The past few weeks, Ronda Rousey’s name has been all over the news. Her last three 3 UFC fights collectively have taken less than 60 seconds. I’m definitely not a UFC fan — I REALLY hate watching any sort of hand-to-hand combat and cover my eyes during violent scenes on tv (case in point: I saw Fight Club, but I only actually “watched” about 47 seconds of it). Anyway, Ronda is a UFC fighter who also happens to be a woman. It kind of goes without saying that the lady definitely knows her way around a gym. And with all the publicity, there have been quite a few nay-sayers who say she’s too muscular and too manly-looking. In response, she recently put out this YouTube video where Ronda says, yes, she is a woman and yes, she is muscular, but this doesn’t make her any less feminine. In fact, this body of hers, where each muscle is developed to serve a purpose, makes her “femininely badass as f*ck” and, despite my aversion to watching people beat the shit out of each other, I’m now a Rousey fan.
So why the girl crush on Ronda? No, she’s not a marathoner like other awesome ladies (tennis champ Caroline Wozniacki! Gold medal gymnast Kerri Strug!), but she is a strong voice (no pun intended) championing the body of the female athlete. A few weeks ago, a female runner friend wrote on Facebook that she was too self-conscious to run outside without her shirt on. I wanted to “like” her status 17 times. Girl, I feel you. I’ve been running for over 11 years and, no matter how hot or gross or nasty it got — and believe me, NYC in August is a special kind of disgusting — I had only run once sans shirt. After reading her status, I went out for a run and took off my shirt. She inspired me to run 8 miles wearing nothing but running shorts and a sports bra. It was surprisingly liberating. It was also a little scary because I’m such a nerd that I got so paranoid I was going to get a ticket for indecent exposure. And then I thought, wait a second. All these guys with ‘dad bods‘ walk around without their shirts, evidence of their 6 packs of Heinekens and BBQ wings hanging around their waists like basketballs from their weekend warrior game. If they can do it, why can’t I do the same, with my “evidence” being planks and crunches and those damn V-ups (that I would be happy being able to do just ONE where I don’t look like a total spaz)? And so, I’ve joined the no-shirt party. I’ve been listening to my inner “you go girl” and have been leaving the shirt at home. And I must admit, with this confidence about my body and acceptance that my “kellybelly” will always be here no matter how many crunches or flutter kicks I do, comes confidence about a lot of other things, too. Because, like my friend Ronda, I am not a #dnb.
During good weeks, I have all 10 toenails. I have calluses built up from years of cutting and jab-stepping on the basketball court.
I would never get a pedicure, and in fact should get a 20% discount (let’s just say I’m not operating with a full set). Some women go on shopping trips to find the perfect pair of jeans; my goal is to find the perfect sports bra (chafing = ouchie). I have a ridiculous watch tan line from wearing my trusty Garmin while logging hundreds of miles this summer. Two-a-day workouts mean my hair is always wet (even in the winter) and half the day I’m in some form of workout clothes (true story: after graduate school, I considered getting a job at Lululemon only for the employee discount). While at work on weekends, my lab mates would ask, “did you just come from a run?” To which I replied, “nope, this is just how I dress.” As a female athlete , it’s taken an embarrassingly long time for me to accept that I will never be one of those super skinny model-y girls who is always put together and looks like she’s on a steady diet of cigarettes and coffee. True, I’m often hungry (and never travel without at least one Honey Stinger bar) so the threat of getting hangry is never far, but I blame that on the workouts and not on calorie restriction.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I may wear pink shoes and a sparkly headband, but that’s not because I need to feel more feminine. It’s because I want to. And like my mom always said, “you always do what you wanna do.” Damn straight.
I stumbled off the plane, eyes bleary and head foggy from the 11 hour trip. It was 2pm on July 4. I made it: I was in Hawaii. After a particularly rough beginning to the summer (to put it mildly), I used up all my frequent flier miles and (impulsively? uncharacteristically? decisively?) booked an 8 day trip to Hawaii. Thanks to United Airlines, it cost a whopping $11.20 to fly direct from Newark to Honolulu. I called it my “eat pray love / wild” trip, but it turned out to be more of an “eat run love live laugh talk sleep cry smile swim” kind of week. I was going to visit my uncle who I hadn’t seen in probably 20 years (oh god, that I can even say that makes me feel so old). Sure, I was a little nervous — I mean, I hadn’t seen this man in 2 decades and I was going to spend 8 days with him in his house? Was I crazy? Maybe. I had a week in Kaneohe to find out…
The trip was everything I expected and nothing at all like I thought it would be: every morning I went for a run in hot, humid, hilly Hawaii, and I had take a second and convince myself that this was real.
Thanks to the wonders of cortisone and a little bit of Noni, my ankle was feeling better and for the first time in two months, I was running regularly. Don’t get me wrong — those first few runs weren’t pretty — it took about 4 days for me not to feel like a drunken baby giraffe learning how to walk, but I think I finally got the hang of it. I was eating clean (very little dairy and sweets, and no meat, alcohol, or caffeine), snacking on papayas, mangoes, avocados, cherries, watermelon, and of course, my Honey Stinger bars. I was swimming (more like bobbing around) in the ocean and relaxing on the beach. I was talking to my uncle, getting to know a man I hadn’t had contact with for so long. We talked about everything from washing machines to reincarnation, along with a healthy dose of family, music, surfing, and science. Turns out, my uncle is a pretty cool dude. I mean, you can kind of guess that when you hear he’s lived in Hawaii for 30+ years and you see the surfboards hanging over his kitchen table. But, when you hear stories of how he sang backing vocals for Carly Simon at Carnegie Hall, or the shows he saw at The Bitter End and the Fillmore East, or the cross- country trips in his VW van, you gotta figure this guy is pretty awesome.
My Uncle Tom helped me get my head back on straight and, in our time together, taught me a little bit (ok, more like a lot of bit) about myself. He taught me about love, forgiveness, and the importance of family. About being kind to yourself and others. About having patience and having faith that everything will work out. And through all this, I was lucky enough to get back to doing what makes me happy: running. I like to think I’ll keep his lessons with me back in New York but if I need a little help remembering, I know the mango I have ripening on my counter will remind me of our trip to the North Shore, and the cherries in my fridge will remind me of the fireworks on the beach in Kailua. And if this doesn’t work, we’ll always have our selfies!
“The saddest sight my eyes can see
Is that big ball of orange sinkin’ slyly down the trees”
Yesterday, I was supposed to race a marathon. It was going to be my 27th marathon and my second one this year. It was going to be my first international marathon, one that I had been targeting to podium, or — if I was having a good day — compete for an overall win. But, the universe and I have been in kind of in a big fight these past few weeks and instead of racing in Banff, Canada, I spent the weekend on Long Island in a walking boot nursing a sprained ankle and a wounded heart.
Yikes. I didn’t mean for that to sound quite so dramatic. In all seriousness, though, the summer hasn’t exactly turned out the way I thought it would, but if a series of little (okay, more like, big Canadian Rockies-sized) bumps in the road have taught me anything, it’s that these days, I’m all about finding the silver linings — listening to my cousin sing “This is the New Year” instead of going to a concert at Bowery Ballroom, having my aunt take me to Bed Bed Bath and Beyond instead of buying new clothes at Lululemon and Banana Republic. It’s Friday night pizza and wine with family instead of late night dinner dates at home. And in the case of this weekend, it was celebrating my grandmother’s 90th birthday instead of racing 26.2 miles through the Canadian Rockies. Oh, and there was also an impromptu pool side dance party, a challenger league baseball game, Father’s Day dinner, and a little game called “Bean Boozled” where 4 of us dopes sat on my cousin’s bed in our pajamas and ate jellybeans flavored like rotten eggs, moldy cheese, barf, skunk, and boogers, just to name a few. We laughed (and gagged) so hard our eyes watered. And yes, there is evidence, but only in the form of video — physical evidence in the form of, well, actual vomit, has (hopefully?) been washed from my cousin’s shirt.
This weekend, I didn’t get my typical pre-race jitters (or, less flatteringly referred to as “that time before a marathon where Kelly turns into a crazy lady”). I didn’t get to carbo load. I didn’t get the challenge of trying to convert my kilometer splits into mile times (as an enginerd, I was kind of looking forward to it). I didn’t hit the wall and then fight through it. I didn’t get to see my sherpa. I didn’t get that indescribable feeling that brings me to tears every time I cross a marathon finish line. And the fashion-inept engineer/scientist part of me is disappointed I didn’t get to wear my favorite post-race accessories: bright purple compression socks and brown crocs.
But I did spend the weekend with my family. My family, who makes me smile so hard my face hurts, who cares so much my chest aches, and who insists on feeding me so much my kellybelly hurts. My family, who is reminding me how to be happy and how to laugh again. And if that’s not a silver lining, I don’t know what is.
Alanis Morissette told us “I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone.” Alanis, you be crazy. Okay, maybe we already knew she was a little crazy when she wrote a scathing breakup song about Uncle Joey, but nevertheless, I am not a fan of this heart trampling she speaks of. In fact, I would argue that it kinda sorta completely and totally sucks. Combine this feeling of heartbreak with moving out and having to find an apartment in NYC on a serious budget, and it’s nothing short of Kelly and the terrible horrible no good very bad… month.
But now, I’m in a new place, in a new borough, writing this entry on my laptop feeling very Carrie Bradshaw… minus the cigarette and closet full of designer shoes (unless you count ASICS and New Balance as couture). Oh, there’s also the fact that this apartment is most definitely not rent controlled and that my desk happens to overlook an “Amp and Guitar Wellness Center” and not some tree-lined street off of Madison Ave. There’s no confusing the fact that Toto, we are definitely not in the upper east side. We are in Brooklyn.
Since that whole heart trampling thing, I haven’t had any interest to run. I used to see people running and feel a twinge of jealousy: I want to run, too! Now, I look at them and think, “that’s nice. I remember when I used to do that.” Anyone that knows me, knows that this apathy is cause for concern (to put it mildly). I’ve gone running twice in the last two and a half weeks, both times with my coach. The second time we went to a beautiful facility up in Harlem where I saw stars and almost tasted synthetic track during a particularly tough 1200m repeat. Here’s a thought: lack of sleep + severe caloric deficit = bad news bears when it comes to speed work. But it’s all good — I recovered with a calorie-rich smoothie and a good cry. (Apologies to my fellow A train passengers. It was a rough morning.)
In any case, I think I’m starting to get the running bug back, and I know that when I am feeling better, with calories replenished and my sleep bank back in the black (or more realistically, a little less in the red), I’ll be out there, doing as many loops of Prospect Park as my weary legs can handle. I have a marathon and a 50 mile ultramarathon left on my calendar for 2015, and now more than ever, I need running. I need to zone out for an hour (or four) each day, I need to be so tired I can’t go another step, and then run another mile. I need to remember the simple pleasures — the joy of a 6 mile recovery run, the welcome pain of 8 miles of hills, and the mind-clearing relaxation of an 18 mile long run. I need my legs to be sore, my brain to quiet down, and my heart to be whole. I need to fall in love again. I need to run.
Ahh, the 5:15am alarm. I’m either traveling or racing a marathon, because those are the only 2 reasons I’d be up this early. Okay, time to get dressed, eat my bagel, use the bathroom (TMI, but for reals: it’s a MUST before a race. Trust me), then head out to Eisenhower Park for the Long Island Marathon. I won the race in 2013, then in 2014 did a much hillier, but very scenic, race in Southern Vermont where I came in second by 2 seconds. Yes. Two freaking seconds.
Anyway, I digress. I’m back at the 2015 LI race, but I almost didn’t make it to the start line: a few days before the race, I was talking to my aunt and she was asking me things like, when does the race start? What’s your bib number? In other words, all things I really should know. So, I look on the website. OK, race starts at 8am. Great. What’s my bib number? I search for my name in the list of registered entrants and it says, “You are registered for 0 events.” Aaaaand commence freak out. After a string of 4 letter expletives, I take a deep breath, and search my email. Apparently, I never registered for the race. FAIL KELLY. Thankfully I was able to register in person two days before the race, but holy cow, talk about high anxiety.
The weather for Sunday was supposed to be warm — a high of 76 — which, if you ask me, is about 25 degrees too warm for a marathon. Plus, with almost half the course being on the Wantagh Parkway, I knew I’d have to be careful with hydration and not wilting in the sun. I spent the first few miles trying to settle into a comfortable pace, as I didn’t want to go faster than 7:05-7:10 (memories, painful horrible memories, of going out too fast in the 2014 NYC marathon have scarred me for life).
At mile 10, we leave the side streets and turn onto the Wantagh Parkway where we’ll be until just past mile 22. I actually kind of love this part of the course because it’s wide, mostly flat, and quiet. This is where the race really started for me — I picked up the pace and was running 6:50s pretty consistently and felt great (probably also due to the fact that I just had my first Honey Stinger energy gel). I saw Sam and got a surprise visit from my aunt, uncle, and cousin around mile 13, where I found out I was in 4th place and the 2nd and 3rd place girls were about 60-90 seconds ahead of me. I asked how far ahead the first place woman was. Sam said, “just run. Just keep going.” HA. Translation: She’s FAR.
Around mile 14, I picked off the 3rd place girl, and then at the turnaround point at mile 16.5, I saw the first place woman make her hairpin turn and head back. By my watch, she still had a good 4 minutes on me. Bollocks. At mile 17, I caught up to the 2nd place woman and the strangest thing happened: as I passed her, she stopped running. Like, literally stopped in her tracks and started walking. I asked if she was okay and she said, “oh yea I’m fine.” Uhh, ok…
Now I’m in 2nd place, about 4 minutes back, and I was on a mission: I had to catch up to the leader. Open Honey Stinger gel #2 and keep on truckin. For the next few miles, I notice something: all the female spectators would say some form of “you go girl!” and other encouraging words, whereas the male spectators were yelling things like, “she’s only 2 minutes ahead of you and she looks TERRIBLE!” or, “you’re only 90 seconds back, and she looks AWFUL. Go get her!” Hmm, I might actually have a chance at this.
I pass Sam and my family at mile 20, they tell me the leader is 90 seconds ahead and is apparently not shy about the fact that she’s not doing so well. I open my Honey Stinger Energy Chews, I know I’ll need them. I keep my pace a steady 6:50 or so, and… MIRACLE! I see the lead bikers! At mile 22 I catch up to them and the woman and I exchange a few words, I say great job keep it up, she tells me how awful she feels. I’m feeling pretty shitty too, but I think I’m hiding it better than she is. I pass her, and have just over 5km to go. Less than 24 minutes. If I can just keep it together for 24 more minutes, I’m good.
The lead bikers escort me off the Wantagh Parkway, and we cover 2 of the longest miles ever, down some road whose name I don’t know in a town I don’t recall because I’m running part of the time with my eyes closed, willing the race to be over. I’m really feeling it now and am up to about a 7:10-7:15 per mile. I open my eyes wide enough and like a mirage, I think I see orange cones. YES. That means we’re going back into Eisenhower Park, the marathon is almost over, and I can eat ice cream and drink soda. Mile 25 comes and goes, I have no idea how close the girl is behind me, I start having paranoid thoughts that somehow she got a second wind. Mile 26, thank freaking god I’m almost finished, I make the last right turn, I see the finish line ahead, I wave frantically to my family. I manage not to trip over the tape. I did it!
Phew. I could really go for some ice cream.
But before I do, I have many people to thank: thank you to Coach John Hirsch for getting my legs and my brain ready, to New York Health and Racquet Club and their amazing staff for getting me strong, to Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled, and to my family and friends. Thank you for putting up with all this running nonsense. You all are amazing.
Last Monday marked my first year since 2004 that I wasn’t on the Boston Marathon start line Hopkinton. Every year, I made the pilgrimage to Boston, “carbo loading” at Mike’s Pastry and spending a paycheck or two on a hotel room. I ran the year of the Nor’easter, the year it was 85 degrees at the start. I was cresting Heartbreak Hill when spectators told us Meb won (!!!), I was in my hotel room behind Copley when I heard the sirens. This year, however, I spent Marathon Monday on my living room couch, watching the elite runners with my jaw hanging open, goosebumps running up my arms. Like many other runnerds, I was rooting for Meb to repeat, and for Shalane Flanagan to be the first woman to make that right on Hereford, left on Boylston. I was surprised and a little confused when Shalane lost contact with the lead pack around mile 16, and then when she fell further and further behind through the Newton Hills. Was she injured? Was she sick?
Nope. Turns out it just a “bad day at the office.” Wait a second. Someone can spend months (or years) training for this race, for these two (or three or four) hours, making countless sacrifices (glass of wine? No thanks. More dessert? Nope, I’ve got a long run tomorrow), only to crash and burn the day of the race, for no other reason than your body is just not that into it?
Welcome to the marathon.
26.2 miles. That’s a lot of freaking miles. Back when I had a car, I usually didn’t drive that many miles in a day, let alone RACE them. I’ve run almost 30 marathons (and a 50 mile ultra) and the thought of racing 26.2 miles still scares the crap out of me. And that’s why I love it.
This training cycle, I’ve had more 80, 90, and 100 mile weeks than ever. I’ve had more 5:30am wake-up calls than I care to count. I’ve done more planking, squatting, and lunging than is considered normal… and to think it all might not work out the next time I embark on a 26.2 mile journey, is kind of a terrifying/amazing thing. But then again, there’s the chance it all will work out: I’ll be properly fueled and hydrated, the weather gods will bless us with cool temps and a tailwind, my head will be focused, my legs will work in sync with the rest of me. And that chance of having “the day”, will always bring me back.
Next week (ohmygod, next week?!), I’ll be racing the Long Island Marathon. I’ll be starting and finishing in Eisenhower Park and in between, will be spending a few hours out on the “scenic” Wantagh Parkway. I’ll try not to get choked up when I pass my 9 month old nephew with his three adorable teeth, when I see my sister and her husband (and their ex-racing greyhound!) cheering me on, when I see my aunt and cousin jumping up and down like lunatics, when I watch my boyfriend double fisting cameras to get a picture where I don’t look ridiculous/terrible/awkward. I’ll try not to lose my shit and start crying when I cross the finish line.
It’s 15 degrees and I’m in Riverside Park at 9:25am on a windy and gray Saturday morning, focusing on keeping my hot chocolate upright as I’m doubled over. Sam asks, “but you feel good, right?” The truth is that, no I feel like shit, but what I actually say is, “I have never felt good after one of these things.” It’s my first 5k race since 2012, and that’s partially because the thought of racing 3.1 miles makes my legs and lungs hurt. This time was no different. I’m not sure if I’m doing something right, or very wrong, but I usually feel like the race ends just in time — any longer or I’d dry heave my way across the finish line.
I should have known that the day wasn’t off to a great start when my alarm went off at 5:45am. I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and then thought, “wait a second…” why was I planning on leaving the apartment at 6:40am for a race that didn’t start until 9am? Because I screwed up. I set my alarm and made my travel plans as if the race started at 8am. Mistake numero uno.
After taking the subway part of the way uptown, I jogged 2 miles to the start and saw exactly what we’d be dealing with: the course was hilly and covered in so much ice that it narrowed the path to single track (the race director actually said we might have to throw a few elbows on the out-and-back course). I just kept telling myself, “20 minutes. It will all be over in 20 minutes.”
The first half of the race, I thought I was in 4th, with the 2nd and 3rd place females no more than 15 seconds ahead of me. Just before the turn-around, I passed them both, thinking I was now in 2nd, with the 1st place woman far in front. I was feeling pretty yuck as we ascended a few hills, but knew it would all be over soon because I had mercifully passed the 2 mile marker. Just a few more minutes and the pain would be over. With 0.3 miles to go, we made a sharp left turn down a steep hill and you could just barely make out the finish line. Oh thank god, that means the torture is almost over. I was jolted from my happy place when I got passed by a girl (grr). I tried to keep up, willing my quads to go faster, but they were in no mood to cooperate. Okay, fine, if it was any consolation, I would still podium (mistake numero dos). I couldn’t keep up with her, and she finished 4 seconds ahead of me. I finished in just over 21 minutes, a disappointing time (aaand numero tres). Sam immediately came over and told me I came in fourth. FOURTH?! Ugg. You know what’s worse than coming in 4th? Coming in 4th thinking you were in 3rd the whole time. I grumbled for a few minutes (sorry Sam!), drank my hot chocolate (thank you NYCRUNS!), changed my shirt, and ran 11 miles home. I was pissed. I was cold. I was tired. I needed to declare a mulligan on the day. I got home, showered, took a short nap, and ate breakfast all over again.
I’m still a little grumpy about the morning, but am trying to use it as a learning experience. I need to get my speed up. I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Also, I need to do another 5k. Preferably faster. And preferably in warmer weather. Until then, I’ve got some training to do.