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?


  1. I love this. I actually ended up quoting my job a few months ago. The stress was killing me, it was a horrible work envoirnment. I spent a month or so being a complete slob just letting everything go to recover. Unfortunately, weight gain from stress and jumping into training too fast has left me with a bad case of piriformis syndrome but I'm getting better being more positive. This is now a clean slate mentally and physically. I'm going to put in the work to take care of myself better. Thanks for put into words what I've been struggling with for months!

    1. Initially, I thought that this was going to be a difficult post for me to write, because I wasn't sure of the feedback it was going to get. What I found was people THANKING me for sharing it, because it was something they could relate to in some way. I spent MONTHS frustrated with myself for (as you said) just being a complete slob. I'm so glad we are both self-aware enough to put an end to our stressors and take the necessary steps to recovery. Thank you so much for sharing your story with me. Please keep me posted with your progress -- we will get through this together! <3