Monday, March 11, 2019

WWYD, winter blahs edition

Ever since having Thing 2 I've been mentally ready to go chase down some big fat juicy running goals.  However, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak: I can't even seem to get back to running consistently, never mind train for anything. Work has been crazy, baby has been sniffly, and I don't like running on lunch break because it seems to affect my pumping output (formula is great, after 6 months it's just another food, but I want to give baby as much breastmilk as possible for the immune benefits). Last week when I sprained my ankle and had to sit indoors on the spin bike in otherwise perfect running weather, it felt like the final straw. 

I see people all over the place hopping back into running 6 or 7 months after having babies, and I'm thinking: what's wrong with me? Am I just not disciplined enough? Do I just not want it enough?

I don't really have a good excuse. The baby, when she's not congested or teething, is a pretty good sleeper. I know how important it is to be consistent so that when I'm ready to actually start training, I can just jump right in. 'Training to train', if you will. But also, the thing I love most about running - being able to run outdoors - I can't do on weekdays before evening at the moment. So a lot of my runs are at 10pm on the treadmill and I'm like, I am finding zero joy in this, what even is the point? I'm not shooting for any PRs right now, let alone actual running goals like qualifying for Boston*.

*also with the way that qualifying times are going, if I keep getting faster at my current pace and the times get tightened at their current pace, the two will converge and I'll line up in Hopkinton in roughly 15-25 years, which is so ridiculous I can't believe I'm even typing this or admitting that I would like to run Boston someday. 

I don't really have a good answer to this. If I sign up for something and try to follow an actual training plan, chances are I wouldn't be able to actually follow the plan more than 50% of the time, and I'd get frustrated and fed up. Let's face it, my training-plan compliance is about 85% in a good cycle. In the business-as-usual scenario, I'll keep doing these short sporadic runs I don't enjoy, and get frustrated and fed up with my own lack of consistency. What would you do? What tweaks would you make to my systems? 

Saturday, December 29, 2018

New Year's...habit tracking?

In my eternal quest to be a better grownup, I started habit tracking at the beginning of this year, and to my great astonishment it's one of the things I've kept up all year long. I've made a habit of habit tracking, I guess?

(The other thing I've kept up all year is my meal planning Evernote containing notes on nearly every dinner we've cooked since 2015, a la Dinner: A Love Story. I can tell you what we had the week Thing 1 was born - eggplant parm; pasta with shrimp and broccoli, etc. I *am* Jenny Rosenstrach, only less organised, less creative, and I don't get paid to write about food - alas.)

Anyway, you'll see below how my habit trackers evolved this year. None of this is particularly Pinterest-worthy, but that's just my personality. If it's just for me, making it more aesthetically pleasing is not a significant motivating factor, but crossing off each day is very satisfying. I take the bits and bobs of a system that work for me and leave the rest! This is how I work with training plans, too. Word of warning to any future coaches...

January 2018, like 10 weeks pregnant, sick to my stomach.  

January 2018 (see above). Those prenatal vitamins did not help with the puking, but I took them anyway. That 'run/ yoga/ strength' was more for my sanity than anything else.

December 2018 (i.e this week - haven't finished Friday and haven't got to the weekend yet). 
December 2018 (see above).
- Still taking my vitamins! Gummy vites for the win! I don't usually think that vitamins are a necessity with a nice balanced diet, but I have certain nutritional needs (because breastfeeding) that are helped along with vitamins.
- Somewhere along the line I decided to track daily flossing. This was probably prompted by having to schedule one of my biannual dental appointments. As it turns out, what gets measured gets managed better. Before tracking I flossed...maybe...a couple of times a week? Now it's more often than not, and when I forget it's because I've fallen asleep putting a child to bed. Why didn't I floss more before? It's so easy. The floss literally lives in the bathroom cabinet next to my toothbrush, where it has always lived. 
- 'Baby D' is vitamin D drops for the baby.
- 'Activity' is another case of what-you-can-when-you-can. Sometimes that's running 4 miles. Or my PT exercises, or MYRTLs. Other times that's walking a mile with the stroller, or walk-commuting to and from the coworking space or subway station. It all counts, right?

Note that as the number of behaviours tracked increased, the prettiness of the trackers diminished - they started out being coloured in with sparkly scented gel pen, and devolved into being crossed off. /shrug

This year, I also sort of tracked the books I read (in another Evernote note). For next year, I have a list of books to read written down in the back of my 2019 planner, let's see how that works.

It strikes me that habit-tracking is very much a process goal rather than an outcome goal. An outcome goal (ok, some people call these New Year's resolutions!) is something like 'lose 10 pounds'. A process goal is 'eat vegetables or fruit at every meal'. An outcome goal is 'Run a 1:50 half marathon'. A process goal is 'stick to 90% or more of a training plan'. I definitely prefer process goals, and paradoxically, they're easier to stick to because they're not all-or-nothing. If you don't meet your process goals in one instance - let's say I forgot to floss on Wednesday night - tomorrow is another day.

What are you tracking now or next year, and how? What else should I track in 2019? 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Reflections on a decade of running

Reflections on a decade of running 'seriously'
(and half a decade of blogging halfheartedly) 

This year it'll be a full decade since I started running 5Ks with friends for fun, then started wondering 'what can I do if I actually train properly?' That led me to the question 'what does it mean to train properly?' which then led me down a rabbit hole of online running information and blogs aka reading about other runners' personal experiences, which led me right here. 

Anyway, some thoughts on a decade of running seriously. 

  1. What does it mean to run 'seriously'? It means a dedication to better, whatever that means to you - getting faster, going longer, training smarter, sticking with hard things.  speed has nothing to do with dedication, and competitive is not necessarily the same as fast.
  2. There are some races whose memory I cherish. My very first 10K was actually way, way back in 2002 (!) - it was the Army Half Marathon & 10K. I remember going with my mom, then immediately losing her in the crowd and waiting around at our pre-determined meetup spot for her to finish. That may be the one and only race I ever got my mom to do with me. And she runs 3 miles every morning... The Tokyo Marathon was another lifetime highlight. So was the year I ran the Great Eastern 5k while 13 weeks pregnant, just soaking up the atmosphere and watching every woman runner I knew do one of the races. 
  3. There are some races I'd like to erase from my brain. 2010 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon: stomach trouble way too early (at the halfway mark), couldn't keep my gels down, lots of walking. Good fun. 
  4. Friends, if you're used to 500-person road races in small towns in the US, road races in Singapore are a zoo. Most Singapore runners also don't do it with anything approaching the, um, level of ambition that I've seen in US races and blogs. Consequently, races in Singapore are very good for the ego. I'll be the first to admit that was instrumental to my sticking with running. In 2009 I finished near the 'front of the pack' with a sub-1h 10K and started thinking: 'Hm, that was a nice feeling. I wonder how well I could do if I actually trained?'
  5. Ten years and eight marathons later, the rest is history! I still hold the family marathon record, as husband has never done a standalone (he did a 50K as his first race of any distance longer than a half marathon - go figure). 
  6. But I still don't know how to pace a race. I mean, I know, in theory. I have never executed what I consider good pacing, in practice. Probably because I don't get enough practice. 
  7. Unfortunately, despite how popular running is (or maybe because of it?), race organisation in Singapore leaves a great deal to be desired. Too many races are about the shirts, the medals, the swag - everything but a) is the distance correct? b) was the route map right? c) did it start on time? All of the serious runners I know are quite peeved about this. They deserve better. Not everyone wants or can afford to travel overseas for a well-organised marathon every year. Shoutouts to a few races that are really well-organised and that I love: the Great Eastern Women's Run series, the Singapore Bay Run & Army Half Marathon. And the running community, where you can always find pockets of people who are generous with their time and their energy and always willing to give back.  
  8. I've come to the conclusion that there aren't any blogs by runners who are in dedicated training, who have small children and also work full-time. That's because it's apparently impossible to do all four of those things (blog about training for something while working and raising children who are very young). It's just impossible and usually the blogging is the first thing to go...sorry! I have tremendous flexibility in *where* and *when* I work, but even so, the baby year is f'in hard. Which brings us to:
  9. The blogging 'market'. Perhaps this is the twilight of blogging? Perhaps market consolidation means there are a few big blogs making a ton of money off ads and affiliate links and the rest are just a fun habit/ labour of love? There are a lot of people out there who used to write running blogs that I miss. (Hi, Health on the Run! Jogging Jeano, where'd you go?) 
  10. There are some blogs that are still around and update at least semi-regularly: SF Road Warrior, Arkansas Running Mom, How I Complicated My Life Today, A Fast Paced Life, A Healthier Moo, I'm probably missing a few others.
  11. For some reason, all of the action seems to have moved to Instagram. Microblogging is technically easier - 1 photo, a few in point, I'm writing this on my phone and it's freaking hard to add links vs just tagging people on Instagram - but then also: people carefully curate edit filter their pictures, put together a whole essay and paste it in, etc. etc. Or use it to record their training ('today I ran FIVE miles at xx pace!'). There are some runners who are only on Instagram whom I love (hi coach Nicole!), and I appreciate the convenience of conversation/ commenting/ messaging on the platform, but I also enjoy a good hefty blog-length race report. I like reading about the process of training, not just the actual running but also what goes on in your head.
  12. But whether online or in real life, fellow runners will always commiserate with you about plantar fasciitis, celebrate a PR with you, and talk about poop.     

Friday, September 14, 2018

Hark! A baby!

Baby bean is here! Well, to be more precise, baby bean is now more than a month old and over 10 lbs (I may have cheated slightly by nursing her before they weighed her). There's nothing stopping me from writing here. She's a sleeper. I'm just lazy!

Her first and middle name mean 'peace' in two languages and she's living up to it, completely unlike her big brother, with whom we stumbled around in a sleep-deprived haze for the first two years. She is a 'trick baby' - tricks its parents into thinking babies are easy. (100% of smug sleep-training guides are written by the parents of trick babies.) I joke that if we'd had her first, the kids would be closer in age...

So, mentally, I could go back to work tomorrow. Emotionally and intellectually, I really enjoy baby snuggles (and catching up on my reading/ TV*, heh) and I know that this is probably going to be the last time I have a teeny tiny infant. Meanwhile, my husband had a couple of weeks off and is working from home. We don't have any family nearby so having him around for non-baby chores is invaluable! Thanks to a flexible, all-but-dissertation grad-student schedule, we spent the last two weeks reconnecting over board games while the baby napped and the big kid was in preschool.

Physically, the last few weeks of pregnancy, I was just DONE. Basically any time I left the house, I was a sweaty, uncomfortable mess, buoyed only by the thought that I couldn't possibly be pregnant forever. Fortunately, labor and delivery were fast  and intense. The day before my due date, we went to the hospital at 8am, and by 3.30pm, voila, baby. Being well-rested and pushing for only 10 minutes has made recovery that much easier - no pee leakage and my pelvic floor, core and legs feel so much stronger than the first time around. The minor trade-off is stretch marks and a squishy middle - I'll take it.

Ironically I am running no miles and eating no ice cream unless it's dairy- and soy-free. Baby bean is sensitive to something in my diet, as per the gas, goopy diapers and blood in stools, and those are the two most common triggers. This makes grocery shopping a challenge and eating out a nightmare. My 3 most helpful tips, via friends:

- Look up Whole30 recipes, as those are free of dairy and soy and generally don't use processed ingredients with soy hiding in them.
- Look for foods labeled parve/ pareve -- under Jewish law, you can't consume meat and dairy together, so these foods (which are 'neutral' & can be eaten with either meat or dairy) definitely don't contain any hidden dairy, you just have to check for hidden soy ingredients.
- Coconut aminos are a decent direct substitute for soy sauce.

it's very kind of him to read to her but 100% of the audience is asleep

What now? I'm itching to run again. Starting again will be slow and frustrating. But I trust that my body knows how to run (been doing this since I was 12) that it'll come back to running when I'm ready (having taken breaks before, first for dance and then for baby 1) and that I'll one day feel stronger and sharper and hungrier for speed than I ever have before (not 'back to the same', but beyond it).

I'll run this fall, of course, but I'm not planning to race till mid or late 2019. I want to enjoy life with two kids, figure out a new routine, and while I'm doing so, figure out how to fit the necessary 'extra salt' (strength, stretching, rolling etc) into my routine. What better time to build in the extra salt from scratch, if my world is going to be turned upside down and rebuilt anyway?

*Reading, TV and boardgames enjoyed:
Star Trek: Discovery, Season 1
The tail end of Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Season 1
Exo, Fonda Lee
And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I was Ready, Meghan O'Connell
The Smartest Kids in the World, Amanda Ripley (on the education systems of the best-performing countries)
Let Your Mind Run, Deena Kastor
Educated, Tara Westover
Pandemic: Legacy, Season 1 (boardgame, good for 2 players)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

An extremely boring third trimester 'training log'

I'm still here! In case anyone was curious how the last few weeks of pregnancy were playing is a very boring 'training log'. Boring because I have nothing to prove to anyone, running isn't fun for me any more, and I like my pelvic floor too much. Definitely not one of those outliers who runs till the day she gives birth...

I quit running altogether around week 33 (it's hot, I'm unwieldy and uncomfortable, what's the point?), but still walk around to get all my errands done, run after kiddo, do my PT exercises, and swim whenever I can. I used to literally run my errands, but am too uncomfortable to do that any more. So I dusted off the Fitbit and now try to get in my 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day between commuting, errands, and chasing the preschooler around. (On the first day I got it back out, kiddo pinched my Fitbit so we put it on him just for fun. After a few minutes of marching around the room and scrutinising it to watch the step count go up, he forgot it was there. Between the hours of 5pm and bedtime he racked up 2,500 steps!!!)

Dawn patrol. Lots of walks along the river.

6/11 to 6/17
Week 31-32 of pregnancy
Monday - Walk, strength workout
Tuesday - off
Wednesday - Walk, strength workout 
Thursday - Walk to PT, and PT
Friday - PT exercises
Saturday - Watching kiddo's last dance class of the term with my mother-in-law. I'm exhausted just watching him bounce around, does that count?
Sunday - Went strawberry picking, then came home, jogged roughly a mile to the splash pad with kiddo, met up with friends for a picnic lunch, and then shuffling a mile back.

6/18 to 6/24
Weeks 32-33
Monday - pool running, 30 minutes
Tuesday - walk (took kiddo to swim class. Solo parenting evening = on my feet from 5pm to 9pm when he finally goes down. Did I mention I wish he'd drop his nap.)
Wednesday - nothing
Thursday - Did my PT exercises and called it good.
Friday - Walked (lots of errands)
Saturday - PT and kid-chasing
Sunday - nothing

6/25 to 7/1
What? It's July??
Weeks 33-34
Monday - walked parts of my commute
Tuesday - kid swim class and solo parenting till bedtime counts as a workout, surely
Wednesday - nil
Thursday - walked, errands
Friday - ?
Saturday - longish walk
Sunday - ?

7/2 to 7/8
Weeks 34-35
Monday - PT
Tuesday - walk
Wednesday - off. Went to the beach for the 4th of July!
Thursday - walk
Friday - swim!
Saturday - kiddo woke up early so we walked to get coffee and then hit up a neighborhood playground; later we enjoyed some outdoor time at his friend's birthday party
Sunday - off

7/9 to 7/15
Weeks 35-36
Monday - PT and swim
Tuesday - walk
Wednesday - off
Thursday - PT and walk
Friday - walk
Saturday - long walk
Sunday - off

7/16 to 7/22
Weeks 36-37
Monday - PT and Aaptiv maternity workout
Tuesday - walk, errands
Wednesday - Walk. Went to the track to say hi to everyone at Community Running, then proceeded to walk laps while telling people 'I'm doing these sprints all out - what do you mean you can't tell?' :p
Thursday - walk (commute, OB visit, daycare pickup)
Friday - ...nothing?
Saturday - off
Sunday - off. Rainy day. Movies and pyjamas.

Currently reading/ read:
Still reading - Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Still reading - James Hamblin, If Our Bodies Could Talk (which is strangely silent on women's bodies so far?...)
Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow (I found this delightful)
Michael Lewis, The Undoing Project (on the birth of behavioral economics)
Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (now I need to track down all the other books in the series in my library system)
Naomi Alderman, The Power (excellent)
Dennis Lehane, Since We Fell (I didn't like this quite as much as other Lehane books)
plus a bunch of random assorted stuff - mysteries, YA sf/fantasy, etc.  

Friday, June 15, 2018

Cambridge 5K Freedom Run mini-recap: From PR to PW!

The Cambridge 5K Freedom Run: a mini race-recap

The Cambridge 5K Freedom Run last year, if you remember, is the site of my surprise 5K PR. This year, running it 30 weeks pregnant, I knew it was going to be a Personal Worst! But we signed up to hang out with friends, and it's stroller-friendly so all our kiddos could come along for the ride.

On race day (June 3) I woke up still not sure whether I was going to spectate or participate. The weather decided it for me - sunny most of the day and in the 50s/ 60s? Bring it on! We started at the back, with the strollers and the walkers, right where I needed to be to do a 5 minute run/ 1 minute walk ratio. I was definitely running during the run segments, but it was an easy effort - no heroics here.

flag-on? flag-off!

The course starts outside a mall, goes through an office area with lots of biotech companies, then loops back up to Cambridge Street and the residential neighbourhood near the local courthouse. There are maybe four or five turns, a brief climb, and a gradual downhill back to the finish. I can think of worse ways to spend a summer Sunday. I finished with a record personal worst (36:39) and can definitively say the Cambridge 5K race experience is just as pleasant at the back of the pack as it is in the middle (as it should be). I also like to think that my PW this year after my PR last year is throwing a monkey wrench into the 'race cheat investigation' algorithms. ;) 

Kiddo's last single-stroller race!

The afterparty featured a huge range of brews and ciders (sadly, none for me this year, but I did snag a lemonade and a couple cans of cold-brew coffee to take home), but it was loud and a little overwhelming for the stroller set - and my ice cream hopes were dashed! What kind of barbaric summer race doesn't have ice cream or freeze pops at the end?! Otherwise, if you like beer and dancing plus a well-organised race experience, it's worth the money. 

Came in first in the completely unofficial, probably-1-woman '3rd trimester' category. 

Alas, post-race sacroiliac pain bugged me for the next couple of days. I've been getting pregnancy-related SI pain for the last few weeks, and the terrible thing is that I never know when it's going to flare up or how bad it's going to be - sometimes I can walk for miles or run without pain, sometimes I walk a mile and the pain shoots down my leg, and sometimes it doesn't show up until hours *after* the offending workout. This particular flare was bad enough to need a heating pad, and I'm also seeing a physiotherapist. While I'm going to try to run/ pool run as long as I can, I'm pretty positive that's my last race of this pregnancy. I'm stubborn, but not totally crazy...


Start time: 9.30am

Finishers: roughly 1,800

Parking: LOTS of parking in the Cambridgeside Galleria Mall - so much so that we - ahem - nearly misplaced the car afterward.

Swag: This year's t-shirt (non-gender-specific, rougher material, tight at the collar) was decidedly substandard compared to last year's (gender-specific, soft material, perfect fit). Thumbs down.

After-party: lots of brews and ciders from Notch Brewing, Somerville Brewing, and Bantam Cider. I looove the Bantam Rojo cider, which I tried at the last Cambridge 5K race I did. Also snack samples (chickpea crisps, BarkThins, Rx bars), lemonade, hot dogs, and falafel. BUT NO ICE CREAM WHUT NO.

Registration: came to $46 including taxes and ticket provider fee

Photos: Free on Facebook, but coverage was, uh, spotty. But they're free.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Patience, grasshopper

Pregnancy update: 25 weeks this week, so a little more than half-way, but there's long enough left to be over all the ordinary aches and pains (ugh) and that due date is not soon enough to be all excited or anything. More detailed untraining logs can be found over at Salty Running.

Meanwhile in banal family details, I don't know what daylight savings time changes do to your kid, but mine wakes up earlier regardless of the season. The last two days he's woken up at 5am. One day I took kiddo for a run, and the next day Mr GCA was on duty and I slept in. Seriously, we need to teach the little to read so he can entertain himself quietly until WE are ready to get up. Tiger mom? Try tired mom.

Reunited with an old running buddy. Also, he's lucky he's cute.

A little over a week ago now I got to watch the Boston Marathon. (There are no photos of me doing so because the rain was torrential and my phone was in a ziploc bag and I took it out for only a few seconds at a time, to check with numb and frozen fingers where all my friends were on the tracker app.) I missed half of the people I was tracking, because we were all buried under 325789 layers of extra clothing, but all the friends I was tracking finished! Hats off (rainjackets and handwarmers on) to anyone tough enough to survive that weather.

But I didn't miss this, and I'll never forget it: we were standing almost at mile 25, and then heard ‘Elite women coming!’. The media van came first, then the motorbikes with their flashing lights. I saw Des coming through, and began to lose it, screaming my lungs out. Then, after her… no one. For. A. Long. Time. The seconds ticked by. My friends and I looked at each other. Where’s everyone else? Entire minutes pass. And that’s when we realised she had the win in the bag, and I basically started crying happy tears. And Yuki Kawauchi's win was the icing on the cake: he definitely wasn't in the lead when we saw him go by, but a few minutes later my phone notifications told me he had just pipped Geoffrey Kirui to the finish.

Getting to watch Boston is awfully inspiring for most everyone, and like many people, I'd love to qualify and run it someday. But between pregnancy and postpartum recovery (not to mention adjusting to a new routine in family and professional life) I literally don't know when I'm going to run another marathon again, let alone go after long-term sub-4 or BQ goals.

I mean, realistically? Nothing athletic has ever come easily to me. I'm not one of those superwomen you're going to see running through third trimester. In fact, I'm barely running right now, and there's still almost half an entire pregnancy to go, plus however long recovery takes! My body needs the break, even if my mind is raring to go. Obviously, I know I'm doing this now because we definitely want a second kid and racing will always be there when I'm ready. But I'll be honest - the enforced break is a little frustrating and I'm envious of anyone who can train to race right now.

But then I remember how long that first year of new parenthood felt. And how I actually got faster after that year than ever before, despite sleep deprivation, a new job, and imperfect and slipshod training. And the high of setting two half PRs and a gigantic, 35-minute marathon PR in the second and third years of parenthood. And that's fuel for the tiny spark of hope that I can do it all again.

Which brings us right back to Des and the marathon. She's the patron saint of the pluggers, the people who keep showing up, whose very showing up day after day reinforces bit by bit their confidence and tenacity. It's the fairytale for those of us who have nothing else but the belief that if we keep looking where we want to go, eventually we'll go where we look.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Some literal, actual navel-gazing

Generally, under normal circumstances, there are only 3 people on earth who are interested in the contents of my internal organs: me, my husband (if he happened to cook dinner), and my primary care doctor.

However, get yourself one of these, and suddenly n > 3 people are a little bit more interested.

Tiny human #2 has intra-uterine dance party. Don't worry if you can't make out him/ her clearly. On normal ultrasounds the tech has to be like HERE ARE FEET, THIS IS THE HEAD. 

Once again I'm training to grow a wee human. (It's dead obvious to anyone Strava-stalking me: lots of run/ incline walk treadmill workouts, most of my jaunts were 2-4 miles tops for several weeks during the 'feeling like ass' phase of first trimester, my 'long' runs shrivelled to 5 miles...) People keep asking me "how do you feel?" Uh, I'm a parent, tired is my default state. So I've been going with the 'a little something each day' plan: a bit of movement every day, whether that's 20 minutes of treadmill walk, a group track workout, or a few sets of MYRTLs and 15 minutes of stretching. Instagram SuperHeroMotherRunner I am not. Right now, at this stage, I finally feel about ready to kick my long runs back up to over an hour, but the weather hasn't been cooperating and I have zero desire to treadmill for >1h.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, sitting, child, stripes, close-up and indoor

Here is a gratuitous picture of small human #1 for good measure, from a year ago when he insisted on calling a CD an "ABCD", which is still one of my favourite language mistakes ever, right up there with 'heligoggy' for 'helicopter'. (Side note: why do children's books still come with CDs? On what antique devices are we expected to play them?)

Anyway, yes...tiny human.... I realise that in itself sounds like another cliche: girl achieves great big huge marathon PR (see: Baystate), girl eases off training, girl celebrates, girl gets knocked up. After Baystate in October, apparently my body was like 'What? You're not running 50 miles a week? DEVOTE ALL THE RESOURCES TO EGGS!'

It all happened so rapidly that at least one person asked me (kindly) if it was planned. (Answer: yes. I take a year and a half to plan for a single marathon, we definitely planned this tiny human.) We were just very, very lucky. Under absolutely ideal circumstances there's like a 1 in 4 chance each cycle, so I was psychologically prepared for it to take half a year, if not more. And, knowing other people who have struggled so hard with fertility, I am very, very grateful (& also wish someone would record this data point re: running, BMI and fertility for a fuller picture). We decided to just go for it, like the crazy people we are (because daycare x2 + 1.5 incomes + 1 bedroom apartment = pretty certifiable, even if temporary).

But your racing fitness! 

Anyway, I'm not the only one to have the thought go through my head: what's the point of working my way back to full racing fitness and building up all that motivation and confidence only to essentially chuck it aside again for about a year and a half? Between 2014 and 2017, I ran a scant handful of races (but oh I was so much more SRSBZNS about each one). It took me a year (tbh, partly physical conditioning, partly milk-supply-related anxiety) to work my way back to the point where I could happily finish a half marathon. I didn't run a marathon for three years. Why, after having achieved this level of fitness, would I want to 'throw it all away' again?

The truth is, folks, I'm playing a long game. I'm not on anybody's timeline but my own: I'm not training to qualify for the Olympic Trials, or even BQ (and heck, you bet I will take that age advantage, because #squeakerlife!). I'm not in any hurry. Racing and all its joys will be there when I'm ready. The tremendous advantage of being a mediocre (lazy) hobby-jogger is: There is no pressure. I can always improve some more. Heck, I have a friend who still sets PRs. In her 50s. Don't talk to me about over the hill; we runners eat hill repeats for breakfast.

Plus, I really like the kid I do have. Sure, I didn't sleep and existed in a rage-filled haze for a year and a half of my life, but for someone who was so demanding and angry at night, he sure is a sunshine child in the daytime. (Said a friend who just had her second: I forget, how do you get them to sleep? I looked at her blankly. Don't look at me, I don't know.) Sure, sometimes it's a PITA to wrangle everything, toddler clothing and snacks and all, for a 30min stroller run; but the look on his face when we pass a train, or various species of truck! And it is honestly fun to run at top (stroller) speed while pretending to be a spaceship or bellowing variations on Old MacDonald Had A Farm ('and on that farm there were...uh...some stegosaurs') with nary a worry about what other runners think.

I never really thought of myself as a 'kid person' and am still not a 'tiny infant' person; other people's children are cute and entertaining for a while and all that, but MY CHILDREN, oh, they are delightful. (YMMV. I obviously do not think this sentiment is universal.) Small #1 sometimes still insists on falling asleep with his hand on my arm or tummy, looking at me like 'duh, mom, you do not have bodily autonomy, you are an extension of me'. (In breaking science news, well crumbs, I *am* actually an extension of him. Who knew.)

In the meantime, I run because it allows me to be me. Not worker bee, not mama bear, not meal-planner-and-dinosaur-toy-imagineer-in-chief, just Runner Me. In another life this touchstone for my identity was dance. (Also mediocre hobby dancer, thank you very much.)

Comeback lessons from being a working mother 

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend who's expecting her first kid around the same time; having run at a pretty high level before, she expressed concern that she'd have to give it all up after kids and never regain the same level of performance. Well...sort of. Sometimes there are serious physical complications and medical considerations that force women to cut back on running - but otherwise, barring those, no.

Here's a parallel. Remember when women used to leave the workforce completely after having children? This anecdote from superstar MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins reveals what it was like to be a working woman in the 1960s and 70s, and the kind of internalised biases one had:

"The science drew me to Jim’s lab every available moment.
I lived in a state of euphoric scientific excitement. Jim
told me repeatedly I should be a scientist. I knew I couldn’t
live without this science, but how could I be like these men?
Even postdocs had wives who stayed home to care for their
children while the men put in 70-hour weeks at the lab. Who
would care for my children? I knew I would have to give up
science before I had children: in the era before amniocentesis,
that meant before the age of 30. So I made a plan: do
the most exciting science possible as fast as you can, hope
you do a Nobel Prize–winning experiment before the age of
30, then retire and be a wife and mother."
  - (Source)

These days, that sounds pretty preposterous. It's no longer assumed that women have babies and leave the workforce, or that no one else will take care of their kids. In our generation, most women (and a growing number of men, but I refer to women because that's who typically bears the physical burden of being pregnant and going through labour/ postpartum everything) recognise that whether we want to return to work or not, we have real choices that are ours to consciously make. The support systems aren't perfect, and in the US much, much more could be done to make them affordable for the average family, but the choice is bound not by physical factors but social ones.

There's a bit of a parallel there with running, though of course the physical aspect is more important. It's a new world. Even pro athletes are in basically uncharted territory - look at Paula Radcliffe, who won the New York City Marathon in 2008 after having a baby in 2007, or Jo Pavey, five-time GB Olympian ( there something about the UK support system that helps distance runners more? Makes you think, especially about the long-term future of the current crop of up and coming US women runners. HMMM. HEY.) Or in non-running sports, look at Serena Williams, fighting her way back to the WTA circuit. 

And just like it takes time and patience and hard work to ease back into work after maternity leave, it takes time and patience and hard work (and planning and physical conditioning) to ease back into running. (I'm talking about average-hobby-jogging here, not Olympic-qualifying, and really the audience here is that segment of people who started running well before babies were a twinkle in their eye, not so much the segment who took it up after kids because then that's two different kinds of uncharted and unfamiliar territory and you have no pre-existing mental standards by which you judge yourself anyway.) Most people don't hit the office at full speed after two months of sleep deprivation and talking to themselves; you wouldn't hit the track at full speed either. And maybe you won't be able to throw yourself into 70-hour work weeks, but damn if you don't get more efficient with your 40 hours. It all takes deliberate and conscious effort, and MacGyvering yourself an adequate support system. There's floundering. Mistakes will be made. It gets messy. And sometimes expensive, and not within everyone's financial reach. But maybe, just maybe, it's possible. (So Rachel, if you're reading this, don't lean out just yet!) 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Running and life, lately

a mini-post in the spirit of Running Tangents & SF Road Warrior

October to this week:

Ran marathon. Worked. Ran with friend (Char) when she came to the US for the New York City Marathon! Work travel. Went on epic mud-run with friend (Cat) in her new habitat and attempted to help her chase down a new local running friend! Flew home. Worked. In untraining mode. Shorter days, longer hours of darkness. Completely sold on reflective vests. Went home at Thanksgiving, halfway round the world, to see family for two weeks. Hot and humid. Ran accordingly. Stuffed my face with prata, chwee kuay, fishballs*, prawn noodles, home-cooked everything, et.c. Ran with friend (Rachel). Saw more friends. Ran, with & without kid & stroller, in several old haunts. Flew home. Battling jetlag monster. Work.

Om nom nom. We ate all the things. 

old haunts: good old Ulu Pandan Canal

Japan Airlines: cutest kids' meal ever. THE RICE. IT HAS A FACE.

*Tops the list of 'surprise food my toddler likes'. Also on the list: octopus sashimi. Even if he did spend ages chewing it to the detriment of the rest of his meal.

Micro mini book reviews:
Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures - a little rah-rah, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. No, I haven't seen the movie 
Hari Kunzru, White Tears - an unsettling rumination, not-quite-a-ghost-story, on hipsters, music, race, and atonement 
Sheryl Sandberg, Option B - I still can't say I love Sheryl Sandberg, but she's trying. More self-aware than Lean In. 
John le Carre, A Legacy of Spies - Le Carre, definitive spy-novel author (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honourable Schoolboy) is 85 and still writing! A Legacy of Spies is a satisfying modern-day spin on the 1960s spy genre, with all the ethical and narrative ambiguity you love from John le Carre. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Race report: Baystate Marathon 2017

I've never actually hit the wall in a marathon. Never even had the chance. I always cramp before I ever get to that point, and always in the same place, the vastus medialis part of the quads. After my last marathon disappointment, I headed to the physiotherapist who said in no uncertain terms: work on glute strength.

Well, three years later, here we are and I've just done marathon #7, the Baystate Marathon in Lowell. How did it go? Read on...


If you've been playing along for a while, you know I spent 7 years in journalism. Daily news reporting is sort of a non-schedule: news happens at any hour of the day or night. There was lots of shift work, and lots of 12-to-14-hour days during crises. I loved it, but it was kind of all-consuming. The point is, training through years of being a journalist, even before kids, was excellent training for fitting in the training around major stresses.

So when the husband's month-long work trip was rescheduled from November to September-October, I managed to deal. Just barely. I ran with the stroller. I ran at midday when it was 85 degrees out, in full sun. I had a neighbour babysit on Thursdays after D went to bed, and did the second half of my long run on a weeknight on the treadmill. In the end, my mileage for this training cycle totalled something like 640 miles over 18 weeks, not including the marathon: nothing spectacular, but a slow and steady drip drip of consistent work.

A note about time

The backstory: Back in 2014, I ran my 6th marathon at Gold Coast in Australia. While it was a gorgeous day out, marathon #6 was a crushing disappointment for me, due to debilitating cramps and likely under-training and under-fueling. Yes, it was a PR; but a PR by a single, hard-fought second, and way closer to the 5-hour mark than I wanted to be, or that all the race equivalency calculators said I 'ought' to be. In the three years since, I'd convinced myself that my inner 'turtle girl' was right - that I have no real business running marathons... but the itch to do so was still there.

When you have absolutely nothing to lose, you let go and become a master of total non-attachment. I let go completely of any marathon time goals. My process goal for Baystate was to train properly, stick to my race strategy, and see how it went. I even outsourced my training plan - I asked Coach Nicole from Community Running to write me a plan for a small extra fee, and we'd check in with a phone call every so often.

Somewhere along the line I said to her, "I know exactly how I want to feel during the race. You know the middle miles of a half marathon? With the sun shining and the wind in your hair, and you're flying along, feeling the earth return to you all the energy you put into it with every step? THAT is how I want to feel." And I believed it with every fibre of my being, and I knew that it was true.

I'd trained using a goal pace of 9:05, which roughly dictated my tempo and speed efforts, but by the time race week rolled around, I was so burned out from work and solo parenting that I honestly no longer cared if that was race day pace or not. (See: no time goals.) Plus, I tend to be on the slower side of race calculator predictions the longer the distance gets, even if conditions are perfect. Perhaps I'm just too chicken to race a hard half or full marathon. That's fine. I'll get there.

But not Sunday. I had every intention of finishing, and no intention of pushing hard.

Before the race

I drove up with my friend T, who was doing her first marathon, and we checked in to the Radisson in Chelmsford around 3pm Saturday before hitting up the expo at the same hotel. I'm not an expo-lingerer unless I spot an amazing deal on consumables I already use (gels, socks, etc). We wandered around for a bit, did our nails back in the hotel room, and headed out to dinner at Scola's Italian in Dracut. The portion sizes were so big, I had enough linguine + meatballs left for myself, husband and child the day after! Ahhh, America. We fell asleep around 9pm.

At 5am, T's alarm went off. I'm so used to waking at all hours and getting very little sleep that a 5am wakeup call was fine by me. Morning routine, totally practiced and utilitarian after weeks of 5.30am long runs. Instant oatmeal, coffee, nuun, wash face, visit bathroom, get dressed. Bodyglide, bra, tank top, shorts, socks, shoes, Garmin. Decided to run without visor, gloves, arm sleeves, or water bottle. 6:15 shuttle bus to the start. Drop off bags. Run into friends, take selfie, head in to UMass's Tsongas Center to wait, pee, eat a Luna bar. I felt - loose. Preternaturally calm. Totally zen.

By 7.45, it was already warm enough that I wasn't shivering in the start corral - so, a little warmer than ideal. So what? That's not something I can control. Plus no sleeves or gloves or bottle to weigh me down. I planned to start with 9:30s and hold that pace throughout. Anthem.  Pushrim start. And then we began.

Zen habits

Miles 1-5. 10:20, 9:21, 9:16, 9:32, 9:40.  Gel at mile 5. My plan was to take a gel every 5 miles and water at every water stop (about every 2 miles).

I started somewhere around the 10min/mile section of corral, and took the start very easy (10:20, mile 1). I chatted with people, including a woman doing her first marathon, and then had to pick my jaw up off the floor when we ran by her family and FIVE kids - the youngest were 5-year-old twins, I think. (Spoiler: she finished with me.)

I saw my fan club (Mr. GCA and D-money) who had driven up from Boston that morning and strategically situated themselves up the road from a giant playground. After I saw them the first time...well, what do you do with a toddler while mom runs a fall marathon? You go pumpkin picking, apparently. Now we have two enormous pumpkins and a toddler who has learned the word 'wheelbarrow' and uses it enthusiastically.

Miles 6-10. 9:29, 9:16, 9:37, 9:28, 9:28. Gel at mile 10.

Fall colours on full display. The course wound through mostly residential neighbourhoods until we got to the part along the river, heading northeast towards the Tyngsboro Bridge. At mile 8 I saw a teammate - hooray! - who shot the single happiest photo I've ever seen of myself during a marathon. It's pretty easy to be happy at mile 8.

photo credit: Tommy M. 

Miles 11-15. 9:38, 9:25, 9:53, 9:28, 9:38. Gel at mile 15. Surprise! Got the single salted watermelon gel I'd packed in my SPIbelt amid all the sea salt chocolate GUs I'd bought in bulk. It was a very tasty game of roulette.

I sang "Top of the World" to myself over and over in the exposed middle miles, and meant it.

Somethin' in the wind has learned my name
And it's tellin' me that things are not the same
In the leaves on the trees and the touch of the breeze
There's a pleasin' sense of happiness for me

I'm on the top of the world lookin' down on creation
And the only explanation I can find
Is the love that I've found ever since you've been around
Your love's put me at the top of the world

Why is nobody else running the tangents? People are weird. (For the record, I finished with 26.2 on my Garmin, and I think this is actually just really good tangent-running rather than a short course.)
Roadkill: Only two dead animals this year! The 'highlight' of last year's half was a flattened raccoon.
Slow and steady. If I'm Turtle Girl, I'm going to own it.

Miles 16-20. 9:48, 9:30, 10:04, 9:59, 9:53. Gel at mile 20.

I still felt good, like I was merely on an extended long run, but the lengthy exposed stretch around mile 18 was starting to get hot. I knew that I could certainly make it to mile 20, as I'd done on my long runs, and then I could re-evaluate how I felt beyond that.

To distract myself, I chatted with a senior gentleman. At my pace, there are always senior gentlemen, the sort of crusty gent who's been running for decades and is now basically enjoying life. This one told me war stories of marathons past, talked about running Baystate in its early days, and BQ'ed by finishing a few minutes ahead of me. When we got to mile 20, I said, this is the fun part now, isn't it?

Miles 21-23. 10:21, 10:16, 10:41.

I could feel my quads starting to protest, and gritted my teeth at mile 23 as the protest crescendoed into a full-blown revolt. It was warm now, and I knew from last year that the final miles were in direct sunshine. At each of the last few water stops I downed a full cup of Gatorade, which helped stave off the cramps for a minute or two each time.

Miles 24-26.2. 10:56, 10:39, 11:21, 9:37 pace for final 0.2.

With my quads cramping hard as usual, I was in no mood to walk and take a gel at mile 25 - I just wanted to keep shuffling on into the finish. Shuffle, shuffle. One foot in front of the other. All I had to do was not stop and I could be proud of my effort.

I didn't stop. 4:19:38.

The end

You guys. YOU GUYS. That is nearly 35 minutes off my last marathon time. The cramps didn't kick in till Mile 23, much later than usual, which I think is testament to being (mostly) properly trained and being pretty conservative. (A 22-miler next time, perhaps? Step-mill for cross-training? And some real lifting instead of just myrtls?)

I think what I'm happiest about here is that I finally feel like I'm beginning to run the marathon to my potential, my fitness and my training. I managed to stick with the race plan until the cramps really started in earnest. That decision to try and hold 9:30s, or rather a comfortable sort of just-a-little-faster-than-long-run pace, instead of pushing any harder, was the right one. I enjoyed the whole darn thing. Even the crampy bits.

Maybe one day I'll race a marathon - go out at a harder effort, endure discomfort for more of the marathon, see where it gets me. Right now? I'm satisfied with this.

A special message for Turtle Girl

*sings* I'm gonna get that turtle right off of my back -- BYE, FELICIA. It's been a long, strange trip from that 6+ hour marathon to this point. (Apparently when I PR, I go big or go home?) I am not a frequent racer, let alone of marathons, so each one is a bit of a milestone.

December 2009 - 6:18 - my first marathon. No idea what to expect. There was cramping. And walking. A lot of walking. 

December 2010 - 6:30 - total disaster, GI distress, threw up, never did eat or drink enough. Weirdly enough, caught up with friend who was also having stomach trouble, and we walked to the finish together.

March 2011 - 5:15 (Tokyo. -63 minutes) I don't recall the circumstances in which I signed up, because you had to enter the lottery well before December 2010, so I was somehow hoping to run two marathons ~3+ months apart...?? I'm not even sure what I was thinking. I think Tokyo was supposed to be some sort of casual vacation-run.

(Took a long break here to delve into the wacky world of triathlons)

December 2012 - 5:19:54 - another Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon

August 2013 - 4:54:18 (-20 minutes at Perth)

July 2014 - 4:54:17 (-1 second at Gold Coast)

(Had D-money in 2015. 2016-17: ran 5 half marathons; 4 were race efforts; 3 were under 2h, so, you know, pretty reliable.)

October 2017 - 4:19:38 (-35 minutes)

I'll bask in the glow for about a week. Where are my cape and tiara? Thank you, thank you. Then I'll recognise that this is equal parts valid and addle-pated, and then buckle down and start thinking about my next adventures in hobby jogging.

Thanks must go to:

  1. Husband, for taking the toddler during all of those weekend long runs and freeing me up to go do stupid sh*t like run 3.3 miles on the treadmill on Sunday afternoon so I'd hit exactly 50 miles for the week. Even when he abandoned us to do a month of fieldwork, he batch-cooked like two weeks' worth of meals beforehand. You're the best. Love you!  
  2. Community Running. Somehow track workouts are more fun in a giant group, even if you are generally DFL in the marathon group.
  3. And especially Coach Nicole. I asked her to write me a plan - essentially outsourcing all my planning and worrying, since I have quite enough to worry about. She did all the worrying for me, and then some. I'm pretty sure I gave her a heart attack a bunch of times during this training cycle.  
  4. Baystate organisers and the city of Lowell for putting on a good show. Did I mention the water and Gatorade at every stop were COLD? Also, people of the Merrimack Valley, you guys are A+ spectators, y'all.

Race logistics

Marathon finishers: 1,332. There's also a popular half marathon option, where I got my PR last year and sliced 10 minutes off my previous half time.
Course: Two loops - one big loop and one small one (if that makes any sense). Mostly flat, one uphill at the start, mini rollers. GORGEOUS fall scenery along the river. Somewhat exposed around miles 8-11, 18-21. The route is narrow in parts (down to half a lane or just a road shoulder), but the field is small enough that it's not a concern.
Start time: 8am (you get to wait inside the Tsongas Center at UMass till about 20 minutes before the start, so don't worry about packing a throwaway shirt unless it's freeeeezing)
Parking: $5 flat / day parking at 3 designated garages, free street parking throughout the city of Lowell on race day.
Transport: For the second year running, the organisers offered shuttles from the race hotels, both to and from the race. <- huge perk!
Course support: Fluid stops every ~2 miles. Both water and lemon-lime Gatorade supplied by perky, adorable high-school cross-country teams at each stop. GU gels at miles 7 and 17.
Swag: Long-sleeved gender-specific tech tee with thumb holes, hefty finisher medal with moving parts
Post-race food: Cape Cod potato chips, PB&J sandwiches, bananas, and 3 different kinds of soup - chicken noodle, minestrone, and vegetable
Photos: Free (!), by Capstone Photography

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Just your usual marathon-training freak-out

Just over here having my regular Friday night pre-long-run freak-out...

Boston registration season is always a trigger, even though BQing is only a vague and long-term goal for me right now. Early September is right before big fall races, and other people's anxiety gets to me. Plus the eternal debate over qualifying standards just reminds me exactly. how. far. off. that is for me. (1 hour, 19 minutes, and 17 seconds, plus two or three or five minutes of buffer, plus however much the BAA decides to tighten standards in future. Squeak, squeak. At which point I just throw up my hands and think 'eh, I should just give up now'.)

And then there's the identity thing. It's getting a little embarrassing: I am a small person, built like your stereotypical runner, who *looks* like she should be 'fast'. Whatever 'fast' means. It comes up in conversation when people hear I'm a runner. "Oh, are you going to do Boston?" And then I have to awkwardly extricate myself. You know how people who've lost a lot of weight are sometimes haunted by an inner 'fat kid'? I have an inner 'turtle girl'. Deep down I'll always be the girl who took six hours to finish her first marathon. Turtle girl says, dafuq are you doing here? Turtle girl says, echoing all those beardy crusty old guys in the deeply speedist and sexist history of the sport, You have no business running marathons.

It's true, I don't have a great history with marathons. I cramp, every single time. I happily run the first 20 miles with no ill effects, thinking I'm on track to finish strong and smooth, and then BAM! the quad cramps take over and I hobble home. I have no time goals for Baystate, I just. Want. To. Bloody. Not. Cramp. Is that too much to ask? I suppose I could walk the whole way and avoid cramps, but where's the fun in that?

I think the crux of this is, I'm afraid I'll just cramp up and be disappointed again this year. I'm afraid I'll feel like I've wasted all this time and effort in training. More than the training or the finish time, the disappointment lies in the sense that I'm not really running to my full potential the way I am with half marathons. And trying to push the limits of my potential is part of how and why running makes me happy.

I keep watching and rewatching this talk by Hillary Biscay: look where you go, and you'll go where you look. "If you're willing to keep showing up until you get where you want to go, you can't stop relentless forward progress."

I mean, there's no turning back now, is there? I still enjoy training. I still enjoy the act of running. And I'm still going to do this marathon. The only way out is through...

Monday, August 14, 2017

A trying week

It's been a trying week. Not personally. (Personally? It's great. Baystate training is chugging along - I love summer training and fall racing. Training logs are always available over at Salty Running.) I mean, if you are in America and you are a woman or a person of colour, I am very very sorry and I feel your emotional exhaustion and disgruntlement and terror and distrust of the environment you live in, as though what you thought was stable (we've advanced rational thinking about gender since the 1950s, the civil rights movement won in the 1960s) was shifting like quicksand beneath your feet.

Anyway, it's Sunday night and time to reset, and here I am drinking coffee and eating ginger molasses cookies from Flour bakery and peaches and cucumbers and that Trader Joe's cheddar cheese with little dark flecks that are supposedly fragments of truffle and thinking about eating and why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks it has to be so complicated.

Go read this fantastic Guardian piece
'How we fell for clean eating'. If you haven't read it yet, go and read it! in its entirety!
The whole tragic piece has so much truth in it, from how people lost their trust in the food system:
"In prosperous countries, large numbers of people – whether they wanted to lose weight or not – became understandably scared of the modern food supply and what it was doing to our bodies: type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a host of other complaints that are influenced by diet, ranging from Alzheimer’s to gout. When mainstream diets start to sicken people, it is unsurprising that many of us should seek other ways of eating to keep ourselves safe from harm. Our collective anxiety around diet was exacerbated by a general impression that mainstream scientific advice on diet – inflated by newspaper headlines – could not be trusted. First these so-called experts tell us to avoid fat, then sugar, and all the while people get less and less healthy. What will these “experts” say next, and why should we believe them? "
To the losing battle of trying to separate the truth from the snake oil:
"The true calamity of clean eating is not that it is entirely false. It is that it contains “a kernel of truth”, as Giles Yeo puts it. “When you strip down all the pseudo babble, they are absolutely right to say that we should eat more vegetables, less refined sugar and less meat,” Yeo said, sipping a black coffee in his office at the Institute of Metabolic Science in Cambridge, where he spends his days researching the causes of obesity. Yeo agrees with the clean eaters that our environment of cheap, plentiful, sugary, fatty food is a recipe for widespread obesity and ill health. The problem is it’s near impossible to pick out the sensible bits of “clean eating” and ignore the rest. #Eatclean made healthy eating seem like something “expensive, exclusive and difficult to achieve”, as Anthony Warner writes. Whether the term “clean” is used or not, there is a new puritanism about food that has taken root very widely. ..
The real question is how to fight this kind of diet absolutism without bouncing back to a mindless celebration of the modern food environment that is demonstrably making so many people sick..."
And to the systemic inequalities that enable the affluent to indulge in the luxury of 'clean eating' and other nonsense, while leaving everyone else with no other choice:
"Our food system is in desperate need of reform. There’s a danger that, in fighting the nonsense of clean eating, we end up looking like apologists for a commercial food supply that is failing in its basic task of nourishing us. Former orthorexia sufferer Edward L Yuen has argued – in his 2014 book, Beating Orthorexia – that the old advice of “everything in moderation” no longer works in a food environment where eating in the “middle ground” may still leave you with chronic diseases. When portions are supersized and Snickers bars are sold by the metre (something I saw in my local Tesco recently), eating “normally” is not necessarily a balanced option. The answer isn’t yet another perfect diet, but a shift in our idea of what constitutes normal food...
Among the affluent classes who already ate a healthier-than-average diet, the Instagram goddesses created a new model of dietary perfection to aim for. For the rest of the population, however, it simply placed the ideal of healthy food ever further out of reach. Behind the shiny covers of the clean-eating books, there is a harsh form of economic exclusion that says that someone who can’t afford wheatgrass or spirulina can never be truly “well”. "
I'd add one more caveat: even balanced, 'normal' healthy eating is a luxury. It's easier to be balanced about food, with no hang-ups, when society deems your body to be a desirable shape and size, *and* when you have full access to a wide variety of foods. And when you have the ability and time and freedom to move and exercise. Now 'eat food, not too much, mostly plants' begins to look a whole lot more complicated, doesn't it?

Ugh, so what's a sensible individual to do? Is there no way to push back against the tide of fad diets (which by the way, have probably existed as long as there is food, and have always been a luxury for the affluent) and absurd eating 'rules' and a broken food system? Is there no way to fix it?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Baystate week 4 on the books

Week 4 of 18. Motto for this week: just keep showing up.

The first month of marathon training is always exciting. It’s a thrill, like starting the first page in a new notebook, or perhaps getting your calendar organised for a new year. (Fine, I was a huuuuge nerd.) But then five different teachers announce their first quizzes of the school year, give you 250 pages of reading, and assign two papers all at once, and the semester begins to lose its shine. Well, I can tell you that the end of week 4 in an 18-week training cycle is when you realise, oh, I have to settle in for the long haul. Sort of like mile 6-7 of a marathon. Man, it’s a good thing I actually like to run...

Monday – speedwork on treadmill. Warmup, cooldown, 8x 5min @ 8:00 mile pace with 2min walking/ jogging recovery; total 6.5 miles. This was a pretty satisfying speed workout: a little more mental toughness in the bank.

+ lots of sitting on the porcupine ball

Tuesday – 5 miles easy

Wednesday – 4.5 miles easy with stroller. I was supposed to do 6 tempo today but I got to Wednesday and decided my legs needed an extra day to recover, so what do I do on Thursday but…

Thursday – 10min cycling warmup + lifting. A sure sign that I haven’t been keeping up with my #extrasalt – I was sore for two days after repeatedly lifting weights only a bit heavier than my son. (How does that even work? I lift him all the time.) Gym session was followed by 40 minutes of tempo-effort pool running. I figured I’d try this since I was going to the gym anyway and didn’t really want to do my tempo in a thunderstorm…

…and then my Timex expired. Pool running was the last straw. RIP; those were some good times!

Friday – AM 2.5 easy with stroller, PM 2.5 back and forth to lunch. I felt like I was waddling; my legs were still sore.

Saturday – 13 miles with miles 10-12 speeded up (9:20, 9:40, 9:58) and then back to ambling mile 13.
Marathon training before kids: do long run, shower, have a lazy brunch, take a nap, read/ engage in hobbies all afternoon
Marathon training after kids: do long run, shower, hastily tidy the house before husband and son get back from the supermarket + playground run, read to kid, finally acquiesce to request for [screen time/ slightly junky snack/ extraordinarily messy art project], put him down for a nap, go to lake with friends after he wakes up, splash around trying to stop small children from hurling selves bodily into water, etc.

Sunday – rest (zoo with friends, epic nap, pool time, go out for sushi and fried rice dinner - basically a perfect Sunday)

Currently reading: The World According to Star Wars, by Cass Sunstein.

Currently eating: Chocolate ice cream with a…ahem, generous sprinkling of chocolate chips.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Baystate Marathon training, week 3

Week 3 of 18 for Baystate.

Motto for this week: consistency, consistency, consistency.

I went back and looked at my old training logs for the last two marathons I did (Perth, in August 2013, and Gold Coast, in July 2014). I was nominally using the Hansons beginner plan, but not really adhering properly to it, and my peak mileage was maybe 45 miles due to work and...seriously, a 2.5-week trip to Italy in the middle of one cycle. Seriously. What was I thinking?

But now I've been running consistently (like 20-30 miles a week), trained for three half marathons in the last year (May 2016, October 2016, May 2017), and actually run 5 half marathons (May 16, Oct 16, Nov 16, March 17, May 17, some as training runs for the others) maybe this round I'll be somewhat more prepared for a full marathon? Something like that?

Monday - AM: 4 miles easy with stroller. PM: track with the group. 2 mi warmup, 3(1200,400). Total for the day: 9 miles

Tuesday - 3.2 miles easy with stroller. We went to a northern Massachusetts farm in the morning for some end-of-season strawberries, and had to drive 45 minutes back. Uh-oh! Any time the kiddo has a car ride after 10am, he takes a mini nap that ruins his real one. Inevitably, he took a 30-minute car nap. 1pm rolled around, and still no real nap. nap. So in the heat of the day, I loaded up the stroller, slathered us with sunscreen, and took the kiddo for a run...all the way to the ice cream shop. Happy Fourth of July!
one for the for the mouth. one for the bucket...

Wednesday - Warmup, cooldown, 5 miles tempo: 8:58, 9:12, 8:48, 9:22, 9:14. Tempo runs are HARD, y'all. Total 6 miles

Thursday - Ran with a friend who was visiting from out of town! (Thank goodness for flexible hours so I can do things like this; I tend to make it all up at night, which suits me fine.)
Original plan: run downtown to meet her, run 3 miles, run home. Got stuck doing work. Made up new plan: take the T downtown to meet her, run a bit, run home. Then I was stuck on the world's slowest bus and there were delays on the T (oh, Boston). Ran downtown to meet her, ran 3 more miles, took the T back and ran to daycare pickup for a total of 6 miles.

Friday - rest

Saturday - long run, 12 miles.

sunrise over the reservoir 

Sunday - unplanned rest day, because I honestly needed that extra hour of sleep more than I needed a few easy miles today; we went to the beach in the morning and then to a toddler birthday party in the afternoon.

Total: 36.2 miles, which is a nice gentle ramp-up for me instead of trying to jump straight into 40+ miles a week.
Yes, the 0.2 mile does not drive me crazy. I'm a Type A in life and a Type B in running.

Currently reading: Commencement, about the friendship between four young women during and after college. The characters sometimes tell, not show, rather clumsily, but it's not terrible. Unfortunately I saw the 'reveal' coming from a mile away, but it was a sufficiently entertaining summer read; I especially enjoyed how spot-on the portraits were, and how exactly the book captured the sense of dislocation that college freshmen experience.

Currently listening to: Cape Francis, 'Iditarod'

Currently eating: Homemade strawberry shortcake, using that Fourth of July haul

Friday, July 7, 2017

Marathon Training for the Completely Average Runner: Weeks 1-2 of 18

Believe it or not, I am still chugging along running. I read this Quartz article recently about the importance of having 'serious' or otherwise meaningful leisure pursuits - ones where you have to practice and regularly refine your skills.
"...the weekend goal should be “eudaimonic” happiness, which is a sense of well-being that arises from meaningful, challenging activities that cause you to grow as a person. This means spending the weekend on serious leisure activities that require the regular refinement of skills: your barbershop-quartet singing, your stamp collecting, or slightly less dorky, but still equally in-depth, projects. You pursue serious leisure with the earnest tenor of a professional, even if the pursuit is amateur..."
Sounds a lot like hobby jogging to me!

Other components of a Really Good Weekend might include socialising (which may or may not revolve around said hobby - see 'church of the Sunday long run'), altruism (like volunteer work), and play. Especially play. Sometimes the early evening seems to drag as we kill time while waiting for D-money to go to bed, but sometimes there are moments of magic as we entertain him and lose ourselves in singing silly songs, having dinosaur-train face-offs, or making him laugh by sketching badly drawn animals on the Magna Doodle.

Toddler icecreamface. He wouldn't take a nap, so we went for a run so he could get a little rest...all the way to the ice cream shop.  

What all this leads up to is that I'm currently training for the Baystate Marathon on October 22. I ran the half last year and liked it; it's a two-loop course that I know; it usually has good (cold!) weather; and it's part of the USATF New England Grand Prix series so I'll have plenty of company, even if pretty much everyone else running with a club team is miles ahead of me.

Process goals for this round: 

- Commit to doing something, anything, every day, that isn't running, to support my running. Sometimes that's a bunch of squats and MYRTLs. Sometimes (often) it's stretching and rolling. Sometimes it's getting a massage...

- Stick to my training plan. I’ve been, in the past, resistant to either a structured training plan or to working with a coach beyond a running-group situation. What, little old me? I’m not remotely fast enough to deserve personal coaching. There’s so much low-hanging fruit – if I ran more, slept more, or ate better, I’d be faster.

Truth is, as a working parent, I need a PLAN to run more, or to really capture any of that low-hanging fruit at all. I don’t want to have to think about how far or how fast I have to run on any given day. I want to look at the plan and just go. I have enough to think about already: from weekend social plans and longer-term work travel/ vacation planning, to whether daycare needs an extra shirt or sun hat, to meals and grocery shopping for the week, to the status of client projects at any given time. (Who says parents make bad employees? We’re masters of logistics and problem-solving. And we get sh*t done.) I don’t want to be out there second-guessing myself or thinking ‘Maybe I don’t have time for 7 miles today, how about 5?’ and then short-changing myself and stressing out about making it up on the weekend.

So, I’m outsourcing my marathon thinking to one of my running-group coaches; she’s given me a fairly detailed and sensible-looking plan, with instructions to switch things around as needed (but not run hard two days in a row, duh), and some apparently very ambitious paces. (Yes, I already told her I have no marathon time goals!) What’s the worst that could come of it? If I manage to stick to the plan and go into the race feeling more prepared, so much the better.

Training logs, week 1 and 2 

Week ending June 25 - week 1 of 18 and probably the toughest week of the 18! Motto this week: survival mode. 

This was just hard all round. I was solo parenting this week, and had to squeeze in all my workouts (speed, tempo, long run) during daycare hours. Easy runs could be done with or without the stroller, whichever. I had calls for work most mornings so running right after daycare drop-off was out of the question; I wound up doing a few mid-afternoon runs and a few hiding in the gym on the treadmill, which is a last resort for me but at least it's convenient and efficient.

so tired. moar coffee pls

Monday - warmup, cooldown, 8x800 at 7:55-8:20/mi pace. Coach didn't specify a rest or recovery interval, so I improvised: 2 minutes of walking in between reps. (She later suggested equal rest or recovery. I do not plan that well and therefore never have time for that.) Done at 2pm on treadmill. Total 6 miles.

Tuesday - easy 5 miles

Wednesday - warmup, cooldown, 3 tempo miles at 8:30-8:50 (ran by effort - it was hot at 3.30pm). Total 4 miles.

Thursday - rest!!!!

Friday - Long run. Had to split this: 4 in the AM, 6 in PM. Again, hot (30C/ 86F) and humid - I went by pure effort. By Thursday morning I'd run 15 miles and slept roughly the same number of hours, so on Friday morning I woke up almost too exhausted to move. I did a quick stock-take: Tired? Yes. Injured or about to be? No. After daycare drop-off I hauled myself out for 4 miles and actually felt much better by the end. The afternoon 6 miles that had to be accomplished before pickup at 4, though...

Saturday - strength workout and impromptu easy 4.5 miles to and from the splash pad.

summertime view

Sunday - easy 4, in small pieces, with friends. My Strava is veritably littered with weird short runs. 1.8 miles to the subway station. 2.5 miles back and forth on a bike trail with a friend. And so on, and so forth. Also, stroller runners have the weirdest-looking Strava accounts: a mile here, two miles there, 1.5 miles in 30 minutes because you stopped to chase some ducks in the park and left your watch running...

Week ending July 2 - week 2 of 18

Monday - off

Tuesday - Track. Warmup, 2x400, 2x800, 2x1600, 2x800, 2x400. Let's be honest, I only did this because it was on my training plan. This is not the sort of workout one prescribes oneself. At least if one is not a masochist. 1:56, 1:53, 3:49, 3:48, 8:11, 8:24 (here you begin to see me getting grumpy and giving up), 4:07, 4:10 (pause here, as the sky became very dark and lightning crackled suddenly in a way that suggested I should not be out on a great big open a track), 1:56 (mad dash home), 2:06 (final 400 completed on treadmill next to a very surprised woman on the elliptical).

and legs up! 

Wednesday - 5.5 miles easy

Thursday - warmup, cooldown, 5 miles tempo running by effort and really struggling with paces. 9:03, 9:28, 9:06, 9:55 (traffic light), 9:21.

Friday - 5 miles easy

Saturday - 11 miles that went by faster because I went haring off exploring a new route. Up hills, down hills, into a new and much greener (with much larger backyards!) part of the city that I hadn't known existed, along a river, a slightly hairy highway crossing, around America's first 'rural' cemetery (Mt Auburn), and home. This run featured Singapore levels of humidity, where you break a sweat before leaving the house. I still can't fathom people who run, voluntarily, at midday or late afternoon in the summer.
Sunday - 2.8 miles total, stroller, in 3 parts, kind of like a symphony (you know, four movements) that was missing a fast bit, because my legs were once again dead.

Currently reading: Robert MacFarlane, Landmarks. MacFarlane is hailed as an up-and-coming member of the new generation of nature writers (and what have I done with my life?), and this book rambles gloriously across the UK collecting stories and words like ammil (the icy casings of leaves and grass in the morning glowing in a mist of sun) and rafty (of weather: misty, damply cold). This book makes me want to start my own word-hoard.

Currently listening to: the podcast 99% Invisible. On the Modern Necropolis episode I learned why people began to move cemeteries out of the city (churchyards, hillsides, etc) into their own separate spaces. In Boston, a city so old it predates the original Brexit by nearly a century and a half, you can still see historic burial grounds right downtown, next to the local churches and chapels. Later, epidemics of disease and a general sense that being so close to the dead was unsanitary forced burial grounds out of the city and into more rural areas.

Currently eating: Vegetables. All summer I crave vegetables. I don't usually like raw vegetables. And I don't often like raw vegetables anyway, so sometimes I stir-fry baby greens with some garlic (and a dash of oyster sauce, or sprinkled with feta and balsamic, or whatever - it's versatile). But right now? Mini Persian cucumbers with a little ranch dressing on the side. Radishes with mascarpone and honey. Mmm.