Let the Dream Chase You

What if?

It’s the little question that has tugged at many minds including my own. What if I could be… a runner? What if I could be a good runner? What if I could be great? What if I could hold this pace for 26.2 miles? That sure is what I was asking myself last month, on what started as a not particularly special 16 mile training run. In the beginning I felt sluggish and apathetic, wanting to get it over with, until finding my groove about six miles in and finishing feeling like I had the world at my fingertips. Since when did I feel at ease running 6:30 miles over and over again?

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Later that week I ran 600m intervals at 10K goal race pace, 6:06 per mile, to prep for the upcoming Linfield Icebreaker 10K. It felt like a cinch. Could I really hold that for 25 laps around the track? Fast forward to the night of the race. As soon as the gun went off I shot to the front of the pack, floating along a hair quicker than goal pace. My plan was to run a smooth first half in 19:00 flat and start hammering in the second half. In reality I went through the 5K mark in 19:04, already fatigued and lagging behind. From there I found myself needing to push more and more each lap, for if I let up just a little I’d hear my teammates on the sidelines call out the dreaded “92!” instead of 90 or 91. My big goal was to run under 38 minutes. Using seemingly every ounce of energy I had to not slow down, let alone speed up, I crossed the line in 38:07. 6:08 per mile. Faster second half. Close, but no cigar.

On my solo cool down following the race, coping with the fact that I didn’t reach my goal, I thought, What even is the point? Okay okay, too negative. What can I take away from this?

  • Running is hard (duh)
  • I’m on the right track with a 29 second PR
  • Without setting a big goal I might not have gotten as close as I did
  • Don’t be afraid to go with the leaders
  • Must work on finishing kick

That 10K left me feeling wrecked for almost an entire week. By the next Saturday I finally felt ready for a short workout in preparation for the upcoming Portland Shamrock 5K and Carlsbad 5000. My 5K PR is 18:10, or 87 seconds per 400. In the workout I clicked off 80-82 second 400s, closer to my mile pace, and they felt light and easy. What if, what if, what if?

Shamrock Sunday rolled around and I felt fresh, speedy, and ready to go. I planned to roll the dice, go out aggressively, and see what I could do. The gun went off and immediately runners were swarming around me and two of my teammates bounded ahead. I was running plenty fast, but simultaneously being swallowed up in a current. We took a few turns into downtown Portland then began our ascent up Naito Parkway. Approaching the first mile, I expected my watch to read 5:30-5:40 and instead it read 6:10. Oh geez. One mile in and I already had quite a bit of making up to do, plus the next half mile would continue to be pure uphill. I’m fantastic at running downhill (if I do say so myself), so I pushed as much as I could up to the turnaround point, knowing the rest would be a free fall to the finish. My next mile was in 6:19, though I didn’t know that at the time- probably for the best. All I could think about was sticking with my teammate Fionna. The runners had mostly strung out at that point, but Fi and I stuck together, pushing each other to the finish. Unlike the Icebreaker 10K, I found an extra gear at the end, running my final mile in 5:34 for a total time of 18:30. Not my best 5K time by any means, but I wasn’t even mad. I was proud of myself for pushing that hard on a tough course – plus for the first time ever, I placed top 5 in a Shamrock event!

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Finishing kick!

I bounced back from Shamrock pretty quickly, and I’m antsy to get back out there and try again this weekend at the Carlsbad 5000. It’s supposed to be the fastest 5K in the world, so no excuses!

I had planned to fill the spring season with mostly short distance races, but the closer I get to peak shape, the more I wonder, what if? What if I entered a half marathon next month? What if those amazing feeling long runs could translate into a good summer marathon? In the past I’ve forced myself back into shape as quick as possible, but this year everything seems to have come back on its own time, beckoning me to try. We’ll see. Carlsbad first, and from there the possibilities seem endless.

Top photo by Corene Elia.

Little Miss Careful

I don’t put a ton of stock in astrology, but the traits that describe my zodiac sign, a Virgo, are pretty spot on: practical, methodical, hardworking, careful, overly critical, and constantly worried about missing a detail that will be impossible to fix. I’d much rather do something simple and have it turn out perfectly than take a big risk and fall flat on my face. I think there’s something to be said about that approach- learning to do something correctly and well lays a foundation on which you can build greater strength/speed or learn a more complex and intricate skill. It’s why I like running so much, and classical piano and ballet.

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Since the year began, however, I’ve noticed a reoccurring theme in almost everything I do. It may be my subconscious or the universe, who knows, but it’s telling me to trust that all of my hard, meticulous work is seeping in and that it’s time to just GO!

In a recent core/strength session with Rose City Track Club, our trainer Amy had us do a series of forward jump squats. Hesitant and unsure of how much weight I could/should bear on my hamstring (I tore it last year), I jumped forward lightly and delicately, like a little baby bunny. Meanwhile across the room, two of my teammates were in an explosive, side-by-side, all-out jumping war, propelling themselves forward in a show of pure athleticism. Little by little, I dared myself to go a bit farther and squat a little deeper. And I was fine! The next week we did a fitness test in which we applied our months of practicing proper squats to seeing how much weight we could dead lift. The most weight I’d ever squatted with was a 25lb dumbbell and I didn’t think I could possibly be ready to lift more than twice that, because what if my knees buckled in, or I strained my back, or pulled a weird neck muscle? With Amy watching, I gave it a go, and guess what? I lifted 95 lbs and nailed it, and even got a few compliments on my form. She set a goal for everyone to lift at least their own body weight by the end of the season, which seemed scary before but now seems totally within reach.

After taking most of 2017 off of ballet due to my injury, I signed up for a beginner ballet workshop this year to ease back into it. Last week we executed a series of rond de jambes at the barre followed by holding a single leg balance on demi-pointe (on the ball of the foot). I felt very little confidence in my ability to balance after so much time off, so I kept one hand on the barre while holding the position. The instructor marched over to me then very pointedly said to the whole class, “You will never learn how to find your balance if you don’t let go of the barre.” Eek. This week in a similar exercise, I let go of the barre to balance on my right leg. It was horrible and I couldn’t hold the pose for even a second. We turned to face the opposite way and I tried the same balance on my left leg- and would you believe it, I held the balance for several seconds. A mighty feat!

Last Tuesday marked my third week in a row doing speed work in preparation for the spring racing season. The two weeks prior, I noticed that my hamstring would twinge just a bit during my easy jog warm up. That day the same thing happened- just a faint little pinchy feeling in my leg. It never did that on regular easy or long run days. It’s as if the muscle had a mind of its own, asking me, “Are you sure you really want to do this?” I paused as I had in the weeks before, wondering if it was really a good idea to be straining my leg with a hard run. I thought, I’ll just give it a try, and if something hurts I’ll stop. I set off for the workout, a six mile tempo run, starting conservatively at first, my first miles in 6:28 and 6:27, then gradually brought it down to 6:18, then two 6:14s in a row and finishing in 6:09. I felt great and wondered what I had ever been afraid of.

The truth is, it has been over six months since my leg has given me any trouble, but the thought of something going wrong again haunts me daily. I ran a whole marathon in November yet still I worry if all is well. I just attended a high school track & field coaching clinic, where NOP‘s physical therapist Matthew Walsh spoke a bit on the mind of a recovering athlete. He said athletes that have been injured learn to be fearful and hesitant when their sport requires them to be explosive. It’s a horrible and potentially detrimental combination. It made me think of the way I protect my hamstring by holding back on doing anything that might harm it. Maybe those seemingly phantom pains in my hamstring (conveniently only specifically while warming up for a workout) were my subconscious sending alarm bells to my leg- “better freeze up now, Liz is about to do something really hard!”

This is all completely anecdotal, but it seems pretty clear to me that I’ve been running in fear for quite some time. I’m ready to let go and be free from it. There are zero guarantees that I won’t get hurt again, but I can do my best to prevent that by listening to my body, recovering well and sleeping more, getting stronger at the gym, rolling out, the list goes on and on. Beyond that my aim is to set absolutely no limits on how far, fast, or high I can go.

A couple weeks ago I set off on a 14 mile “push” long run, essentially meant to be at a hard, but not all out pace. After an easy three miles, I picked it up to a gingerly clip around 7:15ish pace and thought, hmm that seems okay. Maybe a little faster (7:06). Then a little faster (6:59). It took me until mile ten to feel confident that I could keep it up and push even more to the finish, hitting 6:34 twice and once even 6:29. I finished strong and felt on top of the world, but the end result was more of a progression run opposed to a true push run.

I had a chance to try again this past Sunday, this time over 16 miles. It was the day after the coaching clinic and my thoughts were swirling around what Walsh had said, and all of the recent interlinking events. How I’ve been so fearful of getting hurt, and so quick to set boundaries of what I could and couldn’t achieve. You will never learn how to find your balance if you don’t let go. In a similar vein, how will I ever reach my running goals if I don’t start asking more of myself? I started with an easy mile with the team, then took off. I just tried to think fast, light, and free. The next four miles were in the low 7:00s. Okay, okay, a little hot for the beginning, maintain that. The next few were in the 6:50s. Easy, you’ve got a ways to go. Can you really hold that? Then from there, a slew of miles in the 6:40s. Every time my watch buzzed with a new mile split, I expected it read slower as my discomfort grew, but in fact each one was a tad faster. I felt my absolute worst at the last mile and was positive I’d look down at my last split and be disappointed, when in fact it was my fastest at 6:32. I finished feeling spent but totally thrilled. I texted my coach later with a screenshot of my splits and said, “Good run but probably ran too hard!” His response, “Great work. That’s what it should look like. If you can’t walk right tomorrow, it was probably a little too hard. Ha ha.” My walk the next day was just fine, thanks!

At the beginning of every year, I like to pick a theme to live and train by that resonates with me. 2018 will be the year I take chances. My next race is coming up March 2nd and it’s my very favorite event- 10,000m on the track. Wish me luck!

I’d Like to Start Over: NYC Marathon Recap

It’s no coincidence that in the aftermath of a four week music tour then running the New York City Marathon soon after, I’ve gone through my house and filled bag, after bag, after bag, of things I don’t need. For one thing, I found on tour that I was perfectly happy living with only what I had in my suitcase. I missed nothing from home, save my cats. When I crossed the finish line of the NYC Marathon in Central Park, I felt as if I had shed whatever emotional weight I had carried with me up to that moment. After a year of worrying, fretting, stressing… I made it. I did okay. No, I did just fine.

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About an hour and a half before the race began, Shasta and I took one last photo together before parting ways to our respective start corrals. We had the brilliant idea of purchasing throwaway onesies to keep warm in.

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Unicorn Liz and Pizza Shasta

Speaking of brilliant ideas, I decided to eat a banana just then, you know, to top off the energy reserves. 20 minutes later, my stomach started cramping horribly. I spent the remaining time leading up to the start trying not to panic and doing an extensive amount of side stretching, drinking water, and jamming my fingers into my belly trying to massage away whatever knot was twisting tighter and tighter within. All because of a banana??

Alas, the New York City Marathon could not wait for my stomach to settle and it was time to run! Without a very specific time goal (though I did hope for 3:15-ish), I started at a very easy pace, as if I were going out for a long run with 50,000 of my very closest running buddies. My starting corral was on the lower part of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and if you spoke to me before the race would know I was very concerned about being peed on by runners from the upper deck of the bridge. It’s a thing! I’ve heard stories! I made a point to stick toward the divider in the center of the bridge, just in case.

My stomach continued to bother me, but I told myself it was a long race and it would work itself out. Seven miles later, it did! I finally allowed myself to take my first Honey Stinger gel (which I would have normally done at mile five). With no more ailments plus the little burst of sugary energy, I picked up the pace just a little bit.

Purists will hate this, but after crossing the 10K timing mat, which pinged my time and pace to those tracking me on the NYC Marathon app, I received a message on my Apple watch from my friend Krysta back in Portland saying, “Shasta’s just ahead!”

Considering the amount of runners and our separate starting locations (Shasta began at the top of the bridge), I knew our chances of finding each other on the course were zilch to none. Knowing she was close, I picked up the pace a little bit more, and started scanning the crowd for the bright pink and yellow singlet matching my own. And there she was! We ran together for a bit and checked in with each other, but otherwise kept our focus on the task ahead.

We were running through Brooklyn, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the course. There were plenty of spectators and the vibe was lively (might have to do with all the bars conveniently lining the course). I realized I was on the same street I had run along just a month earlier when I was in town to play a show at Brooklyn Steel. I may have googly-eyed a bagel shop or two. I hit the halfway point at 1:39:52, on track for a sub-3:20 finish. I felt good. I thought, “Of course I can do that again!”

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At some point, Shasta had pulled off to use the restroom, but I knew we’d see each other again. It was maybe around mile 14 or 15 that she caught back up to me, said “something-something just striding out!” and continued to clip by looking strong and effortless. By the way, she would go on to finish in 3:14 (which meant running a six minute negative split) in her very first road marathon! I so wanted to go with her, but couldn’t even if I had wanted to. I was beginning to feel weary at the pace I was at.

Crossing the Queensboro Bridge was both the worst and the best part of the race. I really enjoyed the quiet respite from the throngs of spectators lining the streets of Brooklyn and Queens, the only sounds being the pitter patter of runners’ footsteps. It was perfect timing to be able to mentally reset before entering the streets of Manhattan. But it was during the long gradual ascent up the bridge that my lack of conditioning for the race really started to show itself (I had a short build up to the race due to an injury this summer). For how good I felt just a couple miles before, the rails came off pretty quickly. My knees began to ache with every step. My feet were actually starting to hurt from striking the ground, to a point where I wondered, Am I going to fracture a metatarsal? Am I going to finish this race?

It was just after the turn onto 1st Avenue (I think) that I heard my parents-in-law cheering for me and I was able to give a smile and a wave. Like my stomachache earlier, the pain in my feet began to subside. If I’ve learned anything from marathoning it’s that pain can come and go in phases. If something goes wrong, but you feel okay to keep going for even just one more mile, it’s worth it to ride it out and see what happens.

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Giving a wave to Arménio and Elizabeth!

From 59th Street to 125th Street was a giant blur. I wanted to really take in the enormous crowds of spectators that I’d heard so much about, but all I could think of was putting one foot in front of the other. It began to rain, or mist, really. Goosebumps formed up and down my body. I was slowing down. It was getting very cold. It was going to be a grind to the finish.

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My eyes say it all! Photo by Jody Bailey

I approached the bridge leading into the Bronx just before mile 20, and who better to see than my friend and host for the weekend, Cynthia, absolutely cheering her lungs out? She shouted, “GO LIZ! GET UP THAT BRIDGE, LIZ!” And you can believe I hustled up that bridge and into the Bronx.

At that point I was running on fumes, but being on display running through the streets with tons of families and kids watching made it a non-option to back off. New York is a tough city and I wanted to be strong for everyone out there. In my fatigued runner-brain state I just pushed forward and repeated to myself, “New York Strong. New York Strong.”

I crossed back into Manhattan, then up and up 5th Avenue. The pain had returned and was shooting through my knees and hips. One of my goals going into this race was to get to Central Park feeling ready to tackle the final hills, and I had failed miserably. I felt like garbage and had yet to enter its gates! One last thing that kept me hanging on was knowing that a giant group of Volée teammates would be cheering on runners just before mile 23. I told myself to keep it together for them. Pretend to keep it together. As soon as I saw them I picked up my stride, waved, smiled, gave the thumbs up, almost enough to convince myself that I was doing alright! I might have looked and felt like a zombie, but they made me feel like a rock star for a few moments.

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Giving the thumbs up to Chief Bird Sally Bergesen!

As I entered Central Park shortly after, my legs began to lock up and my run reduced to what felt like a shuffle. I reveled in the downhill portions which allowed gravity to carry me for a little bit. Overall I was really not well. Something about the excitement of almost being finished was perhaps causing my brainwaves to give my body mixed signals. The mere thought of the finish line being just around the corner almost made me toss my cookies. I actually pulled off onto the median and stopped for a second just in case. I barely remember running down the homestretch to the finish, but I must have because there’s photographic evidence. What I do remember was finally crossing the line and feeling overtaken with both humility and gratitude. And insane shooting pain all up and down my legs! I think in every marathon report I’ve written I mention bursting into tears at the end, and yeah that definitely happened again. As I shuffle-cried my way toward the exit, another finisher commented, “It’s such an emotional experience, huh?” Emotional, yes, but honestly I was crying because my legs hurt so badly!

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Finish line in sight!

I finished in 3:26:08, about 27 minutes slower than my personal best. It was not the race I wanted, but as Kara Goucher said in Q&A I attended just a day earlier, “You don’t just get what you want.” I know I have a much better marathon in me, but it’s not going to come quickly or easily, and that’s okay. I’m up for the challenge. What I can be is completely grateful and proud of myself for making it to the start line healthy and pulling through to the finish when it was not my day.

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Celebrating at Café Lalo! Photo by Arménio Anjos

I joined my parents, parents-in-law, and Shasta’s friends at Café Lalo (the one from You’ve Got Mail!) just two blocks from the finish. We all shared our race day stories over pizza and soup, gave big hugs and said our goodbyes, and walked almost two miles down Broadway back to our host home. I thought walking that far would be terrible, but it was one of my favorite parts of the day. We got to take in the city as daylight grew dim, then took in the surrealism of thousands of runners still making their way toward the finish after dark.

Post-Race

Since my recent music tour and NYC Marathon, I’ve taken the downtime to organize my life a little bit. I sold or gave away a ton of clothing, rearranged the kitchen, finished several projects I’ve been putting off for ages and ditched the ones I knew I’d never finish, said “no” to opportunities I was dilly dallying on, and this might seem trivial but I even caught up on all the books and podcasts I’ve been meaning to get to. After so much irregularity and being in a frazzled and/or injured state for much of this year, it feels really good to get back to normalcy, good health, and to be in a place where I’m ready to start fresh. I wrote a song earlier this year called “Start Over” which pretty sums up my feelings now. I’m ready to start over; I’m ready to try again.

Where Dreams are Made Of

New York City has always been a magical place to me. It all started in 1996 on a Sunday morning. My dad and eleven-year-old-me were getting ready to start our 45 minute drive into Philadelphia for church as usual, when he asked me, “Why don’t we go to New York City instead?”

We drove northeast as the sun and mist rose, the iconic skyline and Statue of Liberty popping into view, and the funneled chaos of taxi cabs, buses, commuters, and tourists swept us into the Big Apple. We made our way to Times Square, shivering in the cold as we braved the “TKTS” line for half price seats to the musical Grease!. The entire experience blew my mind, and from then on I was positive that there was no greater aspiration than being a Broadway star and no greater place in the world than New York.

We made the trip up to NYC an annual tradition, sometimes my dad taking me and sometimes my mom, each time seeing a different show and exploring a little more of the city. While looking back is a bit of a blur now, some memories that stick out are climbing up and down the boulders of Central Park, the sweet and savory scent wafting from honey roasted peanut stands on a frigid day, and visiting a market in Little Italy and taking a bite of fresh mozzarella as if it were an apple. And the shows themselves- I savored every single second!

Fast forward to today: okay, maybe I haven’t won a Tony Award, but my most recent visits to the city have been performing with RAC for hundreds and even thousands of people at amazing venues like Terminal 5, Webster Hall, and the newly opened Brooklyn Steel, each concert more energetic and thrilling than the last. During our last visit, as the band was bouncing from the headquarters of Nylon, to Billboard, to Paste, I couldn’t help but think about how cool it was to go from being a wide-eyed kid way back when, to being back as a real performing artist—a “somebody”—even if in the niche world of indie electronic pop music, and however fleeting.

This weekend I’m heading to NYC again, to perform on one of the world’s biggest stages- the New York City Marathon! The first time I took interest in NYCM (or really, marathons at all) was when Kara Goucher made her marathon debut there in 2008. She inspired me to run my first marathon in Portland the next year, Kara-style arm warmers and all.

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Portland Marathon finish line, 2009

I’ve shied away from the idea of running New York in the past, partly because I’ve heard how challenging the course is with the big climbs and wind gusts over bridges and the hills of 5th Avenue and Central Park. However, in my 11 or so years of running, some of my best performances have been on challenging courses in less than ideal conditions. I’ve never been a machine-like speed demon, but positivity and strategy can go a long way when the elements are against you.

Training-wise, this year has been incredibly challenging with some setbacks due to an injury. I took most of May, June, and July completely off. When I gradually resumed running again in August, it was hard to trust my leg and believe I was healed. Every day that I’d run a little farther than the one before, but each time imagining that would be the time my leg failed me and I’d be out for another who-knows-how-many-months. Somehow over time, ten miles turned to eleven, 17 turned to 18, and a few weeks ago I made my way up to 22 miles, just like that.

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Photo by Jon Duenas

Two weeks ago I entered what would be my only race leading up to NYC, a challenging 4 mile cross country meet on a cold, blustery, rainy day in Portland. As soon as the gun went off, I found myself flying with the front pack and surprised myself in the end by placing third. A few days later, I ran a 10 x 2 minutes on/1 minute off fartlek with two of my Rose City Track Club teammates. Our “on” portions averaged at 5:51 pace, flying as fast as 5:30 per mile toward the last intervals. That might be just about as fast as I’ve ever run in a speed workout.

I’ve gone from having zero expectations for this race due to my own shortcomings, to a glimmer of hope for what could be. I may not be at 100%, but I’m no slouch either. Among the 50,000 entrants, will there be a little race day magic for me?

Follow my NYC adventures this weekend on Instagram, plus you can track my race progress Sunday morning by downloading the NYC Marathon app and searching for “Liz Anjos”. Best of luck to everyone racing!

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Photo by Jon Duenas

Seeing the Light

It’s been a year. Eight months in, and I’m in a wildly different place than where I thought I’d be. I just looked back on my first post of the year, when I written about my goal or theme for 2017, which was to dig deep and let racing hurt a little. To go beyond my comfort zone. I accomplished that exactly one time, at the Bloomsday 12K in May. My fitness wasn’t where it had been the year before, but I boarded the pain train and managed a new personal best by several seconds. It was the week after that race that things went south. Rather than taking some time to recover and have a “down” week, I plugged away and trained harder, and pretty much immediately strained my hamstring. I should have known better. Hindsight is everything! I got greedy. When things started to go my way, I wanted even more. For the next ten or so weeks after that, I couldn’t run at all without my leg hurting. I had to cancel my trip to Duluth, Minnesota, where I had planned to run Grandma’s Marathon in June. I spent a lot of time worrying about my future goals and how I’d ever accomplish them. I was adamant about maintaining my fitness by cross training, until even pool running aggravated my leg. Right around that time, I listened to an interview with Olympian Kate Grace where she spoke on her experience with injury- that there are only so many hours of pool running you can do before you drive yourself crazy. At some point you just have to let yourself heal. It was like Kate was speaking right to me! I had to let go.

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At the beginning of July, my leg was still in pretty bad shape and I resolved to truly take some time off. The timing worked out well, because I had a fun trip planned to Nashville immediately followed by a trip to Japan for a live show with my band. Wouldn’t you know it- I finally started to feel better!

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Meeting the friendly deer of Nara, Japan

During my time in Japan, I did a little ten minute test run on a treadmill. No pain. A couple days later, I ran for about 15 minutes outside. Still good! Since returning home, I’ve continued to gradually reintroduce running into my routine, and–knock on wood–so far, so good.

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Big smile after a pain-free treadmill run in Tokyo!

Last night, I continued my annual tradition of running the Bowerman 5K- this was my 7th time! I wasn’t in it to compete this year, but to show up and support my teammates, and finish within my comfort zone and in ZERO pain. I’m happy to report, goal accomplished! I ran faster than I have in months, got to run with my friend and teammate Krysta, and celebrated with my run fam after the race. Overall, things seem to be on the up and up.

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Repping at Bowerman 5K with Rose City Track Club!

With the recent time off I definitely feel as if I’ve gained a new perspective on running and what it means to me. Rather than mourning what I’ve lost, I’m learning to be thankful for every healthy step. I also can’t help but appreciate runners from the outside looking in. Just in the past week I’ve witnessed my friends crushing workouts and breaking new barriers that to them might once have seemed impossible. There are days when they’re tired, achey, and doubtful, but then the next day they’ll be back out there with even more fire and tenacity. Such is the way of the runner; that’s how I hope to be.