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.

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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.

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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:

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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

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.”

Begin Again: Why it’s Possible to Restart Running

I was coming off my fastest year yet. I PR’d or placed in every run I raced in the 2014/15 season. I beat my previous year’s marathon by 24 minutes, finishing at 3:48, and charged to a 1:40 half-marathon PR time. For me, these were not only victories, they were incentives to push harder. I set my sights on qualifying for Boston in 2015—the Mecca of marathons. I even told people about my goal, knowing that saying it out loud meant I would do it.

Publix Savannah Women's Half Marathon PR with Claudia

Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon PR with Claudia

But by spring we had moved into a new home and I let the first qualifying opportunity pass by, knowing November’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon here in Savannah—a course I’ve run many times—would give me another opportunity. Then my friend Robert, who played an enormous role in Savannah’s running community and was a personal inspiration to me, died tragically, and running stopped feeling like that thing I escaped to, could excel at and could count on to kill me but never quite. It felt…complicated.

Nonetheless, I half-heartedly approached the first week of my marathon training and immediately irritated my IT Band—my first injury in 20 years—sidelining me for four weeks. So I took it as an opportunity to re-evaluate my goals. I would put Boston on hold and instead train hard for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half with my running partner, Lindsay.

Then I got sidelined again, this time with a stomach virus that took 7 days and 7 pounds from me. And then…and then…and then…

I don’t lose friends. I don’t get injured. I don’t get sick.

We don’t. Until we do.

And yet I get up four to five days a week, lace up my shoes and run, imagining that it will get easier again, another PR will be reached and Boston will come. Eventually.

What is this craziness? Why am I running hill repeats and tempo runs that make me dry heave? Why am I running toward the next goal as life seems to push it just out of reach?

It’s simple really. It’s hope.

Every day I wake up and try to do and be better. I say I’ll eat better, drink less, write more, laugh harder, love deeper, run faster. Most times I don’t and then I’ll try again tomorrow. But, every now and then, I do.

Today I had my first good run in weeks. Rain forced Lindsay and me inside on a bone-jamming gym treadmill for speed work. My earbuds kept falling out of my ear. Without them I had the limited choice of Fox News and ESPN. I tossed the earbuds, ignored the TVs and just ran. I ran each 800 faster than the last, trying to see how much I could take. Turns out, I could take more than I expected.

We’re all distracted and affected by the endless challenges life throws at us. I’m behind on my grading. Our previous house has not sold and I know we can’t float two mortgages much longer. Tomorrow my dad undergoes a back surgery. My sister has discovered a lump in her leg.

But I also believe with all my heart that things will improve—that I will improve along with them. Because, really, what are the options? It’s the possibility of tomorrow that makes today’s challenges survivable.

A morning run.

A morning run.

How (not) to pace your friends

Claudia, me and Lindsay: Friends at the start

Claudia, me and Lindsay: Friends at the start.

Things were going mostly as planned. My running partner Lindsay and I were 3 miles into the Azalea CrimeStoppers 10K run and holding steady at an 8:20 pace. She was on-track to run a sub-52 minute PR and first-ever age group win. It was a first for me, too—as a pacer. Lindsay and I had been running together for two years, and I’d seen her get consistently faster but she had yet to earn a medal—that non-precious junk dangling from a chintzy wrapping ribbon that most grown-ass women stopped lusting for around the age of 10, and yet, here we are. Because regardless of how poorly designed the medal, or how silly we think it is to hang one around our necks for anything less than an Olympic achievement, we all want one. And I was certain that if Lindsay were able to relax, turn on autopilot and let me set the pace–like I’d done when my friend Claudia paced me–she would crush her goal and get a medal. And I wanted to be right next to her when she did.

Well, just behind her.

See, in my yet-unwritten book of running partner etiquette, when you sign up to pace, you forfeit the win. There’s no glory in encouraging your partner steadily along a course only to out-stride them in an in-your-face sprint to earn a finish she already knew you were capable of getting. Unless, of course, you don’t like having friends.

Pacing isn’t about putting anything in anyone’s face. It’s not even about you.

I could tell that while we were holding pace, mile 3 wasn’t being kind to Lindsay. I know this because of the choice words she used to tell me. So I spent the second half of the race running through a bevy of ridiculous and annoying “you-can-it” affirmations to the point where I couldn’t even handle my own cotton-candy coated grossness.

“Looking good!” (She did.)

“Only 3 miles left—my mom can do three miles!” (She can’t.)

“You’ll feel great as soon as it’s over!” (Astute revelation.)

Then, with only a mile to go, Lindsay declared: “I’m going to walk.”

“Hell you are. I don’t walk.” (Cotton candy dissolved.)

She didn’t. In fact that little firecracker perked up and started picking off women I determined to be in our age group.

I knew the PR would be close, but the medal was all but guaranteed. The last 25 yards, Lindsay sprinted to the finish while I sat on her heels and cheered her across the line, just a few seconds behind. She got the PR, but we’d have to wait on the hardware.

They announced third place in our age group, giving it to a woman we passed near the finish. Then…

“Second place: Lindsay Thompson.”

I assumed my chip didn’t register. I assumed I somehow got disqualified. I assumed too much.

“First place: Andrea Goto.”

I look incredulously at Lindsay, who deadpanned, “You can’t even let me win.”

But she did win. I saw her tiny little booty cross the line in front of me. Unless my bib magically flew off my shirt and across the finish, I was clearly behind her.

And there I learned my first lesson in pacing: don’t cross the start line two seconds in front of your partner and finish one second behind. It’s basic math, which I’ve never been very good at. Now I’m not much of a pacer, either. As far as friends go, that’s kind of up in the air, too.

“Proudly” showing our hardware (Claudia’s came shortly thereafter).

Lindsay laughed it off, but it still haunts me. I’m so proud of her for getting a PR and her first medal, but she deserved first. She went home and showed her son, and he teared-up.

“Imagine what he would’ve done if she got first place,” my husband said, always a source of support.

I refused to hang that albatross around my neck for too long for fear it would weigh down my conscience or choke me. I can’t even place it in the shelf next to my honest, hard-earned medals.

Maybe I’ll put it on the shelf of hard-earned lessons.