Meet My Friends: Lesley “Speedy” Higgins

We continue on with Meet My Friends, today featuring an actual professional runner.

I am not a professional runner. I am what you would call a casual runner. Yes, I train and race and all that, but nothing like what Lesley Higgins does. Lesley and I went to high school together where she was the #1 runner on our cross country team and I was #12-15. We both ended up moving to New York City after college (she went to CU Boulder) and now Lesley runs for the New York Athletic Club.

Lesley is a bonafide bad-ass runner. Lesley is a pro. She wins races. She competes and races and works and travels. In 2008, she made a bid for the Olympics in the Steeplechase. I’m terrified jumping over puddles in the street, much less over barriers and INTO giant puddles. No thank you.

Anyway, Lesley has a pretty unique and refreshing take on running that I really like. Run Stronger Every Day community, meet Lesley Higgins.

Name: Lesley Higgins
Age: 31
Occupation: Part-time Associate at NASDAQ OMX Group
Team/Club Affiliation: New York Athletic Club & Brooks

How many years have you been running?

18 years of focused running. Several years before that of running as “punishment” while acting out during softball practice.

How did you first get into running?

I’m going to take liberties with this one and say that I got into running when I started racing assistant coaches and other player’s dads during aforementioned punishment. This evolved into trying to beat my 8th grade gym teacher’s mile PR. I believe her PR was 6:24, which sounded so fast. Then my new goal became breaking 6:00. I finished 8th grade with a PR of 5:55. I did it running in Keds. The same gym teacher then introduced me to real running shoes and we also started going on runs during the hour that I was assigned to her as a teacher’s assistant. That probably wasn’t what the school meant to be giving credit out for, but much more useful than organzing papers.

Who/what inspires you to run?

I’m not sure I can say that I am externally inspired to run, at least not in a positive way. I think at this point it’s such a way of life for me and I love the social aspects, that it’s something I carve large chunks of my day out for. A large part of my internal motivation comes from not wanting to squander the opportunities I have been given, or the last years of my competitive running career. The only external inspiration that sometimes rears its ugly head is a desire to prove people wrong when they say I can’t do something. It’s one thing for me to say that I’m obviously not going to make an Olympic team, but if someone else makes a similar off the cuff remark, my blood boils, and that can help drive me through another workout.

What is the one thing you’ve done that has made the most difference in your running?

I would not be running as well, as much or as seriously as I am today if it was not for my training partners and teammates. However, they all take second place to liquid iron. I didn’t fully grasp the impact of anemia until I ran an 11:20 steeplechase in 2010. This was after running a 9:58 in 2008, followed by two years of solid training. After that, I finally got blood work done and found out that I had really let myself get into a hole. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of staying on top of blood levels as a runner.  I followed that 11:20 in May with an 11:02 in early June. After that I gave up on my season and I literally just jogged and took iron 2-3 times a day for a month. I then started adding one workout a week back in and was back to running a 4:46 road mile by September at the Fifth Avenue Mile.

If you are anemic you are better off sitting on your couch drinking liquid iron than you are doing any workouts. And, don’t let your doctors take care of deciding your health. Every doctor I have had in New York has told me that I am fine when I have been deficient because the levels that you need to workout on the elliptical for 30 minutes five times a week are not the same as what you need to run at your full potential and absorb workouts to maximize their benefits. Get your hands on the results of your blood work and do your own research. I would also suggest tracking your free iron number to make sure that you don’t overdose. Taking too much iron is as bad as being anemic. If you’re having a hard time getting your numbers up, also take a look at your B12 and folate. I give myself B12 injections when I’m feeling really run down. There are a couple other biological factors that I pay attention to, but none have had the impact that iron has had.

Vitamin D is one that I am trying to work up. Also, especially if you live in NYC and have all that city stress, or have a real job that stresses you out and deprives you of sleep, checking your cortisol and DHEA levels can tell you a lot about your adrenals and if you need to work on managing stress. If you are already stressed out from life, then it’s hard for your body to also adapt to stress from hard running. (I cannot stress how important this is for every person to be on top of their health. Well said, Lesley!)

What is your favorite non-running way to sweat?

I like to take ballet classes at Steps on Broadway when I have the time. It can be hard to fit in 90min classes when I’m working and feel like I need to devote all my spare time to running, but I do it when I can.

What is the biggest (current or past) hurdle you’ve had to overcome in your running life?

I think the biggest hurdle is trying to balance work with running. It’s undeniable that a full time job makes it very difficult to train. I do workout one night a week – Tuesday nights at a track out in Mamaroneck, but my other key workout is always during the day, usually at Columbia or Rutgers. So, if I had to work normal office hours five days a week, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable or beneficial. I am lucky that I found a company that wanted to give me both flexibility and a future career.

What keeps you going when you’re having a crappy run?

Anti-inspirational fact of the day: nothing keeps me going when I’m having a crappy run. If I’m having a crappy run, I throw in the towel and call it a day. There is always tomorrow. I personally think the secret to having a long running career is to not force it on the bad days. You only have so much motivational energy to dole out during the week, I don’t like to burn it on crappy days. This also applies to key workouts – for example, last Saturday I was supposed to run 6×400 in 70s and 68s, followed by 3×400 over hurdles in about 78. After the first couple 400s, I knew there were no 68s in my future. My legs were just dead. So, I changed the workout so that my last 6×400 were all over hurdles and shortened the rest.  It felt like less of a battle and I finished the workout feeling positive. Each day is just a small puzzle piece, and if you miss a run or key workout, that puzzle piece isn’t a hole, it becomes a day of rest and rejuvenation.

Do you have a pre-race/pre-run ritual?

Every run is different. My favorite pre-run days have to be weekends, when we usually run later (9 or 10), so I have an hour or so before the run to drink coffee, eat a couple Chia Chargers and maybe stretch a little. Pre-race is pretty much the same, I basically drink coffee and make sure I’m not underfed, whether the race is at night or in the morning. Before workouts and races, I have a set of drills I do, in addition to a 15-20min run, but I don’t care what order I do them in. While I was in Europe this summer, I did “backwards warm-up” with my friend Nicole Bush at every race. She flips the order of her warmup from what most runners do and does drills before her jog. We had a lot of good chats on these warmups & I ran two PRs back-to-back, so I learned that it really doesn’t matter what order you do stuff in, as long as you’re ready to go when the gun goes off. There is a benefit to not being set in my routines, as I don’t panic when something prevents me from following a set of rules.

What is the best piece of advice you ever got about running and who gave it to you?

Dr. Dave Martin gave me all of the best advice that I’ve ever gotten. The top 2 are: get fit and you won’t be fat (as in, worry about training, not starving, and leanness will follow); and the DoDo Rule. The DoDo Rule is basically: “it’s not the work you do, but the recovery from the work you do that matters. If you don’t recover properly from the work you do do, you’ll end up sick, injured or anemic, and then you’re really in deep doodoo.”

Lesley (2nd from left) and her teammates who won the Distance Medley Relay at this year’s Millrose Games.

Rapid-Fire Questions
-Run in the morning or at night: both
-Run alone or with others: others
-Favorite piece of running gear: GPS watch
-Run with or without music: always when I’m alone
-Treadmill: love it or hate it:  HATE
-Race fuel: Chia Chargers
-Gatorade or water (or something else): both, whatever they’re handing out on the course
-Dream PR (time & distance): mile, 4:29
-Runner’s World or Running Times: neither
-Favorite speed workout: 24×200
-Favorite running gear store:
-Favorite place to run: Central Park
-NYC Marathon or Boston Marathon: NYC of course