About Me

My photo
I'm a 24-year-old student scientist, budget gourmet, novice cyclist, long-distance girlfriend, and avid amateur runner. I always said I couldn't have a blog because I didn't have anything worth blogging about. Turns out, I may have been wrong...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Runniversary: A Year in Review

One year ago, in January 2009, something very important and very unexpected happened to me.  This event slowly began to shape my behaviors, mindset, and emotions almost subliminally until, all of a sudden, my life had changed completely.  I was healthier, happier, and more confident than I can ever remember being, and I had gotten there using nothing but my own two feet.  One year ago, in January 2009, I became a runner, and I became someone that, for the first time, I am extremely proud to be.  

It all really started with a con.  I was 23 years old, a year and a half out of college, trying to live some semblance of a young professional's life in a very cool city (Washington, DC) with a very cool job (brain research) but a fairly low income (again, brain research).  My interests thus included happy hour specials (cheap drinks, cheap wings, cheap talk, you get the picture), movie-wine-and-Thai-takeout nights with the girls, and laying in bed all weekend with my wonderful Boyfriend.  So what if the laundry didn't get done every week?  So what if my gym membership ID gathered dust next to my sneakers and sports bras?  So what if the eight or nine pounds I had lost since graduation were slowly but surely creeping back on?  I was happy, I was having fun, wasn't I?  I couldn't even conceive any plausible changes (well, having more money wasn't really plausible) that would make my life better. 

One slow winter day in my office, my coworker Lauren turned to me with a mischievous glimmer in her eye.  "Hey," she began, as though she was about to inquire to my caffeine needs for the afternoon.  "Wanna run a half-marathon with me?"  My initial reaction was, I believed, typical of most normal, rational people when confronted with such a proposition.  I told her she was crazy, there was no way I was going to do something so outrageous, especially given that, not only was I a far cry from the picture of fitness, but I also hadn't run more than the distance from the couch to the kitchen for refreshments during a Project Runway commercial break in at least eight years.  In fact, it wasn't since I was a forward on my eighth grade recreational basketball team that I had even played a sport requiring the use of bipedal motion; in high school, while I was in admittedly good physical shape, I was on the varsity rowing team - a sport that involved sitting while training and racing.

Lauren and I circa winter 2008 doing what we, at the time, did best.

So, no, I absolutely was not capable, not interested, period.  That is, until she told me her friends from college were doing it.  Wait a minute.  If these other chicks, who (although I had never met them but could guess based on Lauren's own predilections) presumably enjoyed eating, drinking, and general relaxation as much as I did, thought that they could run thirteen (point one!) miles by May 3rd, then why the hell couldn't I?  That's right, my good friend Lauren, little con artist that she is, pandered directly to my competitive side.  So, taking a deep breath, I asked her to show me her training plan.  And so it began.

After the first week of our "pre-half-marathon training training," also known as the "Couch to 5k Plan," I was less than impressed with my own running performance.  It was a struggle to run even for 90-second blocks interleaved with 90 seconds of walking.  But we persisted, we "stuck to the plan" (more on that strategy in a future post), and I ran my first two(-ish) miles without stopping in New York's Central Park a few weeks later while visiting my friend Julie for her birthday.  By that point, my roommate Sara had gotten on the half-marathon bandwagon as well, and I texted her and Lauren about my fabulous run through the fabulous park with other fabulous New York runners.  Their support had kept me running to that point, and would continue to be fundamental to my commitment to race training.  Feeling accomplished after my first two miler, I immediately met up with Julie for a delicious lunch at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban restaurant in Midtown (<3 NYC!).  Chicken and rice was followed shortly by shopping and Starbucks, then pizza and wine, then Jell-O shots and beer, and then vodka-crans and dancing.  It didn't strike me until the exhausted return bus ride the next day how inconsistent my evening behaviors were with the morning's running achievement.

Happy birthday, little Julie!

 I offer the Central Park Two-Miler anecdote as an example of how, little by little, I began to come around to the idea that what I did when not running was as important to my training as the miles I logged each week.  Almost as though I was conducting (accidentally) a series of experiments, I would notice how different food choices, meal timing, sleep schedules, even shoe types affected the way my body felt during and after a run.  I had a goal - finishing the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon - which was approaching faster every day, and I was not going to sabotage all of my hard work by making decisions that would negatively impact my ability to go the distance.  I began to eat healthier, smaller meals more frequently, and suddenly I had more energy all day at work, as well as through my evening training runs.  Instead of sleeping in on weekends, I woke up bright and early to meet Lauren and Sara for our long training runs, and suddenly I was way more productive on my days off, finishing more errands and chores as well as spending more quality time going on adventures with my Boyfriend.  And although weight loss was not the foremost objective of my running, my increased calorie expenditure coupled with my new dietary habits soon resulted in a regular decrease of the numbers on my bedroom scale.  This running thing was pretty awesome. 

During training for my first half-marathon, every week I accomplished something I had previously considered impossible.  As Sara dramatically remarked on the steps of the US Capitol after our first nine-miler through the National Mall past cherry blossoms and marble monuments, we had just run for 90 minutes straight, and when we first started running, we could barely keep it up for 90 seconds.  The transformation was truly amazing, and, when race weekend arrived, I was appropriately nervous but did not for a second doubt that I could run 13.1 miles, especially with my "team" at my side.  I crossed the finish line in stride with Lauren after 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 52 seconds of glorious running, and after four months of incredible personal growth.

Lauren (black shirt, purple shorts) and I (pink shirt, black shorts, black knee bands) sprinting it out past the mile 13 portapotties as we near the finish of the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon

I'm not claiming to have made a 180-degree lifestyle turn in mere weeks just because of running.  In fact, two days after returning from Pittsburgh, my team and I celebrated our race on Cinco de Mayo at our local Mexican restaurant.

From top to bottom: Lauren, Sara, a margarita, a light-up Corona necklace, and me.

Clearly, there were some lessons yet to be learned (e.g. it can be hard to wake up for work on Sexto de Mayo).  But, after training for that race, I was hooked.  I was active, I was starting to figure out what "healthy choices" were, and I had a new sense of dedication to long-term goals.  I was a runner.  And I was ready to apply what I had learned from running to the brand new challenges that were about to enter my life.

In August 2009, I transplanted myself from the East Coast to beautiful Northern California to begin a doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience (still brain research, yay!).  Since arriving, I've made a lot more changes in my life - some by choice and some by necessity - and, for the first time, really started to clarify my priorities.  While training for my second half-marathon (recap post to come), I was acclimating to my new surroundings, new schedule, and new outlook.  One morning, in the middle of a seven-mile training run along a country road on the outskirts of town (stay tuned for more on why I live in a runner's paradise), I felt my feet start to drag, my form to collapse, and my breath to become ragged.  Then, my mind began to echo the phrase, "STRONG AND STEADY, STRONG AND STEADY," until my tempo evened out, my spine and hips aligned, and my throat relaxed.  I'm not sure where this mantra came from, but it stuck, and it's held me together through some very difficult runs.  And, believe it or not, this same principle has kept me grounded, motivated, and healthy in my daily life when things could have easily spiraled out of control. 

This blog, which is admittedly a year overdue (but how could I know then what an astonishing turn my life would take?!), will chronicle and analyze the choices I make as I try to maintain a balance between work, play, and fitness as I strive simultaneously towards professional, interpersonal, and athletic goals. 


My Current State of Affairs:
I am currently training for my third half-marathon, scheduled for February 7th.  I love graduate school, and, even though I sometimes feel overwhelmed, I also believe strongly that I'm on the right path.  I love California, and have met new, interesting, and supportive friends out here, but I still miss my friends and family on the East Coast every day.  This includes, most profoundly, my Boyfriend, who is now on his own educational journey 3,000 miles away from me.  I am, as I wrote at the outset, extremely proud of who I am, what I'm doing, and where I'm headed.  In all realms of life, I feel like I am running half-marathons; my ultimate goals are miles and months and years away.  But I know that I will reach them eventually, and be happier along the way, if I remember to run at a strong and steady pace.

No comments: