Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Why I Love Running + Race Registration Giveaway!

While training for my first half marathon back in 2013, I didn't feel inspiring. I registered for the race to help cope with a difficult time in my life, when I didn't feel very successful at all. Long story short, I was working my tail off in grad school and at work, but it felt like I was going nowhere. Training for the half marathon helped take my mind off of the struggles I was going through in my post-undergrad life. And that gave me hope.

I've told this story millions of times, but for those of who haven't heard it before, I crossed the finish line of my first half a different person than when I started. Despite struggling during the last three miles of the race, I stepped over that final Chrono-Track overwhelmed with emotion. I felt incredible. And powerful. And most importantly...successfulI ran six more half marathons that year, each one proving that I was getting stronger and faster. I kept competing because after struggling for so long, I had finally found something that provided me with a sense of achievement. 

And that's what I love about running. No matter what you're going through, no matter how hard things get, running has the power to almost instantly make any situation feel a million times better. It won't earn you a 4.0 in grad school or land you your dream job, but it will help you develop the confidence you need to succeed in every day life. This is why I have spent nearly every day since my first half marathon sharing my passion for running, in hopes of inspiring others to recognize their potential, to challenge themselves, and to accomplish things they never thought possible. 

So as part of my effort to get more people running and challenging themselves, I'm giving away one free race registration to the 2017 Divas Half Marathon in DC's Wine Country! The race takes place on September 16th, and registration includes personalized race bibs, participant tees, a pink tutu, and a drawstring bag. After running 13.1 miles alongside hundreds of other women (and a few good men!), you'll be rewarded with a pink feather boa, tiara, an incredible finisher's medal (see below), and some bubbly!

Want to earn your tiara?

Enter the giveaway by leaving me a comment and tell me what you love about running -- that's it! The winner will be announced Wednesday, March 8th, and will notified by e-mail. Best of luck!

Not interested in testing your luck? No problem! You can register for the event yourself here. Promo code RCDIVADC17 saves you 10% on either distance. Hope to see you there!

Come run with me!

What do you love about running?

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why None of My Goals Are Running-Related This Year

In 2013, I ran my first half marathon, the Disney Princess Half Marathon, in 2:12:42. I was aiming for a sub-2:10, but considering the heat and humidity that morning (and considering I had trained in 17*F), I was happy just to have finished. Three weeks later, after I ran the New York City Half Marathon in 2:06:33, I knew a sub-2 was within reach.

My goal for 2014 was that sub-2 hour half marathon. I had run a total of seven half marathons in 2013, and the closest I had come to that goal was a 2:04:12 at the Trenton Half Marathon in New Jersey. Just over two weeks into 2014, my dream came true. I completed the Tinker Bell Half in 1:59:25.

The goal for 2015 was to break 1:55 in the half marathon. I met this goal late in the year, in October, at the Monster Mash Half Marathon in Dover, DE. I completed the course in 1:54:16. This was my strongest year in running, although you wouldn't think that if you saw how drastically my race photos changed from January to November. Let's take a look:

January 2015: This will always be one of my favorite race photos. It was taken at mile 23 of the Walt Disney World Marathon, which I completed as part of the Dopey Challenge. Here I am, over 45 miles into the 4-day event, looking strong and happy.

May 2015: Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, VT. I was nervous for this race, because it took place just over one month after I moved to Virginia, so my training schedule was a little chaotic and I missed a lot of long runs. However, this is when I learned how important proper nutrition is in athletic performance. When I moved to Virginia, I fully committed to a vegan diet, and consumed little to no gluten. So despite feeling totally undertrained for the race, I was able to set a personal best by about 14 minutes. I attribute this to the dietary changes I had made in the weeks leading up to the race. I didn't realize until I saw this image on the MarathonFoto site, but this was the strongest and leanest I had ever been in my life.

November 2015: This photo was taken at the New York City Marathon, I believe somewhere in Central Park. I didn't realize how truly terrible I look here until about two weeks ago, when I put the photo side-by-side with the one from Vermont. Muscles, gone. Body fat, zero. I made it from Staten Island to Central Park in 4:16:50, and I'm still not entirely sure how I pulled that off. This body was the result of months of stress, poor nutrition, exhaustion, mental fog. I remember not wanting to register for this bucket list race because I felt so terrible, but it had always been a dream of mine, so I went for it. That's the thing about us runners. We can be so stubborn. So many of us would rather run a dream race than take the time to take care of ourselves.

Despite my physical deterioration, I was able to start 2016 off really strong. During the first week of January, I completed my first Indoor Dopey Challenge. Two weeks later, a major snow storm hit the DC metro area, and the school district I work for closed for seven consecutive school days. Including weekends, I had eleven days off of work, so I used the unexpected free time to log some extra miles on the treadmill. I ran 155 miles that January, my highest monthly mileage ever. Two weeks later, I set off for Birmingham, Alabama to run the Mercedes-Benz Marathon. While waiting in the corrals before the race, I told my friend Jenn that I really wanted to run a sub-4 hour marathon. For some reason, as I said those words, I really believed it could happen.

I ran a 3:57:10.

In the weeks following Alabama, I continued to run 25-35 miles per week. I wasn't training for anything, but I wanted to keep my endurance up so that I could eventually attempt to qualify for Boston (I was just over 20 minutes away from doing so). I thought maybe registering for more races would help keep me motivated, so I spent the rest of the year competing, competing, competing. Let's take a look at how that went:

  • March: Ran the Rock 'n' Roll DC Marathon.
  • April: Ran the Oshkosh Marathon in Wisconsin. Registered for my first Olympic triathlon.
  • May: Little to no training. Exhausted. 
  • June: Began training for the triathlon. Still exhausted. 
  • July: Ran the Old Port Half Marathon in Portland, ME. 
  • August: Starting stressing out because the triathlon was over a month away and I was not prepared at all. 
  • September: Accepted a transfer bib for the Marine Corps Marathon. Competed in the Nation's Tri (made it by the skin of my teeth) and the Divas Half Marathon.
  • October: Competed in the Newport Half Marathon (RI), Hershey Half Marathon (PA), and Marine Corps Marathon, which took me almost 6 hours.
  • December: Ran the Jingle All The Way 15k (DC).

In addition to the triathlon training I did over the summer, I worked three jobs. I spent the majority of 2016 complaining to others how tired I felt, and how frustrated I was about becoming so out of shape. I was stressed all the time, had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, and my apartment was always a mess because I had no energy to clean. The most frustrating part was that because I was still competing all the time, no one believed any of this when I told it to them. "How could you say you're out of shape? You ran a sub 4-hour marathon this year." "You can't be that tired. You ran a half marathon over the weekend." I decided that as soon as Marine Corps was over, I was going to spend more time taking care of myself.

I should have known better than to attempt to start any sort of new health regime during the holiday season, but it was a good time to start thinking about what I needed to work on in 2017. The weekend after completing the Indoor Dopey Challenge in January, I didn't answer any phone calls or texts. I didn't set an alarm to wake up each morning, or stress over getting to the gym minutes after it opened. I allowed myself to stay in sweatpants all day, watch crappy TV, and just relax. It was my first weekend "off" in almost a year. Just over a week later, I met with both a chiropractor and a nutritionist, accepting the fact that crying out for help to whomever would listen was not going to solve any of my problems.

So this is why none of my goals this year are running related. I have spent the last four years of my life racing non-stop, on top of all of life's other responsibilities, and have exhausted myself both mentally and physically. I will continue to race this year, but will focus less on my times and how "in shape" I look and feel. This year, I've fully committed to being kind to myself and my body. My goals are to get back into the habit of eating well, spend more time on stretching and recovery from exercise, engage in activities that are beneficial to my mind and soul, and to stop committing to so many things. Do I hope to get back into my top running shape again? Absolutely. But I know it's not going to happen overnight. My body has been through so much, and has already proven to me that is capable of so many great things. Recovery will be slow, but I will get there when the time is right.

What are your non-running related goals this year?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Even Dopier Than Dopey: The #IndoorDopeyChallenge

Treadmill Running: A History

When I tell others that the majority of my marathon training is completed on a treadmill, they're almost always shocked. "How can you run for so long on a treadmill?" "Do you watch Netflix or listen to music?" "The most I stand is like 2 miles!" These are just some of the responses I get. The truth is, I used to enjoy running outside. A lot. But after experiencing several months of never-ending snow in New York, I had to bring my running indoors. Initially, I started out with 3-6 milers, which eventually grew to 10 milers. So the jump to completing all long runs (12 miles, 16 miles, 18 miles, etc.) was pretty easy.

The Creation of a 48.6 Mile Treadmill Challenge

Back in 2015, I had the opportunity to compete in the Dopey Challenge in Walt Disney World, which had been a dream of mine since the inaugural event in 2014. I even quit a previous job to do it, because my employer would not allow me to take the days off of work, even though I had registered before I was hired. For those of you not familiar with the Dopey Challenge, it is a four-day event in which you complete a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon around all four parks.  I spent five days in WDW, and it was easily the best extended weekend of my life.

Embrace the clank!

Last year, I wasn't able to compete in Dopey. It was my first year at my current job, and I had already taken a day off for the Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland. About two weeks before the event took place, I was running a 7-miler on the treadmill when I had an idea; why not complete Dopey on the treadmill?

I knew the this was going to be challenging, mostly because of the 26.2 miles on the fourth day. Most people compete in Disney events because running through the parks before they even open is incredible. The race courses are scattered with character stops, friendly volunteers, and enthusiastic spectators. Not to mention that the parks look stunning all lit up, and running through Cinderella's castle at 6AM is an experience I can't even describe. The closest I would get to Disney World that weekend would be by running in the Run Disney long-sleeved participant shirts I got a year prior.

Two days before the actual Dopey Challenge kicked off, I announced on both Instagram and the #TeamRunDisney Facebook group that I would be attempting the challenge on the treadmills at my gym. I received a ton of messages from people stating that I was either "awesome" or "crazy," as well as a decent handful of "good lucks!"

On January 7, 2016, I completed a 5k on the treadmill after work. The easiest "race" of Dopey was complete, and I was actually excited to run the remaining 45.5 miles. The next day, I ran the 10k on the treadmill again after work. I remember being upset that I didn't go before work, because there would only be about a 12-hour difference between the 10k and the half marathon the following morning. I slept in some PRO Compression over-the-calf Marathon socks, and felt fine the next day.

The half marathon felt effortless, and I even impressed myself with my sub-2 hour time. I couldn't help but feeling nervous for the marathon the following day, since the most I had ever run on a treadmill was 18 miles. I also hadn't completed a ton of long runs since finishing the New York City Marathon the previous November. But with enough determination, fueling, hydration, and Pandora, I ran 26.2 miles on a treadmill and loved every second of it.

Inaugural #IndoorDopeyChallenge complete!

Two Years Running

In the months following last year's challenge, I didn't think about whether or not I would run it again this year. Training-wise, 2016 was a rough year for me, and by November I was still working on getting my speed and endurance back. Just over a month before the challenge would start, I decided to post on Instagram that I would be running it again. By sharing this decision with my friends and followers, I would feel a huge sense of accountability, which would help me run all 48.6 treadmill miles whether I was ready to or not.

In the weeks leading up to this year's Indoor Dopey Challenge, two friends who I met on Instagram years ago told me that they would be joining me. I was surprised that others were signing up to do it, but also so stoked to have both Kristen and Elle complete the challenge! Coincidently, we had all just been selected as PRO Compression 2017 Ambassadors, so Kristen and I coordinated socks since we had a few in common, and Elle joined us on the days that she could. Kristen also had the idea to create "character stops" by attaching mile marker signs featuring Mickey, Dopey, and others to wooden rods. I totally mimicked her idea, and created six of my own, one for each distance and challenge (the Goofy Challenge is completed as part of Dopey by running both the half and full marathons for a total of 39.3 miles). Having these ladies share their ideas and enthusiasm with me definitely helped me get excited to run!

The 5k - The 5k was the easiest run to complete, as expected, and I finished in 27 minutes flat. I headed to Gold's Gym after work so that I could complete the distance in their Cardio Cinema. The Cardio Cinema is exactly what it sounds like; three rows of cardio equipment, including ellipticals, treadmills, and stationary bikes, facing a large projector that displays a different movie every day. My favorite thing about the cinema is that it's totally dark, and there's an industrial fan mounted in the corner of the room that keeps it super cool.

The 10k - Not much to report here. Again, I headed to the Cardio Cinema after work. Running felt effortless, and I completed the 10k in 54:11. Similar to last year, I was worried that running later in the day would effect the half marathon that I would be running the following morning. When I got home, I put on different compression socks and foam rolled to help my legs feel fresh for the next day.

The Half Marathon - I had to get my 13.1 miles in early, because I would be working an event for Vega later that day. Gold's doesn't open until 7am on Saturdays, so I went to my sister's apartment complex around 6:30am to start running. I drank Vega Sugar-Free Energizer before I left my apartment, and kept both water and Vega Hydrator with me on the treadmill. Unfortunately, my extra socks and foam rolling the night before didn't help too much. My legs felt heavy, and I had to switch to a run/walk several times. Knowing that Kristen and Elle were running that day, and that I had a huge audience on social media, definitely helped me persevere. I finished in a time of 2:09:33.

The Marathon - I was so nervous for this. My legs felt like rocks during the previous day's half marathon, and I had worked a 7-hour event for Vega the night before. The main thing that kept me going was the knowledge that Kristen and Elle would be running that day (Kristen started about an hour before I did), and I had people on Instagram cheering me on. I didn't set an alarm for that morning to allow my body get the full amount of rest it needed (I also had nothing else planned for that day, so it didn't matter what time I finished running). For breakfast, I had vegan "nice" cream and iced coffee, and packed my bag of necessities. This included three full water bottles, a bottle of Vega Hydrator, and spare clothes (to prevent from nearly drowning in my own sweat). I arrived at Gold's just after it opened, put my extra stuff in a locker, and headed right into the cinema.

My plan was to break up the 26.2 miles into the following distances (since the treadmill maxes out at 60 minutes): 6.2 miles, 6 miles, 6 miles, 6 miles, 2 miles. I completed the 6.2 miles, followed by the first 6-miler, but I could feel my legs starting to get tired around 14 miles. I ended up running the following: 6.2 miles, 6 miles, 5 miles, 3 miles, 2.48 miles, 3.52 miles. There was some walking toward the end, but I focused on completing the distance, and not on speed. As I ran, I watched "X-Men: The Last Stand" about 4.5 times, and listened to New Found Glory Radio on Pandora. I didn't set a new personal best in the marathon, but I did beat the previous year's treadmill marathon time by about 4 minutes. I finished the Indoor Walt Disney World Marathon in a time of 4:27:04!

Dopey Aftermath

As many of you know, the #IndoorDopeyChallenge isn't an "official" event. You don't have to register or pay any fee to do it. There are no bibs, participant shirts, finisher medals, post-race awards ceremonies...nothing. All you have to do is run a on a treadmill, and share your completion of each distance on Instagram using the above hashtag. That's it. People often ask me "why do you do this if you don't get anything out of it?" To me, this is such a ridiculous question, because I get so much out of this event. I get other people inspired and motivated to try difficult tasks. I build relationships with others who either support me in what I'm doing, or are willing to join me. Most importantly, I feel GOOD about myself, which is a feeling no medal could ever provide me with.

When I compete in a marathon, I almost always cry at the finish line, not when a medal is being placed around my neck. The moment you cross the finish is when you are overwhelmed with emotion. You feel powerful. You feel accomplished. You feel INCREDIBLE. To me, the medals are just evidence that I finished the race. Runners often joke about "doing it for the bling" or "running all the miles, earning all the medals," but in most cases, there's only a little bit of truth to that. We run for the excitement. We run to prove that we can do difficult things. We run to feel ALIVE.

So for the past two years, I completed the Dopey Challenge not expecting anything at the finish. In 2016, I shared on the #TeamRunDisney Facebook page that I had completed my first Indoor Dopey. The post received over 1000 likes, and over 200 comments. One comment came from a woman named Terri Akins, owner of Virtual Run World. She congratulated me on my finish, and stated that she was overwhelmed (in a good way) by the amount of motivation and positive energy that I created in the group. As a result, she wanted to reward me for what I had done. I got to choose any medal I wanted from her website, so I chose this one:
How appropriate!

This year I set off for my indoor challenge, again not expecting anything for completing it. About four days after the marathon, I got an e-mail from the concierge in my building, stating that I had a package. I headed downstairs to retrieve it, and was almost speechless when I saw what was inside:

My friend VK, who I met on Instagram years ago and then in person at the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon, sent me, Kristen, and Elle each a customized Starbucks cup to congratulate us on completing Dopey on treadmills! Both Terri's and VK's gifts at the end of each of my indoor Dopeys are more than just evidence that I finished. They're reminders that as a runner, I have the ability to inspire others with what I accomplish. In a society that distributes participant trophies at children's soccer tournaments, I can serve as a reminder to others the power of intrinsic rewards, and doing things because they are challenging, not because you expect something when you're done. They're also reminders of the incredible friends and community that I have discovered just by running. And all of that is so much more than I could have ever hoped for.