15 years of running and Mom

I started running when I was 8 years old, with my mom. She said she could tell I had a knack for it, so she started bringing me along on her daily three mile runs. We trained during my brother’s soccer practices, and she’d ask me about my day as she led me around our suburban routes. I would cut corners and cul-de-sacs and complain, but she kept getting me out there day after day. We ran local 5ks together in the spring, which was my favorite part.

When I started cross country in high school and got more serious about running, we learned about the sport together. She knew all my times, all my competitors, and even all the online message board gossip of the Texas high school track scene.

She was there at every high school race, driving me to the ends of the earth (Ok, the Woodlands) when I was a homeschool kid with no team.

She was there at every college race that didn’t require a plane trip (and some of those too), cheering loud enough for me to pick her voice out of the crowd at an indoor track stadium.

She’s still there now, coming to watch me run my road races. I’m on Rogue AC, a professional / post-collegiate group based here in Austin. Mom holds my bag and water and gives me a good luck kiss at the start.

Mom still runs too. She’s on her steady 5 days-a-week plan, waking up at 5 a.m. and running in the dark to get her mileage in. On Saturdays she sleeps in until 7, and I get to cheer for her starting her long run.

Running has been a consistent thread in my life for the last 15 years and so has my mom’s support. Cliché but true – wouldn’t be where I am without her.

A very happy mother’s day to you, Mom.

Mothers day

Direction

Complete and total relief.

It was December 13, 2013 and I’d just finished my final presentation for graduate school. I was officially done with all coursework of my college career, and I would walk the stage at graduation in 8 days. As I rode the campus shuttle back to my apartment, I was excited, but felt nearly empty. The last semester had taken its emotional and even physical toll – I was exhausted and anxious from the final push of paper writing, and I was nursing a back injury and hadn’t run for two weeks.

 I didn’t know what was next for me in life, in terms of working, running, where I’d live, or where I should try to go, but this relief was enough for now.

The next day, I turned 24, ate Vitek’s barbecue for the last time as a local Wacoan, and said goodbye to my amazing roommates.

That day’s direction was simple: move back to Austin. Done.

The day after that, I went on my first date with a guy I met on OkCupid. I’d joined the site a couple weeks before, in a fit of loneliness and procrastination on schoolwork. I poked around on there for a couple weeks and chatted with a few people, but overall wasn’t that impressed or excited about my prospects. That Sunday brunch in December was the first date I went on with a match from online dating.

I told my mom I was getting brunch with a dude from Rogue, the running store where I worked last summer. Technically I was; he was in one of the training groups based out of the store. That fact and the 12 Facebook friends we discovered we shared helped mitigate the creep factor of online dating. Still, even though I hadn’t told my mom about my recent dating site exploits, she somehow knew. She asked me as I tried to casually head out to the door, “Have you met this guy before?”

Uncertainty and anticipation were the day’s ruling emotions – where could this go? – but it was a different kind than what I’d experienced in the past year and a half. 

During those months, when I was in graduate school, I walked through the hardest, darkest days of my life. After I was sidelined by a running injury in my first semester, I basically quit taking care of myself physically (not sleeping, exercising or eating healthily — heyooo there’s consequences to that). I started feeling like crap all the time, and coupled with graduate coursework that was much more difficult and less motivating than undergrad, I was not in a good place. I wrapped myself in my own existentialist world and questioned “What’s the point of all of it?! Meaningless.” I felt like I was going through the motions of life. The old things that used to make me so happy either weren’t available to me or no longer had any effect.

During that time, I felt a lack of purpose. Uncertain of my goals and motivations, I felt stuck and unfulfilled. I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted or what I should aim for anymore.

But now, after grad school was done, I was back in Austin for as long as I wanted. I’d planned to live with my parents and work a part-time job as a stopgap until I found something better or cooler or more legit. I had an idea about where I wanted to go. I could say the words parrot-like when anyone asked me what I wanted to do after college – “I want to work in the running industry, doing anything communication/marketing/PR/advertising. I can work for a retail store, work in media, work for an apparel company, or race management. As long as I’m in the biz around people who understand the running lifestyle, I think I’ll be happy.”

Of course, I also wanted to keep training and running, but my prospects for that weren’t the best after the months of not running during grad school.

Facing life after college, I wondered “What should I do now? Which direction should I go?”

That question had bothered me a lot in the last year. I was worried I’d miss the right direction, or had already taken the wrong direction. Things always made more sense when I had my feet pounding underneath me on a run, or when I had two wheels rolling beneath me. At least I was moving. But I wondered if that was enough to get me through to the next phase of life? What should be important to me? What should life look like?

Back in Austin at the end of 2013, after graduation, direction reentered my life.

It said, “Stay here. You’re happy, your soul is fed, you have wonderful family who loves you, and you’re about to get one more really good reason to stay.”

It was December 15. I went on that  OkCupid brunch date with Jake and was immediately smitten. I swear y’all, after coffee and an asparagus quiche, I knew.

I knew he was awesome and that we’d get along so well. I knew he was a sincere, loving, adventurous man who captured my admiration. I knew he strove for the same balance of faith, work, play, and running in his life that I did. I knew we would understand each other.  I knew he was looking for the same relationship that I was, someone to do life next to, loving and supporting and inspiring the other.

I wanted to marry him.

Direction got even more in-my-face in the next two months, the first couple of 2014.

Jake and I started a serious relationship. I knew I loved him even if it was way too early to say so.

I’d started working at Rogue again, and this time was really inspired by the Rogue vision of community. It was enough to transcend the mindset of a part-time job and make me really excited to be there and be a part of building that community.

After another month I’d gotten in good enough running shape to join Rogue AC, the post-collegiate/professional running team that’s operated out of Rogue and sponsored by adidas.

I was a runner again. I had a cool job that I enjoyed. And I had a relationship with a guy that I couldn’t wait to pursue, to grow deeper in.

I knew where I was going again, what I was reaching for again. It felt pretty damn good.

In April, Jake asked me to marry him, and without a trace of doubt, I said yes. The wedding is in October.

Work is pretty stimulating without being overly stressful, and I love the company. I’m getting to see a little bit more of the founders and managers’ visions, getting to know the quintessential Rogues (more than just customers!) and learning how everything fits together with retail and the training groups.

Running is going well, I’ve had the most consistent training I’ve done since 2012, and the momentum is building each week. I’m really enjoying the process, getting to know my coach and teammates, and feeling like I belong more and more the whole time.

I’ve got direction. I’ll be here in Austin awhile, maybe forever, doing what I’m doing.

This is reality people. It really does feel good to be true.

I love being wrong

One of my favorite phrases is “never say never,” applied to everything from trying new foods, to new sports, or even dating partners. I’m pretty open to new experiences and I think everyone should be just because it helps you grow so much. You never know if you’ll like something or if something will work until you actually try it.

But sometimes I don’t live by my advice. Sometimes there are things I just don’t get – things that everyone won’t shut up about, things that I believe to be vastly overrated or dumb or trendy, things I professed for months or even years that couldn’t be that great. But then, sometimes I actually do try these things and they absolutely live up to the hype. In these instances, I love being wrong.

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Swiftwick socks

Like Experia Thorlos and anything overpriced by Nike, I thought, how could an athletic sock be any better than another? It’s a cotton tube for your foot and it just gets pressed up against your shoe anyway. I even bought a pair of Swiftwicks to try because I loved their packaging/design so much, but they sucked. They were Zeros, the no-show height, and they slid down inside my shoes. Fail.

But then … an eager sales rep literally chased me down between booths at The Running Event (a running industry trade show) and gave me a couple pairs of their compression socks. I was wearing a walking boot at the time thanks to a stress fracture, and he described what a difference socks could make with devices like that – he was right, the boot was pretty toasty.

I wore the socks for cycling a few weeks later, and with my boot, as recommended. And my mind was blown. These socks WERE different. They were smooth, had just the right level of compression (I had the Sevens, a mid-calf sock, and Twelves, a full knee sock), they managed temperature well, and they had these cool logos on the back of the calves that just felt, swag. There was something transcendent about that sock. Swiftwick, you rule.

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Bib shorts

Ah, bibs. When I started cycling in 2010, bibs freaked me out. Why? SO GEEKY. I figured they were a strange garment created only for ultra cycling dorks that served no utility because who would want shorts that go over your shoulders? I didn’t try to rectify this by asking questions, I just judged in silence.

I lived in the dark until Fall 2012, when the cycling club ordered our new kits (cycling speak for uniforms). I thought I ordered shorts, but when they came in they were bibs. I was disgusted, but with no other options I slipped into them one day for a ride. Guys, it was a epiphany. They were so … smooth. They basically go straight over your stomach so your jersey sits nicely on top. No more tugging at your shorts, no more waistbands digging into your stomach.  Finally, the boys in my club laughed at me when I said this, but here’s an added bonus: bib shorts are the Spanx of cycling (except not uncomfortably tight). They tames that tummy roll right down and just hold everything in.

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Mountain biking

I’m certain you’re bored of hearing various incarnations of this story (or maybe / you’re / not) but basically I used to think mountain biking was only for adrenaline junkies, super dangerous, and certainly nothing I would ever try. But then I started mountain biking and it was fine! I mean, it is scary sometimes, but once you learn skills you can ride a lot of stuff and it is not nearly as dangerous as it seems on the outside. Trust me.

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Strava

Strava is a social media website/app that uses GPS data to track your runs and bike rides. The social part is that it compares your efforts to other people who have ridden the same routes (or more commonly, “segments”) as you have.

I thought Strava was only for (1) overcompetitive dudes who enjoyed destroying nice, easy, conversational pace lines in group rides with quests for virtual glory. I can’t tell you how many times I’d be enjoying a recreational, friendly ride when the guys would announce, “This is a segment! I’m going for it!” and sprint off. I couldn’t keep up, and I’d sulkily pedal behind until catching up at the street’s end where they waited to regroup, panting and already measuring their efforts on their iPhones. Oh, I also thought Strava was only for (2) people who owned smartphones that could use the Strava app (no smartphone = bit of a sore spot, I like to save money OK!?!).

I was absolutely wrong about the second point; Strava is not just for smartphones. You can use most GPS watches with Strava! This is how I log my runs and rides.

And, well… I was partially right about the first point. Strava IS for overcompetitive dudes! It’s also for overcompetitive chicks like me! There are a lot of great things about Strava that don’t involve the social aspect / competition like its training log functions, its shoe mileage counter, and all the data it gives you, all for free! But my favorite part is the competition. The site shows you which people have ridden the same segments or routes that you’ve done, and ranks your performances on a leader board. You don’t get anything when you get to the top … other than knowing you’re the King/Queen of the Mountain. But excellence isn’t about rewards; it’s about knowing you’re the best!!! This site indulges my overshare/running and cycling nerd tendencies. In other words, it’s perfect.

Overcompetitiveness aside, I love how the site can inspire you to push harder on your everyday efforts. If I find out there’s a random segment halfway through my ride, I’m going to pick up the pace next time I ride it. Nothing changed about that road from the last time I rode, except knowing that there’s a goal and an achievement at stake. But Strava changed how I ride it – the site created something out of nothing. It can also give you a feeling of community with the other riders in your area, show you popular training routes, giving you some of the experience of riding with a group even if you head out solo. That’s the power of the internet and I love it.

Re: overcompetitiveness: it’s just a fun add-on to your sport and your training. Only you decide how important KOMs and leaderboards are. In the end it’s still all 1s and 0s.

Don’t knock it til ya try it. And when you do try it, and you are wrong, admit it, talk about and spread the love so we can all learn.

ILU 4EVA, Matt! [Guest Post]

My sister, B, started running a couple years ago, and I accompanied her when she bought her first pair of “real” running shoes. We were shopping for shoes again today and reminiscing about that first trip, and she said I could re-post this hilarious entry she wrote for her own blog in 2011. 

One thing I was really looking forward to during my trip to Austin was getting new running shoes. I bought my old ones because they were the cheapest, cutest sand-proof shoes I could find, and I needed them to wear to the elementary school where I teach. When I started walking and running, I wore them because they were my only athletic shoes. I wasn’t even sure I’d keep it up long enough to bother buying real ones. Shows you how I felt about myself!

But now that I’m planning to continue running for the foreseeable future, I wanted to spend the necessary money on good shoes. Proper shoes that fit your feet and are designed for your activity are one of the only things I think it’s worth to buy the best. DVDs, gym memberships, performance wear, heart-rate monitors, ipods and home equipment can all be optional or cheap, second-hand or improvised. But not shoes! And most people need to be fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing. Since Austin has several stores with such people, and my tiny hometown has none, I was excited to get myself a shiny new pair of shoes while I was there.

My sister, obviously in-the-running-know, recommended Luke’s Locker, a new place in Austin. I instantly loved the decor and vibe, described by Cate as “Anthropologie for runners!” Hearing I needed to be fitted for running shoes, one of the young, friendly employees directed me to “Matt”, who would be “taking care of you.” Hello, Matt.

Matt was young and good-looking, but not so good-looking that he knew it and was full of himself. Yes, I knew this just from looking into his blue-green eyes. He stared deeply into mine as he explained why it was important to wear shoes fitted to your feet and to replace them as they wore out. He questioned me about my running regime and I knew that he really, really cared about my answers. He had me run inside the store for him and praised my high arches that collapsed with each step as “ideal”. As he knelt to unlace my shoe, I began to feel my level of attraction to him ridiculous for a married woman. I tried to deflect attention off to my sister, much better suited to his age, which worked fine until she got up to go look at the clothes. We were alone in a corner of the store, with him holding different shoes for my feet like Cinderella’s prince, chatting like a good salesman about why each one was perfect for me. Finally out of shoe talk, he asked me where I was from, how long I was here, and so on. It really started to get frankly uncomfortable as I became more intensely aware of how attracted I was to him and the specialized attention he was giving me. I AM MARRIED. HE IS COLLEGE-AGED. HE IS JUST TRYING TO SELL ME SHOES. STOP IT.

In the car, I confessed to my sister and reproached her for leaving me. She laughed and said that the same thing happens to her, the feeling of intimacy caused by someone who is deeply interested in your running schedule while dressing and undressing your feet. In fact, she was once so flustered that she bought the wrong shoes! She said she thought he was cute, too, but she figured I was above such shallowness. Apparently not.

When I got home, my annoyance with Matt for being so good-looking was erased as I saw he had written me a note on my shoe box, on a fill-in-the-blank form taped to the side:
“__B__ Thanks for shopping at Luke’s Locker! __Matt__ “

We’re BFFs again, Matt.

B and me at the Austin Marathon (we did the half) in  2012

Fall 2013: the year of the mountain bike concludes + other updates

Behold, Fall 2013:

Shooting off "hospital hill" at Flat Rock Ranch

Shooting off “Hospital Hill” at Flat Rock Ranch

1. Rode my mountain bike a lot

The sport of mountain biking got the most love from me this semester. I went all-in, traveling and competing with my school’s cycling club to seven USA Cycling collegiate races. We had a blast camping and competing at venues across the state against other collegiate teams.

I put all my focus on biking this fall because it’s my last semester at Baylor and my last chance to be a member of the school’s team. Since I don’t have any NCAA eligibility anymore, and no urgent running goals other than get back into training, I figured this was a good time and maybe the only time to really get some good riding in before I make running everything again.

I freaking loved this season! Biking is obviously much lower-key than NCAA Track and Field, and while I took the races seriously I didn’t have any outside pressure to perform. Mountain biking is similar to running in that you have to stay mentally engaged, it challenges you aerobically, and you get to be outside competing in beautiful places. But it’s different because the fittest girl doesn’t always win! It’s also about finesse – your technical skills on the trail can take you a lot further than interval training. My technical skills are MUCH better than last year though, after all my summer practice in Austin, and it was really satisfying to actually be able to use my aerobic fitness and push myself in a race. It was great to try to work into a new sport, where a different required skill set challenged me in new ways.

I crashed every race weekend at least once, but I got up and finished all the races. It wasn’t too bad, and wearing my scrapes and bruises to class the next few days after a race always made me feel so hardcore.

I was happy with the season – I got 2nd or 3rd in all my races, depending who showed up. It was a huge improvement from last year, and I ended up qualifying for and getting to race at collegiate nationals in North Carolina! I got 45th/80 there, which I am proud of because one year ago I was 100% brand new to this sport.

Beech Mountain, NC.

Y’all it was beautiful but FREEZING

2. Baylor Cycling Club: a new athletic and leadership experience

As much pride as I drew from being an athlete at Baylor for five years, I have to say people in the cycling club and other club sports are the real “student-athletes” on campus. The NCAA athlete experience was fantastic at Baylor and I wouldn’t change it. We were treated very well and our coaches had high expectations from us – often I felt like a pro athlete who did school on the side. Club athletes on the other hand have to run the team themselves, without the help of athletic scholarships, coaches, and an entire athletic department dedicated to their success. They organize the club, buy equipment, plan trips, register for races, host competitions,  raise funds, participate in the community, keep up with their studies, and most importantly, COMPETE year-round.

Team at conference champs - 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

Team at conference champs – 1st place DII and 3rd place overall

I’ve been in the club since Fall 2012, and became an officer last spring. It’s really cool to have been part of the leadership, and see how the student leadership has matured, grown the club, and shaped it into an organization that provides so much fun and so many opportunities for its members.

3. Running is still #1 in my heart and my future plans

I’ve heard a few folks ask me if I’m still running, or just mountain biking now.

My response to this is Think I give up that easy!? But I guess I haven’t been vocal enough about my goals. Or I can just blame Facebook (which is ironic because I’m still not actively using the site right now), because I think I’ve been tagged in a bunch of  biking photos this semester. Guess I need to start sending selfies from 6:30 a.m. practice at Cottonwood. Sorry, I know, Facebook is the easiest way to get this gestalt idea of how people’s lives are going, and I can see how my profile would be misleading.

But still. No. Just no. I still run. I still love running. I still want to run for a post-collegiate team. I still train. I’ve done a few races this fall.

Me and one of my running buddies this fall

Me and my running buddy David at Belton’s Trails of Hope 5 miler

This semester I’ve trained with my old XC team, and did a meet with them (the HBU Invite, ran an XC 5k in 17:30 woohoo). Feeling my fitness returning after 6 months off due to injury last school year is simply exhilarating. I’m experiencing the purity of running, re-discovering the joy that it is to feel my legs turn over, to have to dig again, and to be able to open up and run uninhibited by nagging pain or heavy legs. I can feel my talent asking to be unleashed, running these workouts and races months earlier than I thought I’d be able to. It’s weird and awesome and I love it.

4. I’m graduating grad school in December!

I love my school and my faculty but I’m ready to be done! And so is my bank account. Hoo boy. I am experiencing the typical pre-grad anxiety of oh em gee there is a lot to do before December, but whenever things get too bad I can always count on a run to bring me back to feeling alright. Something about that physical effort just pushes all the other thoughts out of your brain. This semester, more than any other in the past, I’ve experienced running as a drug that gives me a high, and an escape from my own negativity.

With this master’s degree, I will become the most educated child in my family. This is a total joke because my siblings are all quite brainy (engineer, special ed teacher / 4.0 UT grad, and a legit accountant-in-training) and I’m pretty sure they’re going to be more well-read, well-written, and/or well-paid than me in the future. Naturally, I’m planning to milk it for all its worth over Christmas.

WHAT’S NEXT? : the question of the hour for any soon-to-be-graduate.

In January-May I’m going to move back to Austin (hey parents hey), work a part-time job, and visit / interview with the post-collegiate running teams I’m looking at. I’ve had conversations with a few coaches, but most of them asked me to visit before we discussed anything serious. Since I spent all fall cavorting around to my mountain bike races, and most of the team contracts begin in June, I decided to do visits in the spring with the goal of joining a team in the summer.

Um yeah I might not leave Austin. Ever.

TL; DR: This fall, I rode my mountain bike, got back in shape as a runner, I will graduate in December, and move to Austin in January.