There is no “I” in TEAM

So, we’ve all heard the old adage “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM” (I always think of the smarmy character from LA in Scrooged when I hear that line!) but I really think that there might just be a little “i” in Team. At least, for me there is.

"How's everyone doing up there in the booth, Elliot?" (photo courtesy of cinemagi.ro)

I grew up and started my athletic career playing on teams. Teams, teams, all sorts of teams with all sorts of people in all sorts of sports. It was a great way to make friends, get motivated and commiserate during the hideous August two-a-day workouts that made each of us want to cry for our mommys. But we didn’t because we had each other. And we pushed because we had each other. And we succeeded because we had each other.

This is my all-time favorite softball picture. Tiny bat!

Being a grown-up can rob us of that camaraderie we so need in our lives. Competition for jobs, boyfriends/girlfriends and med-school placements make enemies of people who might otherwise be wingmen or study-buddys. I feel that this stems from an insecurity within that manifests itself in a very serious isolationist mentality. So sad. Happily, I learned that there ARE in fact people (even at NYU) who are willing to put insecurity aside and work with a struggling classmate *ahem* in, say, summer Biology. My friend, Tweedy, was an awesome example of that for me and, consequently, saved me from having to re-take an truly hideously demanding class. Yay, Tweedy! However, she is now finding that her Summer ’11 comrades are not of that same mind which left us both shaking our heads and asking “why?”.

I feel that in life, in work and in fitness, touching base with another person every now and again is helpful, if not absolutely necessary. My deeply fabulous running club proved it yesterday. So many of them seemed hesitant to push through their Yasso 800s on the first go-round. By their final loop, they were racing each other and finding a new level of speed they didn’t even know they had. Amazing! I love it when a plan comes together (first one who can tell me what character/person made that line famous, I will dedicate a post to you) and I love it even more when it was my plan. I am a little bit like an evil wizard at run club.

Ready to rock the last Yasso...

And they're off!

I, too, need to be pushed. I go to classes and clubs where I am not my own boss and seize the opportunity to race myself and anyone else in my vicinity. I love it when JB is juuuuust a little bit ahead of me at run club and I am working hard to catch and pass him. It’s the best to have a rabbit!

My rabbit.

My point is this: People need people, and don’t be afraid to join a group because you aren’t the bestest or fastest or most talented person in the group. I’m genuinely scared when I am the bestest/fastest/smartest person in the room because it means I have no rabbit to chase and it makes me L.A.Z.Y. So, join a club every now and again, try a new class and let it kick your butt. Work to your limits and then see if you can push past them to find new ones. Find a rabbit. Get that “I” out of being a part of a “TEAM”.

Now go out and run!

5 Ways to Become a Faster Runner

If you haven’t seen them out there, you really should make a point to watch the elites run by at your next local marathon. They will blow your mind with their incredible speed and amazing form. We had the pleasure of watching the men’s Olympic Trials in Central Park years ago and saw the great Ryan Hall cruise up Cat Hill like it was nothing. I’ve seen Meb Keflezighi run any number of times and, while he kicks serious butt and would pass me on my fastest day as though I was standing still, his stride isn’t nearly as impressive (he’s not also as tall) as Ryan’s Hall’s is. It is a thing of beauty.

Ryan Hall, Olympic Trials Marathon, Central Park (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

But these guys didn’t get fast by going out and doing the same run every single day at the same pace. Their workouts are carefully crafted so as to constantly improve upon some seemingly minute detail regarding their VO2 Max, stride, arms, foot strike, target heart rate, lactic threshold, and many other bodily functions that we human runners do not typically have to worry ourselves about. One thing we can take away from their training strategy is this: If you want to run fast, you have to train fast.

Now, I’m not talking 5-minute miles, but I am going to be encouraging you to get out of your comfort zone and push harder than you think is possible. And then push a little further. As I’m hearing and saying all the time these days, if you’re not failing every now and again, you’re not trying. Here are five ways you can get faster, if you work harder than you’ve ever worked before:

1. Negative splits

Take any of your regular weekly runs and map it out on http://www.mapmyrun.com so you can find the mile markers, grab your watch and head outside. Start out at a warm-up pace and go 15-30 seconds faster each mile. I recommend doing 4-5 miles this way. Make sure you start out slow enough to build on each mile. You should be finishing your last mile running as fast as you can.

Love my Garmin 110!

2. Yasso 800s

Bart Yasso is the genius behind these half-mile repeats. You run each 800 meters (half-mile) at the exact same pace every time. You also run it according to what would be your goal marathon time. For example, if you are training for a 3:30 marathon, you run your 800s in 3 minutes, 30 seconds every single time. Or, at least, that is the goal. Jog in between sets to recover and let your heart rate come down. Try 4 in a row (with a 1 mile warm-up) for your first time and add one more on each week.

Training for 3:40! (My trusty old Timex works just fine, too!)

3. Hills

Oh, I love me some Cat Hill repeats. Find a hill you hate love that is .15-.25 miles long. Start with a light warm-up of at least a mile, then hit your hills. Run as fast as you can up the hill and jog back down to recover. Rinse. Repeat. I suggest doing 4-6 repeats and building from there.

4. Tempo Run

Go out for a typical weekly run, whatever that may be for you. The key here is to keep your pace above a conversational pace. That means, you should not be able to hold a conversation with someone at this pace. You don’t necessarily need a watch for this one (if you’re an honest runner) because your perceived rate of exertion (PRE) is a good enough scale to use. That is, you ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10, how hard am I working? For a Tempo Run, the answer should be a 7-8, but not above an 8 because that’s getting into sprinting speed and it’s not a sprint, it’s a consistently difficult pace.

My track.

A view from my track.

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Ladders

This workout is best done on a track, but you can use Map My Run, too. Do a warm-up mile and hit this workout hard; everything is all-out. 100 meter dash, recover completely. 200 meter dash, recover completely. 400 meter dash, recover completely. 800 meter run, recover completely. 1 mile run, recover completely. That is one ladder. Do 2-4 sets. Each pace will be slightly different, but keep track of them and try to match or beat the same distance in the next set.

Give these a shot and see if they don’t help you to become a faster (or, at least, a more comfortable) runner. Remember, no one got faster or better by doing the same thing over and over and over again. Switch it up and work hard. If you’re having a tough day, forget the watch and go with your PRE–if you know you’re working hard (be honest), then ignore the clock and continue to work hard. Every day is different and you might feel like you’re running like the wind one day and that you have an elephant on your back another. Just do your best and work hard.

Now go out and run!

 

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold.”

Hi everyone! And welcome to Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays when we take stock of why it’s soooo much better to be here rather than there. This week: Friends.

Real friends wear PINK

Friends can really make or break a healthy lifestyle. I find that people definitely take on the attitude and habits of their group of friends, for better or for worse. My clients have often expressed the need to make new friends because their current posse wasn’t really down with their new, healthier lifestyle. Then again, many of my clients have taken their crew along for the ride and inspired new attitudes and fitness goals in their friends that have turned late-night drunkfests into early-morning 5Ks. I love it when that happens!

It’s tough to make good friends outside of the academic world. In school we’re all forced to be together for hours and hours every day, so we make alliances and BFFs and, sometimes, a friend for life. If we’re lucky. As we reach adulthood, move away, change our lives and our habits, so too do our friends change. Some we outgrow, some we realize weren’t all that great to begin with, and some just fade away. There are those precious few whom we manage to keep in contact with over the years, but more often than not, they don’t live nearby. At least, they don’t for me. I love all of my “old” friends, too, but too few of them live within 500 miles of this fine city, so I made some new friends (but kept the old) along the way!

Karaoke rules!

So, here’s to Friends. Here’s to the friends who keep me healthy. Here’s to the friends who meet me for any early morning spin class on the weekend just so we can catch up a little bit while we sweat A LOT. Here’s to the friends who join me for my runs (or parts of them) and listen to my endless chatter along the way. Here’s to the friends who modify their already fabulous dinners for me so that I don’t feel weird about what I can or cannot eat at their dinner party. Here’s to the friends who hold umbrellas over me so my wedding gown stays dry. Here’s to the friends who come out and cheer me and my gorgeous husband on when we run marathons. Here’s to the friends who RUN marathons with me…even in San Francisco. Here’s to the friends who throw parties for me that are exactly my taste (karaoke is awesome, admit it). Here’s to the friends who fly in and surprise me for my 30th birthday. Here’s to the friends who invite me to their hot yoga classes in spite of my super-human talent to sweat more than anyone else in the room. Here’s to the friends who come to Run Club when it’s so humid, it’s almost raining. Here’s to the friends who support my running charity endeavors. Here’s to the friends who ask about the latest race or doctor’s appointment, despite knowing the reply is going to include bathroom talk.

Here’s to the friends who are down with the healthy stuff (and a drink here and there) because “friends don’t let friends…” and all that good stuff. It took a long time for me to feel comfortable saying no to the unhealthy options in life and seek out a group of like-minded friends. It took me way out of my comfort zone and was a little bit lonely at times, but I have found so may new and new-ish friends who are like-minded, healthy, active men and women whom I am absolutely honored to call my friends. I raise my (squeezed juice) glass to you, my friends, old and new. You rock my world.

Can your friends do this?

If you’re looking to meet some new people who have similar fitness goals as you, consider joining a running club or making a point to go to the same class at your gym so you can start to get to know the people who dig what you dig. Pace groups are an excellent place to meet people and chat about life, current events and, what else, running! I’ve had some of the best conversations of my life on long runs with friends. Then again, there’s nothing quite like sweating it out and getting your om on with new friends in a yoga class or kicking butt together in a kickboxing class. I always feel less afraid when I try a new class with a friend, don’t you?

Grab a friend and go for a run. Or a spin. Or a stretch. Or a walk. You get the idea.

I wonder, what kind of healthy activities do you and your friends have? Do you meet up for a class or hit the pavement together? Did you sign up for a scary boot camp this summer and promise each other you’d be there every single morning? What do your friends bring to your fitness world?

 

Are you ready for a marathon?

After running 8 marathons, training everyday runners for marathons and coaching several different run clubs, I am pretty familiar with the question:

Do you think I could run a marathon? 

You could be here this Fall, running up 1st Avenue

My answer is always: Do you think you can run a marathon? That answer is more important than any one I could ever give you, but there are certain criteria you may want to consider before undertaking the rigorous training schedule a marathon requires.

1. Are you injury-free? Because if you’re not, those injuries are likely only going to get worse as you pack on the miles.

2. Is there enough time before your marathon for you to adequately train? If you already run 6-8 miles comfortably, you’ll need about 4-6 months to train. If you’re a 3-5 miler, you’ll want to plan for a marathon that’s 8-10 months away. If you’re new to running entirely or just a casual 2-miler-with-the-dog kinda runner, you’ll want a year. I know, it sounds like a long time, but mileage is hard to put on and doing it slower helps to keep you from getting injured along the way.

You don't get here without doing those long runs

3. Do you have the time? Can you commit to running 4-6 miles, 2-3 days a week and one day when you will have to run anywhere from 8-22 miles (this takes over 3 hours sometimes)? Do you have a yoga/strength training class you can do once a week? This is the minimum I suggest for marathon training. Whether or not you have the time is the hardest question to answer because your life if probably like mine: ridiculously crazy constantly changing. But, if you’re ready to make running a priority, go for it!

4. Are you looking to take on a more physical/mental challenge? Marathon training is grueling and sometimes gets ugly. I remember one year when it poured rain for every single 20 miler I ran. No joke. Three weeks in a row on the days I mapped out for my long runs there was a monsoon, but hey, I had to get my miles in. Are you ready for the unexpected to try to derail you? Then bring it on!

Gotta have a supportive crew to get you through the hard miles

5. Do you have someone you trust (and who’s done it before) who can help guide you through the process? A friend, a trainer, a coach, a running group, a writer (whose book you actually read) or someone else who you can go to for a training schedule and cross-training tips? You could just go out and run and hope for the best, but I wouldn’t want to be you on marathon morning if that’s the way you’re going to train. Yikes.

If you said “YES” to all of these questions (or maybe it was more of a “yeeeeah, ok”) and you have your doctor’s blessing, then I say why not go for it? Bring on the pain. Oh yes, there is pain, but there is great pride in the pain. Give it a shot and register for a half-marathon midway through your training to test yourself. You never know, you might actually end up surprising yourself and loving it. I did.

Now go out and run!

Run For You And Someone Else, Too!

Holy cheeks. Not my favorite picture, but you can see Obi-wan representin' the Yankees in the background and Mom "pinning" me 🙂

If I remember correctly, the first charity race I took part in was the Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure 5K in Denver, Colorado. It was the year Mrs. Obi-wan was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. I was 17, just starting my senior year in high school and we were looking for something to do as a family to show our support for our brave mother who was in the middle of her grueling chemotherapy treatment. We ran, we walked and my Mom, bald and beautiful, stood at the finish line to cheer us as we ran towards her. It was so emotional, I’m not sure that any of us had dry eyes that day. It kicked off a tradition in our family that every Fall, no matter what city any of us lived in, we would do the Komen Race For the Cure. Even more than that, though, it inspired in me a desire to use my feet to do good in the world.

In NYC, I started Race For the Cure team called “KOB” which stands for “Keeping Our Boobs”. Mrs. Obi-wan OKed the name, so I figured I could put it on t-shirts. So I did. Breast cancer was now beginning to touch more friends and their mothers, aunts, friends, cousins and grandmothers than ever before and it wasn’t difficult at all to recruit people to run/walk with us every Fall. Over the years, it became a tradition of ours.

First R4TC in NYC!

As I crossed the finish line, I felt a little bit more hopeful that doctors would find a cure for cancer and we wouldn’t have to say goodbye to so many beautiful women (and men) in our lives. I felt closer to those friends who took the time out of their *early* Sunday morning to come to Central Park and sweat it out with me for Mrs. Obi-wan. I’m sure glad they did because 10 years after her first bout of cancer, we found out our amazing Mrs. Obi-wan would face that demon once more and have to fight for her life.

A big year for Team KOB!

That year we had a huge team. My aunts, uncles, friends, sister, clients, co-workers and all of their amazing significant others came out. It was awe-inspiring to have that kind of support during an extraordinarily demoralizing time for me. It helped a lot.

Being on the other side of the country from my family when I felt that I was needed felt terrible. I was helpless to contribute to shouldering the burden Obi-wan and my siblings bore daily. I found that, through running, I could contribute in some small way to my dear mother’s fight. I sent pictures, I called as we crossed our finish line, I sent that banner that my little sister, Red, and I made the night before the big run (we watched Justin Timberlake’s Sexyback Tour on HBO while we painted; it was awesome). I did what I could instead of sitting back, whining about being far away and it made me feel a little less helpless. And you know what? Post-cancer, Mrs. Obi-wan continues to inspire me and so many others by completing THREE half-marathons. I could cry. This woman is a rock. My rock.

I am waaaaay too happy to be running a marathon right now.

A year later, my (then-boyfriend) husband was deployed with the Marines to Iraq for a year. Again, I took solace in running. Only this time, I had three marathons under my belt and I figured, hey, my JB’s a Marine; I’ll run the Marine Corps Marathon! Perfect! I wanted to do it for one of the many awesome military charities that raise money for veterans and their families and that is how I found Team Fisher House. I chose Fisher House because they build houses near military hospitals for the families of injured veterans to live in while their wounded soldier is recovery from injuries. For free. You read that right, friends. You may not know this, but when a soldier is injured and they fly him/her home, they don’t go back to their base, town, or even their state. No, they are flown to the best military hospital in the country to treat the injury they sustained, which is great. Head injuries and amputees go to Walter Reed in Maryland, burn victims to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, etc. However, soldiers are paid pitifully small salaries and the families are almost always unable to be by their soldier’s side because they can’t afford to fly to and stay at a hotel for an extended period of time. Fisher House takes care of all that. For free. Seriously. I figured that I would run for them because if I ever needed their services, I’d at least have contributed in some small way to earn it. And it did make me feel better to be out there for my Marine. Five marathons later, it still does.

Superman! Mile 24! Woo-hoo!

And then there’s the Achilles Track Club. Founded by above-the-knee amputee Dick Traum, this international group of disabled runners, walkers and hand-crankers make their way through road races around the world with the help of volunteer guides. My personal stake in this group of individuals can bring me to tears on almost any day at any time. You see, the person who taught me the most about fitness and respecting my body, taught me to work out so I could walk into any gym in the world with confidence and knowledge, taught me that I can get through anything if I just put my mind to it, he has now found himself *somewhat* disabled by Multiple Sclerosis. I say *somewhat* because despite the MS and a recent bout with cancer (!), Obi-wan STILL does the treadmill and lifts weights 3-4 times a week. I mean, seriously, do YOU work out that much??? Amazing. Inspiring. And that is exactly the attitude and mentality over at Achilles. I ran the 2004 NYC Marathon with Superman, a blind runner, and two other female guides, L & L. We trucked through all five boroughs, taking turns as cheerleader, bodyguard, coach, watergirl and personal motivator. Together, we completed the marathon in less than five hours. I was inspired to volunteer with Achilles because, despite the fact that I couldn’t (still can’t) be there physically to help Obi-wan get through the day-to-day struggles of his disease, I knew that it would make him proud to know I was helping another disabled athlete accomplish his goal and, in some small way, maybe I inspired Obi-wan to keep going and never give up the way he’s always inspired me to do the same.

Achilles Freedom Team (wounded veterans)

Visually impaired athletes kick butt!

Everybody finishes strong "into the chute!"

Nothing slows us down, not even hills!

Today I had the great pleasure of participating in the annual Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler as a guide for Achilles. I brought along a couple of my Lululemon Run Club friends for the ride and we all had a blast running/walking with our Athletes through Central Park on what was truly the most beautiful June day we have ever seen. Trisha Meili (the Central Park Jogger), Anthony Edwards (from ER) and Jon Stewart (The Jon Stewart Show) cheered athletes of all ages (5 year-old amputees!) and disabilities (from double amputees to people in wheelchairs) across the finish line. If you think you can’t run, check out some of these pictures and re-think that statement. Seriously, go out and run.

My point is this: you can’t save the world. You can’t always be there when those you love are suffering from a terrible, debilitating disease or away at war, but YOU CAN lace up your shoes and run for them. YOU CAN volunteer to walk a race with a disabled or slower athlete (www.achillesinternational.org for your local chapter–they ALWAYS need volunteers!). YOU CAN raise money for a worthy charity (94% of the money raised by Team Fisher House goes directly to building and maintaing Fisher Houses all over the country–what’s your favorite charities rating? http://www.charitynavigator.org). YOU CAN DO IT.

You want inspiration for your next race? You want to do something in honor of a loved one who’s fighting or maybe one who lost the battle (but not the war!)? You want a reason to run? Go out and find a charity, a local running group, a friend or a family member in need who wants to be active, but cannot do it on their own. I know what it feels like to be frustrated by disease and tragedy and want to take it out on the world and everyone in it. I choose hope. And possibility. And I will keep on choosing Hope and Possibility because if Mrs. Obi-wan, Obi-wan and Superman taught me anything over these past years it is that we can NEVER give up because the fight ‘ain’t over til the bell is rung. And I didn’t hear no bell.

Me and Superman, 7 years later, at Achilles Hope and Possibility 5-miler. Go Superman!

When you run for a cause, a purpose, your run has a meaning to it beyond just the typical “I want to lose 5 pounds” reasons for exercising. It’s bigger than vanity and you suddenly realize that people are going to get the help they need, the care, the medicine, the attention they might otherwise go without, because of you. There is not better feeling in the world. The Obi-wans are always reminding me that if I want to change the world and volunteer, I should look in my own back yard. Give it a try.

Now go out and run.