Summer Running

It’s summer 2022 and life events are back in full swing – weddings, graduations, college reunions, birthday parties, the list goes on and on. I find that the pause we experienced the last two years has made me all the more grateful that I’m able to celebrate these occasions. Still, the one thing that I’m struggling to find an appreciation for….summer running. 

Here on the east coast, it’s felt like we’ve been in a heat wave for months. I know it’s August, but cooler weather seems to be ages away. Quite frankly, I’m sick of ending every easy run drenched in sweat. Living in a place with seasons, I have to learn to embrace the suck of summer running. So here are my tips and take-aways from my past few months of running in the heat:

Be humble. It’s no secret that it’s harder to hit faster paces in the heat. I’m usually pretty good about adjusting my workout paces for the heat, but when it comes to easy running, it’s hard for me to be humble. I was doing my winter easy runs at 9:10 pace or faster, with a HR under 155 BPM. Now, my heart rate spikes if I try to push under 10 minute pace. So I’m learning to slow down and respect the heat. I’ve found that if I run slower on my easy runs, I don’t have to scale back the pace as much on my harder workouts. It’s the same principle my coach totes year-round, “Run slow to run fast.” But I didn’t realize what a big difference that could make, especially in the brutal summer temperatures. 

Get out early. I’ve almost always been a morning runner. I like getting up, having a cup of coffee and a slice of toast, and hitting the road before the rest of the world is up and moving. I’ve found this to be an incredibly important habit to keep during the warmer months of the year when it often hits 80 degrees by 8 am. Unless you want to melt, or bring buckets of water, you have to get out the door early. Yet, during the summer is when I want to stay up later – I love summer and I want to make the most of it. And that leads me into my next tip…

Be consistent, but be flexible. We all know consistency is key when it comes to running, and we need to get our summer runs in to prep for fall races. But if you’re like me and you want to make the most of the summer, you have to be flexible. I want to go out for ice cream at night, have a beer on the deck, or stay out late at a baseball game. But it’s hard to do all of those things when you have to be up at the crack of dawn for a long run. So I’m learning to compromise. Sometimes that means saying no to plans, but more and more it means saying yes to plans, getting a little less sleep, getting up early, getting my run in, and then taking an afternoon nap if needed. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, so I’ve moved some of my morning runs to the evenings to accommodate an early drive. Sometimes I’ll even cut a run short if I’m too tired or just not feeling it. I try not to do this very often, because I do think there’s value in finishing runs that feel hard. But I think sometimes a run feeling crappy is a sign that you need some extra rest. So if I was out late, and spent the day by the pool, and I felt a little too drained to finish my 5 mile run, I might just do 4. And that’s perfectly okay. 

Lounge. Yes, I absolutely want to make the most of my summer, but sometimes I’m just tired and need to rest. One of the things I’ve struggled with throughout my running journey is knowing when to take a break. It’s hard for me, especially during the summer when I want to be outside and soaking up the sunshine, but the sun can be draining. So if I’m tired after a sweaty, sunny long run, I’ve started giving myself permission to lounge on the couch and enjoy the AC for the rest of the day. Or, if I feel like getting out of the house, I’ll go to the movies. Taking time to rest is all the more important during the summer when the heat and humidity are taking their toll. 

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. This is probably an obvious one, but it’s one I’m constantly working on. If it’s hot and I’m running for more than 30-40 minutes, I’ll bring my hand-held water bottle along. Some long runs I’ll plan a route where I loop back by my car or apartment in the middle so I can refill my water if needed. After the run I always always always have a nuun tablet. The lemon lime flavor has been my favorite for years. A nuun tablet dissolved in ice water at the end of a hot run is just *chef’s kiss.* I’ve also started buying watermelon to snack on when I’m feeling dehydrated throughout the day. Tasty and refreshing!

Ultimately, I think the key with summer running, as with most things, is balance. There’s no perfect formula for successful summer running, all you can do is get out the door as much as possible, and have fun doing it. 

Racing During the Pandemic

The Granby Road Race 2020

I jogged down the hill to where people were lining up for the start. It was 8:26 and the race started at 8:30, or at least the first wave started at 8:30. I knew I was a little close to the start time, but I was shocked how many people were already lined up. 

I was expecting a small race, capped at fifty, maybe a hundred people, but there were easily a hundred and fifty runners already lined up. Or maybe it just looked like there were more people since runners were required to be spaced single file, six feet apart. 

I jogged up closer to the start and tried to find a place in the line of runners. I was probably pushing the six feet rule, but we had our masks up, and I wasn’t about to get stuck at the back behind a hundred slower runners.

“Did you sign up for virtual New York or guaranteed entry next year?” A group of friends in front of me was chatting. “I did guaranteed entry, I’ll have to pay for that again which is a pain.” It was a typical conversation between runner friends these days. What races are you running…next year? Is it going to be virtual? Will it be postponed to 2022 or 2023?

There was no gun to signal the start of the race, we just saw the line start moving. Slowly I inched up to the starting line. The guy manning the start put his hand up indicating the group in front of me to stop. They paused. After a minute or so break he waved them forward. 

Then it was my turn. 

I hadn’t raced in over a year. My last race was the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge last September in San Francisco. I ran a solid time for the 3.5 mile race, 23:31, somewhere around 6:44/mile. Nothing crazy, but a pretty good time, especially for someone who was still discovering the limits of her speed. 

But that was a year ago. Since then I’d trained for a marathon only to injure my ankle a few weeks out from the race. Then the pandemic hit and my upcoming half and full marathon plans were derailed. Although in hindsight, it may have been a blessing in disguise as I was plagued by yet another injury in the spring – this time a pulled muscle in my lower back. 

I had three solid months of healthy training behind me now, and the racing gap had me fired up to run a really good time. 

I took off. 

The first mile was fast. I looked at my watch at the first mile marker – just over seven minutes. I should probably slow down. My goal was to average around 7:20 pace so I knew I’d gone out a little too fast, I should have been closer to 7:25-7:30 for the first mile. Still, I pressed on but tried to settle down a little. 

Then the hills came. 

The Granby Road race is my hometown race, I don’t know that I would have known about the race or decided to run it if it wasn’t the local race for the town I grew up in. I’d been back living with my family in Granby since May after I decided I wanted to escape San Francisco and my little apartment for more space and the fresh country air. I’d initially planned to go back to SF around Labor Day, but then I found out that the road race was happening and I decided to stick around a few extra weeks for the opportunity to run a “real” race. 

The course starts at the local high school/middle school and cuts through the center of town before looping up and into McClean Game Refuge and then down though the game refuge, back through the town center and up another hill back to the school. 

The first mile or so of the race is mostly down hill which explains why I ran it to fast, that, and the adrenaline of finally being able to race again. The course then cuts off the main road, up a hill to an opening in the game refuge. In the refuge you run on windy, rocky trails, up and down through the woods before coming back out to the main road and into town again. The final stretch is a challenging uphill to the finish in front of the school. 

It’s a difficult course for two reasons – the first being the hills, particularly because the majority of the downhills are in the woods, covered in rocks, where you have to slow down to make sure you don’t trip or roll an ankle as you roll down the hill. The woods mean you have all of the suffering of the uphill, and none of the easy, fast flow down the hill. Then there’s the roots and sand and general challenges of running the trails and the uphill finish, which is never fun. 

I knew all this going in – I’d run the race once before and I’d done some training runs in the game refuge. I was ready to go and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run an exceedingly fast race. I just wanted a solid time good enough to put me in the top finishers and based on prior year race results I thought I could do it. 

Eyes on the prize. 

The first hill wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I passed a few people on the uphill, and I’d passed many more on the quick stretch through town after the start. My mom, sister, and dog were waiting for me at the edge of the game refuge with a cup of water. I grabbed the cup for a quick sip, just as I would at a normal water station, then tossed the cup back in their direction. I’d told my sister to pick up the cup – I didn’t want to litter. 

There were no water stations at the race this year. Usually they had two positioned strategically throughout the course, but to reduce human interaction they cut those out this year. 

I wasn’t the only one to have family and friends placed throughout the course to pass a bottle of water. My mom lended an extra cup for another mother to hand to her daughter, and there was a group cheering and passing out water bottles to their crew a little later in the race. 

The trails were just as challenging as I’d expected. The downhill was slow going as I was afraid of falling or rolling an ankle. Someone I’d passed earlier passed me back as a struggled not to trip. The flat sections of the trail were also slower, but more fun. I enjoyed pushing the pace on the clearer sections and then dodging the roots and other things on the trail. I passed back the guy who passed me on the downhill, along with a few others. 

As I neared the exit to the game refuge I passed a group of young runners. “Marzo?!” One shouted. I turned to see a familiar face. It was a friend of my sister’s who I knew was running the race. He pulled out his phone to snap a quick pic for my sister, and then I kept going. 

At the exit to the game refuge was my dad on his bike. As he saw coming out of the woods he reached for the water bottle he kept in holder on his bike. “I’m good,” I gestured as it was a cool day and I didn’t want to slow down for another water break. 

My dad hopped back on his bike and rode alongside the course cheering me and the other runners on. The group of young runners, including my sister’s friend, stayed close throughout the last stretch of the race. I would pass one of them, another would pass me back. It was a fight to the finish and I loved it. 

“You got this Caroline!” My dad shouted from his bike and I suffered up the last hill and turned into the loop in front of the school. I pushed for a final kick, but could only muster so much speed to get myself up the hill. 

I crossed the finish line in 46:38, at least according to my watch – the finish clock read 51:54. Thanks to the staggered start I wouldn’t know the official results or my place until later in the day. 

I was ushered away from the finish line and found my family amongst the small group gathered along the finish. I wanted to keep moving to cool down so we walked toward the car. There was no finish festival or awards ceremony so we were free to head home. I took a few minutes to drink the water and electrolytes my sister had brought for me and did some active stretches. I then passed the water back to my sister and jogged home. 

My Journey to a Plant-based Diet

My journey to a plant-based diet, like most journey’s, is not linear. And, like the journey of life, it’s ever growing and evolving. My purpose today is to share a little bit about what a plant-based diet means for me, how I got here, and where I foresee this journey taking me.

The driving force in this story are food intolerances, which I have struggled with for more or less my entire life. My mom told me recently that even as a baby I spit up my food far more often than any of my siblings. While I can’t remember what I was thinking or how I was feeling as a baby when I spit up my food, nor was I diagnosed with any specific intolerances or allergies as a child, let’s call this the starting point for my nutrition evolution. 

Growing up I ate like most kids – I ate everything… except the vegetables. Although, compared to most kids, I was probably pretty good at eating my vegetables. I wasn’t a terribly picky kid. I liked the burgers my dad would make on the grill, my mom’s famous lasagna recipe, and the mocha chip ice cream I’d get every summer from Four Seas Ice Cream on Cape Cod. 

While Four Seas Mocha Chip will forever hold a special place in my heart, Oatly coffee “ice cream” topped with chocolate chips is a pretty delicious dairy-free alternative.

As far as I can remember I didn’t have any terrible reactions to food; nothing that would indicate an allergy or severe intolerance. This was more or less the case up until middle school/high school when I showed signs of lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance generally develops and worsens as you age, and for me the age it hit was thirteen. However, as most good lactose intolerant people do, I kept eating dairy and accepted the consequences of my intolerance. Ice cream is good…it seemed worth it! That was the case up until I started running. 

I hadn’t been much of a runner until I decided to join the cross country team halfway through high school. Running changed my perspective on a lot of things…particularly my food intolerances. While I was struggling through many of my cross country workouts, I found them to be even more challenging and miserable when I ate a lot of dairy or processed foods during the day. I quickly learned that ice cream the night before a race was a bad idea, but I could tolerate some chocolate milk after. It wasn’t long before I began cutting back on dairy, using calcium supplements, and taking a lactaid pill when I decided I needed to indulge in some ice cream. These changes helped, but the system wasn’t perfect. 

As I started taking the whole running thing more seriously I, somewhat subconsciously, began cleaning up my diet more. I cut out a lot of processed foods and if I didn’t feel well after eating something I decided I couldn’t eat that ever again. Dramatic, I know, but I was a teenager who didn’t know any better. Naturally, this limited the things that I would eat. I cut back on a lot of meat as more than a small portion would upset my stomach. I ordered simple salads when I ate out as this was less likely to make me feel ill than a burger or a sandwich. 

However, while I cut out a lot of unhealthy foods, I failed to add in alternatives to fill the gaps. I was running more than I ever head, but severely under-nourishing my body. The change in eating habits, increased physical activity, along with being a growing teenager lead to an unhealthy weight-loss. My bones were weakening, putting myself at risk for a stress fracture, and further, I was putting my heart at risk. In order to get healthy I had to undo some of my changes to my diet, which was easier said than done. I was afraid of eating a lot of things again as I had cut them out for a reason – they didn’t make me feel good. 

Ultimately, all I wanted was for my body to feel good, but not eating enough also wasn’t helping. I began eating more meat and dairy and generally was less restrictive in my diet. At the same time I also began eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and less processed snacks and sodas. While at the time I thought I was backpeddling, this was actually building the foundation for my plant based diet. 

The legendary Campus Corner”Fat Cat.” A hoagie with chicken tenders, French fries, mozzarella sticks, and topped with ranch was one of the popular indulgences by students at Villanova University.

While there were often times that I felt unwell eating certain things, I decided I was better off eating than putting my bones and heart at risk again. Plus, I had then gone off to college where all anyone eats is cheese fries and pizza, so I just learned to deal with the consequences. 

After college when my diet naturally became less reliant on cheese, I eventually cut out diary. I also became more focused on running again. I ran my first marathon as a junior in college and my second a year after graduating. I loved the rhythm of training for a long distance race.

I’d read a book freshman year of college called Finding Ultra where a man named Rich Roll recounts his journey from overweight and unhealthy to a vegan unltramarathon champion. As I was running more, the idea of an ultramarathon appealed to me, so I picked up a similar book called Eat & Run by Scott Jurek. I was instantly inspired. Jurek discusses how as an avid runner, he found that a plant based diet helped him better fuel his body. In the book he includes recipes and recounts the types of this he eats to fuel his runs. I tried a few of his recipes and did some more research on what it really meant to be vegan.

Eat & Run lead me to read several more books on becoming vegan, most notably, The China Study by T. Collin Campbell. The book discusses the health benefits of a whole foods, plant-based diet. Maybe more notably, and much more controversially, the book also examines the link between animal products, especially the meats and dairy typical of an American diet, and many chronic illnesses common in the United States. 

The studies and analyses were enough to sway me to never eat meat again. 

I cut out meat immediately, and fish and eggs shortly after. It was surprisingly easy and natural to do. Having educated myself on the health benefits, as well as some of the environmental pros, it seemed like a natural next step. Moreover, it felt very true to me, like plant-based, health and enviromentally-concious living was exactly what I’d been looking for and it had been looking for me. Moreover, the change in diet was exactly what my digestive system had been looking for. 

Yes, I cut had things out, but I had also educated myself on “replacements” and ways to fill the gaps and ensure I was properly nourishing my body. I no longer felt afraid of meals – afraid that if I ate too much my stomach might put me out for the count for the rest of the day. I could eat as many whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as I wanted and feel great. It wasn’t an overnight change, but I did, and still do, feel a difference. I feel alert and well-fed. I am more in-tune with my body and hunger cues than ever before, and I feed my body the things it really wants and needs. 

Friendsgiving spread featuring a traditional charcuterie board along with some more vegan-friendly options.

Naturally, this translates well to running where I need my body to be well fueled for the marathons I want to run. I know my body needs lots of whole grains and plant-based protein, both before and after long workouts. I know that I feel much better when I fuel myself properly, and the plant-based diet has made nourishing my body easier and more natural. 

It’s been almost two years now since I last ate meat or fish. I will admit that I occasionally indulge in a non-vegan treat or two. I have friends and family who are very good bakers and if they send me a box of cookies I have a hard time saying no, even if there is an egg or two in there.

I try to note that I follow a “plant-based” diet and not “vegan” diet. Ocassionally, when people press me on what I do and don’t eat, I’ll just say “vegan” to keep it simple, or “mostly vegan.” Nonetheless, I don’t want to offend anyone who is vegan. I respect and admire those who follow a strictly vegan lifestyle, I’m just at a different point in my journey. 

I think that in the future I may go vegan, both in diet, and lifestyle. However, I need to educate myself more. I will admit that there is a whole other realm of the “lifestyle” aspect of being vegan that I don’t know everything about. I know it means not doing harm to animals or any living being, including and most noteworthy, not purchasing or wearing leather. I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment of not doing any harm and I want to learn more about vegan fashion and beauty products, and generally about what it means to live a vegan lifestyle.

At this point I’m well aware of the diet aspect. Over time I’ve naturally cut back on the non-vegan sweets and goodies, both because I don’t crave them so much anymore and because I am consciously trying to wean myself off of them. But it is hard to say no to friends and family, especially when they don’t always understand what I eat and why. So, while I am transitioning, I am also transitioning them and hoping they may come understand why I’ve undertaken this journey. 

“We can live as we were meant to live—simply, joyously, of and on the earth. We can live with all our effort and with pure happiness.”

Scott Jurek, Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness

I hope that by sharing the impact a plant-based diet has had on my life, that I may set an example for others who struggle with food intonerances and/or under-fueling their body. While at one point in my life, I felt as though my body was fighting against me, I now feel much more at peace now with both my body and the world around me, and peace is a beautiful thing. 

I am by no means a doctor or a nutritionist, so consult with your doctor before making changes to your life.

Books and other resources:

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek

Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

The China Study by Thomas M. Campbell II

Main Street Vegan (website, book, podcast & more)