Stolen Joy and the Reality Behind “The Virtues of Hard Work”

I was all prepared to come here today and dissect my race results and strategy for yesterday’s Shamrock’n Half Marathon. That was my plan going into the race – get on Monday morning and do a bit of a look-back at what went well, what needed some work, and whether or not I felt ready for the Boston Marathon. But today, post-race, I find myself in a different headspace.

Not to bury the lede, but not only did I complete yesterday’s race within the goal time of 2:45:59 that I’d set for myself…I actually BEAT my goal by over 5 minutes, clocking a final chip time of 2:40:13. Being that my previous half marathon PR was 2:59:19, a pace improvement of almost two minutes per mile is incredible. Especially considering the last half marathon I’d run prior to this one was last year’s Shamrock’n Half with a 3:49:57 (which, as you recall, was a hot-as-balls race day that made walking a half seem like the better option to running it). I should be walking on fucking clouds today.

But I’m not.

Within an hour of my finish, I was called pompous and selfish. I found out that my running is apparently a joke and an inconvenience to others. As I read these words while sitting in stopped traffic on the Yolo Causeway, I felt all my energy drain away. I turned down the radio I’d been happily singing along to, and I contemplated these words for a minute before bursting into tears. I worked so hard for my results and instead of feeling great about my accomplishment, I now felt like an asshole.

Maybe it’s because I don’t talk about my training much. Maybe it’s because the only time people hear anything about my running is when I’m declining an invitation to something. Maybe I talk more about it than I realized and people are just tired of hearing about it. No clue. But I feel like people need to know and understand what it’s truly like to chase down a goal, especially in the face of so many people who feel like you shouldn’t be able to do the things you do. People who feel like your only place in this world is to be the charming fatty who makes everyone laugh and pays for everything.

So let’s talk a bit about what I had to do to earn that 2:40:13 that I should be so incredibly proud of and completely overjoyed by.

To begin, I started my training late after getting sick over the holidays. I should have been running upwards of 20 miles a week by Christmas, but a bout with bronchitis kept me from really starting to get into things until New Years Day. So I started behind the 8-ball compared to the rest of my Boston teammates, who are all 7-10 minute/mile runners by default.

I also started New Years Day at 223lbs. This was a huge blow considering I’d gotten down to just a hair over 209 prior to getting sick. I was supposed to be at almost 200 by the new year and now I was essentially starting all over again. A crucial part of being able to increase my pace involved me losing a sizeable amount of weight before Boston. And runners lose almost no weight while training for a marathon because a huge component of being able to train those long miles is eating calories in a volume that will fuel those runs. I was basically looking at a thoroughly uphill battle.

I can only afford to work with my personal trainer once a week, though he’s been incredibly generous in terms of helping me hone my other workouts, assess my strategies and results, and provide me ongoing encouragement. So for literally all but one workout a week, I am completely on my own. No support system. Nobody working out with me. Nobody pushing me. It’s all me, on my own. Alone.

What does my workout schedule look like?

Monday through Thursday, I’m doing three workouts a day. I start with my strength training, which consists of all of my lifting, and follow it up with fast-paced running for anywhere from three to five miles. I circle back later in the day and do either core work or speed work (wind sprints on the treadmill). Fridays are my only rest day, and it’s a complete rest which is great because it means instead of focusing on workouts, I can focus on cleaning my house. So not really a complete rest day, but at least I’m not in workout clothes. Saturdays start with a long run at 7am for which I am up by 4:30am so I can make sure I get my pre-run breakfast down and digested. Later that day I do some light yoga to make sure I’m appropriately stretched from those long miles. Sundays are a mixed bag of hill work, core work, and occasionally either a slow bike ride or gentle walk around the neighborhood to keep myself loosened up.

Because sleep is essential to both performing well during workouts as well as weight loss and maintenance, I am off the computer by 9pm and asleep by 10pm, Sunday through Wednesday. I allow myself a later bedtime on Thursdays because I can sleep in a bit on Friday mornings, but I am in bed and asleep by 9:30 on Friday nights for Saturday morning training. Saturday is another allowable late night unless I have a race the next morning. Then I treat it like a Friday night. Keep in mind that I am up at 5am Monday through Thursday for work, with a 60-90 minute commute each way, plus a 9 hour work day in between. This means I get home at night and have just enough time to eat dinner and work on things like fundraising, training strategy (which involves a lot of number crunching), and daily household tasks before doing my pre-bedtime stretching and going to sleep. And again, I do almost all of this completely alone. I don’t have fitness classes. I don’t have running buddies. I don’t have lifting partners. I have a personal trainer I see once a week for 45 minutes. The rest is all 100% alone, with nothing but my brain to keep me going.

How about nutrition?

Since the start of the year, I’m on 8/16 intermittent fasting with a 24hr fast on Sundays. This means I eat every day from 10am to 6pm, and once I eat breakfast on Sunday I don’t eat again until Monday 10am. The exception to this is my Saturday long run because 10-20 miles with nothing in me is tantamount to death.

I meal prep every Sunday and eat the exact same thing six days in a row, with my Sunday breakfast being the only thing that changes. And even that stays the same literally every single week – four eggs, scrambled, topped with grated sharp 2% cheddar; two slices of low sodium center cut bacon; potatoes in some format cooked in the air fryer; a slice of whole grain toast with a thin layer of Smart Balance and some homemade blackberry jam; and a tall glass of Milo’s No-Calorie sweet tea. Because I am training as a runner at the moment, all my weekday meal macros are almost evenly split percentage-wise, though I try to keep my protein just a tiny bit higher than fats and carbs. I eat three meals and two snacks, and for supplements I take a daily multivitamin, a D3 supplement, and BCAA’s for post-workout recovery. I don’t pre-workout. I don’t pop pills. I don’t use any magic substances. Saturday morning long runs are fueled by PB&J, pretzels, and the occasional gel or chew, with a few licks of BaseSalt in between.

A sample menu looks something like this:

  • Breakfast: Spinach frittata muffins (whole eggs, egg whites, spinach, onions, tomatoes, spices)
  • Snack 1: Coconut macadamia protein ball (raw protein ball made from dates, macadamia nuts, almond butter, rolled in coconut)
  • Lunch: Grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli (literally a chicken breast seasoned with sodium-free lemon pepper, and plain steamed broccoli)
  • Snack 2: Cottage cheese parfait (cottage cheese, handful of mixed berries, smattering of chopped walnuts)
  • Dinner: Turkey burger and spinach (seasoned 97% lean turkey patty, whole grain bun, feta cheese, sliced avocado, with a giant pile of spinach on the side)

If you see me eat or drink anything unusual, it’s because I’ve planned for those “treats” by changing what I eat elsewhere in the day and adding extra miles or extra minutes to my workouts to compensate. For example, on Super Bowl Sunday, I knew I would want a few beers, so I ran five miles before breakfast, adjusted the size of my breakfast by eliminating the potatoes and toast (carbs), and drank plenty of water ahead of time so I wouldn’t also get hungry and eat a bunch of shit. The only thing I snacked on were some plain fresh veggies someone brought for veggie dip.

What does all this amount to?

It amounts to zero free time. It amounts to me having to decline a lot of social invitations. It amounts to no time for any real self care. It amounts to quite a bit of stress. It amounts to days where I’m literally too tired both physically and emotionally to deal with anything, but I don’t get down time because there’s a $20,000 price tag and 26.2 miles hanging over my head so I just keep pushing forward.

But it also amounts to being ready to complete the Boston Marathon within their required time limit. It amounts to bringing in $20,000 of much-needed money for cancer research and patient support. It amounts to 20lbs lost and 2 mins/mile faster pace gained within the span of just two months.

Maybe I’m not your cup of tea. Maybe you really don’t want to hear about my running or my fundraising or any of that. I’m cool with that. There’s probably shit you’re super into that I couldn’t care less about. But I’ll guarantee you this: I would never ever judge you for it, especially if I don’t have all the facts. What you are into makes you uniquely you. The least I can do is try to understand and support your goals. If you want to know my goals, just ask. We all know I have no problem talking.

For now, I’ll simply try to find my joy again. I need it so badly at this point in the process. I earned it. I deserve that much.

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