Monday, July 11, 2016

How You Feel

Recently, I have been running into the phrase “it’s not how you look, it’s how you feel” over and over again. When I first started seeing these messages, I thought That’s nice. It’s great to see someone standing up to our culture’s overwhelming focus on appearances, especially a woman. Still, something didn’t sit quite right with me, and the more I saw of these messages, the more my gut kept saying No. Wrong.

Finally, as I was soldiering through my long run this past Saturday, I realized what it was that bothered me. I agree that your self worth shouldn’t be based on how you look, but it shouldn’t be based on how you feel, either. In fact, deriving one’s self-worth from feelings can be very, very dangerous. Because no one—and I mean no one—feels great all the time.

Some days we don’t feel like getting out of bed. Other days, we don’t feel like we could possibly run a single step, play a single note, type a single word. We’re tired. We’re sick. We’re sad. We “can’t.” And yet we do. Because no matter how we feel, the truest parts of ourselves believe we can do these things. And so we do them.

Ultimately, what we believe about ourselves becomes our reality. If we believe we are worthy of love, others will love us. If we believe we are kind and compassionate, we will act kindly and compassionately. And if we believe we are capable—of running this marathon or writing that book, of starting a new career or approaching a stranger—then we will take the necessary actions to accomplish these things.

No mater how we feel.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Going For It: An Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon Race Report

This spring, I didn’t train for a marathon; I trained for a half. The Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon, to be specific. What follows is a rather gruesomely detailed race report, so consider yourself warned. And since every race actually starts during taper week, I begin my tale on the Thursday before the race.

Me and my teammates!
Two days out, my a.m. teammates and I did our standard pre-race workout: one mile close to race pace, followed by six quarters a tad faster. Of course, it felt awful. Taper always feels awful. And, of course, the usual voices of doubt bubbled up, just like they always do. If one 6:10 mile felt that bad, how the hell are you going to run twelve more of them? You’re out of shape. You were panting after those quarters. You should be able to run those paces in your sleep. What is wrong with you?

Fortunately, those taper week demons and I are already well acquainted. I’ve proven them wrong often enough that—knock wood—I’ve become semi-comfortable feeling uncomfortable. So I let them natter on, while my inner self said, You’re in shape. You know you’re in shape. You’re ready for this. You’re going to do this.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that when the conversation turned to projected race times, I didn’t estimate conservatively. After all, a PR is a PR, so as long as I broke my last half marathon time (a low 1:22), I’d honestly be happy. And barring any last-minute weather- or health-related issues, I was pretty confident I could do that.

Through the course of the conversation, I learned that my morning coach believed I could run a 1:21 (yay!), and also that a guy who trains at the track at the same as us had volunteered as a pacer for the race. When we asked what time he was pacing, he responded,

“The 1:20 group.”

What? Come again.There was a 1:20 pace group???

“Yeah, it’s the fastest one. Honestly, if you’re going to run a 1:20, I don’t see why you need a pacer, but they asked me to do it, so that’s the sign I’ll be holding.”

So this guy was going to run 6:06/mile for 13.1 miles while holding a sign. Unreal.

“See you guys on the course, maybe,” he said as we gathered our stuff to leave. Impulsively, I replied,

“Ha! If I see you on the course, I’ll buy you a beer.”

Ironically, I now owe him a beer. But he totally earned it.

Ran my midday 30-minute shakeout alone. The demons of doubt were still yammering away, this time pointing out how much I was sweating, how dry my throat felt, and how I still couldn’t breathe through my nose. I continued to reassure myself that none of that mattered. Then, I made a deal: no matter how the first eleven miles of the race went, when I got to those last two miles, I would "go for broke." After all, why not? I’d trained for this race for months. There was nothing to lose.

Ate pasta. Packed my bag. Set my 4am alarm. Went to bed.

Saturday – RACE DAY
I've probably written this before, but when it comes to racing, I get really selfish. I love warming up and hanging out with my teammates all the way up until the gun goes off, but when I step over the starting line, it’s all me, all the time. I don’t want to think about what pace anyone else is running; I don’t want to hear how heavily they’re breathing; I just want to run my race, by myself.

Of course, that’s not to say that races happen in a vacuum. The beginning of the Brooklyn course has this quick little out-and-back, so you get to see runners who started before/after you on the opposite side of the course for about a mile. I absolutely love this. It’s such a rush to see your teammates and give a little cheer and a wave as you pass them going in the opposite direction. Plus, it’s the beginning of the race, so everyone is smiling and feeling good, and it takes your mind off of those early race jitters. Am I going out too fast? Taking it too easy? Why are all these people passing me? Oh look—there’s one of my teammates! Hiiii!

The first part of the race circled and then entered  Prospect Park. This part of the race was all about control. Cruise the uphills, relax on the downhills, don’t take things too easy, and try not to tie yourself up in mental knots. Luckily, this part of the race was convenient to spectate, so I got to see my teammate cheer squad not once, but twice within the first six miles, plus a bunch of other folks I recognized along the course. Seeing people I know screaming my name will never, ever get old. It’s an instant confidence boost and a welcome distraction from the mental daisy plucking that is simultaneously going on in my head. (My body loves me…. It loves me not.)

Then, suddenly, the hill was done. We were out of the park. Trees became concrete. Ocean Parkway. Halfway done.

Now, I’m no mental math savant (I have another teammate who gets that title), but by my rough estimation, I was so far executing according to plan. Cross the half in 40-42, I’d been told by my coach. Then start hammering the parkway. With half of the race still to go, I didn’t want to kill myself, but I knew if I didn’t settle into a slightly faster rhythm now, I might never get there. So I picked a guy who seemed like he was running a fairly consistent (faster) pace, settled in behind him, and . . . well . . . ran.

Several yards before the Mile 7 sign, my watch beeped. 6:01. Uh oh. This is not what I had intended to do. I’d been thinking more like 6:05-6:08ish, and that’s certainly what it had felt like. There were so many more miles to go. I checked in with my body: my breathing wasn’t horribly labored, and nothing else was acting wonky. Yet. So now it was time to decide: should I back off, let this guy run away, and hope I could pick up the pace for the last 2-3 miles? Or should I try to hang here, at this pace–in vastly unknown territory–as long as I possibly could?

I decided to go for it. After all, what I did I have to lose? It would be super painful at the end, and my body might start failing me. But at least I could say I went for it. And thus began my mantra: At least you can say you went for it.

About to cry/throw up/pass out.At mile 8, when my Gu was not going down right: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 9, when I saw a former of teammate of mine walking on the side of the road, face dejected, clearly no longer on pace to hit the 1:19 he’d said he was going to run: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 10, when a red-headed girl I had passed earlier sped by me: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 11, it was time to execute on the deal I had made with myself: when you have two miles left, go for broke. But no matter what mental games I tried, my legs felt stuck in gear. Granted it was a pretty good gear, but I had clearly lost all semblance of control. At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 12, when I saw the race clock, I realized: I had this! All I had to do was maintain my pace and I’d break 1:20. I’d break 1:20!!!

However, my bodily functions were starting to go haywire. My bladder gave out almost exactly at the mile marker, and I was starting to feel nauseous. You only have a mile left! cheered the supportive part of my brain. A six-minute mile. You’ve run these in practice. You can totally do this. Then I made the mistake of checking my watch. You’ve only run a quarter of a mile, and you are literally about to die, announced the demon doubters. It feels like you’re slowing down, doesn’t it? And you may have passed that red-headed chick again, but she’s obviously right behind you. . . .

At that moment, I glimpsed the 1:20 pace flag bobbing up ahead. The guy from the track! What was he doing up there? He’d started in the corral behind me, and I was on pace to break 1:20 . . . at least I thought I was. Had I calculated wrong?

Boy was my stomach feeling unhappy now....

Then, for whatever reason, he looked back and saw me. “Hey!” he shouted. “Come on! Let’s go!”

With 400 meters left, I finally made it to his side.

“You’ve got this,” he cheered. “Go catch that CPTC girl!”

I could see her, in the orange-and-blue crop top, just a few steps ahead of me. I could do this. It was just 400 meters. Time to kick, right?

“When your legs get tired, use your arms,” I could hear my coach say. “Don’t get outkicked. This is why we sprint when we’re tired.”

Yep, can't breathe.Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I have never been so scared that my legs would collapse under me in my entire life. I’m pretty sure they were actually wobbling, and the uneven slats of the boardwalk didn’t help.

I'd studied the map. I knew that when we turned onto the boardwalk, the finish line should be right there. And it was. Yet no finish line has ever seemed so far away.

When I finally crossed, I was too out of breath to do anything but wheeze. Also, I was scared of falling over. And vomiting. I’m pretty sure it took me ten solid minutes to feel confident that I hadn’t suddenly developed asthma and that neither of those other two things was going to happen.

But I had done it. I had gone for it . . . and it worked. 1:19:33. It felt like someone else's time.

Later, at the bar, one of my teammate asked, “So, what does running 1:19 feel like?” When I described it (in only slightly less detail than I have here), her response was, “Oh. So it feels just like running 1:40.”

Yes. Yes it does.

Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon 2016 Race Results

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
152 / 27,409
14 / 14,716
7 / 3,510

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stuffed or Starving: A Conversation from the Split Personality of Every Freelancer

(Okay, maybe not every freelancer. Maybe just me.)

I’m a planner. I work best when I have a series of actions that I can execute one step at a time. In part, that’s why I like freelancing, and it’s also what I liked about school: every assignment can be broken down into actionable, time-stamped steps. Need to write a paper by the first of the month? No problem—just schedule research for this week, first draft next weekend, revisions the following week, and wah-la: a finished term paper! Plus, what’s even better about both school and freelancing assignments is that no one cares when, where, how, or even whether you perform any of those steps. They just care about two things: the deadline and the final product.

So scheduling and executing . . . not a problem. This means that, as work is rolling in—the “feast," as it were, because freelancing is nothing if not feast or famine—I am fairly successful at keeping the internal voice shouting Ohmygod you’ll never get this all done to a dull roar.

Because really, it all comes down to living by a saying my father loves: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

And I can definitely do that.

Unfortunately, it’s when there are no bites left that I start to panic. Like, for instance, right now, when I’m sitting here blogging, trying not to think about the fact that I have gone thirteen days without working a single billable hour. Sure, I’ve written some emails about lining up potential work. I’ve had phone calls with a few prospective employers. I've even gone on job sites and applied directly for projects. But earned any cash money? No. Which leads to what I can only describe as an argument between the two sides of my Split Freelancer Personality. The exchange goes something like this:

All the work has dried up. No one will ever hire you again.

Untrue! We had tons of projects last month. Just wait it out.

Yeah, okay. Keep waiting. You know what they say about people who wait? They starve to death.

I don't think that's the saying. [pause] But yeah, I know, I should be doing more. Pitching more magazines. Researching more university writing departments. Looking for more freelance assignments. Networking. [shudder]

Orrrr you could just start looking for a fulltime job. Because that’s what you’re going to have to do, anyway, when this little endeavor of ours spectacularly fails.

Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean I have to give up already.

Scared? I’m realistic. Remember all those people who told you that writing is not a viable way to make a living?

Working 40+ hours a week at a job I hate isn’t making a living--it’s making a salary.

Let me know how those platitudes taste next month, when you're eating rice and water out on the curb.

Don’t be dramatic. I can pay the rent for several more months even if we don’t get any more work. And I will get work. I’m qualified. The work is out there. Other people are doing this.

Yeah, other people with advanced degrees and resumes that include NY Times bestselling authors.

Okay, fine, I might not have a MFA or a PhD in editing--do they even have those?--but I’m good at this damn it! Or at least I think I am. Some people have told me that I am.

Sure they have. If you sucked, would they have said anything?

Well. No. But I wouldn't have repeat clients if I sucked. And Professor X requests me personally!

One professor. Wow. Way to go.

Hey, we're just starting out. Be patient.

We've been at this for almost a year.

Ten months. And I like it! I like the work, I like the lifestyle. I feel way more fulfilled now than with anything I was doing before. And I don’t care if I never make six figures. That has to count for something, right?

Never making six figures and barely making five aren’t quiiiite the same thing.

Oh shut up. I’m going to go back to brainstorming articles to pitch.

Or you could take a nap. Because do you really want to spend all those hours researching and writing and revising, only to get paid $50 a pop? Plus, they might just reject you outright.

… or I could take a nap. Okay. You win. For today.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review: The Hopeful

The Hopeful The Hopeful by Tracy O'Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a word, this is a book of obsession. And I am frankly unsure if I've ever read a book so clearly voiced by the character with the obsession. Alivopro's voice is indisputably teenage, and yet O'Neill takes us so far inside her head, without constantly beating us over the head with "telling" us what she's thinking, that she could be anyone, with any obsession, and we the reader would feel the same.

It's been a long time since I felt so emotionally affected throughout the process of reading a book, but I felt every page of this one, for worse or worser. I know nothing of figure skating other than what I've seen on television during the Olympics, and yet through Alivopro's eyes I saw the sport intimately--all without the seemingly inevitable info dump that authors often find necessary to introduce an ignorant reader to a foreign sport. I understood her descent into drug addiction, just as I understood her disappointment in her adoptive mother and father: I've never been addicted to drugs, nor have I been adopted, but O'Neill writes with such poise that neither of those things matter. I could have been Alivopro, for how I felt as she was going through those experiences.

This is not a book "about figure skating." So while I would be quick to recommend it to any athlete who has ever felt obsessed with his or her sport, I would more strongly recommend it to anyone looking for a genuine teenage voice that does not pander to the formula of the YA genre.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 5, 2016

Goofy Challenge 2016, Race Recap Part II

(In case you missed Part I, go read my half marathon race recap!)

If you count the actual races, then the Goofy Challenges is made up of two parts: the half marathon and the full marathon. But if you count in terms of distance, then the Challenge is really three parts: the half marathon, the first half of the full marathon, and the last 13.1 miles.

I met D____ on marathon day, around mile 14.

Up until then, I'd been having a blast basically just goofing around. (Yes, pun intended.) Since I'd started near the front of the race--I intentionally moved to the back of my corral, but it was still corral A--I was surrounded by a whole bunch of talented runners. How did I know they were talented? Because runners are amazingly friendly people, and a few of us started chatting around mile 3. The guy on my left had a 2:53 PR, but he hadn't trained seriously for this race, so he was hoping to run sub-3:30. The woman on my right had run five Boston marathons and was training to run it again this year.

So like I said: talented people. Fast people.

It crossed my mind that, having just raced the day before, maybe I shouldn't be trying to keep up with these fast people, but the fact was that I felt pretty good, and my goal was to run this race by feel. So when I settled in with the 3:15 pace group, I figured I'd just hang there until it felt too tiring to keep up, and then I'd fall back. Plus, I was going to stop for photo ops, so surely the group would eventually get too far away. When that happened, I would just look for the next pace group to come along and fall in with them.

What actually happened was that the photo ops ended up being more like accidental pick-ups. First, I'd see a Disney character in the distance. Because I was running with a pace group, I was among people who were racing for a time, and therefore unwilling to stop for a photo with Snow White or Jafar or Pumba. As a result, no one was ever in my way, taking their picture with Snow White or Jafar or Pumba. So I'd just run off the course, straight for to the character; pose; wait until the photographer's flash went off; and then sprint back onto the course to catch up with the pace group.

In the Magic Kingdom alone--the first park we ran through--I must have done this with at least 6-8 characters. It got to the point where, as I was running back onto the course after posing with a Johnny Depp lookalike, one man called out, "Jesus, how many times do I have to get passed by the same girl? I think she's stopped at every one of those cartoons, and she's still in front of me!" Words cannot describe how good that comment made me feel. I must have been grinning my head off.

Now, fast forward to mile 12. We were just about to enter the Animal Kingdom when a girl came cruising up to the pace group.

"I'm just taking the first half easy," I heard her tell the man beside her, whom at the time I assumed she knew, since they appeared to be running together. "I want to hold back, because you never know how it's going to go."

Hold back? I remember thinking. If that's the case, this chick's going to be blowing by us any minute.

However, she stuck with the group for another few miles, by which point the characters were appearing fewer and farther between, and I was beginning to trip on the heels of the runners in front of me.

Should I really get in front of these people? I wondered. I'm not trying to run a sub-3:15!

Ultimately, the annoyance of having to shorten my stride to keep from stepping on people won out, and I darted through until I was out in front of the pack. I found myself running beside two girls, one of whom was the "I'm taking the first half easy" girl. She'd either dropped her guy or he'd dropped her, because she was alone and trying in vain to strike up a conversation with the other girl beside her.

When that other girls' teammate showed up--and I know it was her teammate, because the woman was clearly waiting for her on the side of the course and was wearing an identical New Balance outfit--I decided to test the waters with "first half easy" girl.

"Hi! I'm Allison. I heard you back there when you caught up with the group. You're looking really strong!"

The rest, as they say, is history.

It turned out that D____ was running her very first marathon. She'd run a number of half marathons (her PR, if I remember correctly, was around 1:24), and her husband ran lots of marathons, so she'd decided to do this one as her first. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed. We were already ahead of the 3:15 pace group, and D____ wasn't even breathing heavily!

When we reached mile 16, just outside ESPN Wide World of Sports, I took stock of how I was feeling. I was breathing and talking without much effort, my legs felt reasonably loose, and I wasn't feeling hungry or thirsty.

I'll stick with this girl for a few miles, I decided. I didn't know how long I'd be able to keep it up--we were running in the low 7's now--but I figured I'd just hang on as long as I could, for the companionship if for nothing else, and then cheer her on if/when she decided to pick things up.

Two miles later, we hit mile 18 rounding the baseball field inside ESPN, and I could hear her starting to breathe. Meanwhile, I could breathe just fine, but the bottoms of my feet felt like someone was hitting them with a sledgehammer every step I took.

"This point in the marathon's always the worst," I told her. "It's the next few miles that you really just have to get through. Then it's all guts and inertia to the end."

"I'm so glad you're here!" she replied. And that's all I needed. I can do this, I told myself. It's hurting, but I can totally pace this girl to a great first marathon. She can do this. And I can help.

And thus began the part of the race I'm most proud of: the part where I tucked into myself, set my legs to what I felt confident they could do, and pep talked D____ at every mile.

"We just ran 7:10!" Mile 20.

"We're at 7:08!" Mile 21.

"Oh my god you're amazing! 7:06! I cannot believe this is your first marathon." Mile 22.

"How are we still dropping time?" she gasped.

How indeed? I wondered, looking at my watch in shock.

When we hit mile 23 in 7:03, I calculated the rest of the race. If I could run the last three miles at just around 7 min/mile, I could break 3:10! But how did I feel?

Breathing was definitely labored, but not panting. Legs were supremely tired, but turnover still felt ok. Feet were hurting a lot, but I figured if I was getting blisters, they were there already, and slowing down wasn't going to help. Mouth felt a little thirsty, stomach a little unsettled, but nothing I hadn't run through before.

"I'm going to pick it up a little bit," I told D____.

"I'm dying," she told me. "You go ahead."

"Aw, come on, you are doing great. You can do this!"

Between miles 23 and 24 she fell off, but then I saw the Genie up ahead. As I posed, I looked back and saw her rounding the bend.

"Come on!" I mouthed, waving my arm and sprinting back onto the course. We'd made it to Epcot, the final park. I cruised through France, Morroco, Japan, China. At one point, I stopped for one last picture with Aladdin and Jasmine, but D____ never appeared, so I hunkered down and started choosing men to try and pass.

This one with the neon calf sleeves. 

That one, who looks like he just got out of the shower.

At mile 25, I knew it was going to hurt, but I knew I had it. And when I crossed the finish line, it was glorious. Another first in the books. And man, how I love my firsts.

Walt Disney World Marathon 2016
 race results:

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
26.2 mi
71 / 19,851
9 / 10,327
3 / 1,796

And now, for those of you who have managed to read this far, here's a fun slideshow I made of my Goofy Challenge race pics!