Sunday, April 12, 2015

What I've Learned This Time Around

Friends, we are just about a week out from the 2015 Boston Marathon. This will be my fourth marathon...yet somehow it feels no less special than #1, #2 or #3, as magical as they were.

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I feel about where I am at with my running. I'm a solid "Marathoner" now. As of next Monday, I'll have run 4 marathons and 17 Half Marathons which -- I think we can all agree -- puts me solid in experienced runner territory. Despite this irrefutable fact, it still feels odd and different as I still don't see myself as the athletic racer. I rather still see myself as the unathletic, chubby girl struggling to hang from the high bar during the Presidential Challenge. :::Shudder::: And don't get me started on the Shuttle Run.

Despite running Marathons, this logo still is my nightmare
And so I've been doing a bit of soul searching as someone who has a personal brand, basically, as an athlete now. As a runner. As a cat-lady runner. As a tapering, crazy, cat-lady runner.

Sing it, sister
This running identity is now just so core to who I am, who I've become, and who I will be in my life. Maybe I'll never run a marathon again. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll set other running or non-running goals for myself. But there's a lot that I've learned about the person I am through this process, which I'm going to try to articulate just a little bit now.

People are asking me if I'm ready. If I'm nervous. Yes, I am ready but I'm not nervous. Of course there will be pre-race jitters (did I pack everything I need? Will my tummy cooperate? Will my quads give out on the Newton Hills?) But the nerves are more manageable now then they were before. Like most things in life, with experience has come confidence. I know what to expect from this race. I know what to do before the race to maximize my results. I know that ultimately what happens that day is as much to the whim of the Weather and Tummy gods [Oh, FYI, side note that I've decided there is a Tummy god who lives in the gut of all runners] as it is to the preparation and training I have put in. So what will be, ultimately will be.

But that doesn't mean I didn't train to the best of my abilities. I found this marathon training season to be surprisingly challenging on the mental front. This winter was simply atrocious to be training for a marathon. Atrocious. I mean, c'mon now. At points that was ri-god-damn-diculous.

What I found even more challenging though was the issue of having done this all before. Many times. When marathoning was a glimmer in my eye and when it was new, the concept of running 14, 16, 18, 20 miles was just beyond fathoming. I'd see it on the schedule and be like, "whaaaaaa.....? Noooo....." and then it would be those weeks and I would get nervous in advance and I would gear up and I would talk about it to everyone and I would kind of freak out, and then I would DO IT and it would be this amazing mental rush! I had pushed my body! I completed something new! I had gone above and beyond!

But then I did it again. And again. And again. And now I find it difficult, especially on bad weather days, to find the mental strength sometimes to find the excitement. Because I know I can run 18 miles solo now. And I know it's going to kind of suck. And I know I'm going to be cold and hungry and tired. And sure, I know I can also find the joy, but I just know the pain as well. Digging deep when you know can sometimes be harder than digging deep into the unknown. It requires a different mental energy to push yourself to be faster, better, stronger....when you know it is achievable.

I also realized that the social support I receive as a runner provides me a joy I didn't think possible. I've learned to accept and appreciate that support with my soul and to allow it to provide me strength.

Super sorry that last sentence sounded so cheesy, but it's true. So I'll say it again.

I accept and I appreciate the support I receive from others. Deeply into my person and into my soul. Now more than I ever have before.

I have met deep and lasting friendships through my running. The community I've found has made me a happier and healthier person. And so many people in and out of this runner community ask me about my running. About how I'm doing. About how I'm feeling. They (inexplicably to me!) read this blog. They care.

And that's pretty darn cool. To have people care about your personal hobby, your personal goal, perhaps your personal struggle so much.

And the Dana-Farber connection. Wow. Just wow. I feel like raising money again this year for DFMC is like the apex to my running climb. It's the cherry on my sundae. The missing piece to a puzzle I didn't know was uncompleted.

I have found a way for my running to be bigger than me. To provide me purpose. I am overjoyed to announce that as of today I (WE!) have raised $11,736 which will go directly to Innovative Basic Cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This breaks not only my initial goal of $10,000, but also my astounding fundraising amount from last year. Over the past few years my running has raised -- as of today -- over $23,000 for Cancer research.

And if you'l allow me the self-indulgence...I am happy to say that I've never felt prouder of myself than I do right now. I've never felt more certain that I did something well, something right, and something good.

It's bigger than me just running a race now. It's bigger than any race I could run, walk or -- hell -- crawl next week.

So when you ask me how I'm feeling and how I'm doing and if I have a time goal and if I'm nervous, I say this:

I already did it. I already won. Whether I run it in PR time (which would be nice!) or I stop 50 times to go to the bathroom and end up walking it in 7 hours, I'm happy and I swear you will see me smile when I cross that line.

I've found away to connect my passion for running and my passion for cancer research and to do it in a way that makes me as a person feel physically and emotionally happy. If anything could make a person feel hashtag's gotta be this.

Thanks for continuing to be a part of my journey.

If you'd still like to donate or pass this along, here's the link!

You'll notice I've raised the goal to $13.1K which would make each mile I run worth $500. Can we get there??? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flywheel vs. SoulCycle: My Take On the Matter


Note: My blog graphics skills are second to NONE. To none.

I didn't think I liked spinning classes. I had tried them before and was left feeling unimpressed in the mind and sore in the butt. Granted, these classes were usually in old bikes, in old NYSC gyms, but still. Butt sore and would #RatherBeRunning.

I'll get you my pretty....

About a year ago I tried SoulCycle and I actually conceded to liking it a lot. I even went back a second time. It was quite enjoyable.

But then, at the urging [read: berating] of friends, I tried FlyWheel. And oh my goodness, you guys. I am obsessed.

I realized that there is a strong reason for why I liked FlyWheel whereas I have other friends Soul obsessed. There's some key differences between theses two trendy boutique studios which I wish I had known in advance and which I feel like may be helpful for you.

Let's start with SoulCycle

Class Structure: 
45 minute classes on the bike. One song (towards the end) using light hand weights for your arms. Lots of choreography (i.e. bike push-ups! side-to-side! up and down! tap it back!). All about doing the movements "together, as a community."

Awesome music. Dark. Candles. Cool quotes on the wall to make you be like "yeah! go me!"

Their Description:
At SoulCycle we believe that fitness can be joyful. We climb, we jog, we sprint, we dance, we set our intention, and we break through boundaries. The best part? We do it together, as a community. SoulCycle doesn't just change bodies, it changes lives. With inspirational instructors, candlelight, epic spaces, and rocking music, riders can let loose, clear their heads and empower themselves with strength that lasts beyond the studio walls.

Anyone see the SpiritCycle Kimmy Schmidt parody? It was glorious. You should be watching (and probably have finished) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt by now. Get on it.

The Bikes: You can reserve your bike in advance when you book the class (no need to rush in early to grab one!) The instructors and staff are great about helping you set up if you need. Light hand weights are kept in holders on the bike. You adjust the torque (i.e. tension) with a knob and you ride based on feel.

The Money
First-Time Class = $20 (includes shoes)
Regular Class = $34
Shoes = $3
Water = $2

My Take: 
Soul Cycle's description is totally accurate. It's all about together and community and setting intentions. And is kind of where they lose me and gain others. I think it's a very cool concept, the idea of fitness community. And I've definitely found that with November Project (with which I'm totally defunct lately! My B!)

I got a phenomenal workout at Soul, but the vibe wasn't entirely for me. There's a cult-ish element to it which -- like all cults -- is probably only fun if you are in it. Being a cult outsider never seems as fun as being a cult insider. Also, there's a lot of choreography which I did feel like was distracting me from perfecting my form and maximizing my workout. I'm sure after many classes I'd feel differently, but I felt a little uncomfortable for a lot of the class. And the other big matter is the money. It's steep! Very steep! And to not include shoes? Big miss from my perspective.

Frankly, if I want the SoulCycle vibe I'll pay for a yoga class or I'll go to November Project for free. 


Now to Flywheel:

Class Structure:
Usually 45 minute classes on the bike. Like Soul, one song towards the end on the bike is dedicated to arms and you use a light weighted bar (that's stored also on the bike itself). Focus on riding hard and achieving personal bests. Also choreographed somewhat to music.

Vibe: Great music. Dark room. No candles. Less spirituality and more "get your ass in gear."

Their description:
The workout that offers a chance to achieve something more. The step up onto a custom engineered bike. And ride as hard as you dare.

Our instructors lead the way, suggesting target resistance levels and RPM's to strive for. But YOU decide exactly what's right for you by controlling the technology on your bike. And your performance stats are made available in your private account on our website.

The Bikes:
Here's the key difference, and it's highlighted in the description as well. Like in Soul, you reserve your bike online. But unlike Soul, your bike has a screen that shows you your exact speed and torque so you know where you are in the ether of bike riding. What's better is that since it's tracked on the screen, you can track it later on an app and see your progress over time (I've taken 3 classes and I'm improving each time!)
 You can also opt in to the "TorqBoard" which -- periodically in class -- will show how you are performing in relation to the others in the class. If you're not crazy competitive like I am, absolutely you can not show up there (and many don't). If you're a maniac like me? Well, ride....and compete...and do awesome.

The Money:
First Class: Free!
Regular Classes: $34/Ride 
Shoes: Included
Water: Included
Bananas & Apples: INCLUDED

My take:
No contest. FlyWheel for the win. I like that you can track your progress in an app. I like that it's competitive. I like that there are free bananas.

The biggest win is honestly instead of an instructor saying "turn the knob a full rotation," at FlyWheel she can say "Your range is 30-35 torque." Okay. I get what that means. And it's helpful to know if I'm struggling at the low or high end of that. Or to know that next class maybe, just maybe, I can push myself to 36. I like the exactness of it and the competitiveness of it. But I can see how others may not. If one was a more "go with the flow" individual, one might not like it. I turns out....a crazy person who likes to know if I am at 80 vs. 82 RPMs. #Important #Psycho 

So ultimately you should decide for yourself. Both studios are really nice, with very helpful staff. Both studios have great locations, including the UES (perk!) and locations country-wide. Both studios will give you a killer workout.

So what do you think? Do you agree? Do you Soul? Do you Fly? Do

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cuz You're Hot, Then You're Cold....

I hope everyone had a lovely Valentines Day / Galentines Day / Saturday this weekend. I know I had a delightful time with activities spanning from running 16 miles to having drunk brunch to singing showtunes at a piano bar to eating Wave Lays and crying to Steel Magnolias and Beaches in one afternoon. It's been a bold couple of days and I've loved basically every minute of it.

And about those 16 miles. Yep, I ran 'em. This spring marathon "situation" has kind of hit me full force. Despite the fact that I've trained for many a marathon before, 16-miles in sub-20 degrees never quite gives me the warm and fuzzies, so to speak.

But when I commit to a marathon, I commit real good and so 16 miles it was. I did a favorite route I figured out a couple of years back in which I run from my Upper East Side apartment down 1st Ave, cut over to the river, run down and around lower Manhattan and up the West Side Highway and into Riverside Park. I exit the West Side through the Boat Basin, cut through the park, and end up at my doorstop. Exactly 16. Boom.

Left Shark dances for me!
I have to admit that although it was cold yesterday and a bit windier than expected, I'm doing my absolute best to just appreciate....the fact that I'm not running in Boston right now. Or attempting to at least. Oy vey! Boston! Yikes!

So many of my DFMC team-mates are in the Boston area and seem to be smiling through this situation (at least on the Facebooks). I'm in awe of that positivity and I try to glean some strength from it even when the wind is biting my face or the treadmill line is long.

Fundraising is also going great! I'm at $4,461 of my $10,000 goal with 62 days to go! Oh, you meant to donate but forgot, you say? Awesome! Here's the link! 

As I ran my 16...cold...solo...Valentine's Day miles, I just kept thinking back to one thing:

And then after I listened to Lea Salonga KILL IT with the best rendition of "On My Own" ever from the dream cast [oh, never heard the 10th Anniversary dream cast? I suggest you go to the YouTubes and rectify this for the next two hours....] I then reminisced back to another time. And that time was three weeks ago.

That time I was back in Miami crashing Jen's family vacation. Jen loves to run but she also loooooves the yoga. Loves it. But she doesn't do the stretchy flow yoga, core fusion and power yogas I've become fond of at Exhale. Jen does hot yoga.

My feelings on hot yoga prior to Miami could be best described as this:

Because if you've learned nothing else about me from reading my blog over the years (I can only assume you are an obsessive-compulsive blog follower? yes?) then you know about my copious sweating. And you love that about me. It's adorable and endearing.

So when I found myself in Miami agreeing to buy a two-pack of hot yoga classes for the days after our races, I was skeptical at best...but also willing to give it a shot.

The studio we went to in Miami was small, but lovely when we arrived for our first class. I was super nervous and was fully expecting to have to walk out halfway through the class. It was about 90 degrees when we walked in and I was already like:

But then a miracle happened and no one else showed up other than Jen and I. What was great about this is that I could stop worrying about my sweating upsetting the other customers and just focus on my breathing and my practice. Also, when you're in Miami taking a private yoga class for under $20 with one of your best's pretty damn tough to complain.

Jen and I were able to explain to the teacher that we had just ran races and were sore, and he definitely took it "easy" on us and made a very approachable, stretch-heavy class that left me feeling invigorated and much better than when I walked in.

It was absolutely a very similar flow class to ones I had taken...but just not. I glanced over at the thermometer at one point and it was over 100 degrees. I was, like, super impressed by myself for handling that level of heat and not fully combusting. And I was also thinking, wow, I am basically a yoga master. But then Jen explained that classes can actually get a lot hotter than that, and that this was a good "introduction." Oh.

We went back again the next day and it was slightly hotter and had more people in the class. The instructor was different from the day before, but I liked her as well. Neither instructor was overaly "spiritual," focusing much more on the physical form than the mental -- which I appreciate much more personally (although I respect so much those who are able to truly focus during classes and find spirituality! I'm just not one of them...)

Hot yoga is challenging. Every move from "regular" yoga is just that much more difficult and requires that much more energy when you're hot. Plus, this teacher added in a lot of moves I'm familiar with from power and core fusion yoga, including chataranga push-ups, lots of chair pose work, and even some ab work at the end. I like doing all of that stuff, but never had done so in the fiery inferno of Hell's fury.

Halfway through I was dripping and actually had to take my shirt off exposing my midriff. And I never do that. Never. Ever. I've never been that girl.

And please keep in mind we were in Miami. People looked goooood (as compared to my white tummy that hasn't seen daylight or sit-ups in months...I glowed like a full moon!) But I was like, you know what? I'm hot. And not in a Mila Kunis way. Bur rather in a "I am burning alive" type way. My shirt had become basically a useless wet shred of cloth at this point. And I wanted to focus on class and not the grossness.

Bringin' it back to the blog title. Get it? See? SEE?!
And so, full moon midriff all abouts, I vinyassa-ed and I downward dogged and I warrior one and two-ed and I did all of these things while in a sauna.

For sure I was able to go deeper into stretches, and I do think that the heat kind of necessitates you taking yoga breathing seriously and focusing on that breathing. You know. To keep you alive. Because you are going to burst aflame if you don't.

I am glad I had a full cold bottle of water with me, and I needed to eat a protein smoothie immediately after. The only parallel feeling I've had after a workout recently was Barry's Bootcamp where you just depleted and fully worked out after the session. This is absolutely a draw for many who want a "good" workout and nor just a normal yoga flow, and I get that.

Would I run to go to hot yoga every day? Absolutely not. And I'd 100% want to make sure I was comfortable with the studio before trying again here in NYC. And I'd be very careful wearing the bestest wicking clothes ever. But I'm open to it, I suppose. I was able to touch my toes during hot yoga, which I normally can't do. And I assume the calorie burn was exquisite (although that's frankly not my main goal in yoga).

I'm glad I tried it, and I'm really glad that my first experiences were overall positive ones.

Do you do hot yoga? What do you think about it? 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Very Miami PR: Race Recap

A couple of weekends back I went to Miami with my friend Jen to root her on as she conquered the Miami Marathon. I did the Miami Half Marathon as part of my Boston training...but was also secretly trying to PR!

As faithful followers of MeriG will well-remember, Miami is where I #actually ran my first marathon. Rooted on by co-#1 fan Betsy, I conquered that race and was able to complete something that was an 18 month journey in the making.

Officially a marathoner!

I had always wanted to come back and do the half since -- quite frankly -- the first 13 miles of this race are far more exciting than the back half. The full has far fewer participants, and the course (which I'll describe in a moment) definitely peaks in the beginning leaving you a bit-lackluster when you need the motivation most.

What was great about going back to Miami this time was that I got to have the experience with Jen. I've written about "Roomie" Jen before. We were Freshman year roommates at Brandeis many moons ago and have been close friends ever since. Jen introduced me to health and fitness in many ways, and living with her was something that I will cherish forever. Today she is a doctor with a hubby and three kids, and our lives pretty much couldn't be more different. But our history and our mutual love of running keeps us connected. It's pretty beautiful, actually.

Jen's parents live in Miami, so I tagged onto their family vacation for this little race.

After arriving Friday night, Saturday was spent in race prep mode. Jen and I did a little shake-out run in the morning to get the muscles moving and then went to a yoga class at a random studio in her parent's neighborhood. I don't want to talk crap about the class....but actually I do. It was pretty bad. The teacher just obviously was not properly trained, and rather than a nice flow class (as advertised) he instead tried to have us hold awkward, random, and difficult poses without really leading up to them in any way. Not only was it not relaxing, it actually felt kind of downright dangerous. So Jen and I kind of stretched on our own to not risk injury and that was that. Afterwards, we headed to the expo to get our bibs.

Me and the Roomie. She's tall.

I love how you can personalize your bibs for this race!
After dinner with her family, we were off to bed as early as we could for our 3:30 am wake-up call. Oh, did I forget to mention that the race starts at 6:15 am? Yup. Miami gets hot, it turns out. So you want to start early. On this particularly day, however, we totally lucked out. The weather for the run was low 50s, sunny, and zero humidity. Pretty rare and pretty freaking amazing.

Although I tried to be cool about it, I had been craving a Miami PR. I've been doing a lot of strength and speed training, and I was ready to roll. However, once never knows what the race gods throw at you. So seeing that weather forecast made me nervous. Because with the combination of the stellar weather and the fact that Miami is a very flat course...I now knew that I had all the tools to make me capable of PR. If my legs (and tummy) would hold out...

We arrived at the start about 20 minutes before the gun went off. It was pretty cool. And by that I mean it was cold out but I was pretending to be warm because I am a NEW ENGLANDER AND I AM IN MIAMI. But for reals it was cold.

And then, we were off! I wished Jen well and then we parted ways so she could be Speedy Gonzalez for 26.2 and I could be...Speedy MeriG for 13.1.

Even though you have to wake up at an ungodly hour, there are benefits. The key benefit being sunrise over the long bridge to Miami Beach. I tried to snap some moving pics, but these truly don't do justice to the beauty of these miles.

Miles 3 through 10 are basically around Miami Beach. Very cool. And then you run back over bridges to Miami to finish near the starting line. The full marathon loops down south for several miles before coming back along the coast and back and forth over some causeways before finishing in the same spot.

I felt great for the first 10 miles and was totally on pace not only for a PR...but for a big PR. I was fighting against a 1:55:56 and I was pacing -- according to the math racing through my head -- to something like a 1:53 or 1:54. Nutty.

At mile 11 I felt a twinge in my knee. Ow.

And then my knee kind of seized up. Oyyyy.

But by this point I knew that even if I ran "just" 9ish minute miles I could still PR. I stopped for a few seconds and stretched, and then I said to myself, "girl. Do this. Do this now." And I was off.

My gait looked something like this:

And I wasn't sure I was going to make it without walking the last mile. But I focused on my breath, on my mantra (an uninspiring "You will be so pissed if you don't do this." Yep. That was my mantra), and on putting one foot in front of the other.

And then I saw the finish. And I looked at my watch. And I saw the finish. And I looked at my watch. And by golly...I was going to PR. I ran under the Finish Banner like this:

And my time was 1:54:40 -- a solid PR and with a busted knee! I was so, so happy and proud of myself for this accomplishment.

I recovered in the finish area and posted on the social medias and called my parents to brag (because  -- let's be real -- they would have thought I was pretty amazing if I had just stayed home and eaten a bagel). And then I was able to see Jen come in at an amazing 3:50 for her marathon. Here she is lookin' like, "hey! no big deal! 'bout to finish me a marathon!"

Before I leave you, I have a closing thought: Reader, please keep in mind that my first half marathon in Brooklyn in 2008 was a 2:22 finish. That's slightly under an 11-minute mile.

Over the course of seven years I have trained and tried and educated myself and really worked at this. And it's that effort that has brought me to 1:54:40, which is an 8:45 minute per mile average pace.

If that's not a gratifying stat? I don't know what is. 

Teaser for my next post: New things I'm trying. Hot yoga in Miami...and FlyWheel in NY. More to come!

Monday, January 19, 2015

19 Days Down. 90 To Go.

Greetings from the end of a chilly long-weekend. I am in week 3 of my Boston Marathon training plan and we are exactly three months from the starting line. Training for a fourth marathon in three years is interesting in a few ways (and -- please let's not forget -- this is the sixth marathon I have actually trained for...) It's interesting because I know what to do. So much of running any distance for me before it was something I did was the unknown. How will my body react? What should I eat? What should I wear?

It's these questions that I used to blog about over the years as I discovered my way through the answers to these questions. How will my body react? Questionably and sweatily. What should I eat? Lots of things. Things before, things during, and things after. Not so fast, dairy. What should I wear? All the clothes in the winter. None of the clothes in the summer. 

And I think because most of my running questions have been figured out and the kinks have been ironed out, somehow that translates to others as, "oh, this must be a piece of cake."

Sorry, kiddos. Cake it is not.

Mmmm. Cake.
Many aspects are easier with the information I've amassed about my body and what schedule works for me. And because I spend more money on my running clothes than on my clothes clothes, I'm actually quite comfy in most weather situations.

But running 10 miles is still running 10 miles. And running 16 miles is still running 16 miles. That's still happening and there's no amount of information or practice or uncertainty that shortens the distances. I think. Although Google Maps may be working on it. I don't know. I still haven't upgraded my iphone operating system, so I can't be sure.

So now I focus not on figuring out everything from scratch, but on what I can do to enjoy the experience more and to get just a little bit better. Fundraising is actually a big part of that, because knowing that I have the support of family and friends from all areas of my life truly provides a mental and emotional boost to get me through the tough training days. [And thank y'all, it's been going great!!]

Fixating on my cross-training as much as mileage has been a great physical boost. Because of the more muscles and the more flexibility. Turns out that despite squats being the worst, they make your legs stronger and evidently stronger legs make you run faster. Crazy. Who knew.

And finally, the biggest and most helpful and amazing addition to my running life....podcasts. You heard me. Podcasts.

Oh, how into podcasts I am!

I have been a podcast dabbler for some time now. I blogged about RadioLab as part of a Favorite Things post a million years ago, but now I'm in deep in terms of internet radio listening. Serial (duh). RadioLab (duh). But so many more. Pop Culture Happy Hour. Freakanomics. Ted Radio Hour. Stuff You Didn't Learn In History Class. Invisibilia (new and diggin' it). So basically while I run I also learn about everything in the world and become the smartest and most interesting person ever. It's a win win.

If you have suggestions of shows, please send them my way. I have many hours that I would rather spend hearing other people's thoughts than listening to my own. Trust me.

I feel like there's a life lesson in here somewhere with the marathon training becoming more comfortable over time. Something about the scariness of the unknown being more difficult than the actual task at hand. And how the thing you might dread or be totally scared of becomes something more routine and familiar and that makes you really happy. And you might learn a lot of things on the podcasts.

So you should also sign up for a race or a new hobby or try something new because...someday you might love it too. Yes. Yes that's it. Nailed it, MeriG.

I made a New Years Resolution a few weeks ago to enjoy the process of running. And 19 days in I hope you don't mind me saying that I believe I'm killing it in terms of this particular resolution.

I'm finding that I can relish the run or the workout even with I struggle to find that same positivity and presence in other areas of my life. I guess true balance would have that attitude spread throughout the world that is MeriG...and I'll work on that. But for now I'm just enjoying being "in the know" when it comes to my running, to sharing a bit of that knowledge with y'all, and just enjoying the run. Because even if I don't feel positive always myself (and can ya believe it... sometimes I don't!), I'm sure there is a Ted Radio Hour focusing on the subject. And that's close.

* * * * * * * * * *

I am running the 2015 Boston Marathon with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge! I have raised $3,811 towards my goal of $10,000 for the 2nd year in a row! Find our more or donate here: