’s this logic that led to the common coach refrain of “Don’t look back!!” and “all the way through the finish.” At a recent race, my top JV boy was in second coming into the final feet of a hill climb. He was solidly in second, but didn’t have a chance of catching first with the real estate left. At the bottom of a small downhill, however, 20 feet from the finish, the lead skier crashed and my skier sailed by to win the race. Last week, I watched another one of my skiers finish her drive 3 seconds too soon and barely get her binding across in time, a mistake that would have taken her from 3rd to 6th in less than the front of a ski binding. We could all use a remind, however, be it in the middle of a workout or the dark miles of the marathon, that nothing is over til we cross the finish line and by and large, competition is nothing if not unpredictable.

Bonus theme: Why were the commercials so darn sad? I teared up multiple times throughout the night and almost missed the outrageous GoDaddy commercials. I adored the #likeagirl commercial, however, and the explosion of women posting their #likeagirl photos across social media. Good stuff.

What struck you about the Super Bowl?

This Is Why We Love XC

We had the pleasure of volunteering at the middle school race today and although we may not have been professional starters (we had a small airhorn glitch for the girls), we had a blast cheering on the up and coming runners. I won’t lie, I was also scouting heavily and like what I’ll inherit next year.

While we were there, we happened upon a bunch of motivational signs in the utility shed and it inspired a photo shoot. Joking aside, this really is why running is just the best sport to coach, to participate in and to watch.


Warning: Posts in Blogosphere May Be Rosier than Reality

MirrosI love blogging and even more, I love reading other running blogs. There’s something about reading someone’s first hand account of training, of racing or even of life as a runner that makes the running community feel even more tight knit. Increasingly, however, I find that reading other blogs causes me to compare myself to other runners and not always in a positive manner. For example, with so many people in my speed-clique running Chicago this year (which is the same weekend as Albany), I’ve found myself anxiously comparing workouts and progress. When I have a bad workout or rough run, it’s not many steps to a total running meltdown. Granted, this can happen on in-person teams too (I see it as a coach all the time), but sometimes I suspect the digital component heightens anxiety and comparison because we just have to believe what people are writing.

I went on a big unfollow streak this week after reading one too many disingenuous and borderline dangerous blog entries from a fairly big name blogger. I never should have followed that blog as long as I did; she complains about extreme exhaustion but keeps hammering 10 miles a day, runs through stress fractures and serious injuries and generally sets a horrible example of what it’s like to be a runner. After unfollowing her blog, I started to go through my Reader and remove other blogs that didn’t feel like brothers or sisters of the road. If you truly love running every single day and always have perfect workouts, my assumption is that you are either lying about them or you aren’t actually doing them. Everyone blows workouts once in a while. Everyone has days where they just really don’t want to fucking run.

Laurel has written about this before, as have others. It’s not that most little bloggers like ourselves try to be cheery all the time, it’s just not as fun to write about bad runs or races and no one wants to be the Debbie Downer of the Interwebs. The reality is, however, that running is hard and sometimes not that fun. We still get out there and do it every day, but we’re not exactly skipping down the sidewalk. As I go forward with this blog, one of my goals is to find the balance between inspiration, motivation and reality.

In the spirit of honesty for anyone else who finds themselves playing the comparison game, last week SUCKED for me. My mid-week workout was slow and I felt like I was dragging concrete pins and on my Sunday long run, I only did one section of tempo running when I was scheduled to do two. At 7 weeks out, it was disheartening and terrifying and I cried to Will more than once that I didn’t know if I wanted to step on the start line in October.

Am I alone in this? Anyone else find their perspectives swayed by what they read on blogs?


Cleaning House (And Lots of Things to Read)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Recently Read post, but that hasn’t stopped me from collecting lots of articles in my bookmarks list. One of the to-dos clicking around my two page list has been to get them out to everyone, so here’s to a lot of things to read through on your lunch break or while you’re stretching AND a cleaned out bookmarks list.

Much like we’re beginning to think that taking NSAIDs can actually impede healing, ice baths are coming into question. I use them after hard workouts and after hot days to get my core temperature down, but it’s interesting to read that their utility as a recovery tool may be primarily mental. (Not unlike their cousin compression…)

This post from Runblogger is over a month old but it tugs at my heart strings now as much as it did when I first read it. Our minds are powerful and for young runners, it should all be about fun.

It amazes me that people could approach a marathon without a fueling plan, but in case you were considering that tactic, it may cost you about 11 minutes. Of course, I wonder about the cross over between someone without a fueling plan and someone also without a training plan.

Running really can change your life for the better, no matter where you start.

I had a DVT following my first surgery and the hospitalization that followed were some of the longest days of my life. My friend (and long distance runner) John also had DVTs that turned into PEs, in an even scarier situation because they were seemingly unprovoked by anything other than normal running trauma. As such, this article caught my eye and remains an area of research in which I am greatly interested.

My tendonitis is all healed up now, but this is the taping job that I did to help it get there. The KT tape site is AMAZING for do-it-yourself tutorials. Of course, it doesn’t replace the advice of a doctor or PT, but it can be a nice resource for an ankle sprain or sore area that just needs some extra support.

Feels good to have an empty bookmarks bar! What have you read recently? Anyone else following the European circuit with rapt attention?!


Overbearing Sports Parents

In my few weeks off this summer, I have a lot of things on my to do list ranging from “get organized for Step 1” “run 80 mile weeks” and “recover from MS1.” Also on that list is to work through the Mind of the Athlete materials in an attempt to improve my coaching for the coming season. When our new AD started at MMU, he was huge on Mind of the Athlete and purchased a license for all interested coaches. I’ve generally liked what has come through on email thus far and am really looking forward to having time in the next two weeks to work through more of the materials. I expect it will benefit me as both a coach and athlete.

In a recent email, the following graphic came through and stuck with me. I’ve been very lucky to have limited experience with this as a coach and suspect that overbearing parents are less common in cross country in some part because so much of the competition goes on away from spectator eyes. That being said, our team is not not immune and at our parent meeting later in the summer, I will be bringing up some of these issues so that all of our athletes have a calm, supportive racing and training environment.

Overbearing Sports Parents

From a Mind of the Athlete e-newsletter; all credit due to them!

What experiences do you have with overbearing sports parents? Were your own parents overbearing? Do you see this when your kids play sports?

Edited to Add Link to the Mind of the Athlete Blog where this came from:

Stand When You Can and Only Sit If You Must

There’s an attitude in medicine drawn from a famous Winston Churchill quote about never standing when one can sit and never sitting when one can lay. With insane work hours and long call shifts, this makes good sense. Much like “smoke em if you got em,” closing your eyes when you can is just a way of life.

However, there’s a study making its way through popular culture this week that attempts to quantify the effects of sitting (which most of us do way too much of) and refutes most of this “doctor logic” of how to survive shifts. The byline on Runner’s World concludes “Each hour of sitting erases 8% from the health benefit of an hour of running.” It’s important to note that in this case, the health benefits are beyond just weight maintenance/loss and include other more general markers of health. It’s also important to realize that the assessment essentially excluded planned exercise (your morning run, for example) and assessed what you do for the other 23 hours of your day. That is, even if you run for an hour in the morning, sitting at your desk for the next 10 hours makes you pretty darn sedentary despite how you started your day.

Every time I’ve had an office job, I’ve deal with a host of sitting related aches and pains. Over the past year, I’ve had to sit for more hours in a row than at almost any time in my life. There are days when I swear that my butt is the shape of my chair in the MedEd building. My steps towards a more active life outside of running include:

  1. Standing during less intense lectures (thanks for flexible faculty and standing desks provided by the medical school)
  2. Walking a 5 minute loop or walking 3 sets of “Courtyard” stairs between lectures
  3. Conscientiously stretching muscle groups that shorten up with sitting
    1. Hip Flexors (Forward Lunge Stretch or Ankle Grab)
    2. Calf Muscles (Hanging feet off stairs)
    3. Quadratus Lumborum and Hamstrings (Lower Back Swing: hang your torso over and aim to tough your toes with arms extended then slowly swing side to side, twisting lightly. You should feel tension release from the muscles deep to your hips or under your “love handles”)

What do you do to combat our tendency towards sedentary lives outside of running? Does your workplace or school support ways to fit in more activity during the day?