I’m not going to sugar coat things: this pregnancy has been rough. Just a few weeks in, I was knocked out by hyperemesis and resulting trips to the hospital and various nausea medications, medical opinions, and IVs. I developed a painful hernia and bulging varicose veins. All this while navigating my husband’s waves of grief with his brother’s passing. There was an overnight trip to the hospital for a kidney infection and now I am at 36 weeks pregnant with walking pneumonia.
Couldn’t have written the script if I tried. But that’s the thing about life. There is no script so we have to take events as they come without fighting circumstances, and realize that happiness is a mental state we create that can withstand any chaos of the external world.
I am grateful the CIM 2015 marathon I ran is so close in memory, less than a year ago, because I’ve used so many moments of the training, injuries, the actual race itself to help get me through this past year with reasonable grace. The marathon has been the perfect metaphor for this pregnancy. Every time there’s been a challenge, I think of when I had to put my blinders on those last few miles of the race and just get through it with pure grit. Runners can gain so much life wisdom from the process of training and completing a marathon.
Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been perfect with my approach. There have been many times where I’ve been brooding and full of self-pity. Just ask my friends or my husband. But that’s the benefit of obstacles. Each time we encounter them in life, we’re able to bounce back a little more easily next time, and develop one more layer of buoyancy so the next time we have a challenge, we’re more resilient. That’s why bad workouts and injuries are such a blessing. They teach us to know ourselves a little bit deeper and to trust the imperfect process. Our challenges make us more dynamic and more capable. It’s where wisdom and empathy are born.
Certainly not everyone relates to pregnancy. Replace “tough pregnancy” with anything: a marathon, a divorce, addiction, or death of loved one. In any scenario, we find happiness and strength through training our minds and hearts to embrace this journey.
One of the first steps we can take is to view pain as normal and stop fighting it. The moment you start fighting your pain in a marathon, it’s over. You can’t simultaneously fight pain and find ease from suffering. As soon as you can let discomfort be a part of your journey, you run faster, you live easier, the hard times pass, the race ends. Everyone goes through challenges in life; it’s how you get through them shows your character.
I wrote this Dalai Lama passage on the inside cover of my journal right around the time I got really sick with hyperemesis and my husband was sometimes immobile with grief after his brother’s death: “to a large extent, sometimes whether you suffer depends on how you respond to a given situation.” We accepted and embraced the waves of grief and Andy’s reactions and trusted that his brother was free from suffering and eventually Andy would be, too. We knew I would be healthy and the baby would be healthy. I just had to get through the weeks. Sometimes I would lie awake at night and think about mile nineteen when my Garmin stopped working and my feet were suddenly magnets to the pavement and my stomach was ravaged with the deepest cramps. Every time my mind wanted to go toward my suffering, I redirected my focus, and kept moving forward. Strong, calm, relaxed. Coming back to an image of strength, of moving forward with one foot in front of the other, can get us through the worst of it.
The greatest gift of going through painful times is that it allows us to empathize with others on a whole new level. Challenges are all relative. I even think complaining is good, as long as we complain with perspective. In the discomfort of this pregnancy, I constantly think of women who are unable to get pregnant and would give anything to be in my situation. Or women who have lost a child. I feel connection at the deepest human level of empathy and trust. This is compassion I wasn’t capable of knowing with two easy pregnancies prior. And when I get frustrated that I’ve been so physically limited in this pregnancy, I think of what a gift it has been to start a team of women running in this town along with my closest running gal pal. It’s been the season to pour my energy into other women, their goals, building community, and it couldn’t feel more right. If we can remember to find meaning in our challenges, we are more compassionate and will always be able to cope even during the most difficult times. When we look around and realize we’re not the only ones running the marathon, dealing with the discomforts, that unpredictable mile, we create the journey and the happiness within ourselves that can spread and multiply outside ourselves.
I remember my first day of competitive soccer practice. I was 10 years old, starting the fifth grade, and my childhood nickname, “chicken legs,” came to life as I struggled to keep my shin guards from sliding down. As a nervous impostor (all the girls were friend from public school and I was the awkward private school girl), I knew making it through the first practice would be victory in itself. I made it through, and I had never felt so brave. I remember going to school the next day feeling the extra hop in my step.
These ordinary experiences can makes us feel invincible and powerful.
I would feel that bravery time and time again: my first day of cross country practice as a freshman and feeling my eyes well up when what I thought was the run was actually just the warm-up. Then there was taking the baton at State Meet, with an entire team relying on me to help us get to the finals. I had to be a brave and scrappy college runner, finding my way. At each turn, there was a team. A group that made the bravery possible, that made it even more worth it.
This bravery isn’t unique. We all feel it when we do something scary. In the presence of a team, that bravery has the potential to magnify to feel otherworldly. The teammate whose triumph feels like your own. The little victory that we each share. The obstacle we finally get past that we all have a stake in. All these moments add up and stitch together to create the fabric of team magic.
On the verge of starting our women’s running team, Arete, I get butterflies at the thought of team life again. It won’t be all consuming in the ways of childhood and college, but in that way it’s almost better. It’s something we get to make time for, not just something Mom signed us up for. It’s something we are a part of, once again, and this time the bravery, the camaraderie takes on a new adult life.
What being a part of Run Arete means:
The fire still burns. We’re older now, so we appreciate finding that fire, where as before it was expected. The turn of a last lap, the last minute of an interval. It’s alive and it’s nothing age or fitness can diminish. I can’t wait to see that fire light up in our team. Some will be slow to start, and others burning from the get-go, but the passion of revisiting team life ignites on day one.
For teammates, for the sport, for something bigger than ourselves. Sharing the passion through such a raw and powerful activity fills hearts to the brim.
Like that first day of soccer practice, we’ll be there to see each other through moments of bravery. Each moment—on any scale is something to celebrate. Hopping on the track for the first time in years, setting a PR, qualifying for a dream race. Each of these moments will take heart, sacrifice, failures, and triumphs. With the support of team, we share in those moments together.
When you join a team, there’s a certain amount of letting go and trusting the process. Trusting your teammates. Your coach. Creating a space that’s different than anything else in the day. And trusting each other to fill that space with exactly what we need: each other in the art of running.
Here’s to showing up, finding your brave, and being part of something bigger than yourself.
After my husband’s brother passed away last week after a tough fight with cancer, the burden of grief surrounds us. Ben’s the closest person I’ve ever lost, and he’s not even my own brother. But the loss has been profound. Even though I watch my husband every day ride the waves of grief, I still can’t truly imagine what he’s going through & what my in-laws trudge through each day. When I have those three second videos I’ve imprinted to memory of his laugh or still shots of summer memories on the Cape, my face starts to flush and my eyes well. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone, especially when memories feel so close. In those moments of quiet when I think of my husband losing his only brother, I ache with his pain.
But then there’s clarity, distraction, and life. From the weeks leading up to Ben’s death and the days since, a lot has become more clear. Life has never felt more fragile. The unimportant has never felt so trivial, and what and whom I love has never felt more urgent. I’m overwhelmed thinking that it’s taken the death of a loved one to come to this with such depth and clarity. But maybe that’s what it takes.
As I’ve been enveloped by memories of Ben in these last weeks, I constantly think of time. People always say how quickly it passes, but I never felt it in my core until now. I’ve asked myself, what can I do to stop time so that I’m so present that the notion of time doesn’t even exist. If I can get into that I am grounded and I can find my way. So I run. I run to freeze time. It’s the gift I do that brings me closest to home. Right now, in mourning, all I want to do is let what I love guide me. Besides our friends who’ve helped hold all our broken pieces together, running has been the ultimate comfort.
In the wake of this tender loss, I’ve never felt so clear about where I am. Less push, more flow. Less hustle, more faith. I feel deeply connected to the people of my inner circle who have emerged so generously to give to our family. I am confident in the momentum that this gift of running continues to give. As loss sheathes our days, I’m learning that you can live with that while experiencing so much that is good. As this trauma continues to unravel, at the same time beauty surfaces. I’m excited to announce that my longtime runner friend, Melissa, and I are launching a women’s running team here in Santa Cruz, with overwhelming positive feedback. I continue to plant the framework for my summer running camp. And my personal running has never been more necessary.
If there’s a silver lining in such a profound loss, it’s that I feel so alive. I wish I could tell Ben what an honor it was to know him. That I loved him. Instead, I’ll go on living with my whole heart, knowing that’s the very best thing I can do.
Above: Summer 2010 — Ben up front after a water fight with young Kieran (Andy’s son). We rode in his Jeep that whole evening, blasting country music, no seat belts, free as can be.
Above: I found this picture while we were cleaning out Ben’s home last week. Summer 2011. Pregnant with Lucia. It was the summer I ran in humid Cape Cod and dove in the perfect water. Ben made us lobster on his deck and entertained us during warm, slow nights.
Above: February 2016, three days after Ben passed away. Lucia and Oliver take turns on the idyllic swing on Ben’s trail.
Above: February 2016. Sunset run, just leaving my in-laws home. I ran every evening into this sunset. I drank these colors each night and let this remind me how grateful I am for this little life of mine.
The best way to eat. The best way to parent. The best way to train. Social media, news, forums, parents & friends: we are constantly flooded with these “best way” approaches to living. It can be consuming if we allow it. Instead of letting myself feel overwhelmed by dogmatic viewpoints, I have grown into a mindset that there are many right ways to do things. I’m constantly reminding myself to value various perspectives. Open mindedness is so much easier in theory than practice, especially when the beliefs aren’t too far off from our own. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my own set of values and ways that feel right for me. It just keeps me in check when I have an instant judgment about myself or how others are going about life.
Which brings me to meditation. When I was first introduced to the idea several years ago, I wrote it off as mystical voodoo. The prayer beads, the incense, and goddesses. Not for me. Big fat judgements going on in my head about the “type” of person who meditated. I quickly wrote it off and vowed to stay clear of the new age nonsense. But as I started exploring yoga, I realized that all these people I wrote off as hippie freaks actually had a lot to teach me. I started to appreciate their way of cultivating a present and content life and realized they weren’t such freaks after all. They were stopping long enough to be present. And so what if they had these rituals that weren’t for me. And whether or not it was a passing trend, they were on to something.
And so I started exploring.
Six or seven years ago, I first started dabbling in yoga and meditation. I came to it like so many others do. To find stillness in my monkey brain and to ease stress. At first I felt out of place and like a total impostor. I remember feeling uncomfortable sitting for so long in one position. I had run races so hard that I puked. I had traveled alone in foreign lands. But the thought of sitting still with nothing but my mind and my breath scared me more than anything I had tried. I’d fidget, get up for water, count the seconds in my head, and squint my eyes open toward the clock. But eventually something clicked. Once I realized that there was no competition, no right way to do it, no end goal, I was hooked. I started to crave this time.
Over the years, my meditation practice has evolved (maybe devolved?), but it has adapted to my life at each stage. It used to be routine, long, connected to a yoga practice. But now, with a totally full plate, I’m sure many purists wouldn’t call it a meditation practice, but back to my original point: there are many “right” ways to do things.
I do it because it makes me more capable of living my life. I meditate because I know that true happiness comes from internal peace. Not to say things won’t be noisy and messy and unfortunate around me, but I know that if I can have a baseline sense of internal contentment, unfortunate circumstances will have less of an impact on my overall contentment. I love all the scientific evidence that it can actually rewire how our brains respond to stress, that it makes us more productive, and allows us to ease our reactions. It’s why it’s as trending in Silicon Valley as it is at Wanderlust. But all that aside, for me, I do it because it helps me get out of my own way. I am able to see situations as they actually are, not just how I perceive them. I can say “yes” to whatever happens and to learn not to judge whatever the circumstance is at that time. The less combat, the more ease.
Here’s what my meditation practice looks like. I don’t do it every day, although maybe someday I’ll make time for that. Also, it was incredibly awkward and unsatisfying the first few times when I started a home practice. A few times a week, I wake up before my alarm, and I’m lucky if the kids are still asleep. I do everything to not pick up my phone or computer for a digital hit. Because then it’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of email and Instagram. I turn on the hot water (so I can have coffee ready right after!), put on my coziest sweats, fuzzy socks, and waltz into the living room half asleep and slightly grumpy that I’m awake. I roll out my yoga mat and prop up some pillows. I sit down on the pillow and start feeling my way into my body and the practice. I’m usually cold and a little fidgety when I first sit down. Then I allow myself to just be there with myself, my breath, my body. As I get more comfortable, I begin to follow my breath and watch it grow slowly and fully. I don’t force anything or put any time frame on it. I envision my breath like a revolving circle and this helps move my breath fully in and out through my nose as my stomach expands and my entire body relaxes. Sometimes I’ll last a minute and sometimes I’ll sit for 10 minutes. Eventually, I feel like the practice is over, and when I stand up, my senses are heightened and I’m calm and aware. Exactly what I need to carry me through my day. Soon after the kids are up, breakfast is spilling everywhere are we’re all running out the door, but that imperfect, brief inward practice is enough to kick-start my day. It’s a space I can remind myself of throughout the day, no matter how out of control the outside world feels. Meditation is my favorite underutilized tool toward contentment, and I’m glad I was finally able to see past my own judgments to appreciate what the practice has to offer.
As a parent, a coach, and a longtime athlete, I think about this topic often: why do we sign up our kids for sports? Most parents enroll our kids in sports at some point in their childhood. In fact, 45 million American kids play sports. It’s all giggles and carefree until we’re swept into the vortex that is games and private lessons and before we know it, we’re missing our sister’s wedding for a tournament. With increasingly privatized and expensive clubs, it seems that less are participating “for the love of the game” and more are feeling the pressure of the competitive youth sports scene. Sometimes we look past why youth sports exist in the first place and what we should look for in raising our kids through athletics. Some parents see talent in their young child in a certain sport and feel pressured to guide them down a single sport path; sometimes the competitive and specializing mindset works out and the six-year-old soccer star ends up with a full ride to her dream college. But we are learning more about the dangers of early specialization and the path to burnout.
Here are some ideas to challenge and empower us to think about a path to transformed youth sports, what to look for, and why we bring our kids to the athletic experience in the first place:
To build not only better athletes but better people.
When we sign up our kids for sports, it’s a tool for making them better people. When a young child talks to a trusting coach, she learns to communicate her feelings. When a boy learns how to lose gracefully, he learns humility. He also learns resilience. They learn to believe in themselves when odds are against them. They learn that people count on them to show up on time. That one time that they fall on the starting line, they learn that there’s another race. They learn that when they show up consistently, they’ll improve. When we sign up our kids for sports, this character development is what we are signing up for, and finding a program that shares this philosophy is important for the development of the whole child. Becoming a better athlete is a byproduct of all these qualities that make them a better human.
To give our kids a chance to take healthy risks.
My young daughter has been in a toddler gymnastics class for a couple years now. She loves it. I mean who knows, maybe she’ll want to be a gymnast down the road, but likely not. We do it because it’s fun for her, she gets to move her body and play with her peers. Just recently she’s been going through a stage where she’s nervous to go to class. Last week, my husband told her that it’s a “healthy risk” and he explained to her what it meant. He told her that sometimes it feels really good to be brave when you’re afraid of something and then you’re proud of yourself afterwards. Last week, she was nervous and we talked a lot about being a “brave girl” and that I would be there close by until she was comfortable. It didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable and eventually she was in her groove and so proud of herself afterward. She just wanted to know that I recognized her fears and that they were okay. Let’s encourage our kids to take healthy risks so they know what they’re capable of and what it feels like to be a little uncomfortable–because that’s where the magic of growth happens.
To show them that it’s okay if you’re not good at something right away.
For some reason there’s this unwritten rule that you’re supposed to be good at something right away. Says who?! Youth sports are so competitive now days, often with the focus on elite training, that it seems it’s easy for kids to throw in the towel if they’re not good right away. In fact, by age 15, 80% of kids have quit organized teams. That’s just silly. Kids should be able to try any sport they want and grow at the rate that’s appropriate for them. Every learning curve is okay. Some kids are quick learners and natural athletes. Some kids take things slow and are not out there to become youth elites. An appropriate youth sports approach should embrace all learning curves and styles.
To give them a chance to have ownership and intrinsic motivation.
There is nothing more satisfying than a kid who says, “I did it!” Whether it’s climbing a tree, building a castle, or finishing a race, we own that feat at every age. It’s not that she won or was the best, but that by her own heart and willpower, she completed a challenge. When a child tackles something, she develops ownership over her body and her mind. She has the tools to accomplish greatness. Motivation is built here and there’s no stopping an empowered kid with momentum and confidence.
To give them a childhood.
Perhaps most importantly, we introduce our kids to sports as one way to have an awesome childhood. I firmly believe that, along with other outlets and activities, participation in sports can be the recipe for beautiful growing years. We sign them up to build the foundations for an active life. While it’s great that a select few will play in high school and college, this should not be the goal. We should aim to put them on a path for character exploration, broad participation, balance, and health. Sports should be a tool to enhance childhood, not to take away from this precious time.
In thinking of the new year, I decided I would set aside resolutions, take 2016 as it would come, but listen to little signs that indicate I should walk toward certain opportunities. As the year unfolds, I continue to peek a little closer at the world of running and track and field, and as I do so, the door keeps opening a little wider.
One thing continues to lead to the next, and I find myself here looking at an opportunity to share the sport of track and field with the young people of Santa Cruz County. While details are still unfolding, I’m excited to bring a premier track and field camp to the area July 11-22 for kids ages 6-13.
Track & field is so much more than just moving your body on or near and oval. It is so deeply rooted in tradition, with the purpose in the ancient Olympic games to foster the ideal of “a sound mind in a sound body.” It is as much a physical practice as a mental one. As much a team sport as an individual one. It’s where we can shape children into joyous athletes with tools that can help them tackle athletic and life events. I learned some of my favorite life tools from the hours I spent on the track. I made my best friends and developed a lifelong commitment to health and exercise.
Whether or not the little athletes go on to continue the sport competitively, they will leave camp with intangible rewards. Kids of any level, body type, and athletic goals will leave camp with the confidence, skills, and teamwork to translate into any sport or endeavor. My hope is that kids add track & field to their list of sports to try, and then maybe it’ll stick. My goal is to help young people develop physically and mentally in a way that challenges them to use their bodies and their minds in a way that empowers them to develop into strong and resilient individuals. To show them that when they’re standing on the starting line, surrounded by teammates and competitors, it’s a moment in time to showcase the limits of human potential. That when you’re in the shot put ring, with one final throw, your thoughts might be more powerful than any other muscle in your body. That taking risks and failing is part of growing up.
I’m so excited to help young people challenge themselves and learn some of the greatest athletic and life skills through the sport of track and field!
Santa Cruz Track & Field Camp:
*Website, registration, and details forthcoming.*
Date: July 11-22
Ages: 6-13 with an elementary and middle school program
Location: Aptos High School Track
Included: Excellent coaching staff, event technique, Wharf to Wharf racing bib, mini Olympics, awards, track bag, snacks, prizes, nutrition coaching, and a lot of FUN!
With New Year’s resolutions circulating around each of us, it’s hard to pass by the commercials and Facebook sponsored articles shouting, “How to make and keep your new years resolutions” and “Resolving to lose weight? Tips to keep the weight off for good.” I love a fresh start as much as the next person, but I can’t get behind a new year’s resolution.
Not including the fact that the vast majority of resolutions are never kept, it’s this pressure that something isn’t perfect and needs to change. We can frame it anyway we want—growth, goals, change. But no matter the angle, the vast majority of resolutions boil down to this internal soundbite: “I’m not good enough in_____ area of my life, and I’m gonna change!” Don’t get me wrong, I love growth more than anything. Developing, changing, harnessing the good. But once a year—with the help of multiple media outlets— we smack ourselves in the face with the notion that in some are of our lives—looks, love, finances, fitness—we just aren’t quite cutting it. We’ve accepted this as the norm because heck, our parents fell for it growing up, our neighbors are doing it, and we even make resolutions in school. And there’s a huge industry that banks on our desire to change come January 1st each year.
On New Year’s Eve this year, my husband and I were tucking our tired and sick kids into bed at my in-law’s home during our east coast visit. We were so happy to have a moment of silence. Andy decided he wanted to teach me to play Gin Rummy. I was so excited because he’s not competitive and I’ve never played a card game with him. So the chance to try and ruffle his very few competitive feathers and share a drink with him in the silence of the living room corner was just perfect. At a certain point he said, “wait, you should check if it’s midnight!” I looked down at my phone at it was exactly 12:01. “Crap! We missed it!” We listened to the faint sounds of fireworks as he whooped my butt in a new favorite game.
There was no thought of resolution. No changes. No epiphanies. I made a concerted effort coming into 2016 to remind myself that my best headspace, my greatest moments of peace, my most thoughtful successes come from my belief that I’m good enough. That my life is good enough. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. And good enough is better than perfect. From the casual observer this might sound like I’m side-stepping goals, like I’m skirting success. That—God forbid—I’ve gotten lazy in my 30s.
It’s quite the opposite. When I zero in too closely and I forget that I’ve climbed so high on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I can have a blog (!!) to document my musings and have the privilege to think about happiness, I often wrap myself in headspace traffic.
It’s almost like I’m looking at this beautiful framed painting hanging on the wall–the way I picture my perfect life. But it’s not my picture. I can’t have it and I shouldn’t. But right next to it, there’s this equally beautiful–but different– piece of artwork. That’s my picture–it’s my life. Sometimes I just forget to look at it, notice it, and grab hold of it. Sometimes it takes just a little looking to the left to see what a beautiful piece of work you have.
So yes, in those moments when I believe that striving for good enough is better than perfect, my life feels absolutely perfect. So that’s my resolution: to own my good enough life. Because that is where the creativity happens. The genuine love. The random doors that open to unexpected surprises. When I live for good enough I can confidently own imperfection so that in the state of calm, like a garden bed with a fresh layer of soil, I can start planting the seeds for little delights. And I’ll know when it’s time to dig my heels in for the real transformational work that involves unpleasant sacrifice and grueling dedication. The transformation that doesn’t come from a January 1st declaration.
I don’t have the perfect job, the perfect house, jet-setting glamour. But my life is good enough. I am healthy. My family is healthy. I have more than I need. And I am fortunate to be in a place to think about what else I could possibly desire. Many people are not so lucky, and sometimes I forget that privilege that I have–that many of us have.
Just like every other year, I know 2016 will be full of beautiful moments and some tough obstacles. I’ll make some big goals, but I’ll also make an effort to look at my picture and be content exactly as it is and trust the process. No resolution this year, but it’s going to be good enough. And for that reason, it’s going to rock.
“Sometimes, when you don’t talk about something, it seems like it’s something that doesn’t matter. If you don’t name it, it isn’t real. The problem is that it is real, and it has pervasive effects whether or not you believe it.” -Alicia Johnston
By a strange twist of events, I have found myself in conversation about eating disorders in running. It started a while back when I was reading the message board on letsrun.com with the titled thread “Finding the proper way to discuss eating disorders/women’s weight issues on Letsrun.” Not surprising to many of us who’ve been in the sport for a long time, eating disorders are prevalent and quite complex. On the forum, many people had much to say about this issue. They were detailed. Emotional. Intelligent. Concerned. So many women had stories and even more people had opinions. Who’s to blame, if anyone? And why is there so much silence, shame, and secrecy? The general consensus is that, like the current issue of performance enhancing drugs, we need conversation and transparency so that athletes can thrive.
I conjured up my own memories and wrote an email in to Robert Johnson on letsrun, and the email below was soon after published on the site as the “Email of the Week”:
When I was in high school in California (graduated ’03), I always felt like eating disorders were glorified—not outright, but certainly in the fact that no one seemed to talk about it. There were many girls in those days who dropped a lot of weight (**names redacted** to name a few), but the focus was mostly on how fast they were rather than the sudden weight loss. All of us on the sidelines observed this performance enhancing approach. From our perspective they never “got in trouble” and they just kept getting faster and getting full rides to colleges. Why wouldn’t we give it a try? That was every runner’s dream. As teenagers we didn’t know the true battle they were facing. We just saw what seemed like an obvious cause and effect scenario: lose weight, run faster. Lose more weight, run really fast.
In high school I was 125 pounds, my natural fighting weight at a 5’7” middle distance runner. Even though I was becoming more aware of this weight loss performance phenomenon, I was too afraid to get caught up in it. I was recruited to run at **name redacted** as “a great potential” distance runner with just a handful of other distance girls. I had never really trained all that seriously and certainly never more than 20-25 miles a week. I started to show promise, but was also incredibly intimidated by these girls who had years of true distance training behind them. As we all ate together in the dining halls, I started to notice the eating patterns of another freshmen recruit and good friend. She ate only chicken breasts, egg whites, and lettuce. Out of nowhere, she soon became the #1 freshman in the **conference redacted**, and just kept getting better. Surely she was on to something. I later learned that at her lowest weight—when she was finally pulled from one meet—she weighed 89 pounds at 5’9”. Over the next several years, she suffered from severe anorexia and bulimia that eventually ended her running career. I started losing weight on a similar “healthy” diet. I was down to 110 at 5’7”. I was running fast but eventually succumbed to a succession of stress fractures and obsessive eating patterns. When my coach pulled me aside when some teammates noticed my weight loss he said, “You’ve lost weight. You healthy?” What do you say to that? “Yes…?” I said. He responded, “You just stay healthy and run fast, okay?” That was that.
I left **name redacted** after that first year, took a semester at my local community college, and transferred to **name redacted** because it seemed like a good fit. Initially, I loved it. Beautiful trails, great teammates, friendly vibe. As many know, after dealing with eating issues, it’s hard to get your weight back to normal and to relearn normal eating. Dealt with some ups and downs and similar coach conversations.
I regret that I never had the chance to confront the eating disorder. I wish one of the adults in authority—one of the coaches—knew how to approach eating disorders, how to talk about it honestly, how to take us out from the darkness and shame— so that we could have all become the athletes we had the potential to become.
My hope is that these honest forums shed some light on a very real and treatable disorder. When it comes down to it, the coaches are doing the best they can and so are the athletes. No one’s at fault. There is just such a fear and lack of transparency on the subject. But I think we are ALL responsible—coaches, athletes, parents, media—to acknowledge the issues and talk honestly about the problem so that athletes do not have to suffer in silence. The forum on Letsrun is the perfect opportunity for this conversation to happen. Thank you.
Where I am today:
I didn’t run for 5 years after college. It took me that long to appreciate my body and learn to eat normally. During that time I took up yoga and developed a stronger sense of mental and physical awareness. Since finishing college, I’ve been back to my normal weight: 125 pounds. I eat well and don’t obsess over food. After my first child I missed running and started up again. I’m now training for the **name redacted** Marathon.
I can’t thank you enough for Letsrun. I read it religiously every night when my kids fall asleep and I wouldn’t be up on the sport if it wasn’t for you guys. Your eating disorder forum is the best thing that’s happened to the site in a while. Okay, well, there are many great things about letsrun, but it’s a very relevant piece for serious female runners. Thank you on behalf of all the unnamed individuals you are helping. I hope you share more quotes, articles, and statistics on this topic in the future.
PS. What is interesting but not surprising is that eating disorders are viral on a team if they are allowed to be that way. Also, part of the problem is that it takes a very long time for a girl with an eating disorder to even admit to herself that she has an issue, so by then the damage is already done. However, there are always the handful of fast girls who do not succumb to the disorder even though it may surround them on a team. What I would love to see is a panel of those girls speak in front of coaches, teams, etc and talk about the skills they used to protect themselves from such a pervasive and sneaky disorder. Granted, some of the protective factors from something like that has to do with the way some girls are wired, but they could certainly talk about things within our control such as friend choices, self-talk training, and conversations with coaches. A forum like that could help open up candid conversations with athletes, coaches, and families. Like many topics, maybe transparency is the best approach with eating disorders. But I’m certainly not an expert.
From my personal experience, seeing a nutritionist was not helpful because it doesn’t get to the root of the issue. Food really isn’t the true problem and often times nutritionist perpetuate an obsessive approach to food.
Thanks for creating a space for these important topics.
Several weeks passed after this email, and just yesterday, in the hubbub of Christmas week, the Producers and Anchor of NBC Bay Area, Kevin Nious and Vicky Nguyen, emailed me. They wanted to chat. They had read my email on letsrun, and although it was anonymous and all names were removed, they did some searching around the internet for terms I used, and eventually found my blog post (Internet is crazy but that’s another story!). Turns out they are doing an investigative report on eating disorders and NCAA female athletics. At first I was hesitant. I didn’t want to incriminate anyone, and I didn’t necessarily want to think about something that was such a dark spot in my past. After a day of thinking I kept coming back to something that kept ringing in my head. I work with young girls and teenagers–the very demographic at risk for these same issues. They deserve to know and be a part of this conversation. They deserve the best shot at healthy running. The young generation of girls should see women today break the unwritten rule of silence. So this was an open door. They wanted to hear my story, not because it’s unique, but because it’s common. It’s a small story in a much larger narrative. With that in mind, I was in.
The crew arrived at my house this afternoon. They were friendly and made me feel comfortable, which was important because even though it’s been about 10 years, thinking of what I witnessed and experienced as a young collegiate brings me right back. Luckily, I’ve had enough space and years of maturity to be able to talk candidly and confidently. They wanted to know all the details, my experience, and what I witnessed. I talked about the slippery slope. Observing sudden skinny, fast runners. Starting to eat healthfully. Then you’re watching what you eat. Next thing you know it you’re obsessing over food. Then you find yourself restricting foods. Before you know it, you have a full blown eating disorder. I was fortunate to stop somewhere between the obsessing and restricting, but it was the pits. I can’t imagine the girls that find themselves in the depths of eating disorder hell and then to struggle with a lifetime of recovery and mental prison. I was careful to keep the discussion on why the issue persists and what we can do. It was intense, it was cathartic, but mostly it was an essential conversation. Thanks to some brave ladies like Crystal Nelson, Hannah Crist and other anonymous women sharing their stories, there is hope for upcoming runners looking at their future careers. They will be equipped as they realize that there will likely be girls in their closest corners who will face these dark internal battles. And hopefully they will not have to face these battles in silence and shame. Let’s continue to lift the veil, remove the shame, and foster healthy sport. Honesty, transparency, courage. These tough conversations lead to the greatest breakthroughs, and for all the young women in this sport, this is a tough conversation worth having.
When I started this blog a year ago, it was to document a journey: my attempt to run a marathon under three hours without putting all my eggs in one basket. In other words, my life would pretty much be the same–still have my little kids to chase around, a job that needs tending, and a home that needs nurturing. And while nothing in my life substantially would change to make this goal possible, I knew that I’d spend about a year slowly building mileage and making some sacrifices to chase a goal. But as much as I like to dream of the professional runner lifestyle (all day to rest and train and focus and eat well…!), my life would carry on as an average working mom trying to put a little spark in a previously sidelined talent and hobby. Given the limited amount of time I have to dedicate to training, I decided this goal would just barely be attainable; pretty much everything would have to go right on race day for it to happen. As soon as I called it subthreemommy.com, I thought, “Shoot. did I just jinx myself? What if this doesn’t happen?!” I decided to just roll with it and to see where the weeks would take me.
I slowly started building mileage–slow being the key word. Coming from a middle distance background, “mileage” takes some time for me to mentally and physically adjust. I knew I wouldn’t run more than 60 miles a week and would always take Mondays off–a day to rest and catch up a bit more at work. I got in a good groove: Wednesday track workouts and all the other days were easy pace medium long runs or doubles (9-11 miles). Saturdays alternated between long marathon tempo paces (hardest workouts) or long runs (tapping out at 20 miles). By July, I was putting in some consistent base and staying healthy. While building up, I ran some decent races (36:30 6-miler and 18:25 5k) that indicated I could keep at it. I started some good long tempos and track stuff in August and started to hit my projected marathon pace. My confidence continued to push me along.
But when work started to get super busy in September, I started to have doubts. Instead of throwing in the towel, I gave myself a week off as a way to keep myself in check (“you’re not getting paid for this, Mary, so just chill!”) and catch up at work and home. In September I ran my first ever half marathon in the midst of work craziness and felt super comfortable at 1:25:06. Alright, I’ll keep going. I think I can do this. After mile repeats on the track soon after, I started getting some hip and hamstring pains–something that started after child birth, and I never really dealt with it. That forced me into some days off and time with my physical therapist. I committed to 2 months of the regimen and it paid off just in time. At a tune-up 5K Turkey Trot in a comfortable 18:22, for the first time I didn’t “feel it” in my hip. At that point, I was exactly 2 weeks out from the marathon. My workouts and races indicated everything was working in my favor. Now, all I needed to do was stay healthy, pray for good weather, and execute.
Then came life. The day after Thanksgiving–10 days before the race– my 2-year-old came down with a nasty cold. Anyone who has a toddler knows that it’s impossible to keep one from sneezing in your face. Though I don’t much believe in curing colds or any of the homeopathic stuff, I decided I had nothing to lose, and was all in. From the moment he first started sneezing in my face and wiping boogers on me, I took ColdEeze and Zicam around the clock. I sprayed down door knobs with Lysol. I drank tea and used a Neti Pot. If nothing else, the placebo effect kept me healthy. It was a miracle. I fought off a cold the entire week leading up to the race. My ears and throat were constantly borderline and I just wouldn’t let the sickness in. I knew that if I did, it would be very hard to run a good marathon.
There was one more thing I was contending against: the weather. CIM is a fast course if the weather is good. In December it’s totally hit or miss. Two weeks out, I started checking the weather. My husband is a weather buff (read: wannabe meteorologist), so he kept reassuring me that “you may get wet but there won’t be a storm.” I told myself I trusted him but I still obsessively checked the updates. NOAA, weather.com, Accuweather had all different reports, so I kept going with the one that indicated no rain and no wind. As the race got closer, they all indicated 90% rain. I tried to stay positive, but I hadn’t run in the rain in over a year! I started reading tips on blogs: body glide on your feet, wear clothing at the start and then ditch it, etc. Many said “adjust your time goals” and I said “no thank you” and looked at the positive angle like “hey! At least it’s not hot!” I kept reminding myself that I spent college running in Ithaca’s storms, and it never phased me, so I could deal with a little weather.
Sacramento or Bust
When my mom arrived Saturday morning to watch our kids for the night, I knew it just got real. I was healthy and in less than 24 hours a year’s worth of dreaming and scheming would come to fruition. My husband was very patient on the drive up while listening to my pump-up playlist and answering my every question about the weather such as, “but how do you know that storm is heading north instead of south?” When we arrived, we headed straight to the Expo. I don’t love giant crowds, so I tried to run in and out as quick as possible while making one stop to chat with the pacer. Ahead of time I had decided to run with the 3 hour group for the first 5-6 miles to keep my pace in check and then would slowly move up. When I asked the pacer about my plan he replied, “Well, now we’re talking philosophy…” I decided I liked my plan and I’d find him the next morning.
On the way out, I ran into Scott Abbott (my former high school running camp counselor and coach), gave him a big hug, and asked him, “Wait what are you doing here?!” Turns out he was the Race Director of the entire race! I figured it was a good omen, as he’s about the most positive guy out there. He said he’d find me at the finish line and a little rain ain’t no thang. I liked this momentum.
We checked into our hotel room. I checked the forecast and there was still no change. Guess I’m getting rain. I still couldn’t believe the next morning I was going to not only run 26 miles, but try to do it fast. After a couple weeks of tapering, it felt so daunting. But I kept reminding myself to trust the whole process. Our friends Scotty and Melissa arrived soon after and we met them up for dinner. It was a great diversion. I’ve known Scotty and Melissa for most of my life and Melissa is one of my closest girlfriends and running partners. She was coming off a bit of an injury and wouldn’t be racing, but Scotty was. We all ordered spaghetti and meatballs and beer for good luck and extra carbs. Melissa and Andy discussed their detailed spectating plan that seemed more complicated than my race plan. We kept things light and laughed a ton.
When we got back to the hotel room we watched Dazed and Confused and pretty soon I was dozing off and out by 10pm, which is so rare for me the night before a race. I woke up a couple times during the night and thought it was go-time, only to realize it was 1am and 2am. When my alarm went off at 3:45am, for the first time I felt incredible and purely excited. I was still nervous, but slowly I was pushing aside the nerves and letting them be a spectator because this was my day. From the moment I woke up, I only allowed positive thoughts to flood my mind space. I kept telling the negative ones to take a back seat. And pretty soon they did and I didn’t have to do anymore telling. Scotty and I stood in a long line waiting for the bus at 4:45am. We took the 45min bus over, chatted about random stuff and he made fun of me for having a water bottle with no cap, like how am I supposed to warm up with that?! It’s just how I roll sometimes. I remember some important things, but the most basic of things–like a cap on my water bottle or a hair tie or my wallet, for that matter–I forget. We looked at the windshield. Some sprinkles, but nothing terrible.
We arrived and as soon as we walked off, it was a giant wall of porta potties. Joy to my eyes. I remember reading that for a marathon you shouldn’t do more than jog a mile or so because you don’t want to tap into your needed glycogen stores. So with more than an hour to spare, I needed to keep my mind busy. I decided to check out the start. I noticed all the pacer signs leaning against the side of the start zone. There was a 2:43 and a 3:05 sign but no 3:00. Weird–I had just talked to the 3 hour pacer yesterday. Oh well, nothing I could do at that point. I decided I’d rely on my Garmin to pace me at 6:45-50 those first few miles.
With 10 minutes to go, I felt like it was a weird apocalyptic scene. It was still dark and misty. Guys were peeing everywhere along the sides lining the starting zone. Guys have such an advantage when it comes to last minute emptying of the bladder. I found a decent spot about 20 meters back from the start line. When the race started, it felt like a jog as my coach insisted that it should. I went through the first mile in 6:49. Pretty much spot on. I kept reminding myself to stay relaxed and not get caught up in the fervor and to just “head out for a long run” and stay calm. The rain started pouring harder through the first few miles. But with no wind and my vizor, I hardly noticed it. I did, however, notice the hills in those first 5 miles. Since I had heard the race is a slight overall downgrade, I wasn’t mentally prepared for any type of hills, so that was a bit of a mental shift for me. I just kept reminding myself to not exert too much energy going up them or go overly fast downhill because that could seriously take a toll on my quads. At about mile 3, some guy yelled, “Where the hell is the 3 hour pacer? This isn’t what I signed up for!!” Some other guy in the pack yelled, “he’s right behind us!” Unlike the other pacers who held small signs, turns out the 3 hour guy had the pace written on his back. Everyone was up in arms about this, and I tried to keep my energy focused and calm. I ran with him for about a mile, decided it was too congested and intense, and let myself move slightly forward.
At 10k I felt superb and went through at 42:07 (6:47 pace). I had a moment where I wanted to go for it, but kept hearing my coach’s words in my head: “Be patient. The first half of the marathon is the first 18 miles.” In other words I needed to spread out my effort over the first 18 miles because the last 8 would be a doozy. So I stayed the course and stuck with the plan. I saw my cheering squad at the 10k, gave them a little smile to indicate “Thank you for being here! I think I got this!” and I kept plugging on. I tried to stick with a little pack of guys and they were really kind and said things like, “Nice rhythm. Drop your elbows and breathe,” and I appreciated it. It’s always nice to find guys who aren’t threatened by women of their same speed.
I maintained pace through the early middle miles and went through the half at 1:28:14 (6:45 pace). It still felt perfect and a nice negative split. At that point it was a mental game. I kept thinking to myself, “just tick off the miles and exert the least amount of effort possible.” Sure enough mile 14 came up before I knew it and the miles kept rolling. By mile 18, my watch started beeping “low battery.” I had really relied on my Garmin to keep me on track so it was a bummer that it died just after mile 20. My mile 20 mark was 2:14:52 (6:45 splits), and I was still as consistent as possible. It wasn’t until mile 21 when I started to feel my hips ache in a big way. My internal dialogue was something like this: “Strong, calm, relaxed…fight…this is yours.” There were also a couple of “No one will care if you stop and walk and step off to the side…” but for the most part, the doubting voice was silenced by my urge to fight. By mile 23, I felt my tunnel vision come in because really it’s all I could focus on to take away from the steel wall that was creeping in. While the earlier miles whizzed by, these last few miles couldn’t have gone any slower. At a certain point, we got out of the neighborhood and suddenly it was mile 25. I could feel a lump in my throat and my eyes started welling up. The feeling of I might actually be doing this. Even though I hadn’t been passed by the 3 hour group, I couldn’t celebrate yet, though. Really anything can happen in a race. I rounded a corner, felt the surge of cheering and in the corner of my eye saw Melissa and Andy screaming. With one last straight away, I turned on a final gear, which in dragging my legs and pressing my arms back felt like a full out sprint and for the first time in 6 miles, I saw a clock. This one, at the finish line, read 2:58:27. In absolute relief and elation I threw my arms up in the air, and Scott Abbot, as promised, was at the finish line and yelled, “Mary! YOU DID IT!” And then he was gone in an instant and I was greeted by Melissa and Andy on the other side of the gate. Lots of smiles and hugs and I can’t effing believe its. A short trip to the medical tent where I got some gatorade for cramping, and that was it. After a quick shower and brunch with Melissa and Scotty, we were quickly on our way home and back to reality. As soon as we got home, the kids ran straight into my legs. And while it felt like bricks had just been chucked at my knees, I took it all in, and as usual, gave them my medal so they could race around the house for it.
My Quick Thoughts:
Total relief. While I knew this was all possible, I also knew that many things had to go right for it to happen. When you work and have kids, there are lots of variables that can throw off training or races. There were unexpected illnesses and many days off for kids’ gymnastics or work projects or just life. So the fact that it all happened, absolute relief.
Goals matter. While I think it’s just important to spend time in your life not setting goals, and just living in the moment, I also believe that there’s a time and a place for goals. This was the time for me to put my heart out there. My time to say, “I’m doing this and this journey matters.” When you make a goal, even if it’s lofty, sometimes all the pieces come together because the energy and momentum is that good and you want something that badly.
Moms make good marathoners. I said a while back that I don’t think I’d do this if I didn’t have kids. It’s true. Having kids gave me this second wind as an athlete. This desire to show myself and my children that the fire still burns. The added challenge of putting their needs first while squeezing in focused training gave me extra purpose and continually reminded me that my running is the greatest outlet and not something to be taken too seriously. And of course that mom’s still got it!
Inspiration. I spent this last year inadvertently filling myself with inspiration. Oiselle elite moms. Ted Talks. Tim Ferriss podcasts. Positive friendships. Inspiring blogs. Images and songs. Positive colleagues. It all filled me to the brim. Stories of people putting journeys into motion, accepting adversity as a great motivator and trusting their inner animals and their closest confidants. In doing so, I formed an impermeable bubble of positivity around me. I believe it’s a really great way to live. Nothing was fake. In many respects this was a very challenging year, but focusing on the good and weeding out the negative made all the difference in my training and my day-to-day life. It was a year of believing in inspiration and that dreams matter.
Clean. While I didn’t completely neglect anything important in life, I did slack off in some areas. Example: my house needs some major decluttering! Instead of weekend long runs for a while, I think I’ll give some extra attention to cleaning out closets and filing bills–ya know, the fun stuff!
Three years. It’s been a few days since the marathon. If I weren’t busy with work, family, and holidays, I think I’d be a little sad. I’ve spent so many months with this goal in the back of my mind, that now I feel a little empty. But alas, there’s always something next. I took my kids out to track practice last night so I could debrief with my coaches. They love running around under the stadium lights because they can chase their shadows in circle. Ah! Childhood delight. That kept them busy for a good hour so I could talk to my coaches. I’m lucky I’ve known Greg Brock (Maggie Vessey’s coach!) and Albert de LaTorre since my high school years. And while they didn’t coach me then, they always believed in me and saw potential. Greg started advising me when I returned to running a few years back and Albert has been my marathon supporter. They thought my pacing was perfect and for that day, I nailed it. But we all agreed that I hadn’t reached my ceiling yet. So where does that leave me? I could call it game over now, but I think I can still give it another go. Though it’s loftier than any other goals I’ve made, I’m opening myself to the possibility of going for the Olympic Trials Qualifier (currently 2:43). While at this exact moment it sounds insane, it’s not out of the realm of possibility considering I have 4-5 years of peak marathon age. Besides lunges and light core work, I don’t do any strength training. I only did one workout a week. My mileage was relatively low. So, there’s definitely some wiggle room for improvement. I’ll spend 2016 focusing on some family stuff, chilling out on goals, and maintaining some base mileage. I’ll continue to fix my hips and find a more efficient stride. I’ll commit to a strength program. If in a year from now, I’m still feeling the drive, I’ll put things into motion to prepare myself for OTQ training. The good news is the OTQ window doesn’t open until 18 months before the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials, so my first go at it would likely be the 2018 CIM. Many unknowns and possibilities, but it’s in the back of my head.
Open Doors. Besides the enjoyment of chasing personal athletic goals, this past year has given my a glimpse of an incredible community: the world of running. From coaches, friends, and the strength it gives you, I had nearly forgotten the many layers of goodness that running offers. I am committing to spend 2016 walking through doors that running continues to open for me. I am promising to share the richness of this sport with others. With plans in the works for 2016 coaching and a county youth track & field camp next summer among other projects, I am committing to helping bring this sport to the Santa Cruz youth in a big way. With everything that running has and continues to give me, it’s the least I can do.
Here’s to chasing dreams, sharing the journey, believing in others, and having faith in ourselves!