And on the Seventh Day

Organized religion has had a lot of great ideas – loving thy neighbor, turning the other cheek, serving wine before noon on Sundays – but there’s one tenet in particular that appeals to believers and infidels alike: a weekly day of rest.

Whether you call it the Lord’s Day or the Sabbath or, heck, even a Sunday morning hangover, taking a day off once a week is not only a mandate from above; it’s also good for the mind, body and soul.

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Weekly rest is also a core tenet of marathon training. For all the tempo runs and long runs and intervals we complete in the 20 weeks leading up to the big event, many would argue the most important day of any training plan is the time each week we kick off our shoes, put up our feet and accidentally watch the entire third season of How I Met Your Mother in one sitting without pants on. Hello, my life. Goodbye, Stella.

In fact, my pseudo coach and probably best friend if we ever met in real life, 83-year-old online running expert Hal Higdon, writes on all his marathon training plans that rest is the most important component of his training programs, hands down.

“Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also will tell you that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it is hard running (such as the long runs) that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential,” he writes. He can run. He can write. He can remember FDR’s first term in office. What can’t this man do?

I usually listen to Mr. Higdon as if his last name were Miyagi, but this marathon cycle, I’ve started to stray. Several weeks ago, I missed one of my scheduled 4-milers, and instead of just letting it go as he’d recommend, I vowed to make it up during my so-called rest day instead.

In the infamous words of Gob Bluth, I’ve made a huge mistake.

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For ten straight days, I’ve been lacing up and running the reservoir (and the East River, and Prospect Park, and to H&H Bagels, let’s be honest), and while I had thought that making up that skipped workout would make me a better marathoner, it’s done just the opposite: it’s left me sore and tired and mentally unwilling to log another mile. Turns out rest days aren’t just for your knees — they’re also a necessary respite for your sanity. All runs and no rest makes Anne a dull Shining reference, or something.

Fortunately, all that’s about to change. As I write this, I’m Amtraking my way up the Connecticut coast for a long weekend away in Rhode Island. I’ll be laying on the beach, eating clam cakes, and not so much as touching my Aisics today in an effort to log some much needed rest. Of course, I may have signed up for a 10-mile road race in Narragansett tomorrow night, but for 36 glorious hours between now and then, I’ll be off my feet and on the mend.

And then back to the races again!

How are you resting this weekend?

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Land of the Free

This Fourth of July, Americans gathered around the world to celebrate a holiday that has come to mean different things at different points in our shared history.

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To our forefathers in 1776, Independence Day meant fighting for freedom from tyranny, oppression and persecution.

To Bill Pullman circa 1996, Independence Day meant fighting for freedom not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution — but from annihilation. Fighting for our right to live. To exist.

To my brother and me this past weekend, Independence Day meant fighting for our right to have beer delivered via crab net straight to our inflatable raft. Thomas Jefferson and/or Will Smith would have been proud.

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Beer delivery aside, the Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, it was a chance to ride in the local parade, then catch chlorine-doomed goldfish from the neighborhood swimming pool. As a teenager, it was a chance to light sparklers and watch fireworks from my best friend’s front yard. (You know, ’cause we’ve totally outgrown that.) As an adult, it’s a chance to reflect on all the things that make this nation great, from freedom of the press and universal health care to country music and women’s rights, Hobby Lobby be damned. And with my marine cousin returning from Afghanistan this summer, it’s also an important chance to reflect on all those who serve our country to protect those freedoms we so enjoy.

But while millions of Americans around the world were celebrating July 4 for all the traditional reasons, several thousand people — U.S. citizens and foreigners alike — were acknowledging this past weekend for a different reason altogether. If you’re running the Philadelphia Marathon and following a 20-week training schedule like me, this weekend was our last weekend of flexibility, spontaneity and, you guessed it: independence. Fitting, huh?

I had originally planned to follow Hal Higdon’s 18-week Intermediate 1 marathon training plan, since his Novice 2 plan had successfully carried me through two 26.2 mile feats and I was looking for a new challenge. But when I opened my Runner’s World magazine this month to find a 20-week schedule laid out for me explaining this was a good plan for runners who had plateaued, I knew instantly it was the routine for me. Didn’t hurt that the layout included an infographic telling you what day to start the plan if you were running any of the big fall races, from Chicago to NYC to, you guessed it, Philly. July 7, and I didn’t even have to do the math myself. Thank you, Runner’s World.

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So with Monday officially marking the beginning of marathon training, I did what any good runner would do on her last weekend of freedom: I laid in the hammock. To be fair, I did a 7-miler on the 4th itself to make sure I was ready to tackle 8 miles during my first long run next Saturday and an easy 3-miler yesterday to take advantage of the glorious Baltimore weather, but when it came time today to lace up my running shoes, I opted to curl up with my trashy summer read instead. Between now and November 23, my opportunities to take a surprise day off are going to be far and few between, and on this glorious Independence Day weekend, I wasn’t going to miss a chance to be free.

How did you celebrate the holiday? This year, Fourth of July was also a chance to restock my Keira photo coffers. You’re welcome in advance.

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Watch What Happens

If the new Transformers movie has taught us anything, it’s that technology is a terribly dangerous thing — primarily because it allows us to create more and more Transformers movies.*

*Full disclosure: I have not actually seen Transformers: Age of Extinction, but due to my firmly held conviction Mark Wahlberg may only play blue-color men with Boston accents and/or ape slaves with Boston accents, this Texas casting call is not at the top of my list.

Sure, penicillin and hot water heaters and World Cup streaming are wonderful things, but ever-expanding technology also has its dangerous side: it ruins our employability if we’ve ever posted questionable content, it keeps us working well after we’ve left the office and it cuts into our sleeping hours when we’ve accidentally stumbled on an obscure acquaintance’s 32 albums of must-see wedding photos.

Technology also encourages once-athletic canines to forgo the great outdoors in favor of a lazy morning spooning with the electric fan.

What? I'm helping dad study for the bar!

What? I’m helping dad study for the bar!

But while technology brings its fair share of challenges, there’s at least one place it’s been instrumental in my adult life: making me a runner.

At risk of sounding a bit like Holden Caulfield, I can pinpoint the exact moment I started feeling like an authentic runner instead of a phony. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t when I crossed my first finish line. It wasn’t when I placed in my first (fine, only) local race. It wasn’t when I learned the hard way that pre-race portapots are more often than not BYOTP.

The first time I felt like a bonafide runner was in summer 2012 when, after months of tech-free training, I went out and bought myself a running watch. A Garmin Forerunner 210, to be exact. It was big and clunky and took 10 solid minutes to locate satellites. I was in love. And out $250.

Now, I know one doesn’t NEED a fancy running watch to be deemed a real runner. Heck, some of the world’s greatest train without watches — or even shoes — in the hills of Kenya and the canyons of Mexico and the loops of Central Park (seriously though, barefoot dude, what’s up with that?)

But if you’re like me — results-driven and number-oriented and uninterested in running unless you can log exactly how far you’ve gone — a watch is a crucial accessory when it comes to setting your fitness goals and meeting them.

That’s why when my watch stopped charging over Easter, I found myself at a bit of a loss.

OH CRUEL WORLD.

OH CRUEL WORLD.

Also tough that week? Learning Keira had eaten the Easter bunny.

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I’m not averting your gaze because I’m guilty, I swear.

Without my Garmin, I no longer knew how far I was running if I went off the beaten track, so I started to stick exclusively to familiar routes with known mileages — a good trick for getting out the door without thinking but an easy to way to fall into a quick rut. I also gave up all speed work and interval training once my Garmin went the way of the Treasure Troll because 1. It seemed pointless to run fast without knowing just how fast that was and 2. I’ve been looking for an excuse to give up speed work for years. Let’s be honest here.

Needless to say, my training during Pentecost has been lazy indeed.

Lazy is not always a bad thing. My Garmin-free second quarter meant weeks of low-impact easy runs and carefree miles, but with marathon training just around the corner (well, weekend), I knew it was time to finally rectify the situation and get a new watch.

I’ve heard for years that Garmin customer support is superb, and unlike Ken Follett novels or New Years Eve plans, this one actually lived up to the hype. After the technician walked me through all sorts of failed restarts on my dead watch, she determined there was no saving it and offered to send me a new one for $89 — or a fraction of what a new Garmin would cost me at the store. It was going to take 6-8 weeks to arrive, which I said was just too long (you know, after I waited three whole months to call and complain…), so she offered to charge me double, expedite the order and reimburse the remaining $89 when my old watch arrived at their warehouse for processing.

Not only that, but when it arrived a few days later, it had a sweet green border on it. Lucky!

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Unfortunately, I tested it Sunday and learned that the 3-mile route I’d plotted from my new apartment was really only 2.5 miles, so Mr. Watch and I are already in a fight. But I’m expecting we’ll make up after spending the next four months together for upwards of 40 miles a week. Stockholm syndrome does great things for friendships.

How do you incorporate a running watch into your workout? Counting down minutes until you’re done totally counts.

 

 

 

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Four More Years

As buzz surrounding a certain international men’s football tournament crescendos to a frenzy, I’m finding myself thinking back on my last several World Cup cycles, during which my watching locale has been varied indeed.

  • In 2010, I watched matches alongside my former co-ed soccer team with a plate of sliders on my lap and a beer in each hand.
  • In 2006, I watched matches in rural China with multiple children on my lap and a dumpling in each hand.
  • In 2002, I watched matches from an air-conditioned camp staff lounge with my summer crush on my lap and a gimp bracelet on each hand.

Of course, World Cup tournaments aren’t the only thing that happens every four years. From Feb. 29 and presidential elections to the Olympics and Kim Kardashian weddings, plenty of the world’s biggest events ebb into the forefront in four-year rotations.

But in my case, the biggest thing that happened four years ago wasn’t watching Spain win the World Cup – it was packing up my first New York City apartment and making the big move across the park. In summer 2010, with the vuvuzelas still ringing in our ears, I officially became an East Side resident.

At the time, the new apartment was kind of a tough sell. It was more expensive than I was targeting. It was on a fifth-floor walk-up. I was moving in with a friend of my then boyfriend who I liked, but, when it came down to it, hardly knew at all. This whole Upper East Side thing could have gone either way.

Luckily, it went the way of legends. I got named editor and the rent no longer felt prohibitive. I became a runner and the walk-up doubled as hill repeats. I spent more one-on-one time with my new roommate, and I learned we were more compatible than I ever knew flatmates could be.

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Also, shinier.

We threw Halloween parties and drank wine and lived the life of Riley in that apartment all mid-20s long, but we were also there for the tough stuff, from LSAT review courses and stomach bugs to more broken hearts than four walls should see. And let’s not forget the time we both forgot to wax.

I mustache you a question.

I mustache you a question.

With so many fond memories, it was bittersweet packing up my room in late May as a prepared to move into what is now my third NYC home. As I filled box after box, I was reminded of all the wonderful times I had in that apartment and also of how much I changed in those four years. I went from a husky, awkward 24-year-old to the confident, fit, independent woman I am today – a transformation in which those five flights of stairs undoubtedly played a role.

These medals I acquired during my four-year stint didn't hurt, either.

These medals I acquired during my four-year stint didn’t hurt, either.

But while there’s always something sad about closing a chapter in one’s life, I’m fortunately beside myself with excitement about my new place. It’s still on the Upper East Side. It’s a duplex. It has outdoor space. And I’m positively in love with my new roommate.

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Just like my old apartment, I hope I leave this one in several years’ time stronger and happier and healthier (and on speaking terms with my co-tenant.)

Luckily, even after four years of self improvement, I still have plenty of room to grow, and this apartment – like my fifth-floor walk-up before it – is going to help me do that. You know why?

‘Cause it’s a sixth-floor walk-up.

So what’s new with you this summer?

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Faking It

I self-identify as a lot of things, but my level of actual participation in some categories would suggest my membership is tenuous as best. Case in point:

  • I call myself an “avid reader,” but the last book I read before this past weekend was teen filth Divergent.
  • I call myself an “active blogger,” but you know as well as I do that these pages have been quiet for weeks.
  • I call myself a “healthy eater,” but I’ve spent three of the last four weekends dining below the Mason Dixon line. On a completely unrelated note, I also call myself in need of more work clothes with an elastic waistband.
This are the kinds of classy establishments I ate at in the former Confederate states.

This are the kinds of classy establishments I ate at in the former Confederate states.

But one self-classification in particular has grown increasingly shaky: my claim that I’m a runner.

Now don’t get me wrong: I in no way believe distance or speed or competition are mandatory for calling oneself a runner. From Olympic elites to Central Park joggers to everything in between, all you need to call yourself a runner is a pro-running attitude.

Unfortunately, it’s that runner’s mentality specifically that I’m severely lacking. Don’t believe me? My running log since the marathon has fallen faster than Chris Christie’s approval rating.

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There are plenty of reasons my running may have lost momentum these last few months. My spring half marathon was canceled. I’ve been working my way up the East Coast wedding circuit. I’m in the process of moving from one fifth floor walk-up to another. It’s getting hot.

But I know deep down inside the real reason I’ve been pushing workouts to the backburner is that July means for me the onset of fall marathon training, and I’m just not mentally there yet. The prospect of running up to 40 miles a week — when I’m currently lucky to squeeze in 6 — is more than a little daunting for this out-of-shape athlete. Sure, logically it makes sense to build a base now so the first few weeks of training don’t hit me like a brick, but I’m not always a logical being, and ignoring the looming deadline seems like a much safer prospect indeed. I’m nothing if not an ostrich playing in the sand.

Of course, that was also my mindset last summer, and I paid brutally come marathon morning.

When it comes down to it, I guess it’s time I stop lollygagging and get out there. In truth, life is full of things we don’t want to do but do anyways, from small talking at cocktail parties to putting on pants, and maybe running is just going to have to be one of those things for a while. I assume once I get stronger and faster again, I’ll get out of my rut and pride myself in my runner classification once more, but until then, perhaps I just have to fake it.

Much like Keira’s weak attempt at a fake smile when I told her we’d be having company on board the boat this weekend in Baltimore.

You must be joking.

“You must be joking.”

At least our guest did not notice the death stares.

"Can bull terriers swim?"

“Can bull terriers swim? I’m just asking. No particular reason.”

How do you motivate yourself to run when you simply, stubbornly, childishly just don’t wanna?

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Fifty Minutes

Despite cautionary tales of shin splints, achy backs and a lifetime of knee pain, most runners irrefutably know that our sport generally changes us for the better.

  • Run for two weeks and feel your legs strengthen and posture improve.
  • Run for six months and marvel at your increased lung capacity, endurance and speed.
  • Run for 30 years and lose your leg braces, earn a scholarship to the University of Alabama from Bear Bryant, save Lt. Dan, run coast to coast and win your girl’s heart before she dies of AIDS. It’s a little known fact that 60% of U.S. runners follow the identical life trajectory of Forrest Gump. Who knew?

The benefits of running are both physical (build strength, fight disease, lose weight) and mental (release stress, counter depression, clear mind), and running for several months or years can build enough confidence to lure you out of your comfort zone and encourage you to try something new.

Like getting your boater's license!

Like getting your boater’s license!

But while we generally think about the benefits of running over multi-month and -year periods, sometimes it takes less than an hour for a workout to change you.

At least that’s what I discovered at the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K this past weekend.

I woke up Saturday morning for my fifth race of the season and from the moment my feet hit the floor, I was in a sour mood. It was too muggy for a PR. I’d forgotten my running belt in Brooklyn. I left my apartment too late for a leisurely jog to the starting line and instead found myself sprinting two miles to the pre-race corrals in what is arguably not the best warm-up for a six mile road race. Needless to say, I was anything but pleased.

And as I grumpily caught my breath in those last few minutes before the starting gun went off, I saw something that unhinged me even further: a man dressed entirely in black and camouflage covered in anarchy patches and destroyed American flags pushing his way into my race corral. Holding a backpack.

I told myself he was harmless or lost or playing a cruel practical joke on the 7,976 runners out there that day, but I still couldn’t shake my unease after the events that shook Boston thirteen months ago tomorrow.

Luckily, the race began and I was able to put some distance between myself and the questionable spectator at the starting line. But as I picked up speed, my bad mood from the morning got worse and worse. Our sport has been robbed of its innocence, I fumed to myself as I trudged forward through the heavy, hot air, and I was downright furious.

As I made my way along the initial leg of the race course, I was agitated and shaken and a big old grump. I’m going to be in a bad mood the whole race long, I thought to myself. And I fully intended to be.

How muggy does this look? I mean seriously. Source: http://www.nyrr.org/races-and-events/2014/uae-healthy-kidney-10k

How muggy does this look? I mean seriously. Source: http://www.nyrr.org/races-and-events/2014/uae-healthy-kidney-10k

But much like it’s impossible to lick your own elbow, it’s also hard to maintain a bad mood for an entire 50-minute race. (You totally just tried to lick your elbow, huh?) I may have scowled that whole first mile, but as soon as a race marshal offered me a high-five along the East Side, I couldn’t help but concede a tiny smile. Another mile in, a volunteer in a purple wig sang Robin Thicke with embarrassing accuracy and it encouraged a laugh. As I rounded Harlem Hill, I watched a team of Achilles volunteers help a disabled athlete, and I found myself feeling downright blessed that I’m healthy enough to compete on my own and in awe at the selflessness of the running community I’ve been so lucky to become a part of. Tried as I may to stay angry, I found myself calming with each passing mile.

As I neared the home stretch, I spotted the camouflaged anarchist once more. He was still holding a backpack, but this time, he was reaching into it to grab a giant yellow gatorade to hand to his equally tattooed girlfriend who’d just completed the race herself. I know vigilance is important, but having your negative first impressions of someone shattered is a wonderful feeling indeed.

By the time I crossed that finish line, my sour mood had dissipated and I was grinning ear to ear. We all know running can change you, but, hey, turns out sometimes it only takes six miles.

How has running changed you?

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Goaling, Goaling, Gone

They tell you to shoot for the moon because if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars. I’ve seen Gravity, though, and I know overshooting the moon didn’t work out so well for Mr. Clooney.

Likewise, overshooting when it comes to fitness goals is a dangerous endeavor. At best, setting a lofty goal and failing to achieve it can be downright demoralizing, and at worst, it can leave you drifting off into deep space with not even a chance of a supporting actor nod unless you return for a narratively jarring dream sequence in the penultimate scene of the movie.

Sorry, guys, but you know my blog’s “no spoilers” rule doesn’t apply to 90-minute 3D space thrillers. See article 2, section S, categorized under Space.

Don’t be me wrong: I, perhaps to an unparalleled degree, appreciate the value of a good fitness goal. A results-driven athlete with a Type-A personality and a love affair with her google calendar, I value nothing more than setting a target, defining a plan and spending the next six weeks to six months getting myself across that finish line.

Ambitious goal-setting was what got me off the couch in 2011 and training for my first 10-miler, what encouraged me to break free from the half-marathon circuit and run a full 26.2, and what inspired me to teach my niece how to make a crafty and sustainable pinecone birdfeeder from items found in her own backyard. Unfortunately, we never got past step one.

You say this things might attract squirrels?

You say this things might attract squirrels?

But while goal-setting is a key motivator in my workout routine, it also has a downside: If I divert off course, even for a few days, on my path to an objective, this one-track mind tends to throw in the towel altogether rather than getting back up and picking up where I started. For me, when it comes to reaching my goals, it’s all or nothing.

Take, for example, my Ash Wednesday declaration that I was going to plank for one minute every day in Lent. I was off to a good start, making it through Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday. And then on Saturday morning, I boarded a flight to Hong Kong and realized I hadn’t yet planked — and wouldn’t be touching down again until Sunday afternoon. For a fleeting moment, I debated planking in the aisles, but international terrorism laws and/or that little personal TV on the seatback in front of me nipped that idea in the bud, and I just like that, I missed my first day.

In Hong Kong, I got partially back on track, planking at least a handful of times while awake at 2:30 a.m. and squeezing in a jetlag workout. But “planking for 39 days of Lent” just doesn’t have to same ring to it, and once I’d allowed myself one free pass, the subsequent excuses flowed faster than the River of Slime in Ghostbusters II. I can’t plank today: I have to be at work at 5:30 a.m. I can’t plank today: I have debilitating Hong Kong-induced stomach flu. I can’t plank today: I’m kind of lazy.

Good-bye Lenten resolution. Hello, Judas. I didn’t even get paid thirty pieces of silver for my betrayal. I did, however, get two Easter baskets last Sunday, so maybe Jesus isn’t so mad about the whole planking thing after all.

On a totally unrelated note, no idea why my favorite jeans don't fit.

On a totally unrelated note, no idea why my favorite jeans don’t fit.

Knowing that failing to reach my goals sometimes threatens to divert me further off course than had I not even set any in the first place, I’m oftentimes hesitant to articulate my ambitions.

But we can’t live in fear – except of cockroaches and New York’s summer garbage stench, of course – so despite my distaste for disappointment, I continue to set goals season after season. Sometimes, I fall short, like when I tell myself I’m going to PR in the New York City Marathon (nope) or stop after one Reese’s Easter Egg for breakfast (nope) or watch Forrest discover Lt. Dan’s magic legs in a moment of pre-wedding intimacy without bawling my eyes out (oh hell no.)

But every now and then, I set a goal and actually achieve it, and that feels downright wonderful. Like resolving to lose 30 pounds in 2011 and doing it, or applying for an editing gig at a media powerhouse and getting it, or waking up this morning with a dream of PRing at the New York Road Runner’s Run for One four-miler in Central Park, and – despite telling my pacer to go on without me as I thought my lungs would burst around mile 2 – somehow racing myself to a new (eleven-second) PR.

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This is the face of victory, or possibly exhaustion. You be the judge.

And with that, one of my 2014 goals is complete. Oh, hell yes.

Are you a goal-driven athlete?

 

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