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Month: April 2017

Start at yes

Start at yes

In my first job out of undergrad, I was working as a full-time staff member at a small liberal arts college. To put it simply, I basically spent my days (and many, many nights) working with college students and helped them navigate college life. It was a fantastic first job — really hard at times, but also really rewarding — and I got super lucky because I worked with some fantastic human beings, college students and professionals alike.


Just some of my great colleagues. #tbt – this was 10+ years ago!
More good souls. (We usually didn’t wear matching clothes — with puffy paint on it, no less. Mine says “I love my marathoner body” or something like that. My colleagues made it for me at a feminist student group’s body image/body awareness meeting).

Arguably one of those very influential and fantastic human beings with whom I had the pleasure of working was my dean of students. In the small college world, or at least at this particular small college, the dean of students was the “big boss” to everyone in student affairs, so while I didn’t report directly to her, my bosses did, and she relied on us minions to find out what was going on in the trenches. The college students clearly respected her not only because she was all business but also because she made it clear, through her actions and her words, that whatever decision she made was for the good of the college and thus, the students. Students routinely attended her open office hours each week, and they always did, evidenced by the queue that always flowed out of her office. Students knew that they could talk to her and, maybe more importantly, that she would listen.   

Even though I’ve been many years removed from working at this particular college, I’ve been thinking about my former dean pretty frequently lately. I remember a very long staff meeting — in student affairs, we liked to “process” everything, so big staff meetings often took veritable eons — and when one of my colleagues talked about some ridiculous request or inquiry a student had thrown out, my dean quickly reminded us that it behooves us — when engaging with our students, when we are listening to their grandiose and likely improbable ideas, when we are in the throes of a disciplinary meeting with them for some drug or alcohol infraction, or shoot, even when we’re trying to navigate an unreal roommate conflict that has escalated to us (and/or has gotten parents involved — yup, that happens in college) — to start at yes.

Starting at yes, my dean explained, in effect allowed us to convey to our students that we were actually listening to them, that their thoughts and opinions were worthwhile, and that we weren’t just another naysayer in the students’ lives, shooting them down and telling them that whatever they had to offer wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t so much a matter of coddling the students or being yet another helicopter authority figure in the students’ lives. Instead, I interpreted “starting at yes” as being equal parts “be a good human” (i.e. it’s kinda a dick move to not even give another human the time of day for a few minutes, when that person has obviously mustered up the wherewithal to tell you something that he/she feels is of value) and “grant this person the permission to try” (i.e. if every other person has naysayed this student, you being the one who will actually listen can make a difference in the student’s life).

I’ve been thinking about my dean and her idea of “starting at yes” of late because the more I think about it, the more seemingly ensconced the idea is in running. There is no shortage of running-related “inspiration” and “motivation” percolating in the interwebs, but while the “rah rah you can do it believe and achieve!!” stuff may be helpful, at times, I think many of us are more likely to struggle with the idea that we should — that we ought to — grant ourselves permission to try, and possibly fail.

The hell am I talking about?

In running, many of us, myself included, often associate some degree of success in a race or in a training plan to a number we may or may not hit; this, of course, can include stats like how many miles per week/month/cycle/year we run, the times we post in a targeted race (and whether those are PRs and/or how well or maligned they compare to existing PRs), or even the paces that we target (and how well or how poorly we hit them) in our toughest workouts. Naturally, we can always say that we can measure our running “success” by other, perhaps less-easily-quantifiable measures, but for a lot of runners, at least in some point in their running career, the time on the clock supersedes just about everything else.

However, many of us will often see a tough workout staring us down in the morning — or think about a target race, where we’re going to try to hold a seemingly impossible pace for a seemingly impossibly long period of time — and we fall into this miasma of despair and self doubt. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that we’ve been training well, that we’ve been feeling stronger than ever, or that we know we’re fit. Instead, we convince ourselves that oh shit there’s no way that I can hold X pace for Y amount of time, and we mentally shut our shit down before we even take our first step.

Disclaimer: I’m no coach or psychologist, but I can’t possibly imagine that going into a key something or other — workout, race, pick your poison here — feeling already mentally defeated will, in any way, do anything positive for our running performance.

I’ve been there before and fairly recently, in fact. A vivid memory that stands out was from my Oakland ‘14 training. I completely bailed on a tempo run (for those playing along at home, it was the classic Pfitz 12 with 7 at 15kRP or HMRP tempo) before I even began it because I had all but lost my mind over holding tempo pace — then, 7:1x, maybe 7:2x — for 7 miles out of a 12 mile run. I didn’t even begin the workout, never even took a step, literally (and I do mean literally) never got past my front door before I had already beaten myself, mentally, to a pulp. I ended up not running that day and was pissed about it — my window of opportunity that day gone because I had squandered it on self-doubt. Granted, I’m not saying that had I had a more sunny disposition about this workout that it would have gone over swimmingly. What sucks is that I willingly undermined myself and convinced myself that there was no way that I could hit those paces or anything remotely close to them, so trying would just be entirely futile. I didn’t give myself the permission to try or to fail. Start at yes? Eff that – I started at absolutely not a chance in hell.

I think my dean’s idea of starting at yes is resonating more with me now, than ever before, because I’m beginning to feel like my running is turning a corner. The nebulous “things” have been feeling very comfortable and smooth, and I’ve been producing in training and in races control, confidence, and speed that would have been ridiculously implausible to me not that long ago. Don’t get me wrong, Hoka or the Olympics aren’t beating down my door, but what I’ve been producing for me is fairly surprising (and also really exciting, I won’t lie!). It’s weird, really, because I feel like I’ve gotten less obsequious with my watch — as most of us would probably stand to benefit from doing — and this new-found emancipation is serving me quite well. When I’m staring down a hard workout or a race, where I want to perform at my very best, I’m no longer going into it thinking efffffffffffff this is gonna be impossible, questioning my life choices, and instead, I have grown more receptive to simply showing up, granting myself permission to try my hardest that I can in that moment (and possibly even failing, and unabashedly so), and just rolling with it. I’m seeing that just starting at yes — not hemming and hawing about it, thinking BS along the lines of oh, well, maybe, we’ll see, this will probably be really tough and I’ll probably keel and this is probably the worst idea ever — is probably one of the better things I’ve done for my running in a very long time.   

Simply stated: in running — as in basically every other area of life — you don’t know what you can or can’t do unless you (give yourself the permission to) try.

March training recap

March training recap

I lived the first 30 years of my life in the midwest (Akron area and Chicago, for those of you playing along at home), places with clearly defined seasons, and I distinctly remember growing up with the saying that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb (or vice versa). The premise here of course is that March may begin with terrible weather, but by the end, it’ll be all lovely and stereotypical spring-like (or again, vice versa). Naturally, what follows is April showers bring May flowers. I’m not entirely sure if either weather assumption necessarily applies to the Bay Area, but it seems like the March metaphor at least works (perhaps a bit tenuously) for my running this month, since it started off harsh but ended quite kindly. And as for rain in April, well, I guess we’ll see.

All told, March included 207 miles, a DNS in an 8k and 10 miler, a PR in a 5k, a stroller PR and division win in a (probably short) 10k stroller race, and a PR in a road 10k and a woman’s division win. While the beginning of the month was pretty rough, thanks to a nasty flu + colitis flare + seemingly a bazillion other ailments all running concurrently through my body — and taking another week-plus to get to feeling 100% again — fortunately the month turned around, and I began to (eventually) feel normal. Electing to miss those first two races was disappointing, but I knew then (like I knew now) that it was in my best interest to just shut it down for a few days — even if it was race week — so that I could get on the fast path to health sooner rather than later. If given the option of being sick for 5 days or 25, it’s a no brainer.

at the Reach for a Star 5k, holding on to Sam’s awesomeness (PC: CT)
girl party at SIB with Meg, K, and G
hollering for my teammate, Julie, as she begins her “back” part of her 5k (PC: Dave/fitfam6)
with Paula and A, and Meg and K, and G, post-race. Lots of good vibes in this group (PC: Dave/fitfam6)
sea of orange at SIB in Santa Cruz (PC: Lisa/Wolfpack)
post- Hearts and Sole 10k with my teammate, Greg

As was the case in January and February, I posted most of my workweek miles with one or both of my kids (and a lot of my miles come from commutes). On average, I’d say that more than 50% of my total volume each week comes from running with the kids, either just with the baby in the stroller or with the baby in the stroller plus A on her bike. I was sometimes lucky enough to be able to swing a midweek run with new Bay Area transplant Char, whom I met in Chicago through a mutual friend, Corey, when Corey and I were still living there. Small world: soon after Corey moved to Chicago, we met up for a run (after chatting on twitter and realizing we had both run Eugene that spring). Her friend Char was in town, too, visiting family, so we three ran together one time, back in … hmm, probably September 2013, at Waterfall Glen (I think). If memory serves, I think the one and only time I ran with these three women was the day that I told them that C would be boarding an airplane later that night for an interview out here and that it was likely that we’d be moving. Crazy. My point: the running world seems enormous, but I guess just like anything else, it’s fairly small. You may not know everyone, but chances are high that you probably share a mutual friend. (Thank you, Strava and social media!)

very sunny and very windy on the last day of March (I think). not pictured: G, strolling under my arm. I love that you can see a sneaky smile from A 🙂

Toward the end of the month, I also had the opportunity to run Mission Peak starting from Ohlone College. When I’ve run MP in the past, it has always been by way of Monument Peak (and Mt. Allison and Mt. “EMS”), coming up from Milpitas or SJ, so it was a neat experience to run it from a different direction and start in Fremont. Fortunately, the trail wasn’t soul-suckingly muddy, and everything was just majestically and lusciously green. This was actually the first time I’ve been on trails since late October/early November because a) ARP has been closed for a while, presumably thanks to landslides and such and b) when I’ve run MP post-heavy rain before, it was pretty impassable … like take two steps forward and slide ten steps backward (while also potentially getting your shoes sucked off your feet) because it’s so damn muddy and the footing is for shit impassable … and I didn’t want to deal with it. The rain has let up a ton here, so I was optimistic that Mission Peak would be in pretty good shape. A huge group turned out — some to hike, some to run — and it was a blast. I would have never thought that I’d enjoy trail running as much as I do, so I look forward to spending many long runs on the trails near home over the coming months. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that part of the reason I finally broke 3:20/1:33 last fall was because I spent nearly all my non-workout LRs on trails. I absolutely love running roads, but it’s hard to not have a good time when you’re literally frolicking like children through nature.  

perfecting my mid-run photography skills. still obviously needing work.
before we ascended Mission Peak, we swung over to Mt. Allison, home of these gems.
total creeper selfie pic. this was just part of the group who went to MP; add another 10 people who hiked that morning. it was awesome. this is from the top of Mission, with my back facing east (I think). L-R Dhananjay, Saurabh (the only person who apparently saw me do this, ha), Satish, Ajit, Chantanu, Amy, and JJ, with her back to us. Look in the background (around 1 o’clock), and you can see the stuff from Mt. Allison.

Racing nearly every weekend in March meant that my long runs usually topped off around 13-15 miles and were often broken up into several runs (warm-up, race, cool-down). I’m not planning to unofficially-officially begin SF training until about 16 or so weeks out, so it has admittedly been nice to not have monster miles on tap each weekend lately. Plus, racing is a ton of fun! It’s grueling and all — that’s the point; that’s what makes it beautiful — but it’s also just so cool, in a somewhat terrifying sort of way, to put yourself out there for a minute (or many minutes, whatev) and let yourself be vulnerable for a change.

Running is really awesome for a ton of obvious reasons, but I think like a lot of activities, once you get into a rhythm of some sort, it can be tough to shake things up and try something new. Call this comfort, call it getting complacent, but I figure that if one of the reasons we run is to show us that we’re stronger than we give ourselves credit for, or that we enjoy the trials and tribulations that come with training and racing, or whatever, it’s hard, if not impossible, to get that sort of ongoing feedback if we stay comfortably perched in a way of training/racing that precludes us from getting uncomfortable (or gritty). Somewhat related to this point, as a social media ambassador for the SF Marathon (TSFM2017Erin or TSFM2017Erin5k for savings, you’re welcome!), I recently wrote a guest post for the SF Marathon’s blog urging people to get outside their comfort zones this year at TSFM, and it’s something that I’ve been telling myself, too. For so long, especially postpartum, I have been (somewhat understandably) reluctant to register for races because I tell myself I’m not in “race shape” or whatever, that if I haven’t specifically trained for an (insert race distance here) that I really shouldn’t even show up and try to do the best that I can on that given day. The thinking usually goes oh I’m in “marathon shape” but there’s no way I could run a decent-for-me (insert short race distance here). I don’t want to embarrass myself, my team, (and so on). 

Allow me to call bullshit … on myself.

I’m glad I’m finally getting out of that mindset. Here’s the thing: realistically, if your ability to pay your mortgage isn’t on the line, you don’t need to take yourself so seriously. You’ll fare better than fine. It’s just a race; you’ve got nothing to lose. (And hell, set those expectations super low, and you might just come out of it surprising yourself!).  The bottom line here is that if we’re all about using running as an avenue for self-improvement (in any respect of the word), it’s hard impossible to allow ourselves to improve if we stay put right where we are. Why not set big-but-reasonable goals and work your ass off to realize them? If you fail, you’ll at least have the luxury of failing with pride and satisfaction, if not also a bit of gratitude, knowing that you at least gave yourself the opportunity to try. I think the moment we become less afraid of failing or faltering, liberating feelings begin to manifest, and suddenly, those ingrained ideas of I can only do (this distance) because ______ or I can only run at (this pace) because ____ reveal themselves for what they really are: just BS nonsense we use to sabotage ourselves. The sky’s the limit, kids. Provided you show up every day, do your very best, and on race day, as long as you do the same, you’ve got nothing to worry about. These are the things I tell myself, in a loving and supportive way, natch.  

Otherwise, I have been running, and it is well and good, and I continue to be so grateful to be able to do this wonderful stuff. The gratitude permeates everything.

Reading: Just finished The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (eh) and A Path Appears (awesome). I’m in the throes of Amy Schumer’s book (eh) but still have a pile of nonfiction stuff on my kitchen table. My heart is in nonfiction, and there’s so much good and recent stuff out there that I want to try to figure out how I can read it all in the 25th or 26th hour of each day. Tips welcome.

Listening to/watching: Moana. No shame in my game. My eldest and I watched it every night for about a week, and the kids and I almost always listen to it on our runs/rides. (Otherwise, I don’t watch much. If we’re lucky, C and I can get in a date with John Oliver or Bill Maher).

Doing: A huge purge in our house. I will literally go stand in our garage sometimes now because it looks so much better than it did just a couple weeks ago. (Again, no shame). It wouldn’t pass Marie Kondo’s muster, but it passes mine! 

Anticipating: Family and friend visits over the coming weeks, birthdays, the summer!

Eating: Everything in sight that’s veg-friendly and isn’t nailed down (training, I see you).

Appreciating: The longer days (like everyone else) and (as weird as this sounds) this little bird who must be perching in a tree right outside our home. The thing begins squawking really early each morning, and admittedly, it’s kinda annoying as hell, but it’s also really sweet. Being able to sleep with windows open in winter (spring?) and starting my morning every day by way of a bird tweeting at me (the literal, old-school tweeting, that is) is just kinda… cute. Add a few cups of tea and my local newspaper to the mix each morning, beginning around 5:30, and Tweety rounds out a nice little team here. (Again: no shame. Pretty sure I’m 33 going on 93).