Saved by the Marathon

jamie papaw 14

Bergamot and her grandfather

My watch beeped. Glancing down, I realized I had passed mile 23, that this was the farthest I’d ever run. Tears streamed down my face as I realized, “Oh my God. I’m doing this. It’s happening. I’m actually doing this thing!” My path to this place, my first marathon, had been a rocky one.

Two weeks earlier I had been sitting in the office a rehab facility, listening to a counselor say I was showing “severe levels of clinical depression and an eating disorder,” that I “probably needed to complete intensive outpatient treatment,” and finally, that maybe I “should not run the marathon.”

At home my grandfather, my father figure, was fighting a battle for his life, his second round with pancreatic cancer. He was only 66 years old. When the doctors predicted he had only three or four months left to live, he and my grandmother agreed to hospice care, during which I watched my hero deteriorating before my very eyes. Each time I went home he looked worse and worse. Each hug became more fragile, but more meaningful. His body became tiny, but his spirit remained as strong as ever. I became paranoid any time my cell phone rang that it would be someone breaking the news of his death. Every text message, phone call, and voicemail made my heart stop.

I couldn’t lose him. It would break me.

I couldn’t sleep much, and when I did, my head was filled with nightmares of bones, cancer and death. Marathon training had been a welcome outlet for the pain I felt as I watched his slow decline. At that point, I had been training for three months. My two 20-mile training runs were complete, and I was feeling ready physically. But mentally, I was in complete misery. I couldn’t eat. I had previously fought and overcome anorexia, but this was different. My relapse was due to the extreme depression I was experiencing, not body image issues like I had before. I wanted to eat, and I really tried, but eating, like many other things, became physically impossible. I cried over food. I just couldn’t force one more bite. Part of me wanted to die.

Only one thing in my life remained easy … training.

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Graston for Runners

GrastonAfter running my spring marathon, I had so many plans for epic summer running. I couldn’t wait to change up my routine, check out some trails and remember the feeling of a hot, sweaty run. But while the rest of my body recovered from my marathon, my right calf was not healing as quickly. I tried to deny the familiar pain and just pretend it was a sore muscle, but deep down in my sinking heart, I knew it: TENDINITIS.

Ah, tendinitis, my old foe, had returned to derail my running plans. The last time we tangled it took me weeks to seek professional diagnosis and treatment, so at least this time I had the benefit of experience on my side. Once I moved past denial, I picked up the phone immediately and scheduled an appointment with my chiropractor to begin Graston treatment.

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Finding Meaning in the Process

Runner MandalaLately I’ve been obsessing over sand mandalas. If you live in a big city or have visited a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, you may have even watched one as it was created. Mandalas are those really cool rosettes made of brightly colored sand that employ the use of various Buddhist imagery, created by monks in orange robes hunched over little sticks they rub together to create each tiny line. They’re hypnotically beautiful and reassuring to me, and I can’t get enough of them. I watch videos on YouTube when I’m stressed or if I can’t figure something out, or even if I can’t sleep.

Much like Cilantro discussed here yesterday, I’m going through a period of transition, changing cities, changing jobs, changing lifestyles and changing relationships all at once, and I’ve been struggling hard to find meaning when things that once shaped my identity have become unimportant. Like … existentialist crisis-level struggling. And as I do for all my problems, I turned to running to find answers.

Unfortunately this time running just seemed to exacerbate the crisis: I’m training for my 6th marathon. A BQ is still deep in the future, so why do this marathon now when I’d rather be running fast, short races? What does the marathon mean? Why do I even care about the BQ? Why do I keep running marathons? What’s the point, especially when I feel like all I do is run?

Enter the mandala. Read more

Migraines, Part Deux: Dealing With Migraine Hangovers

Running with a migraine hurtsLast time we chatted about migraines and running, I was an occasional migraine-sufferer, once every couple of months. Then last month, suddenly I was having what felt like constant migraines, one or two per week, always triggered by running. That’s a lot of time to spend wishing you could remove your head with various household implements. I came to realize that a migraine is so much more than just the pain and, um, the nausea, the hour or so of blindness, the vomiting, the extreme fatigue … you get it.

For me, a migraine comes with a side of negative emotions: Anxiety that this keeps happening and I don’t know why. Frustration that it’s apparently out of my control and that I can’t do the things I want to do. And most of all, the guilt that once again I can’t do anything with my family or help around the house because I have to spend the rest of the day lying in bed. So it’s only natural that I want to shed that emotional unpleasantness as soon as I can, wishing to pop out of bed the next day as efficient and productive as ever. Me? Weak and sickly? Never!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Read more

When Your Running Identity Changes


Who am I today?

Lately, I have been struggling with accepting and publicizing that I am really only running because I don’t want to have to purchase a new wardrobe.

I have been mostly silent about it here, but since starting my career in academia, running has quickly become a different part of my identity. Ultrarunning, at least for now, has become a less salient part of who I am, in identity development terms. “Cilantro the ultrarunner” is now more “Cilantro the professor” or “Cilantro the feminist researcher.” While the shift is natural and appropriate to the new challenges of my role and the very tough first year as a professor, it does not mean that I don’t feel a bit lost.

For so long, I was the ultrarunning Ph.D. student, and that identity guided my decisions, my introductions, and framed how I saw myself fitting into the world. I am struggling now to recognize and accept this new version of myself and striving to keep perspective on my constantly shifting identity as a runner.  Read more

To Run Faster, Is There Any Benefit to Cross-Training?

imageStoried coach Jack Daniels once said, “The best way to become a better runner is through running.” This concept, that the best training to improve yourself in something is to do that thing in training, is called “training specificity” and is supported by science.

So why practice the trombone if you’re a tuba player (I’m a musician, remember)? Maybe your tuba is in the shop getting fixed so the only instrument around is the trombone. Maybe you’re so sick of the tuba, but you don’t mind the trombone and know some training, albeit not ideal for tuba-playing, is better than nothing. Maybe every time you play the tuba more than four days a week your arm gets sore, but by switching between the tuba and the trombone you can play every day. The trombone and the tuba both require lung capacity and air speed control, so while training on a trombone for tuba excellence isn’t ideal in theory, it may be ideal for you.

Similarly, what might be the ideal running training plan on paper, might not be what is ideal for you. Should you work aerobic cross-training into your training even when you’re not injured?
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Running with Rheumatoid Arthritis

I have RA and I run.

I have RA and I run.

I wish I had a cool diagnosis story for my autoimmune disease like Pesto does. But I was so young when I first found out that I had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I don’t remember not having it. I was first diagnosed when I was two, and although I’ve had long remissions, it’s always been a part of my life.

The good news about RA is that its diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence for your running. While for many years any rheumatologist would laugh if you asked if you could run with RA, studies now show that high-intensity exercise can actually be beneficial; it improves mood, decreases stress, and improves bone density. However, it’s a complicated disease, so while many with RA can run, not everyone can. I’ll explain below.  Read more

Readers Roundtable: Why Do Women Watch the Olympics?

WTF NBC?This week, in an attempt to justify the time-delayed coverage of the Olympics, NBC explained that they did this, in part, to appeal to the majority of Olympic viewers: women. Apparently, we don’t really care about sports and timely results, we just watch for the human interest stories behind each amazing Olympic feat. As NBC has stated, it’s not about competition for us ladies. No no, far be it from us to care about the sports part of sports, because we just care about Phelp’s new baby (be still my ovaries!). His potential for a record-breaking Olympic medal count? Bor-ing.

Except that is completely untrue, as shown by the interweb’s outrage over NBC’s coverage. Personally, I do care about the results, so much so that I’ve had to temporarily send my emailed news updates to spam so I don’t inadvertently discover winners before primetime coverage starts. Yes, I also care about the stories behind the athletes but that’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I’m a human. More than anything else, I love the Olympics because of the nail-biting competition between the best athletes in the world.

As an alternative to NBC’s focus-group results, tell us why you watch the Olympics. Is it just for the human-interest stories or the competitive, fast-paced, heart-racing results? Do you only cheer for your country’s athletes or teams, or do you cheer for the individuals with the most compelling stories and hardest journey to the games?  

SaltyValu™ International Sporting Competition


Our premium winner’s podium comes complete with state-of-the-art invisible medals to ensure the TSA can’t break them.

If you haven’t heard, we here at Salty Running have started a new brand of products and services we call SaltyValu™. Like everyone, we are super excited about the Quadrennial Contest of Athleticism kicking off down in the Southern Hemisphere tonight! (We know, we know, as a media company with a fake line of products and as a sponsor of precisely zero Olympians, Rule 40 doesn’t apply to us, but you can never be too careful).

And speaking of controversies, with the International Olympic Committee mired in scandal and rumors of corruption, we decided the time is now to launch our competing Games. That’s right! SaltyValu™ Every-Fourth-Year International Sporting Festival Planning is here to help you organize a Global Celebration of Brawny Feats! For just three easy installments of $9.99 billion in small, unmarked bills and seven years of advance notice we can almost guarantee to have the venue ready before the guests arrive!

Yes, we hear your concerns. $29.97 billion?! We’re gonna need a bigger suitcase. Indeed! And also, it may seem like a lot of money. Certainly more than $29,699,999,999.99. But just look at the five ways our Sporting Festival will be better than the Olympics. The results will speak for themselves. Read more

Why I Will Never Get a New Watch

watchRecently, I replaced the band on my watch for the third time and in doing so, stopped for a second to ponder whether I had spent more on replacement bands over the past few years than I would have if I just bought a new watch. I felt a little twinge in my heart at the thought of throwing away my trusty green Garmin and then felt a little confused about why I was so attached to it. It’s just a little piece of plastic and rubber after all, and there are plenty of others out there just like it.

On my long run this morning, I remembered the day I purchased that watch. It was about five years ago, during my first ever week of college cross country practice. I showed up watchless because I had no idea I was supposed to wear a watch while running; I’d always just run until I got tired. All my teammates had watches so I headed to the local running store and bought the only watch that came in my favorite color. It has been on my wrist ever since, aside from when the band breaks every now and then.
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Anatomy Trains and Running: Fascianating Stuff!

image Hey everybody! Here comes the choo-choo! I’m talking anatomy trains; connected muscle systems that run up and down our bodies, also commonly called “kinetic chains” or “fascial lines.”

Have you ever gone into the chiropractor, PT, or for a sports massage, told the person your foot hurt, only to have them start working on your hip? Aha! The problem in your foot could be the squeaky caboose of a long line of problems in your body. It’s all connected.

As a massage therapist who works on many competitive runners, and as a competitive runner who has dealt with my fair share of injuries personally, I believe that all runners need to understand anatomy trains. Not only can it help with injury prevention and healing; it can also change the way you perceive your body in motion. Read more

A Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Running Shoe Story

imageImagine this: you are one month out from your goal race. Training is going perfectly. You’re hitting your paces and your mileage targets like never before. A quick glance at your training log and you realize you’re a few miles over the limit on your current pair of kicks. No problem, right?

Since you were fitted at your local running store last time, and knowing there’s no time in the schedule to head back in, you take a late-night hop onto your favorite shoe site and excitedly order the latest version of your tried and true shoe, drooling over the latest color choices. Days later, that familiar shoe-shaped package arrives at your doorstep and you tear that box open before the UPS driver has even returned to his truck. Ahh, the sweet aroma of new shoe fills your nose. You tear the tag off and cast aside the paper and cardboard holding its curves in place. You slide your foot in, like you have so many times before and go for a celebratory jog through your living room. A quick Instagram pic celebrates your new arrival and soon you’re headed out the door for the inaugural run.

Just a few minutes into the run, you have a sinking feeling. Something is … off. Alarms start to sound in your mind as you try to ignore the growing cramp in your arches. What is this feeling? This has never happened before. You stop, assess your shoe, looking for something different. You realize you really don’t know anything about the anatomy of a running shoe and staring at your foot is about as fruitless as looking under the hood of your car when the check engine light turns on. You tell yourself that maybe the shoe just needs to be worn in, knowing full well “wearing shoes in” is a myth. You massage your feet upon returning home. You try two more runs with the same results: foot pain that cannot be ignored and the realization that your shoe- YOUR SHOE- the beloved, trustworthy shoe, has been replaced by an imposter. Read more

Sarah Brown: A Different Kind of Fairytale

image2015 promised to be a dream year for Sarah Brown. She ran personal bests and her blazing times seemed to make her a shoe-in for a spot on the World Championship 1500 meter team. But at the 2015 USATF Track & Field Outdoor Championship meet, something wasn’t right; she faltered during the last 200 meters of the race.

Reacting to her disappointment, she and her coach, husband Darren Brown, dug in deeper and Sarah focused on the upcoming European track season. As she always seems to, Sarah shook-off the bad race as she crossed the ocean, but the dizziness and fatigue that plagued her at USAs came crashing down on her once again. She knew something was wrong. What she was shocked to learn was that she was among the 1% of IUD-using women to become pregnant. Her due date? Three months before the 2016 Olympic Track Trials.

Sarah and Darren were undeterred and remained committed to keeping her as fit as possible in the lead up to the Trials, as was documented in the ESPNW mini-documentary, Run Mama Run. I had the privilege of speaking to the couple, also known as BTeamRunning and to learn more about their story and hear some kernels of wisdom they gathered along their journey.

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4 Reasons Why You Should Try a Treadmill Studio Class

Maple on her 'mill“Come to a treadmill class with me!” she said.

“Um. What?” I replied.

I’m a runner, and I have been for more than half my life. I’ve run on teams, I’ve run on trails, on tracks, with training groups. I’ve gone to spin class and Zumba and cardio kickboxing, so I’m also no rookie to fitness classes. But “treadmill” and “class” together? That was new.

I don’t hate on treadmills as much as some runners do. I’m thankful for it as a tool to have when it’s too hot, too windy, too icy, or too freaking cold to make the effort to get outside.

Yet I was still skeptical of what could possibly be the point of going to a treadmill class. What could the instructor possibly say? “Run faster!“? I have that on repeat in my head on my own, thanks.

But I decided to try it because me friend was SO excited. And, much to my surprise, I was hooked after my first try. Read more

Running Bare: Your Questions About Brazilian Waxes Answered

Salty Valu Brazilian Wax
Friends, I’m here to talk to you about something few women runners like to talk about: your hairy lady parts. More specifically, let’s chat about Brazilian waxes.

Are you skeptical of Brazilians (the waxes, silly) or wondering whether they’re compatible with your hardcore running lifestyle? Are you wondering what happens during a Brazilian wax? Why you might consider getting one? Or what to expect after a wax? Read on!

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