Saturday, March 14, 2015

Book Review: Honey Do You Need A Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner by Jennifer Graham

Jennifer Graham is not fat. She calls herself fat, sees herself as fat, wants to own that label, but she's really not "fat". Sorry. I've Googled her and she looks "normal". But that's how she sees herself. And even though she talks a lot about her body image, this book isn't really about being fat. It's about feeling badly about yourself. And employing running as therapy to help you through all the crap life throws at you.

I get that. 100%.

And I have to admit I've been passed in races by lots of runners who are much bigger than me. Size doesn't always matter. We need a word for that. Like how when women pass guys in a race--they're "chicked"? I'll leave that one for the readers to discuss.

Anyways. This book is all about finding yourself through running. Like so many people, Graham first started running to lose weight. She eventually discovered that body size does not make a runner and that exertion becomes joyful:
"It wasn't because of how I felt when I ran; it was because of how I felt afterward. Accomplished. Virtuous. Clean. It's like what Dorothy Parker said about her craft. She said she didn't like writing, but she liked having written. Likewise, when sedentary people first start to run, few enjoy the actual running. The reward comes later. The reward comes from having run." 
Graham is funny, sarcastic, and snarky, and I had some laugh out loud moments when I read this book. I learned that using 2 sports bras to hold the girls in place is called "double bagging". Although when I checked on urban dictionary, that isn't the definition I found. No mention at all of bras. Shame on me for googling it. Guess I should have picked up that box of condoms I found in the road a couple of weeks ago.

Back to the book. Graham talks about her first running clothing and how cotton is not a good fabric to run in. Not because it isn't wicking, but because it outlines your every crevice.  Her description of her zebra striped running outfit took me back to the 90s (I think she must be about my age) and I reminisced about running fashions during that decade. Crinkly pants and jackets? And those thong youngsters don't know what you missed out on.

November 1991. Gotta love the high waisted shorts and matching top. That's how we did it back then...
Graham's first massage experience, with a masseuse named "Tommy", was another LOL chapter in the book.  A massage called "the Runner's Revenge"? How could something so wrong feel so right? Made me think of that Seinfeld episode when George got a massage from a guy and he feared that he "felt it move"....

Running with music? She calls it "amateur hour" but says that music makes her feel like she's dancing. But Graham says she'd never use her iPod in a race because if someone yells "look at that ectomorph go", she wants to hear it. Another 90s reference, she talks about running with a Walkman, which she describes as an "Eggo-sized" cassette player. Pre-iPod, I used to train with a Walkman, but I never brought it to a race. Nobody did. I still have mine actually. One of my friends (he's a little eccentric) still runs with his...

She talks about cross training and her attempt at horseback riding. Graham had hoped for tighter glutes and inner thighs.  She got bruises. To keep the horse company, she bought a donkey. She still has the donkey, actually 2 of them. The horses are gone, after the last one tried to kill her. 

Graham with her donkeys. Not sure if these are the escapees that are featured in the book.
Graham is also relatable. She shares her difficulties being married to, and eventually divorced from a non-runner. Relatable moment (for me at least): she never has had the experience of her children cheering her at the finish line of a race or holding a "GO MOMMY GO" sign meant for her. I remember running the Walt Disney World half marathon, and yes, my husband got up with me at 330am to eat breakfast and get me on the monorail. But none of my family were on the course or at the finish line. When I finished I called him and they were already in Epcot, waiting in line for a ride. That stung. They have been at a few races, but reluctantly, and now that I have my own tribe aka running friends, I'm over it. But I certainly understand how Graham felt about that. She talks about meeting another man who was a runner, and who became a "too-good-a-friend". While that hasn't happened to me, I can see how it could. Her husband lacked, as she called it "speed goggles". Personally, I think her ex-husband sounds like a real jerk. Missing races? Sad, but not jerk material. Making fun of her on his talk radio show? Crosses over to a**hole territory. Certainly, that couldn't have helped Graham feel good about herself.

Thankfully, through everything, she had running.

A pervasive theme throughout the book is Graham's relationship with her coaches, Dr George Sheehan, and Pre, as in Steve Prefontaine. Yes, you haven't missed a thing--both men are dead. Prior to signing on with Pre and Dr Sheehan, Graham wrote to Alberto Salazar to see if he would coach her. Seriously. She never heard back from him. When she's running, she hears Pre and Dr Sheehan quotes in her head and those quotes push her through tough runs.  Pre is by her side on the road and through the rough spots in her life. It's kind of funny and sweet how she channels them to get her through tough runs. Pre is always there with the tough love.

Graham channels Pre for this quote during her half. This where she coins the term "runicide".
The book isn't all laughs, though. When Graham talks about her life circumstances, she can be pretty dark. Like a lot of us, she uses humor to help cope with tough times. She struggles with "the reality that...she's done everything right..and still, the outcome has turned out so badly." Reflecting on the suffering of her marriage breaking up, she says she "sees no purpose in any of it--no payoff, no vision..of how this pain could be worth it...". But as she says, "Maybe sometimes going backward is going forward enough...". Graham hurts from the breakup of her marriage, and she writes about it really well. You can feel her pain as you read her essays. Thankfully, even when she's sad, she keeps the reader laughing. I found myself smiling, even as my heart hurt from the pain I felt in her stories.

In the end, she runs her Kiawah Half Marathon. She struggles, and Pre gets her through it. But she is "taunted" by the marathoners who must run the course twice. She thinks she could never run a marathon. She thinks to herself that 13.1 is "mediocre". She'll never put a 13.1 sticker on her car, because she says 13.1 means "I can't run 26.2". She listens to those voices inside her head that tell her she can't. Who hasn't done that? And then, she has an epiphany on a run after the race. She starts to feel joy. Thanks her coaches. And remembers, like we all do on a great run, why it is that we run.

I hope she feels better about her accomplishments. As they say, 13.1 isn't half of anything. Because of the word "half" in the title, the half marathon has an image issue. Maybe they should rename the half marathon. Give it a title worthy of the distance. Me, I look at the half as a gateway drug to the full. Eventually everyone wants to try it.

Oh, and yes, the title of the book? It really happened. Yes, Buick LeSabres are only driven by grandmothers. Lesson learned. Don't stop to talk to people on the run. You never know what they might have to say to you. You might not like it.

So what did you think?

Do you see yourself as a "fat runner"? Does your body image affect how you feel about yourself as a runner?

Does your partner/significant other run? If so, do you train together? If not, is he/she supportive? Do you think a marriage can survive when one person is a runner and the other isn't?

Who or what do you channel to push you through a tough run or race? Do you have a mantra?

What do you think about Graham's statement that a 13.1 bumper sticker means "I can't run 26.2"? Do you put race stickers on your car? If not, why not?

Share your thoughts in the comments below and/or link up your review! Be sure to link back to this blog post. 

And next up, just in time for the Boston marathon is Hal Higdon's 4:09:43 Boston 2013 Through the Eyes of the Runners. The link up will be open 3/14- 3/28/2015. 

Don't forget to grab the linkup logo! 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Book Club: An interview with Jennifer Graham, author of Honey Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner

In anticipation of our first book club/book review on Saturday, I sent some questions to the author of our first book. I'm hoping to do this with each book. Graham did not disappoint me! Her answers were fresh, honest, and self-deprecating, just like the book. 

Have you read the book? It's not too late....The link up/review will be posted on March 14 and will stay open until March 28, right here on the blog. You don't have to be a blogger to participate. Just post your review in the comments. Of course, the comments will remain open forever! I'm so looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts and comments. Meanwhile, here's some food for thought from Jennifer Graham.

Are you still running?  And what events do you have planned for this year?
Oh, yeah, because I really have no choice in the matter, of course.  In the book I wrote about the line runners cross, after which you know you are never going back to a sedentary life, and at some unknown point I crossed it.  That said, there are periods when I don’t run very much – unhappily, I’ve been in one for a couple of months. (Moved to Pittsburgh in January, and between handling a new job and single motherhood and icy, hilly streets, it’s been rugged.) But even then, I get out at least twice a week, just for my mental health.  And I’ve been in this game long enough that I don’t worry that I will backslide.  No matter how long since you’ve run, you’re only one run away from being a runner again. 
As for events, I am planning to do the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon in May.  Still looking for summer races in my new part of the world – and I’m open to suggestions!

Something we are all still talking about...unless you live in Florida...Have you been running outside this winter? How are you dealing with the weather?   The weather – as in the snow and temperatures – doesn’t bother me, but icy roads and trails do.  I’m terrified of breaking a bone, so I won’t run if there’s even the possibility of black ice.  That said, I do have my tricks.   If the snow is not too deep, I drive to a baseball diamond or football field and run around the field in YakTrax.  I feel safe there, because if I fall, at least I don’t have to worry about falling in the path of an SUV.  And since I just moved into a house with a fairly big backyard, I took a snow shovel and dug myself a backyard track in the snow!  I still use the YakTrax running on it, and have to go slow because footing can be uneven, but I can get in a good 30-minute workout with lots of bracing, fresh air.  (I consider gyms a place of last resort.)

Would you consider running a marathon?   Oh yes, it’s definitely a goal.  I cheered on the sidelines of Boston for eight years, and every single time, wished I was out there. But I respect the distance too much to do it without serious preparation, and as a single, working mom, I have not been able to carve out the time to train.  I hope to in the next decade, God willing and my knees hold up. I would like to run the Kiawah Marathon in South Carolina and (of course) some day qualify for Boston. I am fully aware I may be 90 before I can achieve a BQ though!

Does Pre still run with you?  Dr. Sheehan?  Do they have anything new to say after all these years?     Well, of course!  I am fiercely loyal to my tribe, and they to me.   But they, of course, have work elsewhere, and there are new voices I need to hear, so I like to invite others in ….the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius has a lot to say about power and discipline. I highly recommend his "Meditations."

Some readers have taken issue with you calling yourself fat. How do you respond to that? And isn’t it really about how we see ourselves? Has running helped you to see yourself as other than “fat”? Do you still see yourself as a “fat runner”? Yes, I know, and I’m genuinely sorry about that, because I hate to see women tearing each other down under any circumstance, but especially over something like weight, which is an issue that is a source of pain for so many of us.  I think I will probably always “feel” fat because I was overweight as a child, which can be a scar you carry with you for life, particularly if you feel unloved in other ways, too. My weight has fluctuated wildly over the course of my adult life, from 180 or so (I’m guessing, it could have been more – I didn’t own a scale then) before I started running, down to 146 when I got married, up to 226 during my last pregnancy. Right now, I weigh 157, 10 pounds from where I’d like to be. That’s the point at which my thighs don’t rub together and where I “feel” thin and I don't feel (as) embarrassed to be naked.   My inability to get there, despite decades of trying and thousands of miles of running, points to a need for some serious therapy, but who has time? Besides, I’d rather run.

I have to say that when it comes to running, body size doesn’t always matter. Plenty of times at races, I’ve been passed by runners who are much “larger” than me. When women pass men, we say the guy's been “chicked”. Can you think of any term for being passed by a fat runner?   Oh, that’s dangerous territory… terms come to mind, sure, but none that I’d want to be called, so I will pass on that!  But isn’t it great that lots of large people are out there?  That’s one reason I love running so much, because it’s the only sport in which people of all shapes and sizes can literally compete on the same field (and roads), and at the same time, as the elites. How cool is that?

Your story about the bike ride/date and the runaway donkeys just made me roar. Do you still have donkeys? And how long do you wait before you tell a guy you’re dating that you have the donkeys. Is it always a deal breaker?    Yes, I still have two donkeys, because (again) I’m fiercely loyal like that. I have suffered so much loss over the past few years that I am super-glued to everyone and everything that is still with me.  I don’t believe either people or animals are disposable, no matter how much trouble they may be.  As for deal-breakers, I wouldn't waste time even having coffee with a man who doesn't love animals.

Do you have any suggestions for running related books we should read this year? Preferably humorous… --  well, anything by  George Sheehan, of course!  Even though he was a doctor and a fierce competitor, he was really funny, and humor is laced through all his books.   A fun book I read last year was “The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures and How I Became a Serious Runner” by Amy Marxkors; I’d recommend that.  And I would recommend  Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea’s  “Tales from Another Mother Runner” (subtitled: A Collection from Badass Mother Runners), which just came out, even if I didn’t have an essay included!


Here's the linkup badge for your post/book review: 

Be sure to link back to the blog and visit the other posts to see what others have to say. 

If you want to get a jump on the next book, it's 4:09:43 by Hal Higdon. I picked this one in anticipation of the Boston Marathon. And following that will be the newest release from our favorite mother runners, Dimity and Sarah. 

So many books, so little time.....

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No filter

Thursdays are for thinking out loud, according to Amanda at Running with Spoons. Here's some random thoughts from the mind of Wendy....

You can see some remaining snow behind me...
Today's run was glorious...sunshine, 40 degrees, and the snow is almost gone. I only hit one icy patch. But man, what a mess out there...mud, sure, but the crap that was buried under the snow? Do people throw this stuff from the car? How does it end up there? I saw the usual liquor bottles and fast food wrappers, sure. But last year at this time, next to the busy suburban road where I run, I saw a bunch of those airplane-sized liquor bottles and 2 pairs of ladies underpants. Someone must have been having a party, right? But how did that stuff end up by the side of the road? Imagine the conversation.."My mom will kill me if she finds this stuff in her van..." Another time I saw a big goldfish just laying next to the road. Dead of course, but how did it end up there? Did he get too big for the tank and someone just decided to fling him out the car window? Did they throw it at a runner? Always entertaining, but somewhat disturbing, running outside this time of year gives me plenty to think about...


And a little TMI for you all, but my tummy has been understandably but horribly unreliable these past couple of weeks. I had to make a pit stop this morning on my run. Praying that it behaves itself on Saturday at my race. Imodium, anyone? I applied for that Shower Pill promotion through FitFluential but I didn't get it. Too bad. I think I'd be the perfect tester for their product. Sara may not want to ride with me after all...


No comment needed..
Yes, I have a half marathon in 2 days. The Get Lucky 21K is my backup plan race, my replacement race for the Sarasota Half Marathon that I had to defer due to my family drama. I'm alternating between looking forward to it and dreading it. The race director changed the start location 2 weeks ago and failed to tell any of us. Luckily, I saw it on their Facebook page. Parking is still uncertain, and when I posted a question about it today on their page, they posted a picture of the weather forecast. Helpful. The other concerning factor is that the Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade is at the same time. Should be interesting. Stay tuned. I hope they have adequate portapotties.


I've been running pretty consistent and I'm hoping everything falls into place for Saturday. I'm looking for sub-2, and a PR would be icing on the cake. My legs have been loose and strong. Pace has been good. So besides my tummy, I need to get my head in the game. It has been 5 months since my marathon. I haven't had to put on my race face since, with the exception of that Turkey Trot in November. Time to pull out the mantras. Catch that red dot!


My husband finally went back to work this week, and Monday morning before work I enjoyed being alone in my house for the first time in 3 months. I was tempted to just run around naked, just because I could. I didn't, though. I just did yoga. Today is my day off and guess what? My oldest son is home "sick" with a cold. He's blasting heavy metal up in his room. So much for time to myself. Serenity now.

What's going through your head? Have you checked out Amanda's link up before? The posts are pretty awesome!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My racing heart...

A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch, reading, and I started to feel weird. I noticed that my heart was beating irregularly. I've had heart flutters before, and usually they just pass. It's a weird, kind of uncomfortable sensation. Have you ever felt this? This time, I did some yoga breathing to relax but the feeling didn't pass. I put my fingers on my wrist to feel my pulse, and yes, I was having irregular heart beats. I got up to get my stethoscope and put it on my chest. Very irregular.

I considered what to do. I'd been down this road before. About 10 years ago, I had something like this happen. I had chest pain and palpitations while working at the hospital. I was sent to the ER and put on a heart monitor. Of course, the act of putting me on the monitor was curative, and my heart rhythm was back to normal. I followed up with a cardiologist, was put on a 72 hour heart monitor, which was essentially normal, except for the tachycardia (fast heart rate) that occurred when I was running. Ha! I wonder what the technicians thought when they saw that!

So in light of that, I decided to ride out this episode. I felt ok, and I knew, as a medical person, that if I went to the ER, in February, which is the thick of cold and flu season, that the triage nurse would take one look at me, see a thin, athletic looking woman, and think low cardiac risk. She probably would start to judge me and think anxiety. I know how these ER nurses think, since I used to be one of them. She'd put me at the bottom of the priority list, and I'd probably sit in that waiting room for hours while they took people who were much sicker than me. That's how the ER works. Knowing all this, I figured that if I felt worse, I could always go to the ER, or I could see my personal physician the next day.

******Disclaimer: I'm not recommending anyone do what I did. If you are feeling chest pains or rapid/irregular heart beats, you need to get it checked out! I possess enough medical knowledge to be dangerous to myself. You know what they say, medical professionals make the worst patients. Do as I say, not as I do.******

The symptoms finally passed and I haven't had another episode since. Curious to find out what could have happened, I did some research. Conventional wisdom tells us that exercise is good for our heart, and puts us at low risk for cardiac issues. But some controversial studies have come out that say maybe TOO MUCH running is not good for our hearts. What happens when we run?

There's no question that endurance activities put a strain on our hearts. Your heart is a muscle, and when you train, that muscle works hard. Moderate exercise helps strengthen that muscle, and is considered "cardioprotective", or good for your heart. But what about more intense endurance activities, like marathon running or triathlons?

Over time, the heart adapts to endurance activities by increasing the effectiveness of the heart to pump blood to the body. In other words, this leads to increased muscle size of the heart and a lower pulse rate. But running an endurance event, like a marathon can lead to temporary changes in the heart muscle that indicate damage. The good news is that for most of us, everything returns to normal after 24-48 hours. And even though you do hear of people dropping dead at the finish line, those events are really, really rare.

What could be causing my palpitations? Studies show that these irregular heart beats are more common in older athletes. Actually, irregular heart beats are more common in older people in general. There can be several different types of palpitations. But for the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to focus on the 2 most common types of palpitations that occur in athletes.

In older and middle aged runners, I guess that includes me, there is an increased incidence of atrial fibrillation. This is thought to be related to changes in the structure of the heart, including the electrical pathways. Atrial fibrillation is felt like a fluttering in the chest. There can be lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fatigue. The heart rate is elevated.

Premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) are fairly common in athletes of all ages. There are several different theories behind this, but commonly these beats are thought to be an "escape" rhythm felt between normal beats of the slower heart rate in the well trained athlete. Random PVCs are not usually a problem. I've had these many times, and I think that's most likely what was going on with me that afternoon.

There are other causes for heart palpitations that have nothing to do with running. Fatigue, caffeine, stress, thyroid problems, and hormonal changes (pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause) can also cause palpitations.

When is an irregular heartbeat a problem? Palpitations during a run are usually considered to be more serious than those that occur during rest. Those need to be checked out. But other palpitations? Like mine?

I haven't had any further episodes. There was no associated chest pain. Oddly, once I had a glass of wine, things settled down. I'm not sure what caused my heart to flutter. God knows I've had a lot of stress lately. The good thing for me is that I've had this worked up in the past, and everything was 100% normal. For now, I'm ok to wait.

And you know, it's still better to run than to sit on the couch and think about running.

But when in doubt, get it checked out.

To read more:

I'm linking up with Femme Fitale Fit Club and Workout Wednesday! Be sure to head on over and check out all the other blogs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Dream runner

Tuesdays are pretty fun in the blogging world. There's a couple of linkups and no matter what the topic, I am tasked to keep it light. This week, I'm linking up with Jill Conyers and Jessica Joy. The subject? Come up with 5 people we would most like to workout with.

Oh man. I imagine this is kind of like filling out one of those online dating applications. Not that I'd know anything about that. I'm married. But in all seriousness, what would I look for in a dream workout partner? And do I want it to be a runner? A yoga instructor? A crossfit instructor? A cyclist? A guru?

I decided to pick one of each. But for each person I chose, I looked for the following attributes: they needed to be a respected leader or performer in their field and they must have a sense of humor. Being a sports psychologist would be a plus. Of course, if I have the guru, I won't need the sports psychology...


Who do I want to run with? You know I like to run alone...Should I pick someone famous? If I had to pick, I want someone who has been running for a long time, someone who has run all the distances (not including an ultra), who will share their experiences and knowledge about running with me, and will keep me occupied with funny stories while I try to do my part to keep up with them. There's some pretty inspirational women that I'd love to meet: Katherine Switzer, Linda Sommers Smith, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Deena Kastor, Jenny Hadfield, Lauren Fleishman, Shalane Flanigan, and Kara Goucher, just to name a few. They'd all be so much faster than me though. So if I had to pick someone to run with, just to pick her brain, and laugh a ton, it would be Beth Risdon from Shut Up and Run. I've been following her blog for several years, and she never fails to put a smile on my face with her posts. I admire her grit and tenacity as she pushes through tough runs---and doesn't mind sharing stories about "the runs". Ahem. No pun intended. I think I'd be totally entertained. Unless her running personality is completely different from her blogger personality. Stranger things have happened.  Plus I think her pace isn't much faster than mine. Win!


And she drinks Phaedra beer! Image courtesy
True story. I don't know much about cycling. I just hop on my bike and ride. Last year, I took the plunge and bought toe clips and shoes for my bike. Now I feel 100% legit. Ok, not so much. Remember the flat tire incident from last summer? My husband had to come pick me up and change it for me? This is probably the area that I really need the most guidance. I don't really know any famous women cyclists either. But I do know about Chrissie Wellington, who is an amazing triathlete and Ironman. I think I could learn a lot from her, if she didn't leave me in her dust. It would be cool to meet her. But on a ride, the person I'd most like to spin with is Phaedra Kennedy, from Blisters and Black Toenails. Phaedra is a accomplished triathlete and I've been following her blog for about a year. I think she could teach me a lot. And she seems like a lot of fun. I bet she can change a tire in no time flat. No pun intended. Again. And she has a really cool bike. I hope she wouldn't laugh at mine...

Yoga Instructor

Oh, this is another tough one. There are a lot of yoga celebrities (yogalebrities?) with DVDs and videos. Rodney Yee would be awesome, but he's a little too much yoga for me. Christine Felstead also is a great instructor but she's a little dry for me. The person I'd love to do yoga with is actually famous, but she's a runner and a yogi, and I think that would be perfect. Sage Rountree has books, DVDs, a monthly online yoga subscription plan, and she teaches a lot of yoga for athletes classes. She's warm and explains things really well. She seems down to earth and normal, which is a plus in the yoga world. 


courtesy Buckshot Images
Who comes to mind when you think about a trainer? Jillian Michaels? She scares me. I don't like that. I know very little about the world of personal training. All my knowledge comes from my weekly training sessions with Becky. I'm sure there's CrossFit celebrities, just like in any sport. But I'm going to stick with what works. I can't imagine anyone being more knowledgeable or effective than my coach. 


What the hell is a guru? And how do I find one? I imagine that a guru is someone who guides you spiritually and otherwise, through life. Kind of like a therapist, I think. Have you read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. The book is the story of her yearlong quest to find happiness. Since the publication of that book, she has written several other books on happiness. When I read her books, I thought to myself, who doesn't know all this? It seemed almost simplistic. But if you think about it, there are a lot of really unhappy people. Actually, I am a pretty happy person, but I do have this type A++ personality, and it would be nice to have someone to continually remind me to slow down, to be in the moment, to be more accepting of myself and others, to be more patient. I know what I need to do, but I'd love to have someone in my life to help me find ways to be a happier person. 

Coming up with this list was a little tougher than I thought! I'm so blessed to have so many awesome runner and workout friends in my life, that I don't know what more I need. And that's a good thing.

Who would be your dream workout partner(s)? Why?

Here's the link up! Be sure to head over to both hosts to see what other bloggers are saying!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Spring forward...slowly...

One thing I like about my long runs, besides the running part, is that I have a lot of uninterrupted time to myself. Sometimes I just lose myself to the tunes that are playing in my ears and sometimes I do a lot of thinking.

Today was a thinking kind of day.

For the first 3 miles, I reflected on my week. I was really excited to get outside and run this morning. The temperature was above freezing and there was no wind. My legs felt light and my run felt effortless, so I didn't even really pay much attention to pace or anything. I thought a lot about my son and where we're headed next. He went back to school this week, and things went well. Together with the school, we've got a pretty good plan in place to help him be successful. We were all feeling pretty good about that. I'm still feeling a little unsettled about the future, because there's no predicting what's to come.

Kind of like what happened next on my run.

My plan was to head over to the retention pond, where I do so much of my training. I like running there because it is a flat 2 mile loop and there's a bathroom, which is even open in the winter. I haven't run there much this winter because the path gets really icy in spots and the park district doesn't do the best job keeping it clear. I figured with the warmer temperatures, the ice would be gone.

I figured wrong.

The snow may be retreating but that's pure ice on the path behind me.
The path was clear for about the first 3/4 mile and then it became treacherous. Black ice, thin ice over water...the path was impassible in spots. I ended up having to walk about 1/2 mile and that was even difficult. My mood turned from optimistic to grumpy. I cursed the park district for their negligence. Seriously, how hard would it be to throw some sand down so we could get some traction? As I carefully moved along the path (that mile was 10:35 on my Garmin), I felt a tug in my right groin as I tried not to slip and fall. I cursed myself for my stupidity, for thinking that the path would be clear. It's like this every spring when the snow begins to melt. That thaw/freeze cycle that makes getting around tough. Every year, as soon as the temperature begins to rise, I'm so impatient for better running conditions. I should know better.

I headed off the path into the neighborhood that surrounds the park and began to run on the road again, resuming my normal pace. My mood remained pretty negative, though, and as I moved along, I thought about all the things people said to me about my son this week. People try to be helpful but instead say insensitive things that hurt. Some have questioned the way my husband and I have chosen to manage his issues. I have a pretty thin skin. I started having thoughts of self doubt about my parenting abilities.

Because the path was so icy, I couldn't complete risk another loop and so I headed back to my neighborhood, knowing I'd have to stay on the roads and reconfigure my route to get my 8 miles. That made me unhappy too. I almost stopped and called my husband to come and get me. Seriously, I was so over this run. But my half marathon is next week, and how stupid would it be for me to quit on myself? And really, it was only 8 miles. I was lucky I didn't have to do more. I swear, I am my own worst enemy.

This guy's really got the moves!
So I kept moving forward. Because, as moms and runners, that's what we do.

The most extraordinary thing happened next, though. Yesterday, I put some new music on my playlist. Sometimes when I pick out songs, I don't always know if a particular song is going to work for a run. I kept seeing a new song, Push-it, by iSHi, on several Spotify workout playlists. Well, this song came on and yes, I made a good choice. This song lit a fire in my blackened heart. All of a sudden, yes, I "pushed it" as I felt a spring in my step. My pace picked back up. And I felt my mood lift. Isn't it amazing how a song can do this?

I salvaged what could have been a really bad run. I could have quit when I wanted to. And had that black mood carry me through the rest of the day. Even though it wasn't my best run, I knew I couldn't help it, with the conditions I had to work with. And in spite of that really bad mile split, where I had to walk, my last mile split was 8:36.  I finished with an average pace per mile of 9:01. Seeing that put a smile on my face. I hope I can bring that tenacity, that push to my race next week.

And I hope that confidence extends itself to my parenting. I need to shut out those voices of self doubt and not let comments of others bother me. I like to follow my gut, as you know, and my gut is ok with what we're doing right now. The plan is always subject to change.

Everyone is a parenting expert.

Do any of us really know what we're doing?

I had some thoughts on the run, comparing my run, my problems with my son, the cycle of early spring. Spring is really a metaphor for life. It's a time of new beginnings, right? Spring is the time of saying goodbye to the bitterness and ugliness of a long winter. But the change in the environment doesn't happen overnight. Little by little, we see some signs of change. The birds start to sing, loudly. I'm hearing that! I smelled skunk on my run, definitely a sign of spring, but not a welcome one. Crocuses and daffodils sprout up through the brown grass. Once the snow melts, the grass starts to turn green. Buds appear on the trees and then begin to open. For me, having all that color is so pleasing after the bland palate of winter.

And the same goes for life. We move forward, but slowly. Letting go of the past, of old habits, is never easy. I see signs of hope, of positive change.

I'm not a patient person. But I'm trying.

Day by day.

Linking up with Tara at RunningNReading for her Weekend Update! Make sure you check out the other blogs!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The perfect fit

Sorry about the swear...
Sorry if you thought this post was about shoes.

Over the past year, I've gotten a lot of questions about my training plan for my last marathon and also about my coach. I write a lot about my coach, Becky, who I work with once weekly and who trained me to run a 1h 10min PR at my last marathon. How did I end up with a CrossFit coach instead of a running coach? How does a runner find the right coach?

A couple of years ago, frustrated with slowing mile splits and nagging injuries, I decided to look into hiring a running coach. This seemed so self-indulgent to me--after all, only celebrities and elite runners have coaches, right? First world problems....But I wasn't ready to accept my slowing down as an inevitable part of the aging process. I figured that it would be worth it to see what a coach might have to offer. After ruminating out loud about this one day at my yoga class, a fellow student mentioned that a new coaching business opened around the corner from the studio.

How great! It was meant to be, right? Impulsively, because that's how I roll, I headed over there right after yoga class. The storefront was closed, but I knocked on the door, and the coach let me in. I told her what I was thinking about and she gave me her spiel. She was a former collegiate athlete, she told me. Talked about what she would do for me. I'd have to stop running. There would be "lots of drills". She'd rework my running form. She talked a lot. I couldn't get a word in. Wasn't this all about me? How does she know what I want and what I need if she's doing all of the talking? Doubt began to form in my mind, but I signed up for an evaluation the following week.

I left, feeling unsettled about my conversation with her. The evaluation was really expensive. And her philosophy, to have me stop running while she reworked my form? Do I really need to change my form? I've resisted all the fads: Chi Running, Barefoot Running, Changing from heel striking to forefoot striking, Running in costumes--ok, that last one doesn't have anything to do with form. I'm in my 50s, and the idea of reworking my running form just didn't feel right to me. I've been sidelined for injury and illness a few times in my 20+ years of running, and coming back is always hard. When I first was put in orthotics, it took my 8 weeks to get used to them. I didn't want to stop running. I didn't want to do anything drastic. I was looking for a way to run healthy.

You know how they say go with your gut? Well, mine was working overtime. Red flags were everywhere. I couldn't ignore this uneasy feeling I was having, so I called my friend Karen, who, with her husband, owns the local CrossFit box, to discuss this with her. Karen agreed with me that she didn't like what she was hearing. She talked to me about Becky, who along with being a CrossFit coach, is also a Corrective Exercise Specialist. Karen suggested that I meet with Becky, free of charge, for an evaluation. We also talked a lot about her husband Jim, who is former Ironman and marathoner, and who has been doing CF endurance workouts with a great deal of success. While I wasn't sure that working with a non-runner was the way to go, my gut liked what it was hearing, and so I cancelled my appointment with the running coach and met with Becky.

What a relief! To be done with my sweaty run? Or to have dodged a bullet in the form of an overzealous running coach?
At that first session, there was no running, no gait evaluation. Instead, Becky had me do some squats and lunges, while she photographed me. When we met again, a few days later, she talked about what I needed to work on. My hips, particularly my left hip, were weak. She wanted me to bag my orthotics, which I was still using at the time (they're gone now). Her other big concern? My posterior chain aka my glutes, which were not firing. I know what you're thinking. But that isn't the kind of firing she was talking about. I thought all this sounded reasonable. I figured I'd give it a go and see what happens. We began to work together, doing basic rehabilitation exercises weekly, with homework.

Becky told me that she was not a runner and didn't know much about running. She also told me that my running would be my own. I liked that. Meanwhile, as I worked with her over time, I noticed a gradual, positive change in my running. I started having fewer aches and pains. My stride became more efficient (economy!) and my mile splits started becoming faster. Feeling encouraged, I did everything she asked me to do. Eventually, we moved on from the rehab to more CrossFit type exercises. She had me start lifting weights, doing intervals, and some plyometrics. We worked on core strengthening, which has always been my nemesis.

No longer my nemesis! :)
If you have been following me, then you know the ultimate reward was my marathon last fall. When I won the free entry to the Chicago marathon, Becky developed a training plan for me. My faith in her ability to bring me to the finish line was 100%. And for the training, I gave control of my running to her. I followed that training plan to the letter, with the exception of substituting one run for a bike ride when some mama drama at home threatened to derail my mental toughness training.  Oh, and we worked on that too...

Becky and me, pre marathon!
Not everyone can find a coach that is a perfect fit. But you don't have to pick a coach just because they're a coach. In the spirit of the Friday Five linkup, here are five things to think about when you are shopping for a coach:

Nothing like someone by your side to push you on!
1. Virtual vs live? On my FB feed are quite a few folks who are advertising themselves as coaches, developing training plans for runners. I don't think there's anything wrong with that except that there is nothing like meeting with that person and getting feedback. Not everyone has access to a gym and if you do use a virtual coach, make sure that they really know what you're looking for. And with Skype and FaceTime, there's no excuse for not having live interaction!

2. One size fits all is not the way to go. Make sure that your training plan is personalized to your abilities and needs--my biggest mistake with my first marathon was using a training plan that was one size fits all (I followed one of Hal Higdon's plans). If you find a coach, you want a coach who interviews you, gets to know you, and develops a customized plan based on your needs. In addition, your coach should be willing to modify the plan based on progress or lack thereof. Nothing should be set in stone.

3. Does the coach incorporate cross training into the mix?  I'm a huge believer in not living on miles alone. As a matter of fact, if all you do is run, you may stop seeing progress and even become injured. Unless you are an elite runner or a genetic mutant,  a lot of high mileage is going to break you down. I'm not saying you have to do CrossFit. Time in the gym, weights, intervals, cross training activities, and yoga are all important components to making you a stronger runner. And there's plenty of evidence to support this.

4. Your coach does not have to be a runner.  I know this seems counterintuitive. Having running experience certainly is a plus. But no matter what their background, make sure your coach has training, experience, and certification to back them up. They should have background in training athletes, physiology, nutrition, sports psychology, and biomechanics. Ask for references. Anyone can advertise themselves as a coach. The woman I first met with, the running coach, only had experience as a collegiate runner--no certifications, no formal training. Yet, she's got a booming coaching business. Heck, I could be a coach too!

5. If it doesn't feel right, move on--I'm a huge believer in going with your gut. If you don't like what the coach is having you do, tell them or find another coach. Don't waste time and money working with someone who isn't a good fit. It may take a few tries to find the right coach.

So where do you find a coach? I already talked about virtual coaches, and RRCA and USATF has a listing of all their certified coaches on their website. Some local high school cross country coaches will coach runners on the side. Check with a local running store for names of coaches. Running clubs are also another good resource. Talk to running friends. If you want to go an alternative route, like I did, check with the local gym or CrossFit box.

I have to say that working with Becky is the best thing I have ever done, fitness-wise. I have never refused to do anything she has asked me to do, although I came close last week when she had me carry that 50# sack on my back while doing lunges. She is tough but listens to me. We make a good team. She doesn't shower me with praise but when she tells me good job, I know she means it. I know how lucky I am.

While I at first balked at paying for a weekly coaching session, the returns in the form of strong running and self confidence have been amazing. I used justify this because I don't belong to a gym, so I don't pay monthly fees for that. I don't drink Starbucks and I pack my lunch for work. Now I figure that this is a priority for me and something I'm willing to pay for. You have to decide what's important to you. At age 52, becoming a stronger runner is a choice I made. No regrets.

Do you have a coach? Virtual or live? Runner or non-runner? Share your experience!

I'm linking this post up with the DC Trifecta: EatPrayRunDC, Mar on the Run, and You Signed Up for What? for their Friday Five link up! Be sure to head on over to their blogs and see what everyone else has to say!

I'm also linking up with Jill Conyers for Fitness Friday! It's always fun to check out the blogs on this link up too!