The Incredible Shrinking Running Shorts

For every year that I run, the hem of my shorts seems to rise about a quarter of an inch even though I stopped growing about two decades ago. In fact, you can date my racing pictures by the length—and cut—of my shorts. First it was the knee-length, drawstring mesh shorts, then the oversized Umbros rolled at the waist which paved the way to the more revealing Nike tempos—about as “revealing” as ankle socks.

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Oh, you remember.

Today, I opt for the barely there feel of silky, wicking fabrics—just enough to cover the tan lines. Because even a 4” inseam in 100% humidity can feel like a parachute in a rainstorm. It’s not because I’m trying to show off my goods. It’s because I’m trying not to drown in my shorts.

At this rate, I’ll be running in my underwear by the time I’m 45. At which point I will stop running altogether.

My friend Claudia, a Lululemon Ambassador and fan of the minimalist movement (doesn’t hurt she’s 30 and built like a stick bug), suggested I try the Lululemon Speed Short, which at 2 ½” is a touch shorter than the 3” I’m used to, but since we were sliding into 2016 it only made sense to raise the stakes—and hemline—once again.

I’m a pretty diehard New Balance fan, having just bought three pairs of the Impact Short after I ran a marathon entirely chafe-free, which is like saying you ran a marathon without getting tired. But I can’t turn down anything free. St. Jude’s hand sanitizer. Kroger lip balm. Publix colander (true story). I got ‘em all. So when she offered me a pair of $54 running shorts in return for an honest review, I snatched them up faster than a University of Phoenix koozie.

I slipped into the size 6s and stood before the mirror to evaluate. From the back, they were good. Roomy, and no low-hanging cheek to speak of. But from the front, I noticed some hip clingage, some fabric strain, and let’s just say it’s a good thing I shaved.

Not perfect. But passable? If you have to ask…

“Are these too tight?” I asked my husband, who immediately looked panicked. There is no good answer when we all know the answer in the first place. If he lies, I go out into the world and people say “Bless her heart,” behind my back. If he tells the truth, I go out into the world husbandless.

“They aren’t like the ones you normally wear,” he offered gingerly.

“But are they hideous?” A trick question because if he says “yes” it actually means I look hideous because we know there’s not a damn thing wrong with the cute $54 shorts.

He didn’t take the bait.

“No, but you might as well try the next size up just to see if you like them better. Then you won’t wonder.”

Ahhhh—the discerning consumer approach. Well played, Ray. Well played.

Claudia swiftly made the exchange and when I stepped into the size 8s, little running angels sang. A perfect fit—slightly more room at the hips and I could go a few days before a shave.

Lululemon Speed shorts

Lululemon Speed Shorts

It makes sense that the shorts fit well; they must fit everyone pretty well because I see Lulu-ites everywhere I go. “I like your shorts!” girls at the gym chirped with a knowing wink. They were all wearing the same shorts just in a different color and pattern. It’s like the shorts bought me membership into a club I didn’t know I wasn’t a part of—until I was.

With a wide, low waistband and soft as Charmin (the double-layered kind), they really don’t feel like I’m wearing anything, which is the best kind of short: it feels invisible but is decidedly NOT invisible. I just recommend that you suck it up and size up.

As far as the long-distance chaffing challenge, the shorts threw in the towel (or did they wave a white flag?) at mile 9, but if I’m being honest with you and myself, that probably had more to do with me than the shorts. Bless my hips.

 

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My New Year’s running resolution, in all its simplicity

I’ve been percolating over this New Year’s resolution thing for a couple of days, seeing what might stick 72 hours before I announce a 365-day commitment. My record isn’t so good. Like, I’m 0 and 30 since making my first failed resolution around the tender age of 8 when I announced I would start a stamp collection.

But this year I might be onto something sustainable—and something more meaningful than stamps.

If I were to characterize 2015 in one word, it would be “overwhelming.” I felt like I was running in 10 different directions but never getting past my own front door. I was overwhelmed by my commitments to my work, writing, running, friends, family and myself. Commitments that I kept making.

“Why don’t you stop saying ‘yes’ to things if you’re feeling overwhelmed?” asked my husband.

As if that made any sense.

Truth is, I wanted to say yes to every single opportunity last year posed. I like new challenges and projects. I suffer from the fear of missing out. I live in this paradox where I crave time to just “do nothing,” but as soon as there’s “nothing to do,” I’m bored.

So if that wasn’t going to change, then maybe it was simply my outlook that needed a revision. Instead of grumbling and being anxious about everything I “had to get done,” what if I approached each project/goal/opportunity with joy? The same joy with which I accepted it in the first place?

I began by evaluating my running.

I came out of 2014 hitting PR after PR and with the hopes of qualifying for Boston. I finished every race exhilarated about what I had just accomplished and thought 2015 would be even better. But somewhere along the way I got fixated on racing and getting faster. Consequently, I endured a series of small physical setback and large disappointments. The races I did PR, I finished hyperventilating and heaving, beating myself up because I ran negative splits, walked at the water station, or didn’t place—things I knew were lame for an age-grouper running local tracks to care about, but still…I cared.

I don’t want to stop caring about becoming a better runner any more than I want to stop caring about being a better friend, mother, wife or writer. I don’t want to throw my hands in the air and say “I’m just too old/tired/busy for this.” Because I’m not.

But what if I let go of the useless anxiety that clouds my otherwise optimistic outlook? What if I instead focused on the one thing I could change: Me.

I didn’t think it would work because it goes against everything I’ve come to think I know about being driven. For instance, as a writer, I stress about deadlines, inspirational crashes, and whether or not I’m good enough, thinking that these things ultimately fuel my craft. In fact, they stand in the way of it. But the few times I’ve convinced myself it’ll all work out (and by the way, it does), or walked away from a piece only to have fresh insight the next day (because it always comes), or forget what people think and just write what I love (the best writing I’ve ever done), I’ve been surprised at how joyful the experience can be. The anxiety didn’t make me work harder, it just made me feel like I was working harder.

I wasn’t sure the principle would apply to running until today. After four hours of writing, I felt like running—I needed to run. But instead of looking at the half-marathon training program to tell me how to run, I ran just for the hell of it. I put on my headphones and picked a course that would allow me to log anywhere from 1 – 7.5 miles. I could turn back whenever I felt like it. I would run “comfortably” without worrying about the pace—something I hadn’t done for so long I wasn’t even sure what my comfortable pace was. I feared it would be slower than I could handle, but told myself it didn’t matter; my only goal was to adhere to the Brooks slogan I love so much: run happy.

http://community.runnersworld.com/blog/signed-up-for-my-1st-marathon

If my breathing became labored, I slowed. If I felt energetic, I picked up. I rocked out to the worst Tween beats Pandora has to offer because that’s my jam. At mile 4, I stopped to chomp on some energy chews, and enjoyed the warm sunlight on my face. I never took the shorter route, not because I had to log the miles, but because I wanted to run them.

Every now and then I would peek at my watch, just to see how much damage running happy would do. Funny this is, it didn’t. I was cruising at an 8:30-8:45 pace, much faster than my easy pace I do while training.

I didn’t finish with my body aching and my lungs heaving. I finished exhilarated at what I accomplished and called my husband and texted Lindsay to share in the joy of just another day of running.

This wasn’t new. This was how I used to run. Happy.

I think 2016 is going to be an overwhelmingly good year.

11060881_10203497377505821_6973961068191083813_n

Running very happy

The Right Stuff: What every runner needs in her stocking

No one wants to see you hobble across the finish line, barely holding up your head and barely holding down breakfast. Nope, you’ve got a quarter of a mile to the finish line–so it’s time to pick up the pace and finish strong.

I’m talking about Christmas, of course. It never fails that in the final three days, I’m scrambling to get those last-minute items that tell everyone just how much I love them: enough to shop at Walmart at 11:30 p.m.

That is love. It’s also a form of insanity.

So in the giving spirit of the season, let me see if I can’t at least help you out by sharing what I think are 12 of the best gifts for runners. And maybe you can pay it forward: help loved ones out by sharing this list with them. I’ve already pinned it to my husband’s forehead.

  1. Tickets to the Show. What better way to light a fire under your runner’s uninspired andrealogoass than to sign her up for a race? A great one for seasoned vetrans or those just starting to lace up is the Publix Women’s Half Marathon and 5K on April 2nd. Use the code ONTHEROAD10 from yours truly to score a discount at checkout. Just know that race entries are neither transferable nor refundable, unless you pay a small fee for race insurance.
  2. The Garmin Gods. I’m still shocked when I discover som11095581_10206455380369147_7970270689607647080_oeone is out there moving in a forward direction without the assistance of a GPS watch. I’ve heard people say, “But those are for serious runners.” That’s like saying toothbrushes are only for dentists. Everyone needs to know how long they’ve been going in any one direction whether walking, running or crawling. I’ve had my first-generation Garmin for years, never updated it and it still functions, though admittedly it looks a bit more VHS than Blu Ray these days.
  3. New Kicks. Runners love their running shoes. But not just any shoe will do. I used to ask my mom specifically for my New Balance 860s, size 9.5 and she’d complain that I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t want to be surprised by my running shoe; I want the “responsive cushioning and essential stability that my beloved gives me. Picking out someone else’s running shoe is like picking out someone else’s spouse. It can’t be done. Or, if it can, then you are some sort of freakish wizard and you should use your powers for something greater.
  4. A Shot of Energy. From gluten-free to caffeine-laced, there are so many running fuel options on the market, all of which make great stocking stuffers. Give Jelly Belly Sports Beans for the kid at heart, Chia Energy Gel for the hipster, honey sticks for the purist, and Salted Caramel GU for the toppings lover (and one of the few flavors I can vouch for). Variety goes a long way during a training run.n-RUNNING-FUEL-large570
  5. Rub it Out. The TP (trigger point) Massage Ball falls somewhere between a tennis and a lacrosse ball, and perhaps becaUnknownuse of the complex science behind cross-breeding, it’s also a ridiculous $20. But stick this ball into that knot just under your scapula and it’ll feel like a baby T-rex is hatching from your skull. Hurts so good.
  6. Actually Rub it Out. Because let’s be honest, a ball can only do so much. Unless you’re like my husband and would rather be set on fire than lubed up with oils and touched by human hands, this is a great gift. For the touch-free folks like my husband I give the an electric massage chair and wonder if they even have a soul.
  7. Sock it to ’em. The Italians were right about many things, including pasta, cheese, facial hair (is that just me?) and running socks.
    My adored Balega socks are not cheap, but cheap never kept blisters at bay.
  8. Slick as snot. No, chafing doesn’t mean you’re fat. It
    means you have skin. So lube it up with Body Glide and let things fall/rub/shake as they may.
  9. This Blows. Running gloves– AKA “the hankie”–are a must have. Give them in a variety of thicknesses but always in rs.phpblack.
  10. Air it Out. Think of arm sleeves as AC for your armpits. I like the Brooks  seamless version that is incredibly lightweight and, let’s be honest, adorable. If I get to hot, they transfrorm into wrist-warmers.
  11. Beat the Bump. The FlipBelt is the only running belt I’ve found that keeps my iPhone from thwacking my booty like an impatient jockey. More important, it looks more like a high waistband than a fanny pack. Still not “cool,” but a certainly passable in the name of function.Belt-Close-Up
  12. Magic Tape. I don’t know how KT Tape works, I just know it does. Everywhere.Unknown-1.jpeg

What have I forgotten? Share it here. Better yet, put it in my stocking.

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:

photo 3

The best award around.

And there it is: Profound thankfulness.

What I Learned from My Worst Race Ever

I’ve never had a bad race.

Until I did.

The night before the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon, race organizers warned runners that the weather would be unseasonably warm. Drink lots of water, they said. Slow down, they said.

Slow down?! I’d been training 12 weeks to run a 1:38 PR in this race and a little bit of heat and humidity wasn’t going to slow me down.

Until it did.

Right before race start. So happy. So naive.

Me, Lindsay and Robin at the race start. So happy. So naive.

I was standing near the front, squeezed in with a serious crowd of runners, when the race-horn blew. The mass of runners lurched forward with intention, void of the nervous chatter or enthusiastic “woo-hooing” that peppers the runners further down the line. I know, because I’m usually back there. But here, at the front, there was just breathing, feet slapping pavement and the occasional watch alerting a runner to his overzealous pace.

“We’re going too fast,” I heard a guy to my right gasp to his running partner.

I looked down at my watch to see my pace. 7:10. I had to maintain a 7:30 pace to get my PR—but the fact that 7:10s could qualify me for the NYC Marathon was on my radar—tucked into the make-believe zone where unicorns are real, Sandra Bullock is my best friend and David Beckham wants me real bad. Some call it mental illness. I call it mental hopefulness.

By mile 2, acid began to collect in my stomach and I thought I might heave. My heart was pumping too hard and the negative thoughts starting unfurling from the dark corners of my head. At mile 2, I usually feel like a winged gazelle, not a quadriplegic manatee. Something was wrong.

I gave myself some quick tough love.

You’ve got this. Suck it up.

And then I looked down and saw my pace slip to 7:40.

I don’t got this. I’m gonna throw up.

Plan B: No PR—just hold 7:50s.

Two miles later, I wanted to stop.

Plan C: Just don’t walk.

Plan D: Just finish.

The next 9 miles felt like the longest I’ve ever run—some of which I walked. I felt like a failure.

My friend, Chad Brock, who was cheering us on, snapped this photo. Glad you can''t see my face filled with pain.

My friend, Chad Brock, who knows all too well the pain of running, snapped this photo. Glad you can’t see my face filled with pain.

Then, just one-mile from the finish line, I looked around me and noticed with half-closed eyes that I was still surrounded by runners—good runners—who were engaged in the same strange shuffle-scuff-run I was. My brain, depleted by effort, was trying hard to make sense of what I was seeing, when I heard a familiar voice yell out.

“Go, Andrea! You can do it!”

Huh? It took an enormous effort to turn my head in the direction of the voice, slowly, like a dim-witted Brontosaurus looking for some greens to munch on. And there on the sidewalk, running parallel to me, I saw my running partner, Lindsay.

“I threw up at mile 5! I pulled out! You have to do this for us!”

Nothing made sense. Certainly not Lindsay on the sidewalk at mile 12. But I was more grateful for her at that moment than I’d ever been (and I’m pretty grateful considering what she’s seen me—and my body—do while running together). I summoned up what little bit of race I had left in me and pushed to the finish. In that final stretch, I noticed runners cramping, vomiting and even someone who had collapsed and was receiving aid. It felt like it would never end.

Until it did.

Once I crossed the line and controlled my instinct to vomit on the nice lady trying to put a finisher’s medal around my neck, I realized that my poor race wasn’t about a lack of training or mental toughness. It was about unseasonable temperatures and a stubborn unwillingness to heed the warning from more seasoned runners who knew it was not only OK, but also necessary to back off. That just finishing could be enough.

A number of runners didn’t finish, either because they knew better or their bodies wouldn’t let them—whichever came first. Tragically, one runner took his last breath on that race course. Another would collapse at home a few hours later.

And there I was disappointed about running 8 minutes off my PR.

For people who log ridiculous miles each week, it’s easy to get wrapped up in finishing times, PRs and medals. And because we sweat, bleed, blister and cramp through most of our days, it’s easy to overestimate our toughness. It’s also easy to forget that what we do isn’t easy.

But this race reminded me that we are a fragile lot. Life rarely goes as planned; why would a 13.1-mile race be any different—any easier?

Yesterday, I ran for the first time since the race. I didn’t have any expectations; I just wanted to run. Somewhere around mile 4, Lindsay and I began discussing our plans for our next race and what our goals would be. And that’s when I realized what I was supposed to take away from Saturday’s botched race: You just keep going.

Until you can’t.

The End--of yet another new beginning.

The End–of yet another new beginning.

‘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.