The Final Word

I’m an editor by trade, so I spend a lot of time thinking about word choice.

In my professional life, the word I’ve been thinking the most about is but.

(No, not butts, but ask me again after I see Magic Mike XXL this weekend. What up, homonym joke!)

Somewhere along my career development, the word “but” started slipping into more and more of my conversations and e-mails, and I know why — because it seems like a way to soften bad news with a sympathetic acknowledgement that it’s not what they wanted to hear. “I know you needed this by today, but it’s unfortunately not going to be ready.” “This is a good start, but you need to do some more work.” “I respect you having your own style, but we wear pants in the workplace.”

(Unless you’re Channing Tatum in the aforementioned highly anticipated movie sequel, in which case, proceed.)

I had thought my use of the word was doing everyone a favor, until a colleague in a leadership training class suggested something that had never before crossed my mind: Try replacing “but” with “and” to make statements more direct and positive.

It sounded crazy. But I decided to give it a try the next time I went to write an e-mail, and sure thing, once I got over the initial hesitation, it made so much sense.

“It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, but let’s work on it some more” vs. “It’s clear you put a lot of work into this story, and let’s work on it some more” is like night and day when it comes out of your boss’s mouth. I may not catch myself 100% of the time, but and when I do, I know it’s worthwhile.

Why am I sharing this professional anecdote on my running blog, you ask? Because now that I’ve explained the power of word choice, I want to alert all my athlete friends to another word I’d like worked out of our communal fitness lexicon:

Should.

Why should “should” be banned? Let me use it in a sentence for you:

“I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.”

Also bad: “have to,” “got to,” and “man cave.” That last one has nothing to do with running; I just hate it.

That sentence — variations of which I say on a near daily basis — implies that working out is a chore. And sure, some days it feels like it, but for the most part, I train for marathons because I LIKE training for marathons. There’s nothing “should” about it.

That fact became particularly clear to me this past weekend when I ran the 2015 Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler in Central Park. This race, sponsored by amazing non-profit Achilles International, is a chance for athletes with disabilities to race alongside able-bodied athletes in a celebration of the sport. When I lined up Sunday, I was surrounded by all sorts of athletes: amputees wearing Pistorius-style racing blades, wheelchair participants, autistic teenagers, blind runners with guides. Normally as I jostle my way through a crowded field, I find myself overcome with rage as other entrants block my way, but on Sunday, I found myself overcome instead with pride watching so many different athletes of different abilities come out on a drizzling, gray morning to run.

photo 2

As I logged mile after mile with these extraordinary athletes, it became increasingly clear to me that my go-to word choice is all wrong. It’s not that I’m going for a run tonight because I SHOULD. I’m going for a run tonight because I want to. More than that, I’m going for a run tonight because I can.

So next time I turn down plans for a workout, I’m going to try to get my lexicon in check. No more “I can’t hang out tonight. I should go for a run.” Here on out, expect to hear these just-so-slightly different words out of mouth:

“I can’t hang out tonight. I get to go for a run.”

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

photo 1

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Six Days a Week

A lot of good things come in sixes: players on a hockey team, muffins in a muffin tin, geese-a-laying, beer. Six is the motivation behind everyone’s ab workout, the number of good Star Wars films once December rolls around and the roll in obscure 1980s board game Race to the Roof that lets you pull an object card and potentially take home the gold.

I hope it's the top hat! Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.

“I hope it’s the top hat!” Alternate caption: my friends and I are really cool on vacation.

One area the number six shouldn’t have a place? The number of running workouts I do a week. Or in other words, my marathon training plan currently has me running a whopping six out of seven days a week, and, my god, I’m. So. Tired.

I’m a runner (clearly, welcome to this blog), so I know my training schedules are going to have me, well, running quite a bit. But given the choice, I prefer schedules with a more reasonable 4-5 days of required running a week. Fewer days pounding the pavement means more time for other cross training activities, like yoga and stretching and sleep, plus it makes every morning jog feel like a gift, rather than a chore.

Which is why my signing myself up to follow Hal Higdon’s “personal best” marathon training plan for the fall 2015 racing season may have been a foolish idea. And by may have been, I mean was definitely a foolish idea. Because I still have 18 weeks of training ahead of me, and I never want to see my Asics again.

According to my pal Hal, the plan was intended for experienced runners who have completed two or three marathons and would like to PR. He was practically pointing at me. The schedule is actually a combination of his 12-week Intermediate Spring Training Program with his 18-week Intermediate 1 Marathon Training Program, meaning the first half is intended to get runners in speedy, light racing shape with hill workouts and interval training, while the second half builds the necessary mileage to complete a grueling 26.2. I didn’t even do the first six or seven weeks since I only started this after the Brooklyn Half, and even these past five weeks of six-day-a-week runs have taken their toll.

How so, you ask? Well, yesterday I only did 4 miles instead of the scheduled 6. And today I’m planning on doing the unthinkable: I’m planning to skip my scheduled run altogether. Usually, I don’t lose my drive like that until tapering, or at least until the day after I eat a really big meal.

photo

Nom nom nom.

At six days a week, I’m about ready to 86 running altogether. Luckily, this upcoming Monday is going to bring a welcome reprieve: the start of Part 2 of the training plan, which replaces my Monday run with a day of cross training. I’m hoping that by scaling down to five runs a week, plus taking off a few buffer days off in the interim, will be just the kickstart I need to get excited about training again.

That, or the next 18 weeks will be torture. Here’s hoping for the former.

How do you keep motivated when you’ve — quite literally, to quote Chris Traeger — run out of motivation?

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Strength in Numbers

Tomorrow I’m going to arrive for my second monthly biometric weigh-in, and the results are not going to be pretty.

I realize that statement opens the door to all kinds of follow-up questions. What’s a biometric weigh-in? It’s a chance for me to stand on a body-fat scale and learn if I’ve built any muscle over the past four weeks. Why do it? Because after reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight, I realized I wasn’t going to get any faster until I upped my muscle content. Who performs it? The free nutrition coach at my office, which, let’s be honest, is a cool perk. Who’s my favorite ninja turtle? I’m embarrassed you had to ask.

For years, I didn’t give a darn about fancy things like BMI and muscle mass and Donatello, assuming that because I ran upwards of 40 miles a week in training for an annual marathon that I surely boasted a healthy body composition. But after I read Racing Weight, I decided to make sure. I made an appointment with my local nutritionist, stood on her shiny scale, and learned the disheartening truth: I have the muscle composition of a 47 year old woman.

Also, the celebrity crushes of a 47 year old woman. Thank you, Joe Biden.

I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t bulky muscle weigh a runner down? It could if you look like the former California Governor, but for most runners, a little lean muscle goes a long way toward injury prevention and higher metabolism and proper alignment and street cred with a West Side Story snap gang.

With that knowledge, I approached the circuit of strength exercises my nutritionist gave me with the ultimate vigor. I did squats. I did lunges. I did alternating superman, or as I preferred to call it, the Christopher Reeve/Dean Cain. And I felt sore and tired and awesome, and vowed to keep it up three days a week between now and the marathon.

I then I went on vacation. And oh man, when I go on vacation, I do it right.

I went to North Carolina and drank all the wine on the Eastern Seaboard.
wine

And chased it with seafood doused in butter by the pound.
shrimp

Then I went to a wedding where the main course was pig.
meat

And there ate several slices of a real, authentic “cheese cake.” They were just blocks of cheese in a pile. I fell in love.
cheese

With that kind of month in my recent history, I can’t imagine there’s anyway I could step on that scale leaner and stronger tomorrow than I was a month ago. There’s no way around it: the numbers are not going to be pretty.

Fortunately, my last four weeks were pretty pretty themselves.

food

Do you work strength training into your running routine? How about cheese cakes?

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Recipe for Success?

When it comes to cooking, I’m what one might call resourceful.

Resourceful, or forged in the Depression era. You pick.

Raised in a family in which the only thing worse than wasting food was running out to the store to purchase a single item, I internalized young the idea that you cook with what you have on hand. Even in my tiny New York City kitchen, I keep enough pantry staples on hand — canned goods, pasta, frozen veggies, wine — that I can always whip together something nutritious and palatable without making a grocery run.

To put it another way, I half-marathon PRed this spring, toasted my Pulitzer Prize winning colleague, and watched my little brother commit to the woman of his dreams, and my proudest moment of the year was probably the time I opened a barren fridge to find a head of cabbage, two eggs, and leftover Indian food — and managed to make the best fried rice of my life.

With ingenuity and frugality the crux of my cooking philosophy, I was as surprised as you when I signed up last week to receive my first ever Blue Apron delivery.

For those of you not familiar with Blue Apron, it’s a subscription-based delivery service where fresh ingredients in the perfect pre-measured proportions arrive at your door with step-by-step instructions for putting the meals together. Unlike take-out Chinese, you still do all the chopping and sautéing, but unlike traditional meal prep, you don’t do any of the grocery shopping — or even recipe selection — yourself.

In a lot of ways, Blue Apron isn’t my style. But considering a friend sent me a three-meal free-trial box free (a $60 value — thanks, Nina!), and considering wasting free food is the cardinal sin of my childhood home, I signed up.

Hello, beautiful.

Hello, beautiful.

My box arrived a week ago tonight, and in it were the makings of three dinners for two. I knew what I was getting before it arrived — you have the option of declining a week of delivery if the meals don’t excite you — and I knew these three recipes looked right up my alley. Here are links to the three meals I made, plus really unappealing photos taken in bad light with my iphone. You’re welcome.

Curry-Spiced Chicken Thighs with Sugar Snap Peas & Fingerling Potatoes (recipe)
photo 5 (26)

Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwiches with Roasted Vegetables & Giardiniera (recipe)photo 2 (72)

Seared Salmon with Sorrel Salad & Creamy Barley (recipe)
photo 4 (46)

Now that I’ve prepped, cooked and consumed all three meals, here’s what I see as the major pros and cons:

PRO: They deliver the ingredients right to your apartment building.

CON: They don’t deliver the ingredients all the way up to your fifth floor walkup.

PRO: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning you don’t buy a whole jar of some obscure spice you’re never going to use again.

CON: They send exactly the right amount of everything you need for two meals, meaning there are no leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

PRO: Their recipes are full of fresh, seasonal ingredients, purportedly making for healthy end-of-day fare.

CON: With the excessive use of olive oil and butter, some of their recipes run more than 700 calories a pop.

PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.

PRO: Salmon fried in butter is, to be fair, delicious.

So what did I think? The jury’s still out. If you don’t like grocery shopping or recipe selection, want to try new recipes you might not otherwise, or really like following orders, Blue Apron is undoubtedly for you. If you want more flexibility to cook what you want to cook when you want to cook it, it probably isn’t. Or if you’re somewhere in the middle, you can do what I did: start with their ingredients, and make some minor additions to use up other items already in my fridge.

What? It’s a habit. You know you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The flower girl.

The flower girl begs to disagree.

Have you tried Blue Apron, Plated or any of the other ingredient delivery services? What did you think?

Posted in Food, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Socks, Drugs and Rock&Roll

Lieutenant Dan had a lot of good advice for Forrest — catch shrimp after a hurricane, make your peace with God, invest in Apple — but one tip in particular stands out:

Take your socks seriously.

Or in the colorful words of Gary Sinise: “There is one item of G.I. gear that can be the difference between a live grunt and a dead grunt. Socks, cushion, sole, O.D. green. Try and keep your feet dry when we’re out humpin’. I want you boys to remember to change your socks wherever we stop.”

As a distance runner pounding away more than 1,000 miles a year, you’d think I’d give some consideration to my socks. I mean, I’ve written multiple posts dedicated to the importance of good running shoes. I buy Asics trainers in bulk when they’re about to upgrade my model. I left an old pair in Hong Kong once to make room in my suitcase and actually held a little farewell ceremony to bid them goodbye. I wish I were joking.

With shoes such a key component of my running routine, you’d think the layer that’s even closer to my feet would be even more important. Well, you’d be wrong.

I’ve never really thought much about socks at all.

My sock drawer is chock full of ankle socks in all shapes and sizes, from the worn-out Target brand 6-pack to the Under Armour “no shows” that my toes always tear through. As long as they are tall enough to cover my heels and still have their mate, I’ll keep socks in rotation forever, meaning some pairs have been on the circuit for, I don’t know, 12 years?

It never seemed like a problem to me. I mean, how can socks go bad? Then I ran the Brooklyn Half this month, and crossed the finish line with a callus so thick I had to spend the better part of the afternoon soaking my sore feet in the bathtub.

This is not as fun as it looks.

This is not as fun as it looks.

A little WebMDing, and I determined ill-fitting socks that had lost their elastic had caused friction against the ball of my foot over 13.1 speedy miles, giving me the callus. I also determined I had lupus, since that’s that kind of thing rampant WebMDing leads to.

With good socks — and my lack thereof — fresh on my mind, it was quite serendipitous to receive an e-mail last week from Stance Socks about the run they were sponsoring tonight in the East Village. Media were invited to try out (and keep post-workout, full disclosure) a pair of Stance running socks on a 2-mile jog around the East Village lead by local punk rock legend and lead singer of the Cro-Mags John Joseph. I don’t know much about the NYC punk scene, but I know I like free socks and meeting other fitness-minded people, so I signed up.

And whew, what a ride. We met at 315 Bowery, once home to famous music club CBGB, then worked our way up to St. Marks, around Tompkins Square Park and up past Webster Hall while Stance snapped photos of our socked experience and John Joseph told so many stories about being stabbed in the 70s and 80s I started to think I was watching Ghost. Wait, was he dead the whole time?

Fact: We were running into the bus lane, so we were probably dead, too.

Fact: We were running into the bus lane, so we were probably dead, too.

So how did the socks live up? To be honest, it’s too early to tell. They survived a 2-mile fun run on a steamy NYC night with no problems, but we’ll see if my new colorful performance socks withstand the pounding and rubbing that 20 weeks of marathon training will bring. They’re a great color though, so I’m optimistic.

Don't we look swell?

Don’t we look swell?

Until then, I’ll be doing my best to follow Lt. Dan’s two standing orders: “One, take good care of your feet. Two, try not to do anything stupid, like gettin’ yourself killed.”

Bubba would have wanted it that way.

How much consideration do you give socks in your daily routine?

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Brooklyn is the New Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Half Marathon didn’t start until 7 a.m. last Saturday, but in the hours leading up to it, my mind was already racing:

  • Am I going to make it to the Prospect Park starting line before bag check closes at the ungodly hour of 6:10 a.m.?
  • Is it going to start pouring mid-race like this ominous cloud cover suggests?
  • Is a 9 a.m. hot dog on Coney Island a socially acceptable recovery snack?
Spoiler Alert: It was.

Spoiler Alert: It was.

But for all the pre-race thoughts and anxieties filling my head, there was one question notably absent from my stream of conscious in the days and hours leading up to my second half marathon of the year:

Will I PR?

For every past race, I’d always checked my previous PR — or personal record — before the starting gun so I’d know just how fast I’d have to run in order to beat my earlier efforts. As a middle of the pack runner, I’m rarely going to beat the other participants, but if I can shave off a few seconds from a previous race time of the same distance, it shows my hard work is paying off. A new PR isn’t the only sign of a good race, but it’s certainly a rewarding one.

For the Brooklyn Half, however, I didn’t even bother looking up my previous half marathon PR before entering my corral. Why not, you ask? Plenty of reasons. I knew I logged it in 2013 when I was in better shape. I remembered it happened when I was running with my fast friend Adam. I recalled it was a sub 1:50 time, which is at least three minutes faster than my performance in the MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE Women’s Half Marathon just one month ago, and my training since then has been anything but stellar.

The odds of PRing weren’t in my favor.

Flash forward to race day. I was up at 4 a.m. to meet my friends Z-Z and Leigh-Ann (and Leigh-Ann’s brilliant hired van) at 5:15 a.m. to get to bag check before 6:10 a.m. to get in corrals by 6:40 a.m. before the 7:00 a.m. start. Thank god I’m a morning person.

Who needs coffee? (Just kidding. We both do.)

Who needs coffee? (Just kidding. We both do.)

I started to talk with my corral mates to pass the time, and I quickly discovered I was surrounded by some really fast individuals. “I’m trying for a 1:30,” said Kevin, the chatty stretcher by the railing. “I’m taking it easy after qualifying for Boston last week,” said approachable Alan in line for the john. “I am Meb Keflezighi,” said Meb Keflezighi as he smacked me with his Olympic silver. I could be exaggerating on that last point, but I can’t be sure. I was clearly in the wrong corral.

Knowing I was surrounded by greats, I made an important decision as the starting gun went off: I wasn’t going to go out sprinting with them. I was going to run my own race.

So I did. Miles 1-4, I kept myself at a steady 8:30 pace, even though my legs were itching to keep up. Mile 5, I was passed by a speedy friend who I decided not to chase down because I wasn’t yet ready to drop the hammer. Mile 7, we exited Prospect Park and even though the crowds were roaring, I simply maintained.

And then we hit Ocean Parkway — the 6.1-mile stretch that would take us due south to the finish line — and I let it have it.

Sure, my quads were starting to ache and my calloused feet were barking, but with more than half of the race under my belt, I felt like I still had more gas in the tank, so I started to push my speed. For the next few miles, I threw back every cup of Gatorade I could get my hands on, ate my Honey Stinger energy chews and counted down the alphabetical avenues from A to Z. At mile 11, the sky opened up to a torrential downpour, so I put my head down and cranked up the effort. As I approached mile 12, I started to do the math and realized that if I could maintain an 8 minute mile for just 8 more minutes, I might be able to finish under the 1:50 mark. So I squared my shoulders, widened by stride and tore my way down the boardwalk and over that finish line at 1:49:12.

I collected my medal and heat sheet, gathered my baggage, unabashedly stripped out of my wet clothes in the minor league baseball parking lot (sorry, mom), and met my friends for a beer and dog at Nathan’s. It was only when I was in the van headed home that I got the idea to check my existing half marathon PR just for hell of it.

And what do you know? It was a 1:49:47. With no expectation whatsoever, I’d just knocked 35 seconds off.

And who says Brooklyn is all played out?

text

Thanks, Brooklyn!

I was just one of 26,482 finishers, so I know some of you did it do. How’d your race go?

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By Any Stretch of the Imagination

I recently found myself saying out loud nine words I never in my life thought I’d string together into a sentence.

  • No, it wasn’t “Think I’ll have peanut butter just one meal today.”
  • And it wasn’t “No thank you. I have enough golden doodle GIFs.”

Heck, it wasn’t even “I’ve filled my ‘You’ve Got Mail’ quota for 2015.”

The nine-word phrase that somehow escaped my lips was even more surprising, if you can believe it. It went a little something like this:

“This week, I practiced yoga at three different studios.”

(Fun fact: that’s also a haiku if you pronounce diff-er-ent as three syllables and channel your inner Barney Stinson to add “True story!” at the end.)

If you’ve ever seen me try to touch my toes but only get to about my belly button, you can appreciate how comical this is. But it’s not just my supreme inflexibility that makes my recently frequent yoga practice a surprise — it’s also the fact that I left the first yoga class I ever took convinced I’d never go back.

I had just moved to New York City, and as an inflexible and probably hung-over 22 year old, I decided to check out the small second-story yoga studio near my apartment on the Upper West Side. I didn’t really know what yoga was, but I knew I wanted to be fitter and I knew big city girls took yoga, so I paid the $20 class fee and went.

And it was horrible. Sitting Indian style (don’t worry, I can use that phrase, being 3/256ths Native American) was supremely uncomfortable for me, and no one thought to tell me to sit on a blanket or block. The instructor spoke in Sanskrit, not that I knew what what balasana (child’s pose) was in English, either. Worst of all, the teacher kept coming over to adjust me, which now I know can be extremely helpful, but as a frustrated and confused newbie, it just left me feeling embarrassed.

It’s no surprise I didn’t go back to another yoga class for seven years.

It was only last year that I decided to give it another try as I looked for ways to rein in potential injuries during the marathon off-season. And this time, I did it right. Instead of throwing myself right into an all-levels yoga class at some fancy studio with coconut-water on tap, I went to super basic “Intro to Yoga” in the basement utility room of the 92nd St. YMHA.

No frills. Also, no windows.

No frills. Also, no windows.

“Is this anyone’s first class?” the non-threatening instructor, Karen, asked as she introduced herself to the room. “Any sore spots I should know about?” “Does anyone not want to be touched or adjusted?”

She put me at ease, and as we moved slowly through the poses with ample guidance, I found I wasn’t just tensing up out of absolute fear and humiliation: I was really stretching. I left the 60-minute class with looser hamstrings, an understanding of downward dog, and a plan to come back every Tuesday until the marathon. And as much as I could, I did.

For about a year, I went to that 92Y intro class, but I was still too afraid to check out any more advanced classes at that gym or somewhere else. Shoulder stands? Headstands? Levitation? No thank you. I was content to stick with my basic poses and not push my comfort zone.

It was only when I received an e-mail from New York Road Runners this spring announcing its four-week Yoga for Runners series at Pure Yoga that I decided it was time to put my introductory practice to the test. I signed up for the course, arrived at the terrifyingly beautiful studio for my first session, and prepared to be humiliated again by a fancy teacher.

They have free Vogues available to read while you wait for class. FREE VOGUES.

They have free Vogues available to read while you wait for class at Pure Yoga. FREE VOGUES.

And you know what? I wasn’t. Sure, there were things I couldn’t do without a block or a blanket or a belt, but there were also poses that if I shook off my own “I can’t” attitude, I found I could actually do. Equally importantly, the class was full of other runners like me, so we ALL had tight hamstrings and hip flexors and an unhealthy competitive spirit. Those four weeks of practices flew by, and I left itching for the next time NYRR offers the series.

With that newfound confidence, when a friend recently suggested yoga and a brunch date in Union Square, I jumped on the opportunity. We went to Yoga Vida — where I’ve since learned Alec Baldwin’s wife teaches — and I survived something I never thought imaginable: a flow class. I didn’t know what it meant, but I now imagine it means something like “move positions so fast you’re always at risk of not keeping up.” Still, for the most part, my experience in the intro class had given me the skills I needed to follow along, and I left the class energized, proud and feeling like no one in the class had been watching me for comedic relief.

And for this stiff runner, that’s a win.

Have you ever revisited something you hated seven years ago to find your tastes have changed? Fancy wine not out of a box, I’m talking to you.

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