Racing Weight, Body Image and the Scale

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Summer 2007, going to guess 135-140lbs. I was running a little at the time, but also on diet pills, birth control, and stress eating at a theater gig.

Clothing size and the number on the scale can often torment or define the happiness of many of us. I’ve been very open about my relationships with food, body image, and an obsession at times with my size and the number on the scale. In today’s blog I’d like to discuss that number on the scale in regards to running and athletic performance, but also to address the human struggle.

I’m asked all the time about body weight and speed. It makes sense that the lighter the runner, the faster and more efficient the athlete. This is true in a lot of ways. Runners chasing down a specific time goal often look for the lightest shoe they can handle. Every step, stride, arm swing – that takes energy. When every second counts, so does every ounce. HOWEVER, athletes need to be careful to not lose too much muscle. An athlete who is under fueled and lacking good strength will be prone to injury, poor form, and can feel their training plateau because they are not fueled for training or racing. So there needs to be a safe, realistic, and honest assessment of finding that sweet spot. Extra weight isn’t good, but neither is being under weight. For my athletes, I always promote eating to support their training needs. Usually extra weight tends to disappear, but the athlete is also successfully fueled to knock those hard runs out of the park. This isn’t to say that runners always lose weight. Some can gain weight, as their appetite increases and perhaps they get a little carried away. It’s a balance. And a process.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life - 119-122lbs.

A post-race photo in 2011. Just ran a new Half Marathon PR. My lightest weight of my adult life – 119-122lbs.

There have been times in my running career where I gained weight while training (and no, not muscle), and times where I have dropped a lot of weight. I’ve experienced the consequences of both. I’ve lost some speed when heavier. I’ve also been injury prone when lighter. It was a journey for a long time. But after my lowest weight, in 2011-2012 – about 119-123lbs., and suffering an injury, a few things changed for me. One, I started weight training in 2013. Not stupid 5lb. shit. Seriously lifting weights. This was also when I got my Personal Training and Nutrition certifications, and my view on the human body changed. But most importantly, this was when I STOPPED weighing myself every damn day. It had become an obsession. A game. Something I could control. I never starved myself to be super skinny, but I trained to lose weight, period. I trained stupid. Once I stopped training like an idiot and weighing myself, a few things changed. I gained muscle from head to toe. I had muscles in my upper body I’d never seen before. And you know what? That was fucking awesome.

Since 2013, I have been consistently (more or less – there are certainly weeks where I don’t make it to the gym!) lifting heavy. In early 2015, I added heavy lifting for my lower body. Not only have I become a much more efficient runner, my aches, pains and injuries have thankfully been almost non-existent. I hop on the scale every few months (maybe, if that?), and have been a consistent 131lbs. for the last 3 years. I’ve been proud to be 131lbs., 5’7″, and strong. I want to be an example that the number on the scale doesn’t define shit. Strength does.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

June 2016, after a race. Probably weighing 128-130lbs.

One thing that has been consistent since 2011 – I track my calories and activity. Like a hawk. I measure and weigh most food I prepare. I read serving sizes. I’ve gotten really good at eyeballing food that I don’t prepare. I track it all. I also track all my activity. Not just the training, but sleep, standing and sitting. I know exactly what I’ve consumed/burned per day, the average per week, month and year. That knowledge means I am always accountable. Yes, it helped me to drop to an unhealthy weight/composition in 2011, but it also helped me gain weight back in the form of mostly muscle, and fuel my training needs appropriately. And yes, it means I have to hold myself accountable and enter in all that data, but for my training, goals and general health, it’s worth it.

Now, I found myself taking a hard look at my goals for 2016. My goal for Berlin Marathon (EIGHT weeks away!) is fucking ambitious. So I looked at my data. A hard look. The amount of miles I can safely run per week. The types of workouts. The best way to fit in strength training. And my current body. I stepped on the scale in May, and clocked in my consistent 131lbs. I looked in the mirror and was honest. Not “self loathing, wah I wanna be skinny” assessment, but a purely “how do I do everything I can to be my best” assessment. I decided if I could drop 5lbs. carefully between May and September, losing body fat and minimal muscle, I would be improving my odds for achieving my goal on race day. And so, I have been working for weeks to whittle that number down. This week the scale has read 126lbs. and 125.4lbs. on days where I was well hydrated and fed. Goal achieved! Now I need to maintain that number. There’s a part of me that is eager to take that control of the scale to the next level, and try to drop more. I’ll be carb loaded on marathon day, and that will mean gained weight. But there’s the sane and rational side of me that knows my body and that I need to stay injury-free, and fueled for my training.

My relationship with the scale is rarely healthy or happy for long. Which is why I rarely use it. I’d feel bad when that number went up, or happy and in control when it would hit a new low. Which is silly. And so I usually measure myself by my athletic abilities, and how clothes fit.

I joke and brag about my love for pizza, Chinese food, and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I do genuinely love them all. So very much. And I eat all three quite frequently. But I also fuel my body with lots of fresh fruit, veggies, dairy and lean proteins. Those calorically high loves are accounted for and tracked. And I train like a beast. My body doesn’t look or act like it does because I sit on my butt or train sporadically. There is a ton of sacrifice (sleep and a social life), and sweat, tears, frustration and grunt work that goes into what I look like and what I accomplish. I’m a work horse. Plain and simple. What I lack in talent, I make up for with effort. I also have learned to value rest days. Those are the days we are actually rebuilding and getting stronger!

That scale. That number or letter in every article of clothes. They do not define any of us. We often let them drive our motivation, confidence, and our self worth. Often those numbers sabotage us in achieving our goals. But those numbers can change. One way or another. Take that control. Take your body and recognize that you can do anything you want to with it. Anything. It’s pretty fucking incredible. You could train it for anything and everything. Sure, it takes time, sometimes failure, and always hard work – but it’s possible. Once we begin to see our bodies as anything other than the obstacle, the sky is the limit.

Tips on what can make/break a runner

This week’s blog is about the best and the worst. As an athlete and a coach I have experienced and witnessed countless smart and poor choices in both training and racing. We often learn from expert advice or from our own experience, and so in hopes this blog helps you avoid bad choices and make many good ones, here are some of my favorite good/bad decisions a runner can make.

The Good:

  • Track your training. If you use a GPS device, this is quite easy. Track the miles, effort, and pace. This information is incredibly valuable. Many runners I know have data from the last 5-10 years!
  • If you are seriously training for a goal race, you need to keep a watchful eye on the forecast. Adjust training days or expectations for weather. There’s absolutely no excuse for missing a long run because it rained on Saturday. Plan to move your long run to Sunday or get creative.
  • Train with purpose. This sometimes means running or training LESS. If you don’t know the reason for your training that day, you should question why you are doing it.
  • Treat yourself like an athlete. This means eating, sleeping, and drinking like one. Set yourself up for success.
  • Be cautious. If something feels injured, DO NOT continue to run through it. Overtraining and injuries can usually be avoided. You are not brave, tough, or dedicated if you train through injuries. You are stupid.
  • Show up early to races. My athletes who achieve their race day goals usually get there early, and give themselves ample time to warmup, relax, hydrate, and prepare in every way necessary. Showing up frazzled and last-minute is usually the recipe for disaster. Respect your goals.
  • Learn how to fuel your body. Our bodies are pretty smart, and usually give us clue, cues and advice as to what works and what doesn’t. Like your training, make note of your fueling needs, schedule, etc.
  • Communicate with your coach! Though your coach can’t be a mindreader or do the work for you, they are there to support you. It’s impossible to be supportive when the coach doesn’t know how to help you. If you don’t have a coach, rely on your team or running buddies for support. The running community can be extremely knowledgable and supportive!

The Bad:

  • Skipping the taper or recovery. Elite athletes know to respect these important steps to training, so why are any of us the exception to this step? Respecting the taper doesn’t mean pausing all training, either. I’ve had plenty a runner “not run” during the taper, which is almost as bad as blowing through the taper at high speed. Training cycles exist for a reason. If you don’t understand them, do some research or ask a coach.
  • I have never heard a runner say “I shouldn’t have listened to my coach,” but I hear “I should have listened to my coach” all the time. If you hired a coach, there’s probably good reason for it. Trust that person you are paying good money to guide you!
  • Eating something new the night before or morning of a race or long run. This rarely ends well.
  • Trying new socks, shoes, or a new outfit for a marathon. Your long runs are dress rehearsals for everything – including wardrobe. Trying something new risks blisters, chafing, bloody nipples, and general discomfort – none of which are supportive of a successful race.
  • Winging it on race day. While plans don’t always pan out, having no plan at all is like dancing with the devil. Study the race course, and have a plan on pacing, fueling, and how you are mentally breaking up the race distance.
  • Giving up before you begin. It’s impossible to have a good run or race if you doom it before you start. Yes, speed workouts, long runs and races usually hurt. But dooming yourself sets you up for failure.
  • Just as one good race or workout doesn’t define you as an athlete or human being, neither does one bad one. The athletes who learn to really care about their goals but also keep a healthy perspective are usually the ones who succeed and enjoy running for life.

Race Report: Pocono Marathon

PH-515009996On May 15th I ran my first solo marathon since Boston 2015. My goal was simple: lock in a BQ. While I felt pretty confident I’d complete a 3:15-3:30 marathon, a whole lot can happen in the course of 26.2 miles. Plus, this marathon was a short two weeks since my “A” race for 2016, the Broad Street Run.

I’d never run the Pocono Marathon before, but I signed up for it for a few reasons: the time of year sounded pretty optimal for my qualifier – still cool mornings and with plenty of time for me to recover before tackling training for Berlin Marathon. The course is over 1000 feet net downhill, which also sounded pretty darn appealing. Add the location, less than two hours from NYC, and it was the best fit. It sounded so good that my training partner and fellow Mile High Run Club Coach, Vinnie Miliano decided to join in the fun.

Here are a few things I loved about race weekend:

  • Having the school open and runners hang out there pre-race was awesome. It was unseasonably cold (felt like 30 degrees at the start!), and so having a warm building with tons of public rest rooms was amazing. A huge perk. Can you imagine the difference this would have made in the rain? Game changer.
  • The volunteers were awesome, and there was hydration/restrooms every 2 miles. This is a VERY rural race, and so the little support (no real spectators) made a huge difference. You always knew water and a smiling face was a few miles away.
  • Post-race support. For a race that caps the marathon at 1600 runners, there were bagged sandwiches, muffins, orange slices, chocolate milk, bananas and water.
  • The course. Though the back 10K is TOUGH (like REALLY fucking tough!!!!), I enjoyed the quiet, beautiful course until the back 10K. The 1000 feet downhill gave you some “free” miles, and the ups were often a nice change. I don’t know if I’d call the marathon course “fast,” but the half marathon course has PR written all over it.

Here are a few things I didn’t love about the weekend:

  • On a point-to-point course, there is always transportation (shuttles) to the starting line from the finish line. Apparently this race was the exception to the rule. This meant runners hustled to book cabs from hotels to the starting line. There aren’t a ton of cab companies up in the Poconos, but I got lucky and booked one that we split with a few other runners. I booked a hotel walking distance from the finish line specifically for the reason of ending at the finish. There’s absolutely no way I was going to take a shuttle to the starting line and then drive my car BACK to my hotel after running a very hilly marathon. That was the current arrangement for this race, apparently. No good.
  • Plastic cups on the race course. NOOOOO. The first cup I grabbed slipped out of my hand and spilled cold water all over me. I mentioned it was 30 degrees, right? The second cup didn’t slip, but it’s pretty impossible to fold a plastic cup and drink. Waxed paper cups are the only cups that belong on a race course – easy to grab, easy to fold, and easy to toss – in my humble opinion. This race made hydration a struggle.
  • The course. Again, I LOVED the first 20 miles. And I don’t hate hills. But the inclines were pretty insane for the final 10K, and the road was open to traffic, which made it that much more of a struggle to focus when you weren’t sure where the next car would come from. I’d highly recommend one lane be totally closed and coned off for the runners.

At the end of the day, I ran my second-fastest marathon to date! I finished 5th overall woman, 1st in my AG, in the official time of 3:11:07. I clenched my Boston Qualifier by over 20 minutes. I’m pretty pleased with how my body held up, considering those final hills two weeks after my goal race. I am very hopeful for my goals in Berlin, and going into those goals with some confidence. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice and focus on some rest and recovery.

Would I run Pocono Marathon again? Probably not. But I’d definitely consider the half marathon for a PR course!

Spring Fever

img_6789-edit-682x1024It’s been a hot second since my last blog post. I feel like I blinked, and we went from the end of 2015 to Spring 2016. My apologies, fellow runners and devote readers! I promise my posts will be back on track. There have been some big changes here – both personal and professional. If you are a New Yorker, you know that moving is perhaps the worst thing ever. Well, I’m happy to say I have found an amazing apartment, but am now in the downsizing and packing process. I am reminded when stress strikes to take a deep breath and go for a run. I always feel better. So if you are dealing with life stress, remember that 30-60 minutes to go clock some miles will always do your body, brain and happiness some good.

Anyway, enough personal stuff. Let’s get to the fun and the RUNNING!!!! As of May 1st, 2016, Coach Corky is a full-time employee at Mile High Run Club. This means you can find me on the schedule at least 15 classes per week. You can find me at both the NOMAD and NOHO locations, teaching all three classes – Dash 28, High 45, and The Distance.

Hopping into a full time position doesn’t mean Coach Corky Runs, LLC is slowing down at all. In fact, it’s that time of year where my athletes heading to Brooklyn Half Marathon are tapering, and runners with Autumn goals (RnR BK Half, NYC Marathon, Chicago Marathon, Philly Marathon) – I’m looking at you – are reaching out for training plans and one-on-one coaching. It is insanely busy in the best way possible! I am truly humbled by the humans I coach.

Aside from the coaching, this little lady has been getting her legs back to the starting line of some races! It’s been a process to regain speed after some serious time spent on Ultra Marathons, but I’ve successfully found my groove and podium again. In fact, in my first three races of 2016, I finished in the top 3. That streak obviously couldn’t last, and didn’t when I toed the line with 30,000+ runners for the Broad Street Run. While I missed my goal for my A race for Spring, I am trying to not beat myself up and take the advice I’d give my runners after a bad race – but that advice is easier to give than receive.

As you ease into your Summer training and Autumn goals, please be mindful of the importance of building base mileage. This is a very important step in training, and one we often gloss over as we are eager to jump into the intense work. Skipping this step can raise risk of injury. Base mileage for 3-6 weeks will lend itself well to your training and race day fitness.

Pacing in the NYC Marathon

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

On a very humid training run with Shira in July as she prepared for NYC Marathon.

One of the greatest joys of my job is watching my athletes succeed. I get to watch them from the first day of training all the way through to their goals, witnessing the transformation that the months of hard work, dedication, and drive always deliver. On Sunday, November 2nd, between private clients, the City Harvest Charity Team, and runners who have been sweating it out at Mile High Run Club, I had over 100 runners stepping up to the starting line of the NYC Marathon. Many times, my work is done come race morning. I am left to frantically track my runners via numerous laptops and phones, or on the course cheering as my runners pass by. This year my work was a little different – I had the responsibility of pacing one of my private clients for her 26.2 mile journey.

As one might imagine, pacing a runner to their goals is a huge responsibility. It is also an honor. And it’s a completely different game to pace a pace group – simply locking in and holding a pace. When with one runner, you are with them through good and bad, needing to make modifications, judgement calls, and offer a ton of emotional support. Sometimes you need to talk them through the wall, force them to a medical tent, give them a shoulder to literally lean on, take walking breaks, try to make them laugh and think of happy thoughts, share their tears of pain and frustration. It’s always a journey of highs and lows, and you hope the highs outweigh the lows.

On Sunday, I had the job of pacing a first-time marathoner. She is only be 20 years old. I don’t know about you, but I know very few 20-year olds who run marathons. She also earned her way into the marathon via NYRR’s 9+1. She also happens to have a cognitive disability. She is incredible, and trained incredibly hard to get to Sunday’s starting line.

When I arrived at her door, I was greeted with the biggest hug and lots of excitement. Imagine a child on Christmas morning or at Disney World, and that’s perhaps close to the enthusiasm Shira had for race morning. I wish every runner was as excited to run 26.2 miles as this young lady!

Unfortunately, the day faced us with some really tough challenges: a delay on the Staten Island Ferry, a HUGE delay with the shuttle from the ferry to Athlete’s Village – so much so that we barely had time to get to our corral before it closed. Because of the delays, we both missed our opportunities to grab bagels, or even find the special tent we had been granted access to. Our very long and delayed trip to the starting line was overwhelming, and that caused the wheels to come off during the race. However, some fantastic support out there from Shira’s parents, relatives, teachers and friends were exactly what we needed to continue moving forward. At times we ran. At times we walked. We stopped for bananas twice, because Shira was starving. We stopped at a medical tent so that a medic could massage Shira’s tight quad. We stopped when we saw her family, so that she could facetime with her sister who was in Israel on Sunday. Through highs and lows, the miles ticked by.

What struck me the most was the support of the other runners out there. They were so supportive of her, often cheering her on, echoing my encouraging words, and giving her high-fives. While the crowded course for the first few miles was very overwhelming (I do not recommend someone with special needs to be in the last wave – it was too much for her), the runners around us were sometimes what got her through to the next mile.

Despite the difficulties, the minute we crossed the finish line after 5 hours and 38 minutes of being on our feet, Shira was elated. She was so proud of herself – and rightly so! Her strength is an inspiration to me and everyone who knows her.

Here are a few of my observations from the 2015 NYC Marathon:

  • In wave 4 (cannot speak for the other waves), many runners stop with their phones and selfie sticks for photos along the course – especially within the first mile as we go up and over the bridge. This was not only extremely frustrating, but also dangerous. In my humble opinion, cell phones have negatively impacted the race experience. Make memories and let the race photographers handle the photos.
  • Runners with special needs should not take the ferry – our morning included: a subway, a shuttle (subway had construction), a ferry, a shuttle, a walk. That’s a LOT of logistics/stress to handle. That wasn’t fair for Shira.
  • The race starts with cannons. If you were at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013 and happened to forget that NYC marathon begins with cannons, you might jump out of your skin. You can guess how hard it was for me to keep my cool when that happened. I almost threw up.
  • There were hardly any porta-potty lines in our corral. That was pretty amazing.
  • Bagels/refreshments were nowhere near our village/corral. This was pretty awful.
  • The volunteers along the course were supportive and energetic.
  • At the finish line, we had a wrist band and permission to exit where the elite runners and Achilles athletes exit at west 72nd street. The NYRR staff would not allow us to exit, which was unfortunate considering all the extra work we had put into making Shira’s day as comfortable as possible – which had included months of correspondence with the folks at NYRR.
  • New Yorker’s are the nicest, most considerate people on marathon day. Suddenly everyone is supportive, smiling, and ready to help a runner any way possible. I wish that humanity would carry through the rest of the year.

Kathrine Switzer once was quoted saying “If you ever lose sight in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.” I agree. You see people at their most raw. You see blood, sweat and tears, and the will to push forward. You see human beings at their best and their worst – sometimes all at the same moment. If you ever feel dull and have the desire to feel “alive,” train and run a marathon.

After I left Shira’s apartment and headed towards an after party with my charity team, I was slowly able to start the process of checking results for all my other runners. My phone was flooded with emails, texts, missed calls, instagram photos, twitter updates – all from my athletes. It was amazing. The marathon is bigger than any one person, and perhaps that’s part of what makes it so epic.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

Mile 18 of the 2015 NYC Marathon, pacing Shira.

The Aches and Pains of Training (and how to handle them)

Training for a sport or event always brings with it aches and pains. However, some aches and pains are part of the training process, while others should not be. Sometimes it’s hard to gauge pain and what to do about it. I am not a doctor, but I do have experience as an athlete and a coach in navigating these training waters, and want to bestow some tips for how to minimize pains, and also how to react to the different kinds you may encounter in training.

If you are training for something that is a challenge for you, there will be days and weeks of feeling sore, tired, perhaps with that “heavy leg” feel, or general muscle fatigue often associated with weight training, running or walking on challenging inclines, or moving really fast. These “growing pains” are not just saved for elite athletes or marathoners. Training for your very first 5K, trying to really run hard and race a 5K to the best of your ability, running your first trail race, blazing through a 400M race – if you are pushing yourself hard, whatever that means for you, you will certainly feel it.

Aches and pains can be challenging for runners to handle. For example, I know plenty of folks who will train through anything. They could have a fractured foot, and they will still be out there hammering out speed on the track. Others will refuse to take rest days and expect they can work through anything. Is this the best thing for a runner? Absolutely not. Then there are the runners who, the minute something feels uncomfortable, whine and refuse to navigate that uncomfortable feeling that is part of training. That runner will have a very hard time on race day when the going gets tough, because they refuse to adapt to the fatigue and uncomfortable feeling that usually comes with racing or completing a distance. There is, however, a happy medium between these two extremes. That runner is the one who will be most successful. It takes time, practice, and self-awareness to become that runner.

Here are a few tips that can help you push towards your goals while also being safe:

  • Take recovery and active recovery days when sore. You cannot expect to go from 0-60 successfully. Your body needs time to be stressed and adapt. This cannot happen over night.
  • Sore and achy muscles often feel better when stretched, foam rolled and iced. I often find that things loosen up if I go for an easy run or walk as active recovery. It may sound strange, but gentle exercise the day after a long or hard effort can speed up the recovery process.
  • If something feels tender at the beginning of a run but feels better the longer you run, you can carefully continue your workout. If things don’t feel better or begin to feel worse, call your run quits.
  • We all have a different history before tackling goals. Be aware of your body history and your potential strengths and weaknesses. We all have them. For example, I know my left IT band gets tight and hip flexibility can be an issue for me, so I am very much aware of my hips when I run – especially long runs and speed runs. I also do strength training to support and strengthen that specific weakness. Another runner may have other issues.
  • There are some “injuries” many runners find they can train through (carefully!) and others they simply cannot. A break, fracture, tear, dislocation, tendonitis – those are all things that will and should sideline a runner from training. Some chronic “injuries” like runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome – can be carefully trained through – though you can expect some additional rest days, PT, and additional care. Always discuss your aches and pains with a doctor or physical therapist before self-diagnosing.
  • There are very few injuries where rest, ice, compression and elevation are bad ideas. So when in doubt, follow those steps.
  • It’s easy to panic the minute something feels unusual. Try not to have a meltdown, and remember that a few days off from training isn’t the end of the world. If it turns out your pain is something serious and your future goals need to be paused, do your best to follow medical advice and focus on being the best patient possible. Many athletes are horrible patients, and don’t help themselves get healthy ASAP. If you have a bone issue, talk to your doctor about your diet, and how you can best kick your bone density up and fuel your healing process. If you can still train without impact, be proactive about training in different ways – which will certainly help your sanity without hurting your recovery.
  • Have a network of doctors, physical therapists and perhaps trainers (running coach and/or personal trainer) who can guide you and be your support system. Only work with folks you really trust. Having that “team” behind you will certainly give you what you need to safely achieve your goals.

Training is hard. It’s not for the weak – physically or mentally. It will bring with it aches, pains, achievements and milestones. Hard work pays off. Just make sure you are honest with your body, goals, and how you plan to safely get there. Best of luck for an awesome season! – Corky