Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I'm Exactly Where I'm Meant To Be

This is something I've found myself saying over and over again throughout the past year or so. There have been so many things that I would never have gotten to experience or been a part of if I was still living in Pittsburgh. It's not something I talk about often but I started college at the University of Pittsburgh. While I loved the school and the city, I didn't belong there. I was miserable and made the decision to transfer schools. I ended up at UMBC by accident, and to be honest I don't really like it here either. My issues with this school are a whole other story but no matter how much I dislike UMBC, being in Maryland has provided me with countless opportunities that I would not have if I'd stayed in Pittsburgh.

Over the past two months I have been questioning whether I made the right decision to leave Pittsburgh. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the decisions I've made and the reasons behind those decisions. Whenever I start to regret moving to Maryland I remind myself of the countless times I told myself that I was where I was meant to be. For awhile when I would say this it was because I was given an incredible opportunity.

Last winter I applied to be a college ambassador for the Nike Women's Half Marathon in DC. Although Baltimore is not super close to DC, it is close enough that Nike wanted to include students from the area to promote the race. The weekend of the race I got an email from my contact at Nike offering me an opportunity to meet Ellie Goulding, who was also running the race. That weekend I also got to meet Shalane Flanagan and Join Benoit Samuelson just by being given access to the VIP tent before and after the race.

Recently I have been having a hard time understanding why I am supposed to be here, in this moment. I think society and the media tell us that when things get hard we need to change our situation as quickly as possible and that will make us feel better. While I do agree with changing things and not dwelling on a bad situation, I also think it is important to learn from every experience, good or bad. If there's anything I've learned at UMBC its that you can learn a lot more from bad situations than from good ones.

I'm learning that, as corny and common sense as it sounds, life is full of ups and downs, and as much as we don't want to be in pain, sometimes these painful situations make us better people. Sometimes its okay to be sad, angry, hurt. Lately I've been making a greater effort to look for the lesson in every experience. I try to take the attitude that if I can learn from it, it negates all the bad things. Truthfully, it's not an easy thing to do.

This can apply to both life and training. We all have bad workouts. Once I get over the initial frustration of missing prescribed tempo paces I try to look at what I could have done differently. What was the cause of that bad workout. I might not always have an answer but I'll gladly take what I can to do better next time. It's about trusting the journey and knowing that things will work out at some point. Trust that whatever you are going through, you are going through it for a reason and make the most of that.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Guess Who is Running Pain Free!

Since the New York City Marathon 3 weeks ago, I have ran 3 times. I ran twice at the track at school and once with the Lululemon run club. Although I've been able to run, my knee is still not back to 100%. I don't have any pain while running but there is still a little tightness when doing some of my physical therapy exercises and stretches. I have seen a lot of progress though, which is all that matters.

On Friday, my therapist and I discussed my injury in a little more detail as well as how to proceed in the future. I'm not a doctor so excuse my lack of technical terms and inevitable mistakes. We think the problem is that my hamstring is both tight and weak. I don't know if I pulled it or if it built upon itself but when the hamstring became messed up for a lack of a better term it put a lot of pressure on my IT band. My therapist explained that a lot of hamstring injuries manifest themselves as IT band issues. Then because my IT band become so tight, my quad was overcompensating and causing my knee cap to track out of alignment.

I know it sounds complicated but the human body is complicated. Because there was no specific injury it is hard to know exactly what is going on but this is how we're treating it. Right now I'm going to therapy twice a week but will be reducing it down to once a week after Thanksgiving if everything keeps continuing in the right direction. Most of what I do can also be done at home so I'm also doing my stretches and strengthening at home. Because I've been asked, we are working on stretching the hamstring and loosening up the IT band as well as strengthening the hamstring and the glute. My abductors are really weak so we are going at them aggressively. All of this strengthening and stretching is also helping my running form (my knees buckle in a lot when I run).

Right now I'm only supposed to run about three miles. I am going to therapy today and am going to hopefully find out when I can run more frequently and/or for a longer duration. My first run was okay but not perfect. Towards the end my knee started getting tight. My second run was mostly good except for one huge hill we ran down. It was my first time running outside in the dark and I actually loved it. I think being with a group helped. My third run, yesterday, was great. It was SO cold outside but I bundled up and braved the temps. I ran for thirty minutes with no pain or discomfort!

Fingers crossed things keep heading in the right direction!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Butternut Squash Fall Salad

I made this salad earlier in the week and absolutely loved it. The apple and pomegranate seeds really offset the warmth and fall flavors of the squash and lentils. After being asked about this recipe a few times I decided to go ahead and share it. Let me know what you think!


1/2 cup cooked lentils (I used a precooked package from Wegmans)
1/2 Granny Smith apple (chopped)
1/4 cup Pomegranate seeds
1 cup butternut squash (I used a precut container from Wegmans)
Parsley as desired
Cracked pepper as desired
Lemon juice as desired
2-3 handfuls of spinach


1. Toss butternut squash with olive oil and cracked pepper
2. Bake butternut squash at 400 degrees until soft (about 30 min)
3. While squash is baking, prepare other ingredients
4. Toss all ingredients in a large bowl & mix
5. Enjoy

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Embracing the Off-Season

After two weeks of doing next to nothing I am starting to get a little restless. Since the marathon all I've done is physical therapy and the occasional swim. From January through November I was training for something with no more than a week break. While I didn't feel burned out at all while training for the marathon, my lack of desire to do anything since it means I needed this break.

Because I am someone who loves having a schedule to follow, the idea of an off-season is not completely thrilling to me. I find it really hard to actually head out for a run unless it's on my calendar. At the same time, I realize the importance of taking some time off from hard training for both my body and my mind. And to be honest, I don't really want to be in hard training right now. I am so sick of swimming and counting down the days left until Christmas break because it means my PE class will be over and I can finally take a break from the pool.
One of the delicious creations I made

The good (and bad) thing is that my knee is still not back to 100% yet. I have been going to physical therapy for a week and a half and have already seen a lot of improvement in both strength and flexibility. On Monday, I even ran for 8 whole minutes with no pain! I have been cleared to start running again but no more than three miles. I have no desire to really do any more than that right now anyway.

So what's my plan for the rest of the year? To not have one, of course! Except that's not entirely true. First and foremost I am going to continue physical therapy until my knee is as good as it can be. I am going to take running one day at a time but hopefully get back to being able to run somewhat regularly. I haven't entirely decided what I want to do in the spring yet but it likely will involve running and I want to have a decent base before jumping into back into training.

Aside from running I want to get back into strength training. I want my muscles to be strong and healthy when I decide to start training again and now is the time to do it. I typically just wing it in the weight room and wander about with no direction. As fun as this sometimes is, I think the way to make the most out of doing strength training is to have a plan. I don't have a plan yet so if you know of any good strength plans send them my way!

I am completely swamped with school work for the next four weeks so working out will not be my priority. I actually like that my off-season matches up with the end of the semester because then I have more time to study and prepare for finals.

PS. Tomorrow I'm going for my first post-marathon run. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Thrill of the Race

This past weekend something occurred to me that I probably already knew about myself, it just hadn't really hit home yet: I like to race. This statements has two meanings.

1. I like to do more races than less races
2. I like to compete

In 2012 I didn't do that many races and they were pretty spread out over the year. Although 2013 started out slowly, I did a lot of races (for me) between June and September. Racing more often taught me how to race and that a race is only a race. There will always be another one. I did five triathlons over the summer and I didn't really put any extra importance on any of them. I trained for the season, not for a specific race. This let me take more chances and race each race harder I think. If I went too hard on the bike and blew up on the run it was a lesson learned rather than ruining the single race I trained all summer for.

Triathlon #4 out of 5

This fall I was planning on doing less races simply because I needed to turn all my focus to the New York City Marathon. I needed to get in those long runs. As you all know, neither the races or the long runs really happened thanks to an annoying knee injury. But in the seven weeks between my last triathlon and the marathon I realized how important frequent racing is to my training. Racing lets me test my fitness and see what kinks need to be worked out before race day. It also keeps me on track and motivated. When planning my 2014 race schedule I'm already looking for extra races to do.

Not all race pictures can be this cute

I think the most important thing that racing more frequently taught me was I that I like actually racing, not just participating. This may not be something important to some people but it changes the way that I mentally go into a race. Even if you are chasing a certain time on the clock I still think that is different from competing against the people around you. For me it actually lets me ignore the time on the clock. I am able to just put my head down and go hard. This also means that I like triathlons better than running races.

First female out of the water

I am well aware that if I lived in a city or was doing bigger races I would not be finishing nearly so close to the top. But to be honest, I don't care. It isn't the fact that I can say I finished second female overall. It's not about bragging rights. I can't know this for sure but I really think I went faster at these races because I was racing. If there's a girl running me down you better believe I'm going to do everything possible to not let her beat me. For me it's all about the mental aspect of the race.

First female across the finish line

Along with doing more racing I am also planning my 2014 schedule to have more challenging opportunities to really race. This likely means it will be a mix of smaller and larger, and shorter and longer races. I like variety and I like a challenge. And for the people who have asked, no I do not know which races I am doing yet. I have a list that is all but finalized but I'm not committing to anything until I get my knee healthy and strong.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Marathon Will Change You

After I quit swimming 3 years ago, I became enamored with the idea of running a marathon. I loved how strong and dedicated runners seemed to be (and are!). More than just being a runner, I wanted to be a marathoner because I'd heard so many stories of how the marathon can change you.

I ran my first marathon a little more than a week ago and to be completely honest it was a huge letdown. I was supposed to run the New York City Marathon and when that got cancelled I should have just called it a season. Instead I ran a marathon that I didn't want to and had a pretty miserable first marathon experience. While I think the Harrisburg Marathon is great, it was not what I wanted in a race this important to me.

I remember waking up that morning and not even one part of me wanted to run a marathon. Not a great start. Now that some time has passed I have fonder memories of that day but for awhile afterwards I felt disappointed about the whole experience. I didn't feel proud to call myself a marathoner because in my mind I quit on that day. I gave up when things got tough and I was ashamed. I'd had this grand imagination of how that day would do down but I was ultimately just let down. And it was all my fault.

After having such a rough experience I really didn't want to run a marathon this year. The only reason that I did was because it was New York and even that was a hard decision to make. Going into training all I wanted was to have a better experience than last year. I wanted to prove to myself how much progress I had made and that last year's race didn't define me as an athlete.

When I got injured and all goals when out the window I almost pulled out. I was terrified of having another bad experience and I didn't think the beloved NYC Marathon deserved whatever negative things I would inevitably have to say. Because I had already payed I decided to run the race and make it as far as I could.

As you know I made it the whole 26.2 miles. I had absolutely no expectations for this race and I think because of that I finally had the life changing marathon experience I had so strongly wanted. During those miles in Brooklyn when I was high-fiving every little kid and dancing with every band, I had the most fun I've ever had during a race. And during those last few miles in and around Central Park I felt like the athlete I wanted to prove to myself that I was.

Somewhere over those 26.2 miles I found the strength I had been lacking over a rough past few months. My personal life has been a complete mess and leaving me question everything but for 4 hours and 35 minutes on November 3 none of that mattered. Actually from the minute I woke up until I went to bed my life was absolute perfection. I was reminded that everything I thought I wasn't, I am.

Running the NYC Marathon with 50,000+ other runners and over 2 million spectators reminded me how amazing life really is. New York is the city of dreams and it helped me remember mine. I never expected that a race could change me so much but it did. The New York City Marathon was the race that showed me that no matter how hard things may be I can always find the light and chase my dreams. They are worth it. I am worth it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Marathon Recovery & a Knee Update

It's really hard to believe that it's already been a week since I ran the New York City Marathon. Despite having some really solid triathlons over the summer, this will go down as my favorite race thus far. I don't have any intentions of running it again next year but I know that I will run it again sometime. It's that amazing.

The number one question that people keep asking me is how my knee is doing. The answer is that I honestly don't know. It hurt pretty badly during the race and it hurt pretty badly after the race on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday my quads were really and sore and I had the typical trouble going down the stairs but nothing out of the ordinary. Since Tuesday my hips have gotten really tight but no actual knee pain.

One of my favorite signs from the NYC Marathon

Before the race I took 2-3 (I don't remember exact duration) weeks off running to try to light my knee heal as much as possible. I did a lot of swimming and biking to help stay in shape. While I do think that taking that time off helped, it certainly didn't fix everything. I made it to mile 9 before experiencing any pain at all, which is a lot farther than I was expecting. Although that gives me hope, running so many miles in pain did absolutely nothing to make my knee better.

I took this entire last week off of running and am taking this next week off too. I swam twice last week but kept it super easy with the intent of solely shaking out my legs. I will do the same thing this week before hopefully trying a little easy jogging next week, depending on what my physical therapist says.

Sporting my finisher jacket to class

Yup, I'm doing PT to try to take care of this once and for all. I've had similar knee issues in the past before I started running which means it is not as much of an injury as a biomechanical problem. Plus the rest and cross training for a few weeks didn't really do anything. I started PT on Friday and will be going twice a week for about a month to work on stretching and strengthening my leg.

After doing some strength tests it looks like the issue is a combination of a super tight IT Band which is causing my quad to do more work which is putting a lot of extra stress on my knee. My exterior rotation was by far the weakest, which doesn't really mean much to me but it's nice to know what is actually wrong.

Because shopping is the best marathon recovery

From all my years of swimming and dealing with shoulder injuries I know which pain is okay to swim through and which you should stop for. I also know what exercises to do to keep my shoulders happy and healthy. I have no idea about anything with my legs. I think it is really important to know your body's strengths and weaknesses, especially for when you get in the weight room. I'm hoping that going to PT will help me get a better understanding of my body and how to deal with similar issues should they arise in the future.

I also got a massage on Saturday which really helped. It was a deep tissue massage but it was not a sports specific massage. My lower back, ankles, and of course my legs were feeling the aftermath of the marathon the most and it felt really good to have them worked on. This week I will be hopping on the foam roller to keep loosening things up.

So not a ton to report in the way of progress but at least I'm heading in the right direction. I have some really big goals for 2014 that I can't chase if I'm not healthy.

Friday, November 8, 2013

NYCM: Opening Ceremony & Expo

About a week before marathon weekend I found out that a spot was open to represent the United States in the marathon opening ceremony. Although I knew absolutely nothing about the opening ceremony at the time I gladly took the spot.

To rewind a little, my dad and I arrived in New York around 12:30. My uncle lives on the upper west side and he was letting us crash at his apartment for the weekend so after arriving at Penn Station he headed to his place. We unpacked before wandering down to Columbus Circle for the opening ceremony. Along the way we stopped for lunch at this cute little restaurant that had smoked salmon & goat cheese pizza. Delicious!

Our walk was around 2 miles but it was really nice out so it was a really enjoyable walk. We made it to Columbus Circle around 4:30, with the opening ceremony starting at 5:30. We took in the sights for a little before parting ways so I could line up with the rest of the representatives from the United States. Although we were waiting for a pretty long time it was really fun. We met and talked to so many people from around the world who were just so excited to be there.

Each country was announced and walked in one by one right in front of the finish line. By the time the US made it to the finish line area the energy was outrageous. Everyone was on their feet dancing and jamming. After each country was called in, the pros were announced. I ended up getting high fives from Meb, Amy Hastings and last year's winners. Even though they were all racing on Sunday they were up for a little dancing and picture taking with runners. It was so cool seeing them there as it made them seem so much more real and normal.

I left the event beyond ready to run this race. I love when there is so much energy that it gets you pumped up for the rest of the weekend. After the opening ceremony my dad and I walked back up to the apartment, stopping for dinner along the way. It's no secret that I love New York and this is why. I love walking and exploring my surroundings.

Saturday morning a family friend picked us up and drove us over to the Javits Center for packet pickup. When we got there around 9:30 I was able to just walk right in but when we left the line was out the door and down the street. There was plenty of security and they were checking everyone's bag before entering.

Luckily it didn't take long before I picked up my bib and shirt. We walked around and explored the expo for a little but didn't want to stay for too long since the race was the next day. I only ended up getting two Sparkly Soul headbands. There was a jacket I really wanted but they were all sold out.

After the expo we spent the rest of the day relaxing, with a picnic in Central Park and a delicious pasta dinner. Before I knew it it was time for bed. I was so grateful we gained an extra hour of sleep but still went to bed around 9:30. Up next, 26.2 from Staten Island back to Central Park!http://mon-amour-xoxo.blogspot.com/2013/11/new-york-city-marathon-race-recap.html

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New York City Marathon Race Recap

I don't even know where to start. This entire weekend was such a whirlwind experience that left me on the biggest endorphin high ever. As someone who loves reading blogs I'm guessing the race report is what people want to read most but I will also be writing posts about the rest of this incredible weekend. So onto the recap!

Race morning started with a 5:45 wake up call. I stayed at my uncle's apartment on the upper west side for the weekend so it took a little while to make it downtown to catch the Staten Island Ferry. Knowing that I wouldn't start running until 10:05 I waited to have anything to eat and only got dressed before getting on the subway.

Because we were staying on the upper west side I was able to get on the subway at an earlier and was luckily able to get a seat. By the time we made it downtown to the Staten Island Ferry Station we could not have possibly fit more people in our subway car. Since it was a thirty five minute ride I drank an Odwalla mango smoothie to both get in some calories as well as hydration.

I got to the Staten Island Ferry around 7:20 and took a few minutes to soak everything in and say goodbye to my dad. This was the moment that everything started getting real. Even though my assigned ferry time was 6:15 I was planning on taking the 7:30 ferry. I thought I had enough time but it was so crowded that I ended up taking the 7:45.

I meant to pay more attention to how long the ferry ride took but I got too caught up in everything going on. The ferry ride was pretty uneventful but it was warm and actually pretty relaxing. It was really calming knowing that from that point on out I was only surrounded by other runners. We were all in this together.

Once arriving in Staten Island I waited in line for a bus to take me to Fort Wadsworth. This is when I ate my breakfast on a cinnamon raisin bagel. The bus ride wasn’t very eventful either but it felt like it took much longer than it should have. I don’t know how long the ride was but I was off the bus and in the starting village by 9:15.

With a 10:05 start time my corral closed at 9:35. I was nervous about getting into the corral so the first thing I did once getting to Fort Wadsworth was get in my corral. Then I finished getting ready and finally hit the port o potty.

It was really not too cold out, but I was well-dressed. I stayed in my throwaway clothes as long as possible to stay warm. Although getting to the starting village so close to my start time meant I wasn’t outside in the cold for very long I wasn’t able to sit down at all before the race started. It also meant I didn’t really have time to get nervous about what I was about to do.

Miles 1-2
Before I knew it we were in front of the Verrazano and New York, New York started playing. I had a quick “what did I get myself into” moment but that disappeared as soon as I saw the amazing views of the skyline. While the first mile flew by, I did feel like we on the Verrazano for forever. I kept my sweatshirt on because I knew on the bridge would feel cold as it was a windy day, but as soon as we exited the bridge I tossed it.

Miles 3-6
These were some of my favorite miles of the entire race. The spectators in Brooklyn were absolutely incredible. There were so many bands out that I may have danced the entire way. I high fived as many people as possible and I swear every time I got a high five from a little kid I got a burst of energy. The spectators here carried you along and were so genuinely excited for everyone running. One of my favorite things was the old Italian man who said "God bless you" and blew me a kiss. It wasn't in the least bit creepy but was the sweetest thing. These miles also flew by. I couldn't believe when I was already at mile 6.

Miles 7-8
Miles 7 & 8 were very similar to 3-6 except I was starting to get really anxious about seeing my dad and some family friends at mile 8. I started the race at a super easy pace but was having a hard time keeping it so easy because I was so excited. I felt on top of the world and was having a blast. When I finally saw my dad I was elated. I stopped to give him a hug and say hello and to tell him I was having the best time in the world. It was a short stop but gave me the strength to make it though what would be a rough next 10 miles.

Miles 9-15
Not long after I stopped to see my dad did things start to go south. As soon as we started running downhill the much dreaded knee pain made an appearance. Initially it wasn't too bad and I wasn't too worried but the more we went down the more my knee hurt. I honestly don't remember much of anything about the course at this point because I was in so much pain. Coming into this race injured I told myself if I could get to mile 16 and First Ave then I could finish with the help of the crowds. All I remember during this time was doing whatever possible to get to mile 16. I also walked for the first time and decided to walk the aid stations to give my knee some relief.

Miles 16-19
These were the hardest miles of the whole race for me. I'd heard so much about the dreaded Queensboro Bridge but honestly I didn't think climbing it was that bad. Running down it was a different story though. That was the only time I had to walk throughout the race other than the aid stations. The second half of the Queensboro seemed to take forever but as soon as it was over I was turning onto First with all those spectators you always hear about. As much as I wanted to love this part of the course I was just in too much pain. This was the only time I debated whether finishing was a smart idea. Luckily I saw my fan club and was given two ibuprofen type pills. I gritted my teeth and desperately hoped it would help.

Miles 20-21
Between these two miles things started to turn back around. I started feeling some relief but didn't want to get too excited. If I remember correctly these miles were in the Bronx and although there were certainly less spectators they made up for it by being very enthusiastic.

Miles 22-26.2
The homestretch! This was hands down my favorite part of the race. Once we left the Bronx we were running on Fifth. The crowds were insane this entire stretch- they wanted you to finish as much as you wanted to. The specifics have blurred but either mile 21 or 22 was the last aid station I walked. I got a second wind and suddenly felt invincible. I started to pick up the pace a little but was cautious to not run out of steam too early. With each mile I was feeling stronger and stronger. While my mind was telling me to hold back, my heart was telling me to fly so fly I did. I let my legs go and felt completely unstoppable.

Since my knee was primarily bothering me when running downhill the uphill last few miles worked in my favor. When we entered the park I knew I was almost there and couldn't hold back anymore. I was in awe of everything about this race and wanted nothing more than to finish strong. Before I knew it we were reentering the park and rounding the corner to the mile 26 mile marker. These were my favorite two minutes of the race. Everything about it was indescribable. With each flag I tried to pick up the pace, knowing that it would be close to finish in 4:35:XX.

Although I missed my pre-injury goal by around 40 minutes I could not have been happier with how this race turned out. There was a time during the race where I thought I would be finishing well over five hours. Aside from my knee everything went as perfect as it could have. No GI distress, no hitting the wall, nothing. My last 10K was my strongest and fastest of the entire race. Never in a million years did I expect to finish the marathon feeling the way I did.


After the race I made the long, notorious walk out of the park and then back down to 72nd but at least I got a sweet orange poncho out of it. The walk was cold and painful but I was still in awe on the race and ready to see my dad. Once meeting up we went back to the apartment to get a shower and then went out for the biggest dish of pasta I've ever seen.

And that concludes my day on November 3, 2013. Who else ran the NYC Marathon?!

Monday, November 4, 2013

NYCM: Done!

I wanted to check in to say that I ran the New York City Marathon yesterday! It was one of the best days of my life and I will be back with a full recap soon. The short version is that I had a lot of knee pain during the middle miles but miles 1-8 & 21-26.2 were so amazing and strong. I will be riding this endorphin high for a long time.