On Radio Silence and Losing that Loving Feeling

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Why, hello there! I bet you forgot about me. I, however, haven’t forgotten you. For the past two months I haven’t written a single word here. And that’s been a bit sad for me. Sad for two reasons. One, because I made grandiose plans to write here weekly, and clearly that promise has been broken. And secondly, because the enthusiasm and happiness I had about my return to marathon training evaporated quickly and left in its wake a sort of gnawing anxiety about my upcoming races (more about that in a bit). And it felt too big and too heavy to write about here. Yet, I need to leave these words here, so I don’t have to trail them around behind me like a dirty secret anymore. I just haven’t known what to say or how to say it. Runners are supposed to always be in love with the sport. Every single day they live and breathe running. They look forward to their runs with a childlike giddiness. At least that’s the image that’s mostly projected on social media. And while I generally try to keep my corner of the Internet world an uplifting and positive place, my posts lately have lacked a certain genuine honesty. And that isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to lie to myself. And it isn’t fair to lie to the people who see my posts. It’s not that I’ve hated every run I’ve gone on or that I haven’t had some successes in my training. It’s just that the overall feel of this training cycle has not been as positive as it usually is. I find that I am sleeping in more on the weekends lately, instead of rising before the sun to get my long run in, like I used to. I put off my runs for hours. I trudge through them like I’m being forced, instead of looking forward to it. And all the while, I’ve kept up pretenses about my training.

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Snow and ice can be tricky conditions, even with Yak Trax. I slipped a lot.

And then, about 3 weeks ago, I began experiencing an uncomfortable twinge in my left shin. It wasn’t quite painful, just a nagging “hot spot”. I first noticed it after a 14 mile run through ice and mud, with lots of slipping and sliding around. It’s not uncommon for some aches and pains to crop up when my mileage starts getting higher, so I didn’t really think much of it and instead just took a couple days off running. I purchased some new shoes, after realizing my go-to pair was likely beyond it’s healthy life. However, I quickly returned to running, thinking the new shoes would solve the problem and I’d pick up training at the same intensity I’d been running at before. This was stupid. The pain got worse, to the point where even walking was uncomfortable. Now I’m icing and stretching and trying to cross train while simultaneously trying not to panic about it. I know that shin splints are a common running injury, and I know they aren’t serious if they are allowed to properly heal. But I was stubborn and now I’m paying for it.

Not only is my next marathon approaching in May, but it’s a tough course with quite a bit of downhill that will be difficult on my knees and quads. I can’t afford weakness in any areas of my body. And then I realized that race is 11 weeks from today. 11 weeks! I’ve hardly talked about this race here or with anyone, because my focus has been so much on Chicago in October. But I’ll admit that right now, today, I’m starting to have doubts about my ability to complete my spring marathon in a healthy place. I recognize that 11 weeks is still a decent ways away and that I do have a significant amount of training already under my belt, but these last two and a half weeks of injury have started to feel like a derailment. Like the train is picking up speed while simultaneously running off the tracks and there is no way to prevent a disaster. I’ll need to make a decision soon. Perhaps drop down to the half marathon, if I can’t resume my normal training levels in the next week or so.

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From a weekend trip to the Windy City back in January. Despite the ice on the lake, it was gorgeous and sunny the whole weekend. My runs there on the Lakefront Path were probably some of my favorite of this training cycle. It is my happy place.

Yet, even with this current injury, I can’t stop thinking about Chicago and the BIG, SCARY goal I hope to accomplish there in October. I think about this marathon. Every. Single. Day. Like a woman possessed. And, like a woman possessed, I’ve tried to (stupidly) push through an injury and hope that it just goes away. I seem to think that because I want it badly enough, I can somehow tricky myself into mentally surmounting a physical injury. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Ultimately October is my end goal. I will do anything to arrive at that starting line healthy. So, it’s time to start being a smarter runner. Because I know better. I do. I need to take a small injury seriously before it becomes a big injury. It’s also time to search for and find my love of running again. I don’t know what that entails quite yet- if it means continuing my training for my spring race, focusing on half marathons for the spring, or just going watch-less for a little while. But I’m bound and determined to get back to that place. And to write here more often… Thanks for coming back and reading. I missed being here.

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A reminder of what awaits me in October. My favorite city and my favorite race. I’m ready for more of this!
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Marathon Training Week 1 Recap

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I meant to get around to writing and posting this entry about three days ago… but time has gotten away from me and I’m a few days behind schedule! I have a goal to recap each week of my training leading up to my spring marathon, and I think it’s a great way to journal my experiences from week to week. This is something I’ve seen many other running bloggers do, and I always liked how it gave me a glimpse into how they prepare for big races. Now of course, there is no one way to train for a marathon and depending on one’s goals/experience/time available for training, etc., it is important to recognize that what works well for one individual may not work well for others.

That being said, I want to start by filling you in on my plan for the next 22 weeks of training! I am doing things a little bit differently this time, in that I had a good friend create a customized training plan for me. I don’t want to call it a full on “coaching” relationship, because most of his role is just creating the plan for me and answering my questions as they arise. It is not a super official kind of thing. But, I felt like it would be a good way for me to dip my toes into the waters of more personalized training. For my first four marathons, I used a generic training plan I found through Runner’s World. There is nothing wrong with these plans, and they worked pretty well for me for those races. So what changed? Why am I not using these types of plans for my next race? There’s three main reasons for this:

  1. Generic plans do not take into account current fitness levels or experience. I have run multiple marathons with mostly consistent results, but I spent the last 5-6 months running a very reduced number of miles with no specific training plan in place. It was a good mental and physical break for me after running a lot of races in a short period of time. During these months I was definitely active, but really lost quite a bit of my “marathon endurance”. Most generic training plans start you with a specific base mileage, which you may or may not be ready for and most of them range from about 16-18 weeks. My plan is 22 weeks because it is working on building my mileage back up for more intense training.
  2. I wanted someone who could help me prepare for a long-term goal. Yes, the plan I’m working with now will help me prepare for my spring marathon in May, but one of the most important goals with this plan is to actually build me toward my BIGGER goal, which is to break 4:00 hours at the Chicago Marathon next October. This plan is a long-term vision, not a one-stop shop.
  3. Generic plans do not typically come with feedback. And while the friend who is working with me on this plan is not a designated coach, he is someone who I know I can ask questions and who will be honest with me in his feedback. There is also a deeper sense of accountability for me working with someone, because they will know if I am cheating their time and not putting in the work. That accountability doesn’t exist for me with a generic plan.

I began my first official day of training last Monday. I ran a total of 31 miles for the week. This is a very typical week for me during a marathon training cycle. I typically average between 30-50 miles during a plan. However, even though my body is used to this mileage, I have to admit I was feeling tired and a bit sore by the end of the week. Here’s how my workouts looked for that first week:

  • Monday: 3 miles easy
  • Tuesday: 6 miles easy
  • Wednesday: 5 miles easy with 8x 20 seconds of strides at the end. <- I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with these on the treadmill!
  • Thursday: OFF
  • Friday: 4 miles easy
  • Saturday: 5 miles easy
  • Sunday: 8 miles easy

I felt pretty good on my runs most of the week, but was definitely feeling a bit fatigued and sore by my 8 miler on Sunday. I spent some time stretching, foam rolling, and I took an Epsom salt bath, which is one of my favorite recovery activities.

In related news, I’ve been having an interesting “health” concern the last few times I’ve run. Nothing that I think is very serious, but still a bit concerning. I’ve always “run cold” and had trouble with my circulation in the winter, but after my outdoor runs this week, my fingers have been turning completely white and feeling tingly about 10 minutes after my run, and my lips get a bluish tint to them. I know I should really be changing out of my sweaty/cold clothes right away and that it doesn’t help warm my body very efficiently to hang out in them. But from all my research and polling, it seems like this could be a symptom of Reynaud’s disease, which results in poor circulation. It is not generally very serious if it’s monitored, but it often goes hand-in-hand with other underlying health issues. I plan to visit the doctor soon and see if they believe I may need some more testing to rule out or diagnose any other possible issues. Do you ever deal with any cold weather health issues during the winter months? What do you do to try to combat them?

I hope you all have a great week running/training/enjoying the holiday festivities! Until next time!

Big, Scary Goals

When I first started running, I didn’t care very much about setting specific race goals. I was just enthusiastic to cross finish lines and that was a great enough challenge for me. I didn’t want to become “that” runner who stares so obsessively at their watch during races they forget to look around and enjoy the experience. I didn’t want to become “that” runner who is absolutely devastated when they don’t meet some specific goal time. I wanted running to remain fun. I always believed that just finishing would be enough for me. And it still is. I never want that to change.

But over the course of the past few years, I’ve come to realize if I don’t set some goals for my big races, I tend to become lazy and complacent about my training. I’ll slack off on workouts or skip them all together, because I haven’t put enough pressure on myself to truly get the best out of my training. Over time I began crafting more specific time goals, on the condition that I not allow it to become an unhealthy obsession. This year I set a goal to achieve a sub-2 hour half marathon. My previous half marathon PR was 2:01, so I knew it was within reach. In March I accomplished my goal at the NYC Half Marathon with a time of 1:56. Talk about smashing a goal! It was one of the best races of my life and the feeling of accomplishment I had afterward was incredible. I felt like an entirely new realm of possibility was opened up to me. Goals I had never dared dream about are now tangible.

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So excited to get a shiny new half marathon PR in NYC!

That brings me to my BIG goal for 2017. It scares me a little bit, honestly. But I’ve heard the expression, “If you don’t set goals that scare you a little, than they aren’t big enough.” And I believe this; so I’m stepping out and going for it. I believe that some of the most exciting things in life happen when you leave your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I waffled back and forth for a bit on whether I wanted to share with you what my specific goal is, mainly because I worried about what people would think if I fail to meet it. However, I think part of the bravery process involves making my goals public and getting some accountability from others. So, here goes: my big, scary goal for 2017 is to break 4 hours in the marathon.For some of you, this may not sound all that impressive. But for me it is. My current marathon PR is 4:18 and I only achieved that in June at Grandma’s Marathon. Granted, I was trained and prepared to run faster than a 4:18 and likely would have achieved my goal of a sub-4:10 if the heat and humidity that day hadn’t been so extreme (the majority of the race was run under black flag conditions). But even then, 18 minutes is a lot of time. 18 minutes over the course of 26.2 miles translates to nearly 45 seconds per mile faster than my previous marathon pace. Yikes.

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I came short of my goal at Grandma’s Marathon, but I still managed to eek out a 5 minute marathon PR! That was a tough race.

That is why, in addition to ramping up my training for the next year, I’ve decided to work with a coach. Well, kind of. He is a good friend of mine, who happens to be a certified personal trainer and marathoner himself, and is looking to gain some practice/clients in the coaching world. He has written several plans for other folks and agreed to create some for me. He is writing two specific training plans for 2017. First is for my spring marathon in May. (I plan on sharing more specifics of this plan and my workouts in future posts!) The other plan will be for the Chicago Marathon next October. My goal for Chicago is to see a 3:5X for my finish time. So, there you have it!

Sometimes you have shut your eyes, breath in deeply, and jump. I’m going for it!

 

 

 

Seasons

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I am not the greatest fan of winter. I dislike being cold. It seems like it’s always dark, and I hate driving in the snow. I used to hunker down in winter like a bear going into hibernation, with a melancholy that wouldn’t lift for months. Some would call this seasonal depression. When I started running a couple of years ago and signed up for a spring marathon, I realized I would have to make some changes to my habits and my mentality when it came to the winter months. I couldn’t sit inside, wrapped in a blanket all winter without losing all the fitness I’d worked so hard to gain. So, I changed. I purchased some warm running clothes and started braving the elements, even when all I wanted to do was wrap myself in a blanket and wait until the spring thaw.

Admittedly, it was not easy to change my mentality. It still isn’t. But, with every winter run I went on, I found something incredible happening to me. I realized I actually enjoyed running in the winter. Especially in freshly falling snow. There is a peacefulness and beauty to the world when it’s quieted by a blanket of snow. Oftentimes, I get the running trails all to myself. I do some of my best thinking on these runs. I love the feeling of cold air on my cheeks. Over time, I’ve come to respect and even like winter. Every season has it’s own unique beauty. Here are some of things I do to make my winter running experiences the best they can be:

1. Find good winter running gear! Not just warm, but also clothes that breathe well, as you will work up a sweat, even when the temperatures are cold. You’ll need some good hats/headbands, gloves or mittens, a good jacket, tights, etc.

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2. Explore new routes that look beautiful in the snow. Enjoy your old favorite routes and see how they change with the season.

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3. Make plans to meet with a running buddy. Not only is it fun to hit the roads with a fellow runner, but it will give you some accountability and you will be less likely to bail on your run if you are meeting someone else.

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4. Sign up for some “fun run” races during the winter. Most towns have lots of local holiday-themed runs. Turkey trots, Santa runs, New Years runs, etc. They make running in the cold lots of fun, plus it’s good speed work practice.

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5. Have a good “warm-up” routine for when you get back home from your run. I love to jump in a hot shower and have a cup of tea or coffee. Throw your favorite sweatshirt in the dryer before your shower. I tend to get very cold very quickly after a run if I don’t immediately get out of my running clothes and into something warm and dry.

6. Eat something when you get home. This is a good idea, regardless of the temperature outside, but I find that some food in my stomach will help me warm up faster.

How do you like winter running? What are some of your favorite tips or tricks for getting through the colder months? 

 

 

26.2 Lessons Learned from Running 26.2 Miles

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Mile 6-ish of the 2016 Colfax Marathon, the single hardest race of my life (so far, at least).

I had been running consistently for about a year when I decided to tackle my first marathon. I trained for months in order to be ready to tow that starting line, and I thought I was ready for the experience. Yet I’ll never forget the emotions that overcame me in the final miles of that race. Nothing could have prepared me for the challenge that running 26.2 miles would be. I went through every emotion in the books- excitement, joy, fear, pain, and at the finish line – true gratitude and a high like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. Every marathon I’ve finished since then has brought on similar emotions and I’ve found that with each race I’ve learned more and more about myself and the sport of running as a whole. Here are 26.2 lessons I’ve learned from the marathon!

1. Running marathons has taught me that I am capable of so much more than I ever before thought possible. I learned to believe in myself and my ability to do the things I set my mind to. I just have to keep showing up, putting in the work, and the results will follow.

2. It is impossible to predict how a marathon will shake out for me during the first miles. I just never know how my body will react after mile 20. However, there are some factors I can control that will help me to be successful. Getting good sleep the week of the marathon. Curbing my diet to easily digested foods that will help fuel my body. Making sure I’m hydrating properly. Not going out too fast in the early miles. The list goes on…

3. That being said, there are several areas in which I have a lot of opportunity for growth and improvement. For example, I have yet to negative split a marathon (run the second half faster than the first half). It’s a goal of mine, but I really struggle with holding back my pace in the early miles. It takes some real restraint not to “fly and die”, and I need to work on that.

4. There is really no such thing as a typical marathoner. I have seen runners of ALL types out on the course; different sizes, ages, backgrounds, experience levels, and race goals. I think this is one of the best things about the running community- it’s diversity. It means that the dream of completing a marathon can belong to pretty much anyone, regardless of how they look or what their background is. Any time someone tells me that they are “not built to run a marathon”, I try to tell them that there is no such thing as a marathon build, because so many people defy the common stereotypes of the sport and still manage to be quite successful at running. Sure, most elite marathoners tend to be of a smaller and leaner build, but that doesn’t mean that people with other body types can’t run. I’m not built like an elite either. But it hasn’t held me back.

5. Big city destination races are my favorite. I love the energy of the spectators cheering, their clever signs, the energy of the starting corrals filled with thousands of people from all over the world ready to take on the streets, and the thrill of hearing all those sneakers striking the pavement, echoing off of skyscrapers. It gives me goose bumps even as I type this. I also love the idea of turning vacations into “runcations”. You get a unique perspective running the streets of a city.

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Running through Times Square during the NYC Half Marathon in March, 2016. This was one of the coolest race experiences I’ve had! The sun shone through the buildings at the exact moment I was taking this picture!

6. However, I enjoy smaller local races as well. It’s really nice to sleep in your own bed the night before a marathon. And to go to brunch at your favorite restaurant afterward.

7. I cherish my race bibs more than my race medals. Race bibs are with us through the entire event- gatorade spillage and all. I keep every race bib. There is something really special about the tangible way it brings me back to memories of my race, even long after it finishes.

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My “race wall”. It’s grown a lot in the last two years!

 

8. Not every race will be a PR. In fact, most races won’t be. That’s ok. There are valuable lessons to be learned from perceived failures and setbacks, and they help us grow into better runners. It makes those PR’s all the more special when they do happen – those moments when all the hard work pays off, the stars align, and you have an incredible race.

9. I always experience some “dark miles” during a marathon, those moments where I think there is no way I will be able to finish, where I am so tired and in so much pain that I just want to quit. I think about how stupid it is to sign up for and pay to run a ridiculous number of miles, and what for? I’m not even that good at it. These thoughts usually sneak up around the 18 mile mark.

10. However, I’ve learned it is so important not to allow those dark thoughts to take root and sabotage my race. I try to counteract and replace these thoughts with positive ones. It helps me to have a mantra I can recite to myself when the going gets tough. During my last marathon, I repeated the phrase “Feel the fear, and do it anyway” over and over to myself, as the heat and humidity became more and more unbearable and I began to fear how the weather would affect my running. It really did distract me from my dark thoughts and fears and get me to the finish line.

11. Not everyone understands my interest obsession with running. In fact, most people don’t really care and don’t want to hear about it. This used to hurt my feelings, especially when I was really excited about a great race I had or a big goal I’d accomplished. But I try to remember I don’t run for those people, I run for myself.

12. Saturday long runs are my favorite kind of training run.

13. Naps after a Saturday long run are heavenly.

14. Waking up at 4:30 am for a run NEVER gets easier. But it helps build that mental endurance and discipline I’ll need on race day.

15. Training through less than ideal conditions- snow, wind, rain, heat, fatigue, or coming back from training setbacks – also makes us stronger and more resilient. I remember someone telling me that every time I complete a difficult run, a run that really forced me to push through, I make a deposit into my running bank. On race day, I get to go in and cash out that account. All those deposits made over time earned interest and will help me be successful.

16. Crossing the finish of my first marathon with one of my best friends (who was also running her marathon) was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I’ll never forget those moments of realizing we’d just accomplished something so huge, together.

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My friend Sam and I hugging it out at the finish of our first marathon!

17. The person who started the rumor that running is a “cheap sport” and “all you need are a pair of shoes” is such a liar. I think running is probably one of the most expensive sports. You have to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles, and when you’re marathon training, you’ll go through shoes at a rather nauseating pace. Then there’s the cost of quality gear. And race fees… those come with a hefty price tag. The average marathon race entry fee is over $100. Not to mention that if you have to travel for a race, there’s the cost of flights, hotels, etc. Certainly not cheap.

18. The people who show up to cheer you on at a race really do love you. There is no other explanation for why they would choose to stand around for hours watching people run by, just waiting for a momentary glimpse of you. This is especially true if they don’t happen to be runners themselves. This is definitely true of the people who make a point of showing up at multiple places on the course. They may not really understand what you’re doing, but they are supporting you nonetheless. And that’s so amazing.

19. Seeing the people you love out there cheering for you will lift your spirits and give you wings, even when you’re exhausted.

20. That post-race beer is the most refreshing thing you will ever taste. It is the nectar of the gods, and it will breathe a little life back into you. (Actually, there is some science to back that up, but I won’t get into that here. Perhaps for another day?) Or if you don’t drink beer, whatever that post-race treat you dream about for miles is, it will set that recovery phase in motion. Pretty much every runner I’ve ever talked to has a specific thing they crave right after a race. A Coke, potato chips, a burger, etc.

21. Being a runner means you own more running gear than other clothing. It means that you have entire drawers FULL of race shirts you probably never wear.

22. You learn that a healthy, nutrient-rich diet can make all the difference in your training, but that right after you finish a marathon, you can eat WHATEVER you want that day and it’s a free pass (see number 20). For me that usually means all of the carbs.

23. Coffee is my best friend. It is the only thing that will get me going on those early dark mornings, and on race day it actually helps to calm my jitters. I think it has something to do with ritual and it’s soothing effects.

24. I would love to run all the Marathon Majors in my lifetime (Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Berlin, and Toyko). I’ve already run Chicago and will run it again in 2017, but I still have the other five to cross off my list. It may take me many years to accomplish this goal, but I think it will be worth it!

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Enjoying the “Mile 27” after-party in Grant Park, following the finish of the Chicago Marathon on October 11, 2015.

25. I once completed a marathon after getting sick at mile 6 and struggling for the remaining 20 miles with serious GI issues. It was the single most difficult and painful few hours of my life. I still have no idea how I pushed myself through that. It was definitely one of my slowest races, but it is truly the one I’m most proud of. I managed to finish the damn thing, even though every part of me wanted to quit. There are some powerful metaphors for life there, I think.

26. Sticking it out through an entire 14-16 week marathon training plan is very hard to do. It gets old, it feels monotonous, and you are tired and hungry all the time. It’s ok to “be over it” near the end. That’s your body’s way of saying that you really worked it hard to prepare yourself. Also, don’t cheat the taper. Let the taper do what it needs to and don’t doubt yourself. You will not lose all your fitness in 2-3 weeks.

.2 Never take for granted your ability to run. There will come a day when you are longer able to do this, when your body will say it’s done. But that day hasn’t come yet, and I plan on running until my time runs out!

I’m Pleased to Meet You!

Hello, Internet world! I’m so glad you stopped by to visit. I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Rachel and I’m a 28 year old, recently married girl living in Denver, Colorado. I was not born in Colorado, but moved here at the age of thirteen from New Jersey. Fast forward nearly sixteen years, and I consider myself to be a genuine (if not native) Coloradan. I love the mountains, the beer, and the football! I also love to run, but that hasn’t always been the case. Growing up, I hated running and tried to find any excuse to get out of the mile run in gym class. After college, I began a desk job and started to gain a little weight. I didn’t exercise much at all and was enjoying a few too many craft beers and take-out food. I decided I needed to make some healthy changes and signed up to run a 10k race that my company sponsors. I still have no idea what really prompted me to decide I wanted to run a race, but I think it had to do with the idea that without a goal looming in front of me, I wouldn’t likely stick to my fitness plan. I crossed the finish line of that race in May of 2014 and was immediately hooked on everything running and racing. Since that fateful day, I have completed four marathons, nine half marathons, and numerous other races. I have no intention of slowing down, and I hope this blog can serve as a place for me to document my life and my training.

Despite having completed a lot races in a short period of time, I am by no means an expert on running and am most definitely a middle-of-the-pack runner. I am not ashamed of this, but if you’re looking for advice from a speedy runner, my blog won’t be all that helpful to you! I run because I enjoy it. It’s that simple. I enjoy the act of running and training. I enjoy the satisfaction of accomplishing new goals (new distances, new personal best times, etc.) Running has also helped me learn to love myself a little better. It’s hard not to appreciate a body that can run for 26.2 miles. This is probably the best lesson running has taught me; to be grateful that I have a healthy and strong body that can run. I enjoy running solo, as my alone time. I enjoy running with others for the social interaction. In fact, the people I’ve met through running are some of the best people I know. In 2015 I joined the Oiselle running team- a nationwide (worldwide, really) team of several thousand women who come together united by a love of the sport. My decision to join this team was one of the best things I have done for myself. I’ve met so many amazing women who inspire me daily, and no matter what city I run in, I’m bound to have a whole tribe of people to meet up with.

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Post-race Oiselle team photo at the 2016 BolderBoulder 10k!
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At the starting line of Grandma’s Marathon in June. I love being a part of the Oiselle team- I’ve met so many amazing women because of it! 

When I first started running, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I didn’t know what to wear, how to train, or what racing was like. I didn’t really have any friends that ran. Most of them thought I was crazy for wanting to do it. So, I turned to the Internet. I began reading running blogs like a woman possessed. I read blogs of super speedy women. I read blogs of women who balanced motherhood, careers, and school with running. I read blogs of women who weren’t very speedy but simply ran for the love of it. I read blogs of professional runners. I read blogs of women who overcame immense obstacles to their health to run. I was inspired by the diversity of the running world and I truly believed for the first time that I might be able to do it. Perhaps my blog can do that for others. I hope you keep stopping by!