Friday, February 27, 2015

Running & NEDA Week

On my work trip to Miami this week, a colleague told me (after watching me polish off a gluten free pizza and pizookie) that she was relieved to see me eat so much because I usually "eat like a bird" at lunch time. (To clarify, if I eat too heavily at lunch, I have trouble functioning during my afternoon classes.)

Anyway, this reminded me that this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. 
This issue strikes close to home for many reasons. As a teacher of adolescents, I am particularly attuned to the kind of pervasive body-shame language in our culture, especially among young people. As a woman, I'm all too aware of the negative way we talk about food, diets, fat, and body shapes. As a runner who frequents running forums, blogs, and websites, the discussion of orthorexia and over-exercising comes up at least weekly. 

And that's to say nothing of the many men and women I care about who have struggled with eating disorders themselves.

Kristina wrote a really wonderful post this week that breaks down some of the common misconceptions about eating disorders. I'm not planning to get into all that; her post is pretty perfect and I urge you to read it for more information. (Or go to the NEDA website here.)

What I do want to touch on is that, like many mental illnesses, we tend to try to sweep eating disorders under the rug or gloss over them, as if they're not a serious illness. We as a culture have a bad habit of commenting on and congratulating weight-loss when we should be focusing on positive changes in healthy lifestyle habits. We glorify weight-loss and see it as the ultimate signifier of health.

I don't want to get preachy or offer unsolicited advice or help that I'm not qualified to offer, but I am going to repost my own story...It's a good reminder to myself about how far I've come and how much better my life is now, and maybe it will help to shed some light for others as well.

When I Had A Thigh Gap

Today, I overheard a group of my female students discussing diets and lamenting over the fact that they don't have a thigh gap. I thought this trend was on the way out, but apparently I'm just not frequenting the seedy parts of the internet these days.

I told them their discussion depressed me; they're too smart to care about something so trivial, especially because their bodies will be changing drastically in the next few years, and because at least one of these girls is a runner. I assured them that thigh gaps have more to do with bone structure anyway.

But this all got me thinking about those days when I was too-too thin and my thighs didn't touch.

When I had a thigh gap, I had...

Really low self-esteem. No number was low enough. I hated myself everyday.

Hair loss due to malnutrition.

Brittle nails because...well, see above.

Mood swings and a short temper. I was constantly hungry, which meant I was constantly angry and upset.

Memory and focus problems. Days went by in a fog most of the time.

Terrible skin. Drastic dieting led to dry, thin skin.

Trouble socializing. I was too focused on how I looked and whether I would have to eat in front of people to even bother making an effort.

A relapse into clinical depression. I think this one doesn't need much explaining.

My thighs touch these days. They are strong, muscular, and powerful. They push me through long runs, up hills, across finish lines...They make me feel confident. They make me feel like a woman. They make me feel proud of my body.
These thighs helped me PR my last half marathon [at the time of the original post], and I'm damn proud of them.
The thigh gap seems to be, to this generation, what the magical number on the scale was to me back then. But of course, when I hit that number, I never felt satisfied. If anything, the less I weighed, the more I hated myself, because I still didn't look how I wanted to look. (Body dysmorphia will do that to you.) Obtaining a thigh gap might seem like it will be the moment of victory to these girls, but I know - as do so many others who have been there - that it's just the lid off the first can of worms.

I will never have a thigh gap again, and I couldn't be happier about it.

Can you relate?
Share: why is life better when you're not obsessing over your body?
What would you say to young girls struggling with their bodies?


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Gasparilla Distance Classic Half Marathon

Our girls' weekend continued Sunday morning with warmer temperatures and an earlier wake-up. 

Despite getting to bed around 8:30 the night before, I slept fitfully Saturday night. The half Sunday began at 6am, so we were out of bed by 4:00. Surprisingly, my legs felt really good.
Flat-Ali, take two! The headband is a new one from the expo and I love even has a hidden pocket.
I had set up my clothes the night before, as usual. Funnily enough, although Mari, Kristin, and I all agreed to wear our GGM tanks for the 15k, we hadn't planned any other matching outfits...and we still managed to match Sunday!

The moment we stepped outside, we knew we were in for a totally different day. The temperatures had increased from 43 to 58, and we were looking at finishing the race with temperatures in the 60s or higher. It was also much more humid than Saturday morning, and I noticed a difference in my breathing immediately.
Waiting for the start!
We didn't really have plans for this race...Or at least, I didn't. Mari was in the sub-2:00 corral and Kristin was hoping to PR; I just wanted to run the race and enjoy it.

Although I started out with Kristin, we lost each other before the first mile-marker. It was so crowded! I was bobbing and weaving all over the place to avoid walkers. I probably started out too far back (around the 11:27 pacer) and ended up paying for it, but I also didn't reach the start line until about eight minutes after the gun, so I didn't really mind starting toward the back.
I literally do not remember where this was or what mile we were at!
I settled into a comfortable pace and tried to pick someone in the crowd to latch onto, but I kept passing all my targets. My legs felt pretty good the entire time; I had a small pain in one foot from the slant of the road and had to keep changing sides to adjust for that.
Around mile 6 I could feel myself speeding up because it was the halfway point and I wanted to be done; the smart side of my brain told me to stay easy, but the impatient side seemed to be in charge.
Once more, I kept myself distracted by searching for Mari at the turnaround, and then searching for Kristin once I'd made the turn myself.
...And then I hit the wall.
The hardest part of this race, besides the full-on heat of the morning, was a kind of virtual marathon-wall I hit around mile 10. Usually in a half, my wall is at mile 9 and I hit a peak again at 11, and I can plan accordingly. But during this half, my legs already had 9.3 miles on them! Around mile 11, I felt like I was at the tail-end of a marathon. Mentally, it was hard to push myself and keep from walking. All around me, those who had run the challenges all weekend were walking; I had to ignore them and stop myself from giving in.
Then, my Nike+ started cutting out like it had during Space Coast and A1A! (Side-note: I immediately tweeted Nike Support after this race and they told me to uninstall and reinstall, so we'll see if this issue is fixed next time.) My stomach felt gross and I wanted to puke but I just trudged along and kept going. I had nothing in me to sprint the end, and I was so relieved to be finished!

I totally enjoyed this race; it was beautiful and fun, but it was mentally very challenging after the 15k. (I was having flashbacks to the last time I did back-to-back races!) Once again I ran into people in the finishing chute because they stopped too short over the line.
Success! Kristin PR'd by 7 minutes and Mari came in sub-2!
The medal really did make it all worth it.
Despite tired legs, I ran perfectly even splits and managed a great final time, only three minutes slower than last weekend's half!
We had breakfast at some random cafe, showered up, and headed home! We did make one necessary pit-stop in Sarasota for gluten free cupcakes.
I ate the coconut cupcake and took a white-chocolate one to go!
After 22.4 miles in a single weekend, I think we definitely earned that treat.

I've now run eight half marathons, and I'm beginning to see that my average times are closer to the 2:20s than 2:40s, where they used to hover. It's nice to see progress and to see that I'm getting better at racing longer distances! Who knows what I could have done on this course with fresh legs?

Overall, this was a fantastic weekend and I'm so glad that Kristin - who has coveted that skull medal for ages - convinced us to sign up with her!


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Gasparilla Distance Classic 15k

Our girls' weekend in Tampa began Friday night with a very long drive. We left with plenty of time to arrive at the expo at 7, an hour before it closed. But due to some ridiculous traffic, we literally parked and sprinted to the expo and arrived as the doors were closing!
We slipped through the last open door and ignored the guard who called after us, "It's over, ladies!" We were able to grab our bibs and shirts as the announcement was made that the expo was closed, just in the nick of time!
A sigh of relief! We got our bibs and shirts just in time!
We took some extra time to find our names on the giant banner.
We had a nice big dinner at Outback - I haven't eaten there in forever! - and fell asleep way too late for our 5am wakeup the next morning.
Sweet potato, steak, and shrimp...Now that's a good pre-race dinner!
Back at the hotel, we got our stuff ready for the morning and took a look at the race shirts. They were really cute this year!
Flat-Ali is ready for the 15k!
The half shirt is long-sleeved and the 5k is short; it's a nice little combo there!
With all that taken care of, there was nothing left to do but get some shut-eye.
Saturday's 5am wakeup came way too quickly, and it was cold! We got to the Convention Center around 6am for our 6:45 start time.
Pre-race picture!
Don't laugh...this was cold for us!
We crowded into the corrals and started on our way. Mari took off, her usual speedy self, and Kristin and I stuck together at a nice conservative pace. The course was beautiful and flat, and the sunrise was gorgeous over the water.
The race was very well-organized and we had a blast. We were wearing our GGM shirts and had a few conversations with fellow runners about Ragnar. Kristin and I kept an eye open for Mari at the turnaround, which was a nice distraction, and even though we'd planned to run an easy race all throughout, we couldn't help but sprint into the finish together.
This was probably one of the most crowded races I've ever been to. Although I loved having a crowd around the entire time, one of the problems of big races like this is that many of the runners don't follow proper race etiquette. Walkers didn't move to the side or signal; many stopped directly past the finish line and I literally collided with people as I crossed. But overall, the entire race was fantastic!
I don't really know how many were in my division or gender etc...I wasn't really worried about rankings for this race.
I don't have a lot to say about race strategy or anything today because our goal was just to not push too hard, bearing in mind that we had a half to run the next day.

We had breakfast at Daily Eats, then went back to the hotel for showers and naps before heading back to the expo. It's funny how a 15k didn't even feel that far and I had no problem walking around afterward.
You've gotta love a menu with "gluten free" clearly labeled!
I had a goat cheese and spinach omelet with avocado and bacon added, plus cheesy grits!
While Mari and Kristin got massages, I wandered the expo and did a little shopping. Matt's brother and his boyfriend Robby are in Florida for a really short time so they were able to stop by and say hello quickly before we girls took the trolley to Channelside for dinner.
A quick "hello" with the boys.
Our lovely view of Tampa.
Dinner was more sushi than I could comfortably fit in my stomach.
Given how hectic Friday was, it was really nice to have the evening to relax and plan for Sunday's race...but that's another post to come! (I'll be out of town for work stuff so the half post will have to wait a couple days!)


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

No Rest for the Race Crazy

After an enjoyable rest day Monday, I was back into training Tuesday. This weekend, Kristin, Mari and I are going to Tampa to run the 15k and half marathon at Gasparilla!
Have I ever mentioned that Matt used to all me Pirate? This pirate-themed medal is going to be perfect for me!
I feel a little insane to be running 22 miles this weekend, but we all just want to go and have fun. I haven't had a girls' weekend away in over a year, and I'm really looking forward to it! We originally wanted to sign up for one of the challenges, but they all sold out, so we just signed up for two races instead.

Kristin and I ran Tuesday. My calves were pretty tired but overall I felt good. And she brought me a treat! Gluten free Girl Scout cookies!
Archie is totally checking out those cookies. Also, 91% humidity?! WHAT IS THAT?! And here I'd been enjoying the cooler weather!
In other awesome news, signing up for free stuff at the A1A race expo paid off! I checked my phone after work today to find this text from Matt:
Matt has perfect eyesight, so he signed up just for me!
I never win anything and I've been wanting LASIK for years. The worst thing about running early in the morning is sticking my contacts in (hashtag runnerproblems, right?); I can't see a dang thing without them. I have my consultation March 7 and I'm hoping I'm a candidate and will have fixed eyeballs by spring break!

Sign up for both the A1A and the Space Coast marathons has already opened. I really want to run the full at Space Coast again, but I'm waiting to sign up. Matt has expressed some interest in running a half with me, so I'm hoping to get him to sign up for the A1A next year with me. It's on Valentine's Day next year, so it would be such a fun race to train for and run together!

I have a lot of big-distance races in the near future. The more I run long-distance, the scarier 5ks seem. But I'm looking fear in the face and running Kristina's virtual race
The funds go toward her fundraising for the Chicago marathon and help a really good cause: PAWS Chicago. C' can you say "no" to that happy puppy?!

How's your eyesight?
What's your favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Do you ever sign up for races just for the medal?


Monday, February 16, 2015

A1A Half Marathon - My Birthday Weekend

I originally wanted to recap my birthday weekend separately from the race stuff because a post about both threatens to be really freaking long...but everything is kind of intertwined so one mega-post it is!

When I first signed up for the A1A Half Marathon, Matt and I were excited to spend the weekend with Oden, who lives in Ft. Lauderdale; this was made even better when we learned Rob would be in town from Atlanta and was going to join us! Then we convinced Mark and Shane to drive down and the next thing you know, birthday/race weekend became a mini-college reunion!

Rob, Matt and I arrived at Oden's and we went out for dinner. I had a fantastic burger with red onion jam and smoked Gouda with a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. I was all about indulging this weekend.
I knew I wouldn't be drinking Saturday, so I enjoyed a dirty martini with dinner Friday. I was trying to get some salt into my body to retain water and combat any dehydration
It was as good as it looks.
Matt and I went to the expo Saturday morning and met up with Chris from Sub30. (She wasn't running the race but drove over just to say hi at the expo and offer some moral support!) The expo was really nice - large and spread out, not too crowded, and full of free snacks and goodies! We bumped into Meg while there and she and I confirmed that we'd meet at the finish line on race day.
Another Sub30 friend, Daniella, was running the race too.
After the expo, Matt and I went back to Oden's and we all went out for lunch at Blaze Pizza. Their gluten free crust was very good and I was impressed with their commitment to avoiding cross-contamination.
I had the Art Lovers - ricotta, mozzerella, garlic, and artichoke hearts. YUM!
From lunch we headed to the movies. We saw Kingsman: The Secret Service, which I had no idea was originally a comic book. Halfway through the movie I was thinking the plot was getting campier and campier; I won't spoil it, but I will say that if you like over-the-top ridiculous action movies and don't mind some gore, I highly recommend it.

Although it was out of character for me to go out the night before a race, it was too soon after lunch to have dinner and go to bed, so we spent some time of the Funky Buddha playing giant Jenga.
Clearly Matt couldn't pick just one beer so he had a flight.
Jenga before we got started on it.
Look how tall our tower got! (You can't really see it but the Jenga blocks had graffiti all over them and the one I'm holding said "Ali was here"...I swear I didn't write it!)
Then it all came crashing down!
Our night ended with PDQ for dinner (complete with free milkshakes) and some last-minute planning for race morning.

I was up at 3:50 feeling well-rested and anxious. Oden's condo is very close to the starting line, but after some debate Matt and I decided to drive rather than walk. We arrived just after 5am. My biggest complaint about this race was the start; there weren't enough porta-potties and the starting chute seemed extremely narrow and packed.

While I was in line for the toilets, Matt ran into Sean, who gave him these really nifty hand-warmers for me to use, and then he ran back to the car to get the sunglasses I had left there. By the time he got back we were in the last couple minutes pre-race. I had the worst nerves I have ever had for a race. I don't know why...maybe my lingering cold or my lack of real training lately? But I was literally shaking as I prepared to start.
In the corral...I had cut-up tube socks for arm-sleeves and they worked perfectly.
I put on some mellow, enjoyable music and committed to running easy. I lined up near the 11-minute mile corral and ended up crossing the start line about five minutes after the gun.
At first, my legs felt a little cold and achy, but I was determined to enjoy myself and take in the atmosphere. It did take awhile to feel good, but around mile 1.5 I saw Meg ahead of me and then I felt better; just knowing I had a buddy on the course wearing our matching shirts really helped. Around mile 2.5, we ran up the drawbridge on Las Olas. People stopped to take selfies of the view and the burgeoning sunrise. Stretching my stride to eat up the bridge, I finally felt warm. 
Sunrise greeted us on the other side of the bridge.
From that moment on, I had a smile on my face. In fact, I choked up multiple times in the first half of the race as I realized that 1) my legs cramps were totally gone (my theory about Mucinex seems spot-on); 2) I felt downright good; 3) this was my first half of 2015! And then, around mile 5, I remembered it was my birthday!

Yes, in the anxiety and excitement of the race morning, I totally forgot that it was my birthday.
We ran down the beach and into a park. Everything seemed beautiful and perfect. I took off my "arm sleeves". I thanked volunteers. I ate my Gu. I began to push my pace as I realized my lungs and legs were holding up well.
The park was shady and cool, but a little congested in spots.
Around mile 8 I saw Sean and, not far behind him, Meg. At mile 10, I couldn't believe how quickly the race was passing by and how painless it all seemed. I pushed a little harder.
Around this time the route narrowed and walkers were eschewing all etiquette and blocking the path; I slowed down as I dodged around them.
Around mile 12 my Nike+ began to malfunction, but I caught it in time to avoid having to stop/restart it like I did for Space Coast.
Then I was near the finish; I could hear shouts of, "Happy birthday!" and there on the sidelines were Matt, Oden, and Rob...and my sister! Steph had planned to come for the race but I wasn't sure if she'd make it. It was the perfect surprise!
They wore birthday hats!!!
Near the finish! I wore my skirt and was so happy that I didn't have to wear a belt or armband because of all the pockets...I carried my Gu, inhaler, iPhone, tissues, gum, and lifesavers and still had room for more!
My goal for this race was somewhere around 2:30. I finished with a chip time of 2:18:00 (gun time 2:22); of the 226 women in my AG, I placed 100th. I was beyond ecstatic!

The finishing chute was ridiculously crowded; there were booths set up to hand out free swag, but it just seemed like a terrible place to put everything. I escaped as quickly as I could to meet my cheersquad and take photos.
Sean raced this one on little training and finished around 1:53. I could only dream...!
Meg's "something crazy"? A finish-line engagement!!
Me and the newly-engaged Meg post-race!
I know spectating a race isn't the most exciting thing and it involves waking up early, so I was extremely grateful and downright verklempt that Oden and Rob joined Matt at the finish line.
The boys did a good job with the signs and totally surprised me. They said quite a few runners laughed out loud and thanked them!
Best surprise of the day!
Kristina and I had been in touch throughout the weekend and we were able to meet up at the HOF sign just as planned! It was really nice to meet her in person. We're not all that far from each other; hopefully we can run another race together someday!
After a shower, we walked to Las Olas for yes, my actual distance today was around 15 miles. Post-race food was brunch at Rocco's Tacos before our drive home.
Now THAT is a good birthday brunch!
I cannot tell you all how relieved I was after the race. Last time I ran a half while sick, it was 90 degrees out and I was so dehydrated. That was a really rough experience. Considering I haven't been running long at all since the full, and I've been sick for two weeks, I was expecting a repeat performance...I'm so glad I was able to race well and genuinely enjoy myself the entire time.

Thanks to cool weather and an adjustment in how I was treating my cold, I was able to run a race I felt really proud of! This half is actually my third-fastest time, and I wasn't even aiming to be competitive today. Honestly, the race felt almost easy...If I had been healthier, I would have decided to go for a PR. (My lungs just weren't up to it yet.) I never hit the wall or struggled at all. I just ran.

I loved everything about it - the course, the weather, the location...I will definitely plan to be back!
This medal seriously puts even the Space Coast medal to shame! I mean, those marlins spin and everything!
Last year I ran a half for my birthday and PR'd. This year I ran one and proved to myself that I am, finally, a seasoned runner. I think I like this half-on-my-birthday tradition!