Back in the saddle: Sundodger Invitational

There comes a time when you have to get back on that horse.

Oh wait, not that horse. That one.

Back at Sundodger

I took a nice long spring and summer break from racing, hard training, and much of social media. I’m not going to lie: it was really great. I hadn’t realized how much mental space all of that occupies until it went away. Instead of waking up early and rolling out the door for a run, I walked Alexa to the bus stop. I chaperoned her 3-day 4th grade field trip to Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park.

Hiking to Marymere Falls

And we took an amazing vacation to the Bar W Ranch in Whitefish, MT.

This is an all-inclusive dude ranch just outside Glacier National Park where gritty Western ranch activities meet well-appointed accommodations. We spent the days horseback riding, learning to lope, and trail riding through gorgeous Montana backcountry.

And while lodge-style accommodations were a choice, we stayed in an outdoor “glamping” tent. I’ve mentioned my aversion to camping before, so this was a bit of a risky move. It was definitely the cause of some packing stress before the trip.

But I needn’t have worried. The tent came complete with heating and air conditioning, a coffee maker, refrigerator, and luxurious private bath. And gave us a front row seat to the action and scenery of a working ranch.

When mealtime rolled around, they rang the dinner bell from the main house. Though I normally enjoy the research and exploration of new restaurants while on vacation, the freedom from meal planning was one of my favorite things about this trip. We could spend that time together as a family, playing pool or walking the grounds, and sit right down to a hot meal upon the ringing of a bell. This was, hands down, the best vacation.

It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself a little room to breathe. Changing things up gave me a break from the stress of training and pressure to perform. And as a result, I started to want to run. By June I slowly built up easy training runs. In July I added a little more mileage and a little speed work. And once we returned from the ranch in early August, I was ready to start thinking about racing again.

I ran Sundodger last weekend with less training than past years. In fact, as I embark on this cross country season, I doubt I will reach the volume and intensity of running that I maintained last year. It was my slowest finish there – 21st place in 22:21 for 6k – but it felt good to be back out there. It might not be a full comeback but there’s something to be said for sanity.

Rest, recovery and the perfect chocolate shake

What’s the difference between overtraining and under-recovery? In practice, probably very little. Fatigue, poor performance, and poor sleep are signs of both. When I last left you, I thought I was an overtraining wreck. Now, two months and a 6-week break later, I think under-recovery might be a more likely culprit.

According to this post on Core 3 Training, seven signs of under-recovery are:

1. Workouts seem more like work than training.
2. You’re weaker from week to week with the same movements.
3. You’re sore all the time.
4. Your spouse or friends keep asking what’s wrong with you.
5. You toss and turn at night.
6. Your heart rate is higher or lower than normal.
7. Your heart rate variability is less variable than normal.

During my workout hiatus, I ran the gamut of tests to determine the cause of my symptoms. Blood tests for ferritin, cortisol, and thyroid-type issues came back normal. As did an adrenal stress index (for the most part) and test for DHEA levels. Not at all shockingly, given Seattle’s record-breaking rainy winter, one thing that’s low is my Vitamin D. But that’s an easy fix. I have two full bottles of Vitamin D supplements from the last time someone told me to take them.

So what’s left? A giant hole in my recovery nutrition. Which probably plays a huge role in my sleep issues. This article on Breaking Muscle sheds more light on this subject:

Eat More. Food is essential to restore muscles after an intense workout. The harder you train, the more food you need to eat. The amount of fuel you eat will either make or break you, and far too often athletes under-eat for a few reasons:

Lack of preparation or planning.
Blunted hunger due to elevated cortisol (stress) levels from intense training.
Thinking they are eating enough.

I am only guilty of all of the above. After consulting with a nutritionist, I have a plan that consists of increasing not only overall intake, but carbs in particular. She uses this formula to calculate a competitive runner’s total carbohydrate needs:

3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight per day

In other words, a shit ton. As much as I love bread, a person can only eat so much of it. But smoothies are a great way to add carbs, protein, and whatever else you want to add to your diet. I love this recipe that I’ve adapted from the Oh She Glows Cookbook. It totally rocks.

Perfect recovery chocolate shake

I can’t stop making this. It tastes like a chocolate milkshake and yet contains zero refined sugar. More importantly, it’s entirely whole food based, so you know exactly what you are putting into your body.

Ingredients

1 cup milk (whichever type you use)
2 medjool dates, pitted and cut in half
1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/8 avocado
1/4 banana, peeled and frozen (I keep a ziploc bag of these in my freezer)
2 tsp. almond butter
splash vanilla extract
1/4-1/2 tsp. espresso powder (if desired)
4-6 ice cubes (less for a creamier shake, more for an icier one)

Combine everything in a blender and mix into the perfect recovery shake. You’ll need a good blender for this one. Happy recovery!

The fallacy of a photo: Hiding a meltdown

Beware what you see on social media. What you see is not necessarily what you get. On the face of it, this is not the picture of someone in the middle of a major meltdown.

Photo finish, hiding a meltdown

2017 Seahawks 12k

Yet Sunday’s Seahawks 12k win actually served to confirm the fact that yes, this is someone in the middle of a major meltdown. Though I out-kicked the woman who passed me at the 7 mile mark and held off by 1 second the #3 runner (who became #2 at the finish), my finish time of 47:09 was almost two minutes slower than the last time I ran it in 2015. Which is, and this is by no means meant to disparage anyone else’s finish time, an indication that all is not right with me.

According to this Bodybuilding.com post on overtraining, 10 signs of overtraining include:

Persistent muscle soreness
Elevated resting heart rate
Increased susceptibility to infections
Increased incidence of injuries
Irritability
Depression
Loss of motivation
Insomnia
Decreased appetite
Weight loss

Well, I’m hitting just about all of those. And if I’m really honest with myself, probably have on and off since late last summer. Sunday’s race quantitatively proved to me that I need to make some changes. I just hope I haven’t arrived at this realization too late.

I’m exhausted, yet I can’t sleep. I haven’t run a great speed workout in months, and my times across the board are climbing. This, of course, leads to stress and irritability, which makes me a terrible mom and spouse. I’m struggling and can no longer deny it.

So, I’ve stopped running and all other workouts. And the giant red flag, if there ever was one: I don’t even miss it. Yes, it’s only been four days. But four unscheduled days off, without illness or injury (oh the irony), should cause nothing but restlessness to run again. Instead, I’m nothing but tired.

My hope is that a rest and recovery break now will enable a return later this summer and into the fall. I cleared my calendar of upcoming races, mourning the loss of my plans for the Top Pot 5k this month and Bloomsday 12k in May. I’m sad and scared and hope this isn’t the end of my competitive running.

So, take what you see on Facebook with a grain of salt. Though that photo might look victorious, it hides a less rosy reality.

A week of Instant Pot meals: Yes, it’s all that

When your favorite food writer, Rebekah Denn, writes in glowing terms about a new kitchen appliance how do you not jump on that? Especially when it’s time-saving and space-saving? And does just about everything? I mean, I think I’m a mere Google search away from programming it to run a race for me. See her persuasive argument in the Seattle Times here. She’s not wrong.

Enter the Instant Pot. It’s a pressure cooker, crock pot, rice cooker, and sauté pan all in one. For me, the main benefit was freeing up the cabinet space dedicated to storing the crock pot and rice cooker. Pressure cooking has always terrified me because of the whole blowing up the house thing. So I always worked around it. But now, with the introduction of the Instant Pot, whole new worlds are opening up to me.

Normally, I’m a total cheapskate who wouldn’t buy a new appliance on a whim. But Mike’s new gadget enthusiasm, coupled with Rebekah’s promise of faster food and less clutter in my cabinets, won me over. When the giant box arrived I was determined to put the thing to the test.

I’m not going to lie. Initially this was an intimidating endeavor.

Instant Pot instructions

Going against my usual M.O., I’d actually have to read the operating instructions.

Which weren’t, in fact, all that bad. It’s pretty easy to use. “Idiotproof” is the word Rebekah used. Perfect.

Once I started using it, I realized that it really does just involve pushing buttons. For the initial test drive I chose my standard turkey chili recipe. Though this recipe uses canned beans, I usually make mine with dried beans, which adds significantly to the cooking and prep time. Following instructions for Instant Pot soaked beans (I deliberately didn’t soak them overnight), I used manual mode for 4 minutes and the natural release method of depressurizing. All-in, I made completely cooked dried beans in about 45 minutes. This was starting to seem a little magical.

Next up, I tried Nom Nom Paleo’s Vietnamese Beef Stew recipe.

Another perk of the Instant Pot is the ability to sauté in the same pot that will do the rest of the cooking. Fewer dishes and easier clean-up? This thing is racking up the wins. The stew came together in a snap, and I realized that the time saving is not only found in the shorter cooking time, but also in the ability to completely walk away from it. I can cook and navigate the after-school sports taxi all at the same time.

Basic brown rice was my one miss so far. I’m not sure if I added too much water, or chose an overly long cooking time. Regardless, the resulting rice was a little goopy for my liking. But nevertheless paired well with this awesome Simply Recipes recipe for scallion pancakes.

Instant pot rice

The final, and best, test of the week was this Serious Eats recipe for Chicken and Black Bean Stew.

Instant Pot chicken black bean stew

I added some chopped tomatoes and substituted boneless chicken thighs for the bone-in legs and cannot emphasize enough how good and easy this recipe is. Even the kids, who don’t always love stew-like meals, couldn’t get enough of it.

My takeaway after a week of Instant Pot meals is that this thing is definitely worth the $129.95 investment (we went for the 8 quart size). Amazon will even deliver it straight to your doorstep, no driving to a store required.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k, Brooks Hyperion, and compression socks

The luck o’ the (honorary) Irish was with me last weekend for the TowneBank Shamrock 8k in Virginia Beach, VA. Not only was the travel smooth the entire way (in stark contrast to last year’s Carlsbad 5000), but the sun came out for my course preview/warm-up run.

Disbelief that there is no rain in this photo

The 8k course runs south parallel to the beach for 2 miles before turning around and heading north up the boardwalk for 2 1/2 miles. The last 1/2 mile finishes with a turnaround back southbound down the boardwalk into the finish chute. Though temperatures hovered in the mid-30s during my warm-up run Friday, I quickly shed layers. Words cannot describe the relief I felt to run with the sun on my face and an absence of water in my shoes.

Though I rolled into the hotel around 1 a.m. Friday morning (and couldn’t go right to sleep), I forced myself to get up and run by 8 a.m. Start time for the race on Saturday was 7:45 a.m., which would feel, to me, like 4:45. 3:45 if you count the fact that we moved the clocks forward a mere six days earlier. It was a Hail Mary attempt at acclimating to the time difference and it actually worked.

Dawn in Virginia the next day didn’t feel as awful as I thought it would.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k start

Yep, still a bit dark outside

The race itself went as well as it could have, given my rough patch in training lately. This winter I’ve alternately struggled to get back into shape after the holiday break and then possibly overtrained to prepare for this 8k. I tried to go out aggressively and hold on as long as I could. Though I held third place (overall female) for most of the race, I lost it turning into the last half mile stretch to the finish. I don’t love the time I ran (29:54, more than a minute slower than my last 8k last spring), but it was enough for 2nd place in the masters race, and since the masters winner is in an older age group, another national championship title for women 40-44.

TowneBank Shamrock 8k

Race photo courtesy of MarathonFoto and TowneBank Shamrock 8k

I also tested out some new gear during this race. How cool are these Brooks Hyperion shoes?

Brooks Hyperion

They are the most cushioned of any road racing flat I’ve worn, yet still maintain the lightness and flexibility you want in a racing shoe. Moreover, they make you look fast and isn’t that half the battle?

I also tried out compression socks for the second time in a race. While they were certainly comfortable, I’m still unconvinced that I felt a difference when running in them. I did, however, get right on a plane after the race, so perhaps there is something to them. My lower legs were not remotely sore in the days following the racing and traveling.

Though it wasn’t pretty, it was a solid race weekend. I can’t thank Mike, my coaches (Jim Lilly and Bethanee Randles), training partners, and friends for all of your support. It takes a village. Really.

Searching for my #runhappy: 3 days in the life

Three days into my quest to find my #runhappy and right the proverbial overtraining ship, and I think I’m performing at a solid “B” level. Given the Type-A behavior that got me here, maybe less-than-perfect isn’t such a bad thing.

Last Wednesday I skipped a hill workout. Friday I bailed on intervals, and Saturday I set out to make some changes. It may be too soon to celebrate.

Saturday
6:30 a.m. Eight hours of sleep and I’m raring to go. An off-day with a leisurely morning until the kids’ sports start at 10:00, I have plenty of time to make a smoothie and eat a good breakfast. Things are looking good.

10:15 a.m. Arrival at the Bainbridge soccer field for Alexa’s game. Mike and Colin are on the ferry to Seattle for Colin’s lacrosse game. My cousin Dave is with me and we’ll meet Mike and Colin in Seattle after soccer.

11:20 a.m. Game started at 11. Looking at my watch and wondering if our coach who is doubling as referee has decided to skip halftime. Damn. We’re only 20 minutes into the game.

11:30 a.m. Halftime. Starting to shiver and getting psyched to consume something warm.

12:30 p.m. Freezing cold, but survived the game. Picking up lunch and a latte on the way to the ferry. Making some solid protein choices at the salad and hot food bar. We’re headed to Pike Place Market anyway, so there will be plenty of snacking opportunities ahead.

Pike Place Market #runhappy

3:45 p.m. Fun afternoon showing Dave our favorite Pike Place Market haunts and getting him with the monk fish prank at Pike Place Fish. Just missed the ferry so it’s on to Uwajimaya to pick up food for dinner.

7:30 p.m. Said goodbye to Dave who visited briefly on his way to ski at Whistler (poor guy). Feeling good about my day of spectating and eating. I think my overtraining is a thing of the past.

Sunday
6 a.m. Up a little earlier than I need to be to meet my Sunday morning group run. But that’s okay, more time for my warm-up routine.

9:15 a.m. 10 1/2 miles done, yet I haven’t really consumed anything so far today. I’m about to remedy that with a protein smoothie.

10:00 a.m. Grazing on carrots and hummus, cheese and other odds and ends in the refrigerator. This whole multiple breakfast thing is hard when you’re starting this late in the morning.

11:45 a.m. Need to get some things done so decide to skip Breakfast 2 since lunch is right around the corner. Trying to balance the checkbook but my brain is addled and it takes me 25 minutes to realize I was still counting a cleared transaction. I think it’s time for lunch.

5:00 p.m. Early dinner at Bella Luna/Scratch Kitchen for Colin’s birthday. Order chicken on my salad to go with the “Little Piggy” pizza. I hope I’m making up for this morning’s breakfast lapse.

9:15 p.m. Still full from dinner, decide to skip a pre-bed snack.

11:00 p.m. Still awake. Grab a snack of nuts, an orange and some pita chips. Now regretting that skipped second breakfast.

Monday
6:20 a.m. 7 hours of sleep doesn’t feel terrible. In the next 2 hours I have a kid to get to the school bus, dogs to walk and a breakfast/school bag shuttle for the other kid who is currently at early morning swim practice. I shovel some nuts into my mouth.

8:30 a.m. I have a kid on the bus, breakfast and swim gear exchanged, and dogs that are walked. Given that Mondays are early release school days (thanks for that, Bainbridge Island School District), I have less time to run and grocery shop before the kids return home. But my coach scheduled a much shorter run for today. A mere 5 miles is less than half of the 12-miler I ran last Monday. Does this even count as running? I’m tempted to add, but what’s the point of a coach if you don’t listen to him? At least I should have plenty of time to complete everything by lunchtime.

8:35 a.m. Realize I haven’t really eaten breakfast. On the way out the door I microwave a quesadilla. 2 corn tortillas, shredded cheese, 30 seconds. I got this recipe from Colin. Perhaps I’m not really nailing it yet today.

10:00 a.m. 5 miles (*might* have been closer to 6 if anyone was really clocking it) done and I’m not as exhausted as a typical Monday. In and out of the shower quickly; I’m at least 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

12:55 p.m. Somewhere along the way I lost a whole lot of time. Running into one of my favorite friends at the store set me back a bit. But shooting the sh*t with her was so much more entertaining than whatever else I needed to be doing. And now my other friend has just brought me Girl Scout Cookies. I spend the time I need to catch up with her too. My groceries are melting on the kitchen counter. I won’t make it to the bus stop today. I think everyone/thing will survive.

1:45 p.m. The thing that unfortunately did not survive was my lunch hour. This is typical for me: I get busy, the time for a meal blows by and I either skip it and try to catch up at the next one, or graze as I go. Fortunately, I have leftover salad from last night. But I definitely couldn’t say that I’m three good meals into the day.

The day isn’t over but I feel Saturday night’s cockiness slipping away. Perhaps this performance rates closer to a C+. Finding my #runhappy might take more than one good day. But I’m working on it.

Training hard or overtraining? A break from the crazy train.

It seems next to impossible that my low mileage running could possibly lead to overtraining. In general, my weekly average mileage hovers around the mid-thirties. When I’m really in the thick of things, it tops out in the mid-forties. But that’s about as high as it gets. Given those numbers, overtraining seems like the unlikeliest of afflictions.

But then there are the signs. I’m exhausted, yet slept less than 4 hours on Tuesday night. I’m sure those around me would say that I’m crabby. It’s been some time since I’ve really nailed a workout. And every run feels like a battle with the weather.

So Wednesday I took an unscheduled day off. Today I started an interval workout on the track under a downpour and gusting winds. After struggling through two 400s and a slow 1600m, I bailed. I’ve been trying to keep up with the crazy train and just can’t do it this week.

My hope is that in preserving some amount of sanity today I can come back and hit it next week. I have a race in Virginia Beach in two weeks and this is not the time for an epic meltdown. Can you fudge your way out of overtraining? The Runners Connect site has one article that seems to say yes. But another that takes a longer-term approach. Obviously, I like the first one.

Entitled “Eating Yourself Out of Overtraining” (I’m liking this already), it looks at this as a refueling issue.

The first thing a runner has to look at when they’re overly tired or possibly overtained is the amount of calories they’re taking in on a daily basis. The reality is, most runners do not eat enough calories to fuel their calorie expenditure. This lack of calories means the muscles aren’t getting the nutrients and fuel they need to recover.

Eating more instead of running less? Sign me up, that certainly sounds a lot better than taking six months off. I’ve got some whey powder to throw at this problem. They even include a sample menu, though I’m honestly not sure it sounds like more food than I’m used to.

Wake-up: Whey protein shake (to stop nighttime catabolic process)
Breakfast 1: Oatmeal with berries (raspberry, blueberry, or blackberries) and wheat germ. Honey for taste.
Breakfast 2: Reduced fat Greek yogurt with fruit
Lunch: Grilled chicken sandwhich and small spinach salad with peppers, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, tuna, and sunflower seeds. Use a small amount of olive oil or mandarin oranges for dressing if needed.
Midday snack: Oranges or handful of nuts (Brazilian, walnut, pistachio)
Dinner: Salmon with brown rice and asparagus
Nighttime snack: Cottage cheese with strawberries.
Post workout nutrition: Recovery drink or Gatorade and Powerbar.

If anyone has any advice, I’m all ears. In the meantime, I’ll be hanging out in the kitchen.

Running off course to get back on course

Ah, the misadventures of racing. Going into last weekend’s Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em 10k I had realistic expectations. I knew this race was not going to break any personal records. What I didn’t realize, however, was the extent to which this would be true. My finish time of 38:55 was close to 2 1/2 minutes slower than my 10k best. Yes, it’s early in the season and I’m climbing my way back into shape. But I, the guy in front of me, and at least two people behind us, also ended up running around 10.2k. We all ran off course.

This was the first year Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em offered a 10k distance. It’s usually a 5k race, just one loop around the outer road around Greenlake. They started both distances at the same time, and I assumed that completing the 10k would just mean racing a second lap around the course. Which, through 3.9 miles, seemed like the case. At the 4 mile mark, however, we diverted to the inner pedestrian loop of Greenlake, instead of turning onto the outer road. Another 400 meters of dodging pedestrians and kids on bikes and the guy in front of me figured we had missed the turn and needed to get back out to the outer loop.

So mid-race, not only did we slow to discuss what to do, but then cut back to the outer road and raced the last two miles on the outside loop. This actually set us off course and thus added extra distance. Yes, I managed to preserve the win, but it wasn’t pretty.

Awards after running off course

A Bainbridge sweep! With Keith Laverty, fellow island resident and winner of the men’s 10K.

The best thing about the race, though, was the focus it gave to my training. There’s nothing like the prospect of a painful race and a documented finish time to scare some intensity into your workouts.

I returned to running in early January, following a three-week planned break, and then a week of the flu. The first week I ran 5.5 miles. The second week was about 15, and the third around 22. The first attempt at speed came at the end of week 3, in the form of some hill repeats. Every year that I do this, I forget about the two-steps-forward-one-step-back process this entails. I like things that are linear, but unfortunately running is not always a forward progression.

Training over the last six weeks has had its ups and downs. Some days are great, others miserable. The thing that has been the most difficult has been returning to interval training. It just plain hurts. But then the sun came out yesterday. Not only literally, after days of pouring rain, but figuratively as well. For the first time in what feels like forever, I did not leave a track workout feeling completely dejected.

To anyone out there struggling to start or build back a workout routine, it happens. The hard work pays off. Eventually your strength returns and performance improves. It just takes time and patience.

Need a confidence building workout that works on endurance and turnover? Here you go.

1200m @ 10k pace
400m @ 5k pace
2000m @ 10k pace
400m @ 3-5k pace
800m @ 5k pace
400m @ Fast

Happy running and run happy!

Racing in a new year with Club Northwest

Sunday marks the start of a new year of racing for Club Northwest/Brooks. I am so happy to be representing Club Northwest/Brooks for another year. Though I don’t train with them regularly, I can’t say enough about how nice it is to be part of this team. To arrive at a race and see friendly faces and know that you’re not alone.

Unfortunately, no amount of camaraderie is going to help me on Sunday at Seattle’s Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em Valentine’s Day Dash. I frequently open the year of racing at this fun Greenlake race. It always comes on the heels of my year-end break from running, a 3-week slothfest when I decompress mentally and physically. Though I do love the break, I would also love to be able to skip this stage of training. Coming back from it always involves some amount of gnashing of teeth. It’s a miserable climb back to a state of fitness where running starts to flow. When speed sessions don’t feel like an exercise in futility. I’m not there yet.

The thing about returning to running after a break is that you can’t just pick up where you left off. It’s tough to be patient during the build-up phase. Especially when mother nature decides to throw curve balls.

Let me tell you something about people from the Pacific Northwest. We don’t do anything in the snow. Our kids don’t go to school, we don’t drive, and don’t expect to see a shoveled walkway. It’s not happening. We shut down, break out the sleds we bought 4 years ago the last time it snowed, and wonder when everything will melt. But I had a long run scheduled. I need every workout I can get before Sunday’s race. So I strapped on some Yaktrax and headed out the door.

My takeaway? Yaktrax are not the most comfortable things in the world. But I also have an older version that lack the toe plates that would probably alleviate some of the discomfort I felt in the ball of my foot. As traction in the snow, however, they worked well. Even so, 10 miles devolved into a discouraging 7 and the slog back to shape continues.

With the specter of a painful race ahead of me, I’m comforting myself with new shoes. What else can you do? I love my Brooks Adrenalines and would run in them even without the Club Northwest connection.

Club Northest/Brooks

I tried to capture my funky lacing system. A few years ago, out of the blue, the top of my foot started bugging me, right in the middle of the laces. When I asked at my local running store – Poulsbo Running, holla! – they suggested skipping a hole in the middle of the laces. That simple trick helped and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Though we’ve returned to our normal windy, rainy February, prospects for race time on Sunday look sunny. At this point there’s not much more to do but take a deep breath and go for it. Hopefully I’ll end up in better shape than our Pacific Northwest snowman. He spent a day listing wildly before giving up the ghost.

Race planning and mom guilt

When our kids were babies, Mike worked a lot. Beyond the long hours each day, he also traveled out of town for work multiple days each month. With the birth of our eldest I went from 10-hour workdays in a hectic hotel kitchen, to endless hours of solitude punctuated by regular intervals of desperately bouncing and rocking a crying baby. At a certain point I became someone I didn’t recognize: someone who spent the day watching the clock waiting for her husband to return home. Was this 1950 or 2005?

I started running with a jogging stroller as a way to fill time, picking up the sport I had largely abandoned during my working years. Yes, even in those years I still ran a few days each week, but that was more out of vanity than anything else. I didn’t like the way I felt or looked when completely sedentary.

But the baby jogger was a way out of the house. An escape in the days when the walls threatened to close in on me. It was also a way to find a little piece of myself again, when every other part seemed to belong to someone else.

Within a few years Mike was lucky enough to find a business partner who helped him stop the insanity. Who shared the same work-life philosophies and helped create a business that enabled him to get off the road and out of the office. We moved out of the city. The kids grew and started school. And I kept running.

In the years in high school when I fought to get into a good college, then fought through college to achieve anything academically and athletically, I always felt that I was working toward something. A respectable college, a good job, financial security. I never realized this was all achievement for achievement’s sake. That there is never an end until you say there is.

I never went back to a serious full time job. But once both kids spent a majority of the day in school, I needed to justify my time. A reason to exist, something to achieve. For the last few years running has given me this, and more.

At first it was a way to organize my day. Then it was a way to connect with my friends who continued to work. Something to talk about beyond the platitudes about how great it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

But now that it’s gotten more serious, it has circled back around. Now, instead of running to justify my time, I find myself chasing achievement to justify my running. To alleviate the mom guilt I feel for the mental space I dedicate to running and cross training. For traveling to out-of-town races and missing swim meets and soccer tournaments. For sticking Mike with the parenting responsibilities made easier by the presence of two people.

I find myself striving to earn my running. To achieve higher heights to justify its existence. To make it cost as little as possible in both time and money. And as I look ahead to 2017 races, and back at those of 2016, I’m realizing the fallacy in this. That all the victories in the world will not fill that hole. That no amount of free gear, prize money, or recognition will make me an elite runner or bring about the end of the achievement wheel. Or release me from the mom guilt.

Pre-race mom guilt

May 2017 be the year that I release myself.