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Setting lofty goals

27 May

For about six months, I’ve been working on a running goal I have. I have made this goal public now, and I’ve asked for advice and input. I want help taking my marathon training to a level I have never reached, so I’m sticking this out into the blog-o-sphere. 

Here’s the deal: I want to run a marathon and finish as close to 4:00:00 as possible before I turn 50.

Here’s the background: I started running in 2010 and finished my first marathon one week before I turned 40. My time was around 5:15 (I can look for the official time, but that’s close). In the last seven years, I have trained for ten marathons and completed eight. Even with those finishes under my belt, I’m still relatively inexperienced because I did not run consistently before I began training.

Here’s the setup: My best marathon finish in 2014 was 4:39:46. That’s a 10:41 average pace per mile. In order to finish a marathon in 4:00:00, I’d have to run 9:10 per mile.

Here’s the reason: You can say this is misguided, unhealthy, or even stupid. Years ago I heard someone say that most people don’t consider you a real runner unless you can run at least 10 minutes per mile. I know that’s rubbish and poppycock, and what constitutes a “real” runner is completely and totally relative to each person, but I have always had that in my head. And by that standard, I have never really been a real runner. Who cares, right? Let’s go with this instead: It’s important for me to set this goal and to be able to say I did everything in my power to accomplish it. I want to try, and even if I fall short, I know it will be a valuable learning experience.

Also, the BQ for me is 3:55. Not that I even care!


I might look like this at the finish. But with slightly more agony.

What do I need to accomplish this goal?

I need help to create a strategy. This is a lofty goal but it is by no means impossible. I believe it will require attention to all aspects of training including nutrition, sleep, recovery, stress management, weight, body mass, strength, flexibility, gear, and (of course) running.

I need help figuring out how to safely lose about 15 pounds while training. Imagine running for four hours while carrying a gallon jug of milk in each hand. That’s the same as running a marathon with 15 extra pounds of fat on your body. It is logical to assume that losing fat will increase the chances that I can run faster over a period of four hours. I don’t want to be skinny; I want to be strong! I am strongly opposed to using pills, potions, or powders to lose weight, so don’t suggest I use your plan. I realize that losing weight requires adjustments to caloric and macronutrient intake as well as activity, so I want to choose (and eat a lot of) the foods that will support my goal and eat little to none of the foods that do not support my goal.

I do not need a training plan. There are literally hundreds of marathon training plan resources available online and in actual paper books. I have tried several different methods and not one has resulted in a more significant improvement to my performance than any other, but I do know what has worked well for me in the past and I know where to find plans.

I do need to run faster. That’s obvious, right? In order to run faster, you need to practice running faster! I’ve worked with trainers and have incorporated focused speed work into my training, and every single time I’ve gotten injured. That is a real danger for any runner, and it speaks to my inexperience and overall conditioning. I need help with this aspect of my training!

I might need a coach. I probably can do this all on my own, but there is no question that an experienced running coach would be helpful. I do not need a coach to write a customized training plan for me (see above). What does a coach provide, then? Guidance to help me get from where I now am to where I want and need to be.

I need your support and encouragement! Go for a run with me, or go for all of my runs with me! Tell me you’re excited and you believe in me and you think I’m gorgeous. It won’t make me faster, but it won’t hurt! Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t tell me I can’t do it or it’s silly to make a goal like this.

What else do I need? Should I join a running club? Eat more kale? Practice meditation? Get the same surgery that Jamie Sommers (the Bionic Woman) had? Spend a week with Shalane Flanagan or Bart Yasso? Do I just need more hugs?


Have you ever set and accomplished a goal like this? What did you do? What did you not do? Who helped you? What, if anything, would you do differently? Share with me!


Giving thanks

10 May

It’s Grati-Tuesday. I am in a Facebook group of women (there may be men, or people who identify in other ways, but I’m not sure) who support and encourage each other. I used to see posts from Mona, the group’s leader, almost every day, but I have missed many of them of late. Today, however, I saw her post suggesting that we make a list of 15 things we are grateful for — and 20 if we didn’t feel like it. I don’t feel like it, so here’s 20:

  1. I am grateful for my sister, Megan, and her family. I moved here to be closer to them (and my other family members). I cannot express how grateful I am to be able to see them frequently.
  2. I am grateful for the opportunity to play games with and read stories to my nephew and nieces.
  3. I am grateful for hugs and kisses when I leave their house.
  4. I am grateful for my coworker who gave me a hug and told me she loved me today. She even said I was on her top 5 list of favorite people, and I know she meant it.
  5. I am grateful for another coworker who gives me a daily double fist bump.
  6. I am grateful for Charles, my Caribou bourista boyfriend, who makes delicious drinks for me.
  7. I am grateful for bacon. Let’s be real here.
  8. I am grateful for depression and the intense and frightening feelings I’ve been having lately because they allow me to reach out to and truly understand other people who are feeling suicidal.
  9. I am grateful for the friends who know what this feels like.
  10. I am grateful for the Facebook mental health support page.
  11. I am grateful for coffee. That should have been #2.
  12. I am grateful for Melvin.
  13. I am grateful for Instagram because it makes me feel popular, and yesterday a woman I follow commented on my post when I made her turkey kale appel meatballs and said my idea to add cider vinegar and sauteed apples to the sauce was amazing! Squeeee!
  14. I am grateful for my health.
  15. I am grateful that I can run.
  16. I am grateful for all of the teachers I’ve had and especially for my friends who are teachers today.
  17. I am grateful for the YouTube video I watched this morning. It was a powerful message from the father of the young man  who died of suicide last week in the town where my mother lives.
  18. I am grateful for surprises.
  19. I am grateful for laughter.
  20. I am grateful for Mona, who encouraged me to ponder gratitude today.

Loving and losing

16 Apr

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about my weight loss. A lot of friends and family did exactly what I asked — they told me “Yay!” — and helped me celebrate my accomplishment.

But one friend made a comment that caused me to ponder the reasons people lose or gain weight, and the reasons people decide to make those changes to their bodies. We can lose or gain for many reasons, positive and negative, and several factors might motivate us to make changes.

Later in the day, as I was writing and rewriting this post in my head, a friend said on Facebook that his wife had started a diet. A friend of theirs commented, “Tell your wife she is perfect just the way she is.”

And that set me off!

I want to propose the idea that it is possible to truly, deeply love yourself and your life, to be very happy and content, and still want to lose (or gain) weight. That decision need not come from self-loathing, a desire to conform to any real or perceived standards, or any other unhealthy attitudes toward one’s own body or food.

At times in my life, I have certainly hated my body and wished it would magically become smaller without me having to make any lifestyle changes, even though I knew that wish was ridiculous. It’s the dream of every person who has an addiction — to do whatever you want and not face any negative consequences.

Since I became an athlete and a personal trainer, I have had to confront and refine my ideas about body image, weight, health, and wellness. I know that weight loss is not always a reason for congratulations. I also have become very passionate about the fact that we feel comfortable saying, “You look great! Have you lost weight?” to friends and family, but when we notice someone has gained weight (and don’t lie, you notice) you don’t ask or wonder if that person is physically, spiritually, or emotionally well. We think loss is “good” and gain is “bad,” but both are usually more complex.

This time, I am working toward weight loss as part of a focus on overall wellness, but I also have a very specific and perhaps lofty goal: I want to take about 20-30 minutes off my marathon finish time. In case math isn’t your thing, that means I would need to run at least one minute per mile faster than I did at my best. A goal like mine requires attention to nutrition, sleep, stress, weight/mass, attitude, meditation (which I don’t do!), strength training, AND running. I’m 45 years old and I’ve only been running for only six years, so I have a lot of work to do!

hearthandsFor me, this weight loss is an act of self-care. I’m eating whole, real, delicious food that helps support my goals and activities. I feel strong and beautiful and capable. And I’m in love with my life, which is exactly why I believe I’m seeing improvements in my body and my training.

I believe you can love yourself and still want to change. Do you? I’d like to know.

Running like I do

14 Jan

I love running, but by some measures, I am not very good at it. In fact, most people would not even call what I am currently doing “running.” For the purposes of this post, I’m going to say I run because this is my practice. Whether I am actually running is irrelevant.

In high school, I participated in track for two years and competed in the 1600-meter event. I was, without question, the worst runner in our whole conference. I was routinely lapped once, if not twice, by the fastest runners. Still, I ran, and I finished — last every time.

Needless to say, running was not one of my favorite things when I was young. After two years, I became a cheerleader as this was the only way for me to participate in sports. I can’t say I was really good at that either, but I persisted.

Fast forward about 25 years, and I started to practice running again, inspired by America’s trendsetter, Oprah. You may remember she trained for an ran a marathon in 1994 and she did quite well. As did, I am sure, many women, I thought, “If she can do this, so can I.” So I started running.

And I was not very good at it.

In the spring of 2010, the college where I worked had a fitness contest with one of our sister colleges. You received one point for 30 minutes of exercise and two points for 60 minutes. Every day I would drive exactly one mile to the lake nearest my apartment, park my car, and run approximately 2.8 miles around the lake, always in the same direction, then drive home.

One day, I decided to see if I could run for an hour — to get two exercise points! I started from home, ran to the lake, ran around the lake, and ran home. I calculated that I had run about five miles. It was the first time in my life that I had run that far, for that long, and I was so excited! The next day I told a friend and she said, “If you can run five miles, Wendi, you can run a 10K!” (emphasis added, obviously) So I signed up for an ran my first 10K, in the pouring rain, in March.


First half marathon!

I decided that if I could run a 10K, I could try a half marathon. So I signed up for an ran my first half marathon, in 90 percent humidity, in August. I ran three more half marathons that year, and in 2011 began training for my first marathon. That year in June, one week before my 40th birthday, I finished my first marathon. In an 11-month period, I finished three marathons and attempted a fourth but finished it, shortly after mile 22, in the back of an ambulance.


Fast forward again to today. I have completed many races, including eight marathons, and I have been training almost continuously for one race or another since I first started. I run outside all year long and, for the most part, I love it. However, I have seen my performance decline (I would add “sharply” for dramatic effect, but the numbers speak for themselves). At my best, my time per mile was under 10 minutes for a half marathon and around 11:30 minutes for a marathon. I have added 2-3 minutes per mile to that time in the last few years.

Let’s try to finish this post up, shall we? Thanks running friends, as I am sure you are the only ones still with me, for hanging on!

At the suggestion of a trainer/friend, I have started using a method that focuses on maximum aerobic function (as opposed to anaerobic) developed by Phil Maffetone. The idea is that you work in your aerobic zone (180 minus your age), so I never let my heart rate get over 135 when I am running.

So really I am not “running” right now. It’s more of a shuffle. You might even call it a little lope. These days, if my pace is under 15:00/mile, I am elated. Lately it has been close to 17:00 on days when the path is covered in new snow. I wear about five layers of clothing when it’s very cold, and sometimes I let my arms hang at my sides because it slows my heart rate. I imagine that if anyone saw me in the dark, they would say, “Look at that little baby sasquatch in the blue jacket.”

Over time, my goal is to train my body to use fat as a fuel source and to be able to run longer, and perhaps faster, with less effort. So far it doesn’t seem to be working, but I know that the weather conditions and various physical and mental stresses have an effect. I need to do more research into the method and nutrition, and over time I expect to see changes.

I run three or four days a week, weather permitting, and I don’t use headphones. I just listen to the world and my shoes crunching on the snow. It’s time for me to meditate, think about everything, make plans, and gain some perspective. So even if I’m not good, I will continue to run (I hope) for the rest of my life.

Sinking on Sunday 

8 Jan

Sundays are hard. I think it’s a mixture of sadness that the weekend is nearly finished, anxiety about the upcoming work week, and loneliness. And currently, hormones. 

Sundays are my long run days. Today I had to get out on the trails, even though it was only one degree above zero, because our high temperatures have been negative this whole week. I wasn’t warm out there today, but I was so happy to spend an hour outside. 

Often I spend the majority of my Sundays alone, spend too much time in my head, thinking about all of the things I should be doing to improve myself. I get down. I stay there. By Monday morning, I’m fine.

Tonight I’m going to hang out with my three favorite people — my nephew and nieces. They will help me forget about myself for a while. It’s impossible to feel sad when you’re running around the house or playing hide and seek or monsters or Candyland. 

Do you have a hard time with Sunday? How do you make it easier? 

Running in the snow 

3 Jan

Please refrain from calling me crazy because I love running in the winter! In the evening after a fresh snowfall, the path is peaceful and still. I listen to my shoes crunching on the snow and occasionally see a deer or rabbit looking for food. The path where I run has no lights, so when I run after dark in the autumn I can see only a few feet in front of me, but in the winter the ambient light reflects off the snow and it’s nearly as bright as day. 

What I like best about running in the winter, besides making tracks in fresh snow, is the idea that I’ll be a stronger, faster runner in the spring because of the work I put in when I have to wear multiple layers of socks, pants, shirts, hats, and gloves! 

#runhappy #runlikeagirl

Being a jiggly runner

12 Nov

This morning, a public figure who is somewhat well known in the running world posted a message in social media saying (paraphrased): if you jump up and down in front of a mirror and parts of you jiggle, you need to run a few more miles.

You can imagine the feedback that ensued. I posted a comment, which I rarely do, saying I’ve trained for six marathons and parts of me still jiggle. And I’m damn proud of that.

When I first started running more than four years ago, I weighed nearly 200 pounds. I felt very insecure about exercising in public, and I am sure that to some of the other runners I encountered I looked like I was about to die when I was struggling through my 2.6 mile daily jog. All runners are dedicated, at least to a certain extent, but those of us who started out in the “Clydesdale” or “Athena” categories–or remain there–know that it takes just a tiny bit of extra courage to run alongside the skinny runners when you aren’t so svelte. When I’m out on the trails or running a race and I see a runner who is not skinny, I always give them a smile or a wink or a word of encouragement because I know what it is like to feel like everyone is watching your fat butt and thinking you should have stayed home with your comfort food and stretchy pants.

As an aspiring personal fitness trainer, I felt disappointed by this person’s comment. Though it goes without saying, shaming people about their bodies is no way to motivate them…unless you’re sadistic, or masochistic (which one is correct?) but then you might have bigger problems.

Today I am a marathon runner, and I’m still overweight, and parts of me still jiggle. I’m really proud of all I’ve accomplished and will continue to accomplish despite the fact that I carry a little extra fuel in my lower body than some runners do. That’s more of me to love and to cheer for when I cross the finish line.

Keep running, all you jiggly people! Shake those booties with pride!