how to survive a crappy pre- season

Have you been extra sick this season? Perhaps you got an over-use injury on the outside of your foot because you ran a half marathon you barely trained for. How about a hip injury from gaining so much weight the last three years that your joints just can’t handle it?

All three? Oh wait. That’s me.

Even if you’ve only been hit with a cold, mild injury, or just about anything that has sidelined you temporarily, you are bound to lose some fitness and the climb back to where you were before the pile of crap that is your life happened might not be easy.

I’ve had hard comebacks before, but this season has tested not only my mental toughness but made me question if my body was even capable of mild athleticism anymore. There were tantrums. It tortured me and really broke my spirit. Who would I be if I weren’t an athlete? I’ve lost that part of myself for brief stretches of time before but forever?

And then, after nearly 8 weeks of trudging through miles barely faster than a slow walk and taking more rest days than I was comfortable with because everything hurt and I wanted to cry, I started having small break-thrus.

A sub 12-minute mile.

A run over 3 miles that didn’t have me wincing in pain the entire time.

A sub 11-minute mile. And then a sub 10. Hooray!

I’m nowhere near being “back” but for the first time in what seems like too long I feel like I am making progress, and that feels amazing.

Having the will to keep showing up to your workouts despite everything going wrong is not easy, and If you are having a lousy time like me, here’s some advice from the trenches:

  1. Keep a workout journal and write everything down- Even if your workout was complete shit and you hate your life. Sometimes you don’t even know you are making progress. Journaling forces you to be mindful- which I need, because my brain environment is all anxiety and chaos.
  2. Pay attention to your heart rate if you have a fitness watch. (I have a Garmin Vivoactive 3). Not all miles are created equal, and even though your body isn’t cooperating, your lungs could be making strides. More small changes to pay attention to.
  3. Make a running/ fitness Instagram account and DO NOT LINK IT TO YOUR NORMAL INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT. Your non-running friends really don’t want to hear about your training (sorry) and that’s not very motivating. Use it to make friends with other runners. You’ll be surprised to learn you are not alone and many are on very similar (sometimes crappy) journeys. The running community is supportive and inclusive.
  4. Retail therapy! I shouldn’t be promoting my poor spending habits, but having really awesome gear, including compression stuff and foam rollers for recovery really helps. And cute running clothes OBVIOUSLY. Wanna wear that new outfit? Gotta go run first, lady (or dude). I love it all- Oiselle, Lululemon, UnderArmour, Brooks, New Balance, Lole, Athleta, Tracksmith, Just Strong.
  5. Cross train when you can’t run Don’t completely abandon ship and dive into that pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey if you have a bad day. Spin, strength train, whatever. (And then, ice cream. Life is about balance.)

I know it sucks. It sucks hard. Losing fitness is frustrating and when you are at the ripe old age of 36 like me your metabolism looks at any time off you are taking as a one-way ticket to fat pants. Then try one of your old workouts with a 10lb weight on each hip… doesn’t really work so well.

But whether you have big PR goals or running just keeps you sane, don’t let it get the best of you. Sometimes the sweetest days are simply the ones you worked the hardest for.

don’t call it a comeback

No really, don’t.

I don’t know what the hell to call whatever is happening to my body, but for the first time in probably my whole life, I don’t seem to be bouncing back with incredible ease, which has been the one saving grace through a lifetime of tragedies, setbacks, and loss. I have the resilience gene.

Or at least, I did. And maybe I still do, but this “comeback” to running and my once super-fit life has been such a slow, painful climb that it’s allowing much larger amounts of fear and self-doubt to creep into my already frustrated thoughts. If I was really honest, I’d say I was angry. So in the spirit of going into 2019, a year ripe with lofty goals I have set for myself, with the best chance of achieving those goals, I need to lay it all out on the table. I’m fucking mad.

And despite dealing with some shade of anxiety or depression, sometimes both, almost daily, for 2/3 of my life, I have usually managed to sew threads of a positivity into the things I do, my thoughts, my interactions.

I like myself. I am a glass half-full person. I love early mornings and the sound of the rain and maintain a sense of Zen even when I am sitting on the Long Island Expressway in bumper to bumper traffic because someone pulled over to use their cellphone and everyone just had to look. I’m completely annoying that way. It’s who I am.

And it’s that part of me that is so afraid to admit that I’m having such a hard time seeing the good in what is happening to me, this extra challenge that life is handing me. Who is this person who can’t look at this as an opportunity to change course and try harder? I don’t know her. And I don’t like her. I dislike her so much that I also have to admit I am welling up with tears as I write this.

Some say you have to fail to move forward. Hell, I do. I say that all the time. I’ve written entire essays on getting comfortable with failure because it’s truly been the key to my success in my professional life. But standing at the intersection of weight gain, injury, illness, and a chaotic holiday season, I’m feeling lost. I am having a hard time, and I need to get out of my own way.

I did not run today. The fire inside me that’s still there, just dimmer right now, whispers “you mean you didn’t run yet today.” And I agree with her, and I probably will run, but at this moment, I am sad that this has all gotten to me the way it has.

And in spite of my emotions and a body that so far, has fought me with a fierceness I was honestly not expecting, I am going to keep showing up until I find my rhythm again. I have no other choice.

the other 4-letter word

I give infinite credit to runners who can seemingly move their bodies into gazelle-like gallops day after day, year after year, at any time, under any condition, no matter what physical stress is ailing them. Those run-streakers you see on Instagram that are hash-tagging Day #846,435,3537 are simply incredible to me. You are beautiful genetic freaks of nature, and I bow down to your super-human abilities. 

I have not been blessed with a “runner’s body.” At least, not a long distance runner’s body: Instead of long and lean, I am short and stocky; thick with dense muscle and built for quick bursts of speed, jumping high onto stacked boxes, and dead-lifting bars piled with heavy weight. But my spirit is all Runner, and I have pushed this body year after year through long distances against its will. And like any relationship spanning 20-something years, I have loved it, hated it, and loved it all over again. 

My immune system is a fortress of strength for 10 months out of the year. But every year, right around Thanksgiving, under the stress of the approaching holidays, a month of heavy travel in October, and the abundance of social gatherings to indulge in, that fortress very literally crumbles to dust and I can spend up to 2 months piecing myself back together. So this year, when I got sick, I took off my Saucony’s, put on my slippers, and obediently climbed into bed and did not move until it was safe.

Ok, not exactly true.

I cried, I stressed, I poured over Instagram getting serious FOMO watching runners complete blissful 3, 5, 10, 15 mile runs. I asked for feedback and help for reassurance that I was not just being a wimp, that I was doing the right thing sacrificing fitness in order for my body to heal. Why is Rest such a stressful thing for many runners? We joke that it is a 4-letter word, but seriously- why is something that is so good for us when it is needed make us feel so guilty?

For me, the roots of this stress are somewhat deep. I have gone through two major depressive episodes throughout my adult life which made it difficult to motivate myself into personal hygiene, no less physical exercise. During this last bout, I gained over 40 lbs. Getting back into a fitness routine of any kind, running or otherwise, was extremely hard. I was heavy, out of shape, and frustrated that I had ever let it get so bad. It’s taken over 2 years to come back to a steady routine, and now that I have the life back I so desperately wanted, I’m terrified of falling off the wagon again. 

In my mind, I know the rest itself is not failure, but it’s the not getting back up once I am well enough that is. And knowing exactly when that is can be a challenge. 

I leaped from my bed this morning like a child on Christmas morning, wide-eyed and anxious to see if Santa knew what a good girl I’d been all year. After 10 days of dutiful rest and copious amounts of forced extra sleep, I had finally made the decision last night to that I was going to dip a careful toe in the running pond and see what happened. 

And like any good runner, I was prepared for all the conditions.

  • I dressed the part, wore all my favorite winter running things: Teal REI shell, cozy grey cowl neck mid-layer from Reebok, North Face thermal tights (Black, of course. Because slimming), Balega socks, fully charged Garmin. 
  • I stretched all the stretches.
  • I prepped i.e. blew my nose for about 15 minutes straight to ensure proper breathing. Being sick is so gross.
  • I knew I wasn’t going to be running long, so I defaulted to the standard “Favorites Mix” on Apple music that refreshes every Tuesday. 
  • Pet the cats. Kiss the boyfriend. Out the door. So ready!!!

Guys, it was hard!

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy- I had done my best to maintain some strength doing body weight exercises, core work, and some yoga poses daily but I was very aware that my breathing was going to be compromised. And was it ever! I found myself having to alternate between nostrils and my mouth to get breaths. I was sweating almost immediately. I couldn’t get lost in it like I wanted to because I had to focus on the logistics. 

It was one of the longest miles I have ever run, but it was an important mile for me mentally. I broke the seal. I am back. And I feel really awesome and immediately less sick than I did before I ran, because that run confirmed that the rest was really rest and not the early stages of giving up. 

Tomorrow my plan is to do some easy cross-training, maybe the elliptical or the bike and some light weights and then another short go at running the next day. One day at a time, right?

a case for structure

On my run this morning my mind started to wander, as it often does when Apple Radio serves up too many new-agey indie rock songs in a row and the sun is nowhere close to being up, and out of nowhere I thought of my old friend Amy and a cute little exchange we had during the short time we were together as freshman at college in upstate New York. Her beau at the time was a year her junior and about a 4-hour bus ride away, and like many young relationships things between them were a bit confused and scattered and she was passionately proclaiming to me just how she was going to fix it:

“I want to do something really spontaneous! After class on Friday, I am going buy a bus ticket, get on that bus, and rush straight home to him and tell him exactly how I feel!”

“So, you’re planning to be spontaneous?”

“Yes.”

And I laughed. Both back then, in that adorable moment and this morning like a complete crazy person through the streets of Long Island by myself.

And then it got me thinking about how well-intentioned I can be about just riding the preverbial wave of life where it takes me and how that is so, so, so much easier said than done.

With the new year approaching and a few races on the calendar, this little run streak has had me thinking about how I will prepare for those races. Unfortunately for me, this little wrinkle of a thought has morphed into a full-scale training plan, complete with meal plan and cross-training schedule. I have a very hard time visualizing a goal when I don’t have a plan in place for how to get there, and at times this level of planning mimics what I imagine to be some kind of fitness-focused mania.  But without this structure, without this discipline, I too often forego the end goal altogether, which is to be a healthy and vibrant person.

I have learned a good deal of important things about myself in the last 5 years. I started 2014 at the very height of my health and fitness,and then by 2016 I found myself, as Hemingway once said so succinctly “gradually, then suddenly” plummeting into a depressive episode so severe that I just stopped caring about myself altogether. I gained 40 lbs during this time from all the excess of drinking and eating and stress and the absence of sleep,exercise, and self-care.  The Hot Mess Express, coming through! And the last year has been a slow, steady climb out of that hole and back to feeling more like myself. I still have a long way to go. But all of these positive changes have been fueled by structure.

I am not an organized person. This is actually too kind- I am a complete slob and probably the least motivated person on the planet. But when I am on my game, you would never know it (unless I let you into my closet, because you’d totally pick up on the slob thing. But not the rest.) I have learned my most important lessons about life and about myself by leaning into my internal hunger for disorder, fucking up, and then figuring out how I could trick myself into not fucking up that particular way again. I have developed some very interesting tools over the years, and when it comes to taking care of myself, the only way I avoid failure is by creating a detailed plan, complete with escape clauses that allow for life to happen, and then showing up everyday to execute that plan.

Do I wish I was the type of person who could just live life intuitively? Eat when they were hungry?  Run without a watch? Hell yes! But that is not who I am. Left to my own devices, my penchant for chaos and complete Type-B personality lands me face deep in a burrito bowl and 9 snoozes on my morning alarm. Because I’ve never met a cannoli I didn’t like and anxiety brands me with a scarlet “A” every day of my existence I don’t get to just ride the fucking wave, I need a cruise ship and a scheduled list of activities at every port of call or bad things happen.

So as funny as I thought it was back then that my sweet friend Amy was planning to be spontaneous, I realize now she was onto something. That planning thing? It saves me. 

Here was this mornings playlist!

  • Binary Mind, Ra Ra Riot
  • Little Secrets, Passion Pit
  • Burials, Dirty Heads
  • Remember When, The Black Keys
  • Audience of One, Cold War Kids
  • Sweet Disposition, The Temper Trap
  • Lay It On Me, Vance Joy
  • What You Know, Two Door Cinema Club
  • I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor, Arctic Monkeys

And here are some some throwbacks to my younger fit-life:

marsh-a, marsh-a, marsh-a!

Here’s some solid advice: Maybe don’t start a run streak at the tail end of recovery from a foot injury?

This may seem very obvious and probably common sense to most of you but that  is 100% what I am currently doing on this little run streak adventure I have embarked on.  To be fair, it is probably the mildest injury I have ever had and the sick little voice inside of my head is even saying something half-inspirational like, “pain is weakness leaving the body!” when it should really be saying, “you’re an idiot!”

My runs this week have started out exactly how you would imagine- slow pain in the beginning of each jaunt, conjuring up a myriad of mixed emotions with most leaning on the side of self-doubt and a mild desire to quit. But I have pushed through each time and within a mile or two of my mostly short runs the pain subsides. This, of course, causing the overwhelming urge to double my planned distance or go faster and I thus need to fight against that horrifyingly stubborn current. Ah, the not-so-delicate dance of recovery.

On Sunday I had planned to just do an out and back to the small town beach, a place where I often go when I want to feel like I am standing on the edge of the earth- one of the things on a very short list that I really like about living on an island.  Anyway, I got almost halfway when I noticed that the gates to a nature preserve that- I am not kidding you, every single time I run past this place the gates are closed and I run past them a lot- were open. Well, the universe was obviously sending me an invitation this time, no? I had to go in there. I followed a partially wooded trail until I found a sign marked “Marsh Trail.”

Cool!

And it did not disappoint.

It was again unseasonably warm and the sunlight hitting the reeds coming out of the water on either side of the floating dock paths made me feel as if I was in the Pacific Northwest and not in a tiny conservation area at the southeast edge of over-populated Long Island. There were so many different kinds of birds (I am not going to pretend I knew a single species I saw but whatever I was captivated) and because there were no other humans in sight it was lovely and quiet. So of course, I had to capture these beautiful moments in nature on my phone so I could share this with you, my runner friends. This genius idea led to a video that at exactly 13 seconds into recording whilst running I trip and nearly fall into the marsh I am running through.

Maybe don’t do that either.

I’m great at giving advice.

Here are some snaps from the Seatuck nature preserve. I tried and failed posting the video here but I will post it on Instagram @the_pavement_project! Please note that I am completely over-dressed for a 50 degree morning and I apologize for the giant sunglasses but I am completely blind and they are prescription so Tom Ford has to come with me wherever I go.

does this streak make me look fat?

Day 1. Our lives are full of those. This one is particularly special. There’s a lot to this story, which I am sure will unfold over the coming weeks and months, but in short I decided, after 3 years of struggling with my weight, with my identity as an athlete and frankly an adult woman, to just fucking stop it. The morning ritual- the one where I get out of my bed feeling somewhat good about myself until I put one foot and then the other on the shiny black scale at the foot of my bed, my heart literally stopping in the microsecond where it’s measuring the weight of this body that’s much bigger than it’s been my entire life and then it does and it tells me that no, I shouldn’t feel somewhat good, I need to get it together because there’s more of me and that should make me feel less- that ritual needs to die right now.

Full disclosure, I have had these breaking points before. I’ve spent the better part of the last several years dieting and trying different athletic regimens in fits and spurts and starts and abrupt stops but not once have I stopped and really thought about how any of these things were serving this body, serving me. And I take back what I just said about breaking points- yes, I have had those before, but that’s not what this is right now. There is nothing broken, and I think that’s the lesson that’s resonating deeply with me. My body, perhaps softer than ever before and heavier to pull around the streets of my neighborhood where I do most of my running, is still strong and capable. The focus on its size and shape only led me on this tumultuous journey that had no other purpose than to take this body and make it less. What if I threw out the scale and dared it to be more?

So Thanksgiving night, driving the 75 minutes  from holiday dinner on Staten Island back to my home further east, I was alone with myself just long enough to ask myself these important questions and make the decision that on Saturday, November 24th, I was going to begin a run streak. I’ve run consistently and then periods of not at all since I was 14 years old depending on what was going on in my life at the time, and upon reflection all the best moments in my life orbited around being a runner. If this has been the key to being the most mentally together, most joyous, most fulfilled version of myself, why the hell am I not running all the time? Yeah yeah yeah, injuries and illnesses and personal tragedies happen, which is why my streak may not resonate with the die-hard streaker population.

I’m breaking up my streak into manageable bits. Through January 1, 2019, I will aim to run every day, at least a mile, and nothing more. Then 100 miles in the month of January, and more in February, and so on. These are goals that used to be not goals but the norm for me and if I am being truly honest with myself, I could still be doing so with relative ease except my ego gets the best of me. I tell others to let go of pace or how they used to perform and just enjoy where they are, but I do have a hard time taking my own advice. The first sign of joint or foot pain, the need to slow the pace, walk, or even stop break my spirit, make me not want to get out there again the next day. I want to know what happens to my spirit, to my body, if I push through this self hate and run through it again the next day, and again, and again, and again. Would I change?

And now the limits. I will run every day, at least a mile, with the goal of an entire year unless I get a severe illness like the flu, where I will fucking rest like I should and get back out there slowly, also like I should. I am doing this to honor my body, not to punish it or hurt it in the name of this arbitrary goal I gave myself. If I get injured to the point where I cannot run, I will walk, and in desperate situations I will row or ride until I heal. The overall goal is the consistency, and again I will not punish myself if my body can’t do it. I’m not going to focus on this fine print, because I don’t want to give myself an out or a reason not to run, but I need to have a grace-clause in the event my body just can’t.

So today was Day 1, and I set and achieved a conservative goal of 2 easy miles. I developed tendinitis in my left foot completing a poorly-trained for half marathon due to an aggressive work travel schedule and ultimately a lack of consistency. Getting out the door today was easy, as most Day 1’s are and to boot the weather was unseasonably warm for late November in New York. I was also excited to break in new sneakers, a newer version of my tried and true Saucony Ride ISOs even though breaking in new shoes is often slow torture. I got re-fit for sneakers after a few years of just buying the same sneakers and discovered, thanks to the lovely people at the Sayville Running Company, that not only is my body bigger than it ever has been, but so are my feet! If that is the reason my feet go completely numb for 3-4 miles of every run I am going to laugh. It never occurred to me that this would be an issue!

Here I am in my all-black cold weather running outfit, read to go like a thirty-something running ninja. IMG_5448