Oops…I overtrained. Again.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this oft-referenced Einstein quote before: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Well, the evidence is clear. I’m officially insane.

Einstein seems to have been right about everything (I’d like to point out that he was also a very strict vegetarian).

I encountered my first brushes with overtraining during my second year of medical school. A combination of intense, drawn-out, daily trail runs and mounting stresses from my life outside of the mountains ended up being a recipe for disaster. Hugely in denial, reluctant to give up the one thing I felt was serving me at the time (trail running), and being the know-it-all med student I was (smack in the middle of my endocrine unit, nonetheless), I did what any running addict would do: I just kept running.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in retrospect, I recognize today just how stupid this was. I had all of the classic symptoms of what is referred to in the sports medicine literature as uncompensated overreaching-induced overtraining syndrome: debilitating lethargy, complete lack of motivation, mental fog, slowed heart rate, orthostatic hypotension (e.g. “seeing stars” every time I stood up), decreased appetite, and fitful, unsatisfying sleep. Basically, the concept here is that if an athlete does not compensate (a.k.a. “rest”) after overreaching (a.k.a. pushing hard for a couple of days or even a week), an almost inevitable outcome is insurmountable stress overload on the body: hormonal systems are suppressed, neurotransmitters shut down or dysregulated entirely, oxidative damage skyrockets, inflammation goes unchecked, and a deep, unshakable fatigue settles into the very bones of one’s body. It really kind of sucks.

overtraining-syndrome

The physician in me knows today—and even back then, knew—exactly how to remedy this. It was fairly clear that I was in the early stages of some sort of adrenal insufficiency, and perhaps even hypothyroidism, induced by overtraining, and the natural sequela would be Addisonian Crisis if I didn’t just stop, take the time to recover, nourish my body appropriately with rest, nutrition, and adaptogens, and re-hash my approach to running and training. Instead, I’d down a couple of cups of black coffee, take a pretty heavy-hitting dose of Siberan Eleuthero, and be jazzed up enough to convince myself I was fine.

I rarely felt bad during a run. But it was afterward that I’d feel like I’d been hit by a bus.

I employed stopgap therapies to try and fix the problem while still being able to run large volumes on a daily basis. I took supportive, adaptogenic herbs by the fistful. I set an early bedtime and tried to force myself to sleep for 9, 10, 11 hours a night. I took melatonin, licorice, ginseng, ashwagandha. I even stopped being vegan and started eating meat and eggs for a period of about four months. I only felt worse.

The answer was clear: I needed to rest. By six months into my stint with chronic overtraining, I had read nearly every medical journal publication out there on the subject. I was an expert. Every description pointed to exactly what I was experiencing. And the recommendations at the end of each publication were unequivocal: rest was the primary solution. In some cases only a few weeks of rest do the trick; in others, athletes toe the line between chronic burnout and wellness for years or even decades. Years? Decades?! Even the concept of weeks was unfathomable to my endorphins-hooked brain.

Rest was never an option for me. If I stopped being my endurance junkie self—admittedly, an enormous slice of my identity—then just who would I be?

I would be just another twenty-something girl. Just another medical student. Just another sister, daughter, friend, and girlfriend. While I appreciate these aspects of my identity enormously, I can’t help but admit that they feel frighteningly banal in comparison with my identity as an endurance sport lover.

So what did I ultimately end up doing? I continued to live in denial for another year or so, but during the spring of 2013 my behavior caught up with me. At the time, I was living in New York, but flew back to San Francisco to attend to some school-related things and visit my sister. I distinctly remember feeling so tired, so foggy, and so out of it while I was there. I could hardly motivate myself to get up from the chair I was sitting in. Climbing up a small hill in Bernal Heights Park—a hill that normally would seem like child’s play to me—I felt my heart thumping wildly in my chest and my blood pressure dropping precipitously. I felt so weak that I was sure I was going to pass out. While everyone else around me was enjoying the view and enjoying their lives, I was seeing stars and wishing I could crawl under the covers. That was the catalyst. When I flew back to Connecticut to spend a few days with my parents, I completely broke down, and resolved to give several weeks of rest a genuine try.

It was extraordinarily difficult at first, and I have to admit, it didn’t get much easier. As someone who has grown psychologically accustomed to being very physically active on a daily basis, putting the lid on training for a while was agonizing. I traded my long runs for long walks and long cuddle sessions on the couch with my dog. I dabbled in gentle and restorative yoga. I drank green juices and ate avocados by the bushel. All the while, I felt mentally restless. It was hard to see my running shoes stare up at me from the depths of my closet floor each morning. I had to put them in the basement.

I took some time to rest last summer, and got back into the swing of things last fall. Yet, like any endurance junkie, my tendency to overdo things—without realizing I’d overdone it until far, far after the fact—got the best of me. So here I am, in January, looking back at my insane training log from November and December and, from a logical perspective, not wondering in the least how I’ve managed to find myself in the same exact predicament.

Remember that definition of insanity? Yeah, that’s definitely me.

So what conclusions have I come to as a result of experiencing this? And what advice would I give?

Well, for one, overtraining is definitely a very real thing—and not something to be messed with. Secondly, I think it’s critical that anyone involved in very taxing and stressful endurance sports on a regular basis honestly assess his or her ability to cope with stress, period, at any point in life. At the time when I first began experiencing symptoms, I was puzzled as to why—I had, after all, had no problem recovering from similarly intense levels of activity in previous years. Why such a sudden and drastic shift? It is now clear to me that the non-physical stresses in my life at the time–the unending demands of medical school, the sadness of a failing long-term relationship, confusion and distrust of my own body through experiencing illness–were all taking an enormous amount out of me as it was. Add to that the stress of endurance exercise, which is well-documented to interfere with some of the body’s most vital functions, and overtraining becomes a distinctive possibility.

As I’ve opened up to friends and family about this rather humbling experience, I’ve been met time and time again with a very similar response: “Imagine how much better of a doctor this will make you!” Very true words, but they don’t console the fact that I can’t bust out 18-mile runs every day a la Dean Karnazes. Bummer.

Alas, I suppose I am only human after all. I guess I actually do have to take rest days.

The question, then, is this: what to do with all of the extra free time I’ll gain by having rest days?

Maybe go swimming?

Meh, once an addict, always an addict…

Stop being a boring adult, and start dreaming again.

In my December post titled “How to Date a Triathlete,” I talked about our tendency to become jaded in adulthood, and how our abandonment of wonderment and big dreaming becomes an accepted fact of life as we exit adolescence and enter the murky realm of grown-upness.

I also mentioned my desire to resist this state of mind, and how training for endurance races has been a powerful influence in my ability to maintain a childlike sense of possibility well into my 20s.

Recently, I stumbled across a video on YouTube by one of my favorite personalities in the vegan running community, Tim VanOrden. Tim, also affectionately known as “TVO,” has served as an extraordinarily influential pioneer in the raw vegan community, as well as an instrumental figure within the running community. A 9-time U.S. masters track/cross-country champion and snowshoe racing whiz, TVO is one of the few visionaries who have put the whole concept of eating a vegan diet for improved athletic performance on the map. 

TVO makes these great YouTube vids–most of them shorts–which are entirely comprised of “video selfies” while he’s coasting down a mountain trait in Vermont, mind abuzz with that characteristic clarity of thought that hits runners 5, 10, 15 miles into their runs. I love how he unabashedly whips out his video recorder and videotapes his disheveled, winded, sweaty self to share the tidbits of wisdom he gleans while out in nature. There is so much truth to what TVO has to offer. A true philosopher, his pep talks speak to everyone, and apply to universal life experiences–vegan or not, runner or not.

The video, titled “The Delusional Beginnings of Running Raw,” does a beautiful job of elucidating the concept of remaining open to limitless possibility no matter one’s age or past experiences.

In case you’re not keen on watching TVO’s video selfie, here’s the script:

“When I started this journey, I was a painter. I was adding to the canvas. I was only looking at possibility: to see what’s possible; to be what’s possible. And at that time, I believed anything was possible.

But I’ve been running for six years now, and I’ve been tested again and again, and fallen again and again. And I keep getting back up and I keep getting better. But instead of continuing my path as a painter, I’ve become a sculptor. And instead of adding to a canvas, I’ve begun to take away from a stone, chisel away, removing possibility with each nick of the knife.

And every time I make a mistake and knock off more of the stone than I intended, I know I have even less possibility to work with, and I have to reduce and change the ultimate sculpture. And I’ve found myself, now at forty-four, highly defined, and limited with this sense that less is possible because I know more. I chipped away at the stone and I see what’s left, and it keeps getting smaller. The ceiling has gotten lower. I don’t see the same possibility that I saw at the beginning of this journey, which was an Olympic team. And maybe that was delusional. But seeing it as a possibility, whether it was a reality or not, got me in the game, it got me in action, it excited me. And now that the ceiling has come way down, I still see myself improving but it’s not nearly as exciting because that ceiling’s not far away.  I don’t have much room to grow.

I’ve got to find a way to get back into the painter mode and add to my training, add to my life, add to my thinking, and add to my abilities. Because I know I’m not done yet, but there’s a part of my mind that’s trying to convince me that I am. I can’t fight that thought. I can’t chip that thought away. I have to add other thoughts. I have to simply paint over it.

In life, often, we try to chip away at our negative thoughts. We try to remove them. We punish ourselves. We’re hard-wired to be sculptors and to chip away at life, and chip away at possibility. But I think the greatest gift of the human mind, the thing that separates the human mind from the minds of other creatures, is our ability to paint. This is trained out of us somewhere in childhood or adolescence. We’re taught to face the “real world” and start chipping away, and get the job, and get the house, and get the family, and get the car and just settle in to this reduced mode of living, rather than being that child who paints possibility with every stroke.

 There’s a story about Winston Churchill. He was driving through the country one day when he came across a woman staring at a blank canvas. She was looking out at a pastoral landscape, which was beautiful. Winston walked up and he said, “What’s the problem?” and she said, “I’m not sure where to start.” So he took her paintbrush, dipped it in black paint, and put a big black mark across her canvas. He said, “There. Now you’ve started.” 

And that’s how life is. Sometimes life gives us this big black mark. And rather than chipping away and saying, “Oh, we’ve got a black mark, the canvas is ruined, we can’t use it anymore,” you can add to it. What can I do with that black mark? What possibility can I discover? How can I take paint and add? How can I take thought and add to this? Make it better? Improve upon it?

 Think about that. How to add to your life. How to add possibility back in to your life. Not by getting rid of things. But just by painting a different color over things. Or next to them. Or turning them into a new design. Black line—what can I do with a black line? Every tree that I’m running by has black lines in it. Every root that I’m jumping over as I make this video has black lines in it.

 Paint with them. Create a forest of possibility.”

78384 Maple and Birch Trees in Fall Color, Adirondack Park and Preserve, New York

How I Injury-Proofed My Legs: 10 Unorthodox Practices I Use to Run High-Mileage Pain-Free

Injury. It’s the endurance athlete’s worst nightmare. It’s an almost inevitable experience that comes with being a runner. Heck, my personal experiences with sports-related injuries have been so poignant as to drive me to center my career around identifying and treating them.

I currently run more based on how I feel than any set training plan; that said, most of my runs are over ten miles. Some weeks I run up to 60 miles, other weeks I might run 20. However, there was a distinct period of time, several years ago, when I noticed my body starting to break down if I went over 30-35 miles per week. Fearing injury and almost constantly plagued with some strange ache, pain, or tightness, I kept my mileage capped at less than 40 miles per week. Looking for a more sustainable way to continue running and also up my mileage, I started to tinker with my habits and daily practices to find a long-term plan to keep me running strong well into adulthood.

We are all an experiment of one, and here’s what I’ve cooked up in my laboratory so far when it comes to preventing running-related injury for myself. My disclaimer is that what works for me might not work for everyone. That said, I came to these methods after years and years of trial-and-error, and only after I’d mustered up the courage to break away from some of the classic dogma that has come to define running as a sport irrespective of science.

I hope these prove useful, and if anyone has any additional insights or experiences to offer, please post in the comments below!

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Not my legs. But a girl can dream, no?

1. I stopped running every day. Prior to 2012, I let my ego get in the way and was intent on running every.single.day. I wanted to be a “streaker“–and I succeeded somewhat, running at least one mile every day for 1,812 consecutive days (or just shy of five straight years). I ran through many minor running injuries, employing band-aid and stopgap therapies to keep me on my feet. However, a traumatic knee injury brought that chapter of my life to an abrupt standstill, and through rest and periodization of training, I learned so much about how my body responds to and recovers from running. In fact, I not only healed well from my injury by significantly cutting back on my running, but I also got faster!

I can’t say that running less is what caused my improvement so much as an integration of all of the following practices listed below. Regardless, I really do think there’s something to taking at least one–but preferably two or three–days off between runs to allow the body time to repair all of the microdamage that occurs to bones, joints, and connective tissue during the run. Today, I run 2-3x per week, but I make those runs really count. I also never run if I don’t feel fully “healed” from my prior running session. I haven’t had an injury in the two years since I’ve implemented this practice.

2. I started pushing heavy resistance. Want to bulletproof your legs? Pedal backwards on the elliptical, at the highest resistance you can maintain for a minute at 150-180 rpm. Rest. Repeat.

I know “elliptical” is a dirty word among running purists, however for me, high resistance training on the elliptical and bike has been the cornerstone of keeping my legs super strong. Pushing heavy resistance here doesn’t mean classic weight training, although I know that targeted strength training can have huge benefits for injury-prone runners. Instead of doing endless squat and lunge variations, which I find cause flare-ups in my patellofemoral pain, I have found that pushing heavy resistance on low- or non-impact cardio equipment, such as bikes and ellipticals, has a significant impact on my ability to push power as well as withstand pavement pounding.

I think that high resistance and lower cadence, especially on the bike, is underrated. This method of training improves both strength and cardiovascular endurance as well as VO2max, and can be sustained for longer periods if done in an interval format. I have had to do some experimentation to find out which types of ellipticals work for me, since some position my feet awkwardly in the foot pedals and screw with my kneecap tracking. Generally speaking, though, the higher-end ellipticals (Precor, Cybex) that allow the user to alter incline and direction in addition to resistance really provide the most bang for your buck, as they allow you to truly tax every major and minor muscle group in the lower body, depending on angle and direction.

3. I cross-train like it’s my job. See above. Hiking, uphill walking, ellipticalling, pool running, trail running, and snowshoeing together comprise far more of my training time than simple road running.

4. I rotate my running shoes. I rarely wear the same shoe two runs in a row. These days, I am running in everything from super minimalist (New Balance Minimus trail shoe, Vivobarefoot Breatho trail shoe) to super maximalist (Hoka One One Bondi B) to everything in between (Mizuno Wave Rider, Pearl iZumi EM Road H3, Brooks Pure Flow, Nike Free 5.0). As an osteopath and biomechanics nerd, I have come to understand that variety, and keeping the body constantly guessing, are key to injury prevention. I keep a wide variety of radically different shoes on heavy rotation, because each shoe causes a very subtle and slight change in my gait, foot strike, and stride, stressing different muscles and aspects of connective tissue. This is why, at least anecdotally, trail runners are far less likely to experience injury than road runners–they are constantly mixing up their terrain, and landing in novel ways depending on the surface presented to them. As for whether or not there is one optimal and pure foot strike for everyone, well, the jury’s still out on that one. But striving to land midfoot certainly can’t hurt.

5. I stopped stretching so much. Disclaimer: I am already incredibly flexible, and prone to hypermobility. In fact, it was my tendency to have hypermobile joints that caused me to injure my knee several years ago, when my kneecap became dislocated. Someone like me needs to work more on restoring stability and strength to the knees, ankles, and hip girdle rather than encouraging them to become even more lax through extreme yoga postures and stretching. If I feel specific tightness in a certain area, I hit the foam roller instead–that way I can target the muscle belly, rather than risk overstretching tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, etc.

6. I alkalized my diet. What does that even mean? Simply put, it means I have made fruits and vegetables comprise the vast majority of my diet. Because of the vitamins and minerals present in plant foods, along with the process by which they are digested, fruits and vegetables encourage the blood as well as body tissues to shift their pH from a more acidic to a more alkaline state. An alklaline state is a healing state; it is naturally anti-inflammatory, and encourages the healing of tissues as well as improved immune function. You can imagine what this means not only for injury recovery, but also for keeping injury at bay.

Alkalinizing foods include pretty much anything fruit and vegetable. On the flip side, acidifying foods include concentrated protein sources (especially animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy; but also concentrated vegetarian proteins such as tofu, tempeh, seitan, etc.), some oils, some grains, refined flours, refined sugar, and certain fats. Most whole grains, nuts/seeds, legumes, and pulses are either neutral or very slightly acidic.

Highly acid-forming foods, especially animal protein, have such a profound effect on blood pH that eating even moderate amounts can encourage the body to leach calcium from bones, causing demineralization as calcium serves as a very potent buffer of the acidic conditions. Sounds like a recipe for a stress fracture to me.

So, long story short, I eat tons and tons of fruits and veggies. As much as I can. That’s not to say I don’t eat acid-promoting foods; as a whole foods vegan, grains, nuts, seeds, etc. are an important part of my diet. I just eat them in much smaller amounts.

7. I ignored the scale. Many runners tend to be a little too weight-obsessed, in my opinion. Obviously being somewhat on the lighter side is an advantage, but only up to a point. In my experience, I found that I was actually–and this may seem paradoxical–far more injury prone at a lower weight. Why? I’m not sure exactly, but more and more evidence is lending itself to the notion that nutritional status–especially among women–is a crucial component of the body’s ability to deal with stressful exercise, both on a hormonal level as well as a musculoskeletal level. I think that most of us have a “sweet spot” where are bodies are most nutritionally replete while also balancing athleticism and power. We may not look like Kara Goucher or Josh Cox at said sweet spot, but who gives? Running isn’t about how we look anyway–it’s about how we feel. Right? Who’s with me?

8. I stopped weight training. See #2 and #3. While I do still do some strength work, I have found that classical weight training aggravates my joints, especially in my lower body, a little too much to be worth it. I have found high intensity, high resistance cross-training to be more than sufficient in making my lower body strong and bulletproof.

9. I nipped niggles in the bud. Say wha? Okay, this term–“niggle”–is one I stole from Chrissie Wellington. She refers to little odd aches and pains, muscle tightness at an early stage, etc. as “niggles.” A niggle is that very subtle sensation of tightness in your IT band that occurs after a long run. It’s that slight cramp in your calf after a hill workout. Nipping it in the bud involves attacking it–not too aggressively, though–at first sign. My methods of choice involve foam rolling, Epsom salts baths, magnesium oil, Po Sum On (a Traditional Chinese Medicine remedy), and osteopathic manipulative medicine (if I can cajole one of my poor unsuspecting osteopath friends to fix me!).

10. I trashed the ibuprofen. It is only on extraordinarily rare occasions (read: once every two or three years) that I use any sort of NSAID, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). If I do feel that a certain amount of inflammatory pain is hanging around a little too long–which, to be honest, these days is a rarity–I prefer to use herbal anti-inflammatories, such as Boswellia Serrata and Cat’s Claw (both of which are evidence-based for their ability to attenuate musculoskeletal inflammation). These herbal medications have a lighter, more subtle effect than traditional synthetic NSAID drugs, and also have a lower side effect profile. Why not just go for the ibuprofen, you ask? Well, mounting evidence suggests that turning inflammation completely off, as NSAID drugs do, may not be such a good thing, especially when it comes to healing. Rather, a healthy level of post-exercise inflammation is an important impetus for the regeneration and renewal of muscles, tendons, bones, and joints. In summary, a small amount of inflammation encourages the body to recruit healing cells, such as white blood cells, fibroblasts, and chondrocytes, to areas of microtrauma, such as ligaments and tendons. So instead of popping “vitamin I” so I can run the next day, I take a day–or three–off.

So there you have it–my personal prescription for running pain-free high mileage.
How do you keep your running sustainable?

New Year’s Resolutions of an Endurance Junkie

While I overheard some of my friends’ new year’s resolutions at a gathering last night (“I’m gonna hit the gym at least 3x a week!”, “I’m going to start waking up earlier!”, “I’m going to drink more water!”), my junkie self couldn’t help but be glaringly reminded of what a junkie I’ve become, and feel at least a little bit envious of their abilities to live life in moderation.

Me, I’m the girl over in the corner nursing a PBR and resolving to herself, under her breath, “This year, I’m not going to overtrain!”

The thing about new year’s resolutions is this: I don’t believe in them. Perhaps it’s the part of me that got all caught up in this vegan, endurance sport lifestyle to begin with that drives this bias. Because that’s the part of me that believes in setting new goals and challenging myself to be better, to be healthier, to be stronger not just come January 1st, but 365 days a year.

In the past, I’ve waited for dates to come: marathon race dates penned into my calendar months in advance; a long run scheduled for Sunday; medical school board exams set in stone. But even before this became a habit, I was much more flexible: my mantra was to work hard always, and race when I felt ready–whether that was in May or in October, but in any case, it was usually “tomorrow!”.

When I was younger and less cautious, I did this frequently, and it lent itself to a certain level of happiness and spontaneity that is decidedly lacking in my adult way of going about training and living. I had confidence in my capacity, and simply wasn’t afraid of failing. I ran my first marathon without “proper” training, signing up a mere week beforehand and saying a prayer to the wing-footed Hermes the night before. What’s more, at the time, I was a brand-new study abroad student in Barcelona, and barely spoke the native language of the city I’d be running in.

To top it all off, only 9% of the runners in the race were women (European women aren’t as into the whole “exercise” thing as we Americans are…except maybe the Scandinavians and their bicycles). I didn’t care. I was fearless. Sure, you could easily argue I had a very sick case of newbie’s naïveté, but it wasn’t the first–nor the last–time I’d do something so “irrational.”

I didn’t exactly turn heads as I crossed the finish line, but I did it. Ignorance is bliss, but confidence in oneself and a taste for adventure are what drive long-term happiness.

A mere six months prior to my marathon debut, I hopped a bicycle and rode cross-country with a group of cyclists working to raise money and build homes for affordable housing organizations. Think I’d ever really cycled in my life before? Negatory.

I didn’t care. I was fearless.

(Notice a theme here?)

On day one of my cross-country ride, I distinctly remember doing a rather ungraceful face plant in the parking lot as I navigated my clipless pedals for the first time. And yes, the first few days were rough. But within less than two months, I had ridden across the United States.

It’s been a long, long time since I’ve really gone out on a limb and done something “crazy,” something I’m relatively “unprepared” for or “inexperienced” with. But I’m starting to miss the rush, the excitement, and the fun that comes with just putting myself out there, taking chances, and having faith in all of those base miles and speed sessions.

So I suppose I’m a sucker for new year’s resolutions after all, because as I bring this post full-circle I can’t help but think to myself: that’s it. That’s my new year’s resolution.

Mid-February of 2014 marks my 26.2nd birthday. A few weeks ago, I shocked myself by accidentally running 21 miles on a run in which I got very, very lost. At the end of that day, I resolved to run 26.2 miles on my 26.2nd birthday. I’ve since been toying with the idea, vacillating between thinking it’s pure genius and completely idiotic. My logical, adult, non-spontaneous brain keeps telling me that there’s no way I’ll be “properly” trained for a marathon by February–I’m more cycling fit right now than anything else–but who cares? Why not just go for it?

2014 marks the year of just going for it, of self trust, and of running marathons on a whim. Again. Look out, Paradise Coast Marathon. I’m registered and comin’ for ya.

Happy 2014 everyone!

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You know you’re a [female] triathlete when…

I stumbled across this thread on the Slowtwitch women’s forum recently and laughed out loud enough times to find it share-worthy. Certainly more than a handful of these apply to the gentlemen as well.

Enjoy!

2008 Solana Beach Triathlon

You know you’re a [female] triathlete when…

1. You hit the drugstore cosmetics aisle to find the perfect shade of nail polish–to fix a chip on your bike.

2. You own more sports bras than everyday bras.

3. You own five one-piece swimsuits, and no two-piece suits.

4. Your chosen hairstyle has more to do with what fits easily under an aero helmet or swim cap than what’s fashionable.

5. You refuse to wear high heels, because they’re bad for your calves.

6. You turn down dates because they interfere with training.

7. Your biggest motive behind getting a dog was to have a new running partner.

8. You use hair ties to hold things (GPS, spare tubes) to your bike.

9. You are a complete pro at changing into and out of workout clothes while sitting in the front seat of your car.

10. You bring sports magazines with you to waiting rooms, because you can’t stand any of that Vogue/Cosmo crap.

11. You’d rather sleep with your heart rate monitor than a guy.

12. When you hear “bling,” you think “medals.”

13. Eau de Chlorine: it’s the newest, hottest fragrance for women.

14. When someone says, “size matters,” you automatically think of your bike, fit, wheels, and race weight.

15. When your kitchen is a mess, there’s laundry to be done, and mail is piling up on the counter, your bike is–and will always be–sparkly clean.

16. You have given up on trying to hide those pesky “goggle marks” around your eyes before heading in to work.

17. You didn’t cry over “The Notebook,” but you sniffled and sobbed while watching the Ironman World Championships.

18. A running coach would cringe over your form…but you’re still faster than most guys you know.

19. Your idea of a great birthday party is to run your age in miles with a bunch of friends.

20. You spend more time on cyclingnews.com or slowtwitch.com than Facebook.

21. You consider work a “recovery period” between sessions.

22. Your family is not worried if you left for your run 2 hours ago.

23. You’re up every day by 5 am, but never in to work before 9 am.

24. You can’t change the oil in your car, but you can completely rebuild your bike in 45 minutes or less.

25. Your car smells like a locker room.

26. Your idea of shopping is a trip to the Sports Authority.

27. You’re the only lady you (personally) know who uses Strava.

28. You have more pairs of shoes than any of your girlfriends–but they’re all running shoes.

29. You shave your legs religiously, but it has absolutely nothing to do with aesthetic.

30. You talk about taking “LSD and speed” daily without realizing that it weirds people out.

31. You have a special “secret spot” for stashing  jewelry last-minute.

32. You don’t wear leggings, you wear Spandex.

33. You frequently wear pants to work to hide your compression socks.

34. You’re actually stoked to gain a few pounds, because you know it’s increased glycogen storage.

35. You don’t take bubble baths, you take ice baths.

36. Your girlfriends are jealous of your killer tan…until they realize it only extends to mid-thigh.

37. Your only motive for doing yoga is to stretch out chronically tight hamstrings.

38. “Little Pink Kit” is your version of the “Little Black Dress.”

39. You choose beer over wine because it’s a more effective glycogen replenisher.

And my favorite, so far:

40. You would prefer carbon that has been spun into fibers and molded into aero forms over carbon that has been compressed for millions of years and carved with many facets.

wyndy-milla

Wyndy Milla rockin’ the Little Pink Kit.

What sort of quirks confirm that you’re a female triathlete? Or triathlete in general?

How to date a triathlete/marathon runner/endurance junkie.

1. Don’t.

Just kidding. In fact, endurance junkies are some of the most quality people around. All of those hours spent alone with ourselves in the meditative realm of Zone 2 really forces us to think about things like who we are, what we believe in, the meaning of life, what we’re going to eat immediately when we get home, and other critical themes.

But it’s not as simple as run, rinse, repeat. Being a true endurance junkie is a lifestyle. It’s a state of mind. For many of us, training makes us better people every day. It serves us in ways other people or experiences have not or cannot. And so we find ourselves caught up in a committed relationship, legs intertwined with the goddess of multisport.

As I once (perhaps mistakenly) told a past boyfriend: “You may be my boyfriend, but triathlon is my husband.”

Needless to say, this did not go over very well. I was mostly kidding, but I think we both knew it to largely be true. He replied with some snarky comment about “time spent in the saddle,” which I actually recall being quite clever and pun-ny.

This past summer and fall, in an attempt to unearth just what it is that makes us endurance junkies so “un-datable,” I conducted a rather unscientific social experiment: I went on 21 dates in 21 weeks, with 21 non-endurance athletes (a.k.a. “normal people”). Here’s what I discovered to be the top most misunderstood aspects of the endurance junkie’s lifestyle.

1. Most of us are introverts. Sure, we may be the life of the party on the rare occasions we are out socializing. We may seem extroverted because of our tendency to be outgoing when others are around. But don’t be fooled. Usually that’s just the endorphins talking. Or the fact that eventually, we need to balance out our 90% alone time with some human contact. Either way, just be prepared for someone who likes to be a bit of a lone wolf. It takes a certain type to spend hours alone running and cycling, and that certain type usually has a penchant for solitude that may be disturbing to others.

2. Please, please, please don’t make us stay out late with you. Our idea of “going out” involves literally going outdoors on foot or bicycle, preferably in the wee hours of Saturday morning when the rest of the world is sleeping off an impending hangover. If you make us stay out late with you at some sub-par Mexican restaurant, and hence compromise the quality or timing of our planned weekend long run/ride, we will resent you. And eat all the chips and salsa without regard for the others at the table. Consider yourself warned.

3. We WILL spend more time swimming, biking, and running, than with you. Sorry. It’s not that we don’t like you, it’s just that, well, we like SBR better.

4. Vacations, dates, and trips centered around doing something physical and rugged are incredibly hot. Especially if you can keep up/only if you can keep up.

5. Please don’t make comments about our choice of dress. We got up at 3:30 am and ran 54 miles today, so yes, it’s gonna be another sweatpants day.

6. Please don’t make comments about the state of our feet, or the strange rashes on our backs and butts. Listen, I’ve been working on those calluses for years. And brush burn can happen to the best of us. It’s a badge of honor. Now hand me my body butter.

7. It’s really, honestly, seriously not about the bike. Some multisport “hobbyists”, as I like to call them, are really just into gear: flashy bikes, fancy moisture-wicking apparel, gravity-defying running shoes. I think those folks are in the minority though. Really, for most of us, it’s about the process. The bike is just a vehicle for personal growth and change.

8. …but if you HAVE to give us a gift, give us a bike! Okay, maybe not a bike (has anyone looked at the price tags on those things these days? Insane!), but something we can use to make ourselves more comfortable, efficient, and/or entertained while slogging it out there. As they say, carbon fiber is a girl’s best friend. Or is it only me who says that? Meh.

9. We probably finished off that entire box of cereal. SORRY. It takes a lot of fuel to power through several hours of cardio exercise every day. Or at least, so we tell ourselves. If you bring it to our attention that downing an entire box of Product 19 in a day is gross, we will feel sad, misunderstood and self conscious. So just don’t go there.

10. No run = cranky + moody. I once saw a t-shirt at a local running shop that had the words “NO RUN = CRANKY + MOODY” printed on it in large block print. I felt relieved that clearly, I was not the only one to have experienced this phenomenon. Now where can I find a cute guy sporting said shirt?

11. We’re geeks for numbers. A lot of triathlon lingo is centered around numbers, figures, and calculations. Do we expect you to understand when we toss around terms like “max cadence,” “wattage,” “millimeter offset,” and “Yasso 800s“? Yes, yes we do.

12. Yes, we are capable of love. We just show it differently. Here’s my theory, which is loosely based on my associations with triathlete and marathoning friends over the years: we just have a different sense of relativity, slightly different tolerance for solitude and independence, and frequently a radically different neurohormonal profile, than the general populous. We like our friends to be people who understand the value of setting personal goals and doggedly going after them, with perhaps seeming disregard for other aspects of life. Needless to say, this typically isn’t considered very socially acceptable; women especially are deemed neglectful if they choose to pursue “hobbies” outside of family and even career. 

BWbTlR7CIAADcHr_jpg_large

Does anyone else find this photo incredibly hot?

The thing about triathletes and endurance athletes is that many of us have rediscovered the power of positive motivation, encouragement, and coaching in our adult lives. The paradigm of pushing through personal boundaries to shatter past records and achieve new, previously unattainable goals is something many of us move away from after we graduate from high school sports teams. This lens–one of encouragement, big dreaming, and distinctive goal-setting–is the one through which we understand how to show love and affection. If one of my friends mentions a goal she’s been entertaining, you sure as hell bet I’ll be on her case about realizing that goal and surpassing it. This comes off as annoying to some, but more often than not I’ve been met with appreciation.

Perhaps most people don’t get enough of this on a regular basis. When was the last time you heard someone say something like, “I believe in you,” “You can do anything you set your mind to,” or “Dream big”? These are things we were liberally showered with as children, but such encouragement and belief in oneself falls by the wayside as we grow up and hide away behind our desk jobs. This makes me sad.

I think people who are drawn to things like endurance sports are people who have recognized that realistically, only a finite amount of achievement and goal realization is possible in the “real world”. The concept of the entirely self-made man or woman is a thing of the past, as our careers and personal lives function more at the whim of the economy, our happenstance social network, and random obstacles that arise than our education and persistence. No longer does good, honest hard work necessarily translate into getting where one wants to be.

With triathlon, the payback is reliably and predictably related to the amount of work that’s put into it. Working hard = progress, and progress = personal growth and improvement. We crazy endurance junkies have found an arena in which one of the most basic human needs is not only attainable, it’s incredibly accessible. Maybe we’re not so crazy, after all?

In summary: how to date a triathlete:

-Dream big

-Stock up on Product 19.

The end.

That time I ran 40 laps in front of a hotel and amassed a small following of local runners.

On Monday, December 16th–a mere three days after my unplanned 21-mile Tour-de-Boston–I was met with the opposite challenge: I was confined to a single quarter-mile stretch of pavement a few blocks from my apartment. Apparently, following Friday’s fiasco, the fates didn’t want me playing far from home.

This time, ironically, I was uber-prepared. Metro card: check. House key: check. Cell phone: check. Debit card: check. Extra warm gear: check. Fool me twice, Boston, shame on me.

Over the weekend, we had received a few inches of snow. It was quite lovely for the first eighteen or so hours…and then it insidiously turned to ice. Black ice. I slipped and skidded out of my apartment on Monday morning, hoping to get a few miles in before work. I instantly regretted leaving my Yaktrax in Connecticut.

Determined to make the best of the situation, I waddled around the relatively quiet city streets that surround my apartment building and abut the river, desperately seeking out areas devoid of that characteristic sheen that signals slippery danger. The boardwalk leading out to the main river had been transformed into a slip-n-slide overnight: completely covered by a thin sheet of ice, it was devoid of all foot traffic.

So, quite naturally, I decided to be the first to explore.

I ambled along the boardwalk, much like I imagine a penguin would, until I got to the end. I had some close calls–this is the kind of ice that can rip a hole in the crotch of your pants in an instant. I decided to ignore the severity of my underfoot environment and charged forward. Anxious to scope out the situation with the bike path along the river, I bounded out into the street and made a beeline for the water’s edge.

Everything was covered in ice. Everything. The bike path had been poorly and pathetically plowed; salt was saved for the streets. Even the snow itself was covered in a thick crust of impenetrable ice. I was doomed.

Suddenly, as if to test my reserve, a smiling, rosy-cheeked, athletic-looking young woman bounded my way across the snow. She looked magical, as if running on air. I almost immediately looked down at her feet. Yaktrax. Son of a—

I stopped in my tracks to gather myself and figure out a game plan. I had carved out about 90 minutes to get a run in; at this point I didn’t have time to waste going back to my home, changing, and heading to the local gym for a cycling session. Forget the pool–it was sub-30 this morning and the mere thought of icicle hair was enough to shun the thought from my mind indefinitely.

I looked ahead, and was un-pleasantly surprised to find a decently long, boring stretch of quiet, undisturbed pavement, perfectly plowed and salted, stretching out ahead of me. The road is one of those underutilized accessory streets that loops off the main parkway to accommodate a small handful of immediate riverside businesses, including the locally famous Royal Sonesta Hotel. Cars rarely use it. It’s a little over a quarter-mile long.

Sigh. I guess this is it.

I took off at an easy pace, running from one end of the stretch to the next. I checked my GPS: 0.23 miles. Just about the same distance as one lap around a track. I can do this. You can do this, Carrie.

I looped back around and ran back. 0.46 miles.

Only 40 more laps to go.

Suddenly, I was thrust back into the throes of my often-suppressed high school memories of indoor track and field: running countless laps on the snow-covered track in cotton t-shirts and Umbro shorts; doing striders on a 1/4-mile stretch of blacktop behind the high school; ditching runs for snowball fights with the boys’ team at the local golf course. The main difference was that I was maxing out at about 5 miles back then. Today, I had twice the distance of drudgery.

I turned autopilot on full-force and ticked off the laps. As I went, I noticed several other joggers make the same moves I had at the beginning of my run: bounding out to the riverbank, only to appear dismayed at the sight of the bike path. A few looked over toward me, running in parallel with the river on this deserted stretch of road. Before I knew it, there were three or four of us circling around the only hospitable stretch of pavement in East Cambridge. I nodded to the other runners as we passed one another. I got some smiles, some waves, a few comments (“GREAT CONDITIONS, EH??”). There we were, running in tandem–four of us….six of us….eight of us. I was amazed at what had amassed. Suddenly, a small but sizable cohort of Cantabrigians had all but staked their claim on this small stretch of land.

I am not exactly sure how many laps I ran today, but it was somewhere between 40-42, as I finished my run at about 10 1/4 miles. For the most monotonous run I have ever done in my twelve years as a runner, it actually ended up being far from monotonous. The last eight miles flew by.

As we plodded along,  the nods and smiles became routine. Eventually, a few high-fives emerged. We were a bunch of lone wolves who had found our pack. We were runners. Crazy, addicted, nothing-will-get-in-my-way runners. No excuses runners. Weatherproof runners. Dedicated runners. What began as an icy, unpleasant, bore of a solo run suddenly became an inspiring lesson in making the best of any situation, and the power of camaraderie.

Here’s to no excuses, to always seeking out adventure, and to inspiring others–and being inspired–along the way.

Picture 1

That thick red line represents somewhere around 40 back-and-forths.

 

 

That time I got lost in Boston and ended up running 21 miles instead of 9.

Written at 2:26 am on Saturday, December 14th, 2013.

It was Friday the 13th. Something was bound to go awry.

I woke up later than usual, with plans to make the morning’s workout a quickie 9-10 mile jog along the Charles River. I would be out and back in my apartment, blending up green smoothies, within 90 minutes.

Such was the plan. But Friday the 13th had other plans for me.

Okay, okay, I freely admit that this morning’s snafu had less to do with the Friday the 13th status and more to do with my still relative noob status here in Boston. In either case, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum this morning.

I took off along my usual starting point, down Broad Canal Way in Cambridge and west along the Cambridge Parkway. It was a cold 30 degrees or so, but warmer than other days this week. I celebrated this fact until about a quarter of a mile into my run, at which point the path I was running on rounded a bend and became flush with the river. Almost immediately, a powerful, icy wind began to buffet me from head-on.

I was stunned. Normally, inclement weather doesn’t really bother me–I like to see myself as being rather “weatherproof.” However, something about that wind caught me seriously off guard. Ironically, the freezing gusts of air quite literally took the wind out of me–and I found myself with an uncharacteristic running demeanor for me: head down, driving forward, gasping for breath less than a half a mile in.

I was humbled. At least temporarily.

As if by default, I started to quicken my pace and charge forward–perhaps in an attempt to overcome my adversary. I felt like I was running through molasses. I felt like someone was slapping me in the face with a slightly damp, freezing cold bed sheet. I felt like mother nature was mad at me–so I got mad back.

I hurdled forward (“hurdled” only in the best sense of my mind’s eye; to onlookers I probably looked more a floppy, flailing mess of arms and legs akimbo) stubbornly, determined to power through until I had the chance to re-orient to a new cardinal direction. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until somewhere between 3 and 4 miles into my run, at which point the Charles makes an abrupt turn north near Harvard’s campus. At that point, I had already exhausted a good portion of my gas tank, and I still had quite a few miles left to go. Battered and weary, I plodded along to the turnaround point, an inconspicuous bridge not far from Harvard’s boathouse.

My plan was to cross the bridge and stick to the river on the Boston side, following it back in the opposite direction from whence I came. I’ve run this route at least three or four times before, so I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing. What I didn’t realize is that the Charles River branches out into all sorts of neat and fun little tributaries and trajectories, which meander throughout the entire MetroWest area if one isn’t careful to stay to the main river. I’m sure you can see where this is going. I crossed my inconspicuous bridge, oriented myself toward the water, and followed a paved bike path along the embankment. I figured that as long as I was following a path, and that the river was to my left, I’d be fine. Right?

It wasn’t long before I recognized that I didn’t in fact recognize a thing about my surroundings. Yes, there was some sort of river to my left, but it definitely wasn’t the Charles. Praying that this small detour would eventually feed back into the Charles, I stuck to my path. The miles ticked away…5 miles, 6 miles, 8 miles…until I reached a nondescript shopping plaza and all signs of paved running and bike paths vanished. That’s when I realized I was probably screwed.

As if an angel from the heavens, a sprightly blonde teenage female runner began to approach from the opposite direction. I waved her down and asked for directions toward the Esplanade, a popular riverside park not too far from my apartment. She laughed and looked at me like I was insane. “That’s, like, REALLY far away. Like, CRAZY far! You probably won’t want to run all the way there.” I told her I really had no choice–which was the truth: I’d left my metro card at home, and all I had with me was a key to my apartment and my phone.

As perky blonde girl flitted happily away on her 5K, I made peace with the fact that today was going to be a long, long day. I pulled out my phone and searched for the most direct route back to my apartment. I was shocked to find that I had somehow ended up on the outskirts of Roxbury; the Charles River had bifurcated and formed a small, southbound channel which I had picked up some four or five miles earlier, and which ultimately plunged me into the heart of southwest Boston neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the most direct route back involved passing through some fairly sketchy, non-pedestrian-friendly portions of concrete jungle, so I opted to backtrack a bit until I could get back onto a solid riverside path. However, first I had to call my boss.

Thankfully, my boss is an incredibly cool guy. Put simply, he himself is very active, so he “gets it.” When I outlined my predicament, his first response was to offer to come pick me up. I refused, under the condition that it was okay that I show up an hour, or two, or two-and-a-half, late today. Needless to say, this was not a problem–and I heard him chuckle to himself as the line clicked and he hung up.

Endurance junkie problems.

keep-running

Time to dig deep. I knew I had at least 8 or 9 miles left to get back, and that was a conservative estimate. It was at this point that I wondered: would it have been more difficult if I had known I had this longer distance to run all along, or is it more psychologically traumatic to be slammed with a 20 miler suddenly after doing 10? I’m not sure, but regardless, changing my Pandora station from Elliott Smith to Ratatat helped a lot (sorry Elliott, I still love you more).

I meandered through Chestnut Hill and Brighton, eventually finding myself back on track with the main river. I put my head down, shortened my stride, slowed down a little, and focused entirely on being as efficient as possible in propelling my body forward. The predictable downbeat of electronic music lulled me into an automatic, mechanical rhythm. Right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot. Run to that tree. Run to that bush. Run to that crosswalk. I lapsed into the triathlon shuffle. I soldiered on. I ticked away miles.

The miles passed–slowly at first, and then seemingly faster. When confronted with the fact that I’d have to turn my 9 mile run into a 20 mile run, I panicked. I stopped, checked a map, and freaked out a little. When I embraced the reality, it sucked. But once I found a rhythm, it started to become easy again. Before I knew it, I had burst into the Esplanade, a mere 2.5 miles from home. I was ecstatic.

At this point my legs felt like lead pistons, yet somehow I also paradoxically felt like I was running on air. Looking back, it was probably owing to the fact that my legs were outright numb from the exertion and the extreme cold. But at the time, the endorphins convinced me that I was soaring a la Prefontaine. Delusions of grandeur have been known to strike runners during inevitable “running highs”; thankfully, they are almost invariably promptly knocked off their pedestal with a subsequent low. Running: it’s an abusive relationship.

I coasted across the Harvard Bridge and turned right onto Memorial Drive, this time re-encountering the same stretch from the beginning of my run–the stretch where the wind and I met for the first time. Only this time, the wind was at my back. And it was a very sweet wind, indeed.

I landed in a heap at my apartment door some three hours after I had left. I checked my GPS: 20.66 miles. I laughed. All I could do was laugh.

Completely, utterly exhausted, I was in a daze. Did that really just happen? I made my way up to my apartment and collapsed on the trundle bed. I contemplated my morning: it was not yet 10 am and I had already lived what felt like an entire day.

Endurance junkie problems.

My fatigue soon passed and was quickly replaced with the elation that comes with the combination of endorphins and an extreme sense of accomplishment. Friday the 13th, you may have tried to trip me up, but that curveball actually ended up making my day. Even if it meant walking like a duck up and down the metro stairs when I was hanging out with my friends tonight.

I got into work at an embarrassingly tardy 11am to the applause of my lab mates. My lab is full of runners; I am lucky in that regard. “I heard you took a little tour of Boston this morning!” one of my coworkers chided; to which my boss replied, “I believe she took a tour of her spirit.”

Well played, boss, well played. And yes, I most certainly did.

 

15 invaluable lessons triathlon has taught me about life.

Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without triathlon and endurance sport.

Wait, yes I do: bored, depressed, directionless, and a heck of a lot less resilient.

Here are 15 invaluable lessons the multisport lifestyle has taught me about life.

woman-running

1. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Triathlon forces me to work on three disciplines simultaneously. Some, admittedly, I enjoy more than others. But no matter what happens, I always have something to fall back on. Battling a running-related injury? Not to worry–the low impact of swimming and cycling are there to coddle my angry joints. Traveling and without access to a pool? The hotel stationary bike works just swimmingly! In the past, I’ve made the mistake of trying to define myself as just a runner, and when injury sidelined me for six months, I felt like my identity had been stolen away. In life, I’ve also made the mistake of placing too much trust in a single person, or too much value in my career–and when they have disappointed me, I felt lost and let down. Triathlon has taught me that by spreading my interests out just a little, I can develop into a far more well-rounded person with a future full of both security and variety. The end result: passion spread out evenly among multiple arenas, several places to focus my energy and attention, and plenty of room for fun and variety.

In a similar vein, I’m still working on making it appear socially acceptable to have three boyfriends.

Just kidding. Kind of.

2. We will inevitably have to do things that we don’t want to do and aren’t very good at. But embracing the challenge is actually a lot easier than running away or harboring resentment. I am an okay runner, and cycling is by far my strongest discipline. But throw me in the pool and ask me to swim, and I look more like a goldfish cracker than a goldfish. Swimming is hard for me; I am not a natural. I have to work really hard at it, and every swim is a challenge. But instead of flogging myself day in and out by choosing to perceive swimming as some masochistic struggle or necessary evil, I have found ways to make it more tolerable, and even engaging. Swimming with Masters groups has distracted me from my demons by providing me with ample amounts of camaraderie, support, and variability. And whenever I find myself in self-critical berating mode regarding my lack of speed or imperfect technique, I respond by either actively trying to improve, or just relaxing, ignoring those thoughts, and cultivating radical self-acceptance. It’s taken me close to ten years to get to this mindset in the water, but the lesson has easily carried over into other areas of “weakness” in life outside the pool.

3. If you focus on enjoying the process, rather than the product, you’ll be a heck of a lot happier. The other morning I found myself struggling, pouring sweat, and completely alone on the bike at my gym. It was 5:30 am, and the sun wouldn’t rise for another hour. I was having one of those (now rare) days where my head started to chatter: “What the f**k are you doing? You should be sleeping! What the heck is the point of all this? You sweat too much. No other 26 year old is up doing this at this hour.” Thankfully the moment was fleeting, and within minutes I was back to my usual motivated, elated self. What caused the shift? During rough patches like these, I like to step outside of myself momentarily and take a look at the big picture. On that day it wasn’t about being up at an ungodly hour, or being alone, or feeling “different” compared to other twenty-somethings–suddenly it became about being disciplined, committed, passionate, and completely free with something that ultimately makes me a better person in the day-to-day. Gaining perspective in such a way has helped me both on the bike and off–and it’s ultimately the reason why I’ve been able to find beauty in the processes of medical school, romantic relationships, and other long-term journeys, no matter the outcome.

4. …but focus on the product every so often, because it’s fun to dream. While stepping outside of myself allows me to gain perspective and savor the process no matter how painful it may be, sometimes occasionally eying the prize can provide an equally powerful boost–albeit in a very different way. Fantasizing about that light at the end of the tunnel is just really freaking fun, and keeps me centered and reminded of my long-term goals. Right now, as I prepare for my first 70.3 race, I imagine myself crossing the finish line after a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run. I’ve never experienced that before, but based on past experiences with finish lines, I know it’s going to be absolutely epic. The mere thought of how elated I’ll feel at the end of the race gets me so excited I can hardly sit still. Thinking about it while running suddenly puts me at tempo speed; if I’m on the bike I’ll have switched over into pushing some serious wattage without even noticing it.

When I was pulling long shifts in the hospital during my third year of medical school, sometimes the mere thought of myself practicing independently as a physician osteopath in the future was enough to completely transform my interactions with patients in the moment. I believe fully in living in the moment and embracing the process 99% of the time, but there’s always that 1% in which indulging in drooling over the prize can give you a good, solid kick in the rear.

5. Pace yourself. There is no better example of where triathlon has taught me to pace myself than in college and medical school. College was a breeze for me; I worked consistently every day, kept a tight schedule over my classes, work, and training, and found a rhythm that eventually felt effortless, much like autopilot. Medical school has been a very similar experience. With an inherently faster pace, though, my experience in medical school told me that I needed to slow down so that I wouldn’t bonk later on in life. My decision to take a year out between my third and fourth years of medical school for a research fellowship was completely founded upon the wisdom of pacing that I learned from endurance sport. Sometimes we need to put our egos aside and take a moment to slow down, refuel, and transition mindfully if we want to succeed in the long run. This is precisely why I stink at 5Ks.

6. Training for something you definitely won’t win, and probably won’t be recognized for by anyone other than yourself, is an unparalleled way to build character. Us “age-groupers” receive no fame, little recognition, and negative money for our training and participation in triathlon and marathon. We doggedly pound the pavement day in and day out, with little more than perplexed glances from passers-by, wondering what the heck that crazy girl is doing out jogging in 20-degree weather. No one else really cares, but we do it for ourselves. We do it for a sense of accomplishment and heightened self-respect. We do it as a cathartic outlet for feeling, thought, creativity, and physical energy. We do it as a way to test ourselves, to learn ourselves, and to ultimately come to know ourselves. Working hard at something that receives little to no external validation is humbling yet incredibly rewarding. How can this be applied to other things in life? I can easily think of a dozen ways.

7. Breathe. A good, solid, deep breath can quickly turn a lung-burner into a epiphany on the bike or run. Something about a nourishing breath is incredibly calming and can transform your perspective in a matter of seconds.

8. If you can sprint to the finish, you probably didn’t give enough earlier on. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Also, see #5.

9. Working hard most of the time feels better than relaxing most of the time.
When I was working 12-14 hour days in the hospital last year and chasing my shifts with an hour (or three) of sbr, yes, I felt crunched for time. But when I imagined my colleagues going straight home and passing out on the couch in front of their computers or televisions, I realized that I’d much rather be living the busy, active lifestyle than either the busy, stressed lifestyle or the too-relaxed lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong, every now and then a relaxing day is called for–but too many relaxing days strung together call for sloth and laziness. I am definitely much happier getting my ass up at 4:30 am and having a wicked demanding day than sleeping in and having a mediocre, “just another” day.

10. Waking up early isn’t so bad after all.
See #9.

11. Your body is a heck of a lot stronger than you think. I mentioned in my first post that I’m not naturally athletic. I truly and earnestly believe this to be true. Perhaps that is why training and pushing myself physically every day is so rewarding–every day I build upon a base I never thought I’d achieve.

I grew up dabbling in Irish step dancing, TKD, and MarioKart. Running the mile in gym class was my biggest fear. Riding bikes and swimming were lazy summertime activities. But with consistency and a whole, plant-based diet, I have been able to develop an athletic side to myself. Through triathlon, I have come to realize that, after a certain degree of base fitness is achieved, it is the flesh that is willing but the mind that is weak–and not the other way around.

I ran my first marathon on very little training and on a whim. Certainly, this is not advised, but it truly served as a testament to the untapped strength and resiliency of my body. On race days, I have no idea what I’m capable of, but I know that I can dig deep and surrender fully to this deep trust I’ve placed within my uncharted physical capabilities. And that feels wicked awesome.

12. Mind over matter is totally real. And powerful. This is really my favorite thing, and perhaps the reason I got into endurance sport to begin with. Endurance sport is a head game. With increasing distance and time comes increasing contributions of the mind-spirit to our ability to hang on. Training for triathlon is brain training just as much as, if not more than, physical conditioning.

13. Nutrition is king. Training is useless if I’m not fueling well for optimal energy and recovery. Interestingly, the diet that has worked best at supporting my athletic performance has also worked best for my general physical and mental well being. Being incredibly active places stresses on the body that make the obvious impact of nutrition much more apparent, and it’s been through endurance exercise that I have discovered tiny nuances about how certain foods affect the way I feel on physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. I would never have come to a whole foods, plant-based diet had I not been actively exerting myself on a daily basis.

14. Don’t underestimate the power of company. Triathletes and runners have a tendency to be lone wolves, both in their training and on a social level. However, every so often camaraderie is not only a good thing–it can be crucial. This year marked the first time in close to ten years that I started running with other people. At first I was wary of this–would this new company slow me down and hold me back? Or even worse, would I fail to keep up? Would I be expected to maintain chit-chat during long runs, which usually serve as a meditative placeholder within my otherwise hectic days? Turns out all of the above came to pass, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d envisioned. In fact, quite the contrary–I’ve made some amazing new friends (twenty- and thirty-somethings I finally feel I can relate to–yay!) who pushed me to make me stronger, held me back to get me to relax, and chatted my ear off to remind me that even the lonest of lone wolves needs to fulfill a certain quota of socialization.

15. …but never forget that only you can bring yourself happiness. At the end of the day we can have our buddies, our pack, our crew, our family–but the contributions they make to our true, deep-seeded happiness are finite. We are the ones truly at the helm of our fate and happiness. By owning my goals and dreams, taking charge of them, and actively pursuing them–mostly solo–on a daily basis, I have come to discover the power and potency of self-sufficiency and a bordering-on-extreme level of independence in unraveling and actualizing those dreams. Countless hours alone in the trails and in the saddle have granted me a level of comfort and contentedness with strictly my own company, and also shown me that I can be completely happy–ecstatic, in fact–without the company of others, as long as I am progressing toward realizing a dream. And when progress happens a little bit every day, it makes for quite a happy existence.

This is what a vegan endurance junkie’s Thanksgiving looks like.

“Thanksgiving must be hell for vegans!” I hear this all the time. To which I coyly reply: ah no, contrare, you are sorely mistaken! In actuality, Thanksgiving happens to be extremely plant-powered—most people just don’t realize it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—but even so, how could a vegan possibly enjoy a day centered around carving up a poor, helpless hunk of poultry? Again, my rebuttal: everyone knows Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes anyway. Come on, be honest. It’s all about that green bean casserole, those marshmallowed sweet potatoes, and roasted root vegetables galore. Heck, even the carnivorous in my family freely admit that the turkey is just a vehicle for gravy, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. I used to be an omnivore and an avid white meat eater—I know the truth.

Thankfully, all of these side dishes can easily be made without animal products, and without losing a hint of flavor. I’m even more thankful for my kickass mom who, per usual, did most of the Thanksgiving cooking and performed a secret vegan guerrilla attack on all of the desserts and side dishes.

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This year, Thanksgiving also happened to coincide with my birthday. This only happens once every 4-11 years, but I love when it does. Thanksgiving is the best birthday party ever, and it really makes me feel like I have a ton of friends (next year’s going to be such a downer…).

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Vegan, gluten-free birthday cake from a beloved friend and cross-country teammate.

 As it was my 26th birthday, my plan was to run 26 miles. I figured, heck, I have until 3pm, when guests arrive, so this should be easy-peasy. Hah. Yeah. Right. It’s been a while since I’ve done anything over 20 miles—heck, 18 miles, to be honest—so I knew I’d be in for Epsom salts baths the following day. But—YOLO, right?

 I headed out around 9:30a and ran up the street to a large reservoir that abuts the back of our house…successfully churned out a few miles on the trails there, and then ran out and back down toward our house. At that point, I had ticked off about 8 miles, and stopped briefly to pick up Breezy. I love running with my dog. Her companionship is comforting, and at the same time, something about running with a canine feels more primal. I like to imagine I look something like this:

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The British sport of Cani-Cross.

At the point at which I picked up my four-legged friend, I was feeling great—all I had to do was double the distance I’d just done, plus add a couple more victory miles. The pup and I slogged it down toward the other end of town and back, but around mile 16 Breezy started to limp a bit (side note: she had ACL reconstruction about a year ago, and has some definite weakness in one of her hind legs). Seeing as she is the only thing on the earth that I love more than escaping my life on a run or bike ride, of course she took precedence. We were only about 2 miles from home at that point, so we took our victory miles then. Admittedly, I was starting to hit a wall at that point, and the thought of pumping out ten more miles felt daunting. So, in essence, Breezy saved me from embarrassing myself. Thanks, dog, for always teaching me the important lessons in life.

Me being the stubborn, far-reaching dreamer that I am, I almost immediately cooked up a miraculous plan in my head to bust out a quickie 8 miler later that night after our guests left, so that I could hit my 26-mile quota. Bahahaha. What a terrible idea. No one—not even this frenzied endurance junkie—has any desire to leave the house, let alone the couch, after eating a Thanksgiving feast.

Thus, I have relegated my numerical nerdery to my 26.2nd birthday, which is February 9, 2014. Yes, I will hit the streets of Boston and run a marathon by myself on that day. Luckily it’s a Sunday, so I can lollygag as much as I want. I wonder though—if I actually do complete this goal, can I say I ran a Boston Marathon?