Say Yes

IMG_0076Four years ago, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: move to London to help start a new department for the global wing of my company. I was given the opportunity to work for an excellent leader, in a challenging and growing environment, and to do it all near family and explore the world while doing it.

So, of course I said YES. But what exactly, did I say “yes” to?

As it turns out, quite a bit. I said yes to the easy things – moving my life from Chicago to London, and all that it entails. But I also said yes to learning how to listen on conference calls and in meetings before speaking my mind; to asking more often than telling; to learning about how growth is achieved around the world; and to learning how to become a stronger leader and contributor. I said yes to the travel – last year alone to 22 international trips in 365 days. I said yes to leading – to creating a team that I loved who did wonderful things for the company. And I said yes to seeing the world through the eyes of my colleagues in firms big and small around the world.

I also said yes to making new friends – to fun nights with colleagues and to a new favourite cocktail (gin and tonic FTW). I said yes to the English way of just getting on with things – including to a lingering knee injury earned in one of London’s only snowstorms. I said yes to being “on the ground” and the many nights on the road it required. I said yes to amazing new types of food; and to sub-optimal choices for my diet. I said yes to sleeping off jet lag and then some; and to easy excuses for not being more active. In the end, I said yes to a hiatus of fitness even when I wanted to say no, because to set aside the time and energy to tackle diet and exercise was energy I just didn’t have. I said yes to work and it was the most amazing four years of my career. And while I could have easily said yes to health and fitness, too – I seemingly didn’t have the strength to make myself do it.

When it came time to make my next career move, I told people the truth: I was going back to Chicago to be closer to family and friends, and to get healthy. (If Mr. Right happened to make an appearance while all of that was happening, who was I to intervene?)

And so here I am, four years later, and I find myself back in sunny, warm Chicago, where the Cubs opened the season last week and Lake Michigan twinkles at me every morning.

When I returned to the city, I decided that new choices were in order to say yes to health again.

I said yes to convenience – I now live just over a mile from my office so that i can walk to and from work with ease, and I said yes to living near the lakefront so that traffic and construction won’t impede my progress to get on a bike and ride.

I said yes to challenge with limits – taking a role in my company that wouldn’t require me to be on the road 30% of the time.

I said yes to support – I’ve re-joined my old training group to have some accountability for workouts (important when I realised the gym membership wasn’t going to do it alone).

And I am saying yes to changing my diet – to cooking real food whenever possible to avoid the trap of empty calories.

These choices are enabling decisions, each one. Combined, they remove as many barriers to healthy living that I could slay, knowing that each could make a real difference in my dedication to trying to live a healthier life, every day.

And yet the real challenge, as always, is making the best choices I can make for diet and exercise TOGETHER. For me, good diet has always followed the demands of a fitness routine – a race, a sport, a need to perform. And that’s how I’ll approach it again as I look forward to 2015: achieving one milestone for training, for diet, for health at a time. I’m signed up for two triathlons this summer so far, and hope to add more in the coming weeks.

As part of my return to training, I’ll be writing again regularly about what’s working (and what’s not); new gear updates and race reports; and responding to reader Q&A. The engagement of this community has always been inspiring and fun and incredibly helpful, and I hope that we can welcome back lots of readers and say hello to some new faces. I’m saying yes now to jumping back in, with two feet, to the community that I’ve missed so much while I was gone.

I look forward to tackling the summer racing season with you, and hope that you will join me for the ride!

Thank you for coming along for the journey, and see you on the path.
Sal

New name for an old friend

Hi all and thank you for checking in. It’s been a whirlwind past few months here at PlusRunner and in the mix of things, someone (ahem) forgot to renew her domain name for the sight. As a result, we have a new address (www.plusrunners.com) that should take you to all of the best content and hopefully the new stuff we’ve yet to write.

To usher in the summer of 2014 I’m also looking for guest blog sites from friends and followers who’ve done great things to get running and moving in 2014. Do you have a story to tell? A great piece of gear to discuss? A training program you love? Drop me a note and we’ll get you writing.

See you on the path!

Walking and running from Florence to Pisa in six weeks. Go!

DSCN2870Every January, I try to be realistic about the kind of goals I can set for the year.  I work in consulting, where we’re encouraged to set goals which are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  That means that I know when I’m setting up a soft-ball goal (i.e. my two mile swim in June – which is the first four, but wusses out on the timing); and I know that planning to do a bike race in May is neither attainable or realistic given how much I fear riding in the London rain and traffic.

But encouraged by the Mac Daddy of routine-generating challenges which is based on the best science, behaviour modification, and coaching that money can buy – Coach Jenny Hadfield and John “The Penguin” Bingham’s 100 Days Challenge – I also know that I have a terrible secret about sticking with one thing, anything really, for 100 days:  I absolutely suck at it.

Each year I decide that I’m going to start that challenge.  And then something happens and I never do start.  Now, Jenny and John could care less when you start, and when you stop, which is why we are all going to sign up.  But I also know that doing anything EVERY day for me is, well, unlikely.  It’s not realistic – for me.

I need something with a shorter time-frame, and a more specific goal – set within the larger context of a long-term goal.  Otherwise, that 100 days feels really hard.  Really overwhelming.  And though I know, in my heart, that 30 minutes of walking for 100 days is NOT hard, and NOT overwhelming, I still need some interim motivation.

So I’m signing up for the 100 days challenge.  And for the next six weeks, I’m going to play a little mind game with myself.  I’m going to tackle those (roughly) 45  days by walking/running from the amazing city of Florence, Italy, to the incredible crazy town of Pisa.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re wondering if this awesome job I have is plunking me down in Italy for 6 weeks.  Which I’d love to say is the case, but let’s be realz, people.  Instead, I’m going to commit to doing 54 miles (the distance between these two towns) and I’m going to learn all about Pisa and Florence along the way.  Over six weeks, those 54 miles break down to about 9 miles a week, or what will be roughly 3 one hour walks (at the long end).

And I’d like your help.

Because this is my goal – but it would be much, much more fun if I had a little company.

So if you’re interested in joining me for the journey, I’d encourage you to first, sign up for the 100 days challenge – there’s a boatload of encouragement and support available on the Facebook community that will help keep you moving.

Then if you need something extra, or if, like me, you need a shorter-term goal, wander on out to Nikeplus.com – and find me, plusrunner – to join the group “Walking From Florence to Pisa” and post your miles.  As an incentive, the first person to reach 54 miles gets the PRIZE of picking our next destination to explore.  Will we go from Athens to Santorini?  From Cape Town to Victoria Falls?  Let’s use this as a way to while away the miles and explore the world without every leaving our own back yards.

I would love some company on the journey – so please think about joining up, posting your miles (the Nike+ app is free to download or you can post your miles manually).

And to sweeten the deal, each week I’ll post the links to at least four, free podcasts you can download relevant to our destination – feel free to add your recommendations in the Comments section, or on Facebook.  Do you have an Italian opera you think we should listen to? Post it! Got an Italian language practice session we should hear?  Post it! Let’s make it fun to do this while we’re out sticking to our New Year’s Ambitions.

I, for one, look forward to learning a bit more about the world while getting in my miles. I hope you do, too.

Week 1 Recommended Podcasts (Florence to Pisa)

Florence: A Renaissance Walking Audio Tour (Rick Steves) (45 minutes)

Michaelangelo in Florence (19 minutes)

The Uffizi Gallery  (Rick Steves) (49 minutes)

Italians In America (Camden College) (59 minutes)

Why do you run?

We all need a little inspiration, and as I think about gift giving this time of year, I considered that two of the best running things I ever received were from that running stronghold, Nike.  Back before they were making great inroads with footwear, they were marketing heavily to women in the apparel line, and they had a shirt that I purchased which I proudly wore until it became far too small for me.  Today, my mother wears it – and simply put, it says, in adorable purple script, that “Running is cheaper than therapy”.  Yep. I enjoyed that.

It was followed by a little clock – the kind of paper clock with hand-turned dials that you see when the pharmacy has closed for lunch or the doctor is on a break.  On the back, it had 12 lines of precious text about one topic:  Gone Running.  (Somewhere on this site, the copy still exists.)

It’s in that tribute that I provide the following bit of inspiration – mostly for myself.  I hurt my knee in January and have been mostly walking and sulking since then, trying to get back into a groove without doing further damage.  But last week I decided that even if I just walk – ONLY walk – or, maybe even walk with the occasional 30 second interval, I think I could be happy as a clam.  Because it’s not the speed or the pace that has ever mattered – it’s what happens when I lace up my shoes and get out there.  And that doesn’t change, regardless of the pace I run.

This, this is why I run.

Why do YOU run?  Share in the comments, on FB, or even on Twitter – you can find me @plusrunner.

See you on the path.

Thankful

ImageFull of thanks.  That’s the season that’s come upon us (as Americans) and it’s one that never seems to get old.  Everywhere we turn, there’s an uptick in the spirit of the holidays, the chance to spend time with family and friends, and the feeling that comes from the comfort of a cool breeze met with layers of down. 

I love this season, when typically, as a large runner, I find it easier going.  The wind cools me down on long runs, and while others struggle with the temperatures, I used to grudgingly but proudly layer up and go out for 5, 6, or 10 miles with friends.  

Looking back on the last ten years, I am amazed to find that the vast majority of my Saturday mornings were spent with good friends, running in weather that most people found inhumane.  Dark, windy mornings on Chicago’s lakefront are nothing to take lightly, and we didn’t.  We wore our warm tights, our ear warmers, our winter socks, and our windproof jackets.  We started our run right from the store – no casual warm-up for the first half mile on those mornings. 

And we caught up.  We found out who’d had dates.  Who was behind in their Thursday night TV.  We knew about the terrible bosses, the sick mothers, the holiday drama, and the one night stands.  We knew too, that it was always better with our friends, this group of warriors, who hung onto Saturdays like the lifeline they always were. 

Many of us have moved on to other cities, other races, other sports, other lives.  It’s fair to say that Saturday mornings aren’t quite the same – but somehow, no matter when I lace up, I feel the presence of the people who run, no matter where they land – Karachi or South Beach, London or Indy, West Loop or Washington.  

So in this season of thanks, I add mine to the runners who inspired me to get moving, keep moving, and miss moving.   I’ll see you again soon.

Get outside. Hiking clothes for the plus explorers.

This is how I feel when left to wander in the woods. Not bad, eh?

I think I’ve said it before here, but I’m a freak for the outdoors.  Give me the choice between gasping up mountain passes or watching the latest episode of something average, and there’s no contest.  The fact that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in Chicago (and now London) means that I seriously value my time outside, and when given, I try to explore in the manner of most control freaks – with good gear, good maps, and enough stuff to get me through any tight spots on the trail.

I started hiking as a 16 year old, with my father, stepmother, sister and stepsister, on trips to Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana.  At that time, I wore what we all wore – cotton shorts and tee shirts, sports bras and high-ankled hiking boots.  I’d return from an average day’s work with my super fit dad and stepmom a sweaty, gross mess, the necks of my shirt mis-shapen, my shorts baggy from sweat and we’d get up again and do it the next day.

Today, I sometimes long for that time – when clothes were baggy and hid everything, and when I never thought twice about jeans for a long hike.  Today, though, I know the benefits of having good, technical apparel that can take you on an 8 or 10 mile hike that starts at 80 degrees and ends at 40; with jackets that keep the rain out and release the heat from within; and base layers that let you stay out having fun even when a chill sets in.

But I’ve realized recently that there are a lot of plus athletes still out there hiking in their husbands clothes, or in their own casual wear. They get hot and cold, and chafed and is it any wonder they don’t go back?  No.  But the good news is there are now a few select manufacturers putting together some great pieces for you to get your outdoors on.

Columbia Sportswear 

Columbia has long been the marketer of the “everyman” approach to getting outside.  For that, let me say up front, THANK YOU, you smart people. The company was one of the first to offer a good windbreaker in plus sizes, and if you enter any Dick’s Sporting Goods in the States, you’ll find a good variety of apparel that wicks moisture away, is of a decent level of quality, and is at an affordable price point.  Columbia’s sizing can be very generous (in their coats, for example); and in the plus market, they have a wide variety of things that you can purchase online and in some stores.

Women’s Tamiami II Short Sleeved Fishing Shirt. It’s also just plain dandy for hiking.

Now, I’m a firm believer in teaching a girl to fish.  And by that, I don’t mean trout-fishing (though Columbia does, and has a whole line devoted to helping you fish in better clothing). I mean this:  “teach you to shop for your own apparel and you won’t always need me.”  So, a few bits of advice about shopping with Columbia – online at least.  As I’ve not been in a retail store that carried their products (some Cabelas, Dicks, and Sports Authority offer items), you may be limited to the online shop, but go with it, and learn a few tips to still get a deal, and then learn how to get the stuff that fits you.

First, their clothes for plus-size women are listed under the category of “Extended Sizes”.  Like Nike & REI, if you want to search for their stuff online (and not through their site directly), you can Google “Columbia Extended Size” and you’ll find a whole host of people selling the same products, and sometimes they’ll even be on sale!

Second, Columbia offers both technical and casual wear in the plus range.  You’ll need to be careful about what you buy from them, and by careful I mean: read the labels.  Columbia still markets (in large part) to people who like the aesthetic look of hiking clothes, but never intend to do any hiking in them. If you’re not one of those folks, remember the golden rule, and eliminate from your cart all of the options with cotton.  This will include most of the hiking trousers and several of their shirts.

Third, and most of you will know this one – be careful about the sizing. READ THE MEASUREMENTS.  If you are a pear, chances are you’re going to have to order up in the pants sizes (same if you’re tall.)  I also find their shirts (the technical button-down variety) to be un-pear friendly, but others may not have that problem.  I was hiking with my friend in Toronto last month, and she had on a great shirt that I was coveting (see below.)  I would highly recommend this shirt as an example of Columbia getting it right for us.

Finally, watch the sales.  Columbia has a big Clearance section on their website, and the inventory changes regularly – it’s a perfect place to get a deal.

Best of the bunch:

The Tamiami shirt below is a good recommendation to start – snap buttons, a back vent, split sleeves, and four colors to suit your fancy – it’s also quick drying and would dress up enough for town if you needed it to.

Pants are a tough thing for manufacturers of plus size apparel.  Stomach? Hips? Ass? Saddlebags? Thighs?  I honestly do empathize with the makers of these clothes, and give them props whenever they create something technical and made of a fabric you can’t swim laps in.  The Women’s Silver Ridge Convertible Pant  is a great attempt by Columbia to do what we’d like our hiking apparel to do – look cute, be functional, and have some options in terms of color.  At 5’8 1/2, I struggle with Columbia’s inseam (and with my new friend, Mr. Stomach, I struggle with the hip measurements) but if I were purchasing right now, these would be on my “try” list.  They look great and get great product reviews, and at $70, are probably worth the investment.  They’re also just that little bit more stylish than what I’ve seen from REI and others, that I would probably try them even if it was a stretch. ($70).

 

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) 

Most of you know I love REI. They were impressively the first retail outlet to provide a consistent line of active clothing for plus size women, and that continues to this day.  Like Columbia, you can find their stuff online – and in this case, it’s exclusively online, unless a store near you receives a return in which case the best time to nab it is at one of their semi-annual sales.

REI’s Taku Jacket – a superior waterproof, breathable jacket that will withstand any outdoor adventure.

Online,the search function you use to locate clothing is “Extended Sizes”.   Today, they stock a variety of basic jackets, fleeces, winter and waterproof wear, and a good mix of four season hiking wear.  Their people are experts, and they sell (for the most part) very high quality clothing – what they miss on, they often fix in the following season, and they warranty everything for life, so if you have a problem, you can walk into a store or ship it back and you’ll get it fixed.

I’ve been a power purchaser from REI and have owned the Neo Jacket (an excellent softshell for getting around Chicago before it gets really cold – or snowshoeing in the rockies when it gets time for fun); the lightweight rain jacket (does everything advertised) and the Sahara shorts and pants.   The most technically impressive rain jacket they offer (the Taku) is currently on sale at a STEAL of a deal $107 (trust me, you’ll never see a better shell in our sizing); and the purchase of my year was a no-longer-on-offer Capri pant that I can’t even show you a picture of.

REI also has an online outlet (www.reioutlet.com) and they sometimes feature plus size clothes (usually Moving Comfort stuff, which has had a hideous track record of poor colors and even poorer fit over the last few years in their plus line).   But if pushed, the value at REI is in their own branded line.

REI’s house fitness brand is the OXT line – and it’s very good for base layers – I’ve gotten a lot of cross-functional wear out of the tops.  But for hiking, kayaking and travel, my all-time favorites are the REI Lightweight Polartec brand of clothes – they’re great for layering, and when you can get them (they sell out quick) they’re perfect additions.  Right now, they’re only offering the bottoms – but in the past, they’ve offered multiple options in the plus sizes for tops.  Worth a pickup, if you’re looking.

 

LL Bean 

Oh, LL Bean.  I want to wish them a warm, warm welcome to the party for finally providing an assortment of high-quality technical jackets which can help you hike, bike, and explore more.  This season’s fall line seems to be the best yet, with 100 weight fleece (in jacket and pull-over form), the trail model rain jackets (in short and long form) and a reliable windbreaker for those days when you want to be out for a run but don’t want the weight of a waterproof jacket.   (I’d give you pics, but we seem to be having technical trouble doing that).

LL Bean has tended to unflattering, boxy styles in the past, so see what happens when you order – but it looks as if they may have created some good options this year.  If you’re hiking, I would advise staying away from 200 weight fleece in your pack – it’s VERY bulky and it doesn’t pack well – and go for synthetic down or real down vests instead.

Next post we’ll handle some of the gear recommendations for the best hiking you can do – in the meantime, happy shopping!

Sal

 

 

If I were Queen?

Last year, at the Royal Wedding. I was plotting even then.

We’ve had an amazing few weeks here in England, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the kickoff to the Olympics, and just yesterday, the Queen’s “Birthday parade” and the “Trouping of the Colour” – something akin to the Queen’s troop inspection, down there on the Mall.  As I was catching some of the procession yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of a song by the boys Great Big Sea, called “If I Were King”.  It got me wondering: what would I do, given the opportunity, to set the world afire as Queen?

Oh sure, I’d have to start with ditching the metric system.  I mean, I’m sure it’s great and all, but I’m just about done with screwed up cakes and cookies.  What? That’s too self-indulgent?  Hm.

Okay, well, then let me speak for my people.  My gorgeous, smart, sexy, stunning, dedicated, overworked, exhausted, want-to-exercise, sometimes-hate-our-selves, kick ass people.  What could I do for MY people, to make the world better, for the Plus athletes in all of us?

1. Everyone works 8 hours a day.  But only 8 hours.  This includes moms and managers, bus boys and grandmas.  We “work” in some form – but only for 8 hours a day and when it’s done, we gots time for healthy dinners and walks in the park and maybe even flirting with some hot dude in the Quickmart.  I believe that this place exists, and it’s called France, or Italy, depending on your assessment.  It’s a good place.

2. There are bike lanes in every city.  And none of this “painted” stuff – real bike lanes which prevent my people from getting hit by lorries or buses or doors from Trixies texting in one hand and checking lipstick with another.  They make it safe for all of us to ride where we want. My people, the people of occasional knee problems and a preference for non-weight-bearing exercise, they love the bike lanes.  They thrive.

3. We spend as much to develop effective Sports Bras as the lady did who designed Spanx.  The result is a wicking, separating, flattering, no-bounce dream of a sports bra which is far more comfortable and has an equal impact on the waistline as Spanx.  My people become more toned – because they are running now without threat of pain/bounce/chafe-o-rama- and get there without the aid of 10% lycra and at a cost that could (and should) be spent on LBDs and killer heels.

4. Every person who wants to become a runner gets a “runner starter kit” desgined specifically for plus-size athletes, and comes complete with a support group and coach to run their first 5k.  The starter kit has the right shoes (and of course comes with a free fitting!), shorts or capris which prevent chafing; a sports bra which neither dislocates your shoulder to put on nor leaves angry red welts to remove; and a shirt which neither clings to the boobage, the belly, or the butt, but rather skims appropriately in all locations while covering chicken wings aplenty.  It also includes a watch with run/walk intervals that you can actually USE and a water bottle pack which fits your waist – not the waist of Mary Kate Olsen (sorry, MK).

5. Running stores, retailers, apparel makers, etc. all offer at least one item from every collection up to a size 3X.  It is priced the same as the regular collection, in the same colors, and sold IN THE SAME STORES as the other parts of the collection – not online, but in a physical store. My people would get to try things on without the looming threat of yet another post office return.

6. Any store which claims to want to improve the health and wellbeing of the community around them, and which holds a license to sell sporting apparel shall hold, once per week, a workout course of some sort which caters to new athletes and only new athletes.  It is free, and it does not require the participants to drive somewhere else to do it.  It is also be realistic – no lunges, no scary shit.  Simple, effective, easy stuff.  Maybe (shock!) a walking group.  Maybe an “introduction to running” group, where you run for one minute, and walk for five.  EASY. NOT SCARY.  FREE.  Minimize barriers to entry and people will come.  HOW HARD IS THIS?

7.  All of my people learn how to swim as part of the elementary school education.  Yep. All of them.  Maybe I’d make it a requirement that you couldn’t get a license to drive if you didn’t pass a cycling test as well – because as many of us know, most of our journeys are under a mile – and why do them by car if you know how – and can physically do them – by bike?

8.  Overweight athletes are on the cover of major running, cycling, and triathlon magazines as frequent as their percentage of the sample of athletes they represent would require.  For example, runners, who comprise at least 40% of the running population (best guess, on a country-wide basis in the US) are on the cover of Runner’s World 40% of the year, reflecting the REAL look and feel of the running community.  Same for Triathlete magazine, and Bicycling (on a % basis).  Apparel stories for all magazines would include – for EVERY issue – recommendations on purchasing for Plus athletes to encourage more Plus athletes to be active.  Again, part of the social contract.   If Runner’s World, Triathlete, and Bicycling, just to name a few, can’t spare the column inches, we’d have a few suggestions for the stories they could trim down.  Just a few.

9.  Core strength for everyone! I’d enlist my former PT to run the nation’s course on “how to build a better core”.

10.  Every workplace has showers and a place to change before or after a workout.  This is good because in the Kingdom, at least once per week we commute on our own steam. We walk or run, or cycle.  But we need a place to shower or change before or after, and so we have it.  And no skanky showers, either.

Yep.  I think those are good starters for the Kingdom of Plus Athletes.  Wouldn’t it be grand?

Sigh.

For now, we’ll just have to take on all of those challenges on our own.  And yes, we can do it.  And yes, we can keep driving the bus.  But gosh, sometimes, don’t you wish it was just a little easier?  I know I do.

Back in the paddle again

It’s frequently said that the hardest step we must take to improve our health is the first one.  It’s the step up off the couch and out the door; away from the unhealthy food and towards the good stuff; and into a void that is frequently neither comfortable nor easy.  And yet, with a courage and determination that is bottomless, we do it.  But let us be clear: it is the first step (repeated, for most of us, every day) that is the hardest.

Do you look this happy when you head out for a workout? Nah. Me either. But races are a different thing

Exercise, they say, is habit forming.  But for most of us, a lifetime of bad habits are teasers, tempting us back to the easy way out.  I thought of this tonight as I got ready to head for a swim at the local rec center.  I had set myself up well today to get moving – my stuff was set aside this morning before I left the house because last night, I was at work too late to hit the gym.

So today, at my front door, were my goggles, flip flops, watch, swim cap, bathing suit, towel, and a bag.  When I left this morning, I left them there, rather than shoving them in my bag, only to have to change out of pantyhose and a dress at the gym.  That dog won’t hunt, and I knew it.  But I left work at a reasonable hour tonight, made a light dinner, did some more work at home, and at 8:00, headed to the pool.  I swam 800 meters in about 25 minutes (which included a warm up and cool down) and I shimmied into my lycra and headed home.

And yet.  The hardest step I took was walking away from work and getting out the door.

So what got me there tonight?  Three things, and if you, too struggle to stay committed to your plan, I encourage you to consider them:

1. I told at least 4 people today that I was swimming tonight.  I’m the kind of person who likes to be held accountable.  So when I tell someone I’m going swimming, you can be DAMN sure tomorrow I’m going to want to brag about it.  And right now, I’m happy to do so – because I have a race in September, and I’m making sure that I’m going to be ready.  Plus, I’m loving the endorphins of being back in training, and sharing that feeling makes me feel good.

2. My scale is inching slowly upward.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I have never been a scale hopper.  I dont’ do it.  And yet, I notice that the number is inching up, and not in a good way.  I have decided that the time for intervention is NOW and I’m not messing around.  It’s got me motivated.

3. I have a race in September.  On my birthday.  It’s an Olympic distance triathlon, and I’m not messing around with this one.  It’s in downtown London, and I am counting on the city being mostly gridlocked for 6 weeks leading into the race; so I’m getting a head start and a good, solid base before I have to get creative about training.  It’s got me focused in a way that I NEVER am without a goal.

So if I’m not the only one challenged by putting one foot in front of the other, I’ll just reiterate a few tips:

1. Tell people what you’re going to do.  Do it.  Then tell someone you did it.  The accountability (and, sometimes, the “atta girl”) will not only keep you honest, but it will help improve your pride in yourself (and give others a chance to be impressed, too!).

2. Find a metric that matters to you, and watch it.  Maybe for you, it’s not Lbs. Maybe it’s your cholesterol, or the number of drinks you have every day, or the number of cigarettes.  Find one that matters, and build it into whatever you’re trying to change.  Need help?  GET IT.

3. Sign up for a race.  I know, I know, I’ve said this before.  But honestly, if you don’t have a race on your calendar that challenges you, what exactly are you waiting for?  I heartily advocate for signing up for at least one “A” race (your BIG event); “B” race (a build-up or fall-back race”) and a few testers every season. They keep you honest and the shiny medals are good for picking up hot men.  Or something like that.

So that’s it from this side of the pond this evening.  I know, it’s not too much in the wisdom category, but hey, at least there was a workout today, right?

 

See you on the path!

 

A Plus Runner’s Guide to Finishing Last

Dead. Flat. Last.

I got a great, great email in my inbox today, from a runner who successfully finished her first half marathon recently.  That was the great part.  The part that had challenged her was one that’s common to many Plus Runners, and she was honest.  She wondered, fresh on the heels of finishing her first half marathon, if anyone else had the experience of finishing last in a race.  She said that but for another run/walker in her race, she’d have certainly been last in hers, and even considered dropping out.

That part of the email made me want to give her a big hug, because I know what it feels like to be there.  But her question was simple: Do you know anyone who has written about what it feels like to come in last?  So before I start here today, runners, I’m issuing an open plea: can you share your story with Tracy?  Have you ever finished last? Come close?  What was it like?  Post in the comments below, or over on Facebook, and let’s get real about what finishing last is like.

Here’s my experience.

I’ve finished last – officially last – in one very, very big race.  I’ve finished pretty late in a lot of races.  I’ve only ever dropped out of one race.  And I’ve only ever seriously considered quitting one other.    There’s a saying in the running community, which always sticks in my mind when I think about these races, and it’s like an equation:

DFL > DNF > DNS.

Dead Flat Last is better than Did Not Finish which is still better than Did Not Start.

Dead Flat Last

My DFL was in the 2008 Soldier Field 10 Miler.  (I offer you the link as proof.  Scroll to the bottom of the results, and you’ll see my name there.)  I had never run that race before, because I knew that the time cutoffs were aggressive for my pace (13:30 miles, when at that time, I was way over a 16:30).  I was pretty heavy then, and was training regularly but still not fast.  Chicago races run downtown along the waterfront are famous for many things – but for “back of the pack” runners like me, who had been running in them for almost 10 years at that point, they were famous mostly for one thing: incredible pressure to be faster than the “end of race” car.

By 2008, I had been a pace setter for the Chicago Distance Classic, the friendliest Chicago race there ever was, where runners were given plenty of time to hit cutoffs.  But I knew the challenge that race organizers faced each year to keep the police cars off the backs of the people at the end of the pack.  Chicago is a huge city and the police are on the butts of the people at the back of the pack to re-open the course as quickly as possible.  When I say I’ve been an advocate for the BOP runners, I mean it – just ask any of those folks in my pace group the last few years.

So, with that in mind, I tended to steer clear of the 10 Miler at Soldier Field, which was VERY clear about the end of race times.  That said, this one year, I agreed to run it with a friend, who wanted to do her first race there.  We were there on race morning (with my mom, a true treat, in the stands), and we headed off with the pack early and smiling.

By the first mile, we were already woefully behind the pack. This was a fast race, and we found ourselves relatively alone as we headed down an open stretch of Lake Shore Drive.  We would be mostly alone for the next four miles, run/walking down huge stretches of the famous street with no one – no cars, no people – in either direction.

That was a first for me.  I’d been slow before.  I’d been alone before.  But I’d never been slow and alone and last before.  In previous races, there were always walkers behind me, or others around to break up the pace.  I’d cut my teeth on large half marathons which were run/walk friendly, and this was something different.  This was a foot-by-foot reminder that we were holding people up.  I was panicked that we were going to get kicked off the course at every turn.  I was sure there would be no water, and the longer we went alone, the more I realized we probably wouldn’t finish on the 50 yard line.  And of course, that was my thinking – an experienced runner, who had nothing to lose with this race.

I was a horrible friend that day.  I pushed my friend to move faster, to try to cut some of the distance between us and the girl in front of us – simply because I didn’t want to get pushed off the course.  I thought if we could make it to the turn, we would be off the Drive and we could survive on the path.  But it was my friend’s first race, and I imagined she just wanted to finish.  That’s all I had wanted the day I first lined up – to finish.

The day of the 10 miler, a race marshall met us on a bike at Mile 6.  He stuck with us the entire way in – just making sure we could get there.  We had picked up an amazing, quiet girl who was out for her first big race ever.  She had been our “rabbit” for two miles when we caught her – slow and steady, our target to pick off.   She hadn’t told anyone she was racing that day, just in case she didn’t finish.  She didn’t look like a runner.  She didn’t have on running clothes, and she was holding an old Walkman to keep her company.  But she was nice as nice could be.  She had grown up with Asthma, and damn if she wasn’t going to finish that race.

I found myself holding back tears as we came up to the stadium, and “my” two first-timers were heading to the finish.  The director of the race met us outside the stadium, and took us down a special corridor to finish, on the field, as the last official racers.  We wove through guys holding beers in their hands and racers going “holy crap, there’s still people out there!”  Yep.  That was us.  We went through the tunnel.  We were on the field.  And the girls were sprinting, having a pretty cool finish.  DFL was just fine with me.

Those folks  – those race directors – didn’t have to do that for us – they didn’t have to let us finish – but they did.  And make no mistake, Race Directors make these very hard calls every day – whether to keep a race open for those last walkers, or runners, or to shut it down.  The good ones agonize over it, and stretch it as long as they can.  Two of the best are John Bingham and Beth Salinger, who have hearts of gold and the mindset of Penguins – in fact, John’s the original Penguin, and his races always made it okay to be last – in fact, even better than okay.  John started something called “The Balloon Cuties” – a group of women who walked at the back of any of his races, to gather up those who had fallen behind, and give them someone to follow into the finish.  Beth, who RDd for John and now runs a number of great races in her own right, continues that trend today, always making sure that there’s a welcome, kind, encouraging face on the back of her races, so that no one has to finish “last”.

Finishing last is hard on the heart.  But finishing alone, as Tracy mentioned, is harder.

Did Not Finish

In 2007 or 2008 (I’ve blocked out the year), I cut the course at the Shamrock Shuffle in Chicago.  I was two miles in, having started in my allocated wave, moving at a 13:30 pace, when the Chicago Police came up behind a huge group of runners and run/walkers and began yelling “WALKERS TO THE SIDEWALK PLEASE”.

I was pissed.  I was WAY ahead of pace.  I could see people one block over on a return route walking far slower than I was.  I knew that, at the end of the race, my pace would be far faster than some of them, but I was going evenly.  But that didn’t matter.  The cops were clearing the streets, and my heart rate was way up, and I could either sprint for the next few miles, or I could cut it and go home.  I was mad at being rushed; I was mad at the unfairness of the race, and I was mad in general.  I cut the block, chopping off at least a mile and a half, and headed into Grant Park for the finish.

I knew two important things that day, both of which made me A-OK with that tactic:  first, my mind was not in the race.  I was way too angry to have a good finish, and while I could have gotten it under control, this was an 8k race that didn’t mean anything to my training plan or my goals, and it just wasn’t worth it to sprint, or get hurt, or feel that much pressure.  Because EVERY step I took in that race made me think “I am NEVER going to be good enough to run these races.  I am NEVER going to be strong enough.”  And you know what?  That’s JUST. NOT. TRUE.

Somewhere in my mind, I knew that to give myself a mental beating for the next three miles wasn’t worth it.  So I quit.  And I was very okay with that decision.

Fast forward to the winter of 2009.  We were in Arizona for the RNR Half.  It was a hot day, and I was not entirely race ready.  About 8 miles in, I was hurting pretty bad.  There was no shade, and there was horrible replacement drinks, and I was pretty miserable.  Plus, owing to a case of plantar fasciitis that I hadn’t really addressed, my pelvis was starting to flare up in a way that, I was certain, felt like it must feel to have a baby.  By which I mean, not entirely pleasant.

I knew the course fairly well, and I was pretty sure that there was a chance to cut it to get towards the finish.  I considered it.  Heck, I think I even asked someone.  But there was simply no shortcut to get me home.  I probably should have stopped then, but I kept going.  It was quiet.  And I had a long time to think about my body, my health, my friends.  It felt like years.  I remember thinking “just get to the next water stop”.  And then “who can I talk to?” I struck up conversations with other walkers nearby, and that passed the time.  But it was tough.  Eventually, I came to the finish, and got my medal, and almost cried.

All of which is to say that being in the back can be challenging, and it can be lonely.  There’s something to be said for running in big races with generous finishing times – where there’s always a walker around to keep you company, or a charity group with coaches on the course.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there was probably one thing which made it much easier for me to run long races for the first few years of my running time – and that was that I joined a running group – and those people were always around – and I happened to find a friend who was at my pace.For several years, every race I ran, I ran with my new friend.  I can say without a doubt that I would not have gotten through my first race if it weren’t for her, and probably quite a few after.  We distracted one another; and when I had a shitty day, she kept me focused.   So if I have any advice for you, it’s to find a local group of new runners, and try to find someone to train with who’s at your pace.  If they’re not present, keep going back to the store or the group until they turn up. And believe me, they will.  There are always people trying to join the club – but we dont’ stick around much if we don’t feel welcome.  So stay, and be the welcome committee.  Or better yet, start your own group in your area.  Talk to a local run shop about a run/walk or a “slow runner” pace group for the weekly runs.

Don’t be afraid to go it alone – but don’t let it stop you from finding the friends you need, either.

Don’t let it make you a DNS.  Cause that math up above is right.  Anything is better than DNS.

See you on the path.

Reader Q&A: Start me up…

From the first 5k to the Olympic track – it’s safe to say I had no idea when I started that running would become so important to my life!

It’s been a great month for questions, and I thought I’d take the chance to pluck one from our Q&A page (thanks, Wendie!) and answer it for today’s blog.

“I would like to know what it was like for you when you started running – what kept you motivated and how you worked through feelings of being bored (if you get bored) while running. I would like to know what your original running plan was, the pace you worked through it and how long it took you to get to your first race.”

Thanks for the question, Wendie.  When I read it, I was out of breath, just thinking about what it was like! I think what started me running (regularly) was a feeling that I wanted to be able to keep up with a new group of friends i had found.  They were playing softball, and football, and ultimate frisbee, and I was a recovering law student who literally couldn’t stay vertical on a softball field while chasing a slow grounder to center.

I talked to one friend, then another, then another, and we agreed to train for a 5k about 10 weeks out.  I was helped immensely by running with a kind, patient, incredibly awesome friend who had been running for awhile – Kristin found a 5k training program for us, and, running with three of my friends, we took to the streets 3 days a week (at a minimum).

I won’t lie.  I sucked wind for those 10 weeks.  We built up the way the program said we should, but my friends were lighter than me, and they just didn’t have to work so hard.  But they went slowly (for me) and ran with me the whole time.  They were amazing.  And the biggest gift they gave me was to carry the conversational weight while we ran – distracting me from the distance and keeping me entertained.  With only 1 or 2 miles to go every time we went out, I eventually was able to talk a bit too.  That felt good.

Staying motivated was easier with a race in mind – we paid early, and a few weeks in, we recruited even more friends to join us.  Suddenly, we were meeting one night a week (I think it was only one), 7 or 8 of us (most who had never, ever considered doing this) traipsing around North Center in Chicago in a simple grid pattern, knocking out our miles and having a ball.  Yes, I was generally at the back – but no one ever got left behind.

So, I would say that thanks to friends, there really wasn’t much chance to be bored.  That, plus I had quite a bit going on in my life, means that I really enjoyed the time to think. And, a nice side effect of running was that I was getting to know Chicago’s neighborhoods – something i hadn’t spent a lot of time to do.  I loved to check out the view from the sidewalk – looking two stories up to check out the different crown work on the buildings I passed.  I find even today, I have the same approach – keeping my eyes towards the horizon to see what’s out there…

And as for training plans and pace, I have a note out to one of my old friends, asking her to confirm – but my recollection is that we used a light, building up training plan – we built up very slowly, going from 1/2 mile and up in minor increments, over 10-12 weeks.  And to the best of my recollection, we didn’t run/walk – we just ran, flat out.

As for pacing, I started running at 245 pounds, and I think by the time I was doing our race, I was down to about 220 (I’m 5’9″).  I was running with faster people – so most of my training runs were “4” on an effort scale of 1-5, with “5” being all out – not the way I’d train today, to be sure.  That said, it made me faster, and I ran about a 13:30 pace for that race and the others that year.

As for training plans, there’s a lot of options out there, but I would recommend anything from coach Jenny Hadfield; you can also purchase the plans via Walk Jog Run as an app for the iPhone for only $4.99. And there are loads of free plans out there – lots of people like Couch to 5k (commonly known as C25k) – my friend Scott just finished his race using that plan – and one other option is to take something that you know is a healthy plan to get there, too – presumably, something like this one from Girls on the Run St. Louis might work (though I worry it’s only 6 weeks!).

In my experience, stretching it out to 10-12 weeks is safer, and helps you avoid the shin splint problem you’re having.  Your body needs time to recover on this stuff – and a serious increase in mileage (more than 10% per week) puts you in prime spot for trouble.  So stretch it out if you can.

All of that aside, race day was pretty cool. And today, 13 years later, I can still picture in my mind, those fun training runs (and the side stitches, and the sweating, and the lack of O2!) with my friends.  They’re cherished memories for me – and to the extent you can add some humans to your journey, they’re the best motivators you can find.

Good luck and keep us posted on the journey!

Sallie