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The Lessons I Learned In 2011
It’s safe to say I learned more in the past 12 months than I did during any year in middle school, high school or college. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
Sure, in high school I learned about parabolas and I read some great American novels and stuff, and in college I learned the most efficient way to crack open a box of wine.
But the best life lessons I’ve encountered in my 26 years on the planet came my way this year. For me, 2011 was a year marked by living alone, training for a marathon and forming new relationships.
I started to take running and racing more seriously, and consequently I found myself riding ridiculously high some days — in the spring I PR’d practically every weekend — and hitting some nasty lows, mostly due to my own silliness on the race course. Even on the bad days, I always loved what I was doing. I trained for a marathon and a half marathon through gnarly Crohn’s flare-ups, and I did my best to figure out my priorities on a daily basis.
You probably want to know about these groundbreaking lessons though, don’t you?
Oh. You don’t? Well then.
If you do want to read all about the things that have made their way into my brain this year, then read on. I’ve got some stuff to share.
Every run has a purpose. At this point, I should tell you that most of the “Great Lessons of 2011” come courtesy of Coach Cane and Mrs. Coach Cane.
Working with a professional running coach opened my eyes to the world of competitive running. Am I competitive? Not quite. With myself, yes, of course, but I’m not out there placing in races or lapping people in Central Park.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, yes, every run has its purpose, and I truly didn’t realize this until I started working with The Great Coach Cane. In 2010, I went out every day and just kind of ran. I didn’t have a watch, I had no idea what my pace was and I rarely ran races. I ran, and I loved it. But once I started working toward a goal — the Hamptons Marathon — Coach Cane explained that I would no longer just “go for a run.” Junk miles weren’t going to help me bang out 26.2 miles on Race Day.
Instead, he gave me a training plan that had me running five days a week. To my understanding (because honestly, the terminology still baffles me just a little), I did speedwork on Tuesdays, a short, slow recovery run on Wednesdays, some sort of tempo run or hill work on Thursdays, long runs on Saturdays and a slow recovery run on Sundays.
See that? Every run had a purpose in helping me prepare for the marathon.
Right now I’m not training for anything, so I’m big on the junk miles (11 miles on Christmas Eve, 4 miles on Christmas and the following day, a rest day on Tuesday, 10 miles Wednesday, 5 miles yesterday and 13.1 miles today, which I am calling the First Annual And Not Necessarily Annual Ali Feller New Year’s Eve Eve Half Marathon. Let me know if you want in for next year. I’ll make medals and stuff.)
So that is Lesson #1. Onto the next…
Even elite runners run slowly sometimes. I guess “slow” is a relative term, but I remember the first time I did a group run with Coach Cane’s City Coach runners. We did a warm-up from JackRabbit’s Upper West Side store into Central Park, and I was all, “I am so cool, I’m running with winners, I’m a winner too, now let’s sprint this warm-up!”
And then Coach Cane told me to chill. Turns out, even his speediest runners don’t do a 7:30 pace when they’re warming up. I was dumb. I am maybe still a little dumb. But we’re two lessons in, and look how much I’m learning already!
Every race won’t be a PR. Fine. I learned this one the hard way, I guess. I hadn’t raced much before 2011, so when I started signing up for races in Central Park, I knocked out personal records almost every time. I was running varied distances and I saw myself quickly getting faster.
Then I got deeper into marathon training, and I got slower. I grew more tired. I started to slow down when I raced. And then I kissed my glory days goodbye, at least for a little while.
A good friend sat me down one day (“sat me down” roughly translates to “lashed out at me on GChat using all caps, which means she was Internet yelling) and gave me the kick in the short shorts I needed.
She’s so wise and she said that not only will every race eventually not be a PR, but it’s also important to have non-time goals for some races. Goals like “don’t vomit at mile three” or “try not to cut people off so much, you jerk” are good goals to have. Those are just examples though. Go ahead and make your own. And thanks, Ironman friend, for the “pep talk.” Even though I don’t recall it being particularly peppy.
Your Garmin (or any timing device, really) can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When I’m running fast, I want to kiss that watch on my wrist. When I’m inching up Cat Hill and I see digital evidence of my rapidly slowing pace, I want to throw it in the woods. See? Best friend, but also worst enemy.
I’ve become semi-addicted to running with my watch, more because I like to track my distance than my pace. But I’m not blind to those pace readings, and sometimes after a run I analyze them and I get really happy or kind of pissed.
I’m learning to have a loving relationship with my watch, and I’m learning that I don’t always need to have the watch with me. I’m not codependent…right? Proof: Yesterday I mapped out my route beforehand and then ran Garmin-free. It was nice.
Running 26.2 miles can actually be fun. I never wanted to run a marathon. I have a “life list” and when I was younger I put things on it like “go skydiving” (check!) and “go on a safari” (no check yet) and “French kiss a boy” (no check there, Mom, I’m waiting for the right man, obviously). But last year, when I started getting more into running and had a handful of half marathons under my belt, I knew running a marathon was my next big goal.
So I went ahead and did that. And it was awesome. It was challenging, I got sweaty and man did I want to start tazing anyone on the sidelines who cheered for me and told me I was “doing great” beyond mile 13 (no, I really wasn’t, I was slowly dying, actually), but I look back on all 26.2 of those miles with a tremendous amount of affection. I loved running a marathon. I can’t wait to do it again.
Negative splitting is when you run the second half of a course faster than the first half. Who does that?! I clearly do not. You know what I’m good at? Going out really fast and then burning out with a handful of miles still to go. That’s basically my strength.
Oh, that’s not a good thing, you say? Fine. Coach Cane would agree with you, and we’re working on it. But this still counts as a lesson, because before this year I had no idea what “negative splitting” meant, and now it’s a term used often in my family.
For example, the day after Christmas Brian joined my family for a big lasagna dinner (he cooked it, we all basically did nothing but eat, and Ryan sliced some bread and Michaela poured water), and Ryan commented that I negative split my meal. I started eating kind of slowly, but then I really kicked it up a notch and piled more and more food onto my fork. We are learning to incorporate negative splitting ideas into all ways of life.
I am a runner. It’s true, and in 2011 I finally accepted it. I run often, I run happy and I run because I love it. For a long time I identified myself as a “writer” or “former dancer” or “really good eater.” But this year, I latched onto that runner title and felt proud to own it.
I am not the fastest runner and I’m not the runner who can log double-digit miles daily without my legs feeling like they’re going to fall off. But I’m pretty enthusiastic about running, so that’s cool.
While running was a huge part of my year, it wasn’t the only thing I did. So here are some other, non-running related lessons:
You have to actually like yourself before you can expect someone else to like you…or even love you. How cheesy is that? But stick with me here…
After The Great Breakup of 2011, I was not in the greatest place. I had lost my appetite, and instead of eating meals I was drinking drinks. I went out a lot to distract myself and I barely slept. I got really good at running with a hangover, though, so that was good I suppose.
For a few weeks, I was figuring things out. I wasn’t in the steady relationship I had quickly grown used to, and I didn’t really know who I was without it. Sad, maybe pathetic, but true.
It took me a little while to get back on my feet. During that time, I somehow got picked for Run For The Rabbit, and that changed everything. Suddenly I was surrounded by new, exciting people (Hi, Brian!) and I had something productive to work toward every day. I refocused, got back on track and replaced some of that wine I guzzled nightly with water.
Eventually, I was in a good, happy place. I had a new apartment all to myself, I was spending time with new friends and I was training for a marathon! I was really happy, and at some point I met Brian and I invited him to “watch the Run For The Rabbit commercials on my TV in my apartment.”
That brings me to my next lovely lesson…
Living alone is amazing. One of the bullet points on the aforementioned “life list” was to live alone. When I moved in with my last boyfriend, I thought that I would never get the chance to have my own place. I was kind of OK with it, because moving in together would be fun, right? Well, no, actually. It was not always fun. And because of that, I got my own apartment in the end!
I love living alone. I hate that it’s so dang expensive and I hate that every month when my rent check/Time Warner bill/Con Ed bill arrives, I don’t get to walk down the hall to some roommate to be like, “Yo, pay me half of this.” But I’m making it work.
You can survive just fine on two haircuts a year (max), zero eyebrow waxes and absolutely no manicures, plus pedicures only when you go home to see your mom and she’s just dying to shell out the $20 for you. Trust me. My grooming may be in a sad state, but the money I’m saving on those little luxuries means more Brooks Adrenalines filling up my closet. Also, I’ve never had a manicure last longer than the walk from the nail salon to my apartment, so why bother?
There is a lot of good in people. I used to doubt that. I really did. I met some mean people over the past few years. But this year, when I was raising money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, you people came out of I don’t even know where and helped me send a nice $20,000 check to some smart scientists in labs who better be finding a cure for this damn disease right now. I was floored by the constant support I received while I was fundraising. I received donations from people I went to school with, and I received donations from old friends, new friends and distant family friends. Best of all, I saw donations come in from total strangers.
Every now and then I’ll be walking down the street frantically and someone will slam into me, usually with 19 bags in tow, and I’ll get all pissed and I’m like, “She is the worst human alive, and all people are terrible!” But then I remember this summer, and the fundraising, and the niceness. And then I still think that bag lady is a bit of a bitch, but I feel better about the world in general.
This also goes beyond donations, by the way. I got amazing emails from people I don’t even know when I wrote that whole breakup post in the spring, and that was my first sign that people are cool.
A positive outlook makes all the difference. Crohn’s, you tried really hard to bring me down this year, didn’t you? You are such a little witch. But I showed you, didn’t I? You flared up, and I ran a marathon. You flared up again, and I ran a half marathon.
Since there isn’t a cure for Crohn’s disease, my medicine doesn’t always do the trick. But I am convinced that attempting to be less stressed and staying happy and positive really did push some of the Crohn’s into a more chilled-out place. My mom agrees, so it must be true…because she teaches third grade. We’re not doctors, but we still know stuff.
It’s really important to have a few good friends you can go to for whatever you need on any given day. Like the friend you can always count on to tell you your next run will be better, or the friend who is always up for that fourth glass of any alcoholic drink on a Wednesday night at a local Irish bar. I really don’t care if I have two friends or 132 friends — as long as those people are quality people I can depend on, it doesn’t matter how many of them I have.
My friends, both old ones and new ones, were everything to me this year. They were there on the wonderful days and they were especially there on the awful days.
You use “was” when referring to something that definitely happened, and you use “were” in a “wishful” or “if” situation. Yes, I am an editor. And no, I did not really understand when to use “was” and when to use “were” until this year, when a coworker kindly explained it to me.
In case you’re still confused, here are two examples:
- I was out to dinner last night and I ate two buckets filled with mussels (true story).
- I wish I were better at portion control (also factual).
See? It makes sense now.
You can meet people on the Internet, and other people might think that’s weird, but those Internet people may become some of your best friends. Thank goodness for the online land, because without it I wouldn’t have met Emily. Or Lauren. Or the entire kickass Sweat Squad. Some of my favorite people have names to me now, but they were once just Twitter handles or “the Runner’s Kitchen girl.”
You will be OK. I didn’t believe it for a while. I had to look at picture of it on my phone every single day before I realized that it was true. But here I am, and at least for now, I’m very much OK. And you will be, too.
There you have it — just about everything I learned in 2011. Of course there’s more, like I learned where all the bathrooms are in Central Park and I learned what time they all open and which ones are the cleanest (Tavern on the Green, you open the latest but dang you are spotless).
I’m pretty pumped about learning some stuff in 2012, too. Stay tuned.
YOUR TURN: What great lessons did you learn in 2011? Share them with me, so I can learn more stuff vicariously through others.