so, you had a bad race

I ran my first fall race yesterday, the Bellingham Bay Marathon Half Marathon. Despite training all summer, I did not end up running a marathon. On top of that, I had a pretty cruddy run yesterday. My time was a 20 minute improvement over last year, but I struggled to run the race. My struggle was not physical—in fact, training for a marathon and then running a half marathon is a great way to go physiologically. However, I encountered many mental walls, including a general feeling of motivational malaise throughout the event.

My brief reflections as I revisit what happened yesterday:

  • This race is so familiar that it has lost all novelty. I run most every part of the route regularly. The scenery doesn’t captivate me.
  • Going from Chicago Marathon to hometown half marathon was what psychologists might refer to as a non-event. I was so focused on achieving a long-term marathon goal for so long, that yesterday’s experience was… well… a disappointment.
  • The etiquette at the start was terrible. I get grumpy when I spend the first two miles weaving because racers didn’t self-select into the appropriate place in the line-up. I was just ahead of the 2:00 pacer, and there were crowds of people running a 2:30 or so ahead of me.
  • I’m suffering under the tyranny of speed. I’ve gotten really competitive with myself, and when I knew I wasn’t going to come in at my goal time, I felt crushed. I know I am in a bad place, because a year and a half ago, I was thrilled by a 2:15 finish at the Whidbey half, and now I am kicking myself for a 2:02.

I think I need a reboot. I need to reconnect with running, and find its love and compassion again. I need a time out from speed goals.

My proposal is to run a trail half marathon next month. It’s a race I have never done before, and the sheer elevation gain will make it impossible to finish anywhere remotely close to what I am used to. It will be about endurance, the process, natural beauty, and making it through. Yesterday felt hollow. I did not feel reborn. I felt, a little less stellar than I do after a regular long run.

And why is that? Because, for me, when I start running for extrinsic rewards, for the approval of others, my soul is diminished. However, when I run from the heart, for nobody other than myself, I feel like I am flying. I transform.

This is where I am right now… figuring things out, trying to navigate how I want to approach running in the coming weeks and months. For now, I am focusing back in on the daily miles, and recovering joy from all paces.

runningtown, USA

I grew up in the city. When I started spending more time in my husband’s hometown at the beginning of our relationship, everything about rural country living seemed novel. The most noteworthy phenomenon was the degree of familiarity between residents of the area. Everybody knows their neighbors. Beyond that, the oral histories of entire families are recited by rote. Each farm and road has its accompanying story, usually a narrative that is darkly bittersweet. Churches and deer nearly outnumber denizens, and the event of the year remains a town parade and carnival in the middle of the summer.

We move on in life, and our sense of “home” acquires a multitude of meanings. As we explore our passions and seek out opportunities to engage, new communities emerge. As our children progress through their educational journeys, we join fellow parents among the ranks of the village. In our professions, we solidify networks of colleagues, and come to find, rather incredulously, that we begin to be called upon as institutional or organizational historians, able to reflect on a sum of experiences. And, if you run for a long enough time in your hometown, you begin to find yourself a place in that community, as well.

I see the same familiar faces on my Saturday morning runs. Some belong to people I know from other parts of life. Some are simply recognizable due to repetition. As I reflect on that observation, I begin to realize that a community of runners functions like a small hometown. We remember the races, year to year, and make jokes about the weather and other unfortunate variables. We feel relief upon encountering an acquaintance on a dimly lit trail, or motivated to run all the way to the crest of the hill when we know a fellow runner is watching.

Maybe I’ve seen you two other times in my life, but if we weave around each other, back and forth, over the course of a soggy and miserable road run, we may very well embrace at the end.

“Thank you,” is a common muttering we hear between strangers at the finish line, “you kept me going until the end.”

Running is both solitary and collective. While we bear the responsibility for our own feet and legs, we also uplift other runners through our example, words, and presence. Often, the thought of being that face for another person is the reasoning that pushes me over the hump of lacing up my shoes on an early weekend morning. To those just beginning, we are all strangers. Give it time, however, and we will become their people.

august recap

August was a fruitful month, totaling 105 miles. This brings my 2016 mileage up to 778 miles… creeping closer to the 1,000 mile goal! I took more recovery days to walk and do different types of exercise last month, and I focused many of my shorter runs on speed work. Happy to report that there was some pay-off, as I placed first in a 25K road race last weekend! I enjoy setting new personal records, but there was a unique satisfaction of being the first woman to cross the finish line that I will carry with me in the memory bank of “triumphant runs” for a long time to come.

I have approached September, and it is time to fit in one more long run this weekend before tapering. While I am still running an early fall marathon, there’s been a change of plans. My running buddy broke her toe, and needs a few weeks to heal and recuperate. We decided to defer our race registrations for 2017. Running Chicago without my friend would not feel right to me. However, I’ve put a great deal of effort and time into training this past spring and summer, and so I decided to run my hometown marathon at the end of this month, instead.

As the marathon chapter comes to a close, I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next. While it has been invigorating and adventuresome to ramp up my speed and set new records for myself, I feel a pull back to the basics of why running fills my cup. The high of competition is ephemeral. I miss the meandering solo runs through the woods… with no particular agenda other than to traverse and appreciate nature. I am giving some thought to pursuing trail running more intentionally in 2017… perhaps doing some of the trail races and mountain runs that are so plentiful in this corner of the country. I would like to broaden my horizons and tackle some new experiences.


We all begin somewhere.

I was bitten by the running bug after I had my daughter, over five years ago.

Up until that point, jogging was an occasional activity.

When I gave birth to my daughter, and spent those first few tender months at home, I was consumed by depression. Taking care of a newborn did not come naturally to me. One day, I was a career woman with a busy schedule. The next day, I was sleep deprived to an extreme I did not think possible. I remember one occasion when we finally left the house to run an errand. In the light of day, my husband gently suggested that I might have a streak of baby poop on my cheek, and he wiped it with his sleeve.

I cried. I wept. I felt lonely.

I discovered, a few weeks in to this new life, that walking would be my medicine. No matter what had transpired the night before, no matter how demoralizing the patterns of the day, I could find salvation in walking.

At that point, we lived in a house in the woods—a good 30 minute drive from most hallmarks of civilization, including decent grocery stores. Nevertheless, the summer was relatively cool, and I spent many hours pushing a stroller around winding bends and pathways, exploring our community. Sometimes, the walks were the only time that the baby would sleep, and I could move freely, both hands unencumbered by the weight of flesh.

The walks became more frequent, and the baby also began to grow. As the summer petered out, my depression lifted, and I started to fall in love with my child. Somewhere in that span of time, the walks migrated toward runs. I left the baby at home with her loving father, and took off… exploring nearby lake trails and taking the daring risks of leaving pumped milk at home in exchange for an hour of freedom.

For me, running was born out of the growing pains of early parenthood. Each jog yanked my sanity back to earth, returning me home with renewed hope. My daughter grew in her early years, watching mama leave for runs and come back. The evening post-run shower became a ritual. First, to wash the sweat off my skin quickly before settling in to a nursing session. Later, I stumbled over rubber duckies and pitchers as my toddler sat at my feet keeping me company. These days, the bathroom door remains unlocked, and she will sit on the closed toilet lid, telling me about her school day while I rinse off my suds.

I feel pangs in my heart every year at this time, reflecting on the journey to this point. Fall has always seemed to me a time for renewal, despite the decomposition of nature’s greenery around me. Perhaps it is because I know that the hardest earned gifts often start from dark places.

We all begin somewhere.

why i run

When I reflect on the concept of spirituality, it becomes clear that it is a phenomenon which provides two main experiences: an anchor which grounds us to the small gifts and blessings of our existence, however pedestrian it may seem; and a portal through which to transcend the daily habits of living and click in to a soulful and almost celestial sense of interconnectedness across time, people, and place. I think about this a lot, because I am a nonreligious person… although there are times that my spirit is well watered and fed by the simplest of things. One of these sources is running quietly in nature. The primal ingredients of enduring a long run thrust me fully into my own humanity. The expansion and contraction of my lungs and heart surface awareness of my own mortality. I marvel at the finely engineered machine that is the routine and familiar sensation of bones and muscles propelling the body across surface, through space and time. Running practice provides both the gifts often hidden by the mundane (a drink of water from a park fountain becomes a cool and sweet elixir), and the ability to transcend the stress of the day and return home with a renewed appreciation for deep peace and organic exhaustion.

I think a lot of people around me misunderstand why I run. “You’re so dedicated to your health and fitness,” they will comment. Or, perhaps the daily miles are shrugged off as a trifle obsession. I find I care less and less about the opinions of others. From my perspective, running is my old friend. She is there to comfort me when I am sad, and to uplift me when I feel defeated. She has seen me through months of sleepless nights with a young child, and has helped me to overcome deep waves of worry and stress. She is patient with me, and allows me to engage her in a number of different ways. She does not judge me when I do not perform as I desired. She celebrates me when I exceed my expectations for myself.

One day, I might not be able to run comfortably. There are a myriad of reasons why I might have to cut back or take a hiatus. While there would be sadness in that change, the gifts of running will never leave me. I have learned that the dedicated practice of nurturing the mind-body connection is deeply enriching to life, and to the spirit.


On Saturday I ran 13.1 in under two hours. I haven’t accomplished that time since February, when I ran the Birch Bay Half. Unlike my experience in February, however, I was not incapacitated by couch potato-itis the rest of the day. Instead, I came home, showered, drank some coffee, ate some lunch, and drove down to a wedding.

Comparing these two runs interested me because they are almost exactly a half of a year apart. Although it seems like Birch Bay was just a few weeks ago, many months have passed. It is a congratulatory reminder that my dedication to a running practice of regularity and frequency is not short-lived. It is also reassuring that, even during the long days of marathon training, I can still pull off a sub-2:00 half marathon.

Sometimes training foists a complicated set of expectations upon a relationship with running. The pure enjoyment of the experience of running is muddled by the formulaic necessity to achieve a certain amount of designated miles and long runs per month. The activity can seem obligatory and monotonous. A three mile run, easily accomplished most any day, is suddenly Homeric and cumbersome. The feet and legs threaten to halt to a walk, even though the lungs and heart are capable of going further. These difficult runs do crop up, and perhaps more noticeably given the increased amount of time that is dedicated to the task.

In the midst of this reality, I am grateful for the recent memory of a triumphant and beautiful long run. A run that contributed toward my perceptions of my own efficacy and esteem. This was a small but significant reminder that I have improved… that six months of nourishing my practice has made a difference. As a parent, a professional, and an athlete, I have come to cherish the following mantra: Something is better than nothing, but that something doesn’t have to be everything. While my instinctive urge is to dwell on the future, I am reminded of the gifts of meeting the present with open arms. I am also reminded of the metaphor which has carried me for many years through distance running… that of a jug filling with each drop of rainwater. Some drops are harder won than others, but the jug fills nonetheless.



on treadmills

As a runner, I don’t generally consider the treadmill a necessary evil… there are lots of ways to maintain a solid running practice without ever using cardio equipment or walking into a gym. Most of my running has, and hopefully will continue to be, outdoors on roads and trails. I find, however, as a working professional and parent, that the hour I need each day to get in my miles (assuming it’s just a short 3-4 mile run) isn’t always feasible in the evening before dinner or the morning before work. Furthermore, when I am at work, it is really nice to have access to a shower after I exercise, so I can return to my office feeling clean and refreshed. Enter: indoor running. I would say that running, either on the treadmill or on the indoor track, now comprises at least one run a week for me. This summer, for example, I use the treadmill on Thursdays during my lunch break, because I prefer to spend Thursday evenings attending concerts in the park with my family. A fair trade-off, I’d say.

The following are my guidelines/tips for treadmill running. Once again, I am an irregular treadmill user. I know some runners use a treadmill almost daily—all the power to them—but I have to work hard at it to make it enjoyable. Here we go:

  • Television? Music? Check. I use the treadmill as an opportunity to indulge in daytime cable that I would otherwise never get the chance to watch. Although I have lots of choices, I am usually drawn to the lunchtime Star Trek TNG marathon on BBC America. I’ve got the captions going so that I can read along, but listen to my music.
  • Run/run intervals. Always wanted to run that 7:30 mile? Well, the treadmill gives you god-like powers to do so, given that it’s got a belt more or less pulling you along. I do what I would describe as run/run intervals. I will run an 8:00/mile on the treadmill, and then turn the intensity up to a 7:30 mile for 3-5 minute intervals throughout the 30 minute run.
  • Adventures with a slight incline. The treadmill is a great place to practice patience with a gentle uphill. Usually I turn the incline up just slightly (+1.0) at the beginning of the run, and totally forget about it. It doesn’t really feel the same as a real-life hill.
  • Brain dump. No cars to watch for, intersections to cross, or tree roots over which to avoid tripping. Yep, there’s not much going on during a treadmill run (besides Captain Picard’s steady gaze). I use these runs as a time to try and empty my brain of all preoccupations.
  • Not too long. I rarely go beyond 30 minutes on a treadmill. I love distance running, but not indoors. At this point, a half hour is enough to get the miles in and a good sweat going. The bonus of being in the gym is that I have a little extra time and can tackle some of the things that I need to be doing, such as lifting weights and stretching.

Those are my thoughts on the treadmill! It definitely does not have to be a dreadmill, although, admittedly, it is my least favored way of getting the miles in. Speaking of which, I completed July with 116 miles for the month, and August is off to a good start.

Happy trails, roads, belts, beaches, and whatever else you might be running on!

welcome, august

Today marks the beginning of August, a month of turning inward and preparing for the marathon. I believe this will be the month that will be comprised of the highest intensity of training. I plan to give myself a generous, yet active, tapering before the early October marathon. August, another long month. Like July, but different somehow. I woke up today and the clean sunlight filled my room. The air was crisper than it has been, almost bereft of humidity. I could smell the bay, but very faintly. The breeze was sweet and cold. The drive along the water’s edge to work, I observed the trees flirting with the idea of changing their hues… the assorted yellowed leaves, dried from the hot sun mixed with the vibrant green ones, shyly admitting the slightest red pigment. The blackberries are ripe and juicy, the wasps are aggressively finishing the season’s business, and the fat September spiders are beginning to spin their dewy webs off the fence posts, branches, and behind the compost bin. We take our cues from nature. These are the days to stretch; to accomplish what we can in the final weeks of the long warm days. Fruit is ripening, and so do we. Running becomes a meditative prayer; the routes and distances too familiar to cause bother. The trails which were once entirely verdant and overgrown are now brittle and painted by new colors. Late summer metamorphosis.

June & July Recap

Here comes the mega update for the summer. Apologies for a stop-out in blogging, but it has been quite a busy season! I left off at the end of May, single parenting while my partner survived his first Ph.D. residency. Right after he returned, I started working on comprehensive exams for my doctorate. During the first week of my exams, I was invited to interview for a job I had applied to on a whim. I ended up accepting that job a week after my interview, while finishing my comps and dashing off to present research at a national conference. Also, somewhere in there I agreed to co-author an article for publication. Between all of the stress, transition, and travel, I was hit with a pretty bad cold. Nevertheless, I finished out June with 95 miles… and I am very proud of that!

July marked the beginning of my new position. I did not realize how much stress my old position inflicted upon me on a daily basis until I left. It was like a boulder was lifted off my chest. I started sleeping. I got my appetite back. I enjoy my family time. I come home, and I play my cello almost every evening. I have tripled what I like to consider my head and heart space for academics. Suddenly, my dissertation not only seems doable, but also indulgent. An opportunity to explore and write about something that is core to my purpose in higher education. A place to channel my deepest desires to promote broader access to education for marginalized students. And, as a qualitative researcher, this work is a platform to honor the co-inquirers who will inform my perspective with their voices.

In terms of my running practice, July has provided bountiful opportunities to balance consistency with challenge. I am currently at 95 miles for the month (652 total for the year), which is pretty good. I anticipate exceeding 100 miles. I’ve participated in two trail races, and I am keeping up with long runs. I am quite happy with where I am in marathon training; just under three months until race day in Chicago, and I am running 5-6 days a week. I am keeping my pace steady at around a 9:30 mile, even on the solo long runs. I hope that as I increase distance, I can stay below or right around 10:00/mile.

In some ways, I cannot believe that July is drawing to an end. In other ways, I am excited to finish my semester of coursework and spend the month of August taking some deep breaths, reading some new fiction, and spending the last weeks with my daughter before she becomes a full-fledged KINDERGARTEN STUDENT (what?!). I am especially ready to reap the rewards of some downtime after recently learning that I have passed my comprehensive exams with flying colors and finalizing my article submission. Achievements unlocked!

So, there’s the update. A year ago, I was sick with mono, weighed down by job-related anxiety, and feeling some aimlessness in my studies. Now, I am healthy, fit, happy, and ready to write.

Happy trails!

May Recap


May was a great month for running. I was able to run 100 miles this month, and I am very proud of that. Over the last week, I’ve had the added challenge of accommodating runs while parenting solo (no, I don’t have a treadmill at home) and I spent a few days fighting a cold my daughter brought home (honestly, I am still dragging a bit). However, I succeeded with my mileage goal! I had some flexibility to space things out at the end of the month because I front-loaded in the beginning. I am starting to think that’s the ticket with a monthly mileage goal.

My total for the year is now up to 462. In addition to running, I have been very intentional this month about walking as much as possible. Walking helps us to recover and keep our blood circulating. It is also a wonderful stress-reliever in a completely different way from running. Most importantly, however, walking provides me with a wonderful opportunity to connect with my daughter. We spend a lot of time walking to parks and playing at playgrounds. It is nice to be able to move, talk, and enjoy our time together.

June is underway. And I’m just about four months away from the Chicago Marathon… not that I am counting down or excited or anything. One of my intentions was to become comfortable running 14-16 miles before June. I can honestly report that I am feeling really great about these distances, especially after a very even and sustainable 16 mile long run early in the month. I am ready to spend June slowly increasing the distance of my long runs. 10-12 mile distances are feeling much more like medium runs than long runs, which is great.

June will also usher in a return to racing. I have at least one race coming up during the month, and I am especially excited because it is a short one (5 miles). I plan to run the 5 miles to the race start, run the race, and then do the 5 miles home. It will be a great way to spice up a long run.

Happy Trails!