Since I started this blog three years ago (!) I've always recapped my previous year and set goals for the upcoming year. Setting goals has always been really important to me, and I've written about goal setting extensively here. So here's the recap of last year and what I'm looking forward to this year.
2015 Goals Recap
1) Finish the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70.5 Miler
NOPE. I made it to mile 39 before DNFing. I talked about my DNF here and have gotten past it. But I still don't have a desire to run another ultra (yet). And that's okay!
2) Finish the Hyner 50k
YES! This was one of the most difficult races I've ever run, even though it was "only" a 50k. It was the first hot day of the year and I survived (barely). Read my race recap over at RootsRated.
Thoughts on 2015
While I only accomplished half of my "big" goals I set at the beginning of this year, I still came out of 2015 feeling on top of the world. A lot of other awesome, unexpected stuff happened along the way including:
-My first ever race win at the Sloppy Cuckoo 10k Trail Run
-Organizing several social events & meet-ups for Oiselle Team PA
-Podium'ing in several 5ks and coming within 22 seconds of my 5k PR
-Running with my cousin in his 2nd 5k and helping him shave 8 minutes off his previous time
-Securing my first, paid freelance writing job with RootsRated.com and interviewing Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run
-Becoming an RRCA running coach certification in April 2015 and launching my personal business site, danigraham.com.
-Non-running life: Josh and I bought our first home (September) and I got a new job, starting January 2016!
When I consider all the things I did accomplish in 2015, it's really hard to be upset about a DNF. I am slowly but surely figuring out how to balance everything in my life, and I expect things will be even more interesting as I adjust to my new job this year.
This year, I'm finding it difficult to set my usual time and distance related goals. Maybe because I failed at a big goal last year, or maybe because I'm just having fun with the status quo right now, and don't feel the need to run marathons or ultras. However, I do have a few specific goals in mind for 2016:
1. Grow and nurture the Pennypack Trail Runners
Starting and continuing a running club has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling running adventures I've undertaken. When I started PTR about a month ago it seemed pretty simple, just meet with some people and run! But each week I create facebook events, preview a set route, post said route, and answer tons of questions from members. The most difficult part of leading a trail running club, specifically, is making sure no one gets lost when everyone runs at different speeds. I'm learning the hang of things, but it's still a challenge. With more than 130 members and growing, I anticipate this is going to be a huge part of my life in 2016 and my goal is to grow the group, while making sure that everyone feels welcomed and included.
2. Set a PR in the 5k (sub 22:47)
I got close to my PR towards the end of 2015, but after hitting a 23:09 at the hilly Abington Gobble Wobble 5k, my training fell off in December and I didn't feel in shape enough to attempt another PR during the holidays. 2016 will be the year I come under 22:47, as long as I dedicate myself to training and staying in shape. It may not be in early 2016 as I have another big race coming up in April (see below).
3. Run the American Odyssey Relay
I absolutely loved running Ragnar Cape Cod in 2014, so when my fast friend Elizabeth asked me if I wanted to run 200 miles from Gettysburg to Washington, D.C. as an ultra team in the American Odyssey Relay, I said yes in a heartbeat. The difference here is that we'll have 6 runners instead of 12, and will run twice the mileage. The total mileage for each runner is around 34 miles, in about 24-30 hours. What this means for me is that I'll need to get back into long running shape ASAP!
Hope everyone is having a great start to the new year!
For the past seven years, I have called myself a runner. It's hard to believe it's been that long, but I can't really remember not being a runner. I've been blessed to have avoided any major injury along the way, but I've also experienced my fair share of burnout and fatigue from years of long distance racing.
For the last three years, I have called myself an ultrarunner. I started this blog to document my journey to ultras and everything that happened along the way. I ate, slept, and breathed ultrarunning, and began defining myself by the distances I could run. I felt invigorated by the simple pleasure of running dozens of miles at once in the woods. Ultrarunning brought me a new challenge and sense of pride that I'd never experienced, and I basked in the glory of finishing each long race.
After DNF'ing at mile 39 at the Laurel Highlands Ultra in June, I took some time off from running to relieve the familiar feeling of training burnout. Over the past six months, I've slowly but surely pieced my shattered ego back together by racing 5ks and 10ks, and placing in nearly every race. I waited to feel the surge of desire that would ultimately spring me back into long distance racing. And I'm still waiting.
The funny part about not running long distances is how happy and relaxed I've been, despite dealing with many life stressors over the last several months, including buying and moving into a new home, and switching teams and territories at work. For the last several years, I turned to long running as a way to deal with a lot of things, including anxiety and depression after my brother passed away in 2008. But long running also allowed me realize my goals and build confidence, helping me develop into a more outgoing and fearless individual. The longer I ran, the more confident I became in myself. I feared that when I stopped running long, the old anxieties and fears that I struggled with would creep their way back into my life.
But as the weeks go by, I find myself running less frequent, shorter distances than in the past few years. And though those old fears and anxieties still creep in from time to time, instead of running back-to-back long runs each weekend, I find myself reveling in the pleasures of being still—reading more, sleeping more, and spending more time with my family. And when I want to run, 3 or 4 times a week, I'll lace up my shoes and head to the trails only a quarter mile from my front door.
The best part is, my fitness hasn't plummeted as I expected, and I haven't lost my identity as a runner. I'm seconds away from a new personal record in the 5k, and taking my sweet time to get there. The thought of a spring marathon has crossed my mind a few times, but no race has actually inspired me enough to pull the trigger on a race registration. This leaves me with a blank slate for 2016 and I'm pretty pumped about that.
Which brings me to the thing I'm most excited about right now. Since moving to my new house, I've been running on all the local trails in my neighborhood, and wondering why there was no trail running group to join. So, I started one myself! The Pennypack Trail Runners had our first run last Saturday, December 5th, and it was a huge success! I am so excited that 11 other runners came out to join me for a run around some of my favorite trails. We meet every Saturday at Pennypack Park, and venture into the trails of Pennypack and Lorimer Parks for 3-6 mile runs. If you're interested in finding out more, click on our Facebook page to see upcoming runs.
Finally, if you're feeling like you NEED to sign up for a marathon, ultra, or Ironman right now, when it seems like everyone and their mother is doing it, take a moment to reflect on whether you have the real time or desire to put in the training necessary to do your best on race day. The races will always be there for the taking, when you're mentally and physically prepared. I'm definitely not trying to discourage or discount long running, because I know I'll be back there someday soon when I'm ready. But take it from me, it's pretty amazing on the other side, embracing the beauty of the short run.
Long time, no talk! Fall has been quite busy so far, but in a good way. Josh and I moved into our new house just over a month ago, and while we still have a long way to go with unpacking and decorating, I already love our neighborhood! Mostly, because we live less than a quarter mile from a pretty amazing trail system which includes both Pennypack and Lorimer Parks. I'm so grateful everyday that I can to run out my front door to these trails, and being so close to parks has definitely improved my quality of life so far.
It turns out that taking off most of the summer from running after DNF'ing at Laurel Highlands was a good thing for me. Here's what my fall running/racing has looked like so far:
Race for the Bottom Line 5k - 24:27, 1st Age Group (F19-29) & 4th Female Overall
I signed up for this 5k on a whim the night before the September 13th race. The location was perfect, about 1.5 miles down the street from my new house. The run was small, with about 70 runners all together. I wanted to use this race as a barometer for my current fitness level to help with 5k training paces this fall.
Looking back, I should have just run to the race as a warmup instead of driving, because my legs felt a little heavy in the beginning of the run. I started out as 5th or 6th woman, moved up to 3rd during the first half. Then around the halfway point, I was passed by a woman who eventually beat me out to the finish. I was proud for keeping pace with her for the back half, staying within about 5 to 10 yards of her the whole time. Overall, I was happy with this performance after coming off of a few months rest from running. Though it's far from my PR of 22:47, it gives me a good baseline to work from.
Barathon 5k - 29:40, 1st overall
On September 19th (our first wedding anniversary!), Josh and I ran the "Barathon 5k" that our friends Ryan and Elizabeth have been putting on for the last 6 years. Basically, a bunch of our friends all get together and run a 1 kilometer loop 5 times, and drink a beer every kilometer. This was my 3rd year running the race, and first Barathon win! This year was my fastest time as well, with a 29:40. Full disclosure, the fastest of our friends weren't running. But I'll take a win anyway!
I signed up for this race as soon as I heard it was being rescheduled from "Popeocolypse" weekend here in Philadelphia. It was held on October 11th in Pennypack Park, located in Northeast Philadelphia, about a mile from my new house. This was one of my goal races of the fall, though I still felt a little unprepared at the starting line.
I ran my ass off and really gave it everything I had that day. The first couple of miles were difficult for me, but by the halfway point, I had settled in as 2nd place female. I finally caught up to the 1st place woman and passed her with less than a mile to go, and would not see her again. When I crossed the finish line, I wasn't sure if I had actually won because there were a lot of different races going on that day. Runners were also crossing the finish line for the half marathon, full marathon, and 12 hour at the same time, but when they called my name during awards I was surprised and happy that I had really won!
My mom was visiting that weekend as well, and it was pretty awesome that she was there supporting me as I won my first race. Uberendurance Sports always puts on amazing races—they also put on a few other races I've run including Dirty German 25k/50k, Naked Bavarian 26.2, and 1/2 Sauer 1/2 Kraut. I am anxiously awaiting my first place prize, which is an authentic, mechanical Black Forest cuckoo clock!
What's Coming Up
I'm running another 5k this Saturday, October 24th, the "5k 4 K9s", benefiting Almost Home Dog Rescue. I'm hoping to take at least a minute or more off my time from September's 24:27 5k time. I'm more confident in my racing at this point, and I've been incorporating more hills and speedwork into my training. Recovering from hard workouts is also easier in our new house, since it came with a hot tub!
I'm planning to run at least two more 5ks before the end of 2015, including the Abington YMCA Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I'm hoping that race will be the one where I can get below 22:47, but I'm planning another yet to be determined race in December in case I don't PR at the turkey trot. If I do PR, I'll look to lower my time even further in December.
As I've written in the past, I've been working as a freelancer for RootsRated over the past 5 months. [Check out my stories here.] It's been a wonderful and fulfilling partnership so far, which is why I'm SO excited about two big RootsRated sponsored events in Philadelphia this week!
Both events are all about giving back to Philadelphia's trail community through a partnership with Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW), who take care of some of my favorite trails in the Philadelphia area. They are responsible for administering many programs within Wissahickon Valley Park, such as such as restoring and building trails, monitoring and managing the watershed, maintaining historical structures scattered throughout the park, and eliminating invasive insect species. Learn even more about FOW in the article I wrote about them this week over at RootsRated.
If you want to find out more about RootsRated and Friends of the Wissahickon, or just want to have a good time, come out to either or both events happening this week:
A suggested $5 donation will get you a sweet pint glass and your first fill of craft brew (I hear Lagunitas will be on tap) along with live music, good company, and more. All proceeds benefit Friends of the Wissahickon. The event takes place at the Timberland retail store at 1709 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Feel free to pop by anytime between 5:30 and 8:00!
Want to help give back to Philly's trails? Come out to the trail cleanup day September 19th! It’s dirty under the Walnut Lane Bridge and we don’t want Pope Francis to see it! Meet at the corner of Magdalena Street and Roxborough Avenue at 9:00 AM.
I'll be in attendance at both events and hope to see some familiar and new faces. Feel free to RSVP at the facebook event, or just show up! See you there!
Today as I was walking to the bank during my lunch break, I looked down at the ground and saw something unusual.
Embedded in the sidewalk right next to South Philadelphia High School, this right-angle metal plaque jumped out and grabbed my attention. Since I was in a rush to get to the bank, I snapped a few photos and went on my way.
Later on, I pondered the meaning behind the plaque in the ground. After doing some research, the plaque's meaning is as literal as it seems. These markers are placed all over Philly sidewalks to declare that the spaces behind them are not part of the public sidewalk.
Upon further reflection, I realized the plaque described the current state of my relationship with running. After taking a much needed, two-month break from running after my Laurel Highlands DNF, I feel lost and out of touch with myself. I am definitely not dedicated to taking care of myself lately. I don't want to give myself a hard time for taking a break, but part of me still feels missing when I'm not running. I feel listless, like a boat drifting at sea without a steering wheel.
I realized over the last two months that while running is not an absolutely necessary part of my life, it is essential to help me be the best version of myself. I am a better wife, daughter, sister, and friend when I am regularly running. It is the best form of stress relief and fulfills me in ways that nothing else can. I suppose sometimes it's necessary to take a step back in order to see the intangible benefits of running, and that it IS really worth it.
Having said that, I've decided to dedicate myself once again to this crazy sport of ours by signing up for a short trail race, just steps away from my new (surburban!) home. It's 6.55 miles which is perfect for my fall running and racing plans. And while I'm at it, my fall plans are:
Run fun, short trail races (Less than half marathon)
PR in the 5k
My new backyard (more on the new house soon) will be backed up to one of my favorite trail systems in Greater Philadelphia, Pennypack Park, and I am SO excited to run trails more than once a week. And since I've run two 5ks without training and placed in both races, I figured why not try to get better at a distance I've never trained for. Plus there will be more public track access for speedwork in the 'burbs as well.
I feel renewed and excited just writing about my return to running, but I'm starting off slow so I don't get injured. I've started this week with a couple of 3-4 mile runs and even those short runs feel rejuvenating. And while I'm not looking to run any ultras anytime soon, I'm definitely not ruling them out for 2016.
It's been more than a month since race day, but it's still hard for me to put into words how I feel about Laurel Highlands. I wrote most of this a week after the race, except for the reflection which I wrote 5 weeks post race.
The Short Version
If you don't follow me on social media, the short version of this race report is that I DNF'ed (ultra speak: Did Not Finish) for the first time in my running career. I dropped at the mile 39 aid station about 11 hours into the race.
The Long Version
Laurel Highlands is a 70.5 mile point-to-point race, ending near Johnstown, PA. Josh and I arrived in Johnstown on Friday, June 12 around 4:00 PM. We checked into the Econolodge and headed to the pre-race dinner at 5:30. I said hello to a couple folks I knew from the internet and listened to the race directors talk the rest of the time about how humid the day would be, and how challenging the first 11 miles would be in the humidity. The food was not great, and I probably should have gone somewhere else to get straight pasta, my normal pre-race dinner. Definitely not knocking the RD's, more just knocking my VERY finnicky stomach, which I now know after a few years only tolerates certain foods around race day.
I headed to bed around 10:00 and was kept awake by kids next door jumping up and down and yelling until about 11 PM. Nonetheless, I woke up at 2:45 AM, got ready, and we headed out by 3:30 AM.
We arrived in Ohiopyle for the race start at 5:00 and milled around until the race went off at 5:30. The sun was coming up, but it was a cloudy morning which I was thankful for since the humidity hung at 95%, where it would stay for a good portion of the day. The temperature started in the 60's and steadily rose through the 70's and low 80's throughout the day.
My goal for the race was just to finish under the 22 hour cutoff. If it was a great day, I would be happy to finish under 20 hours to get the coveted Western States 100 qualifying time.
The first couple of miles were relatively flat, then followed by 2 small climbs around miles 3 and 5. The cool thing about this point-to-point race is that there are permanent mile markers at each mile along the trail, so you always know where you are on the course. This would also turn out to be a mental game for me as well.
The biggest climb was from miles 6 to 8. I wasn't hurting too much from the climbs thanks to some good hill preparation from the Hyner 50k, but I was sweating like CRAZY from the humidity. I actually reached back to check if my hydration pack was leaking because my back was so wet, but it was all sweat.
I downed 2 bottles of Tailwind and had some water before I hit the first aid station at mile 11.6. As I came into the aid station, things were pretty hectic and volunteers were approaching me asking what I needed. I kept looking around for Josh who had all my necessary supplies and couldn't see him anywhere. I finally saw my in-laws who were rushing down the street, and they said Josh was on his way. I started panicking because I was only 45 minutes ahead of the cutoffs at this point and I didn't want to waste any precious minutes standing around. Just then, Josh pulled up and I restocked on a couple Tailwind baggies and downed some potatoes and salt that we brought from home, in case the aid stations didn't have them (they didn't).
I rushed out of this aid station feeling unsettled and uneasy. I realized my stomach was starting to go already and that was not a good sign this early in the race. At this point, I pulled off the trail to do what ultrarunners must do in the woods, and my stomach felt much better. I made up some time after that, running a few 11 and 12 minute miles. I ran with Kevin, a very experienced ultrarunner who had run 100+ ultras. He was great to run and chat with, and between miles 13-19, the race became fairly enjoyable. The terrain was flat, runnable, and absolutely beautiful. Mountain laurel surrounded us on both sides and we glimpsed several vistas that were cloudy, but still gorgeous. During this segment, I felt like I was going to finish the race well under the cutoffs.
When I saw my crew at mile 19 aid station, I felt great. I was excited about running, my stomach felt good, and I ate a bunch of potatoes. I chatted with them as I drank Coke, and told them I would keep up the same pace through the next aid station. I waved goodbye and set off down the trail.
After a mile or so down the trail, I had to peel off into the woods again. I wasn't nauseous but could feel the effects of the heat and humidity on my digestive tract. When I got back on the trail, I tried to set a slower, deliberate pace so I didn't get my heart rate too high. I kept drinking Tailwind and water, but my sweat rate increased as the temperature went up. I popped a salt pill now and then but was depending on Tailwind to supply most of my sodium requirements.
By the time I reached mile 26 aid station at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, the highest point on the trail, nausea had started setting in hard. Thankfully, they had squeezy ice pops that were an amazing treat at this point. I had one at the aid station and took another one as I set off down the trail, hoping some cold sugar water was a solution to my queasy stomach. The summit of Seven Springs was pretty awesome, there was even a lake on top of the mountain. There was also a port-a-potty which I thanked God for, since I was getting pretty sick of running off trail to do business.
I wound my way down the mountain and felt just okay, not great. It turned out the ice pops were excellent for bringing down my core body temperature but not so great on my weak stomach. In a few miles I was doubled over and vomiting orange stuff. I ate a ginger chew hoping it would settle my stomach and it did for a little bit.
I ran into my crew at mile 29 and they offered me ginger ale and potatoes which I tried choking down despite my nausea. I think at this point I was getting dehydrated, but didn't really know it yet. I felt like I was drinking plenty of fluids.
I set off and trudged through the next few miles which I don't remember much about, except it was difficult footing and the 50k runners turned off here to finish. I think I was nauseous.
After stopping at the 32.3 mile aid station, I vowed to keep my spirits up any way possible. In the past, thinking more positively about things has generally helped me pull out of mental lows. But no matter what I seemed to do, I couldn't pull myself out of the funk. I just seemed to sink lower and lower as my pace slowed to a complete walk. I would try to run every few minutes but my heart was no longer in it, and my mind had completely abandoned me.
The one thing I can always count on in a race is my mental strength. I know that even if my stomach fails (which it usually does) my mind will help me keep going. This was the first time during a race where my mind completely failed. Somewhere around mile 34 I decided I would drop. And there was no turning back from there.
I cried as passed the half way point at mile 35, and I cried again I crossed the bridge over Interstate 76. I had resigned myself to quitting, so these major milestones (literally) felt like grave markers as I slowly made my way to mile 39 where I knew I would find Josh. I texted him that I was going to drop and that there was nothing he could say to talk me out of it, because I already talked myself out of finishing.
For the last few miles there was nothing I could think about except stopping. The thought of continuing did not cross my mind. When I finally came to the aid station, I saw the chair that Josh had set out for me and sank into it while crying. This was the lowest I had ever felt during a race, and I knew that it was over. As I sat there, I saw 4 other runners walk by me up the pathway to the parking lot, also DNF'ing. That weirdly made me feel better as I knew I wasn't the only one admitting defeat. But it just made it easier to quit.
I felt a wave of relief as I walked up the hill with Josh and even smiled and waved to the other runners who were feeling the same mixed up emotions as I was. I knew my short term relief would soon be replaced with long term grief, but I didn't care. As we drove off I reveled in the beauty of the mountain laurel, and waved goodbye to the 31 miles of the course I didn't get to see that day.
Reflection (5 weeks post-race)
Looking back, I can't say if I made the right call to DNF. It was my first time feeling so horrible for so long during a race, and I just wanted the pain and misery to end. But could I have pushed through? Probably. I still was 2-3 hours ahead of the cutoff when I quit. Ultimately, I'll never know.
I keep going back to the why. Why did I feel so horrible for so long? I'd like to blame the intense humidity, which caused me to sweat more than if it were a 90 degree day. I'd like to blame my weak stomach for quitting on me yet again in another ultra. But ultimately, it was my mind that failed me. I let the negative events of the day get into my head and it completely defeated me. If my mind didn't go into such a dark place for so long, I think I could have finished. But I gave up mentally, and that's when I knew it was over.
So where does that leave me now? I already committed to no more ultras in 2015, well before Laurel Highlands race day. I do best with one big race or training season per year. So for now, I'm focusing on recovering my mind and running a couple of times a week, just for fun. DNF'ing has had a big effect on my relationship with running and I'm trying to rebuild it by not forcing myself to do any runs I don't want to do.
But I've been truly humbled by the DNF. This was the first time in my life that I hadn't achieved a major running goal. It's never easy to deal with failure, and even though I ran 39 miles, that is nothing close to the goal I set out to achieve. Overall, I think this experience has really been good for me, because having never DNF'ed previously, I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. DNF's are very common in ultrarunning, and it made me feel slightly better to learn only 2/3 of the field that started Laurel Highlands finished the race that day.
Will I try to finish Laurel Highlands again in 2016? I don't know. I'd like to say yes at this point, but first I need to get the hunger for long running back. Right now, I do not have that hunger. I'm still grappling with getting back into a regular running routine. But I think come this fall, when registration opens for 2016, I'll probably slip that paper registration in the mail again. I now know why they said Laurel Highlands is a 70.5 mile race that feels more like a 100, and I'd love to get back out there and prove to myself that I can conquer it.
In fact, I've been writing a lot for Rootsrated, and you can view all my published articles here!
In April, I also took the RRCA Coaching Certification course and passed the required test! The course was really informative and the instructor was very knowledgable. I am so excited to start helping others reach their running goals!
With all the new business ventures going on in my life, I realized that I needed a place for my writing and coaching that is not Trails & Cocktails. I want to keep this place as a straightforward blog—purely focused on running, goal-setting, and social activities. I don't really want to clutter this space with all of my business ventures.
Therefore, I setup a brand new site just for my new ventures. Enter:
I am so thrilled to finally launch my site publicly! Check it out via computer if you can (versus mobile) because my friend Anthony from Five Story Media put together an awesome video clip for the homepage. Here's that video on its own:
Danigraham.com is my professional resource for all things coaching and writing. If you click over, you'll find my coaching page offering a variety of coaching services for any runner's needs, and a writing page with some of my published works.
But don't worry, I'll still be posting over here about everything in my running life.
If you have any questions or comments about my new site, you can reach me at email@example.com or leave a comment here! I'd love to hear some feedback.
About five months ago, I made the decision to train for and run the Laurel Highlands Ultra 70.5 mile run. Around the same time, I also decided to run the Hyner 50k as a good, long training run.
At the moment, I'm having some serious doubts about my preparation for Hyner, which is coming up this Saturday. While I felt amazing at the trail marathon just a couple of weeks ago, I haven't put in the intense hill training that Hyner requires. I am worried about DNF'ing (DNF = did not finish) because 7,000 + feet of elevation gain over 31 miles might just be too much.
The only way to accomplish a big goal, such as setting a PR or finishing a difficult race is to figure out what's important and follow through.
In order to achieve what we really want, we need to stop making excuses and start setting priorities.
Making excuses usually means choosing the easy way out. It's easier to run on a flat road versus on treadmill inclines. It's easier to go to happy hour instead of going for a run. But ultimately, these paths of least resistance will not lead us to accomplishing our goals.
I can find a million excuses for why I haven't done a lot of hill training this year—being too busy, bad winter weather, no hills near my house—but the only true reason is because I did not find the time to make it a priority.
Therefore, the only logical way to get where we want to be is to own up to these excuses, recognize them, and start setting priorities instead. Next time I am given the "option" between hills and any other workout on a Wednesday, my normal hill day, I'm going to choose hills.
I talked in a previous post about looking forwards instead backwards. So instead of regretting some missed opportunities for hill work, I'm going to accept my training for what it is, and show up at Hyner with a determination to finish. I know I can run 31 miles—I've done it three times before. And while I'm not extremely confident about my hill strength at the moment, all I can do is give it my best on Saturday.
Last week, I secured a paid writing job with RootsRated.com. If you enjoy reading local, active lifestyle pieces I highly encourage you to check it out. I'll be writing weekly articles about Philadelphia's outdoor lifestyle scene, but the site features writers from cities all over the country.
My first story was published this week, an interview with Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run, and Philadelphia native. I reached out to Chris last week to see if he had time for an interview, and we ended up having a really great conversation about running last Friday. I read Born to Run six years ago when I was first experimenting with running, and it helped inspire me to run my first half marathon. I'm very happy with how the article turned out, so check it out here.
On another note, training for Laurel Highlands 70.5 miler is going really well these days. Last Sunday, I ran the Naked Bavarian Marathon at Blue Marsh Lake, which turned out to be about 27.3 miles long. I wasn't upset with running an extra mile because it brought my weekly mileage to 52 miles last week, which is the highest of my training season thus far. The race went REALLY well, and I hope to write up a full report soon. Bottom line is I did not bonk at all, and I felt great the whole time. This week has been all about recovery and slow, easy runs.
Tomorrow I'm running the Hot Chocolate 5k in Philly. This race is purely going to be for fun, since my legs aren't trained for a fast 5k, especially after running a marathon this past Sunday. The expo was amazing! They handed out little chocolates as runners walked in the door, and had chocolate fondue dipped marshmallows for tasting. Additionally, the SWAG is a nice fleece hoodie instead of a boring t-shirt. I usually don't get excited for "theme" races but I can't resist anything involving chocolate.
This morning as I sipped my coffee and read an article about Mike Wardian's crazy fast treadmill 50k world record — which he set on a cruise ship, after missing the record just day earlier — I stumbled on this quote that described everything I'd been wanting to put into words over the past few weeks.
“Don’t give up because it gets hard or something goes wrong. It’s the middle that’s tough. People cheer at the starting and finish line. The middle miles need mental toughness.”
—Mike Wardian, Ultrarunner & World 50k treadmill record holder (3:03.56)
Wardian was speaking about how he keeps himself motivated during a race or record attempt, but it jumped out to me as a broader approach of how we reach our big goals.
Right now, I'm toughing out the "middle miles" of training for Laurel Highlands. Gone is the sexiness of race registration and endorphin rush of setting a new big goal. The high of writing a fresh, clean training plan has been replaced with the mundane struggle of a long season of running.
Don't get me wrong — I still get excited about running these days — especially when my bum left ankle isn't acting up. But inevitably, there always comes a point in every training cycle when I wonder if it's all worth it.
That is why Wardian's quote hit me hard. It's not the beginning or the end of a race (or training season) that we need the most strength and support. It's the middle miles that require the most mental fortitude.
The middle miles of training is when it's easiest to give up. We feel like we're spinning our wheels and our big goal feels so far away. We think about the social events we're missing, the sacrifices we've made, and the pain we've endured. It seems so easy to just stop and dismiss our goals entirely.
But this is the time we need to reflect on the reason why we set our big goals. That's the only way to get through the middle miles. The reason behind the goal is what strengthens our mental fortitude, and it's what allows us to keep moving forward even when our goal feels beyond our reach. If we can harness the reason behind the goal, we can control our mental strength through the hardest times.
And if we can do that — if we can find the strength to power through the middle miles — we might be surprised by the amazing things we can accomplish.