Run Your Race: Reflections After the Kaua‘i Marathon

I don’t usually write race reports, but I’m giving this a shot! It’s also included with a reflective post, so it’s less streamlined, meaty, and free-form than what I might normally post. Just to keep it clear:
Intro
Reflections
Stats and Race Report


An Intro

I landed on Kaua‘i expecting the worst.

Obviously, the island is gorgeous. It was muggy, but jumping into the car with my parents was a breath of fresh air I desperately needed. If I had shown up just to spend a weekend with them, it would have been a sense of peace, of coming home.

But there was this race to run. A marathon with a reputation: picturesque and full of aloha, but with heat and elevation that would demand your respect and push you to your limit.

So, I showed up with one goal: finish. Just get the darn race done. I was already nursing an aching left hamstring and twitchy knee. I had failed to get in a twenty-miler. This wasn’t a body built to win. I was here to enjoy the view and say I did it. If I survived, it’d be a miracle.

I’m happy to report that I survived and, surprisingly, did much better than I thought. By far the best part was having my parents at the end.


Reflection

I had a lot to think about this race. With school getting into swing, working on a number of projects, starting up The Intersection, and navigating some other life-work-things, there’s a lot of… stuff.

The Kaua‘i Marathon came at just the right time for it. Interestingly, I ran this race with almost no music playing. The only time my headphones bumped was mile 24 to 25 (a beast of a hill at the end). Besides that, I was in my own head, figuring things out and coaching myself through a very difficult race.

I usually use mantras when I run. During my first marathon, I ended up with a pacer who coached us all to chant, “I am strong, I have energy, I can do this.” I also used one from a friend, “smart, strong, focused,” to stay on track.

This marathon, I had three that have stuck with me and become part of a larger reflection I had after the run.

  • The first was “run your race.” I used this a lot at the beginning, and I’ve said it and heard it said to student runners. It’s a good reminder not to compare what you’re doing to the runner next to you, especially in an endurance race. When we see people passing us or surging, it’s natural to want to try and catch up. Sometimes, we have to fight that urge.
  • The next was a recitation of The Paradoxical Commandments, and whatever variation my run-addled brain came up with. When my adrenaline gets surging, it’s easy for me to create a competitive, even nasty internal monologue to push myself forward. I didn’t do that this race. While reflecting on some personal events in my life recently, the phrase “love them anyway” kept popping into my head.
  • Finally, for some reason, each time I went up a hill I kept repeating, “It might get some, but it won’t get me” (“It,” I’m assuming here, is the hill. Or the desire to walk up the hill? I really can’t remember.).

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about: If we know who we are and trust in our abilities, there’s no reason to seek approval or validation from anyone else on the course who hasn’t earned that privilege. I wrote about this recently, but I’m beginning to trust myself a little more and have a better sense of what it means to follow my own instinct and integrity.

The Kaua‘i Marathon put these ideas into physical practice: I had to settle in and run my race. It would have been easy to give in to the desire to be angry or frustrated while in pain during the race– lots of people do. By refusing to give in, I  stayed true to myself and was able to stay positive throughout the race. I ran nearly all of it with a smile on my face (something spectators lovingly noticed, which pushed me to keep doing it!). That’s the kind of person I want to be and be remembered as.

When we choose to put ourselves out there online (or in any space), there’s a natural tendency to seek validation or acceptance. Many of us share our voices because we hope someone else as felt what we have, or appreciates what we have to say. When that doesn’t happen, it can be very tempting to beat ourselves up or change who we are (or the persona we put out there) in order to be easily categorized and, therefore, appreciated.

At the end of the day, though, the best we can do in any situation is seek joy and truth in being wholly and completely ourselves. As silly, angry, bubbly or blunt as that may be, as unlikeable as those people sometimes are, at a certain point all we can do is run our races, love and move past those who don’t like it, and try not to get pulled away from our own course. 


Stats and Race Report

Warning: This is long and was mostly a nice exercise for me to reflect on the technical aspects of running this race.

So! I finished:

  • 29th overall (out of 255)
  • 9th female overall (out of 20)
  • 2nd in my division (F25-29, out of 11)

Honestly, Kaua‘i was one of the toughest marathons I’ve ever faced. I really had no idea how difficult it would be until I was in the middle of it, fighting through.

My parents and I got to the race at 4:45 AM, a little over an hour ahead. Like I’ve mentioned, having them there was a huge upside to this race, and they walked with me to the start line as I tried to get calm. I was worried I had entered this race day all wrong: my body still hurt, I had eaten late last night and was worried my stomach would be tricky, and I didn’t know if I had properly trained for this.

Still, the darn thing had to get done. I crammed a quarter bagel with PB into my mouth, tried to use the restroom, and said good-bye to my parents.

The race started beautifully, with an ‘oli celebrating and thanking the island for hosting us. I was struck by how marvelously small (and well-run!) the marathon is. With only about 1,500 participants for the half and full race (and only 300 for the full marathon!), the setting was far more intimate and grassroots– and completely unlike the mayhem and glitter of the LA marathon.

We were sent off, and the first few miles were spent just trying to get into my body. My left hamstring began feeling tweaky immediately, but I did my best to breathe through it and not let it rattle me. The sun came up around mile three, and the only thing I kept noticing was how beautiful and green the scenery was.

At mile five, we entered the tunnel of trees. I had driven this part with my parents and remembered my dad’s wise word to “mind the potholes!” A few folks didn’t and tripped. There really aren’t words for how lush, spiritual, and breathtaking running quietly through these trees was. The only thing I noticed was the breath of my competitors, the sounds of beating feet, and the wind in the leaves.

Around this point, though, is when I noticed people beginning to drop. Surprisingly early, even for half-marathoners, but I have no doubt the heat played a role in that. This was my initial reminder to breath and run my race. The first six miles were all a gradual incline, which had seemed terrifying. They actually weren’t that bad. I like hills, and the slow climb up let me find a rhythm to move forward

The race then leads through a net-downhill. First, through some gorgeous farm land, then through a residential neighborhood where locals very sweetly cheered us on and clapped for us. I really started to find my groove here. I was smiling, thanking volunteers each time I grabbed water and was surprised that I hadn’t felt compelled to listen to music yet.

Around mile 8, I also popped my first Gu. I know, about 40 min late. I normally train without water or fuel in case I need to run during a zombie apocalypse or actually forget gels. This also helps make sure that my races are always better than my practice runs (I’m not recommending that to anyone, though. You should always stay properly fed and hydrated).

Mile 11 is where the course splits between the half-marathon and the full marathon. I joked with the volunteer and asked if I could change my mind. He laughed and said to stick to my race.

I understand why I needed the reminder. As soon as you make the right turn and decide to run the full marathon, the course slaps you in the face with a brutal half mile climb that was best run as a “slog.” It’s empty, and so there’s no one else on the course but you, the other runners, and everyone’s collective pain. This is where, mentally, mantras became huge.

After a half mile to recharge with a flat and an aid station, the course beats you up again with another hill! It was mentally so hard to push past this point, but I kept deciding that I would not get bogged down by the hills (though I did walk a few times). I eat hills for breakfast, I thought as I padded up. This is where I started passing some folks.

At the half-marathon mark, we enter a gorgeous, cool flat. A timer marked us on the course, and after yelling out my half time (2:01), one of the race directors shouted, “You’re thirteenth female overall!”

I was taken aback. I had never been anywhere near top ten in the overall female division of any race. “Seriously?!” I called back.

“Yes!” he laughed, “so keep moving!”

I thanked him and kept pushing forward. I felt positive and wanted to stay with that feeling and not get caught up in competing.

At mile 14, we hit another admittedly beautiful hill, and the woman in front of me was in sight. I was determined not to surge. She was walking, so I decided to just keep my pace and see what happened. I was able to catch up, and she congratulated me as I did, saying, “you’re running strong. Great work.”

I was so thankful for her kindness in that moment. I returned the sentiment and kept moving.

I don’t remember much about miles 15 through 18, except that it was hilly, brutal, and beautiful. That, and the spectators and volunteers truly make this course fantastic. They played music, had signs, clapped for us, set up how made aid stations, music, and were so full of generosity and love. One aid station played “Eye of the Tiger” as they strummed air guitars and took my photo.

Another interesting note: because the race is so sparse (300 total participants!), there were long stretches where I was running alone or was the only person at an aid station. This made it feel awesome and personal though occasionally made me worried I had gone off course!

After reaching the top of Kalaheo, I was able to catch my breath a bit and start back down hill. The course meets back up with itself here, and I began to run into folks at the fifteen-mile mark of their race. Many congratulated us as we ran by and encouraged us to keep it up, or told me to keep smiling. I did the same and was reminded how strong and open the running community can be.

At mile twenty-one, I went past the half-marathon timers. They took my time again, and told me I was now eleventh overall female. I was thrilled but knew I needed to not let my excitement force me to burn out in the last five miles.

Another big hill followed, and another racer and I exchanged encouragement as I pushed past him. Hills really are where I come into my own as a runner, and I’m glad I trained on them so much these past few months.

I don’t remember much until mile 24 when the last big hill happened. This is one of the first years I really studied the course and its elevation, so I knew this was the final hill. The tenth place woman was in sight, and as we came into the aid station at the top of the hill, I gulped down water and knew I had to get moving if I wanted to at least keep my place. With the last two miles ahead, I decided now was the time to let myself get a little competitive.

We coasted down towards the finish line, and I eventually caught up with the woman ahead of me. She congratulated me, but I told her we still had a few miles to go. She pulled ahead, and I knew her pace was just fast enough to edge me out. I decided I was okay with that. As we hit mile 26, people cheered us on and I yelled for both her and I to finish strong.

The end in sight, I began to try and kick as much as my body would let me. I had spent everything on this course, though, and it was only seeing my mom and dad frantically waving at the end that brought me speeding in with a smile on my face.

marathon 11060035_10205004916303950_1717202903062313972_n

After, I looked up and saw that I had come in at 4:07. Only 3 minutes over my PR! I was ecstatic, and really believe that keeping a positive outlook got me there.

Overall, this race went well. No stomach issues, fueled consistently every 4-5 miles, stayed hydrated and cool, and followed my normal strategy of a conservative first half and a faster second. This time, the training paid off.


*phew* Okay, that was longer, but way more fun than I thought it would be to write. I may need to try and do this again.

You Actually Don’t Have To

Wait, why am I doing this again? I thought to myself. It’s a thought most athletes know well.

Moments before, I was mud-surfing down a hill in Hawai‘i’s Kualoa Ranch for the third year in a row. My finger was sliced open, bleeding, and covered in mud. My legs ached. Right when I was feeling a little more steady, my feet gained more speed than my center and flew out from under me. *SPLAT* My entire body weight landed on my left hip, and the rest of my limbs followed and smacked into 4-inch thick, shoe-sucking mud. I grunted, looked at the walls of green foliage surrounding me, and knew I had no choice but to get up and keep moving.

After picking myself off the ground and out of the mud, I hit a mile or so of gorgeous, hilly, single-track trail running. Without thinking, I began a slow, steady trot, passing people who were using this as an opportunity to rest. Oh, it hit me, this is what I love doing! I should do more of this! 

Then, I realized that I could focus more on my running. I had only signed up for this race to prove that I could do it…to… who? Not myself, since I had already done this before. Whose approval was I seeking? Why would I show up again the next day to do it all over again? Last year, I had been excited at the prospect. This year, I only felt annoyance and frustration. Why was I doing this? What was I trying to prove?


After a few years of running and racing, this weekend marked a bit of a small, strange milestone for me: I chose not to run a race. 

In my six year relationship with fitness and running, I’ve never signed up for a race and not done it.

I’m a pretty stubborn racer, so that means I’ve raced in some not-so-great conditions. I did the 2011 LA Marathon with food poisoning. Last year, I completed the Spartan Trifecta (all 3 distances) over one weekend, and was out of training for two weeks. I have occasionally embodied the mindset of, Do it even when it hurts. Do it BECAUSE it hurts.

This mantra is useful for lots of athletes: we have to push past the initial walls we set up for ourselves, outside of our comfort zone, to achieve something physically greater than what we could the day before.

Still, the more I’ve come to understand myself physically as an athlete and just as a human, I have to ask: Why? Why am I pushing this hard? Is it worthwhile to do this?

And it often is for many athletes. We set goals for ourselves, we make a commitment, we get something done.

I think it’s important, though, to keep asking and reflecting on the “Why” of what we’re training for. Last year, I was training to be able to complete the Spartan Trifecta, and I did. This year, however, the Trifecta was a pitstop on the way to other goals, and I was consistently balancing getting ready to do the Spartan Race with my desire to run a good marathon. Yes, I know they’re not mutually exclusive, but I honestly didn’t feel particularly excited about doing another Spartan. I felt like I had a strange, internal obligation to do it, instead of an actual desire. So many people I knew were signing up for the race or assumed I was doing it, I figured I had to do it too.

Here’s the great thing that I think we forget as athletes: we own our bodies and we can actually do whatever we want. Just because everyone around you is saying you need to go hard, or run fast, or push yourself farther than you want to doesn’t mean that you should. You actually don’t have to.

Maybe it’s the FOMO aspect of my generation, but an important part of growing is learning to stand up and walk away from something when I don’t want it in the first place. It’s important to stop and figure out what I actually want, and anything that doesn’t align with that probably isn’t worth pursuing.

I finished Saturday, had a solid time (and, to toot my horn, finished 3rd in my category so heeeyyyy), and got to finish with my boyfriend watching and cheer some friends as they finished. The next day,  instead of showing up and doing a race I didn’t want to do for little more than bragging rights (especially upon hearing that the race ran out of medals for the second year in a row), I woke up, cuddled with my guy, and did an easy 7-miler.

I couldn’t have been more content. Is this adult-ing? Maybe. If so, I quite like it.

dancedance

Post-Spartan dancing, taken by my guy.

Aches and Breaks

I heard the boy before I saw him again.

We had started up the backside of Diamond Head at roughly the same time, though he had likely run more miles than me. Gleaming with sweat in the humid afternoon, he ran with his hands behind his back for reasons that still escape me (is he training for some kind of twisted “prison” inspired race? Is that a military thing?). He looked 22, like he could’ve been a former student, and wore a “don’t mess with me” look on his face.

I knew because I often wear the same look, but today it was for very different reasons. I was dripping sweat and snot, my body rebelling after too much travel and not enough sleep. After finally accepting that I had a nasty cold, I had decided that I wouldn’t run that day. Rest days are necessities for all runners, and this would be one of mine.

Still, sitting at Kapiolani park, knowing I had all my gear if I wanted, I couldn’t help it. I had spent all morning thinking and talking about my love if running, and I was too fired up. I decided I’d run Diamond Head– a few miles– just to sweat it out.

And, man, did I do that. I sweated. I sneezed and hacked up whatever is sitting in my lungs and had to execute more than one Farmer’s Blow (I know. I’m sorry). I stopped a lot on the way over, and once I had come to the other side, I tried to catch my breath and whined a little.

After a few minutes, I was faced with the thought most runners encounter at some point in a bad run. As much as you are so over this, you also know that the darn run isn’t going to finish itself, and you have to get home.

A bit more rejuvenated, I started back up the hill. That’s when I saw the boy. We paced together until he had to stop for water, but I saw him look up and give me an all-too-familiar glance. You’ll see me again.

I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t aggressive, it was something I think a lot of us do: you build a story while you run. You, silently, let out your inner competitor and you desperately want to “win.” I’ve done it often, and certainly don’t mind when others do the same. I kept climbing and crested the hill, just happy to have found my stride.

Five minutes later, I heard his steps behind me. I moved to the left so he could pass, until something kicked in my own head. Not today, kiddo. I snatched my self-pity, my resignation to a crappy run off the mat, and threw them out the window.

I picked up my stride and began to pump my arms a little more. Push push push. My back straightened immediately, and I heard a former coach’s voice in my ear, launch yourself to the next step! I bounced and hopped my way down Diamond Head, determined not to be passed. My breath caught in my throat, but I let out a quick, sharp growl and swallowed it back down.

Then, my hips clicked. Something happens when you’re body finally snaps into gear and matches what your brain is asking it to do. The muscles that were saying What the hell brain? We can’t do this! all of a sudden let go. For me, it’s in my hips. They spread wide along my back, and my body opens up in a way that propels me forward.

You. Shall. Not. Pass. my inner Gandalf screamed as I pushed forward. I pounded the pavement harder.

Suddenly, I am all fire. My lungs burning, my feat beating the ground like a fiery drum. I am molten fire streaming down beaches towards the ocean. I am streaks of gold off Apollo’s chariot. I am rage at student walk outs. I am fury outside city hall. I am my mother’s heart beat when she brought my into the world. I am my father’s arms as he holds us both. I am what you don’t see coming next.

I am all these things, welded into the fibers of my muscles, glowing in the sparks and charges that keep my body moving.

I get back to the grassy park, slow down, and look behind me. The boy is gone. I never looked to see if he was even really there.


If anything, the breaks we are forced to take make us much more grateful for the miles themselves. I didn’t run more than those few yesterday, but I am reminded that even when everything aches, and it feels like things are breaking apart, glimmers of golden, crackling joy are still there, deep inside us.

Waiting for Approval: Bodies in Swimsuits

[I’ve been on a bit of a body-image/fitness kick lately. Maybe because it’s summer. Not sure.]

I am waiting for a man to approve of my body. How did I get here?

That’s what kept running through my mind a few days ago. I was laying on my couch feeling a weird mixture of rejected, angry, and confused. I had submitted for a job, and knew my ability to do it would be based on whether “the client” approved of my “look.”

For context: I occassionally am a promo girl. Nothing crazy, but sometimes I dress in cute outfits, put on make up and hand out fliers and samples. I also get paid $15/hr to do it, which is comparable to what I made as a tutor for a large test-prep company. Plus, student loans.

For the most part, I like my body. It’s not perfect, but (especially after the last post) frankly, I am generally feeling myself. I put hard work into it, and beyond aesthetics, I just like what it is capable of doing. So, when I submitted to work a job for a large sun screen company, I wasn’t concerned. I had worked for them before and it had been a shorts-and-tshirt deal. Easy.

Then, I discovered it was actually a bikini job.

I’m not particularly conservative (I live in Hawai‘i, and swimwear is pretty common around here), so I don’t have qualms about being seen in a swimsuit, but I also don’t have a “typical swimsuit model body.” My stomach is toned, but not always tight. I have short legs. I have smaller boobs for my frame.

The marketing company that I work for asked me to send photos of me in a bikini to send to the client (standard practice). Oomph. It was mid-afternoon on a day where I felt bloated and gross. Still, I changed, took the photos, and was waiting for someone to approve of my body for work.

A part of me wanted to be full of indignation: how dare these people get to pass judgement on me? How dare they feel as though they can decide if I’m “good enough” for the job?

Here’s the thing, though: I had agency and choice throughout this entire process. I submitted for the job initially. When I found out it was a bikini job, I could have said no, or that I wasn’t comfortable, and my employer would’ve been totally fine with that. If, when they asked for photos, I had said no, no one would’ve been salty.

So what do you do when the agent forcing you to validate to your body is no one but yourself? How do you battle all the voices screaming at you to look a certain way when their only yours? If “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” as Elanor Roosevelt is quoted on millions of magnets and tshirts around the world, what do I do when I’m not just giving consent, but I’m the one with the megaphone to my ear yelling, “Stop eating that caramel corn!”?


I spent much of the rest of the day waiting around feeling sorry for myself. Finally, my boyfriend surprised me with a rose and banana lumpia, my favorites. He lovingly listened to me rant all the way home, as I tried to figure out who I was angry at. Then, he said something enlightening:

“The thing is,” after he heard me rant about parts of my body (like my thighs) that I knew wouldn’t change, “most swimsuit models aren’t super ‘ethnic’ or even muscularly built to begin with  especially when they’re Brown. They’re white or, here, maybe Asian, and their the stereotyped versions of that: thin, small…”

“…willowy,” I filled in, a word often used to describe Asian female bodies.

“Right,” he said.

I wasn’t sure, but then I remembered that I was also going to flat-iron my hair for the job, since my curls didn’t “fit the look.” Now, it had me asking “whose look was I trying to fit?”


As we push to become more “diverse,” it’s important to remember that diversity isn’t just shades of color on our skin. It’s all aspects of loving and valuing different, perhaps cultural, parts of our bodies: including hair curls, thick muscular legs, and the softness of hips. We cannot keep letting society exoticize brown skin in advertising without accepting the fact that the brown bodies inside it may not match the shape that mass consumption thinks is “right.” I wasn’t the only one yelling in my ear to look a certain way, it was my voice backed with decades of cultural indoctrination that has told me I should look this way.

In some ways, though, I think the work starts with us. I think the work is internal, as it always begins.

If, as Tatum says, racism and its beliefs are the smog we breathe, that means we also have to know when to look at our bodies after a big, heaving breath to clear out our lungs from the toxic beliefs we’ve taken in. If I’m believing societal things about what my body “should” look like in a swimsuit, then they’ve already won half the battle. It doesn’t start with me raging at a company for making me feel this way, it takes me finding the strength to tell anyone that they don’t get to make me feel this way. It takes me choosing to not make myself feel that way.

So some of it starts with me, internally doing the work and perhaps unabashedly going out in a swim suit or a sports bra and being okay with that. I love that other women are out there, doing this. Hopefully as it happens more, it will mean that advertisers catch on, and at some point the “look” will expand far beyond what we’re already seeing. We have to be able to challenge those negative thoughts when we have it, though.


As for my “approval,” I was asked to be a back up for the job. I laughed after finally getting word, bemused at how riduculous I had been about the whole situation. I respectfully declined (and it wasn’t a problem) and got up to look in the mirror. Above it, is a race-medal hanger PJ got me that says “Run Like A Girl.”

Thank you legs, I thought, thank you thighs and feet and arms. Thank you grandma for the hair and mom for the eyes and family for the caramel skin and generations back for this body that runs, that moves, that works. Thank you Lord, for the blessing of a working body at all. Thank you. Thank you. May it always be glorified, just as it is.

I Am The Body, Divine.

There is no possible way I can do another set of these, I thought to myself, mid-pushup. I had just foisted myself off the ground, begging my already tired abdomen and screaming shoulders to bring my body up in a straight line. Too tired to listen, my knees dragged behind.

“No rep,” the coach told me, meaning my pushup hadn’t counted because I had “wormed” up instead of following proper form. “C’mon, breathe, you can do this.”

I saw stars before my eyes, I could barely breathe, and  my stomach threatened to heave. I fell back onto the ground. There’s no way I can do this. I took a deep breath in.  Of course, that’s what I thought at the last three stations… I grunted a huge exhale as I willed my body up in a line.

“There we go!” Coach yelled. “That’s 20! Now, pick up the dumbbell.” Panting, a dropped to my knees, tried to clear my head with a quick shake and breath, and stood up.


Yesterday, I competed in the UFC Gym Challenge on a bit of a whim. I haven’t been training and going to DUTs (Daily Ultimate Trainings) nearly as much as last year since I became ~laser focused~ on that sub-4 marathon. Still, I have the Spartan Trifecta Weekend coming up in August, and I decided to just jump in. I assumed I’d be out by the first heat anyway, but have a little fun and a good work out in the process.

Well, while I had a blast, I have to say this wasn’t just a “for fun” workout. Marathons test your ability to keep steady and find a solid pace internally. Competitive fitness, though, pushes you to your limit and keeps you there for as long as you can withstand.

And, I’ll be honest, it was mentally trying. I nearly cried throughout, I could barely breathe, I let my mind get the best of me and screwed up exercises I should’ve been able to do. The first round had not only been competitive, but had two exercises I always hate– wall-balls and double-under jump ropes.

So, when I squeaked into the top 5, I was baffled. Still, I had about 10 minutes to get over that amazement, and fortunately the semi-final round had exercises I love: farmer carry (aka run as fast as you can carrying 90lbs, which I love), KB cleans, shuttle runs, burpees. This was my time to shine.

While I loved the girls I was competing with, there was this sense of inadequacy on my part– these girls were LEGIT, and I felt not at all prepped for this. What was I doing here? I was going to humiliate myself, and maybe I had to be okay with that.

Then, during the farmer’s carry, I started gaining on the woman who had placed in front of me. Then, the doubt and pain cleared from my mind and said, “This is yours if you want it. This is what you have created your body to do.” 

At that point I broke out from my steady walk to a jog, 45 lbs plates in each hand. I smiled internally as I realized that, even though I kept thinking I couldn’t do this, I just… kept doing it.


My boyfriend was very sweet and came to watch me compete that morning. He’s never actually seen me race or work out competitively, so I was interested to see what he thought.

He was sweet and supportive throughout the whole race, and watched the finals with me (I finished a close fifth in the top-5 round, which I was very happy with). After, he mentioned how hard it must be when you see someone like the top girl, Lauren, in the competition. “I mean, you have to know you’re probably not going to win once she enters.”

My answer surprised me. “I think most of us know that we’re not going to win when we enter. I know I didn’t.” And I really hadn’t. I had been amazed even to make the top five. I had put myself through this, truly, just for fun. There was no belief that it was about the win or the prizes (though I did get a cool water bottle), just a question to be answered: Can I do this?


This morning, I woke up and EVERYTHING hurts. My shoulders, my lower back– everything aches from yesterday.

Still, I can’t help but smile when I think about that moment yesterday: This is what you have created your body to do.

I thought that again this morning when I looked in the mirror, my muscles flexing and moving under soft curves that I also love. I don’t feel good about my body lots of days, but I sort of can’t help but appreciate it the day after a tough race like yesterday’s.

There is so much marvelous ownership in that. So much power in that feeling– knowing that not only did my body survive, but thrived because of the work it has put in. I can’t help but feel that’s why any of us– especially women– get out there and lift heavy or run far and fast: our body is the body divine. My body is my own, and I can mold it into whatever I dream. What amazing and ridiculous thing can I teach it to do next?

Rolling Thunder: Falling In Love With My Thighs

NOTE: This piece originally ran 3 years ago for The SF Marathon, and was edited for clarification and grammar.

But, after trying to love myself today, post-half-marathon, it felt worth revisiting.


When I woke up last Tuesday, I knew I shouldn’t run. I had injured my leg at Surf City the week before, and it wasn’t feeling any better. It was tight and kind of painful and none of it felt right.

After a few years of running, I frankly should’ve known better. I should’ve known that, even with a marathon 5 weeks away, I should rest. No, the marathon wasn’t what got me out of bed and got me to put on my running shoes that morning, despite my better judgment. Confession time:

I woke up that morning feeling a little fat.

Now, that’s a big thing for me to admit. Firstly, admitting that you feel fat or even just not-great is not sexy or becoming in any way. I try to be a big believer in loving your body (and, generally, I do). As an advocate for positive mentality in running, I also am a big believer in being happy with who you are, as long as you’re healthy and you feel good.

Still, with all my positive attitude and happiness about running and the self and blah blah blah, I have to admit that, as a 24-year-old woman who lives in Los Angeles, sometimes I wake up feeling a little gross.

My struggle with weight isn’t really a traditional one. Sure, I grew up in Laguna Beach, California, home of the perennial beach bunny. As a chubby kid, I definitely didn’t fit that mold, but I was never really picked on for my weight.  My parents were very attune to what kids deal with, and always made it a point to tell me I was pretty and loved. I’ve even been lucky enough that I’ve dated generally good guys, and have yet to be with a guy who has ever said anything negative about my weight– a huge bonus for a curvy girl.

Still, even though I had a lot of support systems and luck, I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a kid. I always felt kind of chubby and like I was never going to be skinny enough to be like “other girls” (I don’t know who these other girls were).

I remember, in middle school, a girl in my class put her feet together and her thighs didn’t touch. This blew my mind.Are you kidding me!? I thought. How can her thighs not touch in the center?! My legs touch all the way from my calves up!

Cut to my senior year of college. I was chubby and unhealthy throughout most of college (I recall lots of cookies-for-dinner nights). That year, though, I began working out– nothing crazy, just a few hours every week. I noticed my body changing. I was way hyped. I started eating healthier too. I dropped a few more pounds.

Then, I got engrossed in the stress of my senior thesis. I was so stressed, and felt so out of control that I pretty much stopped eating. Looking back, I estimate that I ate under 800 calories a day. I pretty much subsided on 4 or 5 cups of green tea, and a handful of grapes or a few pieces of fruit every day. After a few months, I noticed that my clothes were a little loose. Without having really looked at myself in a while (since I was so caught up in my work), I jumped on a scale. I was far below my goal weight, the lowest I had ever been in my post-adolescent life. I finally looked at myself in the mirror, expecting to look glowing and thin.

The girl looking back at me was a little surprising.

I had dark circles under my eyes.  When I lifted my shirt up and raised my arms, I could see all my ribs– I could count them. My collar bone stuck out in a really weird way that I didn’t like.

Ironically, my thighs still touched.

When I started training for marathons, I began looking at my body in an entirely different way. My body had always been this thing I fought against. It was this thing that I hated and that didn’t do what I wanted it to do and didn’t look how I wished it would look.

As a runner though, it was hard to hate my body and be able to succeed. My mind and my body had to work in tandem.

My body was the vehicle, and when I mentally pushed myself to run 15 miles and my legs responded by actually doing it, I finally started feeling gratitude for what my body was giving me. When I had the mental elation of burning past another runner in the last half mile of a race, it was those muscular-always-touching calves that I had to be thankful for it.

I actually started to like some things about my body. I felt good about myself. No, I was never going to be a size 0, but, after training, I could run 26.2 miles. There are definitely some trends that these hips will never pull off, but they are able to get me through 5 hours of running straight.

I knew my body image had changed one morning, when I was running before going to work. I looked down my legs. Each time they hit the pavement, I saw my quads flex on impact, pushing me forward every step, every mile.

ThighsThen, I surprised myself. My thighs are definitively not lean, tiny, not-touching thighs. I looked down at my now muscular thighs, and the first thought that came to mind was:

Damn. That’s pretty hot.

I can’t stress enough how much running has changed the way I view myself, and I hope it’s a message that I (or you!) can pass along. I wasn’t the only middle-schooler that struggled with my weight. Recently, the National Heart and Lung association polled a group of girls. 40% of them said they had tried to diet.

They were between 9 and 10 years old.

It’s not easy on men either. The same organization polled a group of fifth grade boys, and 45% of them said that they had felt dissatisfied about the way their bodies looked.

These issues, this battle with what our bodies are and what they can mean to us starts young.

When you work out and take care of your body, it’s important to not only know your weaknesses and set goals, but to show a little love towards yourself too. After finishing my first marathon, I felt limitless. I was the kid who had cried to get out of the weekly mile, and now I had run father than I ever thought I could. I had my body to thank for that feeling.

So, as I take a little break from running (oh, yeah, that run I did last Tuesday? I pulled my calf. Learned my lesson, huh?), I’m using it as an excuse to fall back in love with my body. I sit in the jacuzzi and actually relax for the first time as I love my body by letting it heal. I look at myself in a new dress, and try not to feel guilty or boastful by thinking Huh. I look good. I do cheesy, clichéd things like yoga in the park while I enjoy a beautiful day.

Oh, and I maybe reward it with some frozen Cherry Garcia yogurt too.

Comments and Kindness: Loving My Body (And Yours)

The problem with social media (that I knowingly accept) is that sometimes opinions from people you’d normally ignore get thrust right into your face.

the struggle was real.

the struggle was real.

So, I was looking at the photo (right) that my boyfriend posted of me last night. After some joking, wespontaneously splurged on a giant, ridiculous sundae to share while out to dinner (surprisingly well priced!) between the two of us. Obviously, we didn’t finish it, but it was pretty darn good and a rare indulgence that made us laugh. We looked at the series of the two photos next two each other and laughed even harder.

The next  morning, there was a comment that the sundae was loaded with “unwanted calories,” (my reaction) and that I should “try a kale salad instead” to feel better.

Oh.

Now, sure. Eating healthy is really important, and I don’t dispute the claim– eating healthy really will make you feel better over time. I eat pretty healthy. I love kale, I drink green smoothies (my 9th graders often comment on my “salad drink”), and if you know me at all you probably know that I like working out a lot.

Still, something about the message really annoyed me. While there’s always room for improvement, I think I’m in pretty good shape. Also, what’s wrong with indulging sometimes? Nearly any dietician or nutritionist will tell you that the occasional indulgence is part of a balanced life. While it’s important to be healthy, life is short, so I firmly believe that we should enjoy it. Sometimes that means going nuts on a giant sundae on a random Wednesday.

Why did this bother me so much? I don’t know this person. Their opinion doesn’t matter to me. I have every rational reason to ignore it.

Then, it hit me: despite all my reasoning, the comment still made me feel bad about myself. I felt guilty for eating the sundae. I took a little longer in the mirror this morning and asking if I looked okay. Like a lot of runners and (unfortunately) women, I can be a little neurotic about my weight and body. This post only made me think about that more. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten the sundae. Maybe I should’ve said no.

And some of that is on me. Guilt is a choice we make. Disliking yourself is a choice. I know I can (and hopefully will) brush off these comments. I was mad at myself for not living up to my own standards of loving your body and, frankly, brushing off the negativity.

This is where I think empathy is such an essential thing– both for me towards this commenter and for whoever makes the comment. I don’t doubt they had decent intentions in saying this. Or maybe they don’t think it’s a big deal. So I want to let it go.

It points out something that I think we struggle with in the fitness community though. There’s a trainer I love at my gym  who prefaces much of his advice (when asked) with this (paraphrased): I don’t know everything and you can do whatever you want. When you get to be good at something, you want to start sharing that with other people. You get excited and hyped and when you see something that you feel you know about, you want to share that knowledge. I get it, and sometimes do it too. But unless I were someone’s specific doctor, nutritionist, coach, or they asked for advice, telling someone how to live should probably stay off-limits. We don’t know what that other person is dealing with, how much progress they’ve made so far, previous medical history or frankly what they need. I can give my best guess on, let’s say, running advice based on years of anecdotal evidence, but fitness and how to “be fit” is a relative benchmark and  topic that is still hotly debated, even amongst people who ARE experts.

Finally, it reminded me that we should be thoughtful about the things we say to other people, and it’s even harder to do online. It’s easy to quickly and breezily type and post a comment and not think how it will affect the other person– we don’t see their face or their immediate reaction to it. Even with good intentions, it’s hard to read what a person will be willing or is able to hear if you’re not in front of them. So, even if you meant it to be helpful, you may end up doing more harm than good.

So, all I will do is smile, and not beat myself too much about the sundae I had or the way I feel after. I spend much of my life thinking about calories, fitness, running, and body fat percentage, and appreciate the break to just enjoy an indulgent thing with someone I love. Instead, I’ll just focus on how much the evening made me laugh, and how blessed I am to have so much love in the world.