The Hilly Easy Run, or How to Spice Up the Slog

By now, most runners know that in order to run fast, you have to spend a lot of time going slow.  Around 80% of the time, in fact.

If you run five days a week, two of them, if not three of them, should be slow and easy.  If you run every day?  Then it’s more like four easy runs a week.

Many of the runners I coach at Runners Connect find this concept very hard to grasp.  They’ll say that they are running easy, when they are actually running just a few seconds slower than marathon pace.

Sorry to say, your marathon pace is not your easy pace.  (Unless you run marathons far below your ability, but that’s another post.)

For reference, I typically run my easy runs 2-3 minutes slower than marathon pace.

“But I feeeeel good!” they’ll tell me after running a good 90 seconds faster per mile than they should.

Running so slowly is uncomfortable for me,” they’ll protest while logging an “easy” run that is actually right in between medium and hard.

Or the flat-out, “I want to run, not jog.” Sigh.  Jogging will make you a faster, stronger, and more resilient runner.

Unfortunately, what makes you feel good in the moment while you are running is not always what you should be doing.

Running slow and easy is just like eating your vegetables.  You gotta do a lot of it to be at your best.

Potato chips feel good, but no one’s going to say consuming a bag of Lays is going to help your running.

The idea of eating salads every day might make you feel uncomfortable at first, too, but it will certainly help with your health.

And lots of people would rather skip the veggies and eat fried chicken, milkshakes, half pound burgers covered with slabs of cheese, washed down with gallons of beer, but that’s not doing the body any favors.

So the trick to learning to love your easy runs is exactly the same as learning to love your greens–spice them up!

Instead of a boring slog on the same flat route you always run, find some hills.  Forget all about pace (seriously, you Type A runners–just let it go!) and just keep the effort easy, even if it means you have to stop or walk a bit on the inclines.

You want to keep your breathing slow, relaxed and even and your effort level should be exactly the same as if you were running on flat ground.

You should be able to sing a song out loud while running and freak out the neighbors.

That means that if you are used to seeing 7- or 8-minute miles on your easy runs, get your ego prepared to see some 9s, 10s or even 11s.  Let all the pride you attach to pace (we all do it, I promise) go and instead make your challenge be how smooth you can keep your effort level.

You will feel ridiculously slow on the inclines and that’s okay!  Shorten your stride so you can keep your cadence light and quick and just pitter patter your way up the hill with your nice forward lean.

You will be rewarded at the top with a descent where you can open up your speed a bit to take advantage of gravity.  This is where you can have some fun!

But don’t speed up so much on the declines that you accidently increase your effort level, of course, but it’s a treat to go a little faster while keeping the effort nice and easy.

Another point to make on the declines is to remember to keep your footsteps light and avoid the natural tendency to brake with hard footfalls.  You should keep your nice slight forward lean that you have on the inclines to almost fall downhill rather than stomp down it.

If you keep the effort level easy, running hills will add variety to your runs and will strengthen your legs and lungs for race day.  Running flat will soon seem extra easy and long hills late in a race will no longer have the power to defeat you.

And who knows?  Maybe just like veggie lovers who eventually start to crave kale, you’ll learn to love your easy runs.



Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

By now, most runners know they should eat their beets.  Loaded with dietary nitrates, beets have been shown to increase performance in runners as well as decrease our perception of effort.

Win/win, right?

I’m always looking for ways to add beets to my diet and these colorful beet burgers are just right for warm weather barbeques.

I’ve loved making Isa Chandra’s beet burgers, but I can’t help but tweak her recipe a little.

Along with the beets, a key ingredient in my version is walnuts.  Walnuts contain an essential fat called alpha-linolenic acid (usually abbreviated as ALA), or omega-3 fat.  It’s only found in just a handful of plant foods (ground flaxseed and chia are two more) so it’s important to try to eat a good source of omega-3s each day.

So colorful!

What’s great about these is that you can swap out the beans and/or the grains (yes, quinoa is technically a seed) for whatever you have on hand and they’ll still turn out great.  No quinoa?  Sub brown rice.  Don’t like pintos?  Go for black beans.  You really can’t mess up here.

Whole grains and beans are great sources of iron and zinc, two nutrients that are absolutely essential for overall health, not to mention running performance.

Looks weirdly similar to ground beef!

And while I’m not a huge fan of fake meat substitutes, it’s almost scary how much these look like beef while you are making them.  But after they are cooked, they are a brilliant magenta pink, guaranteed to catch everyone’s attention at the table!

A cookie cutter makes shaping easy

This is a great reason to make a few extra cups of beans or rice whenever you are cooking them for something else to tuck away in the freezer.  That way, awesome veggie burgers come together in just a few minutes.

I like to make huge batches of these because beets can be a little messy to work with.  I’d rather only clean up once and have a nice stash of homemade burgers in the freezer for a quick lazy meal.

Pretty patties can be baked, grilled, or dry pan-fried

The vitamin C in the beets help you absorb the iron to help move oxygen to your hard working muscles. And it’s even better if you top your burger with the beet greens!

Loaded with guac, tomatoes, onions, and ketchup!

These patties can be a little delicate, so be careful with them on the grill.  I like to play it safe and dry fry them or use a pan on the grill and cook them until they start to get just a few slightly charred spots.

Delicious way to get all your nutrients!

Yields 10 big burgers

Big Ol’ Beet Burgers

A bright pink, delicious vegan burger stuffed with plant superpowers!

40 minPrep Time

12 minCook Time

52 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 2 cups raw shredded beets (about two medium)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2.5 cups cooked and cooled quinoa or other whole grain
  • 2 cups cooked and cooled pinto beans or one 15 oz can drained and rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel or crushed whole seeds (optional but yummy!)
  • 2 teaspoons dried mustard
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup panko or fine breadcrumbs


  1. Peel the beets and shred with the shredder attachment of a food processor. Remove shredded beets from machine into a large bowl.
  2. Switch to the S blade and pulse the walnuts until crumbly, but not so long that they turn into butter.
  3. Add the onion, garlic, beans, quinoa, and shredded beets and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture comes together but still has a slightly chunky texture and looks eerily like ground beef.
  4. Transfer back to the mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients.
  5. Use your hands to squish everything together so it's evenly incorporated.
  6. Refrigerate bowl for 30 minutes
  7. Preheat your cooking surface(I like well-seasoned cast iron), if cooking right away, and shape into patties, either by hand or using a cookie cutter.
  8. If your cast iron is well-seasoned, you will need very little or no oil. If not, use a light spray or swipe with a neutral high-heat oil like canola.
  9. Cook for approximately 12 minutes, flipping a few times on each side until they are just barely charred and heated through.
  10. Serve with all your favorite burger fixings!
Cuisine: American |


Inspired by Isa Chandra's Quarter Pounder Beet Burgers



Could Those Electrolytes Be Making You Fat?

Nooooo!!  Not again.  Another damn nutrition article ruins the fun.

What’s the villain in our diets this time?  One of the usual suspects: salt.

But not for the reason you might think.

According to an article published in the New York Times, researchers have discovered that salty diets can dramatically increase hunger and lead to overeating.  And not just a few extra snacks.  A whopping 25% more calories.

That’s like eating an extra meal a day.

The researchers fed cosmonauts living in isolation to mimic space travel a salty diet and despite conventional wisdom, the cosmonauts actually drank less fluid than on a lower sodium diet.  And here’s the bad news:  their levels of hunger dramatically rose, even though they were eating the same amount of calories.

Hmmm…so maybe it’s not the extra carbs that cause some marathoners to gain weight in training despite running more miles.

It’s the extra salt driving us to eat more.

Salt has always been the one thing as a runner that I have felt pretty good about indulging in.  After all, sodium is an essential electrolyte that is lost in sweat and is critical for life.

At my house, we can go through a bottle of (low-sodium) soy sauce in a week.  I grind pink Himalayan salt over roasted veggies and sprinkle a few shakes on my oatmeal.

Salt makes food taste better, plain and simple.  (Remember the watermelon post last week?)   But when food tastes good, we are more tempted to overeat.

And it’s not just the salty deliciousness of the bag of Sea Salt Waffle Chips that makes us want to eat more, it’s the body crying out to eat more to make up for the extra calories it burns creating extra fluid to dilute the sodium.

It’s a double whammy.

Strangely, instead of continuing to signal your thirst to bring on more fluid to dilute the salt, your body will create its own.  Just like a camel breaks down the fat in its hump to unlock the stored water, our bodies do the same thing cannibalizing your own fat and muscles.

This process burns calories, of course, which should mean we’d lose weight on a salty diet.  But we don’t, because our brain ramps up the hunger cues, leading us to eat more (salty) food.

Athletes seem to be given a free pass, when it comes to sodium. After all, nearly every sports drink on the planet contains salt.  Marathons offer water and salty Gatorade at every mile.

Runners even take salt tabs, especially during hot races, believing that it will prevent cramping. (Probably not.)

Athletes need more salt than non-athletes, right?  Salt stings our eyes in the summer and leaves chalky stains on our t-shirts.   Of course we need to replace it!

Yes, but it’s not that simple.  Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, is a real issue in long distance events, but what about our daily lives?

It seems like scientists might know a lot less about salt’s role in the body than we thought.

We know that water, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes work in a delicate balance in the body.  If you take on too much water, you have to pee.  If you eat something salty, you drink, which is why smart restaurant owners provide those salty bar snacks.

Now it seems that the salty pub mix not only increases drink sales, but it probably also increases food sales too.

So what does this mean for an endurance athlete?

Sodium is still a critical element in our diets, but we should probably be careful about our consumption, just like the rest of the population.  Many exercise scientists, most notably Tim Noakes, believe that runners’ deaths from hyponatremia come from over-hydration, not from under-consuming sodium.

What’s the bottom line, then?  How much salt do athletes need?  There is no clear answer.  Some say that excreting excess salt in our diets is one of the best benefits to exercise because we consume too much.

Yet others warn that restricting salt too much is dangerous as well, especially to the heart.

What’s a runner to do, then?

If you can’t figure out why you are always hungry or if you gain weight during heavy training, take a look at your sodium intake.  Perhaps it’s a part of the (complicated) equation.

But ultimately, I think the best advice is the same as always–choose fresh, whole foods with limited processing and don’t over do it.

Make meals at home and share them with the people you love.

And maybe go a little lighter on the soy sauce.


2017 Nutrition Summit Recipes

It’s been so much fun being a part of the Runners Connect 2017 Nutrition Summit!

To make it simpler for those who are just coming to my site for the first time, here are links to some of the recipes that I mention in my talk.



High Protein Whole Wheat Bread







DIY Generation UCAN Lemonade







Sugar-Free Chocolate DIY UCAN






Stupidly Easy Homemade Non-Dairy Yogurt for making overnight oats.






Hot Blackstrap Cocoa





DIY Nuun Electrolyte Replacement





Copycat GU Gel





Real Food Endurance Gels




Hope you are enjoying the summit!  And if you haven’t signed up yet, here’s how to get your free ticket!

How to Make One of Nature’s Finest Post-Run Foods Taste Amazing

I don’t like watermelon.

There’s something about its weirdly sweet flavor which is just, well, so watery.

But my kids love it.  They beg for it.  They would eat nothing but watermelon for dinner if I let them.

So every summer, I buy watermelon, cut it up for the kids and I eat none of it.

Then the other day, I got the latest copy of Nutrition Action, an awesome monthly publication created by the dedicated people at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

You know, the food lobbyists for the people, yo!

CSPI created scores for fruit by calculating the percentage of the recommended daily intake of seven major nutrients plus fiber and carotenoids.

What are carotenoids? you might ask.  Carotenoids are phytonutrients that give fruits and veggies their bright colors.  They act as antioxidants in the body fighting inflammation and protecting against disease.  Well-known carotenoids are lycopene, beta carotene, and lutein.

Watermelon was scored second highest on the Nutrition Action list, right behind guava (which amazingly was twice as high).  Two cups of watermelon has a score of 302, while an apple only weighs in at 34 with a difference of only 10 calories.

The publication makes it clear that all fruits are good for you so it isn’t necessary to only eat guava and watermelon while shunning apples, but adding a few more fruits that are higher on the list is probably a good idea.

Watermelon, in all its watery voluminousness, is also great for helping you feel full without costing a lot of calories.

But I don’t like watermelon!

So maybe I’ll try to find a guava.

Okay, I didn’t try too hard to find that guava, because I came home with a watermelon.

Later that night, my husband cut it up for the kids as usual and I decided to figure out a way to like watermelon.

At a dinner party years ago, some friends served mango for dessert dressed with a little lime juice and salt.  It was a delicious combination so I thought I’d try it with the watermelon cubes.

Complete transformation!

The salt cut the sickly sweet taste of the watermelon and it became fresh and tart with the lime juice.  I ate my 2 cup serving and then went back for seconds!

It’s the perfect combo to eat cold out of the fridge after a hot, sweaty run.  Two cups of watermelon provides 23 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of protein, and almost no fat.

But the vitamin and mineral content is where watermelon is a superstar for runners.  It provides 34% of your RDA of vitamin A, 42% of vitamin C, plus calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium.  And when you sprinkle a little salt on top, you are helping to replace the sodium you just lost in your sweat.

Natural glycogen and electrolyte replacement at its finest!

The carotenoid content of watermelon is also quite high, providing more than 20% of what you need in a day for optimal health.  So it’s not just great after a run, but any time of the day.

One thing to remember is that carotenoids are fat-soluble, so sprinkling some sesame, hemp, or sunflower seeds on your frosty, limey, salty cubes is a great addition to make sure that all of those micro-nutrients are being absorbed well in your body.  It’s also a good idea to get some protein with your carbs post-run, so those seed sprinkles are doing double-duty!

So often we runners like to over-analyze and over-complicate things.  We buy gels and powders and goos and gadgets that are supposed to make every facet of our fitness optimized to the nth degree.

Yet sometimes, we just need to take a step back and look for the simple choice right in front of us: whole, unprocessed food straight from nature.


The Exercise Paradox: Why Running Won’t Make You Lose Weight

Great.  Another depressing study that tells me running isn’t doing what I think it’s doing.

Running burns a ton of calories, right?  So if you run just a little more, you’ll lose weight, right?

Not necessarily.

In the February 2017 issue of Scientific American, researchers glumly announced that it really doesn’t matter how much exercise you do.  Human metabolism is fixed and exercise is a poor tool for weight loss.

Let me say that again:  your metabolism is fixed and running more won’t make you lose more weight.

The scientists measured the calorie burn of the highly active hunter-gatherer Hadza tribe in rural Tanzania who hunt all day long in hopes of killing their food, only to discover that they burn roughly the same amount of calories as their sedentary Western counterparts.

Just reading that seems ridiculous.  How in the world can an active person burn the same amount of calories as a couch potato?

Well, moderately active people do burn more than those glued to the desk and the couch, but bumping your mileage up from moderate to high in the name of losing weight won’t provide the same returns it once did when you first started.


In a study of over 300 Westerners, the researchers discovered that “energy expenditure plateaued at higher activity levels: people with the most intensely active daily lives burned the same number of calories each day as those with moderately active lives. The same phenomenon keeping Hadza energy expenditure in line with that of other populations was evident among individuals in the study.”

Lovely.  I’m burning the same amount of calories sitting at my desk typing this as the Hadza woman gathering wild berries and digging tubers out of the hard ground with a stick.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how it works, but they theorize that as your body becomes fitter and healthier, it spends less time “housekeeping,”  like rebuilding damaged cells or fighting inflammation.

In other words, your body becomes more efficient and will run on less.

But wait.  If you go out on a 20 mile run, the average person is burning about 2000 calories, depending on weight. Therefore, she should be able to eat 2000 additional calories worth of food to maintain her weight.  It’s a simple equation, isn’t it?

Ah, just like just about everything in the human body, it isn’t that simple.

What happens when the Hadza tribesmen don’t catch the giraffe after spending the entire day hunting?  That’s a big, expensive caloric gamble that they sometimes lose.  Why don’t they starve?

The answer is fat.  Even the leanest humans, like the Hadza, carry about twice as much fat as other primates.  We are built to store fat to feed our big brains when we don’t catch the giraffe.

This is not really news, of course.  Everyone’s heard the phrases “abs are made in the kitchen” and “you can’t outrun a bad diet.”  We all know it’s a lot easier to eat 100 calories of peanut butter in one swallow than it is to burn it off running a mile.

I know this is true first hand because I ran more miles than ever last year and still gained weight!

The fact that our metabolism is fixed is a little disheartening, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run or even that you shouldn’t run a lot.  If my only reason to run were that it kept my weight in check, I’d run a whole lot less, but that’s only a small part of why I run at this point.

The way I’m choosing to look at this is that it means that nutrition matters more than how much you run.  Exercise is still essential, but the returns from a metabolic standpoint plateau and may even diminish as the miles pile up.

Eating whole, nutritious foods that satisfy without being too calorically dense is the key to fueling your body with exactly what it needs, without allowing it to store the excess as fat.

Forcing your body to work harder to get the nutrients out of your food could help a bit too.  That means salads instead of smoothies and nuts instead of nut butters.  The more chopping, blending, and processing that you do to your food outside of your body, the easier it is for your body digest and use (good things!) but also store as fat (bleh).

The fact is that our brains were developed to obsessively search for food and our bodies were designed to greedily hoard fat no matter what the caloric cost.

But the Scientific American piece did end on an upbeat note.  It mentioned another evolutionary development that is essential to human survival:  cooperation.

Other apes do not share food, but we do.  The Hadza men work together as a group to hunt the giraffe, but if they are not successful, they come back to their camp to share in the food that the women have gathered.

Because they share in the hunting, the gathering, and the food, they do not starve.

So run together.

Eat together.

(Just not too much.)




Lime Mango Tart

Life is too short to skip dessert.

I adore making beautiful cakes and pies, but they generally are not the healthiest way to finish off a meal.  Sure, having a slice of cake is wonderful for a celebration, but when there’s half a cake left after the party’s over, it’s just too easy to eat cake every single day until it’s gone.

Or twice a day.

Or for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

For Easter this year, I wanted to make something gorgeous and impressive, but without the flour, sugar, and tons of oil.

Of course, it had to be delicious too.

So I chose a mango tart with an almond crust with a lime coconut filling.

And yes, I was singing “you put the lime in da coconut and drink it all up” pretty much the whole time.

The mango rose is easier than it looks.  You use a vegetable peeler to peel the mango skin, then slice off the two halves around the flat seed.  Then you cut into thin slices.

Using the longest slices first, begin placing them around the filled pie, starting from the outside edge.  Continue around in a circular pattern until you get to the center.  Easy peasy!

I used a tart pan with a removable bottom so that the shell could stand on its own without a pie dish, but if you don’t have one, you can just use a regular pie pan.

Be warned that while this recipe is super easy, it does require some chilling, so it’s easier to make this the day before you need it, or at least several hours in advance.

This is a recipe that I would have been happy to have as leftovers.  Even for breakfast!

But wouldn’t you know it?   It was so good, there weren’t any!

Lime Mango Tart
Save RecipeSave Recipe


    For the tart shell:
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • For the filling:
  • 1 can coconut cream or full fat coconut milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup raw cashews (optional, but delicious)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (or more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3-4 ripe mangos


  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Add all tart shell ingredients to a food processor and pulse until you get coarse crumbs that clump together when squeezed in your hand.
  2. Press dough into a greased 11" tart pan with a removable bottom or pie pan. Make sure dough is even all around and up the sides.
  3. Bake until lightly golden and cookie-like, about 15 minutes.
  4. Cool completely, at least an hour.
  5. To prepare the filling, place coconut cream, maple syrup, vanilla, and cashews in a high speed blender and blend until smooth. (If you do not have a high speed blender, you'll want to boil the cashews in just enough water to cover them for ten minutes, drain the water, then add to the blender.)
  6. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.
  7. Meanwhile, mix almond milk and cornstarch in a container until dissolved.
  8. Once at a simmer, add lime juice, then slowly pour in cornstarch mix.
  9. Stir until thickened.
  10. Pour into cooled tart shell and refrigerate one hour.
  11. Meanwhile, slice your mangos. Peel with a vegetable peeler and slice into two halves around the flat seed. Then slice longways into thin strips.
  12. Arrange sliced mangos in a rose pattern by using the longest slices first along the outside of the tart, working in a circular pattern until you reach the center.
  13. Keep at room temperature or refrigerate until ready to serve.


*inspired by and


“So, What Are You Training For?” and Other One-Liners

Most runners skew heavily on the introverted side.  After all, we spend a lot of time logging miles on our own.

And most of us like it that way.

When we do get together with other also-introverted runners at the track or at a race, there can be a bit of the small-talk awkwardness that invariably begins with the classic question: “So, what are you training for?”

It’s the easy and obvious question, much like the standard, “so, what do you do?” at the party where you don’t know anyone.  Or, for the single runners, the pick-up line at the bar.

It’s easy because it works.  Most runners are training for something, so it’s a non-threatening, causal way to break the ice during 200m jog rests with a new group.

It’s also a quick way of sizing someone up.  Wow, that guy’s training for the 100 Mile Certain Death Race?!  He must be insane! 

Or, she’s training for an Olympic triathlon?  And I thought just running was hard!

Or, didn’t he just finish a marathon last week?  He’s doing another one so soon?

Right now, I’m not training for anything specific, so answering that question is not as fun as it is when I have a set, defined goal.  Usually, I mumble a response like, “oh, I’m not really training for anything right now.  Just doing shorter stuff for the spring.  You know, a few local 5ks and 10ks.”

My questioner typically gives me the side eye and nods, “that’s cool.”

Which definitely does not feel so cool.

Because just like the “so, what do you do” question, the “so, what are you training for” query gives you a quick, but limited view into what kind of person you are.  Marathoners train for marathons, trail runners train for trail races, ultra runners train for ultras.

I don’t love racing 5ks.  (There. I said it.) They are painful in a different way than the marathon and I have a hard time staying in the red zone of burning pain for so long.

So I don’t really act all bubbly and positive when I explain that I’m training for something I’m not too fond of.  I’m doing it to become a better marathoner, but it’s not like I’m gushing with joy when I tell people I’m training for the Everyone’s a Special Snowflake Community 5K.

But just as your job does not define you, neither does your goal race.  Sure, it does dictate how we spend a big chunk of our time, but it’s not everything.

Perhaps a better ice-breaker would be, “so what do you like to do for fun outside of running?” or, “what are you passionate about?”

You get a very different and infinitely more interesting response that way.  People are taken back a bit since it’s out of the ordinary, but then they light up and let you peek inside the rest of their world.

Yet at the same time, the goal does become a part of who you are and helps you lace up your shoes everyday.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss that.

This weekend many of my running friends are in Boston right now ahead of the iconic marathon on Monday, posing for pictures at the Expo with Olympic marathoner Shalane Flanagan and trying not to walk too much up and down Boylston Street.

Over the past several months or for even over a year, when anyone asked one of them, “so, what are you training for?” you know they smiled happily and said a single word:  Boston.

But how do you answer the question on Tuesday?

That’s easy!  You just sign up for the next one…




In Defense of Self Defense

I run alone a lot.  Most of the time, in fact.  Being alone with my thoughts or fun music or a good podcast is one of the things that I most cherish about running.  I need that space and time to myself.

But unfortunately, there are people in the world that could see that as an opportunity to strike.  A woman alone, lost in thought in the woods or an empty park seems like an easy target to victimize.

Nevermind that the drive to the trail is far more dangerous that running it alone, the fear that evil is hiding out waiting to pounce keeps many runners, more often women, from even attempting a solo run.

(There are no great statistics of how many runners get assaulted every year, but the risk of getting attacked by a stranger in general is very low.)

When the rare attack does occur, women are bombarded with all sorts of advice on modifying our behavior to keep ourselves safe:  never run alone, always carry pepper spray, take a self-defense class.

We need to do something, right?

This advice is well meant, despite the fact the only behavior that needs modifying is the perpetrators’, not their targets.  Which is just maddening.

I will not give up running alone and I will not carry pepper spray in my hand every day.

But taking a self-defense class seemed like a great idea.

Especially after the recent attack on the Seattle runner who successfully fought back with techniques she had learned in a self-defense class.

So when a group of runners in my area organized a class, I signed up.

I first want to make it clear that self-defense is a last resort tactic.  I’m not going to use my newly-acquired techniques to fight off a person who stole my parking spot or gouge out the eyes of a redneck that catcalls as I run by.

These are skills to be done when you have no other choice.

Avoiding the altercation is the best defense.  But by avoiding, I do not mean avoid running alone all together.  Any time you are alone doing any activity–getting in an elevator, walking to your car at night after work, looking for your keys to unlock your front door–your guard is let down and you could be a potential target.

So to those who repeat the mantra “be aware of your surroundings” as the end-all-be-all response, remember that there will be constant moments of vulnerability.  Being aware of your surroundings is wise and great in theory, but we also cannot live every second of our lives hyper-vigilant of a tiny, but scary risk.

Lessons to remember!

Our class was taught by Richard Howell, an 8th-degree black belt instructor at Double Edge Defense.  Richard made it clear that in a three-hour class, we would not suddenly become master Jedi fighters, able to withstand any attack in any situation, but we would be armed with some simple tools that could potentially save our lives, no matter how big our attacker was.

I’m not going to go into all the details of what we learned because you truly need to practice and learn from an expert in person.

But there are a few concepts that really made an impression on me.

Richard showed us how when humans are attacked at certain vulnerable spots, we react not with brain power, but with a spinal reflex.  Just like your hand will instinctively drop a burning-hot pot handle, you will also involuntarily move your hands to your injured eyes, throat, or groin to protect yourself.

Being able to predict where your attacker’s hands will move when injured could allow you enough precious seconds to escape.

Another key point is using your bodyweight to your advantage.  As a small woman, my attacker could potentially weigh three times as I do.  How in the world could I escape that?

Well, not many people can stay upright when hit with a 115 pound wrecking ball, no matter how big they are.  The trick is you have to be close enough to the person to use your body as leverage and not just your arms.

After his hands react to his injured eyes, I have an opportunity to use my weight to push him off his heels to the floor and escape
And down he goes!

Shortly after I took this class I mentioned how empowered I felt afterwards, being armed with a few simple tricks that I could use to defend myself if necessary.  I was surprised to get some pushback from some normally very supportive men who cautioned me about overconfidence.

Taking one class does not make me a master of martial arts, they warned, or prepared to win any altercation with any assailant.  Practicing in the safety of a classroom atmosphere does not prepare you for the unpredictability of the real world.

They are absolutely right.  These techniques need to be practiced regularly to become automatic.

And there are no guarantees.  If someone high on drugs ambushes me with a gun and has no problem taking my life for the fun of it, there’s probably not a whole lot I can do.

But I disagree with the overconfidence part.  There is no way that just because I know a good way to hit someone in the groin that I suddenly feel like Superwoman.  I’m still going to ignore and  run away from the catcallers and I’m still going to take a proactive look in the backseat of my car at night before getting in.

The confidence that I have gained will help me stand taller and project a message that I am not an easy target.

I hope to never, ever use a single technique that we learned that night.

But I know I could if I had to.


Competition with Compassion

When interviewed before starting the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race last year, Kaci Lickteig was asked about the deep women’s field that she was facing.

“I’m competitive with myself,” she responded in the documentary Life in a Day.  “I love to have competition ’cause that brings out everybody’s best.  So having this enormous group of women to run with brings out a better Kaci.”

She went on to crush the race, finishing nearly an hour before the second place female.  Clearly on that day, Kaci’s best was way better than anyone else’s.

I love competition in the same way.  It’s not so much to prove who is faster than whom, because there’s always someone faster somewhere.

It’s about the hope that maybe, just maybe, today is your day.

It’s inspiring to race with faster people, feeling them pull out the best in you.  I run better when I have someone to chase and I run faster when I know someone is chasing me.

Otherwise, why race?  Instead of shelling out thirty bucks for a crappy t-shirt and yet another circle on a string, you could just run a 5K every day if you didn’t care about racing.

And some people do just that.

Other people don’t care about the competition aspect of racing and run for charity or just like the camaraderie of a group run with a party at the end.

But that’s not me.

I like to race to do my best and my best doesn’t come out alone on the track or running through the park.

It comes out when I try to run faster than someone else.

If you are faster than I am, I will try to catch you.  If you are having a bad day and I am having a good day, I will pass you.

If you are slower than I am, I expect that you will chase me.  If I am having a bad day and you are having a good day, you will pass me.

That is racing.  In any event, anywhere in the world, with any caliber athlete, that is what racing is about.

Running your hardest is hard.  It’s not fun.  Racing makes that hard effort more fun.

Unfortunately, my love for competition can come across in a negative way and I believe that has everything to do with my gender.

At the start of the Swamp Rabbit Half with my Jus’ Running girls!

Most men have no problem with healthy competition and see winning as an essential part of the game. Of course a guy is going to try to win if he has a shot at it and he’s not generally going to feel too bad for the buddy he just beat who was off his game that day.

But women have been conditioned differently.

“Because women learn that they are not supposed to be competitive and win at others’ expense, their natural competitive spirit cannot be shared openly, happily, or even jokingly with other women,” says Dr. Lynn Margoliesa psychologist and former Harvard Medical School faculty and fellow.

“Women learn to feel guilty for feeling happy and successful,” she says, “and with their female friends who may not be having such luck, they may experience their own success as hurtful to their friend. This can make it uncomfortable for a woman to share and enjoy her accomplishments with her female friends.”

This, of course, is ridiculous.  And very real.

Downhill at Dusk 5K 2016

So how can we be competitive in a fun, healthy way without all the drama?

According to Dr. Margolies, we need to balance competition and compassion.

“A healthy balance of competition and compassion means allowing oneself to do well and embrace a positive feeling of empowerment and strength while at the same time caring about friends’ feelings and supporting them in their own growth,” Margolies offers.

Most women tend to be really good at supporting others and not as good at embracing their own accomplishments.

We deserve to enjoy our success!

The other option is to apologize for winning and belittle your accomplishment by saying, “well, all the fast girls were somewhere else today,” or, “the only reason I beat her was because she had a bad day.” Sadly, we women do this kind of thing all the time, knocking ourselves down because it feels more appropriate to show modesty instead of genuine, natural pride at a job well done.

Not to mention that when we downplay our success, we inadvertently insult everyone that comes behind us. I would rather come in dead last in a race where my competition brought out my best, even if it wasn’t good enough.  Racing with women faster than I am is tough and thrilling and inspiring and makes me want to try even harder.  And the last thing I would want the women who beat me to say would be, “the fast girls were somewhere else today.”

Obviously, I’m not even remotely in the same league as one of the best ultra runners on the planet, but in so many ways all runners go through the same things, no matter what level.  Whether it’s a local 5K organized by the middle school PTO or one of the most grueling and elite 100 mile races, competition makes it more rewarding.

And competition with compassion, for both our competitors and ourselves, is the best kind of all.