Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pace-Talk

Every run feels like I'm unwrapping a gift. It's so dang corny; my heart is just so full.

I am so grateful to be running again, and I'm blown away by how quickly my legs came back. I just can't help but be surprised every time I have a good, strong, fast run. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

When I ran on Wednesday, for example, I fell into a rhythm that felt comfortably challenging but not really hard. I glanced at my watch and realized this "comfortably challenging" pace was 8:55.
I mean...this didn't feel easy but it certainly didn't feel hard either.
And then I held that pace easily for a full mile; I only started to lose steam in the last quarter mile of the run (lungs, not legs), and yet I still managed to maintain a 9:00 pace.

In a race situation, I can apparently still bust out those paces. But on a random Wednesday night run? When I was just running by feel? That's...bizarre. I wasn't even holding those paces pre-compartment syndrome! This run left me feeling so grateful and filled with joy, and honesty a little gobsmacked.

To be honest, I haven't been paying much attention to my paces during my runs, only after. I still feel like I'm in recovery so trying to aim for specific speeds and distances isn't a priority. Maybe that's been paying off.

I simply can't wrap my head around the fact that this is reality now. I just hope it keeps progressing this way, and soon my reaction won't be shock and the need to reflect on where I've been and where I could go. I'm tired of the reflection, I'm tired of the topic, but it's where I am right now.

Right now, it almost feels like I've picked up well ahead of where I left off. I don't know how that's possible, but I'd like to stop second guessing it. My head isn't there yet, but my body certainly seems ready to move ON already! Maybe my head won't be too far behind.

ABK

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Bridge

Way back when I first started having calf pain, one of the first things I did was stop running the bridge. Elizabeth and I had been running it about four days a week during half marathon training. I attributed that bridge to my increased paces and stronger endurance when I first started running, and it has always been my favorite means of speedwork.

It was a weekly staple for me, but I haven't run it since December 2016.

Monday afternoon, while deciding where to run, Elizabeth suggested it. And I decided to take the bull by the horns.
It took me all of 2 seconds to agree. I appreciated that she pushed me out of my comfort zone!
We chose to park closer than usual to take the normal route from four miles to three. It was cool and windy thanks to whatever bizarre weather pattern is going on right now, and we had the wind at our backs for most of the run. I felt fresh from four days of rest. The first 3/4 mile was a slightly too-hard warmup. Then came the bridge.

I was surprised. It was...easy. I was nervous going in, sure my calves wouldn't be ready, but my legs and lungs actually felt alright. Good, even.

We walked at the turn-around, about 1.4 miles in, to alleviate Elizabeth's side-stitch. Then we ran back up, this time into the wind. We took a brief walk at the top. My left calf felt...something. Not tight, but stretched. Like it was saying We have not done this in a long time wtf. I've been pushing my left calf much faster than I did my right (because I can, seeing as how they've both been operated on now), so some discomfort is expected, but it's a good reminder to take it slow.
We took more walk breaks than I wanted, but considering we haven't run any inclines in over a year, I think we did pretty well. Our running paces, even up the bridge, were in the 9s. I felt fantastic.

I know I will need to build bridge runs into my routine slowly, maybe once every two weeks for now, but another mental barrier - another post-injury fear - is getting ready to fall. Soon, maybe it will be like this past year never even happened.
ABK

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thank You Notes & Other Post-Race Thoughts

In Dr. Guerra's office, behind the receptionist's desk, there is a wall of framed photos. These photos all feature grinning athletes in race gear and uniforms. One 8"x10" photo has a note scrawled across one corner: Thank you, Dr. Guerra! That wall helped give me confidence in Dr. G's surgical skills before I had even had my first consultation. By the end of my first appointment, I decided that if Dr. G could fix me, I'd send him a photo of me after my first race back.

Well, my first race back was A1A, but my first race really, truly back was this past weekend. And luckily I got a good photo out of it.
Dr. G told me it would be 3-6 months before I was back in my previous running shape. I'm about four months post-op, so I'd say I'm right on track. 
I am planning to send this photo to three doctors' offices.

1. To Dr. Guerra, of course, who believed me when I described symptoms, performed my surgeries, and gave me back my legs.

2. To my PT's office, where a variety of people helped me heal up, get strong, and return to running as quickly as possible.

3. To the vascular surgeon's office, where they dismissed my desire for real answers and treatment because "young women regret surgery scars".

Obviously I mean to thank the first two. I hope it's not premature. I'm still in recovery, and there is still time for things to go wrong...but I feel like I've definitely turned a corner.

I'm debating writing the third letter at all. I'm not sure it will change the doctor's behavior or bring me any peace - to be honest, I'm over it, so I don't need closure or anything. At the same time, maybe hearing that being a misogynistic jerk isn't the best bedside manner would do him good. I may write the letter and not even send it.

When I look at that picture, I see strength, power, determination, and joy. I see me in my element. I can't see the scars, even when I look for them.

On an unrelated note, the Fast and the Furriest was an eye-opener for me, and I can't stop thinking about what my performance this past Saturday means. For one thing, I've realized I don't need to hold back as much as I have been. Track is over, so now I can run more frequently during the week, and I am planning to build in longer runs. I'm not necessarily interested in speedwork yet; right now I'm really enjoying just running. But I have a couple more 5ks coming up in May that I'd like to crush, so we'll see.
School lets out on May 30, and I think I'd like to start working in "long runs" on the weekends at that time. I'm talking 6 or 7 miles tops.

And I am tentatively looking for a winter half marathon.

I originally wanted to run the A1A half in 2019 but won't be able to. This weekend when I caught up with Sean he brought up Space Coast, and I think that would be perfect. It was my first marathon, so running it as my first half as a comeback would be really special and would make up for missing A1A. When I floated this idea by Matt, he was all for it.
I have time to decide, of course.
All of this is very flexible right now; the main thing is that I'm enjoying running and I don't want to pile too many goals on and take away the fun of it too soon. I'm excited to train but also don't want to feel like running is a chore. Everything feels new again but also so familiar and comfortable. A huge weight has been lifted mentally - I had been feeling like my body betrayed me, and now I'm learning to trust it again.
So, for now, these tentative plans are here, floating around in my head, and I'll solidify them when I'm ready. There's no rush. Now that I know I'm coming back, I have all the patience in the world.

ABK

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Fast & the Furriest 5k 2018

Saturday's race. Oh boy. Where to start?
I didn't realize until after the race that my nerves came not from a place of doubt, but from a place of fear. I think I knew I could hold the paces I wanted to meet my A goal, but I haven't pushed that hard in so long that I was afraid something would happen. I'd hurt myself or burn out. I'd discover that my legs aren't 100% fixed and/or healed.
Much-appreciated encouragement from Elizabeth the day before the race.
(We had our championship track meet last Thursday and our 800m runner came in 3rd overall. She told me, as she exited the track: "I didn't know I could run that fast! It scared me!" After Saturday's race, that moment resonated with me a lot.)

I got up at 6am and had half a bagel with peanut butter and honey, a clementine, and a small cup of coffee. The weather for the morning looked perfect. I stopped running this race when it moved to its new venue, the spring training stadium for the Minnesota Twins, but they've since built a parkway that cuts the drive down to 6 minutes, so I'm sure this will become a yearly race for me now.
I mentioned that I'd convinced a couple colleagues to sign up to run, and we planned to meet at the start. Allison had picked up my bib on Friday, so she met me at my car when I arrived at 7am. I stretched, put on sunscreen, and did some lunges. Then, as we made our way to the bathrooms, we ran into Shelagh. I jogged up the stadium stairs on the way to the bathroom as a means of warming up because I didn't want to actually run a lap or anything like that. Around 7:25 the three of us headed to the start.
Pre-race excitement!
The start line didn't have a timing mat, which worried me. I didn't want to start too close to the front but I wanted an official and accurate time. We ended up about five rows back from the very front, and because this race isn't huge and begins in a parking lot, there was plenty of space in the beginning and this ended up being perfect. I caught sight of Sean as announcements were made and we waved; he was starting right up front because he's competitive like that. (Spoiler alert: he took 3rd in his AG.)
Allison, me, and Shelagh at the starting line.
Allison's goal was to run without taking any walk breaks, and she said she runs a 10-minute mile. I've run races with Shelagh before and knew she'd be out of my range. We started on a "Ready, go!" command. For the first half mile or so, I was running around an 8:55 pace, but I knew that wouldn't last. I purposely eased up, but couldn't quite bring myself to slow down as much as I wanted. There were lots of dogs running with us, but I didn't have any problems having to dodge them or anything; they were leashed and well-controlled.

The first turn-around was .75 miles in. I still felt really good, and was keeping an eye out for Allison on the other side when I felt a tap on my shoulder. She had caught up to me! We ran side-by-side for the majority of the race after that; I had eased into a 9:15 pace by mile 1 and that felt hard but doable.
Actually my legs felt fantastic the entire time. They felt strong. They didn't ache or tighten at all; in fact, they probably could have gone faster if my lungs had been up to it. But around mile 2.5 I just couldn't keep pushing the pace I was at. I couldn't catch my breath (I might have a cold/allergies going on, but really I think I just don't have that cardio-fitness at the moment). I knew I was well within reach of my A goal, so I decided to take a quick walk to get my breathing back in check. Allison kept moving ahead.
I'm really impressed with how steady my pace looks overall.
By mile 2.6 I was ready to run the remainder. I didn't regret having to walk, but I look forward to the day I can bust out a 5k without breaks.

I let myself keep a much slower pace and easier effort, hovering around 9:30. I kept an eye on my Garmin as I turned the final corner. The finish line was in sight, but my Garmin said I had .2 to go; I didn't want to sprint too early. I started cranking it up as I came into the final straightaway. I saw Sean on the sidelines cheering for me.

I crossed in 28:39. I felt like I was going to puke. And I was ecstatic. I placed 9/22 in my AG and 90/279 overall.
Garmin measured the race a touch short but I'm still counting it.
I felt confident and freaked out the entire time. Like, I realized my body could do it, but it had been so long, I didn't feel ready for this kind of race. My mind was in shock.

I quickly found Allison and Shelagh. We took a photo and then they both had to take off. I found Sean and we caught up some; I haven't seen him since the Sanibel 10k in fall 2016.
To say I'm happy with the outcome of this race would be a major understatement. I didn't realize how much was riding on this mentally and emotionally, but now that I've done it, I can see what a pivotal moment in my recovery it is.
At this point, maybe there is no need to hold back. Maybe I am ready to introduce speedwork and longer runs. Maybe I'm ready to run more than two days a week. Maybe I no longer need to be as conservative as I have been. This is a freeing and scary thought.

My next 5k is tentatively scheduled for early May, and I'm going to need to rethink some of the goals I have set for that one based on Saturday's stellar performance.

ABK

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Mental Game & Physical Progress

On our run on Monday, Elizabeth and I were discussing my plans for the Fast & the Furriest 5k. I was telling her how I'm anxious due to my inconsistent runs, and how everyone else's belief in me is making me angry. I am trying to be realistic with my recovery; dismissive cheerleading of the Oh-please-you'll-be-GREAT! variety is frustrating. It feels like it erases all I've been through, and if I don't perform well those same people won't get why.

But Elizabeth knows, and she gets it.

She told me: "There are three ways this race could go. Maybe you surprise yourself and run it in like 28:30 and are like holy crap. Or maybe it's humid and gross out and you have a solid but not great run and do it in like 31 minutes and miss your goal. Or, and I hope not, but maybe you'll have a really bad day and your legs will hurt and it'll be slow. But no matter what, the fact that you are four months post-surgery and racing is a huge accomplishment. And we are running together again! And when you were first running again, we walked like every two minutes, now look at us! We are running a mile or more before we walk!"

I stopped her long enough to tell her that I need to listen to her more often.
I ran two days in a row this week! Go me!
No matter how Saturday's race goes, the fact that I'm racing is kind of amazing. I never thought I would again. Even if 5ks are all I can ever race from now on, I think I could be happy with that.

When it comes to a chronic injury, the mental stuff is just as hard to deal with as the physical stuff - sometimes it's harder. I'm so grateful I don't have to go through either alone.

(Also, after Monday's run my legs felt downright normal, and they felt normal on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Wednesday's run, too. Has a corner been turned? Has a mental weight lifted? I guess we'll see!)

ABK

Monday, April 2, 2018

My Next Race

I hope you all had a nice holiday weekend! We originally had Easter Monday off as well, but because of Hurricane Irma (the storm that keeps on giving), we lost that day off. But I was glad to have Good Friday off.

On Friday we went to see an old student of mine in a play (She Kills Monsters). It was hilarious and moving - I'm a nerd and totally choked up a little. We rarely get a chance to go out like that, so it was really fun to do something different.
Saturday we went to my aunt and uncle's for Passover. Our house is still a construction zone, so it was really nice of my aunt to offer to host. She is basically a bonafide chef/baker, so everything was sooo delicious. My sister was out of town, so as the only gluten-free person there, I got to take home the best leftovers.
Leftovers! Passover has the best food.
Matt and I spent Sunday lounging around. He did a timed paddle in his OC1 and I got a little run in. It started to rain about halfway through, but I didn't mind at all. My plan was to keep it short and see if I could avoid walk breaks. I've had a little cold for the last two or three weeks, but despite that I still held a sub-10 pace and didn't walk at all.
This brings me to this weekend's 5k. I am running the Fast & the Furriest 5k on Saturday. This was actually the first race I ever ran by myself back in 2012. When it changed venues, I stopped running it, but I've always liked this race and I'm excited for it.
I actually set some goals for this one. I am very in-tune with my body but my runs have been a bit all over the place, so I don't really know what I'll be capable of. That said, I think running a race with a few goals in mind will help move me into the next step of recovery.

A: Run a sub-30:00 5k. This is a goal that really brings me back to my early days of running...and after all, I am starting all over from scratch, so it's a good goal to have. I'm skeptical I can achieve this goal, but I'll be ecstatic if I do.
B: Don't walk. Even if I have to slow down to a more manageable pace and miss a sub-30 finish, if I can avoid walk-breaks for this 5k, I'll be happy.
C: Take managed walk breaks and finish at a run. If I end up feeling weak or strained, if I can keep my walk breaks to pre-planned, brief breaks and finish mile 3 at a strong, full run, I can live with that.

When I ran A1A, I felt really strong, and by the end I felt like the walk breaks weren't necessary but I stuck with them. I have come a long way since then, but I am still not consistent, so even with these goals my performance at this race is probably going to end up being a surprise to me.

At least two colleagues are running F&tF this weekend, too; I always like when I can look forward to seeing familiar faces at a race! (When I registered, I messaged all my running co-workers but I'm not sure if anyone else ended up signing up.) After I registered I saw that there would be finishers medals this year, so that's a nice bonus, too.

I am nervous about this 5k but in a good way; A1A was my first start/finish line post-surgery, but this will be the first race I actually...well...race.

ABK

Friday, March 30, 2018

My Legs are Different

It seems obvious, but I never really considered that having surgery to alter the natural inner structure of my legs would change how my legs look on the outside. Now that measurable swelling is mostly a thing of the past, I can see that my legs aren't the legs they used to be.

(These changes are really hard to capture in a photo; just trust me that they are super obvious in person!)

I have a weird divot at the bottom of my left leg, where the calf meets the ankle. This structural anomaly isn't present in the right leg. This is the most obvious change to me; my left leg is shaped significantly differently than it used to be, and significantly differently than its twin.
It's like my calf muscle turns a corner before it meets the ankle.
I now realize the shape of the fascia helps create the shape of your muscles; it holds them in like a girdle. The way my left calf muscle has settled post-surgery is odd, to say the least.

Speaking of divots, I now have matching calf-dimples on both legs. I never had these before! They are physical representations of what I can feel now when I massage them - nooks, crannies, and creases and an incredibly malleable muscle!
But on the plus side, check out my quad muscles! SQUATS BABY!
Another weird thing I'm experiencing in my left leg is some discoloration. My shin is still numb, which is normal. What's maybe not so normal is this weird port-wine stain splotch that appeared post-run last Monday. It went away after 10 minutes, before I was even home to elevate or ice. I will be monitoring this to see if it happens again, and under what sort of circumstances.
Scott couldn't find anything on this in medical literature but recommends that I see my surgeon if it keeps occurring. It's probably just some blood pooling after a tough run.
I know that legs getting kind of blotchy after working out can be common and benign; I just find the placement so odd.

Finally, for awhile now I've noticed a rather prominent vein in my shins. It pops up during and after runs, and is much more obvious in my right leg than my left. It looks like those snaky arm-veins bodybuilders get. After our run last week, Elizabeth asked me, "Did you used to have that giant vein in your leg?" I was like, "Nope."
This vein gets so puffy when I run or stand for a long time. This picture does not do it justice.
Maybe this vein used to be restricted by the fascia and now it can be free!

Even with all these oddities, I am still 100% happy I opted for the surgery. I wonder how my legs will continue to change as my legs recover fully and get stronger!

ABK

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Representation Matters

This week, Matt and I saw Love, Simon. A few weeks ago, we saw Black Panther, but as a white woman it's not really my place to speak to the power of a mainstream, popular, all-Black-cast film doing so well at the box-office or my delight in seeing it. I can't really speak to what it must have felt like as a Black person to experience that movie. (As a woman, though, it was incredibly powerful to see such strong, nuanced female characters on screen.)

I do urge you to read more on it. Here are some great articles: Black Panther let me see myself as a superhero for the first time; How the Black Panther Movie can Impact the Children of the Black Lives Matter Movement; The Cultural Impact of Black Panther; Black Panther is a gorgeous, groundbreaking celebration of Black Culture; and finally,  Black Panther is Not for Us, White People.

When it comes to Love, Simon, though, there was a specific way the inclusivity and representation impacted me as a Jewish woman, so I wanted to write this.
Love, Simon is a typical teenage romantic-comedy. That's one thing that makes it so wonderful. Lots of LGBTQ+ films are emotionally taxing to watch. This is because the very real, valid struggles of the LGBTQ+ community are heavy and emotionally fraught, and they're centered in these movies. There is a place and a reason for movies that deal with the discrimination the community faces and the danger of coming out.

It is so important, though, to see that the "genre" of LGBTQ+ films can transcend itself and fall easily into a family-friendly (generally...except for some language maybe), funny, lighthearted teen flick. Don't get me wrong, I was moved to tears multiple times while I watched Love, Simon, but I laughed more than I cried.

The nuance of Simon's character is brilliantly done, too. I appreciated that when Simon mishandles situations, he's called out on it. He's not a perfect person; he's human.

We get to see some lovely moments of humanity from even just supporting characters, but we also get to see the vicious side of prejudice that still exists today.

Mostly, I was very impressed by how effortlessly intersectional the film was. It was clearly intentional, but it did not feel forced. Not only were multiple protagonists POC, but we also saw a couple mixed-race families/relationships and Jewish characters. (This seems like a small detail, but as a Jewish woman I honed in on it immediately and was really moved to see the lighting of a menorah on the big screen. I can't think of a non-Jewish-centered film that mentions Hanukkah or Judaism even once.)

Basically, Love, Simon was a fun teen romantic-comedy that dealt with some incredibly important issues surrounding coming out and also did a stellar job of representing what the world and high school actually look like, filled with people of different races, backgrounds, families, and circumstances. I can only imagine the impact this movie's success will have on kids, whether they're out or not. The LGBTQ+ community and their stories should be mainstream and easily accessible; people of all sexual identities should be included in movies to the point where films featuring main characters anywhere on the spectrum aren't a big deal.

It's important that this movie be successful. It's important that more movies like this are made. The best way to make sure that happens is to buy a ticket..and really, it'll be well worth it, because at the end of the day, it was a good two hours of entertainment.

ABK

Monday, March 26, 2018

Recovery Isn't Linear

You know that picture you've seen of the expected road to success vs. the actual road? This one:
I think recovery is pretty much the same way. For every three or four good, solid runs, I have one that's just plain crappy. And beyond being crappy, it's usually a little painful and involves tight calves and heavy legs.

My mind immediately assumes the worst. I'm broken. The surgery didn't work. I've somehow hurt myself and caused a major regression. It wasn't compartment syndrome in the first place and I had surgery for no reason and I still don't know what's wrong with me...
And then, without fail, I have another solid run and my spirit is buoyed.

Recovery isn't linear. There are setbacks, pain, and mental anguish. Recovery is truly an experience of extremes. If I'm not elated after a great run, I'm devastated after a bad one...or even after a so-so one. I need to remember that normal running involves crappy runs, too.

I'm glad I'm keeping a training log so I can watch for patterns and maybe circumvent situations that lead to bad runs. And I know that if something were to feel very off, I could call Dr. G and see if what I'm experiencing is normal. I haven't had to do that yet, so I'm assuming my setbacks are normal.
I just didn't want to paint a picture that recovery is easy and straightforward. It's not. I question anything that doesn't feel 100% normal. That may stop someday...but probably not any time soon.

ABK

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Squat Challenge Ends

My squat challenge has come to an anticlimactic end. By the time I reached the last five days, I was so ready to be done. I was just tired of doing them.

I'm looking forward to cutting way back on quantity and adding some weights and lunges to the mix.

I had hoped to see physical changes in my quads, specifically more definition and preferably a more compact, harder muscle. I don't really see any of that.
Before
Strength-wise, though, I did see some great changes. My legs feel powerful. They're holding up under faster paces for longer distances (all things being relative, of course). I was really happy with those outcomes, even if I was disappointed in the lack of physical change.
After
It was fun to complete this challenge - it was the first time in ages that I've set a goal like this and seen it through to the end, so the mental aspect of the achievement was pretty cool. It also felt good to do some kind of exercise daily, even if all I did was squats. But, like I said...I am so burned out and ready for a change!

ABK

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tattoo Number Two

This weekend, Matt and I drove to the southeast coast to get my tattoo. If you recall, I wrote about wanting to get my second tattoo while in Fort Lauderdale for the A1A 5k. I ended up meeting my artist and putting down my deposit, but it was too short-notice to actually get anything done at that time.

That weekend, I emailed Phil some sketches I liked and he took some time designing an original tattoo based on those ideas. The final concept was gorgeous and everything I wanted. We set my appointment for 3pm on March 18.
These photos are what I sent Phil.
So, on Sunday I found myself at Into the Woods ready to go. The entire tattoo took about six hours including breaks, so we were there pretty much all night. It was worth it, though, for the detail and perfectionism Phil put into this piece.
After being in this position for basically 5.5 hours, I did my squats to loosen up haha!
Like with my back tattoo, the outlines didn't bother me much. There were a couple areas close to my armpit, inner arm, and the very back of my arm that were more sensitive, but generally I did well with this kind of pain. It just feels like scratching. It does get a little tedious after a few hours of it, but that's to be expected!
Lines done, starting the background.
After the outline was done, Phil worked on shading the background. I have never had shading done before and it was definitely uncomfortable. Where line-work feels like scratching, the shading felt like burning. Again, though: worth it. He was meticulous in creating a gradual fade in the background, and the edges are a little feathered and soft. He added some spot details that give the illusion of ash rising around the phoenix, as I did not want literal flames.

When we first discussed the piece, the background was the part I was unsure about getting, and it may be my favorite part of the finished piece.
Lines and background done!
At this point, we had been at it for a few hours and I had the option to stop and come back some other time to finish. I loved the way the half-done tattoo looked and played around with the idea of keeping it this way. But, Matt and I agreed that 1) we should trust the artist because he knows what he's doing and 2) if I'm going to get more done, I may as well do it while were there already. I was holding up fine under the pain of the needles; the worst pain was actually in my hips and legs from lying on my side for so long!

Phil mentioned that I sat better than 90% of his other clients. I think people are impressed that we did this all in one sitting, but really the pain never went above a 7, I think!
Phil really loves working with color, and at one point he was like, "You're killing me doing this in black and gray!"
My biggest concern with shading is that I don't like when tattoos look too dark and take on a muddy, flat look. Phil assured me he understood my concerns and that were would be lots of dimension and highlights.

Phil went to work on shading the grass, daffodils, feathers, and phoenix. There were some parts of the process where I worried the piece was getting too dark, but this is why I'm not an artist. By the time he put in the finishing touches - including white highlights around various feathers - the tattoo looked anything but dark and flat.
The finished piece.
I was blown away.

Now I have to deal with the next couple weeks of healing, but so far everything has felt fine. I feel, like I did with my first tattoo, that it was a part of me long before it physically made it onto my skin, so it feels natural and like it truly belongs there.
I love how it looks!
Obviously there are so many reasons to choose the theme of rebirth for a tattoo. While my first one had a pretty literal meaning for me, this one has a variety of memories and emotions wrapped up in it. I love how delicate the flowers are and how powerful the phoenix's face is. The juxtaposition of softness and beauty with the power and strength of the bird is exactly what I wanted.
I can't wait to see how it looks as it heals completely!

ABK

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Good Balance: Solo vs. Buddy Workouts

I few months ago, when I was still laid up and hadn't been cleared to run, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted my fitness journey to look once I came back. I knew I wanted to focus more on my own fitness goals and also have the freedom to do whatever workout or run struck my fancy whenever the whim hit. I wanted the freedom to make my own schedule again.

But, I'm a coward and was scared to give voice to this because a major part of having more independence in fitness meant letting Elizabeth down. She has been such an amazing support through this entire process, and she's my bff. I felt terrible telling her that I wanted to be able to focus on what I want and what my body wants. I felt bad telling her that I didn't want to run every run with her.

Of course, Elizabeth is amazing and knows me way too well. Back in January, before my first run back, she texted me this:
Apparently I am incredibly transparent and she reads me like a book.
And I legit almost started crying because why is she so good to me?!

Later that month, we went to the gym and I told her that I had done a lot of thinking and wanted to be able to work out together two or three times a week, but that I also needed to have days when I could workout alone. She was really receptive to this (of course!) and we kind of discussed what that might look like. That's why my runs lately have been a nice mixture of alone/with Matt/with Elizabeth. It's been perfect.

Solo runs give me a chance to focus on my body and how things are going, get some alone-time, listen to music, and do whatever I want. They are incredibly important to me, and I appreciate them more than ever now.

Running with Matt offers a lot of the same, because we rarely talk during runs or even run side-by-side, but it also gives me a nice support system when I'm feeling uncertain or self-conscious. Plus, we're both so busy lately that running together gives us some good couple-time.
Matt's photography skills (and his willingness to be my own personal paparazzi) are an added bonus to running with him.
Running with Elizabeth gives us both some much-needed socialization during the week as well as motivation and accountability. I don't ever want to give that up completely; I just needed to cut back.

I started coaching track and field in February, but once my schedule clears up a bit, this is what workouts will probably look like:
I hope to be back to running 3-4 times a week by mid-April.
I know this schedule will remain flexible - none of these plans are set in stone - and I told Elizabeth I'd help her get out the door to run on her own on days I don't go with her to help her stay motivated.

This whole thing had been a big source of stress for me because I overthink everything and didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but now that I know I'll have plenty of alone time mixed in with buddy-time, I feel so much better. Already I've seen that my workouts have really benefited from having the freedom to do my own thing, and now I feel much more comfortable telling Elizabeth or Matt that I want to run alone.

I am looking forward to every workout these days; everything feels new and exciting again. I hope this excitement lasts, and when it inevitably begins to fade, I hope the memory of a year of nothing and how awful that felt helps give me a kick in the pants!

ABK

Monday, March 12, 2018

Answering "Why?"

Then (why I started)

I think most women will relate to this. The feeling of inadequacy when you see your body and see what it can do versus what you wish it could do. The feeling of knowing, logically, that you are enough, you are more than your body, and your body is perfectly good, and yet constantly battling yourself to somehow be different.

The feeling of straddling two different realities, one in which you're confident and comfortable in who you are, and the other in which your flaws seem insurmountable.

The moment I decided to pick up running, I was fighting this battle in my head. I was 22 and in graduate school, earning my Masters of Education. I had never felt more confident or more lost. Every day was shrouded in contradictions.

Being "old" on a college campus is daunting. You are surrounded by 18-year-olds who are so much more fit, fashionable, and fiery than you were at 18. How do they keep their hair so shiny? How do they make jeans and a t-shirt look so chic? I was there, a student myself, and so I belonged...and yet, there was a huge divide that made me self-conscious and defensive.
A picture of my cohort and our professors at the end of our program.
Look, ten years on, I know how ridiculous all this sounds. But bear with me.

On campus, I saw young women running effortlessly along shadow-dappled sidewalks and I thought: If I could run outside, I would be more like them.

And so I started. It was not easy. It was partially for the wrong reasons I've already explained and partially for the right ones: health, stress-relief, a need to challenge myself. In the end, those reasons were mine, and that's what matters. They are what drove me to take on something I thought I could never do...and if I did it, that I could never do well, or enjoy doing.

And yet, there I was. Learning to run.
Snapshots of 2009
The Transformation (why I kept going)

When did running go from something that I was trying to use to become someone else to something I needed in my life in order to be myself?

How did that transformation happen?

I think it was a race.

When I first started running, I didn't know road races existed. I just thought people ran for exercise and races were reserved for organized school sports and the Olympics. So when a colleague of mine who had run in high school and knew more on the subject than I did recommended we sign up for a local running club (those existed?!) and a 5k (a real one?!) I was intrigued and immediately interested.

(Okay, wait. My first race was actually a 5k put on by a local church to raise money for relief after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But that "race" wasn't really open to the public and was untimed and low-stress. I ran it without training; I ran it like I'd run any other run. It doesn't seem to count these days. Plus, I wore cut-off sweat shorts and the race t-shirt. Sometimes I even forget I ever ran it. So, I'm not counting it as my first but here are some blurry 2010-camera-phone pictures to prove it happened.)
So. The first time I realized you could sign up for a true, timed, real race, I was nervous but excited. It was a Komen Race for the Cure 5k. We ran it together. Crossing the finish line was like nothing I had ever imagined. The race gave my running meaning. It gave me a goal.

I was immediately addicted. I searched for local 5ks and ran every one I could.
Finishing my first solo race (5k) - 2012.
The purpose of rehashing this is to get to the point of this post. My why changed from body-focused to self-focused. My whole mindset changed when I started racing. Running stopped being about forcing my body into a certain shape and became about challenging my limits and chasing a mental high that left me feeling accomplished and powerful.

It was the first time in my life I could remember ever feeling that way.

Now (why I run)

I don't need races to keep myself motivated these days, or to feel accomplished. In the ten years since I started running, I've found the drive within myself and races are just icing. That means my why has changed again.

Now, why do you run? feels like a question with an impossible answer. How do I explain the effects running has had on me, the changes it has wrought, the confidence it has built?

How do I explain that it has become a part of my identity? That without it, my perception of the world and my understanding of strength, resilience, determination, and self-realization would be completely different?

How do you put into words the simple but all-encompassing joy that comes with doing what you love? Doing what makes you whole?
I don't know if all runners feel this way, but I have to imagine they wouldn't keep at it if their joy weren't similar to my own.

I may not have even truly ever known why I continued if it hadn't been for this year off. Maybe it would have just seemed like something I do - I just do. But now I have seen how much it has impacted me and changed me, and I know what I am without it.

And I know I am better for it.

So...Why do I run?

Because I am simply not myself when I don't.

ABK