How to Blog and Why

I have been thinking a lot about blogging. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about privacy and the internet and teaching and writing and community.

On the one hand, since joining the Oiselle team, I’ve “met” some inspirational, hilarious, kind, tough, smart, fast women. I love hearing about the adventures, runs, and journeys that the women on the team have undertaken, and I’ve found a real sense of community that I’ve really missed since graduating from college and leaving the team aspect of running behind. (This will probably be funny to anyone who remembers my fierce aversion to team bonding activities, matching anything, and any sort of demonstration of “spirit”.) Without the internet, specifically twitter and blogs, I wouldn’t “know” these women in the way I do, and being part of the Oiselle team would just mean wearing a singlet with a bird on it.

At the same time, though, I worry a lot about privacy. It’s hard to write about work, not just because I worry that I’ll say something that might offend a parent or student visiting my blog (though I do worry about that), but also because I don’t want to write about my students in a manner specific enough as to violate their privacy. I think this about my boyfriend, my family, and my friends, too, but the professional responsibility I feel to ensure I do not do this in regards to my students, has the feeling of weightier consequences. The tough thing here is that I love my job, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to do it better, both for me (in the sense of teaching in a more sustainable way) and for my students. I love reading and writing and coaching and teaching, and I feel lucky that my job involves all of these things. While I do like to imagine a future where I sit writing in coastal Maine silene for hours on end with a black lab at my feet and a cup of coffee in hand, I can’t think of any realistic job I’d rather have.

Teaching, in the abstract, as well as my own school and my own students specifically, is on my mind a lot. I spend a lot of time, as a writer, convincing myself that no one will ever read what I write: that I must write the best I can, and silence the fear of being exposed and made vulnerable by my own words. Often I do manage to write in a deliriously detached sort of vacuum, imagining that the words on the page are all that matter. I’d like to think that this allows me to be more honest about myself, and as a result, produces more honest writing.

At some point, though, writing starts asking to be shared. Writing is about communicating, and when I am proud of something I’ve written, it is often because I think it communicates something I’ve struggled weeks, or even months, to articulate clearly. I wanted other teachers to read my essay about The Prime of Ms. Jean Brodie, and at the same time, publishing it, sharing the link on my facebook page, using my real name, all required accepting the possibility, if not likelihood, that my students might read it, too.

I have been thinking about using the Poets & Writers The Time is Now prompts as a framework for blogging. Each Thursday, these prompts appear in my inbox and I save them, thinking that some time in the next few days I will sit down and write. Perhaps doing so weekly on a blog (this blog? another blog?) might give some structure for my writing as well as some parameters in terms of privacy.

Only slightly related: I hate both the name and the address of this blog. I only just recently realized it sounds like a play on Eat, Pray, Love (which I must admit to not having read), which it is not (though I’m assuming that something about the rhythm of the three verbs sounded familiar). Suggestions?


5k Revolution

Recently, my Oiselle teammate, Meggie, has been all about the 5k revolution. Now, I am, too.

There are a lot of things I love about the marathon and its training: the post-long run nausea (no, not being sarcastic), the insatiable hunger, the little bit of clout the distance carries, the feeling of accomplishment when I look at my running log and see weekly totals in the 60s, and, finally, I know deep down that the marathon is probably my best event. I’m willing to be in a moderate amount of pain for a long, long time and I don’t think I’ve ever run a 200 under 36 seconds–and that includes the time I ran the 4×4 at the state meet.

After my Providence Marathon-turned Half Marathon training cycle, and then disappointing race in the half, I’ve been romanticizing the 5k. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to beat my college 10k PR (38:41) again, but I do think I could take down my 5k PR, or at least my 5k road PR (19:21, since I’m pretty sure that time I ran 18:42 the course was short).

I’m going to be coaching (and teaching) at my own high school this fall. I’ll get to coach with my high school coach and two former teammates of mine. I’ll get to run with the girls, one of whom sprinted past me at the end of a 5 miler a few weeks back, and I’ll be doing a lot more 800 meter repeats than 10 mile progression runs. Nick just started running and has done two 5ks recently. I’m at a place where the time and energy that goes into training for a solid 5k fits a lot more smoothly into my running life, and my real life, than the emotional and physical demands of solid marathon training.

One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to “research” (anything, really: recipes, races, books, other writers, the weather, rare diseases, gardening techniques, the current lives of people I went to high school with and would pretend not to recognize if I saw on the street…), and today I researched some 5ks.

First, really terrifyingly thrillingly, New York Road Runners has a summer track meet series for old people like me. There are a few local evening 5ks, and a series of evening cross country races just one town over. These are both on Tuesday nights, which fits in nicely with the idealized image I have of summer as a time when teacher bedtimes no longer apply and I can do wild things like run a race on a weeknight!

It’s been awhile since I took a serious stab at short distance racing, and I know that once the new school year gets going, I’ll both have more intensity in my interval training (even most slow high school kids have leg speed in a way I don’t think I ever did–even when I ran the 3200 and the 4×8!) and less time and energy to devote to “my own” running, so I don’t want to pin any major goals on fall training.

June-August: 1 speed workout (200s-400s type speed), 1 tempo or fartlek session, and one long run (probably just 10 miles) a week, 40-50 MPW with races replacing either speed and/or tempo sessions.

August-November: see what training teaching/coaching/life can accomodate and build up to some longer weekend running once the weather cools off

Up next:

June 17: Branford Road Race 5 Miler (a father’s day tradition)

June 23: Fairfield Road Races 5k

July 4: Four on the Fourth

July 15: See Jane Run 1/2 Marathon

July 21: TBD End-of-road trip 5k (either San Diego or San Francisco-suggestions?)

July 27: Trumbull Sunset Run 5k

August 3: Southwest Cafe Margarita 5k or August 4: Walnut Beach Ice Cream 5k or August 4: Sea Legs Shuffle 10 Miler depending on if I’d rather have a margarita or ice cream (or both) and if I need a break from 5k

And then? There are big (New Haven 20k) and small (local 10 miler) Labor Day races, I’ve been throwing around the idea of running the Fifth Avenue Mile and going out to visit my little brother in Minneapolis if I get in the lottery for the Twin Cities 10 Miler. And then, when the weather cools, and I’m a little settled into my new job, I’d like to get some redemption for that last half. And I have this weird gut feeling that I’d do it better on lower mileage and more speed. So the plan for now is to do the Half Marathon in Philadelphia at the end of November. None of this, of course, will get in the way of my inappropriately competitive approach to our local Turkey Trot (my high school coach working the finish line, old school rivals plus years of kids I’ve coached in the race, fancy spandex wearing men I see on the trail… so many egos [including my own, of course] to contend with!)

I have a runner friend who wants to start an Angie’s List of road races–reviews, plusses, minuses, cost comparisons, accuracy of courses, etc. for local races. Until her brilliant idea is off the ground, I’m relying on internet running friends’ responses: thoughts on any of the races above? On racing that frequently? Is three ten-milers between August-October too many?

Also, it deprives the explainers of work


Would you admit to there being symbolism in your novels?


I suppose there are symbols since critics keep finding them. If you do not mind I dislike talking about them and being questioned about them. It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. Also it deprives the explainers of work. If five or six or more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading.

From The Paris Review Art of Fiction No. 21


There is no salvation in elsewhere;
forget the horizon, the seductive sky.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there.

I know. Once I escaped to Tangier,
took the same face, the same lie.
There’s no salvation in elsewhere

when elsewhere has empty rooms, mirrors.
Everywhere: the capital I.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there

unless, of course, your motive’s secure;
not therapy, but joy,
salvation an idea left behind, elsewhere,

like overweight baggage or yesteryear,
The fundamental things apply.
If nothing’s here, nothing’s there—

I brought with me my own imperfect ai.
The streets were noise. The heart dry.
There was no salvation elsewhere.
I came with nothing, found nothing there.

-Stephen Dunn

Providence Half: [Trying to] Go Fast [But I did] Take Chances


AP & AS post Providence Half & Full Marathon

It had been about two years since I picked a race, trained for it, tapered for it, and stood on the line with antsy legs and a queasy stomach to chase down a goal. I have always run better in low-pressure situations. None of my high school or college PRs came at big meets, and, as it turns out, I ran a hilly, frigid 20k nearly 10 seconds a mile faster in February than I ran the half on Sunday. I’m a little sad, because I was on pace for 1:28 through 10 miles, and somehow forgot the advice I know I should know–that the last three miles are half the half–and went from psyched, visualizing myself crossing the line in sub-1:30 euphoria, to barely moving (I ran a slower mile than I ever have in a race from 12-13) in a matter of ten minutes.

I was a little frustrated with the obvious inaccuracy of the mile markers (which of course, had me wondering, in spite of how sore-sport I know it sounds, if perhaps the whole course had been off) and I was frustrated with my own chronic impatience (check out these splits: 6:26, 6:51, 7:12, 6:28, 6:48, 6:44, 6:40, 7:01, 7:09, 6:31, 8:11 (!!!), 7:06, 8:43 (!!!), :48). Looking at my splits, I do think there was something up with miles 3/4 and miles 10/11, if not also mile 12-13, though I will never know if I ran a 1:32:50 half marathon or a 1:32:50 13.3 mile race, so I’ll have to make peace with having put it all on the line, and having come up short of my expectations.

Nonetheless, the weekend was a good one, and the week I’m taking off running now is much-needed and well-timed. I had a good time with the friends I met each Sunday for long runs, and I got to see fellow Oiselle teammate and long-time friend Amanda Scheer finish her first marathon (in 3:14!). Also, I really wish races would stop sending me pictures of myself running. These are about the most depressing thing of all time. I don’t think I have a particularly poor self-image, and I don’t consider myself to be very appearance-conscious (I often forget to wear makeup or brush my hair!) but I see these pictures, my face contorted in pain, arms flailing, thighs looming large, shirt flopping, and I start to think I should run in a potato sack in the dark of night. While the race pictures from Providence have not yet appeared to haunt me, two recent 5ks I ran featured sports photographers. After seeing the first set, I assumed my choice of shorts had been the problem and tucked my spandex shorts in the back of my drawer. Unfortunately, after seeing the pictures from the next week’s 5k, I feel unjustified in blaming my outfit for the horror of either set of photos.

I’m excited for some new adventures: my brother graduates from college in a few weeks, the school year here is wrapping up, I’ll be in Portland for a writing conference this summer, and will get to meet some of the Oiselle women at See Jane Run in Seattle, Nick has been running and we’ve got plans for a 5k and baseball-themed road trip this summer. I’d like to focus on some shorter stuff for a bit, since it looks like I’ll be coaching cross country in the fall, maybe try to tackle my 5k PR as the girls I coach tackle theirs. As for halves, I know I can break 1:30. I ran my PR (1:30:20) at the end of a 70 mile week, in the pouring rain, on a hilly course. I ran the first half of my first marathon in 1:31 (admittedly, this was a disaster…) so I’m looking for a flat, driving distance, cool, accurately measured late-fall option. Suggestions?


Yesterday I had planned to run a half marathon on Ward Parkway in Kansas City. The race started about half a mile from the house where we lived until I was 6. I’m on school break this week, and when I first signed up for the Providence Marathon, I thought this would be the perfect tune-up half marathon. I’d already decided to make this marathon training session serious (whatever that means–as opposed to the casual marathon training I might otherwise have done?) and planned to be in shape to smash my PR on this flat course.

In the past month, running and I have been at odds. I’ve been thinking a lot about why it is that this marathon training session just seemed to decimate me. I’ve made mental lists of all the things that are different in my life than when I ran 70 mile weeks and even tried to come up with reasons that I don’t feel as zippy as I did just four years ago when I last ran Boston. I used to dread/love hammering out a 20 miler at near race pace, being unable to do much of anything for the rest of the day, and walking up famished at 3am the next morning.

This time around, it wasn’t just that I didn’t enjoy those things, I almost felt like my body wouldn’t let me do them to begin with. Switching from the full to the half in Providence was a big relief, especially because I made the decision coming off two weeks of sickness, high-but-not-as-high-as-I-hoped mileage, and general “not in love with running” feelings.

So, here I am in Kansas City, having done the 5k instead of the half, and having run nearly 90 seconds slower than the last 5k I ran (in February), slower than i went through the 5k in either 10k I ran this year, my middle mile slower than any of the miles I ran in a February 20k, trying hard to take some really fantastic positives from the race. By far the best part was running with my dad. We have a tradition of going to a local Turkey Trot each year, but, this year, we did added this 5k to our schedule. My dad felt great, and I placed third for women. We had breakfast as a family and I got to do some research for a writing project.

Last night, we went out for a nice dinner with my cousins, who I love (I only have two) and hardly get to see. We were waiting for dessert when Stephanie turned to me and said “good thing you didn’t do the half marathon or you’d be falling asleep at the table!” How true.

I’m having a lot of mixed feelings about running right now. I love running. For 16 years, it has been a emotional release and an important part of my physical health. I think it tempers anxiety, makes me more confident, is empowering, has introduced me to wonderful friends, is a definitive part of my identity, and tempers what I fear might otherwise be irrational feelings about eating healthfully. When I think of running, I mean the physical act, of course, but I also mean competitive racing. I ran all twelve seasons in both high school and college, and have considered myself “serious” about every road race I’ve entered in the 8 years since graduation. It’s much better to be competitive about running than about, say, cooking or knowledge of wine, or the cleanliness of my classroom at school, and so I’ve always taken for granted that I am not only a runner but a racer.

I think this case of racing malaise will pass, but it has made me ask myself what I will do if it doesn’t. What would running look like if I wasn’t still chasing PRs? Keeping track of mileage totals? Would I do speed work at all? How would this change me? Would it matter at all?

I want to get after my half marathon PR in Providence, but I ran the middle mile of my 5k slower than that pace, and I’m not really sure why. I’ve run through the basics: diet (okay, I do love dessert and wine, but I think I eat a balanced, healthful diet), sleep (I don’t know what to do about this one), allergies? iron? mysterious slow sickness? burnout? oldness?

Of course, I’m doing all those things distance runners are taught to do from an early age: being patient, having faith in the work I’ve put in, listening to my body, embracing the spiritual element of the sport… but another part of me want to either go back to the course right now, in the rain at 6:18am, and see if I can at least run faster than I did yesterday. I don’t think I’ll do that, but I think, as I write this, I can see that it’s not quite time to walk away from my watch or my running log or my racing shoes.

Spring Equinox 8k

Spring Equinox 8k

instead of doing the 30k I’d planned at 7:30 Sunday morning, I did a lower-key 8k. And I didn’t even obsessively ad on warm up or cool down miles. Then, on Monday, I switched my Providence registration to the half. Relieved.

How Much Can Training Change?

I have been thinking a lot about how much training matters. I mean, training as separated from general fitness and confidence.

I missed a lot of running this week after getting a bad cold, and since outdoor has started up, it’s suddenly much easier to do a 16 minute tempo run a little faster than I should or 800m repeats than marathon-type workouts. After last weekend’s fairly (inexplicably) miserable 18.5 miler, I’ve been thinking about the difference in running every day, as I have for the past 18 years, and training, particularly training for a marathon. How much do I have to give to running? In terms of time, yes, but even more in terms of stress level (am I the only person who can’t relax when she has a 20 mile long run scheduled?) and emotional investment.

This got me to thinking about the four marathons I’ve run and how, though they seem wildly different in my mind because my expectations and the level of disappointment were different in each, in the big spectrum of marathon running, they are not really so different.

Vermont City, 2006: ran about 70 miles a week, including at least one long, hard workout mid-week and several Jack Daniels style tempo-long-tempo runs, crashed and burned and ran 3:24 after walking much of the second half. Had hoped to break 3, realistically thought I could run 3:10.

Boston 2008: got the news that I’d be running the race with 6 weeks to go and had done one run over 12 miles since Vermont CIty almost two years earlier. DId 1 16 miler, 1 20 miler and 1 18 miler, ran mostly 7 mile runs during the week. Goal was to finish and not disappoint all the people who’d given me the Bradley Award or to wound my own fragile ego. Ran 3:19

Boston 2009: ran about 50 miles a week, trained in a normal, methodical way, including about one speed workout a week and a handful of runs between 16-21 miles. Felt confident going into the race, hoped to PR. Ran 3:18.

Gansett Marathon 2011: entered on a whim about a month before the race after doing an 18 mile run on a whim. Longest run was a “I’ll pretend I was running 7:30 pace for that whole time and then it’s 20 miles” 2:30. Felt great at 10 miles and went through the half on pace to run 3:12, which felt completely reasonable in that deluded moment. Hit the wall hard at mile 16, felt very sorry for myself for the next 10 miles. Ran 3:22 (I think? I don’t remember. In this case, the real victory really was finishing)

So, is my body, when in general running shape, about a 3:25 marathon type of body, and then sometimes I can force it to run a little faster? What if I could handle more volume in training? Had a training group? Could I run 3:10? What if I didn’t do anything I didn’t feel like doing and just ran with the high school kids every day between now and May 7? How much do any of these things I have wasted days reading about matter? I’m usually a firm believe in mind over matter and the irrelevance of shape and talent in achieving at least modest distance running success, but at the end of this week, assessing the damage and exhaustion, I started to really question the range of influence my training actually wields.


My first inkling that I might like marathoning came when, on a whim, a friend and I decided to run around Madison’s Lake Mendota (about 24 miles the way we planned it). Sure, I was tired by the end, but we didn’t even start until after we both got off work (around 6pm) and I remember how quickly the miles from 10-18 flew by.


smiling, mostly because I’m done, with my dad after 26.2 very humbling miles

It was almost a year later that I ran my first marathon, and although the race did not go as planned (every rookie mistake: went out too fast [as in, missed my 1/2 marathon PR by less than a minute] didn’t drink enough water, didn’t feel like chewing my shot blocks and figured it would be fine to just throw them away, stopped and walked, cried, got charlie horses, and eventually limped across the finish line), and it was, and I know we can’t remember degrees of pain and all that, but I think, the most painful experience of my life, I felt that the marathon and I had some unfinished business. I’d hoped to break 3 on a perfect day, but instead of adjusting the plan for a non-perfect (85 at the start) day, I plowed ahead stubbornly until I ran myself into the ground. I knew I could run faster even without training better, and probably even more faster if I trained smart.

That marathon has indeed been my slowest, but I’ve never felt the level of fitness I used to when hammering out mile repeats and repeat tempo runs (what? I did that?), doing Daniels-style T-L-T workouts, running 10 miles the day after 20 mile long runs, feeling like 7:30 pace was just too slow to stand.

When I think about this training period, I try to be fair to my current self. I hated my job then, and running often felt like the only productive thing I did in a day. I was 23. I thought I was invincible without even realizing it.


with training partner Megan after Boston in 2009

None of the three marathons I’ve done since have been as frustrating, but none of the training has been as satisfying. I ran Boston twice, once, with the honor of honoring my late University of Chicago teammate with 6 weeks prep, and then later with my diligent 24 week buildup, and both times neglected to do any real speedwork and almost the exact same time. Then, last spring in a brief recurrence of invincibility, I signed up for the Gansett Marathon, did a bunch of 5 mile runs, a 25k race, a 17 mile run and a run I pretended was 20 miles but knew, even at the time, that 19 was pushing it.

So, this December, I thought: I’ll do this right. Who knows when I’ll have this much time again. I don’t have kids, I get to run as part of my job (coaching high school runners), and, as the winter went on, milder and milder, I felt even more obligated to take adventage of the clear running trail and the shorts-weather sunshine on so many January and February afternoons. After last year’s feet and feet of snow, I tried not to take clear roads for granted.

Either I’d forgotten how tired actually training for a marathon makes me, or I’ve become wimpy. Last night I had a dream about eating graham crackers. In the dream, I was outraged, because the graham crackers I found in my desk at school were low fat, but I was so hungry I ate them anyway. After today’s 18.5 miler, Nick and I walked a half-mile or so down the road to get sandwiches, and if I hadn’t eaten then, I don’t know that I would have all day. After my shower, I lay in bed reading and feeling my muscles spasm in little bursts all over my legs. Did this happen before? And what about all the short races I miss? I don’t have much leg speed right now, but I saw some runners after a local St. Patrick’s Day 4 Miler and I felt a nearly nostalgic longing to have been part of the race. I’d just run 18.5 miles but I felt unsatisfied and wished I’d run fast and short instead.

In the past, I’ve left marathons, proud of myself for finishing, but each finish has always come after serious doubt: why am I doing this? Why does this hurt so much? How can I keep going? Does the marathon ever not feel like this for anyone? If I could run a 2:25 marathon, or even a 2:50 marathon, would the pain be somehow different for being shorter-lived? Within a few days of finishing each of the marathons I’ve run, I think of something I could do better: go out easier, run less, run more, do more speed, do more long runs, introduce a mid-week long run… and then I come back to that run I did around Lake Mendota, or the fact that I can’t break :41 in a 200 anymore, and my willingness, even eagerness, in tolerating discomfort for a long time, and I think: marathon, I am not done with you, yet.

This training cycle I’ve done pretty much what I set out to do, hitting between 50-60 miles in 6 runs most weeks. I’ve done a mid-week 10-11 miler and I started Yasso 800s. I try to actually take my easy days easy (this is a new and difficult thing for me. On my college team, we rarely ran more than 6 miles on an easy day, but also rarely ran over 7:30 pace, and, let’s be honest, I’m an impatient person and I do a lot of my running alone, so it’s easy to switch an easy 8 for a moderate 6, almost by accident). I have been doing a lot of the things right that I thought were missing before, but I still don’t feel very good. My long run today was really, really hard, and not just in the way that 18 miles is hard, but harder than that 24 mile run on a whim (when the farthest I’d ever run before that was 14 miles).

Today, as I was limping down the stairs, I told Nick: remind me next time I want to run a marathon, that training for a marathon is an entirely different level of exhaustion than just running every day. But, I don’t remember that always being the case. Am I (selectively) forgetting? Am I getting older? Is there such a thing as a person who’d be an ideal 15 mile racer? Why marathons and not 25ks? Why the extra 11 miles? But, on the same token, what makes those extra 11 miles so awful? If I were training for a half marathon (rather than just occasionally jumping in half marathons for a tune-up or challenge) would I wonder why I hadn’t found a 10 mile race? Or a 10k?

What is it about these 26.2 miles that is so bewitching?


after Boston in 2008 (my mom hates this picture, sorry, Mommy!)