Running Training

Making Time

When people ask me how I make time for marathon training between my 12-hour workdays, active social life and inconvenient need to sleep, I usually tell them what more experienced athletes have told me:

“We make time for the things that are important to us.”

As I’ve already preached on these very pages, it’s simply impossible to have it all during peak marathon training, and some tier-two interests – in my case: television, mid-week happy hours, recipes with more than three ingredients – have been temporarily relegated to the backburner as I focus on the more important things in my life. Indeed, if you’d asked me earlier this summer how I’m able to fit it all in, I would have told you things like:

  • set your priorities and be willing to give up some small-scale time-guzzlers (good-bye Food Network marathons)
  • master the art of social fitness (hello long runs with friends)
  • be kind to yourself trainingwise when you fall off the wagon (and/or drown fording the river. Seriously, what were you doing on a wagon?)

You’re going to have to make some changes,” I would have told you. “But don’t worry. We make time for the things that are important to us.

That’s what I would have told you.

I would have been lying. Or at least not telling you the entire truth.

Now, I’m not saying the above lifestyle tweaks aren’t essential in marathon training; they unquestionably are. Resetting your priorities so you choose an evening tempo run over a midtown open bar is a crucial first step to reaching all 26.2 of your goals this marathon season. But these kinds of lifestyle tweaks – scheduling, prioritizing, multitasking – will only get you part of the way there, and pretending they’re enough to push you through to the finish line is doing us all a disservice because it leaves us feeling inadequate when the rest of us can’t, in fact, squeeze in all our top-tier priorities.

“Making time for the things that are important” only works if your list of important things is very brief indeed: running, eating, sleeping, a spattering of friends. On top of that, I’ve even managed to fit in a weekly date night, a phone call with my sister and the occasional weekend brunch. Looks like I’m winning.

But you know what hasn’t made the cut? A lot of other things that are also very important to me. Reading books. Cross-training. Sleeping more than 6.5 hours a night. Shopping at the farmer’s market. Baking. Spending more than 90 minutes a workweek with my boyfriend. Blogging well, as evidenced by my latest post. Sorry if it felt like it was written on 4 hours of sleep. It was.

Also gone? Some less tangible features I once enjoyed. The ability to be spontaneous. That wonderful feeling where you wake up in the morning refreshed. Getting to answer the question: “What’d you do this weekend?” with a big ‘ol: “Nothing.”

If you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know this is the point where I usually like to step back, offer a solution to my conundrum and make some kind of broad-sweeping resolution to myself so each entry ends on a conclusive note. I’m not feeling strong enough? I resolve to start lifting! I’m not racing fast enough? I resolve to do more speed work! I’m not blogging creatively enough? I resolve to include more complex camera angles in all future goldendoodle graphics.

Objects in the mirror are slobberier than they appear.
Objects in the mirror are slobberier than they appear.

But the truth is, I don’t have a solution. Until at least November 3, my training is going to keep being intense, my workdays are going to keep being long and my social calendar is going to keep being double-booked. But maybe it’s that one glossed-over phrase – “until at least November 3” – that’s crucial here. Maybe there isn’t actually a solution to this feeling of being in pulled in too many directions other than good old time herself. Maybe waiting it out is the only answer.

As Solomon or English poet Edward Fitzgerald or Abraham Lincoln (make up your mind, Wikipedia) once said, “This too shall pass.” Or as Avenue Q (consequently Lincoln’s favorite play after Our American Cousin) puts it:

Nothing lasts
Life goes on
Full of surprises.
You’ll be faced with problems of all shapes and sizes.
You’re going to have to make a few compromises…
For now.
But only for now.


Ten weeks until the marathon. And go.

Runners, how do you make time for the important stuff when there’s too much important stuff and not enough time?



The Real Deal

If Family Feud were to survey 100 runners making their way ’round Central Park tomorrow morning, I’d wager at least 20 percent would not characterize themselves as a “real runner.”

Central Park from the Met. Or maybe Central Park from my photographer bird friends. I'll never tell.
Central Park from the Met. Or maybe Central Park from my photographer bird friends. I’ll never tell.

One in five in-the-moment runners not self-identifying with the sport? It may seem outlandish, but just try to tell me you haven’t heard a friend or co-worker recite some variation of the following phrases since the weather turned warm:

  • “I’m not a real runner. I only get out a couple of miles a week.”
  • “I’m not a real runner. I race at a 12-minute pace.”
  • “I’m not a real runner. I’ve never done a marathon.”

Everywhere I go, it seems runners are telling themselves they aren’t “real runners.” Whether it’s because they don’t think they’re running fast enough or don’t think they’re running far enough, runners all over are denying their statuses as members of the running community simply because they don’t believe their level of achievement has earned them acceptance. And it’s never other runners telling them they don’t count as a “real runner.” This kind of exclusion can only come from within.

Well, enough already. If you run, you are a runner. End of story.

If you don’t believe me, just ask my favorite running columnist Marc Parent, who summed up my thoughts exactly in his recent Runner’s World piece, “You’re a Real Runner If…” According to Parent, it doesn’t matter how far or fast you run:

You can call yourself a runner when it’s easier to jog short distances than to walk them. When your shoes wear out before they get dirty. When sweating becomes so familiar it’s a nonissue. When quenching your thirst takes two glasses of water. When socks become a point of discussion. When you get the bright yellow shirt so cars can see you. When people stop asking you about running.

Or my favorite line:

Only a runner lies awake in bed and randomly thinks, My God, I just ran ___ miles! Assume you’re a runner if you’ve ever thought this. The number of miles is not important. What’s important is that the thought has replaced My God, I just ate ___ Oreos!

(I identify as both a “real runner” and a “real snack food enthusiast,” so sometimes I think both. Don’t judge.)

So there we have it. Here on out, I don’t want to hear anyone in my circle of acquaintances who runs to some degree tell me they aren’t a “real runner.” In fact, I don’t even want to hear the words “real” and “runner” in the same sentence ever again, unless it’s along the lines of: “That runner looks like she could use some ice cream real bad.”

Cones are, in fact, bigger in Texas.
Cones are, in fact, bigger in Texas.

Bad grammar and all, that’s an oft recited phrase I can get behind.

When did you start calling yourself a “real” runner?


Running Training

In the Same Boat

My father and I have innumerable things in common – our alma mater, our sense of humor, our appreciation of ABC’s 1990s Friday night line-up, our uncanny ability to down a 32-ounce baseball steak in one sitting – but when it comes to our favorite past times, we start to diverge. While I see no better way to spend a Saturday morning than by racing a new PR or working out with friends or logging a long-run en route to the marathon, my dad’s interests lie elsewhere. Forget the Central Park bridle path – my papa would gladly trade his first- and third-born children to spend the rest of his life on a boat.

Goldendoodle optional.
Goldendoodle optional.

The truth is, boating and running aren’t really all that different. Sure, one requires permitting and proximity to water and access to a motorized vessel and a hefty chunk of disposable income and the other demands – uh, nothing? shoes? – but when it comes down to it, the two diversions have more in common than you’d think.

So without further ado, I bring you the never-before-seen series, ‘How Running is a Heck of a Lot Like Boating.’ Also known as ‘Huh. I haven’t had a dog photo on this blog for a solid week. Let’s remedy that.’

Boating and running are more fun when you’re going fast. You’ll hear it time and time again: to race faster, you have to train faster. My legs may love a slow morning jog the day after a hard workout, but nothing feels better than picking up speed, striding it out and cruising full tilt ahead to the finish line.

Hi Mom and Dad!
Yield left!

Boating and running require a lot of advanced planning. As Annie Van De Wiele once wrote, “The art of the sailor is to leave nothing to chance.” The same goes for training for a race. Unchartered waters are exciting when you’re talking about a new relationship or job, but when it comes to manning a watercraft or plotting your 16-week marathon training plan, you’re more likely to get out alive if you devise a strategy in advance and stick to it.

Keira brought her lifevest, like she planned.
This lady is getting out alive.

Boating and running do terrible things to your hair. Mine’s frayed and broken all along the elastic line; Keira’s is full of sea water and Baltimore Harbor hepatitis. I’d suggest you don’t touch either of us.

How embarrassing.
How embarrassing.

Boating and running are better with friends. Run 10 miles alone and have Duran Duran’s Rio cycling through your brain for a full 90 minutes. Run 10 miles with a buddy and watch the miles fly by. Boating, too, requires friends for tying the lines and mixing the cocktails and lounging on the front of the boat, which – surprise!  – is my personal specialty.

Fun fact: running friends can second as boating friends.
Fun fact: running friends can second as boating friends.

Boating and running can tire out even their biggest fans. I love running so much I write a blog about it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get sick and tired of it from time to time. Boating, too, can cause even the most avid seafarer to grow weary. When that happens, take some time off, throw yourself into other pursuits, and you’ll feel the sea (or trail) calling you back again before you know it.

I. Demand. Dry. Land.
I. Demand. Dry. Land.

But while I’d argue that boating and running have an awful lot in common, there’s at least one key way they’re massively different, and that’s acknowledgement of other participants. If you’ve ever spent an afternoon on a boat, you know that the first rule of maritime law is to wave at every other seaman who crosses your path. (Second rule of boating: don’t call them seamen).

But the same apparently does not hold true in running. I don’t know if this is unique to New York City or what, but I find every single time I run by another athlete, she averts her eyes and presses forward. Now, I’m in no means demanding an enthusiastic high-five or a sweaty mile-6 embrace, but it seems to me a simple smile or nod of acknowledgement could work wonders in making our seemingly solitary sport seem more communal. Especially in late summer, when the odds are good that everyone running the Central Park loop with his own water bottle at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning is gearing up for the same exact Nov. 3 event, it seems we could silently but actively recognize our hard work with a smile or wave.

So that’s what I’m going to start to do. Who’s with me?

Running Weight Loss


I’m no behavioral psychologist – or any psychologist for that matter – but spend a few minutes observing mankind and it becomes rapidly apparent that we are hardwired to resist change.

And why wouldn’t we be? Our species’ history is rife with evidence that change doesn’t always work out so well. Build the world’s largest passenger liner? Hit an iceberg. Invite your new neighbors to Thanksgiving? Catch smallpox.  Add apples to your diet? Get expelled from paradise.

It’s no wonder fiscal conservatives coast to coast are pushing to drop from circulation the U.S. penny: when it comes to change, most of us would simply rather go without. (Punny enough for you?)

There’s indubitably a good evolutionary reason behind human beings’ tendency to resist change: enter a situation with a tested outcome and your survival rate is bound to skyrocket; venture into uncharted territory and you could be eaten by a saber-tooth. Even today. They’re rampant in Brooklyn.

But while I have no doubt natural selection is the driving force behind our inherent fear of the unknown, a refusal to leave one’s comfort zone can also have disastrous effects. How many times have you witnessed a friend stay in a floundering relationship far too long because he was afraid to start over? How many times have you watched someone remain in an unfulfilling career because she didn’t want to begin again from scratch? How many times have you re-watched Jumanji on TBS, commercial breaks and all, instead of starting Breaking Bad like everyone tells you to? I rest my case.

Rarely is our resistance to change more apparent than in the realm of weight loss and fitness, where our bodies literally fight back against change at all cost. Run three miles after a month of idleness and your quadriceps will hate you. Swap out real dessert for fruit salad and you’ll go to bed feeling downright deprived. Push back dinner so you can go to the gym and your stomach will growl louder than those bulky bros in free weights. Our hominid bodies were wired back in our nomad days to retain calories and build energy stores, and when it comes to corporal memory, old habits die hard.

But sometimes it’s the hardest things in life that are the most worth doing. I’m not going to lie – changing my lifestyle between January 2011 and today was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In order to lose 30+ pounds and keep it off, I had to change practically everything I knew and loved: my snacking habits, my love of calorie-laden craft beer, my indolent lifestyle, my lackadaisical gym routine. And once I got my weight down and started training for the Marine Corps Marathon last fall, I had to shake up my routine further yet, sacrificing prime Friday night real estate for Saturday long runs and swapping Wednesday happy hours for mid-week hill sprints. It was change and it was hard, but when I crossed that finish line at 3:51 and immediately started planning for my next marathon, I knew it was worth it.

I still fight change – to do so is in my very nature as a human – but I’ve learned in recent years that sometimes a little change-up is worth embracing. That’s certainly the case in fitness, but the same can be said of most things in life, from date night destinations to professional advancement, the latter of which has been very much on my mind as I begin my new job at a new company in a new part of town.

I’ve just finished day four, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been strange forging a familiar work environment for something  totally new and different. In fact, as I walked into my new building Monday, my nervous self could have used a little reminder that change is usually a good thing.

And what do you know? It got one.

As I picked up my visitor’s badge on day one, the welcome desk opted to use a stored headshot of me from a guest visit to the building in 2009, rather than snapping a new photo. They printed my temporary ID badge with this flattering photo:

photo 1 (16)

A few hours later, I went to pick up my new, permanent ID with an up-to-date headshot, and this is what I found:

photo 2 (18)

Nothing like a little pictorial evidence to drive the point home: despite our born and bred resistance to it, change is more-often-than-not a very good thing. Perhaps it’s time we all changed our attitude about it.

How are you embracing change this summer?