Whole30-ish: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Over what must have been our fifteenth meal out in row while out of town during the Christmas holiday, I was bloated, tired, and desperate, and I looked at Tim and said "what if we did Whole 30 in January?'

I was only half serious. I'd been on a bad run of eating and drinking my feelings following a DNF at a half marathon, my subsequent plantar fascitis diagnosis, hearing a doctor tell my mother she had breast cancer (on my birthday, no less), normal end of the year traveling and revelry, and a never-ending personal pity party about all of the above (save maybe the traveling).

I was pissed off, unmotivated, and in a bad cycle of self loathing and body shaming. Even my workout clothes were getting tight. I was bloated and cranky and trying to convince myself that restricting calories during the day and saying "fuck it" at night by drowning my sorrows in half a chocolate bar (at least it was organic, fair trade, and 85%!) chased with two glasses of wine was going to make me magically lose weight. While unhealthy, it's a strategy that's worked for me more than half my life--at least when working out two hours a day and before the reality of 40something hormones set in.

I really wasn't looking to commit completely to Whole30, but felt I needed a drastic change to pull me out of my rut, and Tim jumped on board. Looking back, I went into it for the absolute worst reason possible: to lose weight, and lose it quickly.

I've not made it a secret I have a history with disordered eating. It began in my tweens and turned into a full blown eating disorder in my 20s. But even then, while restrictive with calories, I was never restrictive with certain FOODS. If I wanted queso and tacos and two margaritas, I had them. An entire sleeve of Thin Mints? No problem. I just didn't eat much other than what I craved, and even then, not enough calories. My primary food groups were carbs, sugar, and alcohol--especially considering I didn't eat red meat from 1993-2005 and the only vegetable I remotely ate on a regular basis until I was 34 years old was a potato. 

When several other friends did Whole30 two years ago, they tried to get me to jump on the bandwagon. I expressed serious reservations about its restrictive nature and was worried especially how it would impact someone with my history. 

As it turns out, my instincts were right.

If I had to do it all over again, frankly, I wouldn't.

If I were, I wouldn't proceed without the guidance of my trusted nutritionist (the amazingly intuitive and nurturing Megan Lyons) and my therapist.

But, I made it through (a bit of honey, a few pieces of birthday cake, and one non-compliant LaraBar later), and here's what I found--the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

1. Meal Planning

There are few things I hate more than cooking, grocery shopping, and planning. In the past year, we've relied on Instacart out of convenience and sheer laziness, often trying to get an order (in which half of what we needed wasn't at the store) and cook on the same day. It was frustrating and expensive. I dread going to the grocery store, and I spent every day in Whole Foods the first ten days or so. But once I got a good understanding of the staples, I was fine. I now shop twice a week, during the week, in the early mornings. Minimal stress, in and out. It's a pattern I hope to continue.

Also, once I was out of marathon training, I got lazy about meal planning. We'd do great cooking early in the week, and by the time Thursday rolled around, it was a free for all, with Tim grabbing mac and cheese or take out, me eating my third RX bar of the day or half a bag of tortilla chips, or both of us piling over to the Taqueria del Sol. Now, I cook and prep during the day, as I realize I have zero energy or patience in the evening when I'm tired and hungry, the dog is most in need of attention, and I'm likely to not bother or make impulsive choices (or worse--eat nothing at all). We ordered a few new cookbooks and relied on some great websites for new recipes (though honestly, there are only so many variations on meat, vegetables, and eggs--more on that later), and I got in a better habit of packing nuts and fruit and mini-meals versus eating pre-packaged bars (even compliant ones, which I had been consuming pre-Whole30) or protein shakes.

2. Instant Pot

Yes, we joined the cult. I'm a big fan of one pot meals anyway, since I can't be trusted to multitask when there's the potential of burning down the house. Our Instant Pot cut prep and cooking time to a minimum and saved my sanity. I highly recommend Paleo Cooking For Your Instant Pot, and can't thank my friend Tami for starting an amazing Facebook group where our friends have been sharing quality recipes and tips. Even the non-compliant recipes gave us ideas.

3. Eating Whole, Real Foods

I'm the queen of snacking. I've never been a big meal or meat and three person. Even going out to eat, I'd much rather have a drink, an app, dessert, coffee and be done with it. My problem was two-fold: Even though I was down to running 10-15 miles a week, I was snacking like I was still running 50. Eating every two hours had become habit. Also due to my teaching and workout schedule, I often have to go from 5am to 1 or 2pm before I can sit down and eat a real meal during the week. The other is: I fear and have real issues around eating "real" food. I've never cleaned my plate. I graze. I nibble. And then I'm ravenous 90 minutes later. But I've programmed myself to think that snacks and drinks "don't count." Even in the height of my anorexia, I ate mini Reese's peanut butter cups daily. Snacks were my way of controlling calories. Whole30 throws those macros out the window. Eat as much as you can of these things. It's freeing in a way (and not so much in another--stay tuned), and it helped me learn to eat more at mealtimes and try to fill up and get over my phobia of eating too much in one sitting.

5. No Bloating! Within three days, my stomach had gone flat (ish) again and my clothes fit better. While I had raging PMS, I had none of the bloat I normally get, which suggests that the foods you crave and indulge in during that phase have more to do with the bloating than anything else.

5. Better Sleep. My sleep was awful the first week and then it was amazing. Probably exhaustion from all the food shopping and cooking! Or maybe just getting back into a new year and double workouts. Or maybe because life and current events were wearing me out. Or because honestly, there's not much to do after 8pm if you're not eating and drinking or going out, so you might as well sleep!

6. Social Activities. Speaking of going out, someone asked me today "how did you maintain a social life while doing Whole30?" I didn't. At first. I deeply regret not having brunch with my mom on her birthday the weekend before her surgery. But we went to the Center for Puppetry Arts as a family instead and had a great time. But after the first two weeks, I stopped making my diet an excuse for being a recluse. What really turned things around were our friends Marc and Jo inviting us over for dinner. Jo made a traditional Dominican meal, so it was a nice break from our normal fare, and we had great conversation and great company--no wine or dessert needed.

After that, I made yoga dates, hiking dates, coffee dates, activist dates. I went to birthday parties and didn't drink (and sometimes, didn't eat). I had a great time, and in fact, a better time than normal. I have major social anxiety, and while I like to think alcohol helps me in those situations, it actually makes it worse and makes me less present and in control to enjoy what's around me. My friends were supremely supportive and respective of Whole30. I also have plenty of friends who don't drink (either by choice or in recovery) and those who have serious food allergies, and they have very active social lives, so if they can do it, what's my excuse? I think we have this warped sense--especially in my urban, upper middle class, professional circle--that "social" means going to the latest restaurant or cocktail bar, when it can be as simple as having a friend over to sit and chat or meeting for a yoga class. I ate a meal at a restaurant last night for the first time in over a month. It was probably 95% compliant, and I felt fine and confident ordering and was actually full for the first time in four weeks. I know some people go to restaurants and ask a million questions and get super worked up about being compliant, but that's not who I am. I really believe it's a disservice to chefs and restaurants workers and people with true allergies to expect people to cater to your every dietary need while dining out for a lifestyle you voluntarily chose [end rant].

7. Eat What You Like. People said I would get sick of eggs. I didn't, and in fact, only ate them three times, because they're not my favorite. I don't mind them scrambled or hard boiled, but because my breakfasts are at 5am and pre teaching and workout, I tend not to go for something heavy that might upset my stomach. I just eat an earlier lunch. Some of the best advice I got before doing this was "forget what you're supposed to eat for each meal, and just eat."

That was freeing and something I've been doing for the past couple of years, like having my second breakfast/first lunch at 9:30 or 10:00am and eating a turkey zucchini burger and kale chips or a salad with grilled chicken or even soup. Have breakfast for dinner or dinner for breakfast. You'll really hate this if you force yourself to eat things you don't like.

8. Teamwork. I would not have made it through this without my husband. He jumped in with both feet and was my rock, cooking more than his fair share, talking me off a ledge more than once, researching recipes, and making changes that were in many ways much harder for him than they were for me. Except...

The Bad

1. Disordered eating. My eating habits are emotional, controlling, and ultimately, completely messed up. For Tim, it was black and white. Can't have this? Okay, cool. Make a different choice, move on, done. For me, it became an obsession.

Why can't I have beans but bacon is okay?

What harm will lentils or quinoa do? There are ultrarunners who are vegans!

Why is a 22 gram of sugar Larabar "better" than a square of 85% dark chocolate?

Who can possibly consume this much meat?

I hate rules, and especially rules outside of "my" rules, which are an elaborate and exhausting and nonsensical list it's taking years of therapy and good nutritional consulting to overcome. Give me a restrictive diet, and I'm all in. My brain (unhealthily) thrives in super competitive, obsessive mode.

Whole30 triggered all sorts of unhealthy thoughts and made me think about food MORE--which is the exact opposite of what someone with my history needs.

I need to think about food less, not more. I already obsess about calories in and out, about which choice is the better or best one, which food has how many grams of sugar or fiber or fat. Even knowing what was in and what was out, thinking about food and planing the next meal became physically and mentally debilitating. To their credit, the founders of Whole30 have added a disclaimer on their website about this not being a wise choice for people with eating disorders. Should have read the fine print!

2. Meat aversion. I already dislike meat. I am only now at the point in my life where I can handle raw chicken breast or ground meat without gagging. Halfway through the experiment I cooked a pozole with pork shoulder and the smell and sight of the raw meat made my stomach turn so much I couldn't eat dinner that night and barely ate the two days after. Yes, it was my fault for trying to cook so much meat and things I didn't particularly enjoy, but I was so freaking ready for lentils or beans or quinoa. I'd honestly find it easier to be vegetarian or vegan than to eat paleo for the rest of my life. 

3. Starchy vegetables. White potatoes are a new addition to the Whole30 "rules," and I ate more of them the past month than I have in a year. Which isn't necessarily bad. For a runner and an active person like me, starchy vegetables are key to having enough stored energy. My issue is starchy vegetables are my favorite ones! Carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, squash--pile them on! I did eat my fair share of zucchini, red pepper, kale, and cauliflower, but I definitely tended toward the ones I found more palpable, especially consuming day in and day out. Though I will have a meltdown if I have to eat one more damn sweet potato.

The Ugly

1. Hanger. I had good energy from Days 5-12 and again from Days 26-29, but the entire time I was on the program I was HUNGRY. Not bored, not craving sugar, but legit waking up at midnight, 3am, 5am with my stomach growling and having to stuff my face with yet more almonds. No matter how much I ate at meals or how much avocado or almond butter or olive oil or ghee I consumed, I just never felt full. Part of it is me learning how to get full on "real" food, but part of it is I think it's next to impossible for picky eaters with active lifestyles like me to consume enough calories on this diet.

2. Food fatigue. Around Day 13, about the same time as my meat revulsion, I had a major meltdown. Nothing tasted good, and I became convinced the whole point of the diet was to make you so sick of food that you just lost all will to eat. Which is what happened to me from Days 13-25.

I literally had to force myself to eat. And losing your interest in eating, especially when you suffer from eating and control issues, is disaster.

There was no Tiger Blood, only exhaustion, frustration, despair, and rage. I nearly quit the program and probably should have. But once I gave myself permission to cheat if I needed, it got a little bit easier, but I was force-feeding myself through a good bit of this experiment, which only increased my messed up relationship with food.

3. Expense. Well sourced meat is not cheap. Fresh produce is not cheap. I do not even want to add up our grocery bill for the past month. It's well over $1,000. I once spent $300 in four days. Granted, I was stocking up for a snowstorm that never happened, and we still have some good staples in our freezer and pantry, but damn--rice and beans are cheap. And tasty. Now I want a taco...

4. Illness. On the last week of the experiment, I got sick. Run down, sore throat and cold at first, and now on Day 30, I have a full blown sinus infection and am in stuck home in bed when I should be celebrating making it through. While some added life stress didn't help, I also think the rigid nature of Whole30 and my bad response to it made me more susceptible to illness.

Bottom line?

This was not the right re-set for me. I've done elimination and re-set diets under the guidance of my nutritionist that were much less rigid in nature and came out with more energy, fewer body image issues, less inflammation (for me, it's hives), more confidence, and less obession.

I'll admit I went into this with the wrong mindset--to lose weight--and I honestly didn't need it for the reason it was created, which is to find your intolerances and triggers.

Due to my nutritionist's amazing guidance, I have found over the past three years things that don't work for me--non-whole grains, dairy, nightshades, red wine, sugar, and even caffeine (which I drank entirely too much of during Whole30 and honestly, am not sure why it's even "allowed," as that habit was harder for me to break than sugar or alcohol and did me the greatest good last year). Plus, my diet is relatively clean. I don't eat dairy at home. I don't eat pasta or bread. I don't eat cookies or cupcakes or potato chips or junk food. Something like Whole30 was really not meant for people who've already done most of the hard work.

I would have been better served giving up added sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and eating out for two weeks than suffering through Whole30 and triggering more body image and control issues.

Also, I didn't like the duality of Food A being "forbidden" and Food B being "compliant." It's just not realistic, even for 30 days. For someone like me, it would be better to eat a chickpea stir fry with brown rice than skip dinner because I can't stomach another round of vegetables and meat.

Also, if you're truly serious about pinpointing your intolerances, there are better elimination diets, tests, and professionals out there to help you. Nuts, fish and shellfish, and eggs are huge staples of Whole30 and are also some of the most common food allergies. In fact, after dairy, nuts were the second things my nutritionist had me give up to solve my chronic hives. An elimination diet that includes some of the most common trigger foods makes zero sense to me.

Ultimately, I'm not sorry I did it, as the issues it triggered for me encouraged me to return to therapy and brought a new level of self-awareness to my eating, even if it was negative awareness. I did drop a few pounds (I haven't weighed myself in four weeks) and got some clarity for fueling my body properly, as I've been finally cleared by my physical therapist to start serious running training again. But in the end, I don't think it was worth the emotional and mental trauma it caused me. 

So, on Day 28, I had a few bites of cake! You only live once. Life is too short to deny yourself joy. And I spent much of my life not deriving any joy from food, so I hope to get back to that place again--in moderation, of course.

 

 

28 days--close enough, right?

28 days--close enough, right?

The Dark Side of Depression

Two years ago, I sat in front of a camera and told thousands of strangers that I suffer from depression. That I've had suicidal thoughts. That my sunny, shiny exterior is often a mask for the darkness below the surface.

The country was reeling from Robin Williams' death. But he was so funny. So full of life. Seemed so "happy." That such a person would take their own life was cognitive dissonance for those of us who thought we knew who he was. From his ACTING. From the roles he played, not much different than the roles those of us suffering from depression play in our own lives. The darkness is bleak enough to bear alone. We don't want to share it with others. To dampen their days or their spirits. The negative scripts on endless loop are maddening, so on those days we do have the energy and strength to leave the house and put on a brave face, we are careful not to let the madness touch or infect others.

Last week, I lost a friend to suicide. Someone we all knew as lively. The life of the party. A smile that lit up a room. An infectious laugh. Sunny. Positive. Generous. Always on the move.

Someone like that couldn't possible be depressed. Couldn't possibly be THAT distraught and alone.

But she was. And I am.

It's possible to be utterly and unconditionally loved and supported and still feel unloveable and alone. To be bright and engaging and sunny and full of life and still be haunted by darkness and demons and sadness and lethargy and despair. To project and be one hundred percent sincere in the former to cover up the latter. Until it becomes too much to bear. And then we withdraw and disappear. Sometimes forever.

I am lucky and grateful that I keep coming back to the light.

And am utterly heartbroken she couldn't.

 

Letting Go of Ego

Woke up today and decided to kill my ego. It ain't never done me no good no how.

-Sturgill Simpson

I just finished a two week "cleanse" that eliminated pretty much all of the foods that people most associate with me, or at least the online caricature of me, from my diet. For two weeks, I had no cheese dip, no coffee, no whiskey, no rosé, no chocolate. The diet was no alcohol, no sugar, no caffeine, no red meat and minimal wheat and dairy.

Photo by robynmac/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by robynmac/iStock / Getty Images

Granted, those things were never a major part of my diet, but let's face it, no one wants to see an Instagram photo of my green smoothies, and "nachos and wine for dinner" is a hell of a better Facebook status than "sad but healthy and completely normal dinner of quinoa salad with mixed vegetables and a side of tap water."

My relationship with these things--both the foods and the approval of others--has long been dysfunctional. But I kept clinging to them the way you cling to any unhealthy relationship. You know it's bad for you, but you keep going back for more. 

I had no idea that when I let go of these foods--and the cravings and emotions and social activities that went along with them--I would be letting go of so much of the other shit that's been dragging me down.

This past year has been the hardest year of my adult life, save the year I got divorced. One by one, the things I thought defined me have been stripped away.

Think you just want your house to be quiet and go back to normal after having houseguests for two months? Well, ha, you won't think that when your beloved dog dies within 24 hours of them moving out. That noise and chaos and friction and messiness of family was pretty amazing after all.

Think you're a successful writer? Ha, well, see how successful you feel when you lose your weekly column, lose out on an regular freelance gig to a friend, and all of your opportunities dry up in a matter of weeks. Never mind that writing was causing you major anxiety, boring you intellectually, and not your true passion, but you like seeing your name out there and getting the work and feeling important, damn it. Oh, and paychecks, too. Well, too bad. Gone. Poof.

But you still have your friends! Your social life! Oh wait, you don't get invited to things much because you're not writing, and oh yeah, since you went off your meds your social anxiety is through the roof, and you'd rather stay home and sleep anyway. Plus you've been feeling sick and off for months, and no one wants to be around a whiny, low energy downer of a friend. And then you become even more isolated and misunderstood and lonely and alienated.

That's okay, you still have running. Just put all of your energy into running. You're a great runner. You qualified for the freaking Boston Marathon. Ha, just kidding. Let's see how you feel about running when you manage to be simultaneously undertrained and overtrained for your race AND try running that dream marathon with a nasty case of enteritis. Quitting at Mile 20 and ending up in the hospital overnight was super fun and rewarding, wasn't it? But still. I didn't listen to my body telling me to slow down. I kept punishing myself, piling on the miles and willing myself to be fast again. My body broke down.

Wait, you still have teaching. You're a great teacher. You love teaching. Oh yeah, you just gave up that one class at another studio and now two of your classes have been canceled at the other one and your studio's building is being sold and you might not have a job in a year.

So what to do with all the anxiety and frustration and anger and pain when all your other outlets are gone? You get some cheese dip and a margarita (or two). You have wine and nachos for dinner. And then feel guilty and skimp on food for the next two days and then repeat the pattern of eating and drinking your feelings and rewarding yourself for a hard day. And then feel more bloated and tired and anxious and unloved and worthless and, and, and...

So obviously, I was at a really low point two weeks ago when my nutritionist proposed this diet re-set. Give up red meat? No problem. Did that for ten years. Dairy? Never eat it at home anyway. Wheat? Eh, not that big of a deal, as I generally only have whole grains and don't really love breads and starches like I used to. Alcohol? Eeeek, but again, gave that up for six months and probably need some parameters. Sugar? Whaaaaat? Caffeine? Um, how am I going to function in life? 

But I was feeling THAT poorly, I was willing to go cold turkey on it all, the day after a four day vacation of doing nothing but consuming all of the aforementioned food groups.

And it's the best decision I've made all year.

The first few days were rough. Especially waking up at 5 a.m. and trying to teach on zero caffeine. That was definitely the hardest habit to break. Sugar was a close second. I never really eat cakes or cookies or pre-packaged goods, but I was eating *just* enough sugar in my snacks, even the "healthy" kind like yogurts and protein bars, that I was addicted, and it was making me miserable and spiking my blood sugar something fierce. I was ALWAYS hungry. Always tired. Always cranky.

But the cravings subsided. My energy leveled out and then increased dramatically. I stopped snacking and started filling up on whole, nutrient dense food. Traded my morning waffles for chia bowls. Made my own protein balls. Explored new recipes. Added two and three vegetables to every meal. Drank lots of La Croix with bitters.

When I went out for a drink with a friend on my one "cheat night," it was a big deal, and time well cherished with good company, where I didn't lose control or over drink to compensate for my anxiety or to "reward" myself for being "good."

Over the past two weeks, I lost the bloating, the lethargy, those five pounds that have been stubbornly hanging on for several months, an inch from my waist, the emotional baggage, the bad coping skills, but most of all, I found something. ME.

Me beyond the cute dresses and Insta-worthy food photos and bylines and running accomplishments.

That real me is the one in no makeup at 6:15am in the morning, cheering on my TRX students with my cheesy themed playlists wearing a shirt covered in dog hair and last night's guacamole.

The one who would rather take a two mile walk/hike with my dog than ever qualify for the Boston Marathon again.

Who would take fifteen minutes of story time and cheap Mexican food and giggles with my niece over some dinner at the latest hip restaurant.

Who now reaches for pen and paper--or in this case, laptop and keyboard--instead of wine or whiskey or chocolate or chips to deal with the pain.

There is power and freedom in just LETTING GO.

 

Dear Running: It's Not You, It's Me

I remember the first time I met one of my favorite Pilates teachers. I was in a Wunda Chair workshop and apologizing for my super tight hips and hamstrings as I tried to struggled with a particular exercise that had sent my already overworked quads and hips into spasm.

"I'm a runner," I explained.

"A RUNNER???!!!!" she bellowed. 

"No one gets to the end of the life and wishes they had run more. Cycling, yoga, swimming, yes. Running, no. It's just so hard on the body."

At the time, I resented the unsolicited feedback. But I don't LOVE cycling or yoga or swimming, I thought, indignantly. 

Or honestly, even Pilates. I do Pilates because it allows me to run, and most importantly, to run pain free for the better part of eight years.

We joke about it now, because she understands my passion for running, and her instruction--particularly teaching me how to recruit my underused glutes and hamstrings--has been instrumental in my progress as a runner and my ability to teach other athletes.

But running? I LOVE running. Running is so much more than just a workout to me. It saved me--from a failing marriage, from an eating disorder, from a trapped and miserable life. It was my initial connection to my husband. It's made me countless friends across the country. It's my meditation, my anti-depressant, my drug of choice.

Which makes this break-up even more painful.

Yes, I'm breaking up with running.

Not forever. Maybe for a week; maybe for a month. But I need my space. I need to find "me" again, without the pressure of tempo runs and track work and PRs and all of the identity and ego wrapped up in go, go, go and achieve, achieve, achieve.

And also? I'm tired. And I'm sick. Nothing life-threatening, but just enough compounded to make me sluggish, miserable, and in desperate need of a re-set.

I've been in denial for a while. I never really bounced back after my Albany marathon and BQ in March of last year.

At first, I blamed it on taking too much time off post marathon. Then, it was the heat. Then it was a string of emotionally difficult events. Then it was the flu. Then it was going off anti-depressants. Then allergies. Then my training plan. Then myself and lack of mental toughness. Then Boston came, and deprived of confidence or a stellar training block, I had the unfortunate experience of toeing the line with enteritis, and ended my dream race at Mile 20, crying, despondent, delirious, feverish, and ill.

You think an ER visit and an overnight hospitalization with six bags of fluids would be a wake-up call, but no. I blamed it on temporary illness. I jumped right back into training less than a week out of the hospital. 40+ mile weeks (not right away, I have a smart coach), speed sessions, long runs on 80+ degree days, punishing myself, willing myself back into shape on effort and guts alone.

But the truth is, I was working too hard. I was struggling to hold paces that were "easy" for me four and five years ago, that I never see on my watch, regardless of heat or fatigue. My muscles were tired and sore and just not recovering, no matter how many massages I had, trips to the chiropractor I took, how much I stretched, cross trained, foam rolled, ice bathed, or stretched. I was bloated and gaining weight, even though I feel the strongest physically I have in my adult life and eat better than I did two or three years ago and work harder. Many a run dissolved into a walking panic attack, desperate sobs and dry heaves. I was so frustrated and deeply sad that something I once loved had become a chore and that my body was betraying me.

I've know for a while something has been "off" with my body. It probably started last summer, though I was so busy getting through life, I was ignoring the warning signs. 

It started with a visit to my GP in January, which led to a diagnosis of low Vitamin D (not unusual, and something I've dealt with before) and low iron/anemia.

I started prescription levels of both and went on my merry way.

Then some time in March, my chronic hives returned, in a big way. I had worked with my nutritionist on this very issue two summers ago, and they had been under control by carefully managing my diet. Eliminating dairy helped, and while I cheated now and again with some queso, I wasn't eating dairy at home. Yet every day, I woke up with my hands and feet covered in itchy, splotchy welts. Anything medication I took (even before bed) made me so groggy I was unable to function the next day, so hard runs were out of the question. I took another week off, blamed allergy season and soldiered on.

Then Boston, and the enteritis. I blamed it on a random, fluke virus (Tim had the same exact symptoms, minus the hospital stay) that happened at the worst possible time and never made a follow-up appointment with my physician (bad, I know, but I'm finding mainstream medicine particularly unhelpful for my complex health issues right now).

I did my first run eight days after Boston, six days after I had been hospitalized. Nothing hard. It felt good. I immediately jumped into a training plan, insistent that the only way I could prove my worth as a runner (and person) was the re-qualify for Boston. The runs were slower than usual, but I blamed it on the heat and the high mileage. On being more mindful of my heart rate. But I'm three months into training and can barely sustain a 10 minute mile, when my normal "easy" runs are generally a minute or more faster. I nap for two hours almost every day, in spite of getting plenty of sleep at night. I barely have energy to do a load of laundry.

And the hives returned. Then I had (TMI) three heavy menstrual cycles in five weeks. I went to the gynecologist. Had an ultrasound. No fibroids, no cysts, no thyroid issues, just a high white blood cell count, not unusual given how many periods I've had recently and my anemia. I went to the allergist, and basically, they handed me a prescription, drugs that only made me MORE sluggish and gave me MORE hives. I took two and flushed them down the toilet.

I finally reached out to my nutritionist about ALCAT/food intolerance testing. I described a few of my symptoms and without even seeing my blood work, she said "I think your issue is hormonal." A quick look at my chart led her to the hypothesis that I'm in estrogen dominance, which explains many of my symptoms. She suggested a diet re-set, which I've followed for exactly a week. Minimal alcohol (two drinks/week), no caffeine, minimal sugar, no dairy, low grains, tons of veggies. Caffeine has been the hardest, and I'm not a HUGE coffee drinker. But enough, apparently. My sugar cravings are gone. My energy came back after a few days, though when I had two drinks, it was awful the next day. There's a reason alcohol is a depressant. Food is tasting better and more filling. 

Even with this drastic change, I was convinced I needed to keep training. To check all of the boxes, that somehow I would magically regain the old spark if I just worked hard enough. Even though I cut down on some of my work, I'm still teaching fifteen hours a week (including two early mornings), running 6-7 days a week and 40-45 miles/week, walking/running/hiking with the dog 30-45 minutes a day, taking two Pilates sessions a week, attending puppy obedience classes, and otherwise on my feet 10-14 hours a day and working out 90 minutes a day.

I took a couple easy run days after I started the new diet and then set out on Sunday for an "easy" eight mile run. It was over 80 degrees at start time, and even though I generally run well in heat, by the time my heart rate hit over 180 from stress and frustration and heat and I was barely holding on to a 10 minute/mile even though I was well rested and having a "down" week running, I realized it was time to take a break.

I was still reeling from this decision and why my body would just not cooperate with me when I met a new private Pilates client for a session at the studio where I teach. A delightful, slight woman in her early 60s. I asked about her injuries, and she mentioned a scapula issue specifically enough I knew that she probably worked in medicine. She didn't mention anything else, health wise, but as we moved through our session, she told me she was a colon cancer survivor, and that led to an autoimmune disorder that left her unable to walk, though she is now not only walking again but running, and that she recently developed osteoporosis due to low Vitamin D. I mentioned I have low Vitamin D. She asked my specific levels, and I said I wasn't sure, but that they came out normal on my last test, that only my white blood cell count is high. She said it could take a few years for Vitamin D levels to regulate. And then everything started to click, for her, and for me.

"Your hands are really cold. Have you been tested for anemia?"

"Yes, I'm on prescription iron."

"Well, definitely get that re-checked, because I think it's still an issue for you."

We continued with the session, and she mentioned running the Peachtree Road Race, and then I mentioned that and then Boston.

And then more things clicked for her.

"You know, when you run long distances, your body basically absorbs its red blood cells, so you're more susceptible to anemia, and autoimmune disorders, and enteritis."

"I HAD ENTERITIS IN BOSTON!!"

"AND I HAVE AN AUTOIMMUNE DISORDER!"

"And you just told me I still have anemia!"

Oh yeah, and I'm basically pre-menopausal and dealing with crazy hormones and a drastic diet change and WHY AM I NOT GIVING MYSELF A BREAK ON RUNNING????!!!! Running isn't what's making me sick, but at this point, it's not making me well, either.

I felt like I should be paying HER the $75 session fee (note: I promise, she got what she said was a "great workout." I'm quite adept at talking and teaching at the same time!) and basically walked away from the session crying. Tears of sadness, but also relief.

This stuff is NOT just in my head. I AM getting slower. I AM fatiguing more quickly than usual. I AM dealing with more than just allergies or the occasional flu. 

In some ways, it would be easier if I had an injury. Something specific. Stress fracture, cool. Six to eight weeks in a boot, then start back easily with a run/walk, and then boom, good to go in a few months.

This is more intricate and complicated. I'm addressing it the best way I know how, and that's with diet and supplements and a great support system and therapy and writing and puppy snuggles and music.

It was time to not only take a break, but give MYSELF a break.

Because I DO want to live a long, healthy life and still be doing what I love--and that includes running. 

We HAVE to talk about politics and religion...and more

This past Monday, July 4, I did what I have done every year for the past fourteen years--I ran the steamy, hilly streets of Atlanta with 60,000 others who for some crazy reason paid good money to do the same.

It was a difficult day for me, physically, but also emotionally. And that was before the events of the past few days led me to deactivate Facebook, turn off the news, and want to wrap myself and everyone I love in a bubble to protect us all from the shouting, the violence, the rage, the noise. 

But back to Monday morning.

My husband and I, like most of the runners on Monday, took MARTA--our public rail system--to the race start. There could not be a more fitting symbol for the issues plaguing our country than a MARTA train. Trains that run only in three of our nearly 40 metropolitan counties due to race and class and city versus rural/suburban politics and white flight and car dependance and other issues easy enough to ignore if you sit in your car the other 364 days a year complaining about the traffic, forgetting the very privilege of owning a car. It's hard not to walk onto a MARTA train in your singlet and race bib at 5:45 a.m. and NOT be confronted with your own privilege, to not see the faces of the people who rely on the system to get to jobs that don't allow for holidays off for frivolous things like running a road race and a drinking a cold beer at the finish.

The course itself was full of such juxtapositions. Snoop Dog blaring from speakers on one side of the road while an Episcopal priest blessed runners with holy water from the other (full disclosure: I'm Episcopalian and love me some Snoop Dog, so those things are not mutually exclusive). A woman spectating in a burka while another radio station played Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue." Bearded street preachers yelling for us to repent and find Jesus while bearded hipsters grabbed beers from spectators. Wheelchair patients from the Shepherd Center cheering you up the course's worst hill, reminding you to keep any pain, whining, and negativity in check, because at least you still have the use of your legs.

And to me, the most sobering of all: a group of women, men, and children passing out water and wearing t-shirts with American flags on them and the slogan "Muslims for Loyalty."

Muslims. For loyalty.

I was overcome with profound sadness. And then rage. That because of the acts of a few who perform heinous acts in the name of their religion, and the voices of the not so few--including one of our political party's presumptive nominee for president--this group of people feels the need to distinguish themselves, to make this kind of statement, to wear this armor of sorts before attending an event that should celebrate ALL Americans. Last I checked, we don't have an official state religion.

I don't need to wear a t-shirt on a daily basis to distance myself from the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church, though I do sometimes feel like getting one that says "Christian, but not THAT kind." Nor do I fear for my life if I get pulled over for a broken taillight. In fact, I can usually smile or cry and get out of most minor traffic offenses. 

It's easy, if you're me--white, well-educated, upper middle class, PRIVILEGED--to take those things for granted. 

Especially when you're told it's not "polite" to talk about religion and politics and race and class and all those uncomfortable things we sweep into the whole "don't ask, don't tell" drawer of our WASP-y lives.

Well it's time to stop being so fucking polite.

Racism exists. Poverty exists. Homophobia exists. Privilege exists. Misogyny exists. Rape culture exists. Police brutality exists. Discrimination exists. Gun violence exists. Religious extremism exists. 

These things are not up for debate.

Silence is complicity. Acceptance of the status quo. And that is unacceptable.

 

 

 

Remembering to Play

Every Thursday, I teach a Pilates class at a local private school. The window on the far wall of our classroom overlooks the gymnasium, where most weeks, the school hosts gymnastics lessons for little ones.

My students and I often spend the first few minutes of our designated class time tip toeing to peer through that window at the children below, marveled by their lack of self-consciousness and fear.

Sure, some of these children--most of them no more than seven years old--are tentative. They scoot precariously along the balance beam, arms flailing for balance. Others approach the apparatus with reckless abandon--flipping effortlessly on the uneven bars. Hurling themselves at full speed over the vault. Somersaulting forward and backward and forward again, weightless and free.

Photo by Vita-lina/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Vita-lina/iStock / Getty Images

I was much like the latter children at that age. I spent so much time upside down, be it in trees, the pool, or on land, that the most iconic image of my childhood is one my mother cross-stitched into perpetuity--me, hair in braided pigtails, clad in a yellow, red, and blue striped polo shirt and navy shorts, upside down in a handstand on our front lawn of our childhood home.

I wrote stories and poems, never caring if anyone read them, or what those who did thought of them. I made up elaborate pool "routines" for me and my sister to perform for our parents, neighborhood children, but mostly, ourselves. I ran fast because I was friends with a lot of boys, and as the shortest and smallest, I didn't want to be left behind in their games. I climbed tress, swung from monkey bars, taught myself to play the piano, and swam endless laps of the pool just to see how long I could hold my breath--all of it done for fun, for play.

At some pivotal point in our lives--for me, it was the combination of a cross-country move and the onset of puberty--we lose that sense of fearlessness and ease in our own bodies and imaginations. Fun becomes work and achievement and check boxes and responsibility.

So when I was struggling with running leading up to Boston, I'd just laugh when people told me to run the race "for fun."

Fun has long not been part of my vocabulary, and definitely not when it came to running. At first I ran for health and the purely selfish goal of burning calories and losing weight. And then it became more selfless, for a cause. And then it morphed into accomplishments--PRs, age group placements, and finally--the holy grail, the Boston Marathon qualifying time.

My fun, my joy, came from the achieving, not the doing.

And when the achievements disappear, the doubt and the dread creep in. Anxiety. Depression. Self-loathing. Insecurity. And those emotions were clouding every aspect of my life--relationships, writing, teaching, running, music--leading up to and even beyond that unfortunate DNF race 

I was paralyzed because I didn't know how to have fun. To find joy.

And so these days, I'm on a quest for joy. For creative outlets without the judgment of self and others. To write shitty first drafts. To try new workouts and classes. To compose. To play Chopin with passion, even if I flub a few runs or miss some bass notes. To do more handstands. To get lost in novels and in the woods and in my mind and on my runs.

To discover, to dream, to seek, to find, to play.

 

 

 

Childless and Content

Childless and Content

A few weeks ago, I attended a two year old's birthday party. In Marietta. 

Said party was for my best friend's son, and even though M is now a mom living in the 'burbs, our relationship feels exactly the same. Except that now we meet at 11 a.m. for kid-friendly pizza or quesadilla lunches with a side of toddler babble instead of late night champagne and grown-up gossip. And after all she went through to have him--including two heartbreaking miscarriages--I wouldn't have it any other way.

Boston

When you nearly get hit by a car three days before the Boston Marathon, maybe it’s a sign it was just not meant to be.

At the time I saw it as a near miss. So near, in fact, that I tripped to get out of the way of the oncoming vehicle-- the driver’s head buried in her cell phone as she barreled into the intersection. I fell, turned my ankle (it’s still bruised and swollen, nearly two weeks later) and landed on both of my hands-- though the only scratch on my body was, ironically enough, on the knuckle of my left middle finger.

Which pretty much sums up my entire Boston Marathon experience.

Foreshadowing indeed.

It’s no secret I struggled mightily this training cycle, and honestly, probably since my BQ at the Albany Marathon on March 7, 2015.

Post Albany, it was difficult to get motivated for runs. Gaining a few seconds on a 5K or 10K or even half marathon wasn’t inspiring, especially after doing what seemed impossible--a 33 MINUTE PR in the marathon distance, and a time 90 minutes faster than my first-ever marathon. Plus, I was worn out from an intense ten-month training cycle that resulted in PRs in every distance from the 5K to the marathon in just six months.

Race after race, I came up a few seconds short. Self-doubt crept in. My paces fell off. My training suffered. I became paralyzed by fear and lack of confidence. I wondered if Albany was lightning in a bottle.

Meanwhile, life happened. And it hurt.

Within a span of six months after my BQ, one of my best friends died in a tragic car accident. My sister and niece left an untenable living situation and moved in with us for two months. My beloved 13 year-old border collie died the morning after they moved out.

I had also quit PR and was taking teaching jobs all over the city trying to make up for lost income and fill the void left by marathon training. In reality, the driving around and out of control schedule and over-commitment were all dragging me--and my running--down, especially as I continued to cling to a nightlife filled with restaurant openings, concerts, and social engagements that left me too exhausted for teaching my early morning classes and getting in quality workouts later in the day.

But I was stubborn.

I stuck to my running schedule, forcing workout after workout on a tired body and mind and legs, even after I got my act together with sleep and food and knew in my gut that my coach and his plans were no longer working for me.

I kept thinking that if I checked all of the boxes, that if did all of my workouts, that if I put myself through the paces, so to speak, I would somehow regain my shape and speed and confidence.

Because in times of crisis, that’s what’s worked before.

Running has been my one constant companion for the past eight years, through job loss and divorce and death and new relationships and all the chaos that life brings.

Running has also been the primary outlet for my anxiety and depression.

The thing that has gotten me out of bed on days I wanted to stay there, that has given me a sense of joy and accomplishment when I’ve felt like a failure at everything else, that has helped me clear my head and feel able to face anything and everything that comes my way.

And then, suddenly, running became the SOURCE of my anxiety and depression.

I was confused, defeated, debilitated, paralyzed, and heartbroken.

And the more doubt I had, the worse my runs got. My tempo runs stalled out around 8 min/miles, when they had been 20 to 30 seconds faster a year before. I struggled with long runs, only getting two 20 milers in before race day--the second one a do-over after an aborted 23 miler just six days prior.

And the more my anxiety increased, the more my health suffered. I was sick for three weeks in January and again for nearly a month in March, when I broke out in hives on a near daily basis in spite of keeping my diet fairly clean. Oh, and I quit anti-depressants cold turkey halfway through my training cycle.

I started to panic about the race. I worried about being strong enough to finish or clocking a "slow" time. I felt utterly lost and unprepared, especially when my previously flaky coach completely disappeared on me a month before race day.

I remember having a conversation with my friend Brittany about my fears, and she said, “what’s the worse that can happen, a DNF?”

And I said, “no, I’ve never DNFed a race before.”

And she said, “See? You’re not going to start now.”

Well, now I know that a DNF is definitely NOT the worst that can happen.

The worst for me was 20 miles of utter, sheer misery that started the minute I toed the line at Hopkinton on April 18. At nearly 11 a.m., it was hot, sunny, and windy. Nothing felt right. My legs felt like lead. My breathing was shallow and labored. I started pouring water over my head two miles in. I took my shirt off (I don’t do that in AUGUST in Atlanta!). I tried slowing my pace. I took walk breaks. I grabbed sponges and ice and popsicles from strangers. But I couldn’t keep going. I bailed just after MIle 20 and found myself in a medical tent, heart rate and blood pressure high, nebulizer in hand, legs shaking, and my entire body wracked by waves of nausea and worse--waves of defeat.

I blamed the heat. The late start. My lack of training. Myself for not carrying my inhaler. The food I ate (or didn’t eat) the night before. My negativity and lack of mental toughness, which people were so quick to point out to me during my pre-race freakouts. I was convinced I just wasn’t cut out--emotionally, mentally or physically--to run marathons, that day or any time, really.

I felt like a failure. A quitter.

Worse than making the decision to quit was the wait to get back to the finish line. Once cleared by the medical tent (in their defense, they never gave me a chance to get back out on the course--a decision that saved me an ambulance ride, or worse), I waited on a SAG bus that doubled back on the course to pick up other runners, then to a central bus stop at Boston College, then an excruciatingly slow ride back to Bolyston Street. I remember complaining I could have walked faster and wishing I had. I probably could have, but not without severe consequences.

Because later that night, after I’d cried into my pizza and two glasses of red wine and was feeling utterly sorry for myself and wanted to punch anyone who walked by in a Boston jacket or medal, I got violently ill.

On the floor of our hotel bathroom. The sickest I’ve been in my adult life.

I was up a few times, and then went back to bed, assuming I was just dehydrated and would be fine if I slept it off.

I woke up the next day and couldn’t even eat a cracker or take a sip of Sprite. It took a trip to urgent care, the ER, an overnight in the hospital, one CT scan, and six bags of fluids in less than 24 hours for me to realize it wasn't my fault. 

I had contracted a horrible intestinal virus (or perhaps consumed some tainted food) a few days before the race, and my intestines were swollen, which is why my breathing was labored, why my stomach was off, and why I got so violently ill (running 20 miles in that condition didn't do anything for my health, either!).

There was nothing I could have done differently that day that would have changed the outcome of my race.

I did my best, and making it through 20 miles that sick was an accomplishment in and of itself and a testament to my strong will and fitness.

Looking back, I felt “off” going into the race.

But every symptom I had could be explained by something else.

Bloating and queasy stomach? Carb-loading. Travel. Period. Jitters.

Labored breathing? Allergies. Anxiety. Asthma.

Exhaustion? Early morning flight. Long training cycle. More jitters.

I had a panic attack at the expo. I struggled to walk half a mile the day before the marathon. My pre-race shakeout run was awful. I could barely eat at all the 24 hours before the race, because I felt so full and bloated. But none of these things, singularly, are unusual for me. What was unusual was the conflux of symptoms simultaneously. I was just too race-focused to notice the signals my body was giving me.

Even at the starting line, I just remember feeling HOT. Like 90 degrees in Atlanta summer hot, not a 70 degree, low humidity, late morning Boston spring hot. 

And to be honest, I still have my “what if’s.”

What if I’d started even more conservatively, more like 9:30 or 9:45 pace, to account for the heat, versus a marathon conservative pace of 8:40?

What if I’d had more fluids that morning before the race?

What if I hadn’t gotten to Athlete’s Village so early and had to wait so long? 

What if I hadn’t walked eight miles the day before the race?

What if I’d had more food the night before or morning of the race?

What if I’d worn a different singlet (mine was black and tight and not what I like for 70 degree weather, but I hadn’t packed a back-up)?

What if I’d just kept walking? At least I would have finished.

I’ll never know, and while I want to hold on to my rage and despair and frustration and disappointment, I have to let it go.

I held onto too many emotions and negative baggage going into the race, and I won’t do that to myself again.

I have a new coach. A fresh start. And a new goal: get back to Boston and finish what I started.

24 Frames

You thought God was an architect, now you know

He’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow

And everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames

In 24 frames

Jason Isbell’s cynical, modern interpretation of the adage “we plan, God laughs” sums up the past year of my life.

What does the overachiever do when there’s nothing left to achieve?

When you’ve reached the pinnacle of your running career and lose your joy for the sport?

When you’ve always wanted a family and find yourself at 40 surrounded by children, but none of your own?

When you lose your first love?

When a family crisis lands you two new roommates, but reminds you of what’s really important?

When the things you’ve used to define your self-worth and identity start to lose their shine?

When the ways you’ve tried to suppress the emptiness no longer fill the void?

You shut down.

You cry.

You withdraw.

You write.

You read.

You try to find stillness.

You re-discover your family, by birth and by choice.

You cling to love and kindness and forgiveness and hope.

You find your way back to the light.

You put one foot in front of the other. 

Bird by bird.

 

 

 

NOLA Race Recap

There’s a certain irony to doing a goal race in a city known for debauchery and excess.

Traveling to New Orleans after two months of restraint—in food, drink, and budget—was definitely a shock to my system. Especially when traveling with people treating the trip as I would have even as recently as three months ago—one for cramming in as many bars, restaurants, and sites as possibly, with running being secondary to exploring and indulging.

That strategy--work hard, play hard--was one that I’d deluded myself into thinking worked well for me and could be compatible with my running aspirations. In fact, I raced my 5K PR in August after drinking 2/3 of a bottle of wine (over five hours, but still), consumed out of boredom and nerves and fear of failure. It’s a fact I’d been proud of until fairly recently, when my come-to-Jesus race on New Year’s Day confirmed that one night of restraint does not nine months of excess undo, and I’m at the age and the fitness level where every second on the clock, every ounce of hydration, every pound I gain or lose matters. I am fighting for PRs in seconds, not minutes, these days.

Also, what if I had actually hydrated well and gotten sufficient sleep the night before that 5K? Would my 21:48 have been 21:38 or even 21:30 or the sub 21 my coach keeps telling me I’m capable of reaching? I won’t ever know, but I’m 100 percent committed now to stepping outside of my comfort zone and giving everything I can to training over the coming months and years.

And so, while my friends feasted on fried chicken and Po-boys and Sazeracs, I stuck to my pre-race plan of salads, healthy fats, green juices, lean proteins, and gallons of water.

I woke up on race morning feeling well rested, grateful for all those early morning classes that have gotten me used to being up that hour as well as the time difference. It was cooler than projected--mid 40s, at least around 6 a.m.--perfect for racing, though we were more than an hour away from the start time, and the sun was coming up quickly.

Breakfast was a bit of a fiasco, and a reminder to pack as much of my own food and be as self-sufficient as possible for Boston. The front desk at the hotel told us breakfast would open at 5:30 a.m., but the poor woman staffing the food station had not been prepared for us eager runners bombarding her for bagels and English muffins thirty minutes before she normally started breakfast service. She graciously opened a bag of English muffins for us and toasted them upon request. Definitely a departure from my regular gluten free waffles (which are for sure getting packed for Boston), but I figured it wouldn’t affect me much for a half marathon, especially as I had eaten well the previous day. I’d packed Justin’s nut butters, but those were pretty much hardened, congealed globs, so again, note to self: check the expiration dates when packing essential race food. I was able to get coffee and my stomach felt great when leaving the hotel.

The start was a very short walk away--less than half a mile--and the logistics were surprisingly easy for a race of this size. We ran into the friends we traveled with on our way to bag drop, so that put me at ease and gave us time to chat and connect pre-race. Bag drop was a snap, and I decided to ditch my arm warmers and just keep my gloves on, as it was already fairly warm--low to mid 50s at least. I wasn’t sure I would be able to hit a porta potty after leaving the hotel, but I found a blissfully short line behind bag drop and was in and out in three minutes.

I did a short warm-up around the race start and found myself running right into the 10K. I saw Michelle, as I quickly jumped up onto the sidewalk--I almost felt like I was racing in Atlanta, especially when I ran into my good friend Meghan Ann in the park post warm-up. She and I stretched and walked to the start line together. I used to be very much in my own head before race starts and completely anti-social, but I’m finding that once I have my head together around a race and my strategy, talking to people I know is actually comforting and relaxing.

We lined up in Corral 1, and she literally said “I wonder if we’ll see Walid…” and there was Walid. Another comfort, but we probably were even more so to him—he was going for sub 3:15 on a hot day after moving cross country from Atlanta to California just a few weeks ago. We met up with a few other Atlanta runners in the corral, though after the national anthem, I positioned myself a few runners back from them, knowing if I stuck with them I would go out too fast (wise decision: Walid PRed at 3:13 and with the same pace as my half; Meghan Ann ran a 1:36 and had been sick all week).

Mile 1 (7:59)

I remember two things about the first mile: I hit the wrong button on my watch, so I was a few seconds off the entire race, and it was WARM. It’s been a cold Atlanta winter. I have done most of my seven to eight mile runs lately without any fluids. And in my past two competitive half marathons, it’s been in the 30s or 40s, and I drank because I knew I needed to, not because I was thirsty. But I was thirsty and it was hot, though I was still wearing gloves (old lady hands and bad circulation). I hit the mile marker in clock time of 8:06, so I knew I was right on track for my coach’s first mile goal of 8:00 (actual time: 7:59; that 7:xx mattered to me).

Mile 2 (7:49)

Finally, we hit a water stop! It was getting warmer, but I was grateful for the shady streets of St. Charles, though the roads were a bit rutted, and I was terrified of falling. My pace was exactly on target.

Miles 3 and 4 (7:45, 7:45)

I saw Robbie and James cheering, and I should have thrown my gloves to them, but hadn’t thought ahead. I was bummed Robbie didn’t have his “free motivational ass slaps” sign out, but the thought of it made me laugh anyway. These two miles were the hardest, mentally. It was a weird feeling. Holding back, and knowing I needed to save more for later, but not feeling 100% comfortable with the pace either.

Mile 5 (7:41)

I started to feel more comfortable in this mile and began dropping the pace a bit, as had been my race plan. I got over the road conditions and said “you WILL NOT fall today” and let it be. I enjoyed knowing we were heading back into town. I took my first Huma gel at the water stop in this mile.

Mile 6 (7:36)

I felt very confident at this point, and the guys behind me joked that I was so consistent they were going to pace off me the whole way. I don’t think they knew I heard them, so I turned around and said “negative splits, baby--I’m just getting started.” And then they laughed and said ,“Can you please run the marathon today?” I said, “Sorry boys, I’m stopping at 13.1. You’re on your own after that.”

Mile 7 (7:32)

My body was responding well to the increased pace. I was pleased when I hit 6.5 at exactly 7:30 pace--goal race pace, and where my coach had wanted me to be at this point. We were also headed back into town, so that was another mental boost.

Mile 8 (7:32)

I was feeling great and comfortably and consistently dropping paces. We headed back into town on Magazine Street, and I noticed it was starting to get warm.

Mile 9 (7:31)

This was probably my favorite mile of the race. I still felt great, though did start to notice that I was getting stuck around 7:30 pace and just couldn’t move the needle down to 7:20 or 7:25 as was the plan from Miles 8-10. But the crowd support was great, I took my last Huma gel, and my legs were feeling great.  It was also motivating to pass the restaurant where we’d be having our celebratory and anniversary dinner on Monday night.

Mile 10 (7:30)

I still felt good hitting the 5K to go point and ended up blowing by those guys saying they were going to use me as a pacer. But this is when I began to notice that no matter how much I dropped the hammer, I kept stalling out around 7:28-7:30 pace. The watch would. not. budge. I told myself to be patient and consistent--that I still had three miles to make up the time, and I knew I wasn’t at maximum effort yet. Not being able to get 5-10 seconds faster in these later miles is what cost me my goal time, but it was also 65 degrees, and I had only recently been upping my tempo mileage (a three week illness in January set me back), so I just held steady.

Miles 11-12 (7:28, 7:31)

This was the most mentally difficult part of the race for me. More of the same--trying to pick up the pace and just stalling out. One of these miles also had a weird 180 degree turn over railroad tracks and busted up pavement, plus it was getting crazy hot out. I was kind of done, and my legs started to cramp up in Mile 12. But if I hadn’t fought as hard as I did, I would have regretted it, and the race would have had a different outcome. Also, I’m really mad at Mile 12--it’s the only mile of the entire race I didn’t negative split. That’s lack of mental toughness, right there. I should have trusted myself a bit more.

Mile 13 (7:17)

I gutted this one out. I gave up on the watch about 11.5 miles in. I was done doing math and knew I probably wasn’t going to be under 1:40 because I was supposed to be running the last 5K around 7:15 pace, but I just sucked it up and ran my heart out. I felt like I was going to stop short about 800m from the finish, my legs were just that done. The last half mile also seemed never ending because we ran a long straight down a beautiful tree-lined street (thanks for the cheers, Michelle), and then turned. And turned again. I was so ready to see that finish line and was completely out of steam.

Last .1 (or .2, because, tangents: 7:02).

I looked at my watch as I finished: 1:40:29 (and I knew I had to add a few seconds). I put my fist to my head and just started bawling. More frustration. Another goal not met.

I can honestly say it was the most consistent, most perfectly executed, most mentally and physically tough race I have ever raced. And it was a PR of 38 seconds (the other one set last year six weeks out from my BQ and on a day with ideal temps, but Atlanta hills), but I was still extremely disappointed. I had thought sub 1:40 was a slam dunk. But you only control what you can control. I think the heat cost me a little bit of time, as did my mental rut in Mile 12, but I don’t think I had much more in me that day, and definitely not 41 seconds. Three more weeks of training and a colder day? Probably. And I hate being negative about PRs, but I have been chasing sub 1:40 for more than a year, and my coach told me I was in 1:38 shape. But again, I gave it 99.9%. It was a warm day, and I executed the plan to perfection. Just didn’t have those extra seconds. And it wouldn’t have been a PR if I hadn’t gutted it out, especially in Miles 10-12.

So, there it is. Back in shape or at least on my way. It was a great dress rehearsal for Boston in many ways. Travel time, managing a big expo and city walking, trying to find healthy food, making my mental checklist of what nutrition to pack.

My goal there is similar--to be mentally and physically tough, to practice pacing strategy, to negative split, and to enjoy the experience and use it for the next race that really counts. I’m planning on the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll in the fall, and since I have egg on my face about sub 1:40 this time around, I’ll hold off on any goal setting until I get through Boston and more of my training.

The rest of the trip was magical. Both friends (Lauren and Mary Elizabeth) finished their first half and don’t hate me, but are actually ready to run another one. Watching Robbie and James tag team and motivate the crowd reminded me of why I love this sport and community. Paul was close to a PR with 4:45, and ran his best marathon in years--with Publix full to follow in three weeks! Beth also ran a strong race, and all of us celebrated under the stars with what else--rose’ and cocktails and plenty of carbs--under the stars at Bacchanal.

Tim and I enjoyed some much needed time together and a stellar anniversary meal at Compere Lapin.

Now, back to Atlanta and back to the next six weeks and six days of Boston training. And beyond.