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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

After 10+ years, I quit teaching

In the summer of 2017, I quit my job as an elementary music teacher.  I started singing in choirs in fourth grade.  I taught music for 10.5 years.  More, if you include subbing and directing musicals.  I was a great elementary school music teacher and choir director.  I have bachelor's and master's degrees from UofM in music education.  I have three Grammy awards from my undergrad days.  I've been a paid performer many times.  I've sung under world famous conductors.  I conducted original music ed. research and wrote a thesis.  I published a portion of that thesis in a peer reviewed journal.  I presented my findings at a state conference.  Shit, I was even recruited to move back to Louisiana as part of LSU's doctoral program in music education (we didn't go).  At no point can I tell you I was honestly proud of any of that with the exception of defending my thesis and publishing.  I was happy when I'd win a competition or a solo, or make a state choir, and singing and performing was absolutely fun.  But, in hindsight, when I compare all of it to the pride I feel regularly related to running, I wasn't proud of those accomplishments.  I think this is largely because singing and music were never hard for me.  To be honest, I hardly ever practiced.  I certainly worked hard at school, but I wouldn't say it was difficult.  Not like researching and writing and publishing, and not like running.  I was proud of many of the relationships I formed with my students, loved many of them as if they were my own children, and was proud to be a positive adult figure in their lives, but, for me, it had nothing to do with my role as their music teacher.  When someone asked me what I "did," (I can't tell you how much that question irritates me) I didn't feel a sense of pride when I responded.  I actually felt a little dread, not wanting to play the part, once again, in the typical conversations about education and teaching and music.  Teaching was hard in that it was a lot of work, but not the kind of work I ever felt great about doing.  Curriculum maps and accreditation committees and getting yelled at by ignorant parents and increasing numbers of students whose behavior indicated they didn't respect their teachers further than they could throw us doesn't make you feel great about your measley salary compared to the hours you're working and qualifications.  This is a whole other conversation and not the point of this post.  Additionally, more and more, I didn't feel that great feeling you get when you share something important with someone.  Again, I loved many of my students and I was happy they were happy because of music, but that's where it ended.  When a runner thanks me for helping them dial in their nutrition, or get them to a starting line feeling confident, or knock time off their PR, I feel proud.  Proud that I helped them feel a little more like a runner and hopeful they'll grow in their love of our sport.  And if you're reading this, I imagine you already know how proud I am of my own running accomplishments, because RUNNING IS HARD, and I work my ass off to be even a little good at it.  I don't know if I've put in my 10,000 hours yet as a runner and coach, but I certainly plan to.  I hated practicing for voice lessons.  Those 10,000 hours would have killed me.  By comparison, my brother and sister in law perform in a professional reed quintet and practice several hours a day.  To quote Kari when asking how I have time to run so much, "But when do you practice clarinet?"  When it comes to running and coaching, I want to read everything, listen to every podcast, attend classes, work towards more certifications, talk to other runners and coaches, and run all the workouts and races!

There have been several times since I graduated college that I thought it would be fun to work in fitness.  But leaving a career in which I'd invested so much time and money seemed insane and scary. By the end of the 16-17 school year, not leaving seemed more insane and scary.  But I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  I've worked since I was 16.  I started looking for full time admin jobs, but only had one interview out of who knows how many applications.  I subbed, but I really just don't like teaching.  And it finally hit me that I need to pursue coaching more actively.  I've been coaching a few runners here and there, but I've never put myself out there before.  Once I started working on this, everything clicked.  I can't ever think of a time in my life I've felt so creative.  Creating my website, articulating my philosophy, choosing a name, talking to other coaches, designing a logo...I've been so excited working on this in a way I've never felt excited about other projects.  I've wanted to draw and write and create.  I started working with a new runner and, as usual, the process of learning her goals and creating her program from scratch is fun and exciting and gives me joy.  And then, a week or so into the process, I was volunteering at packet pickup at our local running store, RUNdetroit.  One of their staff was about to go on maternity leave, and it had occurred to me to offer to help out while she was gone.  Turns out they had also been planning to ask me if I was interested!  So now, when someone asks me what I "do," I tell them I work at a specialty running store and coach.  And that makes me proud.  And I look forward to working with more runners and sharing my knowledge and passion for our sport.  I look forward to learning more every day as a runner and coach myself.  It's scary putting this out there; as another coach and friend said, we're our own worst critics, always questioning whether we're good enough.  But I love what I'm doing enough to take the leap and say, "I'm a running coach."  And that gives me joy.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Spring 2018 Marathon Goals

Time to get this out there.  Put it out into the universe.  Write it down in more detail, with heart. It's in my training log; Coach Amanda and Jason know my goals.  But it's eight weeks until race day.  I'm about to start some harder workouts, longer long runs, higher mileage, and it's time to dream and time to grind.

Glass City Marathon
Toledo, Ohio
Sunday, April 22, 2018, 7:00 am
PR:  Beat 3:32:15 (last April, same race)
BQ:  3:40 for F35-40 (I'll age up before Boston 2019)

I'd love to run a 3:28.  I'd be thrilled with anything faster than my PR.  I'd be lying if I said I'd be happy with a 3:35.  While that should be enough extra time to earn a Boston bib, I've had my heart broken in the past.  Last year, I had a BQ+2:45.  Historically, the most extra time needed was BQ+2:28 .  This year, it was BQ+3:23.  So I'd rather just run a PR and feel confident I've earned my bib.  Registration isn't until September.  That's a long time to wonder!

I think I can do it.  Every time I've trained for and run a marathon, I've learned a lot.  It took six half marathons for a breakthrough race and PR.  This is only my fifth marathon, so I'll understand if I'm just not there yet.  But I think I'm doing what I need to earn that PR.

  • Serious strength training 2x/week at Detroit Body Garage
  • Mini bands, home strength training, and core 3x/week
  • Stretching and rolling almost every day
  • A little more weekly mileage
  • Really improved diet, making sure I eat as much real food as possible and more protein/carbs
  • Better hydration
  • Resting like a champ
  • Addressing how my cycle affects my hormones, which really affects my running, with some help from Dr. Stacy Sims' book, Roar.
I think my biggest fears are going out too fast and giving up when I get tired in the later miles and slowing down.  Pretty common, right?  I'm planning to run with a pace group for the first time and I've been practicing using my music to help me keep pace when I get tired.  Even if I don't hit my time goals, I'll be happy if I run even or negative splits.

I'm starting to get excited about this race.  As I said, this is my fifth marathon.  I'm starting to feel like maybe, after the suffer-fest that was the FREEP in 2016 and the medical pit stop at Chicago in 2017, I've learned a lot, which you see reflected in the list above.  I've also learned, from my good races, that I CAN do this.  That my 1:34:30 half marathon wasn't just a lucky break.  I DID THAT.  My Boston Qualifiers were still BOSTON QUALIFIERS, even though I didn't earn bibs.  We're so hard on ourselves as runners.  We don't want to bluster.  We don't want to sound boastful.  But I'm finally able to acknowledge that I'm a little tougher than I give myself credit for, and I'm working hard.  Marathons are tricky, and who knows what will happen on race day, but I think this just might be my best one yet, and I'm looking forward to finding out.  And I'm putting these goals out there so that I can celebrate with my community, because one important piece of the puzzle for me is knowing Jason will be at the starting line with me, my parents will be there (first time spectating a marathon!), I'll see friends out there on the course, Amanda will be out in the dead zone like she is every year, and I'll see friends from our Detroit running community in those final miles when it's time to embrace the suck.  And when the suck comes, I think I'll be just a little bit more ready to look it in the eye and prove how much I've grown since last time.

But until then, time to go to work.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reflections on 2017

Two main experiences from 2017 stuck with me.  When I say, "stuck with me," I mean they made the kind of impact where they keep coming back to me weeks and months later.  I feel the emotional weight these two experiences carry.  I'm grateful for these experiences.  I finished the Chicago Marathon after the worst race I've ever had, and I had a lot of difficult dental work done.  Might sound fairly benign, but hey, my life, my experiences, my blog post.  I'll try to paint a picture.

The 2017 Chicago Marathon was rough.  It was the worst race I've ever run.  It was hot, humid, and sunny.  I didn't hydrate properly in the week leading up to the race.  I was sick.  In fact, I'm still sick as I write this.  And I had bad PMS.  Everything fell apart.  I was pulled off the course into a med. area.  I walked a lot.  I ran my slowest time by a lot; no where even close to my April time or my goal time.  But instead of getting pissed at myself, which up until that point would be my response, I just wanted to finish.  I didn't want to quit the Chicago Marathon.  Up until that point, my competitive, type A, perfectionist personality would only perceive achieving my time goals as "good enough."  Somehow, on that day, something allowed me to just let go of all that and accept the reality of the situation.  Maybe it was seeing people all around me in similar situations.  Running sideways because their quads were destroyed.  Walking.  Stopping.  Sitting.  Crying.  Refusing help.  Accepting help.  Medics running down the course with wheelchairs.  But something clicked, and I was just so grateful to finish. Grateful to have the opportunity to be there.  Grateful knowing I was doing something hard, something that made life worth living.  I cried through that finish line, something I've never done before.

Sometimes the finish of the 2017 Glass City Marathon comes back to me.  Arms out, flying across the  finish line.  Jumping on Jason and screaming, "I'm fucking going!" (I'm not).  The feeling that it was (almost) easy.  The feeling of being able to pick it up in the last mile.  But Chicago comes back more often.  When workouts get hard, when I want to quit, when something in life sucks, the knowledge that I made it through the carnage gives me hope I can endure.

I can line up at the starting line of a marathon, ready to endure 26.2 miles, with very little fear.  The fear of dental work keeps me awake at night.  This summer/fall, I had an extraction, two root canals, post/core, crowns, and fillings.  I'm 34 years old.  I must have gone to the dentist and endodontist 10 times in five months.  The fear I felt leading into every visit woke me up at night.  It simmered in the background at all times.  I experienced constant, low-grade stress the entire summer and fall.  It's not that my dentist isn't wonderful; he is.  In the end, I think I was scared of the potential pain and of not being in control of the situation.  Scared of what was coming next.  And upset that my teeth are so bad, even though I did what you're supposed to do.

My sweet, dear friend Amanda came with me to a root canal attempt (visit two) and to a root canal with the endodontist (visit three).  It definitely helped to have her there the first time.  The second time, I was so high on gas I couldn't drive for a while after.  We had a hilarious time going to Babies R Us.  But the fear I experienced leading into the day I went for the root canal and extraction was the worst, and I knew I wouldn't make it through without Jason.  And here's where the learning experience came in.  I'm very self-reliant.  I do not like thinking anyone else has to worry about me or do things for me or help me.  It manifests and being very organized and detail-oriented.  If I plan everything, map out every detail, and account for every variable, no one will have to worry about me or anything I'm involved in, right?  Well, as noted above, dental work really isn't in my control.  Hell for someone like me.  So what's Jason going to do?  Sit there and watch?  It's not like he could do the damn extraction for me, and even if he could, he still had just as much potential to hurt me as the dentist.  Then, because they had so much work to do, they had a lot of stuff set up in the room and he couldn't even come in with me anyway!  Learning experience, personal growth:  Just having him sit next to me in the waiting room, holding my hand, just knowing he was in the waiting room while I was having the work done, just having him with me in the car and at home afterwards, was all the peace I needed.  It was magic.  Again, irrational, I know.  It's not like he could have actually do the dental work.  But my self-reliant brain actually allowed for the fact that, sometimes, we just need someone to be there.  More specifically, the people who love us most.  And if you know us, you know Jason's always there.  At marathons, at concerts, on the highway with a flat tire, and at the dentist's office.  And he always will be.  But some of us have hard heads and don't always fully internalize that we need help.  I hope everyone's lucky enough to have people at their metaphorical dentist's office.

More marathons and more dental work in 2018.  I can't say I'm looking forward to the dental work, but I'm looking forward to whatever these experiences present.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Summer Reading

For a teacher who's also a runner, the best part of summer break is being able to run whenever and wherever you want.  The second best part is being able to read tons of books, and this summer was a good one!

  • Running books
    • The Road to Sparta (Dean Karnazes)
      • I loved this book!  Very different than Run! or Ultramarathon Man.  Karnazes has a specific voice.  Very confident, very vocal.  His book conveyed his journey to trace Phidipedes steps, as well as his journey to connect with his ancestors, in way that was so poetic, so beautiful, that I felt connected.  I wanted to be Greek.  I wanted to there.
    • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (Alan Sillitoe)
      • Classic short story about running.  As a runner, I'm glad I read it.  As a reader, it didn't really do much for me.  It's short, so I'd say read it, just so you know what it's about.
    • Anatomy for Runners (Jay Dicharry)
      • If you're a runner you have to read this book.  Anatomy and physiology.  PT exercises.  A functional movement assessment.
  • Stephen King
    • Pet Sematary
      • I love every Stephen King book I've read.  This was no exception.  Suspenseful.  Plot twists.  Scary, but not too scary.  Great story.
    • Salem's Lot
      • Another great novel.  Scarier than Pet Sematary.  Highly recommend.
    • The Dark Tower:  The Gunslinger
      • This is the one King novel that I almost didn't finish.  It was so slow for most of the novel.  I almost fell asleep reading it several times.  Got better towards the end, and I'll continue the series.
    • Just After Sunset (short story collection)
      • King is a master!  Each story felt like it could have been a novel, but he managed to contain it as a short.
  • The Chemist (Stephanie Meyer, also wrote Twilight and The Host)
    • Loved this book!  I also loved Meyer's other books.  This one was refreshingly different. I almost forgot she wrote it.
  • Into the Water (Paula Hawkins, also wrote Girl on the Train)
    • I think I liked this better than Girl on the Train.  It didn't get great reviews, but I really enjoyed it.
Now it's December and I'm immersed in Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments series.  I've read books one through three and I'm currently reading City of Fallen Angels.  I read book three in a day.  It's 541 pages.  It's that good.  It's a great YA series.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 Chicago Marathon

Unsanctioned Banana
The Chicago Marathon wasn't the race I planned. I ran 50 minutes slower than my April marathon, and "ran" is being generous. I walked. I got pulled off course and checked by medical personnel. My final 3.5 miles were saved by copious, unsanctioned bananas and I was so grateful to be able to even jog. I had horrible PMS, I screwed up my electrolytes in the week leading up to the race, and I stopped sweating in the heat. But it was the race I needed. As much as I wanted a time PR, I wanted a mental PR even more, and I had one. At no point did I get pissed and want to quit. I didn't beat myself up. I didn't worry about what people would think. I just wanted to finish.  When I finally saw the 800 meter sign, the tears started. I've never cried finishing a marathon before. I think I finally learned the meaning of the word "endure," and I'm grateful for the experience. Even more grateful for a weekend with Jason, Amanda, and Brian. You never know when your words or actions will resonate with people. Jason and Amanda's certainly did while I was out there.

I'm a little sad I missed an opportunity to run fast. But I've got goals for next April, and I'm mentally so much better equipped to achieve them. That's worth more than a few minutes off a marathon time. #thankyourunning #bettertogether #wolskiandwarzechatakechitown 
Wolski and Warzecha Took ChiTown
Photo Credit:  Brian Wolski

Photo Credit:  Jason Warzecha

Photo Credit: Brian Wolski

313 in 312
Photo Credit:  Brian Wolski

Photo Credit:  Jason Warzecha

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning to Run the Marathon

Learning to run 26.2 has been a true learning process.  I say this as a runner, coach, teacher, and student with a BA and MA.  I've done a lot of learning and teaching, and learning how to run a marathon has been the hardest thing I've done.

Part of the difficulty is always comparing present-and future-Megan with past-Megan.  I ran a half marathon in 1:34:30, so I "should" be able to run a full marathon in 3:18:53 (see my post from 9/2016 for more detail).  I'd get frustrated when, no matter how hard I worked, I just couldn't "live up to my potential."  I ran my first 26.2 in 3:34:54 and qualified for the Boston Marathon by 6 seconds, but it was ROUGH.  I walked a lot.  I was in a lot of pain.  I went out too fast and slowed down a lot in the later miles.  I ran my second marathon in 3:47:48, 12:54 slower than my first.  I ran my third marathon in 3:32:15 and finally qualified for Boston with, hopefully, enough additional time to actually register for the race.  To say the marathon is humbling and unpredictable is an understatement.

Anyone who's ever trained for and run both half and full marathons knows that training for and racing 13.1 miles is very, very different than training for and racing 26.2 miles.  Running 26.2 miles demands so much from your body.  Nutrition that fuels your muscles and your brain.  Cardiovascular fitness to pump blood to your muscles.  Respiratory fitness to get oxygen to your muscles.  Muscular and skeletal fitness to move your body over 26.2 miles.  Muscular strength.  Flexibility.  Mental and emotional toughness to keep going when it hurts and all you want to do is stop.  No race has ever broken my heart the way the marathon has.

But that's what's so great about running.  If you love to run, then you'll keep chasing that dream because you can't bear to let it go.  And if you commit, and put in the time, and analyze your successes and failures, and learn and adapt, you WILL get better.  You WILL see results.  You might feel stronger.  You might run faster.  You might get to mile 25.5, realize you need to haul ass to qualify for Boston, pull your mental shit together, and run like hell, even though you're exhausted.

But it takes time.  You can't fake a marathon.  Nothing has demanded as much of me as training for and running 26.2 miles has.  In retrospect, I ran five half marathons before I truly broke through in my sixth.  I'm not sure why I thought my first full marathon, or even my third, would be "the one."  I mean, math would dictate that, if I'm running twice the distance, it would take twice the number of races, and I should still be holding out for marathon number 12 for the real breakthrough.  Luckily, I ran a unicorn race at the Glass City Marathon in April.  And I can feel myself getting stronger, physically and mentally.  A 20-mile long run doesn't send me to the ice bath and bed for the rest of the day.  I'm getting faster.  I'm running smarter.  And I'm so excited to see what happens at the Chicago Marathon on October 8.  It might break my heart, but no race will ever take away my hard work, and no finishing time will ever negate how much I've learned about myself through this beautiful sport.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

2017 Glass City Marathon Review

I got to the starting line of the 2017 Mercy Health Glass City Marathon with more than a few tears of gratitude in my eyes.  This training cycle was filled with so much fear and self-doubt.  My first two marathons weren't good races the way my half marathons have been good races.  I questioned whether my body and mind were meant to run 26.2.  I felt like I was slowing down.  I had some really rough tempo runs.  But this cycle was also filled with the love and support of so many people on my team.  My coach and best friend, Amanda, who gave me tough love when I needed it and got me there ready to BQ.  My massage therapist and friend, Erin, without whom my body would have fallen apart and I would have lost my mental shit.  My good friend, Geoff, who helped me remember to keep it fun, but who has walked this road to the BQ with me for over a year.  My own runners, Bethany and Leah, for making me feel so confident as their coach and sharing their own accomplishments with me.  And, finally, my husband.  Words can't express my appreciation for his belief in me, sacrifice, and embracing this running life as his own.  When I got to the finish line last Sunday, I truly felt like I shared my success with our whole Detroit running community, especially the Be Bold Crew and RUNdetroit.

It was a feeling of FINALLY doing everything right!  I set several goals for this training cycle, and I crushed them.  Nutrition?  I finally ate enough and consumed enough carbs.  I implemented a science-based race fuel plan.  I took my iron supplements.  I figured out that I can drink Tailwind through the race and get the nutrition I need without eating.  Strength Training.  Didn't get to classes as often as I wanted to, but got the work in at home.  Finally drank more water.  Religious massage, stretching, and rolling.  Almost-daily meditation with the Headspace app.  I've never felt more capable of soft-focus and presence.  Better sleep.  And listening to my body.  If I was sick, I rested. When I had horrible ankle pain two weeks before the race, I biked.  And I appreciated every run, even the ones that took some reflection to process, understand, and learn from.

This race was my unicorn.  I've been chasing it since I decided to run a marathon in the summer of 2015.  And I finally learned what the unicorn metaphor means in marathoning.  I'm a very self-reliant person.  If something goes wrong, I assume it's due to my own mistake or under preparedness.  And so it went with my first two marathons.  I assumed that I simply wasn't ready enough or good enough to reach the time goal my half marathons predicted.  And that was really frustrating.  I now realize I'd done everything I could.  I was just chasing something so difficult to achieve, most people never bother.  I wanted that GOOD marathon.  And this was my unicorn day.  Beautiful weather.  Friends.  My ankle/foot didn't bother me once.  I was sick the day before; woke up feeling fine.  My race nutrition worked.  My legs weren't dead.  I knew the course.  The race itself was wonderful.  Great course, great course support.  I found someone to run with almost the entire time who I truly hope to remain friends with (thank you Lindsay).  And what a race it was.  I ran almost a straight 7:58 average until about mile 22.  I had a few slower miles, but when I realized I could earn my ticket to Boston if I hauled ass, I managed to get my final mile in 8:00.  I even sprinted it in AND airplaned it.

I can tell you I am SO FREAKING PROUD of myself.  I worked my ass off, more than I've ever worked for ANYTHING.  I got past the bad runs and races.  And, with a smile that I still can't wipe off my face and tears that keep coming to my eyes a week later, I earned my unicorn.  3:32:15.  A great marathon.  And, as long as nothing changes too much, Boston 2018.