Easy, Pretty and Healthy: I’m talking about a recipe, silly.

As you may recall from last year’s cooking experience, I don’t cook. Or at least I don’t enjoy it. I prefer to stand by, observe and eat. Which also means that I have to rely on my more capable friends to get the job done.

This year, I leaned on my running partner Robin, who also happens to be a dietitian. These are good friends to have. These are the people who gently discourage you (me) from engaging in high-risk eating behavior (i.e. ordering seafood after a power outage). They’re also the people you call when you (I) took a supplement called “Neuro Shred” for an energy boost and thought either your heart would beat out of your chest or your skin would crawl off your body.

Robin’s sage advice: “Stop doing that, Andrea.”

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So Robin sends me a grocery list to create “Zesty Quinoa Salad,” a dish she found on allrecipes.com, and off to my neighborhood Publix I go.

As it turns out, Zesty Quinoa Salad is super cheap to make, which left me enough dough to invite a bottle of my good friend Kim Crawford to lunch with us.

I mean, just look at these ingredients:

1 cup quinoa (Robin likes the Inca Red version from Ancient Harvest)

2 cups water (free!)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 limes, juiced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1 ½ cups halved cherry tomatoes (we used grape tomatoes)

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

5 green onions, finely chopped

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

salt and ground pepper to taste

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The only things I had to buy were the tomatoes, limes, green onions and cilantro. So, what is that? Like $6? I should’ve bought a case of Kim…

You’ll also notice there is nothing “bad” in this recipe. I bought everything from the healthy perimeter of Publix. Robin likes the dish because it’s this medley of nutrition—you’ve got protein, antioxidants, iron, vitamins and flavor. She also likes it because it’s gluten-free. Robin, who has celiac, for reals can’t eat gluten, while I avoid it because it doesn’t like me. Or rather, it doesn’t like me at about mile 3 of a run when it hits my lower GI like a volcano: sudden and violent.

And while I hate it when people tell me recipes are “so easy,” I swear this one is. (And even easier when Kim is there to assist.)

It’s just chop, chop, chop. (Yes, I’ve learned you can’t shoot video vertically…)

Juice, juice, juice.

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Pour, pour, pour.

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Then stir, stir, stir. (As demonstrated by Robin’s daughter, Morgan, who’s more capable at cooking than I.)

I think I’m going to rename it the Super-cinco Salad: super cheap, super easy, super fresh, super tasty and super pretty. (Damn I’m clever.)

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Check out those colors!

For a full-on meal, I added chicken. And it also gets better with time, so the longer it sits, the better the flavors incorporate, which I can attest to because I ate it for 3 days–before and after long runs (just not during–never during).

Now, share this post by Wed. 3/29 and get in a drawing for a $25 Publix Gift Card!

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Nourish: Pampering Products for the Runner’s Body and Soul

I know that I should stretch, wash my water bottles regularly and not pour that next glass of wine. But what we should do is so not fun. In fact, most things that are “good for us” are miserable, like flossing and flu shots.

Can something be good for me and fun? I mean, I like running and working out. I like to eat fruits and vegetables. And I drink wine—wine is good for me, right? (Someone said something about “moderation” but I stopped listening, so I don’t know what the hell that was all about…)

But everything else that’s awesome—bubble baths, massage, naps—those fall under the category of “pampering,” suggesting they’re an indulgence, not a fundamental need.

Then I met my friend and running partner, Lindsay. Lindsay treats pampering like it’s her job. I once touched her arm and was so taken by the luxe, velvety feel of her skin, I thought she was magic.

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So relaxed. So pampered. So smart.

“You’re so soft!!!” I exclaimed, self-consciously rubbing my berber carpet-like arm.

“I exfoliate,” she replied, as if she just explained how brushing makes your teeth clean.

I bought a loofah that very day.

When I was sidelined by an IT-band injury, Lindsay suggested a massage.

Up until that point, I had only gotten a massage when my parents gift-certificated me a hot-stone session, and I had to force myself to stay awake for fear I’d miss the bliss. It was, indeed, an indulgence.

But 30 minutes whimpering under the powerful hands of Lindsay’s Russian massage therapist at the local YMCA, and I realized massage was neither Swedish nor relaxing. It is Russian and 100% necessary.

I let Lindsay be my guide dog for all-things good for me, and she was the one to introduce me to Nourish: in the form of hand-made, rosemary-scented bath salts to soak my weary muscles.

Nourish Natural Bath Products

Nourish creates some of the best natural bath products I’ve ever encountered. From salts to soy candles, this family-owned business produces some of the best, chemical-free bath boosters you can imagine. (I grew up with my mother warning that Mr. Bubbles was going to work his way into my “parts” and wreak havoc. Mom, you can relax knowing I’ve gone all natural.) Nourish also gives back to the community; they’re one of the sponsors of Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5K.

Because I’m a race ambassador, Nourish sent me some products to review and give away, which I’m more than happy to do for a company I’m already obsessed with. Because the more runners who know about Nourish, the better equipped our bodies are to survive the toil we put them through.

After my 9-mile training run (yes, for the upcoming Publix Women’s Half!), my hips and low back felt as if a welder was holding a blow torch to them, trying to fuse them back in place.

I channeled my inner Lindsay—who I can bet was already steeping in her own fragrant bath complete with candle, face-mask and cabernet—and turned on my tub. My husband came in and asked, disgusted, “What are you doing?” as if I were skinning a cat.

“I’m running a bath.” He looked perplexed.  “Because I’m sore.” (i.e. Not because I’m indulging myself).

Ray refers to baths as “human stew.” He claims I’m “simmering in my own funk.” Consequently, this also revokes his ticket to watch. (I win.)

But not the cat. The kitten stands on the ledge of the tub, fascinated by this process. In fact, she’s so fascinated that I shield myself from her judging stare. (The hair-full always mock the hairless.)

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“What are you doing, strange human?”

As I loofah and bath gel my way to happiness with the Lemongrass & Rosemary Moisturizing Wash, I wonder why I don’t do this more often?

Lemongrass and Rosemary Moisturizing Wash

I smell like a delicious lemon drop.

Why is a bath accompanied by salts and fizz not regarded as simple maintenance? I mean, B.L. (before Lindsay), I’d run a bunch of miles, swallow an Advil and call it a day. Today, A.L., I know that my body is me. Not something I reward with a massage or a fragrant dip. This body and me, we’re one and the same. And to take care of me, means to take care of this body. This vessel—this physical expression of “me.” (Whoa, that got existential for a minute.)

A soak, a massage, a candle—these things aren’t extravagant. They aren’t indulgent. They’re the necessary ways in which we tell ourselves we’re worth the trouble. And ways in which we tell ourselves “Thank you.” And “Please keep going another day.” And another day. And another day.

Lindsay’s got it figured out. She—her skin, her soul, her mind, her heart—is nourished.

Not “just another half marathon”

The week of the Crites Tybee Race Fest, a 2-day, 5-race festival with a cumulative distance of 26.2 miles, I came down with a cold. Because, well, of course I did.

No one else was faring much better. Lindsay had been fighting all sorts of sickness and Robin wisely decided to give her knee a rest after our Charleston Marathon. So I’d have to run by my lonesome. And if you know me at all, you know I don’t like to be alone. Like, ever.

So I decided to race “just” the half-marathon, which compared to the marathon a couple weeks ago, should be no problem.

At the 11th hour, my friend Jodie decided to join me for the race.  Jodie claims she’s “not a runner” but she’s pretty much whatever she wants to be. A salsa dancer? Sure! A Gladiator? No problem! A human fork-lift? I mean, have you seen her arms?!

And she can decide at a moment’s that she’s going to run 13.1 miles.

But Jodie won’t run with me. See, Jodie doesn’t like to talk and run. And I pretty much run to talk.

Jodie also doesn’t like the cold, and by cold I mean anything sub-78. In the middle of summer, when it’s 100 degrees and 100% humidity, you’ll see her running at 2 p.m. By choice.

This morning, it’s barely 40 with wind gusts up to 20 mph. And Jodie is not happy.

“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” she grumbles, pulling her jacket tight around her body in spite of the fact that we’re inside a heated car.

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Not happy.

We both know I didn’t talk her into this. A few months ago, Jodie decided to run the Key West Marathon in support of her dad, who’s fighting cancer. A few days before the race she came down with the flu and decided to run the half, fueled by fever, chills and a promise she made to her dad.

She finished the half, but the fact that she was still 13.1 miles short of her promise haunted her. Which brings us to the Tybee Half.

“This is just God’s way of punishing me for not running the marathon,” Jodie continues to lament at the race start line, her entire body trembling with the cold.

Neither of us have any expectations for this race; we’re going for the finish where we have VIP passes to the Savannah magazine tent and the promise of bottomless mimosas.

At the gun, we disappear into our individual playlists and race. It takes about two miles for my feet to thaw and I’m holding a pretty steady 8:15 pace. If I can keep it up, I’ll have a good finish.

Of course, I can’t. Not only because the wind pushes me backwards, but also because I’m mentally weak.

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Running (fake) happy.

Why do I do this? I ask myself, the beginning of a series of self-defeating rhetorical questions.

Why am I so slow?

Why am I so old?

Burp.

Why did I eat Mexican last night?

Then I turn the corner and run with the wind and all is right again.

Why does this feel so easy?

Another switchback.

Why does this suck so much?

Like all things, the race eventually ends. I somehow muster what I think is a sprint to the finish, but probably looks more like an angry orangutan scaring off a would-be predator.  I know this because spectators avert their eyes as I bear my teeth and emit very un-humanlike sounds.

I finish in 1:48, a respectable time but not a PR, gather myself and cheer Jodie in, who bounds along like she could run another 10 miles. Because she could.

Crites Tybee Run Fest

Jodie immediately wraps herself in “Grandma’s coat”—her affectionate name for the warmest, if not the most hideous, jacket—and we bee-line to the mimosas.

“Go easy on the orange juice,” I instruct the bartender. He pours maybe a half-teaspoon into my complimentary travel cup before I stop him. “Whoa—leave a little room for the champagne, buddy.”

We want to hang around to test the bottomless-ness of our cups, but the wind and cold is unbearable, so unbearable that even the free drinks aren’t worth the discomfort (a sentence I never thought I’d write).

Crites Tybee Run Fest

Actually happy.

As we flee to our cars, we congratulate one another on our accomplishment: finishing. Only it was a little sweeter for Jodie because finishing also meant honoring her dad by engaging in an activity they use to enjoy together.

For me it was “just another half marathon,” but at the same time there’s no such thing as “just another half marathon.” It’s always a struggle, always an accomplishment, and never should it be something we take for granted. To be healthy, to be active, to be able to run, to have friends to cheer us on, these are gifts we work for, but they are not forever.

I’m grateful I had them today.

Sometimes, Just Finishing is Enough (File this under things I never thought I’d say)

 

 

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Two weeks leading up to my fourth marathon, I started to believe I was cursed. My running partner, Robin, got suddenly sidelined and the doctor said she may never run again. Lindsay’s father-in-law went into the hospital—then her mother-in-law—and so she pulled out of the girls’ weekend she was going to share with us. My foot ached, my car broke down, my retainer fell out, I smashed my nose on the door (my husband says I need whiskers), my throat was starting to feel scratchy and the grocery was out of beets.

During my last 8-miler before the race I nearly face-planted while crossing the highway. Like, arms windmilling frantically, feet flailing behind me in big loping strides so as not to crash into the pavement with my recently un-retained teeth.

“I can’t catch a break,” I complained to my husband when I got home. “I’m having the worst luck.”

“Or,” my husband began, “maybe you have good luck.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, you didn’t fall, did you?”

Usually I’m totally a glass is half-full kind of girl, but when you’re about to do something as crazy as run 26.2 miles, you look for anything as a sign not to do it.

The day before the marathon—on Friday the 13th nonetheless—the stars aligned a bit.

Robin was treated and cleared by a super-awesome sports PT to run. I didn’t come down with the flu, didn’t break my leg, my foot miraculously healed, and I settled for a jar of pickled beets.

Robin and I checked into our hotel and it was surprisingly nice for the price. The expo was a breeze, we had a great dinner, got to bed early and I actually managed to sleep a few hours.

The next morning, I felt good. Like, really good. Like, Boston-qualifying good.

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Race morning!

I got to the start in plenty of time with my satellite secured and my intestines emptied. I pushed my way to the front so as to avoid getting caught in a crowd of runners. And then I was off.

By mile 8, I had already built a three-minute buffer into my qualifying time. It felt easy. Like I could hold an 8:20 pace forever.

Or at least until mile 11.

The drop was sudden. Without any warning, my body announced, “I think this is as far as we’re going to go today.”

I know all too well that mile 11 is much too early to encounter “the wall.” And yet, there it was, an impenetrable concrete metaphor standing firmly between me and my Boston qualifying time. Maybe even between me and completing the race altogether.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to stop running. I did both.

Then I thought about Robin, running her first marathon. And Lindsay, watching my pace from home, cheering me on. And the $100 I spent to run 26.2 miles, which really stung.

I pulled myself together best I could, gave myself permission to let go of the goal I’d work 5 months to reach, and just tried to put one foot in the front of the other for 15 miserably long, hot and humid miles.

Because when there’s nothing else to do, you might as well just finish.

Finishing that race as a biped was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After crossing the finish at 4:19, I flopped down on the ground in complete exhaustion. The sun beat onto my worn body until I caught a glimpse of Robin heading toward the finish. I rose as awkward as a newborn colt, trying to gain my balance on cramping legs. And then I forgot everything—about my curse, my missed goal, and my crappy race. In short, I forgot about me and cheered Robin in to her very first marathon finish. She was beat. Broken. Humbled. Exhausted. She was absolutely amazing.

That, after all, was the real reason I had to finish.

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So proud of her!

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And…that’s a wrap.

Being Thankful Sometimes Takes a Little Convincing

 

United Way Turkey Trot

I love me a Turkey Trot!

I like to run on holidays, especially on my birthday and Thanksgiving—the two times of the year I’m acutely aware of the good things in my life. Today was no exception. I’m a pretty regular “turkey trotter,” running the 4-mile race every year I’m in town. Because the distance falls between a 5k and 10k, I don’t have too many expectations about my time; I just want to beat improve (or so I tell myself). This takes the race-pressure off as does the fact that everyone out there is in the holiday spirit. The atmosphere just feels a little “lighter” than usual—because if you don’t have a good race, it would be selfish not to be happy simply be thankful that you can race.

Right?

I wanted to race because after the Rock ‘n’ Roll debacle, I needed to know that the training had gone to something more than a missed opportunity. And I had a third-place age-group medal to defend, which is a bit like saying you graduated college with a 3.75 GPA. No one cares. No one remembers. But you do. I mean, I do…

Things went well from the moment I woke. I put my bib on straight at the first attempt. (If you have ever pinned a bib, you can appreciate this.) I had remembered to charge my watch the night before; I swiftly found my lucky hat, earrings, necklace. I had successful bathroom experiences (3) and I was on time as I headed out the door. Being entirely superstitious, I took all of these as signs pointing to a strong finish.

I decided right before the gun that I would attempt to hold a 7:30 pace. I went out too fast as always, but settled in at mile two. And by “settled in,” I mean I was so uncomfortable I wanted to walk. Or throw up. Or walk while throwing up. I pulled back at mile three and started to see the women I was pacing off of pull ahead.

Coming toward the finish line, I heard my husband and daughter yell, “Go, Mommy!” At which point I heaved. Loudly.

Pressing my fist to my lips, I kept it in. Just keep going, I thought. Heave. Go. Heave.

The people cheering on the sidelines suddenly paused and made that face when you know you’re about to see something really bad but can’t look away—somewhere between sympathy and horror.

But I was not going to throw up. Not in a 4-mile race that is supposed be lighthearted and fun. Not on Thanksgiving. Not on the nice guy, Chris Ramsey, who announced my name over the microphone as I crossed the line

“And here’s our New Balance Race Ambassador coming across the line!”

I lifted my hand ever so slightly in acknowledgement and managed what I thought was a smile but probably looked like someone whose face just endured a hard right-hook.

And then: HEAVE.

It was big. It was loud. But I somehow kept it together. Somehow I kept it in.

I finished at 29:23 and with my breakfast still in my stomach, which should have been reason enough to celebrate.

But when I looked at the posted race results, I didn’t see my name. Turns out I perfectly aligned the wrong bib; I had grabbed my dad’s bib instead. Before someone could call Runner’s World to report that an 82-year-old many just ran a sub-30, I cleared things up with the race officials.

I got 5th place in my age group. Boo.

I thought again of all the reasons I should be thankful—my health, the beautiful weather, the fact that I’m not yet 82—but I couldn’t shake the pangs of disappointment. On the way home, I called my running partner, Lindsay, who, like any good running partner, assured me that faster runners had been shipped in from out of town, and that no else but me could run a sub-30 after drinking a bottle of wine and some change the night before. And then she told me to look up my time from last year. I beat it by 2 minutes.

A PR outweighs a medal any day (I mean, not at that moment, but in the big picture). My daughter, however, sees it differently. When I got home she presented me with this:

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The best award around.

And there it is: Profound thankfulness.

‘Twas the Night Before Race Day

Pre-race plans never go as planned. I can manage to (loosely) follow a 3-month training program for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah half marathon, but somehow the two days prior to the actual race—which are supposed to be filled with quiet reflection and preparation—roll out more like a Saturday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese.

I’m sleep deprived, I’ve got students panicking as the end of the quarter nears, I’m trying to pull two articles together, and Ava has a fundraiser dinner for gymnastics and a meet first thing in the morning. She’s concerned that I’m missing her meet, but more than that, we’re all concerned about who is going to do her hair. Because, in gymnastics, hair is akin to sticking a landing. Intricate French braids with glitter spray say “my mom cares about me,” whereas a loose ponytail that looks like a rodent nested in it says “abandoned at birth”—or, in my case, “my mom cares more about her half-marathon.” But we all know what it really means: “Dad did my hair.”

In spite of this chaos, I’ve managed to squeeze in most of my pre-race rituals today. I’ve set out my running clothes, charged my Garmin, shaved my legs and painted my nails (this is proven to increase your speed). I’m already wearing my lucky necklace, earrings and my paper “free beer” wristband I got yesterday at the race expo. It’s not that I’m super-concerned about getting a Michelob Ultra at the end of 13.1 miles (or ever, for that matter), but I like how the band reminds me of what’s to come—how my stomach will reject said beer but I will force it down nonetheless because, dammit, it’s free.

Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

Prepped and ready to go!

I’ve learned to go to the race expo as early as possible to avoid long lines. This year, the bib pick-up was organized by corral numbers; in other words, how fast you intend to finish. When I saw that I was in corral 1, I panicked. Had I entered the correct time? Surely, I shouldn’t be at the front of any race, let alone one of this scale. I looked at the various lines for “people like me,” and discovered the people in every corral looked like me: running shoes, ponytail, extreme nervousness…

No one was in line at corral 1. I approached the table apprehensively.

“Andrea Goto?” I asked, as if I didn’t know my own identity.

I expected her to look me up and down and declare, “I think you have the wrong line,” but when she cheerily handed me my bib, it sunk in: I’m in corral 1. Not because I lied about my finishing time to avoid bulky start lines, but because I’ve been training hard for the past few years. And here I am—a place I never imagined I’d be, especially at 38.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no delusions that I’m going to place. Last year’s female runner came in 26 minutes faster than my PR. She could enjoy an entire sitcom before I come through. But at least I’m in the near vicinity—a mere shadow—of awesomeness.

Not two seconds later, a television reporter approached and asked for an interview. I want to believe it’s because he saw me in the corral 1 line, but I know it’s because he wanted to interview Lindsay, but she demurred and shoved me his way like a good friend. Again, I’ll take it.

When everyone else says

When everyone else says “no,” I say “yes.”

I’m 15 hours from race-start. I’m enjoying a glass of wine (don’t wanna get the shakes), I’ll eat my boiled beets and soak in the bath. I’m ready.

Ready for what? An enjoyable run? A PR? A NYC marathon qualifying time? I’m not sure—and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. No one will remember my performance, my suffering or my time (half the time I can’t either). But for a couple of hours on a Saturday I will do something that is personally challenging. I will push myself beyond what’s comfortable, and I’ll do it with a good number of friends along the way—either as runners or supporters.

My friend Christine Hattrich shared these signs she made.

My friend Christine Hattrich shared these signs she made.

And then I’ll look to the next race, the next goal, the next PR. Because that’s what I want to believe life is about: waking each day and, at the very least, trying to do better.

Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

A Girl and Her Running Shoes: A Love Story

“You got another new pair of running shoes?” my husband inquired, not bothering to hide his disgust.

As I lifted my purplish-blue (this color has always confounded me) New Balance 860 v5 from the box, the smell of rubber washed over me like warm sunlight. So bright. So clean. So … new.

“My other pair was like 6 months old.” Okay, 3 months, but only runners understand that 3 months in shoe years is like 40 for humans.

“You wouldn’t let me spend $100 on a Halloween costume and you bought a pair of shoes?” he said, accusingly.

Clearly Ray doesn’t understand logical fallacy. A one-time Halloween costume and a pair of shoes that takes me to my next PR pain-free, are not like things. They aren’t even in the same universe, unless your universe is inhabited by red herrings and straw men.

No, I did not spend $100 on new shoes—I spent $120. But that really breaks down to only $60 per foot. Figure in the free shipping and that these shoes will protect my $12 running socks and $20 pedicure, and they’re basically free.

And, these are not mere “shoes.” They’re wings. Jet packs. Hover boards.

Friends.

That’s right, I love my running shoes.

I’ve been wearing the New Balance 860 since I first started running somewhere around the mid-90s. Before that, I was a shoe whore. I’d find the cheapest, most colorful shoe, try it out a couple of times and quickly discard after realizing it wasn’t a good fit. Too spongy. Too stiff. Too geriatric. Too moonboot-ish (that’s a real thing). I was always searching, without ever really knowing what I was looking for.

After a bout with shin splints, my husband suggested that I get fitted for a shoe by someone who actually understands the mechanics of running. It was awkward at first. Having a pretty man tell you to “run naturally” while he watches you is a little like telling someone to breathe without thinking about it. Everything gets weird and labored. I jogged down the sidewalk like a ostrich—upright with my arms close to my body, paddling through the air as if I was shooing flies from chest. It was even worse when he instructed me to run back because then I had to think about my face. What’s a natural face for a block-long jog? I settled on a bizarre catalogue-model smile mixed with perceived effort—best described as my “stanky face”—which caused the pretty man to avert his eyes, and understandably so.

Back in the store, pretty man told me I had a wide toe box and that I pronated—neither of which is sexy. He handed me a rather unattractive and oversized predominately white New Balance shoe with navy accents. Jackie Joyner-Kersee wouldn’t touch these things with her 10-foot vaulting pole—even in the ‘80s.

At the time, when I thought of New Balance, I thought of old men in long velour robes shuffling along in the gray 574, going to retrieve the Sunday paper from the front yard. But my very next run felt effortless. I was cloud-running. Unicorns were flying. Angels sang. It was a perfect fit.

You know the shoe I'm talking about...

You know the shoe I’m talking about…

I’ve stuck with the 860 ever since—besides my marriage, it’s the most committed I’ve ever been. Sure, there was a time or two I was tempted by a deal or a trendy color and I justified, “I won’t run in these, just look cute in them.” But even then, after a week or two, the adulteresses found themselves relegated to the dark corners of the closet amongst the other misfit shoes that caused me pain and regret.

Runners get it. My running partner Lindsay recently learned that New Balance updated her New Balance RC 1400 to a new version. My shoe has had 5 version upgrades, which I’m okay with, but Lindsay is a purist. She spent an evening scouring the internet for every pair in her size she could find and ended up buying six. It’s safe to say that the size-9 original RC 1400 is now obsolete.

Lindsay's loot arrives!

Lindsay’s loot arrives!

I’m fickle about a lot of things in my life, but not my running shoe. The 860 has seen me through three marathons and five half marathons. It’s run on trails in the Northwest and through vineyards in the South of France. It’s been in rain and snowstorms. PR’d and peed on. And 40 years from now, when I’m shuffling to my mailbox in my velour robe, you can bet I’ll be in my 860—v 48.

New Balance 860

Even our running shoes like each other! *smooch*

Trust the plan: Just when you think it isn’t working…it is.

Rock 'n' Roll Savannah

Last year: A different time, a different plan. (Lindsay, Kelley and me)

“Maybe when we train for the next half-marathon, we should try a different training plan,” I suggested to Lindsay, two miles into our Sunday morning long run, already dragging my leg like something from “The Walking Dead.”

“I remember liking Hal Higdon’s plans–maybe we could try the advanced one,” I offered.

“Andrea, we are doing the Hal Higdon advanced plan,” Lindsay said, exasperated.

See, I don’t actually follow a plan–at least not in the normal, self-reliant way. Instead, I show up to each run and ask Lindsay, “So, what are we doing today?” She’s given me the plan–in the form of email, text, hardcopy taped to my forehead–but it’s so much more fun to be surprised.

Texas Tech head coach Bob Knight reacts to the officials as Stanford beat Texas Tech 62-61 Saturday, December 22, 2007 during The O'Reilly Red Raider Christmas Classic at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Tom Pennington/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

“If my Garmin doesn’t record my miles, it’s like they never happened!!!!” — Lindsay

Lindsay doesn’t seem to mind that she’s the gatekeeper of my training–the one who wears the running pants in this partnership, telling me what to do when and how fast. She’s good at it, too. She syncs her Garmin after every run like it’s her job (I haven’t done this once since buying mine in 2009), and if she forgets to start it and a quarter-mile goes unrecorded, she gets mad. Like, Bobby Knight mad.

She’s also a natural statistician when it comes to running. She remembers PRs, medals, race pace–both hers and mine–while I can barely remember that I can’t eat wheat the night before a run.

“Did you eat gluten last night, Andrea?” Lindsay often inquires to the closed doors of porta-potties that sit on empty construction sites.

“Nooooo,” I call from inside, indignant.

And then: “Wait, yes. Crap.”

If you’ve been keeping up with my whining, you know that this usually stellar path to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half has been tarnished by injuries and illnesses. Then, Sunday morning I woke feeling like I swallowed thumbtacks–the same day Lindsay finally finished up her round of antibiotics. Naturally, I want to blame the plan–the first I’ve ever done that calls for a significant amount of speed work.

Lindsay also distrusts the plan, as demonstrated by the series of questions she rapid-fires around the midpoint of every run:

“Do you think we’re running too much?”

“Do you think we’re running enough?”

“Are we going to fast for a tempo?”

“Are we going to slow for speed work?”

“Are we going to peak too soon?”

“Should we run further than the plan says?”

And inevitably: “I don’t think this plan is working.”

It’s ironic that she poses these questions to me since I don’t even know the plan, and also because my approach to running is a little more … organic.

“It’ll all work out.”

And it has. Or at least it’s starting to. By the grace of Hal, the next 10 miles of that long run were swift and painless. We ran negative splits and came in hot; our last mile was an 8:50 (or so I kinda remember–Lindsay can edit).

“I think the plan is working!” we squealed, like only people who wear arm warmers and compression socks can.

We’re three weeks out from the race. Past experience should tell me that this is the time I start to see my running goals as attainable. Three months ago, not so much. It’s easy to forget. And it’s easy to doubt that all those days of training, slowly adding mileage and speed, add up to one (hopefully) spectacular moment. Even the setbacks–the ugly runs, the injuries and illnesses–are part of the equation.

Today we held an 8:07 pace for four-miles of speed work. When we stop, I say what we’re both thinking: “This plan is totally working.”

Let’s Run, Ladies: The Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Coming to you on April 2, 2016!

Last spring, I participated in my first all-women’s race. Though I run with girlfriends on a regular basis, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the inaugural Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5k. Would it be…girlie? Like a Lilith Fair concert minus the music, booze and underlying anger for the phallus? As it turned out, the race was one of the best running experiences of my life.

For starters, I was in the front. Like, the for-real front. Because when you eliminate half the population from a race, the mid-packers are suddenly leaders, which is where I found myself. I could count the women in front of me. And while they were busy counting who was behind them on the switchbacks, I couldn’t help but feel that we were all counting on one another as well.

See, I discovered there’s an almost inexplicable thing that happens when women get the rare opportunity to race together. We’re at once competitive and supportive–which is shockingly possible. Because even more than we want to beat one another, we want to simply race our best–to run among our sisters and see what our legs, lungs and heart can do.

Claudia and I raced together that year and held a steady 7:50 pace until the last half-mile when I hit a mental and physical wall. When she said, “Let’s pick it up,” I puffed, “You go ahead.” She hesitated for a minute, then saw in my empty I’ve-got-nothing-left-please-just-let-this-end-and-give-me-my-beer-face that I was, in fact, incapable of picking anything up including my pace, my feet or even my pride.

Claudia and I staying the course.

Claudia and me staying the course.

She blazed forward and I admired her “I’m still in my 20s” sprint to the finish from a good decade out. Another woman caught me shortly thereafter and said, “C’mon, you got this,” as she passed by.

At that point, I didn’t have much of anything left in me. But I did feel like I had the support of every runner out there–every woman who ever put one foot in front of the other not because she hoped to break a land-speed record or score a corporate sponsorship, but because one day she thought–for any one of a million reasons–I need to run. And then for some inexplicable reason, she kept doing it.

When I crossed the finish line, Claudia was there to congratulate me on what was still a mighty-fine PR. And then we cheered our friends in, from the girls we trained with to the women who were racing for the first time. Some jogged, some walked, but we all felt like we were in it together–and I don’t just mean the race. I mean the fact that we are all women. All daughters. All runners of various degrees for various reasons.

A happy ending.

A happy ending.

So I was clearly honored when I was asked to be an ambassador for this year’s race on April 2. For me, it’s a no-brainer. The race is in my city, sponsored by my grocery store, my running store, the magazine I write for, and my favorite shoe/apparel brand, New Balance, whose 860s I’ve been wearing for nearly as long as I’ve been running.

I have the privilege of encouraging women of all ages and abilities to join in–to run, walk, or Galloway themselves through a beautiful 3.2 or 13.1-mile course. I’ll be sharing tips, discount codes and product giveaways–the first being a $10 half-marathon registration discount when you use the Code: ONTHEROAD10.

Follow my blog and the On the Road Facebook page for more information–and feel free to ask any questions and share your experiences to encourage others to join us on this unique journey.

How running with others has made me a better runner—and friend

Strange things start to happen when you run with others. Long miles spent sweating, complaining and rejoicing accomplishments only another runner can understand (negative splits!) lead you down roads you don’t expect. You hear things that can’t be unsaid—usually, “this f**king sucks”—and you see things that can’t be unseen—I mean, I have a gluten sensitivity after all. These are the kinds of things that fall into the category: “We must never speak of this.”

Eventually, you start to show up for runs dressed alike.

Eventually, you even start to show up for runs dressed alike.

Take my running partner Lindsay, for instance. Our kids had gone to the same preschool, but we never really connected. Two years ago she happened to be on the same trail and I asked her to join me out of courtesy, fully expecting that she’d decline.

She didn’t. Those first two miles we ran awkwardly together, each taking turns downplaying our ability in a tiresome, self-deprecating exchange:

“I’m sorry if I’m slowing you down.”

“No! You’re not! I’m the one slowing you down.”

“No, really, you can totally go ahead if you want to.”

“No, I’m not kidding. This is my pace.”

Blah blah blah blah blah…

But by mile 3 we settled in, dropped the insecurity dance and just ran.

Since that first run, Lindsay has seen me fall flat on my face, cramp, cry, heave, PR and medal. I’ve told her things (“I used to be fat”) and shown her things (“Is this staph?”) that few others have had the privilege of knowing. And as a result of our almost daily runs together, we’ve all become very close.

I’m fortunate to have a strong, steady core of running partners that you’ll come to know in the digital pages of this blog. I’ve come to see them as essential to my running—and overall wellbeing. They push me, encourage me, and perhaps most important, they listen. (I also have a theory that talking for an entire 9-mile run is similar to training at altitude.) Running partners are the people with whom you can do dorky things, like wear compression sleeves, give each other high-fives, text our workout results to one another, and emit random “woo-hoos” and our own meagre accomplishments.

Post-race Bloddy Mary's with my girls.

Post-race Bloody Mary’s with some of my girls.

Yesterday, after a rather successful speed work session, Lindsay and I texted and called one another throughout the afternoon, basically asking what is now a rhetorical question: “I mean, how awesome are we?”

In the grand scheme of things, we aren’t very awesome. We’re age-group runners looking to PR an upcoming half marathon. But to each other, we’re pretty damn special.

Because when you run with people, things happen. Friendships happen.

Lindsay and me, post-run glow.

Lindsay and me, post-run glow.