It’s Lonely Being Psycho!

 

The thing that surprised me most about training for a marathon was the loneliness. When I signed up for my first marathon two years ago, I had some idea of what I was getting myself into. I knew the next few months would be full of self-doubt, a stricter workout schedule, and frantic Google research on if beer counts as a recovery drink. However, I was not prepared for how lonely the preparation period, not to mention the marathon itself, would be.

In college, I was very aware of the fact that the women’s cross country team was regarded as a gang of crazies. What’s more, I was prideful of our reputation. I once ran 8 miles on an indoor track at 10 pm on a Friday night because a track meet had been rained out, and I’d rather run than head to a party. The key, though, was that I didn’t do any of this training alone. I ran those 8 miles alongside one of my best friends, and my girl gang was always there to commiserate with during early morning workouts.

It wasn’t until I began training for the first marathon that I realized how lonely it can be to work towards a goal without a gang of fellow runners to cheer me on. Weekly long runs that only fit into my weekend schedule meant repeatedly missing nights out with my friends in favor of solo, sober Netflix in bed. Plus, preparing to face a new challenge brought on a wave of anxiety and self-doubt that I had to face alone — after all, you can only complain to your friends about mystery aches in your foot for so long. Finally, the marathon itself (especially my first, the Mad River Marathon in Vermont) is incredibly individual. All my former experiences with road races had involved running with a team and had been marked with a general ‘laissez-faire’ sentiment. For my first marathon, I was alone, and I was trying my hardest to score a good time. And it was the loneliest race in the world. The Mad River Marathon includes a half-marathon and a relay race, all of which are run simultaneously. So, even though I was surrounded by runners at the start line, I was alone on a hill in Vermont my mile 18. And, when you’re alone on a road and in pain, it’s hard not to want to give up.

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I know I’m smiling, but this was taken at mile 5 when I was still surrounded by fellow runners and hadn’t realized how painful Vermont hills are. Shout out to Pat Hendrick photography.

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This lovely photo was taken post-race when the endorphins were about to hit and I’d feel happy that I’d put myself through hell. 

Today, nearly two years and several marathons later, I’ve learned that the answer to loneliness is to stay focused. As an adult, there are far fewer people on the sidelines to cheer you on towards your goals: parents have taken several steps back, significant others just want you to be happy, and only a handful of us have teammates or coaches. So, to combat that voice in my head that tells me to stop trying so hard, I make sure to remember how I felt when I decided to challenge myself, and envision how it will feel to cross that finish line. It may sound truly psycho, but that focus is the best company on the days when I’m all alone, running track repeats at 6 am on a Monday.

Preparing Mentally to Run Outside When It’s Cold, Wet, and Dark

After an October where I repeatedly checked the weather app, saw a little sun shining down on a flawless 65-degree day, and maniacally donned a pair of shorts to breeze through my morning run, November has hit me like a ton of bricks. For the past two weeks, it’s been nothing but chilly mornings and unexpected drizzles. Last Saturday, the cashier at my grocery store warned me it could snow. I grew up in New England, so you’d think I’d be used to the annual departure from balmy to blizzard — I am not.

This year, however, I am determined to overcome my aversion to the cold and avoid the gym as much as possible. While I’m not planning to start training for Boston until January, I’m already beginning to worry about how a treadmill could affect my stride and shins. To prepare for my personal challenge — complete quality workouts, despite a killer wind chill — I’ve decided I need to invest in some more legitimate running outwear. Here’s what I’ve got on my wishlist:

Jacket that’s not too hot, not too cold

 

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Doesn’t she look athletic and comfortable? I bet she’s never even seen a treadmill. Image from nike.com

 

Last winter, on really cold weekends, I pulled on my old EMS microfill down jacket to make sure I didn’t get hypothermia. It worked like a charm until I would start to sweat; since the jacket has zero breathability, my sweat would just culminate until I was decently damp. Sorry, terrible image. This Nike jacket is insulated in the front, but the back and side are made to be breathable — so maybe I’d be able to stop for a stretch without my body temperature dropping 10 degrees.

Tights that won’t feel like actual tights

 

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Yeah same, my abs also look this great. Photo from lululemon.com

 

Not all running tights are the same — some are toasty warm, while others feel more akin to the ones I wear when I’m trying to make a skirt more appropriate in February. My legs tend to feel much more comfortable in cold weather than my torso, but that doesn’t mean my muscles don’t tighten up when it drops below freezing. I’m really digging these Lululemon tights, even if the reviews aren’t phenomenal (there’s talk of them pilling). As long as the ‘thermal’ part works, I’m down.

Next level crazy traction

 

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These would make me look/feel so legit. Get at me Outside Mag. Photo from icebug.com

 

Last winter, I ran multiple times in the snow. My parents told me I was insane, but that’s kind of the point of all this, so I wasn’t deterred. Running while snow is lightly falling is actually beyond lovely: you don’t get wet like you do with rain, you usually have the road to yourself, and it’s fantastically beautiful. However, the traction is tricky — and by tricky I mean dangerous, and possibly injury-inducing. That’s why I’m looking to invest in a pair of trail runners that are specialized for the snow. My college teammate was from Montana, and she used Icebugs when the roads got rough. They’re more expensive than my usual running shoes, but I think they’d be worth it on snow days.

My hope is that come the hard months of winter, I’ll be ready to run no matter what the weather report says. But, as with this wish list, I know I can’t always get what I want.

 

Running (while female) at night

Ah, fall — leaves are falling, corporate America is pushing me to buy sweaters and pumpkin flavored beverages, and I’ve already purchased a Christmas present for my parent’s cat. Fall would actually be my favorite season, if not for the inevitable Earth-turning factor. Shorter days means my evening runs are now solidly completed sans sunlight, which, in general, can be kind of a bummer; but for female runners, running in the dark can also be fairly dangerous.

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A Telegraph Hill sunset marked the beginning of my 9 miler last night.

Runner’s World did an incredible report last year on the sexual harassment that many women experience while on their runs. I’ve had to deal with my fair share of gross, appraising looks, cat calls, and wolf whistles. On a hot summer run a few years back, a man in a car slowed down and asked me if I’d like some water. I refused, explaining that I was only a mile from my house and would be fine. The man continued to drive his car slowly next to me (I didn’t stop running), insisting that I get into his car with him. Luckily, a car drove up behind him and honked, and he sped off. At the time, I remember thinking that the man was gross and creepy, but I wasn’t worried too much about my safety — I guess I figured nothing bad could happen to me so close to my house. But last summer, a young Massachusetts woman was murdered mid-run. Vanessa Marcotte was home for a weekend from her job in New York, and took a Sunday afternoon jog near her house. Vanessa’s murder really scared me, and since then I’ve tried to take precautions to ensure my safety on a run.

I bought pepper spray from Amazon last year after applying for a license to carry from the state. I’ve also tried to avoid running in alleys and on poorly lit roads at night. Still, every evening I face the same fear: will running the route I want to run — aka an outdoors route — make me unsafe?

Daylight savings is November 5th, which means we’re one week away from a 5:30 pm sunset. I’m continuing to search for ways to stay safe without compromising my love of running outdoors. Finding a good running club is an option, as is finding a route where I know I can be safe.

The hardest part is accepting that I don’t have the same privilege that male runners enjoy. This isn’t to say that men don’t face any danger when they run outside, only that I know the shadow my ponytail casts in the dark makes me more of a target.

Who knows, though — maybe in a few years the world will be a bit safer, and we’ll all be able to run in the pitch dark. But for now, I still grip my pepper spray pretty tightly.

I’m in!

For the last week and a half, I’ve been checking my email approximately 50 times a day. Finally, yesterday at around 12:30, I go the email I’ve been hoping for….

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I’M IN! I’ll be running the 2018 Boston Marathon! So, I guess from this point on, this blog is going to be mostly concerned with “that psycho girl who’s running 20 miles outside in the winter.” And I couldn’t be more excited.

I have a couple of hard and fast bucket list items, and running the Boston Marathon is pretty much on the top of that list. Ever since I started feeling serious about running (~the summer before my senior year of high school), I’ve dreamed about the day that I would be fast enough to qualify and run Boston. I qualified for Boston this past May when I ran in the Maine Coast Marathon. Even though the race course was accidentally lengthened by about a half a mile, I still managed to score a time of 3:31:08. The qualifying bar for women my age is 3:35:00, but in the past few years runners have had to beat the BQ by about two minutes. So, I figured I was in, but I still wasn’t quite sure.

Little did I know, this was actually the hardest year in race history for runners to get into Boston. This year, runners had to be 3 minutes, 23 seconds faster than the qualifying time. So, if I had just taken a bit longer on those gatorade stops, I wouldn’t have made it in.

I’m so lucky that I made it in, and elated to have the chance to accomplish something I’ve always wanted to do.

Now, though, the work begins.