My reputation as clumsy is legendary in my family. There are fridge door handles that my parents stopped replacing because I’d tripped and tore the handle off the door so many times (grasping the handle in a futile attempt to keep myself from falling). My sister loves to recall the work day where she heard me fall down an entire flight of cement stairs, coffee in hand, when my stiletto heel got caught in the cuff of my pants. I don’t just fall down stairs, I fall up stairs, and not gracefully. Ballet, ice skating lessons… nothing my parents put me in as a child helped. Read more >>
Prior to the Collegiate Trail Loop (CTL) FKT, I’d hesitated to set any future FKT attempts in stone. I didn’t know how the CTL attempt would go – could I really could do this FKT thing? – and I didn’t want to keep writing checks if my body couldn’t cash them. I also knew that post-event depression would be real, so planning the next big thing would be the best way for me to channel some of my restless energy. Despite my fears, even during the attempt, I knew that I wanted to attempt to set another speed record, so my focus was on finding the right trail in the right place. My next academic break came in December, so I needed to find a trail located in temperate climate. I also didn’t want to go much further in distance than the CTL (161 miles), and I wanted the established record to seem beatable but pose a significant challenge. I don’t have the time over break to travel overseas, recover from jet lag, and then attempt a speed record, so I wanted it to be located in the Americas.
With those conditions in mind, it was less than a week after I finished the Collegiate Trail Loop FKT that I texted Kris, “I think I know what I want my next FKT to be – El Camino de Costa Rica. And with that decided, I’m going to bed.” Read more >>
I prefer to run alone so I can make sure I’m sticking to my training plan. However, I feel bad to constantly turn my friend down who frequently asks me to run with her, so I’ve started doing one of my weekly easy runs with her. At first it was ok, but over the last few weeks she started to stop to use the restroom. It’s gotten to the point where we run for an hour and we stop three times! It’s driving me crazy! I feel like I’m not fulfilling the purpose of the hour run when I break it up into three parts with several minute stops each time. But I hate to be a jerk. What do I do?
Signed, Not Training For a PQ
Thanks for writing in, my bladder-endurance-gifted friend. Urine luck, because I have thoughts to share! I’m sure we’ve all been on both sides of your dilemma: we are all the one who has to pee a lot, but we are also the one who can’t stand to stop for a minute because dammit, we’ve got one job here and only an hour to do it!
So, not surprisingly, your letter raises issues that reflect this dichotomy. Read more >>
This post has been a long-time coming, but it’s felt really hard to write, which is why you’re reading it almost four weeks after the Collegiate Loop Trail FKT. I’m not sure why this has been so hard to write, exactly, but I suspect it has a little to do with the fact that I’m still processing it all. While I have been recovering physically, because this is my first endeavor like this, I haven’t known if what I am going through is normal or indicative of an injury. Not unexpectedly, the Collegiate Loop FKT had a profound impact on my life, on my perception of self and what I was capable of, but also on what I wanted out of life. I’m only starting to understand the extent of what it means for my identity and my future.
But let’s start with the easy stuff to talk about – my physical recovery. The night I finished the attempt, I felt like I could not take one more step. I felt strongly, however, that I needed to get my rental car from where it was parked at my Sunday night AirBnB, so Kris took me to get my car and then headed to the hotel in Buena Vista he had reserved for the night. I had planned nothing logistics-wise post-FKT – I had no idea when I’d finish or if I’d finish, so I’d only planned to up to the start of the FKT. When we got to the hotel, I just wanted to lay down, but I was covered in mud and two days of camping (I got a shower on night two), so I hobbled to the shower and started to clean up. Standing felt too hard, so at a certain point, I just sat on the floor of the bathtub with the shower on, and tried to scrub off the dirt that was caked on my legs. I got most of it off except for an oddly persistent black stain on the inside of both ankles. Giving up, I hobbled to the bedroom, and settled on to my bed to search for a pizza company open this late (it was around 11 p.m.). Earlier that day, I had been debating what I wanted to eat when I finished, and pizza had won over my heart and mind. While Buena Vista does not have many food chains, they did have a Domino’s Pizza, which has a gluten-free crust. They were open, so I placed a delivery order for a veggie gluten-free pizza and sat down to wait for it to arrive.
Already, my legs were feeling the effects of the last four days. They felt red and raw and too big for my skin. While my upper body was mostly fine, just a little sore from carrying a pack and using the hiking poles, my legs (and especially my lower legs), felt like they had been run over with a cheese grater. Although I didn’t fall once, I had scratches from plants along the trail, and the insides of my ankles were bleeding from how often I kicked the inside of them as I got tired. As well, both of my heels were raw and bleeding, having rubbed on the back of my running shoes for hours every day. I didn’t, however, feel any type of acute pain – pain was, for the most part, diffuse across my legs. I was equally hobbled.
That night, I didn’t sleep well, which wasn’t unexpected — I never sleep well after a race. My legs were throbbing, and while I felt a little better the morning after, it wasn’t by much. In the light of day, I realized that the “stains” I couldn’t clean off of my ankles was actually bruising, bleeding, and chafing from the multiple times my foot had grazed the opposite leg as fatigue had set in.
For the first time ever since I started running, I felt completely and totally okay with a rest day. I couldn’t have run if I tried. I resolved to refuel and rest, and after coffee, got on task. Breakfast was a huge sweet potato scramble, lunch a giant curry bowl at my favorite Buena Vista restaurant, House Rock; lunch was followed by two giant scoops of salted caramel ice cream. Enjoyment of this indulgence was diminished by the fact that I wasn’t actually hungry, but the food tasted good, and I never felt stuffed. More concerning, however, was the size of my lower legs, particularly my right one. While it was swollen when I woke up, the edema increased throughout the day, exacerbated when I stayed in one place, and now my ankles were cankles. There was no division between my calf and foot, and my feet and calves were huge. The edema was so serious that it started leaking out of the cuts on my legs, and I was seriously concerned. That afternoon, feeling out of sorts and restless, I left for Denver. I didn’t want to leave Buena Vista (BV), but I felt like I needed to put some geographic distance between me and everything that had just happened. In Fairplay, 30 or so minutes away from BV, I almost turned around and went back, but I kept driving. I felt like I needed to create physical space to get some clarity.
I arrived in Denver and immediately felt overwhelmed – the traffic was insane, it was hot, and there were people everywhere. From the second I arrived in Denver, I wanted to be back in BV. So, in the middle of another restless night, I decided to go back to BV first thing in the morning. That resolved, I slept soundly. The next morning, the swelling in my legs had gone down a little, and I did some googling and found out that this seemed to be a pretty normal part of recovery from multi-day ultra endurance events even though I’d never suffered from it before. It still felt gross. On the positive side, my appetite had returned with a vengeance, and I was starving. I ate a huge Starbucks breakfast, made a quick stop at the source of all good things, REI, and headed back to BV, arriving in time for a late lunch at House Rock (again). I took another rest day, which also wasn’t much of a mental struggle – I was too afraid of my swollen legs to try to figure out what might happen if I tried to make them run (or, alternatively, tried to fit them into shoes). Otherwise, however, I felt fine – I was almost insatiably hungry but not sore in any meaningful way.
The next morning, the swelling was even better, and while I didn’t feel like running, I definitely felt like walking, so I convinced Kris that we needed to walk to breakfast instead of drive. I was ready to get this recovery show on the road and really missing the mental space I get from running. What I’d just done, 161 miles in less than 4 days, felt big, yet I didn’t feel like it was a big deal. To me, then, the FKT was a thing I did, it was really really hard, but it was done, over, and now I felt a bit lost. Even though it had just been two or so months of planning, the CTL FKT had occupied the front or back of my mind that entire time, and now that it was done, there was empty space. I needed to figure out what was next, but I didn’t want to rush to do that before I’d processed what had just happened and what it meant for my life. I knew running would help me to process this, too, but I wasn’t willing to jump into running and injure myself for real.
So I took that third day easy again, but I was relieved to see that my coach had put some running on the schedule for the subsequent day. I woke up the next morning ready to run. I didn’t know what to expect as I’d been walking in sandals for days. From the second I put on my trail runners, my right achilles felt painful. That pain wasn’t replicated in my left leg, so this panicked me a bit, but I resolved to take my still swollen legs for a spin. The first few steps were slow and painful, but with the exception of what I thought was pain in my Achilles, everything else felt great. I ran around five miles, and while I was exhausted at the end, it was a good exhausted feeling. My Achilles pain scared me, as Achilles injuries are no joke, but the pain subsided the second I took off my running shoes. My left leg was almost back to its normal size. In contrast, my right leg was closer to normal size in the morning, but by the end of the day, especially if I’d been standing, it would swell again to double its size. The next morning, I ran again, 8 miles, and again, everything felt fine except for my Achilles. I was mystified by the pain that seemed to disappear when I took off my running shoes, and I was also scared of what it might be – was my Achilles torn? Much googling of Achilles injuries later, I was in the throes of an existential injury panic, and my coach suggested that I cross train and rest for a few days until I was back in Alabama.
I stayed in BV until the day before I had to catch my flight back to Alabama, where I’d start work the next day. If I could pick any place in the world to live, it would probably be BV and not just because of my favorite restaurant, House Rock (so, hey, major university, perhaps it’s time to open a campus there?). BV was relaxing, beautiful, and a true vacation. My time there did end, however, and I headed to the Denver airport and into a work crisis, which consumed my last day in Colorado. My left leg had completely returned to its normal size and fitness, but my right was still swollen, perhaps no longer in a way that was noticeable to others. The Achilles still hurt in real shoes, but I’d started to become convinced that I had bursitis (instead of a tear, partial tear, or even tendonitis). There was a bump on my right heel, and my heel area only hurt in shoes that rubbed on it. I was still super scared that it was a real injury, however, and that kept me treating it like glass and refusing to do any strenuous activity that wasn’t running. A little less than two weeks after the completion of the FKT, I had a sports massage, which finally worked out the remaining fluid in my legs, and they returned to normal size. Two weeks to the day after I completed the FKT, I went to the orthopedist who confirmed that I did not have any Achilles injury and even called the bursitis self-diagnosis into question, bringing my attention to my heels where the backs of my trail runners had rubbed them raw. That, the doctor suggested, was the cause of the Achilles pain and the reason it only hurt in shoes – otherwise, he did a full check-up and cleared me to start training in earnest again.
That was a huge relief. Prior to this, I didn’t know if I could run safely (and, I needed running because this is when I process things), so the all-clear from the doctor was also when I started being able to get excited for what was coming next. Time is a great healer, too, as is another big new goal – an FKT attempt of the Camino de Costa Rica.
Physically, I’m recovered and training in earnest again, but mentally and emotionally, I’m still processing the FKT.
I still miss being on the trail, every day. The FKT was hard and terrible at times, but it was also simple and clear. It wasn’t easy to do, but it was easy to know what to do. Life doesn’t offer many opportunities like that. They say that the disjuncture between experiences, say your vacation versus your work life is what helps you to value the vacation, and while I’m not so sure that isn’t just a capitalistic attempt to quell disquiet from an unfulfilled life filled with work, I certainly do miss the simplicity of life during and, to some extent, after the FKT. Everything and everyone felt more real. Stripped of everything that is my armor in my professional life – heels, makeup, sheath dresses – I felt realer too. There is nowhere to hide out there, and that includes hiding from yourself and your thoughts. I didn’t have any grand revelations while running, yet I did realize, with absolute clarity, that this was where I belonged.
As someone who has, for a better part of her life, been trying to find the place where I belong, I can’t shake an almost persistent sadness that I’m not on a trail, somewhere, right now. And that, I think, has been the hardest part of returning from Colorado – now that I found my space, how can I incorporate this fully into every aspect of my life, my scholarship, my world?
I’m still working this part out.
Fellow Salty Running writer Laura Parson recently took on the Collegiate Peaks Loop Trail in Colorado, 161 miles of rugged terrain around the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The route travels around the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, passing by a dozen 14,000-foot summits while traveling through high forests and alpine terrain.
Not only did Laura complete the route, she also ran the women’s supported Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the trail, clocking in at 3 days, 16 hours, 32 minutes, all to raise funds for Girls on the Run International. When discussing the run with her, I thought it would be exciting to share with you what it was like, what’s next and what motivates her to take on these enormous challenges.
On the eve of my latest marathon training cycle, I’ve been thinking a lot about quitting. More specifically, I am interested in how we talk about it: “Quitters never win.” “Try, try again.” “#noexcuses.” It’s always presented in this clear dichotomy – quitting is bad, no matter what. Finish at all costs. Michael Jordan said, “If you quit once it becomes a habit. Never quit.” And few can forget, try as we might, the words of the immortal Chumbawumba: “I get knocked down but I get up again, ain’t never gonna keep me down.”
So here, as I begin training for my tenth marathon, three DNFs and many unmet goals to my name, what does that mean for me? Read more >>
Injury got you down? Maybe it’s tendonitis, a sprain, a stress fracture or one of the Million Different Ways Your Knee Can Turn Into a Knob of Hot Fire-y Pain … whatever is ailing you, every injury sucks. The PT has prescribed time off. You’re completely justified in using that time to just not run, if you’re into that, but, like … who’s into that?
A serious study of anecdotal evidence (sponsored by the SaltyValu corp) shows that almost no runner wants to take time off, which we have unscientifically extrapolated to mean that you’ll probably be cross training if you’re injured, and that you might be cross training even if you’re not injured. Believe it or not there are many ways to exercise without running and some of them are actually fun!
Okay but really, I don’t mean it’s fun to cross train in that stock photo, depressingly persistent and overwhelmingly male-driven ideas about women and athleticism kind of way, I mean it can actually be fun.
Please note that depending on your specific injury you may or may not be able to safely do all of these activities, so I recommend checking with your doctor or physical therapist and paying attention to how your body feels!
Want to skip to the video? Click right here, baby.
I first took Pilates in college—for credit, because I was at a bougie Northeastern school—and I loved it. It spoke to my dancer spirit, and I loved the specificity of the practice, connecting breath with movement and being precise and intentional about every action.
I came back to practicing about the same time that I started running, when I joined a gym that offered mat classes. But after some life upheaval I stopped going and just ran more. Ultimately this resulted in stress fractures in both shins and a strained hamstring. Lesson learned! Once my injuries healed I joined a new gym, in part, because it also offered Pilates mat classes. I loved the classes and the gym so much that I decided to get certified to teach about three years ago.
Pilates can do wonders for runners. Its focus is on the entire powerhouse, not just your abdominals, but all the supporting core musculature including your hips and lower back. It can shore up your body to ward off a ton of common running injuries.
I recognize Pilates can be cost-prohibitive and intimidating, but I promise it’s not all graceful women hanging upside-down on what looks like a torture apparatus, and a lot of the exercises are simple things you can do at home. Starting right now!
Here are five of my favorite Pilates exercises for runners.
In the past few weeks, since announcing and launching the Run Across the USA for Girls on the Run, one thing I’ve come to realize is that imposter syndrome is real. It goes far beyond what I’d originally thought were the limits of imposter syndrome (e.g., my professional life). I realize that by asking you to believe in me, I’m also requiring me to believe in me.
It is a huge challenge to ask for money to support this endeavor; I don’t want to ask at all, and I wish I didn’t have to. But looming even larger is the fear that people think I can’t do it, shouldn’t do it, and shouldn’t ask for money to do it. I’m still not sure I am comfortable with it, but I do know that I believe this run (and series of runs) is important, and it’s important to me that I use it as an opportunity to raise money for Girls on the Run and hopefully to spread the good word about the benefits of running, endurance athletics, and getting active for all.
Girls on the Run provides every girl interested with a new pair of running shoes and the necessary materials and support to make running possible for girls across America and Canada. They offer their service in many places where the opportunity for girls to run, spend time with peers, and have a safe place to go after school is much needed. As a former (and future) coach, I’ve experienced firsthand that the benefits of coaching for Girls on the Run brings even more rewards; it was the single best coaching experience in all my years of running.
That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help to bring the Girls on the Run experience to as many girls as possible. And hopefully, by doing something that seems impossible, I can inspire some of them to dream big.
- Over the next two years I will be applying for grants and sponsorships. I’ll update here as those progress.
- My focus leading up to the start of each FKT attempt will be on building awareness about the attempt and raising the support I need to make it happen.
- During the actual Run Across the USA attempt my focus will be on raising money for Girls on the Run.
My goal throughout the fundraising process is complete transparency, so please reach out to me if you have questions or concerns.
Things are progressing as planned for my FKT attempt of the Collegiate Trail at the end of July. I had a great trial race at Merrill’s Mile (read the report here), and I am getting in some great runs and hikes as I travel throughout July.
Logistically, my biggest worry for the Collegiate Trail is transportation to and from the trail from the Denver airport and support along the trail itself. If you are in the Denver, Twin Lakes, or Buena Vista area and would like to volunteer to join me for a day (or a week, the entire FKT!), I’d love some support and company.
Otherwise, I need to ensure that I can verify the FKT with a GPS device and get an updated trail map. If you are interested in joining me for a segment of the trail (or meeting me at either end) or have suggestions for affordable ways to get to and from the Denver airport to Twin Lakes, please email me at cilantroruns at gmail (or leave a comment below, and I will reach out to you).
In the meantime I’m spending my time watching Rocky Mountain survival videos and reading books on wilderness survival and navigation, spurring a colleague to recommend that a book about this FKT attempt should be titled “101 Ways to Die on the Collegiate Trail.” I don’t hate it.
What questions can I answer? Are you in Colorado and want to join me? Let me know!
Because not running is losing something dear to me.
Relief. When I was finally diagnosed with hamstring tendinopathy, it was almost a relief. I knew something has been wrong for awhile. It seems I’ve spent the past year or so trying to justify my disappointing race results, wanting to figure out why I wasn’t running faster. I wasn’t looking to make excuses, rather analyzing my performances to see what I could improve to do better in the future. And many times things just didn’t add up. It was reassuring to know that something was actually physically holding me back; it wasn’t just me underperforming, getting old, getting weak mentally; my body wasn’t functioning properly to run fast. Now with a proper diagnosis I can fix the issue and get back on the fast track.
Runners go through a lot of shoes. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 4.6 million pairs of running shoes were sold in the United States in 2012. So what to do with all those shoes once they have outlived their useful running lives, beyond downgrading them to casual shoes?
Hahahaha, as if! In fact, many of us could do with adding a pair to our rotation. Still, if you keep track of your mileage-per-shoe, you start to get a really good idea of when shoes run out, and we have plenty of other tips to help you use them as long as possible. A big one: reserving your training shoes for running can help extend their lives. Once they wear out enough that you can no longer use them for training you can introduce them into casual wear rotation.
As a part of training for my Run Across America FKT attempt summer 2021, I’m planning several mini-challenges for training and to attract some attention prior to my main attempt. For the first mini-challenge, starting on July 29, 2019, I’ll attempt to set a competitive women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Collegiate Trail Loop and raise money for Girls on the Run. This loop consists of the East and West branches of the Collegiate Trail. The East trail is the original Continental Divide Trail through Colorado, which has been re-routed to include more peaks and less roads, and joins with what is now called the Collegiate West Trail. Each is around 80 miles, making the total distance a little over 160 miles. I’ll be attempting to complete the loop in five days, but have built in 10 days in case I need extra time, and to allow for bad weather, altitude adjustment, and—hopefully—some fun.
My flight is booked, so next I’m focusing on the details to make sure I’m ready to go. My first priority is ensuring I can complete the trek safely and with the right gear: Read more >>
If you have been reading Salty Running since the early days, you might remember posts about my goal of a Trans-America crossing and record attempt. Unfortunately, in 2015 I had to pull out of my dream. At the time I was entering the final year of my doctoral program, and health problems first landed me in the hospital, then at the Mayo Clinic. It was devastating, to say the least, but I salvaged what I could of the process and the training by donating the funds I’d raised to RAINN and running my first 100-mile race.
Even as my identity as a runner changed, I never gave up on that dream. So I’m happy to share that in the summer of 2021, I will attempt the Women’s Fastest Known Time (FKT) for a Trans-America crossing.
This time around, I will be running to promote the value of outdoor and endurance sports while raising money for Girls on the Run, an organization that helps bring running, empowerment, and advocacy to girls across the United States. It’s the right cause for this run, the reason I’m running, and an avenue to connect with women across the country.
Even though my first bid didn’t play out the way I’d hoped I still learned a great deal from it. As a result, I’m approaching this attempt much differently.
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