Caitlin Constantine is a few-weeks shy of ready for Boston. This 36 year-old Tampa-area native, didn’t come by her Boston qualifier easily. It took her years to realize a BQ was even in the realm of possibility for her. She slowly plugged away and, six years later, here she is.
Caitlin’s an expert at balance. She’s sponsored by Coeur Sports and has found success with her running while also training for and competing in triathlons. And she’s no slouch in-between workouts, either. When she’s not training to smash Heartbreak Hill, she’s a senior digital media producer for a 24/7 cable news station in Tampa. In Caitlin’s words that “basically means I spend a lot of time writing Florida Man stories.” She’s been married to her husband Brian for eight years and they have their hands full with three cats and a greyhound, “especially,” Caitlin says, “when they all circle around me and I realize that I’m outnumbered.”
And that’s not all. Caitlin is the voice behind the popular blog, Fit and Feminist, where she writes about fitness and feminism topics in general and documents her own evolution as an athlete. I knew she was the perfect Boston-Marathoner-in-training to talk to as she gears up to take down the patriarchy and her own PR!
1. First, tell us about your website, Fit and Feminist.
I started Fit and Feminist five years ago (omg) after a bunch of failed attempts at blogging, all of which failed mainly because I was writing about the same stuff a bunch of other people were writing about, but I kept trying because I really wanted to write! At the same time I was getting into running and fitness, and the more I immersed myself in that world – everything from gym culture to magazines to races – the more I started observing things that made my feminist radar ping like crazy. So I started a blog that looked at the intersection of the two and I haven’t really looked back since then.
Lately I’ve been writing more about my own specific training and experiences and less about Feminism with a capital F, which had me feeling a little ambivalent about the future of the blog for a while, but now I’ve come down on the side of thinking there’s something inherently feminist about being a woman who is also passionate about being an athlete, and that documenting that is as important as writing opinion pieces about why the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue sucks. I mean, really, how many times can you write about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue before that topic gets stale? (The answer is two. I’ve written about it twice and now I am utterly bored by it.)
2. So let’s get to Boston! Is this your first Boston Marathon? If so, at what point in your athletic career did you make Boston a goal, and what was your journey to your BQ like; did it take one try or several tries to nail a BQ?
Yes, it is! I actually first thought about it in 2012. The first time I mentioned it on my blog was during my Big Sur race recap, but truthfully at the time I thought of qualifying for Boston the way I’d think of, like, becoming an astronomer – definitely possible, definitely something I was interested in doing, but not particularly likely to happen. But then I started consistently running sub-1:50 half-marathons and Brian was like, “You know, this is something you might be able to do if you really wanted to.” That planted a seed in my brain and we formulated a multi-year plan to get me a BQ.
My first goal was to break four hours, which I failed to do twice, at Big Sur and at Bahamas. I finally succeeded the third time, at Clearwater in 2014, which I ran using the Hansons Marathon Method.
Then during the first part of 2014, I got a wild hair up my butt and trained for the Keys 50, which I completed in May. At the time, it seemed a little haphazard, like why am I training for an ultra-marathon if I want to be faster at marathons and triathlons, but in retrospect it was absolutely key to my development as an athlete. It gave me a solid endurance base but it also made me *so* mentally tough, which was something I’d been lacking in all of the races and training I’d done up to that point. I hate to say it, but I was such a baby about racing and training. I balked and quit whenever things got uncomfortable. But the Keys 50 – specifically the last five miles, which were just agonizing – changed all that for me.
So 2014 was a year where I built endurance and mental toughness, and then the following year I focused on speed. I trained using the Run Less, Run Faster program, so I could continue cycling and swimming, and I noticed that I was PRing left and right at all distances, and that not only was I setting PRs but they were solid PRs that were coming to me with relative ease. Initially we thought I should try to see if I could run a marathon in the 3:40s but when I set a new half-marathon PR of 1:39, we decided that I should go for it. And I pulled it off! I aimed for a 3:35 even though my BQ standard was 3:40, because I knew from years past that it wasn’t enough to squeak by, and I came in at 3:34.
The thing that really got me, though, was how manageable that felt for me. Like, obviously it hurt toward the end and I had to work for it, but I didn’t have to turn myself inside out to get it. It left me feeling both astonished that my body was capable of doing such things and also very curious to see how much faster I could get.
3. I hear you’re raising money for charity in conjunction with racing Boston. Tell us about that charity, why it’s meaningful to you, and why you wanted to use Boston to support this organization.
I’m running for Free to Run, which is a non-profit that uses running and outdoor sports to empower women and girls in conflict zones. They trained and supported the first-ever team of female Afghan ultra-marathoners, who raced in the Gobi March, which is a seven-day self-supported race across the Gobi Desert in China. They organize hiking trips for college students and support boxing clubs and yoga classes for women in domestic violence shelters in Kabul. They’re also working to set up similar programs in places like South Sudan. The idea is that by giving girls and women the resources and space to do these things safely, that in turn help can empower them to play a larger role in public life in their own societies.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot with the news coverage recently being paid to the Afghan women’s national cycling team, which was recently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. These women are out riding bikes, which is something many of us over in the U.S. take for granted, and they are challenging cultural and social assumptions about what it means to be a woman in the process. Man, I get goosebumps just thinking about those amazing women and what could be possible as a result of their courage and strength.
I feel a personal connection to what Free to Run is doing with female athletes in conflict zones because I have seen first-hand how taking up running and triathlon helped me recover from being in an abusive relationship from my later teens through most of my 20s. I mean, after I left, I did a lot of stuff in an effort to repair the damage done – went to therapy, threw myself into my college studies, worked to become financially self-sufficient – so it’s not like I just ran a few miles and called myself recovered.
But what I found was that training myself to run my first half-marathon, or lifting weights, or figuring out how to swim in open water – all of this stuff had a very visceral, almost immediate impact on how I regarded myself. The second I crossed the finish line of my very first marathon, I knew I had to stop thinking of myself as weak or incapable and to recognize that I possessed toughness and strength, not just of body but also of spirit and mind. That self-belief doesn’t leave me once I take off my running shoes. I take it with me to my career, to my volunteer work as a guardian ad litem, to my relationships, to every part of my life. So yeah, I know intimately just how powerful it can be to learn to use your body – especially when you are used to being told that your body belongs to someone else – to do really hard shit, and how damn good that feels.
I decided that Boston would be a fitting place to use as a fundraiser for Free to Run because of Boston’s massive role in the history of women and distance running. By now we’ve all heard about Bobbi Gibb and Kathrine Switzer, right? We know that it wasn’t that along ago that people fretted about whether it was safe or appropriate for women to run more than a half-mile. And yet now you look at distance running in the U.S. and more than half of us are women. It took the efforts of a handful of brave, stubborn trailblazers to show the rest of us what was possible. To me, Boston represents the moment that started to change.
And who knows? Maybe by supporting Free to Run, we might end up helping to buy a pair of running shoes for the girl who will grow up to be the Bobbi Gibb of Afghan female running. I think that would be pretty damn cool.
[If you’d like to contribute to Caitlin’s efforts on behalf of Free to Run, you can go here.]
4. Do you have running goals for Boston?
I do, but that’s mainly because I find that’s how I function best – by setting goals and working toward them. My primary goal, of course, is to enjoy the experience and to soak up the atmosphere, to basically treat it as a present to myself for the hard work I’ve put in over the last three and a half years. However, I would really like to break 3:30 as well. I know people always say that no one PRs at Boston, but I’m going to try anyway.
5. Here comes our favorite question! When it comes to running success, which do you think matters more: talent or hard work and why?
Well, ideally you’d have both! But personally I would rather be someone who doesn’t have a lot of talent but has an incredible work ethic over someone who has talent but is kind of lazy about it. I was one of those kids who got tagged with the “gifted” label early on, which had some benefits like allowing me access to advanced school programs and letting me skip fourth grade, but it also had some real drawbacks, specifically that I never really learned to work hard because I found that my minimal effort was good enough to let me coast through things. Like, I was a B+ student who could have been an A student if I’d bothered to work hard, but I just didn’t see the point in doing so. Man, I thought I was so clever for having figured that out.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized there actually *was* a point to cultivating a work ethic, and that’s because any goal I’ve ever achieved that was worth a damn required hard work. And further, what I found was that I liked the process of working hard on something, and that when I immersed myself in hard work in service of achieving a goal, it somehow made things not seem quite so hard anymore. It was almost magical!
Like, let’s take writing, which as a discipline is not that far removed from running. You can be really gifted with words and images and ideas, but if you are not making yourself sit down at your desk on a regular basis and actually putting words to paper, your talents are meaningless. That’s how I feel about running. You can have the ideal runner’s build, the right ratio of slow twitch to fast twitch muscles, all of it – but if you don’t actually put your shoes on and hit the pavement or the trails, none of that means anything.
Now, of course, if you’re looking to get to the elite levels, you have to have some innate physical ability. Most of us, no matter how hard we train, will never be able to run a five-minute mile. But I do think most of us who take up running do have some innate ability/aptitude for it, and it’s up to us to be willing to put in the work to explore the limits of those abilities. (Of course, this is all provided that even appeals to you, which I know isn’t everyone’s bag and that is totally fine. We all have different reasons for running, and I fully respect that.)
6. Now here’s our second favorite question! What’s the best piece of running advice you’ve ever received and how did you apply it to your own running or endurance sport performance?
To focus on the process and not the outcome. My husband, who is a therapist who has this quasi-Buddhist vibe going on, is always saying this, and I eventually came to absorb that lesson in my own life. I’ve found that when I focus on the moment – on each mile as it happens, on each rep, on each lap in the pool, whatever – that I get a deep sense of satisfaction that goes beyond just being an athlete and into my life as a human being. It can be hard, no doubt. Sometimes I have a crappy run where I’m dying for it to be over and just trying to distract myself from the suffering, but even then when it’s over I’m still grateful for the experience of being able to run and for the way it makes me feel.
It seems paradoxical, especially in the context of goal-setting, but it’s actually worked pretty well for me, and I now try to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just running and triathlon.
I, for one, hope Caitlin has many great moments on the Boston course! Good luck, Caitlin and thanks for the chat!