Monday, April 29, 2013

Another Reason to Avoid the Gym

It's now been almost four weeks since I started training seriously. 

I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I needed to take it to the next level because I've been on a very frustrating plateau for a very long time. And although I've been slowly and steadily improving, it's at a rate that rivals tree sloths, turtles, and growing grass. Which is to say, too slow for all the hard work that I put in. 

When I first contacted Lisa about coaching me, I was running anywhere from 60-80 miles per week, and was keeping a steady marathon pace of a little under 8 min/ mile. I wasn't doing much cross training. At all. In fact, I didn't even consider cross-training exercise. If it wasn't running hard, it didn't count. 

When Lisa drafted my first schedule, and I saw that half the workouts involved cross training and I would only do half the running that I'm accustomed to, I was slightly alarmed. But since I had already decided to surrender to the advice and guidance of someone much more experienced and knowledgeable than myself,  I decided to run with it. 

First of all, the most obvious obstacle to completing Lisa's training schedule is that I hate the gym. But when half my weekly workouts involve some combination of elliptical training, cycling, yoga, and swimming, joining a gym seems like the only logical thing to do. 

On my first day at the gym, I thought I would give the old treadmill a go. Sure, it wasn't cross training. But it was something different. And I realized the endless possibilities. For example, I could run at a constant pace, which is something that I'm not very good at. I'll slow down towards the ends of songs, and then speed up when they get faster. Not the most effective, but definitely the most fun. It's kind of like dancing, except you're doing the same move over and over again. 

Apparently, when I run on a treadmill, this doesn't change. 

Several times on my inaugural treadmill run, I got sucked down the conveyor belt and almost flew off the back.  Then to catch up, I overcompensated and ran too fast, crashing into the front of the treadmill. And apparently I was loud enough while doing all of this that I caused several people on the treadmills adjacent to mine to go up to the front desk and complain about the racket I was making.

Not the noise I made running into the front of the treadmill, but the noise that I made while actually running on the treadmill. Apparently I sound like a 400 pound gorilla barreling down a mountainside. I know this because a little old French lady approached me after I'd been running for 90 minutes to inform me that I was upsetting everyone on the bottom level of the gym. She said "The people at the front say you are allowed to wear whatever shoes you want, so they wouldn't stop you, and I'm not stopping you, but everyone is very upset. Do do what you like." At least she gave me an out by blaming it on my shoes. I wear barefoot running shoes, and always have. They have very little to them, and at this point (they are about 2,000 miles into their life) they basically act as a rubber glove for my feet. I might sound really loud on a treadmill because there is no buffer between the foot and the conveyor belt.

That, or there is the spirit of a very large, dense woman living inside me that is stomping in protestation every time I place one foot in front of the other. 

Regardless, the treadmill is out. I'll stick to running on asphalt, and dirt, and things that are less raucous and humiliating.

The biggest disappointment from all this came when I dejectedly went home and google searched "I'm loud when I run on a treadmill". Unlike every other ailment known to man, there is a very small demographic of the population that deals with this problem. After searching for about 20 minutes, I found three or four people in total who admitted on-line that they were unfortunate enough to cause a scene at their gym when running on a treadmill. 

Which, of course, leads me wonder if everyone feels the amount of stigma and shame that I do about this flaw. 

And that's why I'm posting this blog. Breathe a sigh of relief, fellow stompers, you don't have to be ashamed anymore. You are not alone. I will get to the bottom of this and find a solution for all of us. Since I'm planning on trying out some regular running shoes just to see what will happen, I'll test them out on the treadmill to see if the Loud Barefooter theory holds any water. But if the regular shoes don't make a difference, I'm probably running funny, and you probably are too. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stay Strong for Boston

boston marathon

Yesterday, I started my day off by going on a long run through Peter's Canyon in Irvine, CA. It was a cold, foggy morning, and perfect for running hard and fast. I found myself flying down hills and surging back up them with ease, feeling something close to elation.

But when I arrived back at my car and checked my cell phone, I heard about the bombing in Boston, and it devastated me.

I've never been affected by the news of a terrorist attack in such a violent way before. I knew several people who were running, and my immediate thought was that they might be hurt, or even dead.  When I initially tried texting and calling the people I knew who were running the race, I received no response and my anxiety shot through the roof.

And of course, when I start to flip out, the only thing I want to do is go on a run.

So, I decided to go out again.

I drove to a trail 15 minutes away called "The Shrine Trail" (or as I like to call it, "The Walk of All Religions") at the Ramakrishna Monastery in Trabuco Canyon. The trail is decorated with eight different monuments, each dedicated to one of the world's major religions. 

Like Winnie the Pooh, I too have a thinking spot, and this is it. It was raining hard and a layer of fog seemed to hover over the path. I tried to concentrate all my focus on my breath as I ran down a misty trail lined with old, majestic California Oak trees. It was a surreal juxtaposition; the beauty of nature opening it's arms in front of me, and the destruction that I knew was unfolding 3,000 miles away.

Ramakrishna Monastery Trabuco Canyon
The Shrine Trail, Ramakrishna Monastery.
AKA 'My Thinking Spot'

Once my nerves were calm, I allowed myself to think about the events of the morning, and I started to pray for all the runners who were affected. I never know if it helps when I pray, but I figure that it can't hurt, so I do it.

In 2001, when I woke up to my radio alarm clock announcing that two planes had flown into the Twin Towers in New York City, my foundations weren't shaken as violently as they were yesterday morning. But I guess that's what terrorism is. Only before, I wasn't able to relate to the victims as intimately,  I didn't feel like the attack was a personal one.

This time, the target was a group of people who were striving to accomplish an incredible and extremely challenging feat, for no other reason than to prove that they could. They were marathon runners, just like me.

To add insult to injury, this wasn't any marathon. 

For you non-runners out there, the Boston Marathon is the Holy Grail of marathons. To even qualify to run the race, you have to run fast. In 2011, the average marathon time for a 4:26 (four hours and twenty-six minutes) for a man, and 4:52 for a woman. If you are my age (twenty-eight) and want to qualify for Boston, you need to be running a 3:05 marathon if you are a man, and a 3:35 marathon if you are a woman. This basically means that by the time you arrive at the starting line for the race, you have probably already worked and trained strenuously for years. That's why for many endurance athletes, this particular race is sacred.

And so it is beyond my comprehension why someone would chose to attack this particular demographic.  There is nothing more terrifying to a marathon runner than the thought of losing their legs, which happened to many people as a result of the explosion. It is senseless and it is sadistic and it is infuriating.


But like any tragedy, if you look closely, you can find a silver lining.Despite the depravity and devastation of yesterday's events, people in Boston came together to support and help each other in a breathtaking way. 

Marathon runners, spectators, volunteers, first responders, emergency workers and medical personnel worked relentlessly to aid and assist dozens of injured people. If you watch the footage the explosions, you will see that almost immediately after the bombs went off, there are more people running toward the explosion to help the injured than people running away from it.

Also, thousands of runners who were still on the course when the explosives detonated were left stranded after the race was shut down at mile 25, without cell phone coverage, and no way to get to the finish line (where most likely their loved ones were searching for them frantically). Most of the competitors had just completed an extremely rigorous race course and were dehydrated, hungry, and probably more than a little disoriented.

Bostonians rose to the occasion immediately. People neighboring the course offered food and hydration to runners while they waited for more information.

A Boston local offers orange juice and comfort to displaced
runners after Monday's explosion.
Google mobilized their efforts and compiled a list of generous Bostonians who made their homes available to displaced runners. In two hours, three thousand people signed up on the list, offering rides, homes, meals, and comfort to the displaced athletes.


We've seen this same kind of human greatness displayed during other catastrophes.

While terrorism is intended to paralyze and beat someone into submission, it seems that it actually has the opposite effect on Americans. It is when we are at our most vulnerable that we are able to show the world our resilience as a People

We are all capable of incredible things, yet rarely have a chance to display it.

This is why we run marathons. We want to test the limits of our human potential. We want to prove to ourselves that we can defy all the odds and push ourselves to the threshold of our limitations, and then push a little further. And maybe the most important thing to remember in the midst of all this is that no person could ever complete a marathon without first believing that they could.
Fauja Singh, recently completed his first marathon ever at
the ripe old age of 100 years old.
Once we step up to the plate, and start believing that we can do something, a funny thing happens. We do it. We stop questioning our own abilities, we clearly see what has to be done, and the rest is easy. This is essence of the American spirit. It is our drive to be better, more efficient, smarter, faster, longer-lasting, and more innovative that propels us forward. It shows us that what was once impossible is now at our very fingertips.

The unique ability we have as humans to accomplish the unthinkable when we are given no other choice must extend beyond times of crises. Our capacity for generosity, love, support, and community is undeniable when we are presented with a situation where we can utilize it. If only we found a way to harness that spirit as individuals on a daily basis, can you imagine the result?

If we were constantly aware of the power that we have to impact the life of another, to change the outcome of a situation, to do something truly great, or just to be kind; every day would be an opportunity to exercise that power.

The fact is, today is that day and we all have that power.

Out of every trial and tribulation that you experience, always look for the hidden lesson. If you can find it, tragedy becomes a catalyst for growth. From horrible experiences, you can find the beauty and focus on that--instead of the ugliness that is sometimes difficult to ignore.

When we are broken down by life, we are given an opportunity to build a stronger, smarter version of ourselves. Let us use this opportunity to display the greatness that is lying dormant inside of us.

Even though you probably can't go to Boston and personally support the people who were injured in this race, you can make a difference in your own community. People are in need and suffering everywhere. Sometimes all they need is a friendly ear, a hand to hold, or a minute of your time.

If you are interested in helping out, I found a couple of good places you can help out through:

For a general fund to help out all the victims through, visit:          
One Fund Boston. 

Or for a more personal touch you can help Sydney and Celeste Corcoran, a Mother and Daughter that were badly injured in the blasts, visit:
Go Fund Me. 

Realize that every moment is your call to action, and challenge yourself to rise to the occasion.

Boston Marathon Bombings

Because at the end of the day, we need each other.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Faster Than A (injured) Kenyan

On Saturday morning, my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 4:15 am. I love getting up early in the morning, but even that is a little ridiculous for me.

Actually, that's a lie. I don't love getting up in the morning. I like sleeping in. If we're being honest, I like staying in bed until I am actually bored of sleeping. I get up
early in the morning because there is a little general inside my head that starts reciting my to-do list at around the time the sun rises. 

Anyway, the reason my alarm was set for such an outrageous time was that the Hollywood Half Marathon was to take place at 6 am that very morning. I heard about the race a few days before and wasn't planning on entering, but my Dad cajoled me into running it with my brother, and when he offered to pay the entry fee, I couldn't turn it down. Even though I've never won ANYTHING, ever, I love racing, so immediately I was really excited about. There's nothing I like more than getting together with ten thousand other people at the crack of dawn to sweat and publicly display how masochistic we can really be.

Also, I am very competitive. This is not limited only to things that are appropriate or even realistic to be competitive about, but also extends to things like, "Hmmm, I wonder if I can fix my coffee faster than the guy who is standing in front of me in line at the coffee shop,"
The competition.
...or when I'm on a run, "Wow. I bet I can pass that guy I see in the distance before this song on my iPod is over. Yeah, the one in the wheelchair." I know, it's neurotic.

The night before the race, I had to go to my job waiting tables. They let me go after  7 because it was so slow in the bar, and I should have gone home and went immediately to sleep. Instead, I went over to a friend's house where I ate my weight in peanut butter (hint: that's a lot), berries, and goat yogurt. While goat yogurt is vile, peanut butter is just about my favorite food. Directly on a spoon, no need for a vehicle such as a cracker, or piece of bread. See below for reference.

When I fell into a peaceful slumber four hours before I was supposed to wake up, I begrudgingly recognized that despite the intense physical and mental preparation I may put into something, my gift of self-sabotage knows no bounds.

But, surprise! I woke up at 4 feeling less like killing myself than I expected. After driving to Hollywood, I got to the race 45 minutes early. I hate arriving at a race too early, because you are tired enough that you want to powernap in your car before it starts, but  the five-hour energy shot you took before you brushed your teeth will not allow for that to happen.  So instead, I tried to employ some creative visualization, picturing myself racing and wanting to give up, but instead going faster, and pushing harder.

Anyway, I did well! My hard work and training is definitely paying off. I crossed the finish line with a time of 1:37.

The most thrilling part of the race was that I beat a Kenyan, which I don't think I've ever done before. Never mind the fact that he was severely injured and had to stop in the medic tent for half an hour at mile 4. I still beat him! After the race, I sat down next to him, and struck up a conversation while we ate bananas.

 I would mention his name but I'm afraid he would be upset that I was broadcasting his epic failure on-line. See, he finished the race with about the same time as me, so he made sure that I knew that it was absolutely the worst race he had ever run. He elaborated further, saying that he knew he was ruined when he was passed first by an American, and then by a girl.

 In fact, he was so embarrassed that at one point he moved his race number from the middle of his shirt to his chest, so he could cover the writing that said "Kenya", because he was ashamed to be representing his country.  While normally I would never, ever make fun of someone for a racing time that they weren't proud of, I really couldn't pass up this opportunity. I will probably never, ever beat an elite Kenyan runner ever again. So, I told him that he didn't look very Kenyan to me, and that if he was Kenyan, I probably was too. Because Kenyans don't get beat by American girls. 

He seemed to be amused, but then he upped the stakes, and he asked me if I wanted to go running with him. And because I'm from Southern California and I'm trained to say "yes" to every invitation, even when I don't mean it, I said that I would love to. I didn't have any intention of going. (Just being honest.)

 But, now that it's several days later and I'm thinking about what I should do to push myself to the next level, I'm like, "Why the heck not?" Yeah, the thought of a hardcore athlete running me into the ground and showing me just how high the bar is raised for some people is totally terrifying and uncomfortable, but it might be good for me.

Eating humble pie is a healthy option for an overfed ego, and nothing pushes me more than someone much faster than me showing me how it's done. So, I'm going in a couple days to experience what it is like to run with a pro. I am horrified, but pretty sure that there's going to be a good story in there somewhere. It will probably involve me thoroughly embarrassing myself.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The First Step

Hi. My name is Anna.

In the spring of 2014, I'm going on a 100-day run across the United States, in an effort to raise money and awareness for veterans of the United States military. 

When I tell someone that I'm training to run across the entire United States, the first thing that they usually ask  is, "Why!?" 

It took a while for it to dawn on me that not everyone thinks this hare-brained idea is unequivocally awesome. If you want the succinct answer to "Why?!" here it is: to inspire, to enlighten, to bring hope, to become stronger, to grow, to expand, and to learn.

Most people secretly believe that I got the idea from Forrest
I plead the fifth.

But, honestly, these answers aren't good enough. If I don't carefully monitor myself, running across the United States will do nothing but feed my ravenous ego. Despite popular belief, this is not my modus operendi. My head is already big enough as it is, and I know in my heart that this journey should not be simply for my own enjoyment. It cannot be an end in itself, but must be for a greater purpose. It's not just another item to be checked off my bucket list, although it's been there for longer than I can remember. 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." So, my reasons for running must be:  to inspire others, to bring hope to others, to help others become stronger, to expand my own sense of generosity, and to learn from others as much as I possibly can. Seeing the country on foot will be incredible, but America as we know it wouldn't be as beautiful without the people who inhabit it.

Once I decided that I had to run for a charitable cause, I was faced with a whole new set of problems. As a person who is generally passionate about everything, from a new book by the Dalai Lama to fresh-baked bread to those hideously beautiful goldfish with the big bug-eyes, it was a Herculean task trying to decide what cause needed my help the most. I'm sure this is a problem that philanthropists are faced with every day. There are so many things that need fixing, and so many people who desperately  need assistance, that it feels impossible to choose just one cause. Maybe it's just my overdeveloped sense of guilt, but every time I would settle on a certain charitable plight in my mind, I would feel like I was rejecting the other four billion people in the world who need my help just as badly.

Then, one day I was on a long night run, and *it* hit me. Some people might call *it* an idea, others call *it* imagination. Some people might even venture to call *it* divine inspiration. I don't know what to call it, but every so often when I am running, or painting, or working on my pottery wheel, I will get an idea or thought that is so overwhelming and completely absorbing that time seems to slow down, and I have to take a moment to catch my breath and choke back tears of gratitude. I'm not a religious person in the traditional sense, but I feel close to God when I am on a run, and the sun is shining, and the smell of fresh-cut grass is heavy in the air, and the sky opens up in front of me like a world of possibility that is waiting for my arrival. 

And just like that, I knew I had to run for veterans. (For about twenty-two million reasons.)

I won't tell you about the places that my over-active imagination went to on that run, because I want to tell you about it when it actually happens about year from now. Call me superstitious or whimsical, but I want to see my dream become reality. That, and I have a tendency to ramble and I know that blog posts are supposed to be short and easily digestible. I lose myself in the details of something and forget to make the point that inspired me to write in the first place. In fact, I'm pretty sure my Mom is the only one reading this still. Hi, Mom. 

To summarize, in this blog, I plan to track my training, diet, planning, scheming, sorrows, trials, joys, and accomplishments of daily life while I am preparing for this run. Luckily, I am fortunate enough to have the help and support of some really incredible people, who inspire me in ways I didn't think was even possible.

Lisa Smith-Batchen
I'm being coached by Lisa Smith-Batchen, who is one of the most amazing women I've ever even heard of. If you don't know who she is, let me put it this way. Finding out that she was willing to work with me was like if you were trying to make the varsity basketball team, and you found out that Michael Jordan wanted to help you do it. 

Also, I've met people in the last few years who have believed in me simply because of the abundance of generosity in their heart, and have helped me to believe in myself as a result. 

I am filled to the brim with gratitude and love, and I know the only way I can pay all the people I love back for their encouragement and support is to give everything I've got. 

If this suspiciously sounds like an acceptance speech, it's because it is. I am accepting the challenge and I am dedicated to giving 100% of my effort, 100% of the time.