Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Lies Adrienne Langelier Told Me": 5k Race, Training, and Self-Talk

While I am somewhat ashamed to admit, I am a Chelsea Handler fan and her mindlesly entertaining books have been summertime reads since grad school. That being said, I am totally ripping this post title from her “Lies” book because my creativity is spotty at best and I thought it would be a creative hook to wrap a race report in a post that is really about self-talk on the run. And  athletes tend to lie to ourselves quite a bit-and lying gets us nowhere. 

But I digress. After an unfortunate foot-tissue smashing incident sadly self-induced from excessive shoe lace tension, I rescheduled my mid-fall 5k for Saturday at the low key Run The Woodlands series (the Luke's Locker crew does a nice job, btw). My training has been going the best it has in years and I'm putting in both consistently decent mileage AND workouts on a regular basis. And I'm enjoying it-a lot. I was more than ready to run well over the weekend, even after skipping workouts to heal my smashed tendons. 

So I'll be honest and say I was mostly confident, but there was still some stragglers of doubt about how well I can actually run this race-even with two degrees in psyc and recent evidence by hitting my workout splits. (Sigh.... I'm getting there!). This race was more just a 'checkpoint' in training and for fun more than anything, but if you're competitive like I am, you can't help but put forth an honest effort.  

Long story short I did some things that I rarely, if ever have been able to pull off in a 5k distance before-notably negative splitting and overcoming a sub-par second mile. Run enough 5ks hard and you understand these races are not for the faint of heart-even with the short distance! 

I managed to start and finish with the 1st F position and finished in 20:20-something. The sub-20 will come another day. I guess this means that somehow I am 3-0 on my season currently! My first mile was 6:25 after dialing back from a 5:50 first quarter, second mile was mostly up a steady incline (not hill) and my pace slowed to a 6:40ish. Third mile was faster and just over a 6:30 with a strong kick at the end.

In the past have mentally imploded when the second mile is not as smooth and this race was a first of sorts where I ralleyed a bit towards the end. I also caught myself in some lies on this one and will provide examples. I tell my athletes in the office to record their negative self-talk and write out a rebuttal to it, and I will use the same practice here. Luckily there wasn't too much this time around, but here are a couple racing untruths/evidence and rebuttal: 

Pre-Race: "It's going to hurt, I don't know if I can hang the whole time"./"Pain is part of the game, sweetheart (Yes I switch from first to second-person regularly in my head!), you don't learn to deal without accepting it." 

Starting line-seeing lanky girl with long ponytail, a small entourage, and her game face on wearing bright pink Brooks: "she looks like she's fast, maybe I should adjust my goals."/ "Pay attention to YOUR race plan and yourself-you can't control her." 

Somewhere between Mile 1.2 and Mile 2: "This always happens. I just don't have it anymore". /"Don't fight the course, focus on turnover instead of pace." More evidence: A recorded negative split from mile 2 to mile 3,1. Boom.

After the race: "I may not ever break the 20 barrier again."/ "That's total crap. It's really hard to run solo on a rolling course when there really are no challengers to push. It's coming because you've got the toughness to make it happen and I'm fast enough." 

.....Yeah, you know what postiive self: you're probably right. And that Adrienne can be a liar sometimes. 

So I don't know if anyone else does this in training and racing, but I find it sure comes in handy to have logic and reason on your side when pushing yourself. I also find this method works very well for track workouts and tempo efforts. 

Over the weekend it was reaffirmed to me that even though you train hard, recover harder, and do most of the right stuff, you have to be on your own side often and especially when race day comes. While it was far from the perfect 5k, each race can be a fun learning experience and you can apply things forward (such as the whole mile 2 thing!). All in all, I think I did a decent job and enjoyed myself out there. Compared to an outing earlier in the year where I ran an identical time, I felt MUCH stronger at the end and recovered nicely. Yup, things are coming together. 

So believe in yourself. And pay attention to those lies ____________ (insert your name here) tells you! You just may gain some more confidence after you realize your mind can be a lying sack of, um....something. 

Anyone else catch themselves lying lately?

Stay the (truthful) course. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Negative Body Image and Eating Disorders: Practical Implications for All Runners

Body Image. In American Western Society we are hard-pressed to find a term that evokes so much emotion, debate, concern, and confusion. I mean, not a day goes by when we’re not bombarded by confusing pictures and messages and social media can be a mine field all its own. Running in particular has its own set of false standards and issues with eating disorders and body image disturbance. Pair the darker, more archaic archetypes of competitive running with the modern conveniences of technology to display images and ideas at anytime to anyone, there are bound to be issues sometimes.

Amidst the chaos, however, some recent constructive dialogue has taken place among many in the running community, most recently I was inspired by an article on RunHaven and a LetsRun thread (yes you read that correctly) to publish this. I have actually had this written out for a few weeks, with the first impetus a private Facebook  group message thread on how to be sensitive when posting about body image issues and basically how to “talk about physical things with low risk of triggering others still feeling somewhat free to speak”. As poorly structured as that last sentence is, there is the essence of this post.  On the aforementioned thread, what began as a “please be supportively aware of those with body image issues and eating disorders ” turned into “then what am I supposed to say without offending or triggering someone”, which turned into the idea of posting the idea of “trigger warning” before anything on clothing sizing and fit to nutrition to race times.

Despite some of the confused statements mentioned above, overall as a professional in the counseling field I was impressed with how this discussion that lasted hundreds of comments and hours did not turn into a total firestorm. That alone I see as progress.

In this highly imperfect post, I hope to clarify and hopefully help put some proverbial guard rails up when it comes to what to and not talk about that may affect those struggling. I will also say that everyone is different and below addresses some common things that are bothersome, they may or may not apply to everyone’s situation.

So where did all this distortion in running come from anyway? There seems to be this metaphorical ‘ideal’ runner who never goes above 8% body fat, is 5’9 or above with highly visible veins and muscle striations and never gets injured. If this is true, I bet this covers less than 2% of all runners and is highly tied to genetics.

The (often unarticulated) idea that superior athletes are lighter and thinner, often much below average is what seems to get internalized by often unsuspecting runners. About a decade ago when I fell into this ideology, it was a very slow and subtle process, when I realized what was happening after listening to various comments about weight and times, consequences of injury and hearing runners compare bodies-even if unintentional-on a daily basis, I was in the grips of chronic injuries by maintaining a body weight that was not designed for me to be at.

Clearly this is an issue that I am very passionate about both as a clinician and a runner. Luckily, many women are fighting back against this false idea and my sponsor Oiselle has even gone as far as including honoring one’s body as part of its Manifesto (or see Lauren Fleshman’s version of that principle below). 

In my work with female athletes plus my own experience, one of the biggest gray areas in combating body image is how to deal in the face of something that flips that ‘irrational switch’ of a body image trigger in your brain. But what if that switch wasn’t even there in the first place? In a perfect world, we could just make all the garbage we see on the internet and the images that make us feel bad about ourselves just disappear. We can’t do that, but shifting gears a bit- here are some simple things we be aware of and consider in everyday thought and conversation that just may soften the negative body image blow….

1.       The compliments we give people that really are backhanded towards ourselves. When we tell our running partner that “I want/if only I had your abs/legs, etc.” we are really telling ourselves that what we have is not good enough. Think about it. Wanna still tell someone they look fit and stuff? Simply cut off the wanting part and say “I like your abs/legs/feet/blazing speed, etc”. Still gets the message across without you inadvertently putting yourself down while doing so.

2.       When it comes to being out of shape or dealing with injury, I’ve noticed in a lot of conversations how we disregard that it is actually normal and advised to not be in peak shape all of the time. Deconditioning is generally part of the healing and recovery process and should just be looked at as just a normal, albeit inconvenient phase instead of making it fair game for the injured party to put those in different training phases or not currently injured on an unfairly higher plane. Why? Guess what, you start training again, you generally go back to where you were or better. It may not be ideal, but think about it and pay attention to the comments you make about yourself during times like these. One of the most negatively impactful comments for me during my rough period was “when you’re injured you gain weight” from a fellow racing weight-conscious runner. That may fly over another runner’s head, but for some, it can be internalized and magnified, especially when you’re hurt. Frustrated that you’re sidelined? Talk away to your good friends and those who support you, just be mindful and maybe keep it injured-part specific.

3.       Speaking of ‘racing weight’. Okay, I get it-the whole “power to weight” thing. Lighter is usually faster, so you want to compete, just reduce your body weight. This is just fine if you are a race car that runs on gasoline and not hormones. If you are not made of metal and fiberglass, it gets a little more complicated than that. My argument is there’s more to it than that and when another runner refers to themselves (in any tense) as ‘fat’, be on your guard, because the notion fat to a runner and the average individual is quite different. If you do pay attention to the scale in peak season, I ask you to do it sensibly and not use it as a tool to judge yourself. Too often a perfectly fit teammate may say “I need to lose 5 pounds” and think nothing of it, but for someone with an eating disorder or body image issues (so often we DON’T know of suspect) this can send a cascade of negative thoughts.

4.       Fretting about the ‘calories in-calories out’ equation. A few years back, I was at this charming little bistro having brunch with a couple girlfriends, also runners and darn good ones. The mood was light and we were simply enjoying each other’s company browsing the menu when one pipes in “I wish I could order ______, but I only ran 8 miles today”. I’ll admit, I took an unnecessary second look at the menu after hearing that because I too, only ran 8 miles. This is just my opinion, but these things that are all too common in conversation, can make having meals with our friends more stressful than necessary. What would happen if we just cut that out of our talk at the table? I would guess we would fuel our bodies the way we see fit and enjoy hanging out with each other.

So there we have it. These are the four themes in runner conversation that tends to tip into territory that it doesn’t need to be in. In no way am I proposing we have to censor ourselves unnecessarily to where we are dodging the proverbial ‘white elephant’, but these are some things that are very real and tend to lead some down into the unfortunate dark areas that our sport that we can start eliminating simply by redirecting our conversation to make this amazing community any stronger. Take this information however you like, and I am more than open to feedback on this topic.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with significant body image concern or an eating disorder, don’t try and go through it alone. Speak up, gather support, and if necessary, seek professional help. Don’t know where to start? The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is a great resource at Just think, if we start putting these small things into practice and learn together, what could women’s running look like in the future? Just the thought of it makes me smile. Keep it real, keep it positive!
Head Up Wings Out,

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Cross Country Experiment: Race #2

"What am I doing here?"

These were my initial thoughts as I strode up in my Oiselle gear to the registration tent past a forest of school buses and High School team tents at Imperial Park in Sugar Land, TX. Not that this is an unusual sight, not in the least as I have been attending XC meets as support for some time, but me being in a singlet and spikes-that is unusual. And it occured very quickly that the Fort Bend Cougar Classic field may not be as saturated by my peers and masters athletes as my last open cross country race was! Whoops! 

Backing up a tad, I am focusing mostly on Cross Country events this Fall after spending a lot of time at meets and deciding to do something totally different than my typicall road race/half marathon/'hope to be healthy to run a marathon cycle' I started my little experiment on the dirt and grass. So here I was coming off a surprisingly fun and positive first experience to a slightly different enviornment and crowd, but still minimal expectations, which was kind of nice.

Back to the race-After seeing a handful of girls not representing a school the self-conscious feeling went away a little bit, I rationalized 'experience was experience' and the course itself would be a good lead-up to the USATF Club Cross Championships in a few mos. Running Times did cover recently the growing popularity of XC racing for 30-somethings like me and above. That and I was not going easy on any youngsters, that was for sure! 

Instead of racing the Open division at the Rice Invite due to being out of town, I was conncted with the RD by my coach who was hosting an open race on 9/24. Why not? I greatly enjoyed the freeing format of disregarding the clock, running through the trees and just trying to cross the finish line first and was wanting to do it again. It hurts like crazy, but in an unexplainable way is the best one feels all week at the same time. 

Okay, on to the actual race. The field was quite large as it had both males and females toeing the line. It also was at 4:40 PM-in Houston, so it was a pretty hot one- but if I have to deal then everyone else has to as well. I finished off my Honey Stinger Waffle and drank a serving of EFS and then immediately hit my warmup. I hit some traffice getting to the race site, so there was little time to get comfortable.

The course was two one-mile loops that contained a water crossing, a hay bale jump, a mud hole-type thing, and two steep downhills followed by an immediate uphill. I knew there would be obstacles and just framed it as an adventure. I wore my Oiselle Team singlet and a pair of Lori shorts along with my new Saucony spikes (that handled the course beautifully).

After the lead ATV was refueled, delaying the start a few minutes, we were off in typical XC chaotic fashion. I had learned from my runners I work with and from last time how to work the first few seconds of the race. HINT: people fall off quickly. 200 yards in and there was a sharp turn where I found myself in third place. Hmmm.... kind of a familiar situation. Within the first half mile or so we had gone through the two steep embankments and were coming up on the water crossing...and I noticed the two women who were not affiliated with a school starting to hesitate at the obstacles. Oxygen debt or not, I went for it and surged past girl number two and soon after the first one. 

It's amazing what it does psychologically to surge and overtake in a race; I went from "ok, maybe third place is good for today, I'm kind of tired..." to "um, excuse me-go after them!!" It's that one decision we make a lot of the time to just push ahead that makes all the difference. I lead for the rest of the first mile and started to feel the heat on the second. This is where I managed the obstacles and just worked on trying to increase the lead. It was just me and my lactatenfused self and the young men and I think I remember passing a few of them in the finish chute that appeared much quicker than I anticipated, even in such a short race. 

I gave it one last surge through the finish, and yet again didn't get a look at the clock and immediately went on oxygen patrol and had to be reminded by the volunteers to keep moving-sorry guys! I was happy to run aggressively again and get another First Female in my second-ever 2 mile XC race. Ithink my sponsor got some decent face time as well-my singlet became a bit of a  conversation piece in a sea of uniforms. It pays to be different sometimes :) 

Although the competition will be MUCH steeper at the USATF events, it is a nice confidence boost to get some positive results from the work I am putting in most mornings. I still have a ways to go, but very happy to be enjoying and challenging myself again.
The pic does not do the mud factor justice:) 

Big-Picture wise, I've made a few observations running cross-country as an adult: 

  • First, it can be really, really, cheap to do. I have paid a total of 15 dollars for entry to both races I've done this season. While not required and individual preference, I picked up some Saucony Carrera spikes from Running Warehouse for under $30 on sale. If you're a swag-hound, just know shirts and other goodies are typically a-la-carte (but fund the host team or organization typically).
  • The energy at meets. While road races can be electrifying at times, there seems to be a great vibe going on off the pavement. Maybe I just need it more to push through the pain, but hearing people yell my name sure is helpful! It's also expected that it's a very hard sport and 'hurting' a bit is a norm and everyone seems to embrace it and give their best effort. 
  • I am really competitive. Not that it is any big secret, but the simplicity, and dare I say, 'purity' of the XC race experience has really reconnected me with my competitve side. As I've gotten older, I've been able to compartmentalize it pretty well, but I've always known that I do better "running to win" vs. anything else and this discipline seems to cater to my racing style. On my best days, I could care less how I am feeling if I feel I am in control of my race. And it doesn't take a big prize either, just the feeling of chase and challenge to be the last one standing is enough for me! 
  • I am also happy that there are a number of events popping up here and there that are open for anyone. Of course USATF Club Cross, but also the U. of Arkansas' Chile Pepper Festival (on the calendar next year, Coach!) and a few locals Hopefully my crazy self's successful experiment will draw others to this type of running too :)

So running cross country may not be for everyone, and I may be a seriously late bloomer (I bowed out of the sport to play soccer in HS), but for those who like a litte adventure and don't mind getting a little dirty going all-out in nature, I suggest giving it a try! Few things in life hurt so good! 

Stay the course, even with mud and hay bales!