The Dangers and “Dangers” of Running

Hello! Is this thing on? I can’t believe how long it’s been since my last post. After Boston my life sort of took off and I didn’t have much free time (hence why the Boston Marathon Part 2 was never created). Summer came fast once finals ended, and I dove straight into work at the store. I took a few weeks of easy running to recover from the race, then my coach put together a short-term plan for a half marathon in Washington that June. I got to stay with my friend Kathryn and her husband, Rick at their home in Seattle. It was a wonderful trip, and I set a new PR on a very difficult, windy race course. Back to reality, I went home and went back to work. Chicago Marathon training began shortly after I got back, and I was looking forward to submerge myself into high mileage weeks and long Saturday runs.

I should point out that at the end of June I sort of struggled deciding if I wanted to go back to the Oxford campus. I had done my first two years there, and felt like by going to a branch campus instead, I’d be letting a lot of people down. My parents, as amazing and understanding as they are, supported any decision I made as long as it was what would lead to my own happiness. Not just them, my friends, coworkers, boss, and coach all told me to do what was best for me. I had to let go of what I feared other people would think of me. Don’t think I didn’t like Oxford; I loved it, but I didn’t love all of the drinking and drama. The campus is absolutely gorgeous and I had some of my most memorable runs there on crisp fall mornings. I definitely look forward to the few classes I’ll commute to Oxford for throughout the rest of my undergrad. As of now, I’ve really been enjoying the Hamilton campus.

Here I go, getting carried away again, but I just need to make sure I catch up on what’s been going on! A few more things until I get to some main points…

Back to my favorite topic… Running! At the very end of June I raced a 10k, and set a PR of 42:12; 6:49 average pace, first overall female, third overall finisher! Then on the 4th of July I ran a 5k (what? Maddie ran a race shorter than a half marathon?). I know it’s hard to believe. It was such a hot and humid day, but I got my 3rd PR of the year in a time of 20:20. I wanted to finish under 20 minutes but this girl isn’t build for speed! It was fun to do something outside of my comfort zone in the midst of marathon training. Finally, in August, I ran the Little Miami Half Marathon for the fourth year in a row. I had a major breakthrough and ran 1:34, qualifying to be moved up one corral at the Chicago Marathon. I felt great, and I started to believe that my goal of sub 3:20 in ChiTown was within reach.

One thing I really enjoyed about this training cycle was how often I ran with other people. I had neglected the group runs for awhile, but managed to get some really successful long runs in with the “fast kids” of the Mojo group. l should also mention that back in August I started dating this guy who hit on me while I was at work. Andy and I have been going out for about three months now. Although he is mostly a cyclist (mountain-biker), he joined me for the last third or half of my long runs which made them go by much more smoothly. It’s because of Andy that I managed to hit my tempo miles at the end of my runs. He always had a massive cooler filled with ice and water, cold Powerade, bars, and my guilty pleasure (Coke Zero) waiting for us when we got done. Let’s just say he won me over with that move. 🙂

Fastforward to tapering; as soon as my mileage started to go down, I experienced a lot of problems. My left sit bone had become really sore, and soon it radiated down to the outer-back side of my knee. I took three days off, with no difference made, but running seemed to make it feel slightly better. I used ice, wore a compression sleeve, got a massage, saw my PT (who performed Graston and cupping), and thought I’d be good to go. In Chicago, my good friend Johnny Ramos had come all the way from Colorado to run it with me. We did a shakeout run the day before the race and my hamstring was still “off”. The day of the race, things didn’t go how I anticipated at ALL. As soon as I crossed the start line I felt spasms going down my quads, as if my knees were going to buckle. After some awkward strides I eventually shook it off. Johnny and I managed my goal pace for the first 8 miles, that was before I made the first stop.

My hip flexors were twinging, and I felt like my body wasn’t working properly to lift my knee up when I ran. It was incredibly frustrating, and I think I knew deep down that the race just wasn’t going to happen. At the side of the road, I began to cry to Johnny, telling him I couldn’t go any further. I felt like such a loser, watching as everyone else ran by, enjoying the streets of my favorite race. He managed to talk me into running a little more; we ran/walked a bit, which is totally not like me. 10 miles in, I stopped again, my body just wasn’t functioning, and my throat began to close up. I sobbed again into Johnny’s shoulder and apologized, but he was supportive and encouraged me to keep going. I knew it was worthless, but I tried one last time; sometimes you just have a few bad miles then you get out of it. This was different, I’d felt miserable since the first step. Finally, just before the halfway mark I dropped out officially. Johnny made sure I went to the med tent where I could be shuttled back to the start, before I practically forced him to finish the race.

There is nothing more demoralizing, humiliating, and infuriating as a DNF. The people lining the streets by the start congratulated me as I hobbled to find my mom. I just nodded my head and kept moving. I finally got to my mom and she helped me get back to the hotel where I ate some avocado toast I felt I didn’t deserve. I love my mother, but she isn’t a runner, so during that time it was hard for her to understand what was going through my mind. I continued to track my friends on my phone as I ate, and noticed Johnny had started flying at a sub-7 pace throughout the second half. He managed a 3:41 despite stopping for 20+ minutes with me! I was glad, I knew he was feeling good. Kathryn and Rick were both doing well too; it was Rick’s first marathon, and he had hardly run the past two months due to injury!

These past few weeks since the race have been mostly a mental battle. I have been consoled by my coach, boss, fellow runner friends, and family. Constant thoughts of “could I have finished?”, “was I just not strong enough?”, and “will I ever be able to run a great marathon again?”. It all sounds dramatic, but when you put so much into one race and fall apart without even reaching the halfway mark, can you blame me? Physically, my hamstring was still not better. I took the longest break from running that I’ve taken since 2014; a full week. I met with a sports doctor last week, got an MRI Tuesday, and met again with my doc today regarding the results. No stress fractures, no torn tendons, no signs of anything that will require me to back off from my career. The diagnosis? An iliopsoas strain from muscular imbalances, causing a pelvic rotation and hamstring tendinitis.

What? That’s it? I just need to work on my strength and mobility? I don’t know if I should be happy or annoyed at the diagnosis. It does explain why my runs have been horrible though; my left leg feels like it’s just doing its own thing. After my appointment I went to ride the spin bike and I finally found a moment to think about everything that’s happened this past month. I realized that running is dangerous. Running will break your heart, but it’ll also make you feel the most alive you’ve ever felt in your life. I am so grateful for my body and the fact that it told me to stop in Chicago instead of potentially tearing something. That being said, I want to talk about these “dangers” and dangers of running. If you relate to any of these or want to add to it, leave a comment on this post!

1. Running is Hard: talented or not, if you’re a runner, you’ve had some really bad moments. Times when you thought you couldn’t go another step, or wanted to toss in the towel mid-workout. Runner are tenacious though, and incredibly stubborn (with a short memory) so nothing keeps us down too long.

2. You Get Injured: you could be the most disciplined runner in the world: stretching, warming up, cooling down, strength training, cross training, excellent training plan and mileage progression, great diet, and great mentality. However, even a runner as perfect as this would get injured somehow. The body has a funny way of saying it wants a break, and during these times you have to stop your beloved sport and heal.

3. You’re Hungry: runners are notorious for being incredibly hungry all the time. Long run day? Hungry. Track workout day? Hungry. Easy run day? Hungry. Oh, taper? STARVING. Along with our ravenous tendencies, we also have more digestive problems than any other human beings on the planet. Long runs + gels = GI hell.

4. Running is Expensive: water belts, fancy watches, socks, compression sleeves, medal hangers, technical shirts, and let’s not forget SHOES. 300-500 miles is the rule for the life of a pair of shoes, so that’s like a new pair every 2-3 months. Let’s not forget race fees; World Marathon Majors are ridiculously expensive, but then you have to pay for the hotel, food, travel, and race expo goodies! Note to all the young runners out there: get a damn good job.

5. You’ll Make Weird Friends: I’ve never really experienced peer pressure until I joined a run club. Then I would get text messages from people asking how far I was planning on running Saturday, and if I wanted to meet up an hour before run club started to get some miles in before it got too hot. We bond over our 2-3 hours of pounding our feet in the ground, blowing snot rockets, peeing in bushes, and choking down packets of goop. Then we collapse in piles of our own sweat, compare watch data, and talk about what the plan is for next weeks run.

6. It Becomes Your Identity: runners have a bad habit of losing all other titles for themselves other than “I’m a runner”. Devon Yanko, a professional ultrarunner, has her own bakery that she and her husband opened. When Devon was injured, she credits the bakery for keeping her composed because not all of her identity was gone. She isn’t just Devon the runner, she’s also Devon the bakery owner and Devon the wife. Find something else that you are passionate about so that you don’t make the mistake of falling into the identity trap.

7. Running is Addictive: the reason people fall into the identity trap is because running is addictive. Progress is a high; seeing times get faster as a result of successful training leaves runners coming back for more. Harder training, longer runs, better workouts, etc., all in the hopes of continuously chipping time away from their PR’s. Runners tend to be an obsessive bunch (according to my sports doc), so be sure you take off-season seriously to spend with family and be “normal”.

8. Endorphins: let’s get real here. A huge danger of being a runner is the accumulation of these little things called endorphins. You’ll run and you’ll feel like you are the most blessed individual in the world and you wonder if anyone else has even felt so incredible. But then, on your rest day, these endorphins retract from your body, leaving you sluggish, sad, irritable, and hangry. Beware of the dreaded endorphins; they will get you high, but you’ll get really low when they leave.

9. People Admire Runners: runners are the epitome of determination and tenacity, which gives them a lot of positive attention (especially on social media). Next thing you know, you have an entire community of people you’ve never met in person following you on Facebook. You want to live up to their expectations, and show them all the great things you can do! Runners always want to prove themselves to others; they need to focus on themselves sometimes.

10. You’ll Fall in Love: running will break your heart, but you’ll continue to come back for more because never in your life have you felt so alive and at peace. Running is the rock of your life that you can always come back to because it will always be there for you. Never take advantage of the ability to run, and consider every mile a gift to yourself. Stop thinking, don’t look at your watch or at others, and just run. Sometimes that’s all you need. One foot in front of another, I can assure you that you’ll fall in love with our sport.

“Always enjoy yourself.  Don’t be upset if you don’t win, you’ve won by simply not giving up.” – Unknown

Until next time,

Maddie

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Boston Marathon 2017 (Part 1)

The story of how I got to the starting line of the 121st Boston Marathon begins long before training even started. There were many moments when we weren’t sure we could even go. Despite these circumstances, with the help of friends and family we pulled it all together just in time. Now I sit with my finishers jacket and medal in the back of our car, wishing I could do it all over again. The good times and the bad, they all contributed to the humbling experience that I had running in the most prestigious of marathons. I want to share the story of my Boston experience, beginning with when we first took off.

Just before we took off for our very long drive!
To say the drive was long would be an understatement; it was excruciatingly long, boring, and stressful. It was broken up into two days, with the hopes of getting a majority of the way there the first day. Between almost getting killed by multiple semi-trucks, getting lost, traffic, arguments, and taper-munchies, I thought we’d never get there. I should also mention that my mom finally admitted I was right (that we should’ve flown) on the return drive home. We had to go all the way up and over the state of Ohio. Sorry Akron folks, but it’s boring as hell up there. We celebrated when we finally made it into Pennsylvania, and drove until about 10:00pm. Wilkes-Barre, PA would leave about 6 hours left to drive the next day. Everyone was exhausted, and we hoped to get a good nights sleep before hitting the road in the morning. Unfortunately, my mom and I would never end up getting a full nights sleep because of my sister. I hope she doesn’t mind me writing about this here. As it turns out, Morgan (my sister) has a rare sleeping disorder, Catathrenia; also known as “nocturnal groaning”. Think of someone letting out a long moan with every exhale throughout the night. The noise was impossible to block out, even earplugs weren’t helpful. At one point I remember my mom and I just laying in bed at 3:00am saying “We won’t ever sleep, will we?” I can truly say that I’ve never appreciated my quiet dorm room until this trip.
That first part of the drive ended up being much longer than anticipated, so we hoped that the following day would go much more smoothly. I did a short “run” on the elliptical then met my mom and sister for a free hotel breakfast. We repacked the car (making sure the snack bag was within my reach), and were on our way. To make it more of a vacation, my mom decided to spend our first two nights in a quaint sea-side resort in Hull, MA; Nantasket Beach. This made the drive about an hour and a half longer that it would’ve been had we just gone straight to Boston. We got lost a few times along the way, which added about two hours. Since we were already later than planned, and it wasn’t too far out of our way, we decided to get a picture by the Hopkinton sign. Well, we never ended up getting that picture. I saw a white building with a big Boston Marathon banner hanging on it and totally zoned out. This was actually happening! So we kept driving along and missed the sign, sigh. We followed the course for about a mile and half, and I was surprised how many hills there were. The course is notorious for its downhill start, but it appeared to be more rolling than anything.

Nantasket Beach Resort
Believe it or not, we eventually made it to our cozy little resort, just in time to enjoy the view of the sun going down. The air was cool and the wind was strong. We unpacked the car and scurried to the closest restaurant (which just so happened to be attached to the hotel). We were starving! My mom and sister got an adult beverage which they both definitely deserved. We ordered shrimp as an appetizer and it was so good that we ordered another. Then I had the best broiled haddock I’ve ever eaten; fresh seafood is the best! I felt like our vacation finally began here. We were all able to let loose and laugh over little things (like how our waiter looked exactly like Bradley Cooper). The stress of the drive was behind us and exciting moments were to come. I mention all of these little details because they set the stage for our road to Boston. I feel that these tidbits are just as important as the race itself.

Drills, strides, and beach sunrise

Up at the crack of dawn the next day to get a short 4 mile run in along the water. There was this nice flat path just behind our hotel that extended about a half mile in both directions. My legs felt like junk which could’ve been the result of one of two things: being crammed in a car the past two days, or the fact I didn’t eat beforehand. I always eat before I run, but we were meeting friends for breakfast shortly after. We had to drive to the nearest subway station and take that to get to Boston. We’d considered driving, but the woman at the front desk advised against it. So off we went, relying on Morgan’s fancy laminated map of the subway lines. We had to take two separate lines (get off one to get on another). I’m still amazed we navigated our way to meet John and Charlie.

John, Charlie, and me at breakfast
Hopping off the subway I looked up to see John Hadcock. John is my coach (unofficially). He is such an amazing friend of mine. During my injury in the midst of my training cycle, he took me under his wing and promised that he would help me get to Boston. Someone I knew almost nothing about, other than that he lived in Boston and was running it, had reached out to me. I was in a bad place when we first started talking. It’s a long story about what I was going through (prednisone withdrawal, double sinus infection, and hip bursitis); despite all that lay in my path, John was there for me. I gave him a big hug, as did my mom, and we thanked him profusely. He led the way to the restaurant where we met up with Charlie and his wife, Ellen. Charlie Muse is good running buddies with John. It was fantastic to finally meet these people in person. A couple of guys much older than I am, but much faster than me. Those two could beat me in a race of any distance, any day, and I can happily admit that! Charlie’s wife is so sweet and fun; we chatted across the table for awhile. Then the guys and I started going on about the weather and what our goal was for race day. John wanted 3:15, Charlie wanted 2:55, and I would have be stoked with a 3:25. The forecasted high as of that Friday for race day was 64. It was gradually on the rise, leaving us all a bit on edge.

The gang!

I’ve been to Boston once before, when my mom, sister, and I did our “east coast girls trip”. Since that time I’ve always been in love with the city. I love the layout of the buildings, the people, and the ambiance. During breakfast one of the owners came over and made me practice saying things the Boston way. I laughed out of embarrassment and pure joy, and everyone at the table laughed along too. It was one of those moments where things slow down and you really take a mental image. I was reminded of why it is that this city is so special. The people are like no other; loud, funny, and warm. No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, if you’re in their city, you’ll be treated like family. We definitely had a warm welcome that Friday morning. The day was only just beginning!

The infamous last two turns
Being lectured by John…
The restaurant wasn’t far from the convention center, so we made our way over. The place was huge! We were thankful to have John and Charlie with us to lead the way. First was bib number pickup; the guys both had red bibs for wave one. I had a white bib, second wave corral five, number 12804. It was almost surreal to see a Boston Marathon bib meant for me. After picking up our shirts, which were really nice, we headed to the expo. I believe we parted ways with Charlie and John at this point; we had forewarned them that we spend 3-4 hours in expos. Both of them are experienced Boston Marathoners, so they weren’t as giddy as I was. I saw the big Adidas section when we walked in. We went straight for the jacket. I didn’t want to put it on for superstitious reasons, but my mom told me I had to know what size I needed. I didn’t wear it again after that! There was so much I wanted to buy, and I had to restrain myself. I got two shirts, the jacket, shorts, a hat, and told myself I could buy a tank top and leggings online when I could. There was this little unicorn stuffed animal nicknamed Spike that I got for my sister too.

With coach John showing off our bibs
My beautiful support crew!
Morgan had never been to an expo for my races before, but we promised her there’d be lots of free thing; she loves free things. I think she ended up with about four pairs of sunglasses and two shirts just by being there. We made our way around, and around, and one more time around. It was time to leave when the taper hungries kicked in. After we left the expo we wandered down the street and came upon the Boston Marathon Runbase store. It was packed! Then we saw the Marathon Sports store, and of course I stuck my head in there too. The finish line was being set up at that time and you could only see it from an awkward angle because of the gates. Despite that, it still gave me butterflies to be in its presence. I’m sure many people around were feeling the same way. There were a lot of “experienced” Boston runners nearby, marked by previous years jackets. I felt a bit small when I realized how much younger and inexperienced I was compared to the rest of the field. That feeling didn’t last long though.

First picture with the finish line
Something funny happened while we were admiring the view of the finish line area. There was this bald guy with black sunglasses who asked if I was from Chicago (I was wearing a jacket from the Chicago Marathon). I told him I’d run the marathon this last October, and he said he and his wife were planning to do the Rock’n Roll Chicago Half in July. We chatted for awhile, and he scared the hell out of me when he said that there’s a 4-mile-long hill at mile 21 of Boston. I still wonder if he was messing with me. Anyways, my sister had been listening to our conversation and abruptly asked “Are you a cop?”. Everyone was silent for a minute. The guy turned to her and said “How did you know?”. My mom, not believing it, turned to his wife and asked if he was kidding. She said “No he really is a cop”. The guy started feeling around his right hip, then asked “Did you see my gun?”. Morgan, standing proudly, said “Nope, but I’m a criminal justice major”. We all laughed about it for awhile, still in disbelief of Morgan’s cop-radar.

Morgan and the cop!
We went to Joe’s for dinner, slightly disappointed. It seemed much better when we had gone there the last time we were in Boston. The free sourdough bread made it all worthwhile though, in my opinion. My mom and sister were happy with the chocolate chip cookie skillet for dessert. Stomachs full, we navigated our way on the subway back to the cozy Nantasket Resort. The sunset was even more beautiful that night. We took plenty of pictures to share with our dad, who helped make this trip possible. The wind had picked up and the temperature dropped, so we headed up to our room. It stills seems crazy how much we fit into each of those days we were there. Every night we went to bed totally exhausted.

Photo from our second night in Hull
Unfortately that was our last night at Nantasket. We wanted to stay a third night, but the hotel we reserved downtown required we stay both Saturday and Sunday night. It was another beautiful morning after another sleepless night (thanks Morgan). While my mom rested for a bit in bed and Morgan slept, I headed down to “run” on the elliptical for a half hour. The workout room was quaint and I just kind of zoned out. By that point I had watched multiple videos regarding the marathon course. I wasn’t concerned with the difficulty of the course itself (obviously it’s a very hard course), but I wanted to familiarize myself with the different landmarks. Not only that, but I wanted to run a smart race. For me, knowing how to run Boston in such a way that I’d be able to enjoy it all was my biggest concern. As many know, my training cycle for this race was less than ideal. In summary, mid-February I started getting some hip problems after a 20-miler. It was tight and sore and made running almost impossible. After a trip to see my sports doctor, he gave me an injection into my IT band at the hip, along with a prescription for prednisone. We were so thrilled to have some kind of solution, but little did we know that the worst had yet to come.

Another photo from the expo
My motivation!
 

(Begin flashback…) A few days after the injection my doctor had cleared me to do a slow 10 mile run (was supposed to be 18 miles). It never felt quite right, but it felt better. Hip problem aside, I was struggling mentally. I was constantly breaking down crying, worried I’d never be able to run normally again. Worried I’d never run as fast or as long. Most of all, I was worried that Boston would no longer be possible. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to be so depressed. I always look to the bright side of things. My emotional instability was getting so out of hand that at one point while I was talking to my mom on the phone she said “Maddie, it’s the prednisone, you have to stop taking it.” Turns out any kind of anti-anxiety medication is canceled out while taking a steroid. The mistake we made here was stopping the steroid altogether. Not even 24 hours later, the withdrawal symptoms began. My heart was always racing, my entire body ached, I was lightheaded, and when I ran I couldn’t go more than a mile without my muscles seizing up. I still don’t know what was worse, the emotional piece or the withdrawal symptoms. It was just a very difficult time. Somehow I managed to run 20 miles a week later, stopping multiple times due to cramping hamstrings and calves. The next morning, my hip hurt again. I kept thinking “why me?”. This is when John reached out to me.

My bud, Bart Yasso
Poster with every runners name on it

John (AKA Coach John) has been a saving grace. Being as stubborn as I am, my mom was surprised that I was so willing to listen to him. I knew John was a very talented runner, especially for not having started until later in life. He’d also recently gotten over a hamstring injury in his Boston buildup. John would listen to my whines and when I asked if he’d give me guidance he agreed without hesitation. He promised me “we” would get me to the starting line healthy. From then on we started a plan that focused on quality runs versus quantity. I ran every other day, which was highly unusual for someone who normally runs six days a week. With the cramping that the prednisone withdrawal brought (I ended up having to go back on it so I could taper off properly), I lost a lot of speed. Almost a month went by where I couldn’t physically run under an 8 minute mile. Shortly after being placed under John’s wing, however, I felt hopeful. The workouts he gave me were short, but they were structured and each one gave me a little more confidence.

The entire city was ready for the marathon
Writing my name on the Starbucks board
My hip wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than it was. A large portion of my training on place on the elliptical or running in the pool. So many people were worried about me during this time as I’d disappeared from social media.  By the time spring break rolled around mid-March, I got in with my doctor again. This time he did an MRI, which would give us the final verdict on whether or not I could run Boston. We all cried tears of joy when we learned it was just a bad case of hip bursitis. After a cortisone injection into the actual bursa (so painful!), a few days off, and a few PT sessions, I was running pain free for the very first time. Depending on how I felt, my doc gave me the green light to do 20 miles the following weekend. That 20 ended up being one of the best training runs of my life. A beautiful progression around a flat half mile loop at school. I was finally ready. My coach was just as excited as I was, and told me how proud he was of me. I felt grateful for all of the people supporting me. With that, taper began… (End flashback).

Meb!
Highly recommend UCAN
Our last morning at the Nantasket resort on Saturday started off with breakfast and a view of the beach. Then we stopped by what appeared to be a garage-turned-gift-shop. The owner was hilarious, and explained some of the Boston slang such as “wicked-pissah”. After buying a few souvenirs for ourselves and friends, we loaded the car and headed to beantown. We parked the car at the Sheraton because we were attending an event there. We were going to meet Meb Keflezighi! An Olympian, NYC Marathon winner, and 2014 Boston Marathon champion. He is someone I really admire. It’s not often that you see such humble and caring athletes in the professional world. My mom and sister didn’t last long at the seminar, meanwhile I was in total awe. Mario Fraoli gave a short speech as well as Meb’s wife (who was attending with their children). Meb was going to run his last Boston as a professional, then in November of 2017 he is going to end his professional running career. It amazes me that runners retire at 40+ years of age. At the end of the seminar I gathered all of my free UCAN goodies and met up with my crew.

Night life trip to a fancy grocery store
People of Harvard protesting
The rest of the evening involved a trip to Harvard and dinner at a famous burger joint. Harvard is really a beautiful campus. There were so many people playing music on the streets, selling handmade crafts, some woman was even selling poems (made on the spot). After touring around for a bit, we went to Mr. Bartley’s; a burger place my mom and sister fell in love with the last time we were here. It’s a quirky place, and for a health freak like me I had to pick apart the menu to get something slightly healthy! With full stomachs, we ventured over to the infamous Mikes Pastry. I can confidently call my mom and sister cannoli conessiuers. They went nuts over the sweets while I familiarized myself with folks wearing Boston jackets. It was fun asking where they were from and if this was their first Boston etc. One lady I spoke to from Chicago (who appeared very young) has run Boston 14 times! She and her husband told me that if I liked the Chicago Marathon, I was going to love the Boston Marathon. We left and managed to settle into our new hotel, then Morgan and I went on the hunt for bananas.

Whatever the hell this pastry is
Super secret underground grocery store
Morgan and I came upon this really small grocery store. Well, it appeared to be small. The top floor wasn’t much to look at, but we saw an escalator and went down to discover this amazing underground area! We probably looked like a bunch of idiots taking pictures and getting excited over little things. It was fun to spend time with my sister (when we aren’t wanting to kill each other). We got back to the hotel pretty late, but I had my first good night of sleep that night. Despite being well-rested, my last shakeout run the next morning felt like a struggle. The high that Sunday was 86 and the sun was really strong. To avoid getting lost I did a two mile out-and-back along the wharf. I’d always heard people say that on the Sunday before Patriots Day there are tons of runners out in Boston; they were right. Runners from all over the world were hitting the streets. You’d think there was a race going on in town. Banners of blue and yellow were hung on old buildings and signs saying “good luck runners!” sat behind windows. The city was alive.

Not your average Bloody Mary
These gals like their fancy drinks
Sunday just so happened to be Easter, so we made reservations at Stephanie’s on Newbury. The last time we were in Boston we went here and my mom fell in love with their Bloody Marys. The place was pretty busy with a mix of locals and runners from out of town carbing up for the big day. Everything tasted amazing, our bellies were full. When we left, we went one street over to Boylston. It was absolutely dreamlike. The road was closed off to cars, and people had flooded the finish line area. Everyone wanted a picture by the Boston finish line. It was so hot out, but it didn’t matter. My mom took so many photos, which I’m glad because I wanted to remember that moment forever. To think that I was going to be coming across that line the following day and be able to call myself a Boston Marathoner… It was during that time that I went live on Facebook to thank everyone who made our dream a reality. This journey taught me that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help; friends and family are always willing to give a helping hand. I hope to someday be able to make someone else’s dream come true.

My crew…
I refused to step on it so Morgan carried me
We’d hopped on the subway to head over to the Quincy Market (I should mention it’s pronounced “quin-zee”). When we got off, there was the word “Boston” spelled out in large letters nearby. People were taking their photo out in front so of course we had to too. Some Wellesley alumnae were there getting ready to volunteer at the pasta party. Not only did they take our picture, but we also got a picture taken with them! Not even two block away was the Quincy Market. There, we watched street performers for a good hour. I started getting overheated and hungry so we went inside the Market to shop. Morgan deserved to shop, and I felt guilty for wanting to call it a day. My mom wanted to head back to the hotel as well. Morgan shopped for about an hour while my mom and I went to one of the food places inside Quincy. There was this shack-like place that had shrimp and lobster. We bought a dozen shrimp and some boiled corn on the cob, crammed into what little seating there was, and sloppily devoured it all. I remember look at her and laughing because we were both miserably hot and were just shoving shrimp soaked in lemon juice into our mouths.

Our picture in front of the Boston letters
My picture with the Wellesley alumnae
Morgan found us and said she was done, so before we headed back to the hotel I went to a pasta place inside Quincy. There was a dish with pasta, chicken, broccoli and alfredo, and I asked the owner if there was any way they could make it with marinara instead. He asked if I was going to win the marathon, and I just stared awkwardly. He said he would only make me the dish if I promised to win the marathon. My mom laughed as my face turned red; people just love to pick on me! Long story short he had fun messing with me and whipped up the dish I’d asked for. We took a cab back to the hotel, I packed my stuff for the big day and my mom and sister eventually headed back out. I ate my special meal then got a call from my boss, Paul Heintz. He and his wife, Maureen, have done so much for me. It was almost humorous to listen to them on the phone. Maureen was the angel on my shoulder telling me to have fun and enjoy myself. Paul, on the other hand, told me to have fun but if I beat his Nashville time the following weekend he would put a poster of me up in the store. Those two always know how to make me laugh. I thanked them and told them we would talk after the race.

Had some of the best times with my sister during this trip
Getting my Mojo ready
My mom and sister had found a pizza place to eat at for dinner which ended up being the best pizza they’ve ever had! Those guys have been on Weight Watchers since Christmas and both have lost over twenty pounds. This trip was a bit of a reward in the sense that they could treat themselves the few days we were there. I’m very proud of them both, and happy they could enjoy some sweets. They deserve it! They came back shortly after I’d finished getting my gear bag ready. A large portion of it was just snacks and water bottles. I was feeling a little restless so I joined Morgan on her walk on the wharf behind our hotel. The air was still warm and the wind had picked up. She took some pictures of the sunset, and before I knew it we were headed back to our room. We have friends and family one last call to thank them for their support, and I was asleep by 9pm.


Up next… the race report.

Climb to the Summit

School has been back in session for a week now, and classes are in full swing. My courses are thankfully all based on my major, rather than last semester where I took nothing but electives. Not that I didn’t enjoy taking History of Film Music, or Human Geography, but it wasn’t my forte. This semester I am taking Women’s Health Problems and Practices, Personal Health, Advanced Composition, Statistics, and Sports Management. That being said, is it obvious that my major is heath-related?

According to my Personal Health professor, physical health isn’t the only defining factor of ones well-being. Other determinants include spiritual, mental and emotional, environmental, and intellectual health. She described intellectual health as “the desire to continue learning, and effort to understand things that may challenge you intellectually.” At least that’s what I think she told us. A desire to learn, huh? I must be really intellectually healthy then, because I always feel an eagerness to go to class, ask questions, and share the new things I’ve learned with my peers. Sounds nerdy when I put it that way. In all seriousness, this is my favorite part of college: becoming a little more well-rounded through knowledge. *Gasp!* You mean your favorite part isn’t going to pitchers on Thursday night and getting trashed?

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Nobody ever pays all their college loans off!
I say well-rounded versus “smarter” because in my opinion, gaining knowledge means seeing the world in another light. For example, in my Women’s Health class we recently held a discussion about feminism. I’d heard of it, and I had a general idea about what it meant. However, what I didn’t realize was how often I’d experienced feminism, or been treated differently because I am a girl. Advanced Composition opened my eyes to the idea of discourse communities, as well as how language shapes the way we think. These are things I learned within the first week of school, and already I was beginning to ask questions; applying this new information into my everyday life. As I mentioned, knowledge changes the way we see the world, and that makes us more well-rounded people.

Getting back on topic -what is the topic of this post anyways? Well, I was hoping to somehow have a nice transition into the topic, but I guess I’ll have to come out with it. My mom’s birthday was on Saturday, and she came to campus to have lunch with me to celebrate. Being a broke college student, I couldn’t get her anything extravagant, but I did get her a really interesting book. This book, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck” written by Mark Manson, may sound a little strange, but it is filled with the raw truth of society and how we all function as humans. Whether you admit it or not, this book is applicable to every single person in the world in some way. Manson does an excellent job of explaining the difference between, well… things we should give a f*ck about, and things we shouldn’t give a f*ck about. This, as well as how we measure success in our lives, chose our values, and deal with negative circumstances.

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Please excuse the language… I couldn’t find a way to edit it with an asterisk!
So, more specifically, I want to focus on a part of Mark’s book that really stood out to me. He said “People just want to see the view from the summit, but they never want to make the climb.” Just let that sink in. What does it mean for you, if anything? For me, I believe this is where my motivation lies. This is a quote I have lived by, but was never able to put it into words. My summit is everything I strive for: good grades, strong running, healthy mind and body, and loving relationships.

Now, what exactly is the climb?

For college, it’s obvious that every student wants good grades. The question is, who is willing to put in the work to achieve those grades? For some, it means sacrificing time spent with friends, or even sleep. Luckily I’m an anti-social snowflake who enjoys spending my Friday and Saturday nights snuggled up with my laptop. This gives me a lot of time to put towards studying; being an introvert has perks. Now, just because I have more time available than some people, doesn’t mean its easy for me to have academic success. I find things I don’t understand and spend hours in frustration; reaching out to my professor, staying after class, researching, and asking my classmates so I can wrap my head around a concept. There are times when I don’t feel like reading an article we are assigned because it makes no sense or doesn’t involve something I care a lot about. All of these things are what make up my climb to the summit of good grades.

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For strong running, I have to put in a lot of work; strength training, stretching, cross training, foam rolling, and hundreds of miles each and every month. There will be days I don’t think I can run a certain workout on my schedule, but I envision the summit that is the finish line of Boston. There will be mornings I wake up to wind shaking my windows, rain banging on the roof, and my mom saying “it is below zero, you are NOT going outside!”. There will be bad runs where I wonder if I’m losing my abilities, and question my race goals. There will be people who tell me I’m too young, training too hard, not training enough, too ambitious, not ambitious enough, or that running shouldn’t be such an important piece of my life. It’s easy to succumb to the words of those you care about, or even those who you don’t give a rat’s ass about. The bad runs, weather, self-doubt, negative feedback, and extremely slow process of improvement is my climb. At the summit, I am a stronger runner; a never-ending climb to the best athlete I can be.

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For a healthy mind, as I’ve already somewhat brushed on, I strive to continue learning and enjoy gaining knowledge. Healthy minds don’t revolve entirely around academia; stress, self-image, situational perspective, and coping mechanisms are all what I consider part of having a healthy mind. Stress is something a lot of people struggle with, and oftentimes it goes unnoticed. Stress is the cause of a lot of problems: lack of sleep, increased appetite, soreness, sickness, constipation, irritability, you name it. Self-image involves how you see yourself, and if you didn’t know it already -we are our own worst critic. I’m guilty of being too hard on myself, and my mom has to reassure me that I’m not weak, or lazy, or ugly, or a failure, or a complete idiot. Perspective is everything, and it dictates your mood, which can effect quality of life. So, you think spilling coffee on your crotch is the absolute worst thing ever? Well, you could have trashed your car on the way to work, but instead you have a stain that your co-workers will laugh at all day. Then there’s coping mechanisms; how a person manages their life stressors. I manage my stress through physical activity, which is much healthier than what some may use to blow off steam. Having a healthy mind is yet another aspect of my life that I am climbing towards.

For a healthy body, it obviously entails things like eating nutritious foods and staying active. However, for me it means maintaining a weight that allows me to run, eating enough to fuel my workouts, taking supplements, and most of all; listening to my body and giving it what it needs. As many of you already know (from my first post), I had an eating disorder for a couple years, and there are days where I am arguing with the ghosts of my past. I must constantly remind myself that in order to perform the way I want, my body needs fuel and rest. Since I’ve gotten more experienced in marathon training, I’ve taken nutrition and recovery much more seriously. Something a lot of athletes struggle with is not focusing on their dietary patterns, or following a hard/easy agenda. This climb to the summit of a healthy body, for me, means eating more than I think I need, and not feeling guilt for resting.

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For loving relationships, specifically family, I have to be patient, understanding, caring, and selfless. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with loved ones. I do, however, have a bad habit of thinking of myself before others. Communication is something I’ve never struggled with; my mom and I are very close and there’s never been a time that I couldn’t vent to her. The same with my dad, although there are some “feminine” talks I’m sure he doesn’t mind missing out on. My sister and I share a lot, and can connect on a level that is almost humorous. So, what’s my climb in this area of life? Striving to be a little less selfish, by talking about things that may stress out my loved ones. Some call it “avoiding conflict”, but it’s more like I want everyone to always be happy, and if they’re stressed I never want it to be because of me. In order to create an even deeper relationship with my loved ones, I have to learn to share my hardships, to depend on someone else. We Armbruster girls are a stubborn, independent bunch.

Moral of this post: find out what matters to you in your life; what you are striving for, and recognize the challenges you will face in order to reach those goals. Accept those challenges you’ll come across, whatever they may be, and acknowledge that there will be other obstacles that are out of your control. Good things don’t come easy, if they did, they wouldn’t be as satisfying. If you want something in life bad enough, you have to be willing to work for it. The climb to the summit is a beautiful adventure of self-discovery, but it never truly ends. Once you reach what you once called your “highest peak”, you’ll realize that you can go even further, reaching even greater heights.

“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” -Andy Rooney 

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Training, Adapting, and a Goodbye

It’s been almost six weeks since Boston Marathon training started, which is right around the time I left to come home for winter break. Miami University (of Oxford, OH) has a ridiculously long winter break, because of what they call “J-Term”. Basically, people can study abroad during this time or take online classes. For international students, it’s a nice opportunity to go back home and visit family. For me, it’s a chance to write out my training plan, make some extra cash, and spend lots of time with my family.

Adjusting back to the life at home isn’t easy, but I find it much easier than adjusting to going back to school. Some things I love about being home (besides hanging out with my family): running my old routes, swimming at the pool at Lifetime, working at Mojo, seeing friends, cooking for myself, having my mom occasionally do my laundry, laughing about stupid people on TV with my sister, driving my 26.2-magnet-bedazzled car, and having time to do things like strength train, read, and foam roll. Downsides to coming home? Well… any college student knows by now that the dorm life is a wonderful life where you can do the dishes when you want, live out of an unfolded laundry basket of clean clothes, wake up in the morning without waking anyone else up, and just do things on your own schedule… all of which you definitely can’t do back home.

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Whether it is going back to school after summer break, or returning after winter break, it never gets any easier saying goodbye. Like most distance runners (triathletes too), we are all very set in our ways and live a life that revolves around workouts, meals, bathroom routines, 9:00 bedtimes, and early alarm clocks. Any time this cycle is disrupted, we fall into a state of panic and anxiety. Deny it all you want, but we all know it’s the truth. Call me rigid, obsessive, and set-in-my-ways, but I know I’m not the only one. For these reasons, once I have been at school (or home) for a week or so,  I’ve been able to fully adapt to my new routine. I try to keep my training routine as consistent as possible after these transitions, which offers me a sense of tranquility.

Why tranquility? Well, since so much change is taking place around me, my training is something that will remain the same. Most can agree that change is stressful, and leaves one feeling a lack of control in their own lives. Some kids hide away in their studies, others drown themselves in alcohol, friends vent to each other over Starbucks, and I run. I find what I do to be no different than a surgeon taking a stroll after a complicated procedure, a teacher hitting the track following a long day with troublesome children, and a businessman getting on his road bike following an important deal that went wrong. We all need to find that sense of peace, that sense of serenity that resides within the eye of the storm we call life. It is this tranquility that allows me to be a successful student in college, and hopefully it will do the same in my future.

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Well that’s the sappy part of this post: missing home, being alone, experiencing change, having to adapt and say goodbye. So, for all of you who really aren’t interested in hearing about this beloved training plan of mine, feel free to stop here. No offense is taken! Some people have messaged me lately asking that I explain my workouts and the basis of my training. A lot of credit goes to the Mojo Running “Advanced Marathon Training Plan” that you can download on our website (www.runmojo.com/training-group). I followed this religiously when I was preparing for my first marathon in May of 2015. After that race, I began making adjustments to meet my needs for my next marathon. Again I made changes for my third, and even more for my fourth. At this point it doesn’t resemble the Mojo plan anymore, but the outline remains similar.

Monday: Mondays are always an aerobic-effort run, meaning nothing too hard but nothing too easy. For example, these runs are usually around a 7:45-7:55 pace for me (my marathon goal pace being 7:35, just to give you an idea). This aerobic run falls two days after my long run, so it acts as a “gauge” for how recovered I am from it. If my aerobic-effort turns out being closer to 7:55, then I can tell I’m not as recovered as I want to be. However if it turns out close to 7:45, then I know I’m fully recovered from my long run and will (hopefully) have a good track workout the following day. For the runs where I’m feeling fully recovered, I’ll even throw in a few strides during the last five minutes. In the earlier weeks of training, the duration is between 60-70 minutes long (8-9 miles), and as the weeks progress, that duration eventually becomes 90 minutes (11-12 miles). The goal here is to improve my aerobic base, as well as adapt to spending more time on my feet. Again, this increase in overall time happens gradually. About six weeks into the 18 week program I’ll move up from 60-70 minutes to 70-80. Ten weeks in, and it goes up to 80-90 minutes.

Tuesday: Track Tuesday! As I have learned to call it. I have a love-hate relationship with the track, but many will agree that speed work is incredibly important when marathon training. As mileage increases, athletes tend to fall into the pattern of long, slow runs. To prevent this, and even increase speed, one should always integrate some kind of weekly speed session into their plan. This can be fartleks, intervals on the road, strides, or old-fashioned workouts on the track. Depending on the weather, I’ll always opt for the track. I incorporate a 2-3 mile warm-up, as well as a 2-3 mile cool-down. Once I get to the track I do my regular drills (high knees, butt kicks, leg swings, and a few simple stretches). The workout itself lasts about 40-50 minutes, which includes the recovery periods. I believe in active recovery between reps rather than stopping entirely. This allows your body to change gears without the risk of pulling a muscle, while bringing your heart rate down at the same time. I have about 8 workouts that I rotate through, repeating each at least once. Some are distance-based, but I’ll occasionally have one that is time-based. Efforts for these track workouts can be 10k, 5k, 90-100% effort (all-out), and a mixture of those. Here are some of my favorite:

  • 8x1k @10k (slight progression) w/60 sec recovery
    • 1x400m all-out
  • 20x400m @5k or faster w/30sec recovery
  • 10x800m @10k cut-down to 5k w/60sec recovery
  • 4x400m @5k w/30sec recovery
    • 4mi tempo @10k w/2min recovery
    • 4x400m @90-100% effort w/30 sec recovery
  • 6x1200m @10k w/400m recovery
  • Descending fartlek (4x):
    • 5min @10k w/60sec jog
    • 3min @5k w/60sec jog
    • 1min @90-100% effort w/60sec jog

Wednesday: Following a hard session like Tuesday’s, a recovery run is in order. This is something I firmly believe in. There is the white area (really easy runs), and then there’s the black area (hard track workouts, tempo runs, and long runs). Too often people find themselves in the “gray” area; not allowing their body to make improvements through hard efforts, nor recover from hard efforts with easy running. That being said, the first few weeks of training I have this recovery run at a duration of 60 minutes. Just like with my aerobic run on Monday, I gradually increase the duration over the course of 18 weeks. At most, my recovery run is 80 minutes, at a pace that is over a minute slower per mile than my marathon pace. Of course, this is always done on a route with rolling hills.

Thursday: Thursday is the second hard workout of the week, which is usually a tempo run but can be subbed out for hill-repeats. I like doing a longer tempo run based on my goal half marathon pace. Starting with a 10-15 minute warm-up, followed by 6-10 miles at tempo pace, and a 10-15 minute cool-down. The tempo can be something like 12x5min @HMP w/60sec recovery, 6x10min @HMP w/60sec recovery, or a progression starting at MP and ending close to 10k pace. While this may seem like a lot of tempo miles, I am a big believer that if you can keep your goal pace on a training run, you can do it in a race. Of course this is just my opinion, and it may not be the same for everyone else. Some individuals may be able to stick with only 6 miles at their goal HMP and do well in their race. Doing more miles during training at my goal paces not only physically prepares me for race day, but it gives me a boost of confidence. For marathon training, working my HMP is another opportunity to add speed into my routine. As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to fall into the long-and-slow cycle in marathon preparation. I like to remind my body of this middle-distance pace, typically on a flat route since I’m not training for a hilly half.

Friday: With Saturday being the most important training run of the week, I take Friday off of running. Some Fridays I feel like I could go for a nice easy run, and have to remind myself that rest is just as important as any workout. However, doing nothing only results in my muscles getting stiff, so I typically swim and ride the bike. While I’m on the subject of cross training, I should mention that I swim after my Monday and Wednesday runs, and bike after my Sunday run. That’s three swims and two cycling sessions per week, which has proved to be a good balance for me. In the words of my boss, Mr. Mojo: “It’s easy to become a cardio-junkie.” He’s right, and when I got home for break I was on the very low end of my weight (123lbs). I was doing a lot of running, but that along with that I was swimming and cycling too much; doubling up on cardio every day, even after my hard run workouts. Over break, I had to change my plan up because training for Boston seven pounds below the weight I needed to be at was not an option. That being said, I decided to cut back on both cross training activities; cutting back on cycling a lot, in particular. I subbed out cycling on Tuesdays and Thursdays with strength training and yoga, respectively. I can happily say that I gained 5 pounds over break; two to go!

Saturday: The most important run of the week for marathoners, the long run. In the 18 week cycle I use, long runs can be anywhere from 14-24 miles. In the first six weeks I stay in the 14-17 range, working on getting used to time on my feet again. In total, I like to have at least five 20+ mile long runs, two of which are 24 miles. Due to the notorious downhills of the Boston Marathon course, this training cycle has a lot of focus on maintaining a constant “effort” on uphills and down. Some long runs are more race-pace specific (still some hills), while other weeks are all about going hard on downhills and learning to use the uphills as a recovery. Those “hillier” runs will still have some tempo miles, but they’re based more on effort than actual split times. For example, my favorite race-pace specific run for a 20-miler goes: 3mi aerobic effort, 7mi @MP (x2). By slowing back down to aerobic effort after the halfway mark, your body starts to think the hard work is over and that you’re cooling down. Similar to something that might happen in the middle portion of the Boston course (or later on) because of the inclines, your body will have to work its way back to tempo pace. With long runs that are course-specific (mostly hill work), I worry less about pace, but try to maintain a constant effort. I want to build endurance on a rolling course, which is something I didn’t focus on when training for Chicago. At the end of every long run I do a “fast-finish”, or at least try to. If I can work my way down to HMP for the last mile, I know I’m in good shape. Week 13 is my cut-back week, dialing back to a 16 mile run, followed by peak week the next week (24 miles).

Sunday: Another lovely recovery run (no sarcasm here). I welcome a nice slow recovery run after Saturday’s long run. Just like with Monday’s aerobic run and Wednesday’s recovery, this run builds gradually in duration over the course of 18 weeks. It starts out at 60-70 minutes, and maxes out at 80-90 minutes. Sometimes it’s hard to get out and run 90 minutes the day after running 20+ miles, but as I always tell people: “the goal of a recovery run is to feel better at the end than you did at the beginning.” If you feel worse when you finish, then you’re going too fast. Going by feel is the best option on these days, and they tend to be some of my favorite runs. It’s nice to slow down and appreciate the simple gift of running without worrying about pace. With another weeks worth of hard training ahead, I try to enjoy every minute of this recovery run.

This is the plan that has worked best for me and I plan to continue using it. Every week is written out in a notebook and I follow it very closely, keeping note of days I feel more tired than others. In terms of mileage, I’ll max out anywhere around 75-80 miles, which is just enough without being too much. However, there are days where my body just can’t keep up and those are times where I take a deep breath and adjust my plan. Taking the time to listen to what our bodies are telling us can reduce the chances of injury, and prolong healthy and strong running. Taking it easy the day of a hard workout because of sickness, lack of sleep, and stress is not being weak (although it’s nearly impossible to persuade a runner of that). Personally, having been injured in the past, I think I am more in-tune with myself and what I can and can’t do. Unfortunately it took something like a stress fracture to learn my lesson. So please, listen to your body!

With all this talk about running, I want to get back on the topic of cross-training. A lot of people wanted to know what I do for things like strength training, and although I’m no expert, I’m happy to share my routines. First off, swimming; I love to swim. Mondays I swim 50-55 minutes, Wednesdays about the same, and Fridays anywhere from 60-70 minutes. For cycling (which I don’t like nearly as much as swimming) I ride the spin bike for 50-70 minutes on Friday and Sunday. Prior to my cut-back in cross-training, I was swimming 60-70 minutes 3-4 days a week, and cycling 60-80 minutes 3-4 times a week. Looking back, it seems obvious that I lost a lot of weight. I now know that when my running mileage goes up, other cardio activities have to go down. During this revelation, I found strength training and yoga.

I’ve always been good about strengthening my core and legs, but my boss suggested I start focusing on my upper body as well. By building some upper body strength I would be able to improve my running form, increase overall speed, and run hills more efficiently. So far, I can definitely see an improvement in all of the things mentioned, especially the hill running. By incorporating a lot of balance work into my strength training I’ve been able to isolate each leg. When we run, we land on one leg, placing a lot of weight and strain on muscles and ligaments. Through isolated weight-bearing activities like single-leg deadlifts, one-legged squats, etc., those muscles and ligaments are strengthened and better prepared to take on the burden of pounding the pavement. Regarding core, I believe the balance work does a lot for the core as is, but that’s not enough. Some of my favorite core workouts include toe touches, Russian twists, planks, grasshoppers, leg raises, and reverse crunches.

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The core is not composed of just the abdominal muscles, however. It actually includes lower back muscles that stabilize the abs; important for keeping good posture over the course of long runs. That being said, yoga is the perfect activity to strengthen the core and improve overall balance. I was never a fan of it until recently, when I decided to give it a chance. After just a few sessions, I can see an increase in range of motion, core strength, and even breathing capacity. Following Thursday’s tempo run, yoga opens up any hip tightness I might have. If I am feeling beat up from my workout, I’ll opt for a more relaxed session, but some days I like difficult ones that challenge me to keep my balance. This is something I am hoping to continue to do throughout this training cycle.

That was a lot of information, but I think I covered a lot of the questions people have asked me. At some point I’ll make a post about nutrition during training and fueling for long runs. I got back to school yesterday afternoon and it’s been tough so far, but I hope classes starting tomorrow will give me a nice distraction.

Happy training, my friends!

 

 

Patriot’s Day -The Movie

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Shout-out to everyone who took the time to read my first blog post (ever)! I was really amazed how many people went out of their way to take the time to read it. Hopefully I will still have opportunities to write even when I go back to school next Saturday. Speaking of going back to school… it was due time for some one-on-one mother-daughter time on a cold, gray Sunday afternoon.

Every since they first announced that they were going to be making a movie based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, I knew I wanted to see it. Regardless of whether or not I was going to run Boston, I still would’ve been anxious for its release. From the stories of the runners, spectators, race organizers, the people of Boston, and the Boston Police Department; Mark Wahlberg retold the devastating tale in such a way, that viewers could finally piece together all that went down on that beautiful April day. Never in my life have I been in such a quiet theater; people were left speechless, an enormity of emotions welling up inside them. As my mom and I were leaving, she said she didn’t quite know how she would describe the film. It isn’t a movie you can call “good” or “touching”, because it is so much more. So if I had to choose, the one word I would use to describe “Patriot’s Day” is humbling.

Before I get too into this, I want to note that “Patriot’s Day” isn’t for everyone. I have some friends that were there in 2013, some spectating and others actually running the race. The thought of having to relive that chaos, that absolutely terrifying experience, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. The explosions were so real, and combined with vibrations of the loud volume, made it feel like you were right there on Boylston Street. My friends were shaken by what they witnessed, and it has been forever etched into their minds. So no, the movie isn’t for everyone, and that is totally fine.

I’ll try not to make this post quite as long as my previous one, which shouldn’t be too difficult a task. There are just a few topics I would like to bring up from the film that I feel are worth discussing:

Right off the bat, the audience is plunged into the typical day of a Boston police officer. I must note, Tommy Saunders (the main character) is fictional. Rather, Sgt. Saunders is a combination of a few officers that worked the day of the bombing. It was a good decision in my opinion, because it allowed viewers to feel a connection with Saunders (something that might be difficult had there been multiple main characters). The introduction really sets the scene though; thick Boston accents, a little bit of humor, and a plethora of f-bombs. You feel like you’ve been settled into an old town house right on the outskirts of the bustling city. You’re no longer sitting in a theater, you’ve been sent to Boston for the next two hours and ten minutes.

Although Sgt. Saunders plays a key role in “Patriot’s Day”, Mark Wahlberg didn’t forget some very important individuals that deserved a spot in the limelight. Such individuals include husband and wife Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky. Standing next to where one of the bombs was set off by the finish, Patrick lost one of his legs, and Jessica lost both. I think most people had only heard about the couple who had lost their legs, but only those in Boston knew about them. Only those in the city know how much love they share, and how desperate they were to find one another in the hospital the days following the bombing. Steve Woolfenden was standing with his son, Leo, near the finish that day as well, and shortly after the explosion they were separated. Steve lost a leg but could think of nothing else but Leo, and begged everyone at the hospital to find him so they could be reunited. Again, a story one might have heard a few broad details about, but never got the full downlow. A more well-known story is that of Officer Sean Collier, who worked at MIT, that was shot while sitting in his police car by one of the bombers. They were attempting to steal his gun out of the holster on his belt, but Collier refused to give it up. These are things that you can’t see in the news; things you won’t hear on the radio. These are stories that would otherwise be left half-told, unappreciated, had it not been for “Patriot’s Day”.

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Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky finishing the Boston Marathon.
I’m going to cut this short here, as I’ve been procrastinating on a lot of things. Plus, this isn’t Fandango, so why should I do movie reviews on here? After I get some packing done I hope to post about my training, as a lot of individuals have asked me to do so. Moral of this post is that “Patriot’s Day” gave a lot of credit to the police officers, FBI, and people of Boston for bringing the bombers to justice. It’s not just a film for runners; it is a film that will give American people a better understanding of what Boston went through. The feeling of being helpless, the hate, the loss, the worry, and the frustration. All of this is then followed by the comeback, the sense of camaraderie, the love and appreciation for one’s law enforcement, and the birth of “Boston Strong”.

“One man alone can’t defeat the forces of evil, but many good people coming together can.”

Harold S. Kushner

Story of the Old Soul

Where to begin the story of the Old Soul? First off, yes, I finally caved in and made a blog, just like all of the college-aged girls are doing nowadays. I realize most people have way too much going on in their lives to set aside a chunk of time to read about some 19-year-old’s obsession with running. However, those that do somehow find the time to read this sarcasm-soaked blog, welcome aboard!

Back to the story… it’s easy to say I was born being inside my own head (thanks for passing it on to me, dad). The realization that I wasn’t “normal” became more obvious when I entered high school. I never felt like I fit in with any groups of people, even in a school with 3,000 kids. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t fully accepting of who I was, but what 5’9″ freshman girl would be overflowing with confidence as she towered above everyone? My height, along with the flow of acne courtesy of puberty, and oh-so-sexy braces, was a recipe for a self-conscious teen. Among all of those things that were out of my control, my weight was the one thing I could control.

Towards the end of middle school, my eating disorder had already began to an extent. Freshman year it only got worse, and getting signed on with a modeling agency made me feel better about my thin frame. I don’t want to drag this out, because it was a total roller coaster. It was a continuous cycle of promising my mom I would get better, crying from guilt, promising I would finally change,  and falling back into my old ways. A part of me wanted to be healthy, part of me thought what I was doing was healthy, and another part of me knew I couldn’t keep living this way.

It wasn’t until Christmas of (I think) my sophomore year of high school that things finally started to change, for good. Our grandparents bought my sister and me passes to Lifetime Fitness that year. I was guilt-fully thrilled, yet at the same time I was scared for myself. Our first day there, Morgan (my sister) and I went to a Zumba class held in one of the studios on the second floor. Inside the studio, the walls are covered in mirrors, so with every move you take you see your reflection. These mirrors are the revelation I so badly needed. Who was this frail, gray, sunken-collar-bone, malnourished girl ahead of me? It was then that for the first time, I saw myself. I wanted to cry.

For individuals with an eating disorder, nobody can convince them to change their habits except themselves. I went home that night and cried a cry that wasn’t like the other times, where I said I wanted to change but deep down I was afraid. This time I told my mom what I saw in that studio at Lifetime, and how much I wanted to look like the gorgeous African-American Zumba instructor who was muscular and well-toned. She had such a glow to her, and gave off an energy that everyone in the room was feeding off of. How nice it must be, I thought to myself. How could I be like her?

I was blessed to have my mother with me through the hardest moments of my journey. She has a Ph.D in social work, and offers counseling services at her own private practice. As beneficial as it was to have a professional in my own household, I believe it was her abilities as a parent that made all the difference. She set me up with both a nutritionist and a personal trainer at Lifetime to get me started on the right path. A few weeks of learning about how much I needed to eat, combined with weight training, resulted in a few pounds gradually being put on. Was it scary at first? Oh god yeah, but I had a goal in mind.

All throughout my eating disorder, I used exercise for the wrong reasons (burning off everything I ate). I took advantage of running, going on jaunts around my neighborhood after eating half of a slice of bread with jam. That’s why, during recovery I decided that I wanted to become a real runner. In my mind, they were the epitome of what it meant to be strong, a characteristic I so badly wanted to have. I looked up half marathons that I could do in the summer, which would give me plenty of time to train my slightly improved physique. It was March, and the Cincinnati Half Marathon was in late June. It was the start of something wonderful; or so I thought.

At one point I was running 5-milers every day, and was incredibly proud of it. I didn’t have a training plan or anything, but I knew how long a half marathon was. I got to six miles, then the next week I tried seven, then eight miles the day after that. It was all up and no down, no time to rest or recover in between building. It was an amazing feeling, training for a half, telling everyone at school that I was training for one. With the continuous build, came a dull ache in my left ankle. Like every stubborn athlete does, I ignored it. All it needed was some ice then it would be fine. In the back of my mind I got slightly concerned when it became painful to bear weight. I wasn’t exactly limping, but I wasn’t walking like I was sure of myself. A week or two longer of icing and running, and I was almost up to ten miles.

It was a few days before my birthday weekend, and we had signed me up for the Rat Race 10k on the Loveland Bike Path which would take place April 25th (my birthday). I decided to get one more long run in prior to the race, and opted to do so on the bike path. Four miles out, I stopped and started to limp. Shit. It’s probably just an irritated tendon or something, I thought to myself. Looking back, I can’t fathom how I managed to run four miles back to my car that day. Seriously, how stupid was I? No, how stubborn could I be? I didn’t want to call my mom and cry. It was all going to be fine. Just go home and ice it, yes, that will do the trick. The next day at school, I remember sitting in my pre-calculus classroom when it was let out, and feeling the throb in my ankle. It was like with every beat of my heart, my ankle was screaming.

Revealing the truth to my mom was devastating, not because I wanted to keep the truth from her, but because it was like admitting defeat in my decision to train for the half. She was weary about it in the first place, unsure if my body was ready for it, while I assured her it was. Note to self: mom is always right. She immediately booked an appointment with Dr. Velazquez at Beacon Orthopedics, and we got in the next day. Two days before my birthday, I was sitting in a doctor’s office looking at an x-ray, still telling myself it wasn’t anything major. He looked up at me, somewhat sympathetic, and said it was a stress fracture. I’d have to be put in a boot and on crutches for six weeks. No running, for six weeks. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I turned to my mom who was also looking at me sympathetically.

It was a moment I will never forget; my heart broke for the first time in my life. This thing I had fallen in love with, this incredibly simple but fulfilling sport that was supposed to make me strong, it was taken away from me. I cried the rest of the day, and refused to go to school the following day (how embarrassing it would be, to show up in this). My mom continuously reminded me that this is because I didn’t listen to my body for so long. She said I would get back to running, and will have learned from my mistake. Something I said at the time that she (to this day) continues to throw back in my face, was that maybe the injury was a sign that I wasn’t meant to be a runner. My mom, being the straight-forward woman that she is, told me that was ridiculous.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was adjusting to the life of crutches, assistance, and dependence. My sister was a saving grace during this time. Every night she would take me to Lifetime and help me crutch my way over to the edge of the pool where I would swim laps while she went to Zumba. Swimming was the one thing I could do that would keep me sane. Still battling the mental demons of my eating disorder, swimming reminded me that food was fuel, and I needed it if I ever wanted to get back to running. Physical therapy was another place I could feel normal, take off my boot, and test the strength of my cocooned ankle. My physical therapist and his assistants were absolutely amazing. I owe a lot to them.

Then came my first run on the treadmill at Beacon, almost seven weeks after being put in the boot. I was smiling so much, I even started to laugh. From there, I was to follow a run/walk program to get back to where I was (safely). The next day I walked a minute, then ran four minutes, and did that twice. It was raining out, and I looked up to the sky as I ran and smiled, feeling grateful to have running back in my life again. I made a promise to my body that I would give it everything it needed in order for me to run healthy and strong. My ankle got a stress fracture not just from over-training, but because of the fact that I had deprived my body for so long that my bones became weak.

Everything kind of escalated from there, and I don’t really remember every detail of what happened in the following weeks. Something I do remember very well was when I joined a running club in West Chester, Ohio; Mojo Running. Who knew that this group of fellow running-obsessed individuals would become my second family? They took me in like I already belonged there. Despite my nerves that Friday summer night before the Saturday run club, I fit right in with a group of people running an 11-miler. They were all older than me, but it was the first time in my life I felt like I could be myself around others. When we finished, I introduced myself to a few people who told me that I should sign up for the Little Miami Half Marathon the following month.

Surprise! One month later I was (finally) running my first half marathon! Oh, but I have to mention that I showed up a half hour late, got lost, and ended up running 14.4 miles. So it wasn’t the best start to my running career, but hey, I got to put a 13.1 magnet on my car. All along the course I saw fellow Mojo runners on the out-and-back who cheered and gave out high-fives for each other. My mom still gives me crap for getting the wrong start time and for getting lost on my first half marathon. She also keeps a picture of me looking pissed off with my crutches on the inside of our cabinet, called “Mad Maddie”, to remind me to always listen to my body.

Honestly I don’t know who the hell has read this far but if you have, great! The story only goes up from here. Over the course of my junior year, I ran a dozen half marathons. I continued to swim, and eat, and listen to my body. Sporting my 30-pounds-stronger physique, I felt incredible. I ran through the winter, and before I knew it I was welcoming the anniversary of my injury. That April, I got redemption of the Rat Race 10k for my 17th birthday. After another summer of running half marathons like a maniac, getting a job at Mojo, and looking into where I wanted to go to college, I was entering my senior year of high school.

I was envious of all of the Mojo runners who ran the Flying Pig Marathon in May, and decided I wanted to train for the full, too. I did some impromptu long runs with the group during the next few months, despite training not beginning yet. However when training finally did begin, I took it very seriously. Every day after school I would run, and every Saturday I would be awake earlier than I was any other day of the week for group run. It was exhausting to be honest, but at the same time it was invigorating. Not only did running give me something I could control, but it gave me confidence, an identity, and a family.

The winter months of spring marathon training are never enjoyable. The group never complained though, and so I didn’t either. We would layer up and suck it up. Fast forward some more (sorry this is really long already) and it was time to taper for the race. My birthday passed and I did the Rat Race yet again, and turned 18 the week before my first full marathon. The expo, oh man the expo. What had I been missing out on my entire life? My mom and I must’ve spent three hours there that day. We got shirts, hats, free things, asked questions, and squealed over everything. I could barely sleep that night.

It was race day, finally. Awake at 3:30am (what the hell were we doing?) and on the road by 4:30am. The race started at 6:30am which would give us plenty of time to go downtown and find the pacer I wanted to follow. We called my grandma on the way down, who wished me luck and said she would be flying next to me in spirit during the race. It was scary saying bye to my mom, but I was so pent-up on adrenaline that I bounced over to my Mojo friends who were following the same pacer as me. We were off, and it couldn’t have been a more gorgeous morning. Perfect conditions, and a beautiful sunrise over the river as we crossed the bridge into Kentucky, and then back to Cincinnati. The pacers went out pretty fast, so I decided to do my own thing.

I won’t give an entire play-by-play of the race, because that would take way too long! Some of the highlights were when I saw my mom right before we made the climb into Eden Park, when Mr. Mojo (my Ironman-crazed boss) biked next to me on the highway portion of the course, and the moment I realized I was going to finish in under four hours. The last bit before the finish line was lined with thousands of people, and I heard a few people call out my name but I couldn’t see who they were. Crossed the finish, saw my time (3:53), my hands went to my knees, and I bawled. They offered me a wheelchair, to which I stood straight up and said I was fine. I’d looked for my mom as I was about to finish but I didn’t find her.

Thankfully I had my phone with me, and I called her as I sat on concrete curb. I remember this conversation so well.

“Mom?”

“Babe where are you I got notified that you finished but I didn’t see you I was so mad!” She said.

“Mom I did it, I finished!” I said, wondering if she could decipher my emotional jumble.

“Aw I know you did, I’m so proud of you. Where are you?”

“I’m right past the finish line sitting on a curb.”

“I’m behind a chain-linked fence I can’t get to you! I want to hug you!” She started getting emotional too.

With the tips of her fingers waving above the tall chain-linked fence, I hobbled towards her, and she handed me a big bouquet of flowers with a 26.2 magnet clipped on the front. I was a mess, she was a mess, and we tried the best we could to hold hands through the links of the fence. We promised to meet up in the family-meet-up area. I collected my beautiful finisher’s medal (which is still one of my favorites to this day), my free food and obligatory banana, and went to sit by my mom. It was surreal. All of it. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done in my life, yet I’d done it.

For weeks to follow, the less and less real the whole thing became. Did I really run a full marathon? The lingering soreness in my muscles reminded me that yes, I had done it. As if that wasn’t big enough of an accomplishment, I was graduating later that month! I was accepted into Miami University of Oxford, Ohio. My entire family came to watch me walk at graduation, including my dad who accepted a job in Afghanistan two years prior (he comes home for Christmas and for two weeks out of the summer). Life was flowing by so fast that I was afraid if I blinked I would miss something wonderful.

Things died down and I was working hard over the summer to pay for my single dorm. We signed up for a fall marathon, the Columbus Marathon, which I would get my first Boston Qualifier at (3:32). Freshman year was definitely a learning experience. People my age like to drink, even if it’s illegal. They like spending their time and money in some bar uptown, where the floor is covered in a mixture of vomit, beer, and who knows what the hell else. They like to spend the night with someone they only just met, and then never talk to them again. I’m not saying other people my age are bad or wrong. The point I am trying to make is that I will never be like them. I find insignificant things that will not benefit me in life, or that hold some greater importance, to not be worth my time. That’s just me.

To this day I occasionally find myself struggling to accept my quirks and differences. However I am much better off than I used to be. Running has helped give me confidence and stability in my life. My next BQ (Boston Qualifier) was up in Traverse City, MI, in May of 2016. I brought my time down to 3:27, which assured me that I would get into the Boston Marathon. My favorite race of all (so far) is the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which I ran this past October in a time of 3:23. I had already been accepted into Boston, but this new PR improved my seeding for the race in April.

I end this long-ass post with a focus on Boston because it is the epitome of who I have been striving to be. Through the eating disorder, the injury, the comeback, the tears, the fear of not fitting in; running has been the light at the end of the tunnel. Am I obsessive with it? Oh absolutely. Some days it drives my mom crazy how running is all I can talk about. However she continues to be my biggest supporter. She has been to every single race I have ever done; she has sweltered in the heat at the Rock n’ Roll Chicago Half, and has lost feeling in her fingers at the Heart Mini Half. She has done so much that I don’t think there will ever come a day where I can say I have repaid her. My dad sacrifices his life in the States for a job overseas that helps pay for my sister and I to go to college. My sister holds herself back from telling me to shut the hell up, and takes some great race photos.

So who am I? I am an old soul. I rise before the sun, and tuck myself in bed when people are heading uptown. I am a running-crazed college girl that regrets nothing in my life because it all has led to where I am now, and who I am now. I am a Boston Qualifier, training for the 2017 Boston Marathon. The people that I’ve met during this incredibly humbling journey have continued to inspire me and encourage me every day. I am stronger than I’ve ever been before, and although I still have a ways to go, I know I have a village of friends and family to push me to accomplish any goal I set before myself.

I wish to continue to life my life day in and day out, meet new people, love more, laugh more, and be even stronger. I wish to share these golden moments with the world.

Thanks,

Maddie Armbruster