People’s Feelings About Anti-Hero Are Not Over-Reactions

I just finished watching the music video of Taylor Swift’s song, “Anti-Hero” after hearing some concerns about the scene in which Swift steps on a scale that reads the words “fat.”

I feel the need to address this because not too long ago, I was there too and very well could have seen myself making a similar video. Not, of course, because I can sing (for the record, I can’t) but because I used to be naïve to the ways that the telling of my own eating disorder story contributed to anti-fat bias and rhetoric. So, I sympathize with Swift, but at the same time, I also am calling on her to truly listen to the people who feel hurt and upset about her video. Just like I did (and still do), she has a lot to learn.

As stated by Shira Rosenbluth, an eating disorder therapist who has recovered from an eating disorder herself, “Fat people do not need to have it reiterated yet again that it’s everyone’s worst nightmare to look like us.” Fat positive activist Nic Mcdermind asks, “why do we continue to perpetuate the narrative that fat is the worst possible thing you can be. And that fat is synonymous with lazy, unworthy, disgusting, abhorrent or any other fucking adjective that non-fat folk use to describe how horrendous their bodies are.” Size discrimination is real and deadly. Doctors have missed cancerous tumors due to misconceptions the solution to every mental or physical problem facing a person in a larger body is solved can be solved by losing weight and many in larger bodies fear seeking medical attention for this reason. We really do not need another music video lamenting fatness.

“But she has an eating disorder!” people say.

I get that. I had an eating disorder too, and it was an experience I would not wish on anyone. Yet, it is crucial that people are aware that eating disorders do not just affect thin people. In fact, only 6% of sufferers are medically underweight. Studies have also revealed that doctors are more likely to diagnose eating disorders in white patients than black and Hispanic patients, even when they display the exact same symptoms.

I do not say this to mitigate Swift’s experience. I know firsthand that recovery is hard and painful. That being said, I also now know that the only reason I am alive today is because I was a young, thin white girl when my symptoms got really bad. Doctors took one look at me and believed my parents that I needed help. The New York Times just published an article called “You Don’t Look Anorexic,” that details the horrors that larger bodied sufferers have had to endure, and I encourage anyone to read it who has not done so already. Anorexia is not something you can simply diagnose by looking at a person, and it is not “less severe” just because the person impacted lives in a smaller body. However, complications from anorexia are more likely to occur in those who do not have access to treatment, and body weight and race, sadly, too often determine who receives treatment and who does not. Therefore, the fact that millions and millions of impressionable young people who look up to Taylor Swift are going to view this video clip of a thin white women stepping on a scale that says “fat,” is extremely problematic.

“But that is how she feels,” people say.

And they are right, to a degree. Yes, some people who struggle with an eating disorder will use the phrase, “I feel fat.” Yet, fat is not a feeling. Fat is a body type. I volunteer as a support group leader, and I remember saying these words to a group of people who are in recovery from an eating disorder. Every single one of them quickly came up with an alternative word to use to describe how they are feeling. Unworthy. Unloved. Scared. Anxious. Not enough.

I know what it is like to bullied for my size by my peers, and it happened to me both for being too big and for being too skinny. Yet, the development of my eating disorder, contrary to popular belief, was far bigger than a desire to fit into a certain pair of jeans. It was feeling like I was taking up too much space, that I was too much, that I was annoying, that I was unlovable, that I was alone. Imagine if Swift’s scale read a more poignant description of an eating disorder, something along the lines of the words I just mentioned, rather than a body type (a body type that is already marginalized). I do not want to put words in Swift’s mouth or tell her how she feels, but I can guarantee that there is a reason that “fat” is considered a bad word to her, and that being called “fat” evoked certain deep feelings for her.  

My intention is not to demonize Taylor Swift, nor to place blame directly on her for the anti-fat biases and attitudes that exist in our world. This is an issue that is far bigger than me, or Swift, or any one person or group. Anti-fat bias is a systemic issue, present in our schools, workplaces, TV shows, movies, clothing stores, etc. in ways for which some of us may not even be consciously aware. As I said before, I can sympathize with her because I, too, was not always cognizant of the ways anti-fat bias was present in the ways I told my own story and in the treatment I received as a child. I know that I have said and done some things were harmful to friends of mine in larger bodies.

As a thin white woman, I still deserve help and support, as does Taylor Swift. However, my having had an eating disorder does not negate my responsibility to do my best to not trigger others in my posts,  and to tell my story in a way that does not perpetuate harmful stereotypes or erase the experience of marginalized persons. I am also no more deserving of support and care than anyone else who struggles, which is why I believe it is important to continue to speak out.

Furthermore, eradicating anti-fat attitudes is beneficial to everyone. When I was at a low weight, I actually had people tell me, “I don’t care what you eat or how much you exercise, or what you do, just get back to a healthy weight.” Yikes!  Sometimes I wondered if people truly cared about me, or if they just cared that I inhabited a body that was “acceptable” to them, thin but not too thin, a little bit of fat to get a period again but not too much fat. It was not until I was 30 that I found a therapist and dietitian who care more about how I am actually functioning in my everyday life than what a scale says.  Everyone deserves care that is not based solely on a number.

So, in closing, my message to Taylor Swift is this: I cannot pretend to understand what it is like to be a celebrity, and all the pressures that come along with it. You are getting a lot more critique than I ever did or ever will. However, you also have the power to make a much bigger impact than I ever can or ever will because so many people, including myself, listen to your music and admire you. I encourage you to follow the Instagram accounts of fat positive activists. I encourage you to read the stories of persons who have struggled with an eating disorder in a larger body. I also hope you will get involved with organizations, such as ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) and Project Heal, which seek to help people gain access to treatment, most especially persons who are often overlooked by medical professionals (persons in larger bodies, LGBTQ+ persons, and persons of color). And last but not least, I hope you continue to heal.

The best thing I ever learned was that no one who struggles with an eating disorder is alone, and that not everyone’s story is the same. This video clip deeply hurt people that I care about, and if someone is hurting, we need to listen. I know that some people think that such feelings are an over-reaction. Yet, instead of labeling people’s hurt as an over-reaction, why not try to listen to them and learn?  Just because you are not offended does not mean it can be ignored, especially since lack of offense often stems from privilege. One day you might be the hurt party, and you will hope someone listens to you.

From Inpatient to Ironman: Ironman Maryland Race Report

Friday September 16th. All of my bags are packed. My cell phone is going off every minute with messages from friends wishing me the best. My finisher jacket is purchased (with the agreement that we will sell it on EBay if I don’t finish, but Bryan keeps telling me we won’t need to do that). Suddenly, I just start crying.

“Let’s go home.” I utter these words to my husband, and I truly mean them. I am terrified. The distances of each leg of the race flash through my brain- 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. I cannot imagine doing it all.

It is not that I thought I could do it during training. In fact, just a few months earlier, I had planned to try to defer to next year. A bout with COVID in mid-May had left my body drained and fatigued for weeks. I withdrew from the Musselman 70.3 to the shock of friends and family. “If Kate is not lining up for a race, it must be bad.” Even when the worst of my symptoms were over, my body could not hit the paces it previously could, and I often needed naps to get through the day. On the day I withdrew from Musselman, my coach talked me out of a complete panic attack and told me we would continue to take things easier, but that Maryland was still on the table. However, I would have to really buckle down and could not afford another illness, injury, or missed weekend of training.

With the pressure of doing a 70.3 off, I finally felt more like myself by the middle of the summer. The naps became less frequent, and I started having some breakthroughs in my research, and began to enjoy training again. I was back. I was doing this, yet it still seemed so far away. So far away, in fact, that it just did not seem real.

And now, it’s totally real.

It did not feel quite as real when we were picking up my bib, enjoying the Ironman Village.

It did not feel quite as real attending the pre-race prayer. I was so happy when people from the group recognized Bryan as “the guy with the water bottle.” I posted a picture of Bryan helping me learn how to grab water bottles while riding on Facebook and it went viral in some of my triathlon groups. He was famous!

Pre-Race Prayer Crew Featuring the Water Bottle Guy

 It did not feel real at the Underwear Run, while I was enjoying making new friends and laughing as we ran through the streets of Maryland in our crazy outfits. I bought myself a special Wonder Woman sports bra and shorts set just for this pre-race shakeout run. There is something healing about finally feeling comfortable enough in my skin to wear this outfit, this top that says “Brave” on the front.  

I met another Wonder Woman!

 But, right now, right in this very moment, I no longer feel brave because now it feels so real. The Ironman tracking app has my name on it. What have I done?

“Babe, you really have an out here. Do you want to go home?” I mean it this time. I have never panicked so much before a race, even the 2021 Chicago Marathon, my first race post-stress fracture. For those of you who know Bryan, you know that he is not a fan of crowds. He would much prefer to be home relaxing than spectating this race. And here I am giving him an out!

Bryan refuses to take me home. He holds me and begins to talk me down from my panicked state. Yet, even he, the person I have loved more than anything else in life, does not understand. He did not know me way back when. I tell him he would never have fell for me if he did, though he argues otherwise.

There is a common stereotype about eating disorders that you never fully recover. Many people told my parents that I would never “get over this.” Like a game, we go through all of the things people told me I would never do that I have done.

High school English teacher who told you (right in the middle of eating disorder treatment for a relapse) that you would not get into Fordham, your dream school.

Class of 2011, summa cum laude. Check.

People who said you would never be able to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon after your stress fracture.

Boston 2022 done, 4 seconds off a PR, over $4,000 raised for ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders). Check.

People who said you would never be able to make it in academia if you were honest about your past.

All the times people have thanked me for what I am saying and doing. Also, I really love my job! Check.

Next, Bryan reminds me of what I wrote to the elementary school students just a few short hours ago. Upon checking in, every Ironman participant received a letter from an elementary school student. Fifth-grader Aubrey’s words meant so much to me. Later, back at the hotel, we had the opportunity to write messages back.

I told the kids, “I was picked on for my entire life. I was picked last for everything in gym class. Now I am going to become an Ironman. Don’t let ANYONE tell you that you cannot do something.”

I check my phone one last time before trying to head to sleep (although I know I am not going to sleep). My sports dietitian, after spending much of Thursday afternoon back and forth with me trying to figure out my bike nutrition plan (I had a lot of trouble with that during training, more on that later), sends me one last email wishing me luck. She tells me to remind myself that I have taken my life back and that I have gone from “inpatient to Ironman.” (hence the name of this blog post).

A few friends send me messages, and I tell them honestly how I am feeling. Nobody tells me I should not race. Nobody thinks I need to go home. I realize that no matter what happens, people care and that means a lot.

For most of my life, I thought I was alone, alone in feeling like I never belonged anywhere, alone in struggling with an eating disorder. The past couple of years, volunteering as a support group leader for ANAD, starting Athletes Against Diet Culture, and working with a therapist who herself has been recovered from anorexia for 25 years, has made me realize I was never alone and that sadly, people are often too ashamed to talk about it (and there is a major lack of awareness and resources, but that is a whole other post). Now, I am not alone. People are watching me. I have got to at least give this a shot! Here we go…  

The race starts at 6:30am. I do not sleep. I try my best to get ready without waking Bryan but then we both realize that he forgot to put a letter in my bike special needs bag. He takes out a pen and paper and writes something that I try my best not to look at, since I will need a surprise to look forward to halfway through the bike course.

I go downstairs to the hotel lobby, and get on the earliest shuttle I can. I tell the people on the shuttle that I am a nervous first-timer and to please tell me to shut up at anytime if I talk too much. Sometimes I talk up a storm when I am nervous! Thankfully, they all laugh and everyone starts sharing where they are coming from and what number Ironman this will be for them. The man in front of me is doing his 13th Ironman. OK, if people come back to do these things 13 times, they can’t be that terrible, right?

Transition does not open until 5am, and we are there with quite a bit of time to spare. The race volunteers are joking that we are the early birds. I talk to the man next to me, who has put on his wetsuit in order to stay warm. He is nervous too, and if you are going to be nervous, it is nice to be nervous with someone else. It is pretty chilly and it is still pitch black outside.

When they finally let us in to transition, I go straight to Roo Bitch (my bicycle) and see that she is still racked in the same place. I take her to one of the volunteers who helps me pump the tires and advises me what PSI is best for the race. I then attempt to put all of my nutrition on to my bike which proves harder than I expected. Given my short stature, my bike frame is pretty small. I fill my Torpedo with my carbohydrate drink and then my Speedfil with water. I end up having to tape my Fuel For Fire packets (the only thing containing protein that seems to work for me on the bike) and peanut butter packets to my bike frame. When satisfied, I go back to look at my bike and run transition bags. They were dropped off the night before, but it gives me comfort to see them again before the race starts.

I realize I have arrived way too early. I have so much time to spare that I just walk around, pray, and try to soak in what I am about to take part in with all of these people around me. The Beatles “Here Comes the Sun” starts playing and the words bring me comfort.

 Ironman Maryland had a buddy program, where they place new Ironman athletes with Ironman veterans. A woman named Bailie, and myself, were assigned as mentees to Heidi, who has done a couple Ironman races before. The three of us kept in touch a lot via email before the race, and we meet up at around 6am to give each other some last-minute pep talks. I feel better heading off to the starting line having seen two familiar faces. I know these ladies will remain friends long after this race.

I line up with the 1:11-1:20 swim pace group. I do not think I can swim this fast, but this is where my coach has told me to line up. As I stand on the blacktop in my wetsuit, I realize that my entire body is shaking and it is not from the cold. I have never been this nervous on a starting line before. Behind the gates, there are hundreds and hundreds of people waiting to see us go off. After the National Anthem, the crowds start cheering and people begin to move forward.

This is it. This is actually it. I look around me and realize that it is way too late now to run back to transition. I am doing the race.  I make the sign of the cross.

As we get closer to the start, the announcer, Tony Lugo, is full of energy. “I want to see everyone smiling. No getting in the water without smiling!” He makes us laugh and I give a smile (if you don’t feel it, fake it, right?) as I enter the water. And then I just start swimming.

I almost did not sign up for Ironman Maryland when I heard that the water contained jellyfish. However, numerous people convinced me that it was not so bad, and not a reason to renege on the race. During training, Bryan bought me a jellyfish squishmallow that became my training buddy. We joked that Jelly was there to help me get acclimated.

Jelly and I on our way to Maryland!

As I swim through the crowds, I think about Jelly and laugh at on old Facebook comment from a friend, “Think about all the good stories you will get to tell Jelly about his weird looking family in Maryland!”

About an eighth of the way through the swim, I still have not felt any jellyfish and I am shocked. However, I have been kicked in the face by fellow swimmers quite a few times. These feet are worse than the jellies!

However, about a fourth of the way in, I feel two sharp stings on my face. They got me! I lift my head out of the water for a few seconds to absorb the shock and then I just keep on swimming. I look at everyone around me. I can tell by the look on some people’s faces as their heads pop up that they have been stung too. We are in this together.

I cross the halfway point of the swim and am shocked that I feel pretty good. I am keeping the pace nice and easy, and just trying to stay calm. When I see the finish line, I am pleasantly surprised. The swim wasn’t so bad! Sure, I have a few jellyfish stings, but I do not feel that tired.

One sport down, two to go!

I climb out of the water to so many cheers that I cannot help but smile. After crossing the timing mat, a volunteer asks if I need help with my wetsuit. She tells me to get down on my butt and manages to pull my wetsuit off of me in literally a second. I tell her “you are a miracle worker” and then I run to get my bike transition bag. It is kind of chilly outside still, so I put on my Wonder Woman cycling jersey for a bit of warmth and also, because, I love this jersey. As I run to grab my bike, people start shouting “Go Wonder Woman!” and then I hear, “Kate! Kate!” It’s Bryan! I told him he did not have to get up this early, but he is here already!

I put sloth tape on my bags so that they would be easy to recognize in transition. That being said, the volunteers were amazing and had them ready for me as soon as I came in!

When I see Bryan, I point to him and yell, “I’m married to water bottle guy!” I can see him laugh.

I grab my bike and head out. On the way to the mounting line, volunteers are handing out sunscreen. I know Bryan will yell at me if I do not put any on (big Boston Marathon 2022 mistake- I looked like a lobster after that race), and I try my best to at least get my face.

I keep reminding myself of the advice my coach gave me. Take it one discipline at a time. I try not to think about the fact that I have just swam 2.4 miles or that I will have to eventually run a marathon. I just focus on mounting the bike.

The course starts through the neighborhoods of Cambridge, and the weather is perfect. I am feeling great. For the first 20 miles, I look down at my watch a handful of times and see that I am pacing well. Between 18-20mph is my goal. My GPS watch goes off every 5 miles of the bike, and I decide to pray for a different person every 5 miles to help me pass the time.

I really did a bad job of rubbing in that sunscreen!

At mile 20, I notice we are moving through cornfields. I make note of how beautiful this is and think about how I cannot wait to tell Bryan.

A little over an hour in, I remember that my dietitian had wanted me to take one of my Fuel For Fire packets every hour. I rip one off of my bike frame, and struggle to get it open. “Why, why is she making me do this?” I am tempted to just throw it away but know that I have to keep fueling or I will not have any strength for the marathon. I manage to get it open, spilling some on my bike frame. I remind myself that I can wash the bike later.

Eating is a lot easier on the indoor trainer! That being said, I do not regret the way I spent most of my training. Riding outdoors is risky, especially alone and I did not want to risk an awful injury. I do ride outside, just not very often. The indoor trainer is also often harder than cycling outdoors. Outside, you get occasional rests if there is a downhill, whereas inside, you are constantly pedaling.

At the halfway point, I still have a lot of energy and am still enjoying the course. I think to myself “wow, if I was doing a half-ironman, I would crush it today!” I am encouraged by how great 56 miles feels, since that felt like an insurmountable distance to me just a little over a year ago. Except I am not doing a half-Ironman, I have another 56 miles to go.

For as long as I can remember, I have been consumed with intense an hatred of my legs. Now I say to myself, “look at what these legs can do!”

At mile 64, we pass through a high school where we are able to access our special needs bags. As much as I want to save time and skip, I know I need to stop because I have to refill my Torpedo with my second bottle of concentrated Glycodurance in order to get enough carbohydrates to do this ride. Thankfully, the volunteers are amazing. As I start breaking, they start shouting my number. I do not even need to get off of my bike. Someone is there holding my bag open for me. I find my bottle and pour it into my Torpedo while trying my best to read Bryan’s letter to me. His handwriting is too small for me to see it all (thankfully he took a picture) and I cannot keep it. Just seeing words like “strong” and “inspiration” tell me enough. I also notice that he wrote “slow down if you need to. Make sure you take all of your nutrition.”

That reminds me that I am supposed to eat a peanut butter packet at the halfway point, and we are already past that. During training, I struggled a lot with bike nutrition. When I started doing my 5 hour bike rides, I would consume the amount of carbohydrates I was told to have, but would still feel dizzy at the end. My dietitian told me it was reactive hypoglycemia brought on by consuming too many carbohydrates without any protein or fat. My assignment, for the last few weeks of training, was to find sources of protein and fat I could consume on my bicycle, not an easy task for someone with an eating disorder history who really thought she had nailed her nutrition just a few weeks prior. During one training ride, I tried to eat part of a waffle, and it felt like lead going down my throat. The chewing was harder than the pedaling! So that was a no. I ended up finding that Fuel For Fire smoothies (a random find at the grocery store) and peanut butter packets were the only things I could tolerate.

And yet, I did not account for how hard this peanut butter would be to open. I am struggling with the package, trying to rip it off with one hand, and then trying to bite it hard. I start cursing my dietitian, “why is she making me do this?” People are starting to pass me. Finally, it opens and I get some of it on myself, and I slowly squeeze the rest of it into my mouth. I pick up the pace. I am flustered but at least I am not hungry. I am grateful I have a dietitian that I trust and I know I would not have never made it to the starting line without her. I think back to all of the times I would race and skip fueling, thinking it was somehow better to be able to get along with less. I have a come a long way, and this peanut butter incident will make a great story post-race.

At mile 80, the pedaling feels tougher. The 5 mile intervals are passing by more slowly than they did in the first part of the course. I realize that I am now riding into a headwind. Seeing the slower mph on my watch is making me angry, so I decide to stop looking at it and just do the best I can. I cheer myself up when I realize that for the second time, I have grabbed a water bottle from an aid station volunteer while riding my bike and successfully putting it into my Speedfil. For those of you who have not raced a long-distance triathlon, this is a skill that takes practice. I was told by my coach to try it, but that it was also OK to get off my bike to refill the Speedfil if necessary. Twice before the race, Bryan did practice sessions with me where he would stand at the end of our block, and I would pull up to him and grab a water bottle. As we near the final 20 miles of the race, I just want to be done with it and am so grateful to not have to get off of my bike!

The cramping is so bad, I am not sure how I am going to finish this. I start to need to break aero for a few moments at a time every so often. I pick out different course markers.  Stay in aero until that next tree, then break for a bit. Stay in aero for another two miles, then break for a bit. At least you are still moving!

At mile 100, I know I am going to finish this bike course, and I am pretty proud of myself for my effort. I no longer know my pace, but I know I am riding pretty strong and that I battled a headwind for a bit out there. Yet, the final 12 miles seem to go on forever. I actually get afraid that I have made a wrong turn. We head back into the neighborhood of Cambridge, and I keep waiting anxiously to see transition. When it finally appears, I am so excited.

I dismount my bike, and Bryan is there screaming. As I wave to him, I realize that my energy is waning. I give him a look to let him know that I am hurting. I start to panic when I feel my legs and need to walk, rather than jog, to rack my bike. I hear Bryan in the background saying he saw something red in my teeth- probably the darn peanut butter!

In the women’s changing tent, I realize that it is extremely hot outside. As much as I want to wear my Wonder Woman cycling jersey and continue to hear people shout, “Go Wonder Woman!” I know that stripping down to my sports bra is the better option. I grab my Roo pouch, count to make sure all of my gels are there, and take off. This is supposed to be my strongest sport, and yet I feel like I’ve just completed the bike of my life and have very little left to give. I run to the bathroom, figuring that I need to pee, and that I also could use a little extra transition time to hopefully start feeling my legs again.

I eat another Fuel For Fire and I take off. Bryan is there! I know this is going to be a struggle from the moment I start. I decide right then and there that I am not going to look at my watch at all. I am just going to run and try to enjoy the scenery.

At mile 1, I am starting to panic. I do not want to show it, but I am seriously doubting I can get through this. The first mile seems to drag on forever. How do I repeat this 26 times when I am already this tired?

At mile 5, I run into a porta potty. I know this is costing me precious minutes, but I have to go, and besides, I know my legs can use the rest too. After the pit stop, I feel refreshed and remember my coach’s advice. “Think of the aid station at each mile as a party station because that is really what it is. The volunteers are going to be so happy to see you and cheer you on. So just tell yourself that you need to keep getting yourself to the next party station.”

I decide to do that. I run to each aid station, then stop and walk through to grab my nutrition, then start running again. My goal coming into the race was to run the entire marathon (something my coach told me only a small percentage of people can do) and finish it in under 4 hours. I am not sure if the walking through aid stations counts as full-on walking (and I am disappointed if I cannot say I ran the full marathon), but I tell myself that I have to do what is going to get me to the finish line.

I take a gel at mile 8 and immediately regret it. The taste of what is normally my favorite flavor, apple cinnamon, sickens me. No more gels. I decide that I am going to rely on Gatorade alone and hope it is enough. I make it a point now to really walk the aid stations, since my Gatorade consumption is even more vital.

It is also starting to get hot, and whenever I can get my hands on ice, I grab some and put it all over my face and down my sports bra to stay cool.

Part of me is sad that I am moving slower than I wanted to be at this stage of the race, yet when I realize I am already on loop 2 (of a 3 loop course), I start to feel better. I am making my way through this. I am surviving.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The nice thing about the looped course is that I also get to see Bryan twice on each loop. I make mental notes of how far away I am from him, and that gives me something to look forward to while I am running. We also get these cool colored bracelets every time we complete a loop, and each time I get one, I remind myself I am closer to becoming an Ironman.

At one point, I yell to Bryan “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!” I know that he is going to be out here for longer than he expected. Even without looking at my watch, I know my run pace is not where I had wanted it to be. He tells me not to apologize and that I am doing great. I have no clue if I am actually doing great, or if he is just saying that because that is what you tell people in the middle of an Ironman. I wish I could ask him, but that would cost me even more time!

I keep asking myself, “why didn’t you stick to 70.3s?” At one point, I find myself running next to a few other people and I joke with them “70.3s from now on!” and they all nod and keep chugging along.

At the run special needs bag station (which I end up not needing- I packed a long sleeve shirt in there and it is HOT), there are a group of teenagers who I think must be cheerleaders from the way they can do acrobatics. Each time I come around, I look forward to seeing them.

At the start of the third loop, I start to feel really shaky. I am suddenly afraid my race could be over. I know I cannot take in any more sugar, yet I also know that I cannot stop fueling. I look around the aid station.

Fig Newtons. No

Oranges. No

Bananas. No

Cookies. Definite no!

And then I spot pretzels. I grab one and eat it slowly, then grab a few more to carry in my hand for any future bouts of nausea.

The pretzels save me. I instantly feel better. Every time the nausea comes on, I slowly bite on a pretzel.

A guy ahead of me is breathing really heavily and moaning. I can tell he is struggling. I tell him, “just get to the next aid station, that strategy has been helping me!” He suddenly turns to me and says “I am so grateful to have someone to run with!” We stay with each other for a few miles, saying nothing and just knowing we are feeding off of one another for inspiration.

At mile 17, I see my friend John, who led our Friday morning prayer group. He asks me how I am feeling. I am honest. “I feel like crap.” We run together for a bit, and I start remembering his advice from yesterday. Find God on the course. I realize that as much as I am struggling, God is all over the course. God is in the volunteers, in my fellow competitors, in the beautiful surroundings, in everyone that is pushing for me to finish this thing!

As I go through the rest of the final loop, I start to realize that I am probably going to make it. I dream about hearing Tony Lugo tell me I am an Ironman, and the thrill of those words propels my legs forward. I also start to realize that maybe I am performing better than I think. Both spectators and fellow participants keep remarking to me that I look strong. I pass a lot of people on the run, and they are impressed that I am running. Instead of being disappointed that my run is slower than I wanted, I focus on being grateful that my legs still CAN run.

I see Heidi for the second time on the last loop. She looks so energetic and cheerful, and I am in awe of her ability to call my name and wave. I can barely mutter a hello. I also see Bailie a few miles later and try my best to give her a smile, but I am so exhausted that it’s hard to say much.

With a few miles to go, I run by a woman who is on her second loop. She is passing the halfway point, and she starts singing“ Oh, I’m halfway there, ooohhhh, livin’ on a prayer!” I start trying to sing with her, but I do not sound too great. We cheer each other on and I keep trying to hold on to her enthusiasm.  

At mile 23, I decide that I can finish without any more aid stations, and I decide to run to the end. Miles 23 and 24 pass by fairly quickly. I come to the spot where Bryan was located and see he is no longer there. He is on his way to the finish line! Oh my God! I am going to become an Ironman! Instead of thinking about my time, I think about that. I am on my way to becoming an Ironman!

Mile 25 seems to go on forever. I keep feeling like I already ran 1.2 miles and must have missed the finisher chute. I finally see a sign to head to the finish line and I start to speed up a bit. There is a woman in front of me who I have seen off and on throughout the course. I pass her and say “almost there!” She yells to me, “go, go! Let’s finish this! I’m right behind ya!”

I wonder if I am going to break 12 hours. I hope so, but I do not want to look at my watch. Nothing is going to ruin my finish line moment. People have warned me not to rush it, to soak up the attention from the crowds because once the moment is over, you can never get it back.

I make my way to the red carpet finish line. The crowds are going wild. I see Bryan and I blow him a kiss! I suddenly have a burst of energy and I smile the entire way. It is magical.

The best feeling ever

Tony Lugo starts shouting, “Come on Kathleen!” My legs are moving. I am not sure how, but they are moving. I cross the finish and hear those cherished words, the words I have spent so many hours training to hear. “Kathleen Mroz, you are an Ironman!”

All the tears, anxiety, and loneliness of recovery- worth it. All of the early mornings at the pool, the 5 hour bikes rides, the long runs on jelly legs- worth it.

Thinking about it now, Pitbull and Christina Aguilera’s song “I Just Wanna Feel This Moment” comes to mind. I wanted so badly to finish, but I also did not want that finish line feeling to end.

A volunteer hands me a medal and tells me I’ve done a great job. I look down at my watch and see 12 hours and 1 minute. My heart sinks. Really? I missed breaking 12 by a minute!

I smile for the camera. I don’t care what my official time is, I’ll find out later.

Then I remember how hard I worked out there, and how hard I worked to get to this moment and decide that I want to feel happy and proud today, not disappointed. I am surprised I can walk. I had expected that I would finish and collapse. Instead, I am walking pretty well, but I feel incredibly nauseous. I find Bryan and hug him. A volunteer asks if I need food and points us in the direction of pizza, rice and beans, and tons of other treats. I am too afraid to put anything in my stomach and I decline.

I remember that my bike, transition bags, and morning clothes all need to be picked up. I cannot imagine making the trip to back to transition, I am so woozy. Thankfully Bryan says he will pick everything up himself. He puts me on the next shuttle back to our hotel and says he will catch up with me later. In the shuttle, my phone starts blowing up with messages. I feel so loved.

I will spare everyone gross details, but I have never needed a shower so much in my life. I get dressed in my finisher shirt, my finisher jacket, and a pair of comfy leggings, then put my medal around my neck.

When Bryan gets back with my bike, we wash it down a bit (again, I will spare gross details) and then head down to find dinner. We settle down at a nice buffet in the hotel and I immediately ask them to bring me bread and butter. My stomach is now hungry, and that is the only thing I feel I can tolerate. They bring me the most delicious basket of bread and butter, and Bryan makes fun of me as I devour it while he helps himself to all of the other things on the buffet. Finally, at his urging, I realize my stomach is letting me eat, and I help myself to a bit of shrimp and a few veggies. We also order Manhattans. After a week of not drinking, they taste delicious.

A few days before the race, someone told Bryan about Smith Cakes being a Maryland thing and we knew that we wanted to try one. We order ourselves a Smith cake to split (which I end up eating most of), and it is delicious.

Back in the hotel room, I am inundated with messages. It is so hard to feel frustrated with my finishing time when all of these people are congratulating me. I log-in to my Facebook group, Athletes Against Diet Culture, and see that people have been posting about me and tracking me all day. There is a post from the afternoon with my bike splits that says, “Not only is she crushing diet culture, she is also crushing the bike course!” I cry with tears of joy. I do not have words to convey how grateful I am.

Thankfully, we booked an extra night in the hotel so we did not have to drive back the day after the race. We were not sure at the time if we were making the right call, but when we wake up on Sunday, we are grateful for it. All things considered, I feel pretty good. My ankles are sore, and I am very tired and hungry, but I am walking fine and I have energy to do stuff. Bryan and I head to Ironman Village and walk around the shops in downtown Cambridge. I marvel at how beautiful the course was, and it is fun to see all the racers relaxing in bars and coffee shops.

Bryan buys me an Ironman necklace, and I wear it proudly.

Not going to lie- I still wear this necklace to work!

We then spend the afternoon playing mini golf, sitting in the hot tub, and, at Bryan’s request, going down the waterslide at the hotel. We eat dinner at an amazing seafood restaurant and share a platter of seafood nachos that are seriously the best nachos I have ever eaten. It is a great day. If we did not both have to go back to work, we would have loved to have stayed in Maryland longer.

Enjoying Manhattans and Seafood Nachos.

Overall, I felt like Ironman training was more difficult than marathon training. It took up a lot more time. While my peak long run for a marathon might be 20-22 miles, and 3-3 ½ hours at most, my peak workouts for the Ironman were 5-6 hours. Oftentimes, I would still have a long run the day after those too! The first part of training was not so much different than 70.3 training and was pretty enjoyable, but the last part was tough, especially on Bryan. Waiting for someone to finish a 6 hour workout on Saturday morning can be frustrating, especially when you have just purchased a new house and have a lot of work you want to do. It also got to a point where I felt like I lost all of my speed. Sure, I had great endurance, but my paces got slower because my legs were tired literally 100% of the time. I even skipped a 5k on Labor Day weekend because my body was just so shot from training (normally, I always have room for a 5k!)

Yet, in spite of that, I did not get injured once during training and I credit the work of my coach in making sure I struck the right balance. It also felt really cool to accomplish workouts I never thought I could. The journey was incredible, and one I am ultimately glad I decided to undertake, even if it may be a while before my next one (yes, I have softened a bit and went from “absolutely never again” to “maybe someday”)

The interesting thing about an Ironman compared to a marathon is that in an Ironman, you are out there for A LOT longer BUT you are doing everything at a conversational pace. For reference, my marathon time for the Ironman was over an hour slower than what I ran in Chicago and Boston this past year. In a marathon, you are running much faster and that beats up your body quite a bit. Thus, I was a lot less sore after the Ironman than I was after Chicago and Boston. After those races, I could barely walk the next day, and had trouble with stairs. I felt like I could vacation after the Ironman, whereas after a marathon, I am much more limited in what I can do.

Training for and completing an Ironman was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done physically. Even in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would ever be able to accomplish something like this. I have the utmost respect for my fellow Ironman athletes and for all of the volunteers.  There is something special about participating in an endurance event. Total strangers become friends as you meet on the course, on shuttles, in hotel lobbies, and realize that this one thing connects us across different ages, cultures, and backgrounds. Triathlon has given me something I have searched for my entire life- a place where I belong just as I am.

The volunteers at Ironman Maryland were absolutely phenomenal. I barely had to ask for anything the entire race. I always felt safe, and like people were looking out for me. They inspire me, and I truly hope I can give back to this sport because it has given so much to me.

Twenty years ago, I was not allowed to swim, even during the August heat, due to risk of hypothermia. My parents stopped in my room every night to make sure I was still breathing. I was unable to even take my dog for a walk in the park.

On September 17, 2002, I was supposed to go home from the hospital. I was so excited. I had my things packed and was waiting by the door for my parents when the doctor entered my room and said, “not today. You lost weight.”  I was hysterical. The nurses and other patients were starting to get frustrated with me. I felt completely hopeless and lost, and oftentimes wished my family would give up on me.

On September 17, 2022, I became an Ironman.

Thank you all for reading this, and never let anyone convince you that your dreams are out of reach. Do not let anyone tell you that you are hopeless. You deserve support and love.

Recovery is possible.

Thanks to my family and for everyone who did not give up on me.

What Being An Athlete Against Diet Culture Means (To Me)

May is Mental Health Awareness month. As a theologian and an athlete, I am passionate about the topic of mental health both in academia and in sports, at all levels.

May 6th is also International No Diet Day. As many people know, I consider myself an anti-diet culture theologian and running coach and am the founder of the Athletes Against Diet Culture Facebook group. I firmly believe that athletes come in all shapes and sizes, that food does not need to be earned with exercise, and that movement should be joyful. I also believe that athletes should be provided with spaces to focus on their training without constant unsolicited pressure to lose weight, burn calories, or maintain a certain body type (hence why I created the AADC community).

That being said, there are a lot of misconceptions about what being anti-diet culture means, and I often receive pushback for my desire to fight weight stigma. Therefore, I decided to write this piece about what being an “athlete against diet culture” means. I put “to me” in parenthesis since I am not the only voice contributing this conversation. I am still in need of critique and growth, especially since I come from the perspective of a person with white, cisgender, thin, able-bodied privilege.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-weight loss or body changes. It is anti- celebrating body changes as automatically good without having any context, or celebrating one body type as being better than another. 

When a person makes changes to their diet or takes up a sport or activity, body changes can and do sometimes occur. They also sometimes do not occur. Sadly, our culture has been so programmed to think that less weight = greater health that we compliment weight loss without even knowing a person’s situation. People have been told to “keep up the good work” when recovering from COVID, receiving cancer treatment, or when deep in the throes of a dangerous eating disorder. Instead of celebrating body types, celebrate actions. If you ran your first 5k, great! Go you! That is a worthy accomplishment regardless of the size of your waist.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-photographs. It is anti before and after photos that imply one body type is more worthy than another.

Many of us love to take photos to celebrate or mark particular occasions. This is no less true of sport. However, before posting a picture of yourself next to another picture of yourself twenty pounds lighter looking for praise, think of what that picture says to everyone else who is viewing. What message does it send to those whose bodies resemble how you looked before? Why not just post a current photo of yourself and tells us what you are doing or how you are feeling? Loving and being proud of your body should not come at the expense of bodies that look different from your own.

And yes, this is different from posting a before or after photo that highlights a change in hairstyle or hair color. People do not experience systemic oppression on a daily basis due to hair color, while weight-based oppression is very real and very harmful.

Anti-diet culture is not anti-competition. Many athletes against diet culture are highly competitive with ambitious goals. However, goals can still be important without being placed over and above a person’s mental and physical health.

Diet culture negatively impacts a person’s LONG-TERM ability to enjoy and be successful in sport. Coaches who promote disordered eating behavior are only concerned with SHORT-TERM result, not an athlete’s longevity in the sport. If you have not done so already, read the story of Mary Cain.  

Anti-diet culture does not mean “I have to love my body.”

Sure, I would love it if all people could truly see their body’s beauty and worth all the time simply because I hate the thought of people suffering. That being said, not loving your body does not make you “bad,” especially when we live in a culture where people are oppressed because of what their body looks like. As an athlete against diet culture, I believe that people can make steps toward treating their bodies better even when not feeling totally in love with them. The body positivity movement was created by and for marginalized bodies, yet it has often be co-opted in ways that serve the bodies of those who need it the least.

Being anti-diet culture does not mean hating communal exercise groups or fitness classes. It does reject assuming that all people who are at the gym want to change their body.

Exercise has numerous physical and mental health benefits to which coaches and trainers can appeal. There is no need to advertise a race as a way to “burn off” or “earn” food, nor is there a need to advertise a strength training class as a way to “slim down.” First of all, food does not need to be earned and the implication that it does is extremely dangerous. Second, exercise is not a punishment for eating and seeing it as such actually decreases one’s likelihood of enjoying and sticking with a particular sport (seriously, who likes to be punished?) Third, it should not be assumed that every person is working out with the desire to alter their body (even if you personally are, that does not mean everyone is). Telling someone at the gym, “let’s get rid of those love handles” is insulting.

Being anti-diet culture athlete does not mean believing everyone or everything is healthy. It does mean refusing to believe that weight alone is an indicator of fitness.

You cannot judge a person’s health or fitness by their size or BMI. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not one is “healthy” (which is not even an objective term anyway), everyone deserves access to quality health care and respect. Judging health by size negatively impacts EVERYONE. Take the time to get to know people!

What would you add here? What misconceptions do you feel people have about being an athlete against diet culture?

Do you like what you see? Join the Athletes Against Diet Culture on Facebook and follow on Instagram.

126th Boston Marathon Run for ANAD: The Race of My Dreams

126th Boston Marathon Race Report

I am going to start this race report a bit differently and share with you a paragraph from a journaling assignment my therapist made me do. It was called “A Day in My Life When I Am Recovered.” For some reason, when I woke up at 4am on April 18th (too early for my 5:50am Uber to the bus), I found it on my computer. It was quite fitting for the day that awaited me.

“I am on the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I have qualified again, I’m not sure how old I am or how long it took, because I suppose that now that I am recovered, I did not set such a rigid timeline and I did not give up because of a few subpar performances. But it is not that far off from now (oh God please tell me it isn’t). Even though I already have a bib and do not technically have to raise money, I have fundraised a ton of money for eating disorder awareness. This run is not for a personal record, it is for raising awareness and for celebrating the sweet victory of being truly free. Everyone knows now and I am OK with that. My story has helped other people not to feel ashamed.”

I wish I could say that my entire assignment was this uplifting, but the paragraphs that followed basically outlined why this would never happen, and how I would eventually be revealed to everyone as a fraud, not a real athlete or a real scholar.

I am still a work in progress. BUT reading this did remind me just how meaningful this race was, and it reminded me that I should not be focused so much on my time, but on the experience. I also, right then and there, decided to really dedicate this race to all the people who in some way or another helped me quiet the voices in my head that told me such awful things, and who believed in me.

The week leading up to Boston had me way more nervous than I expected, even more nervous than before Chicago. While Chicago was the race that proved to me that I could run sub 3:30, this race had so many people following me and tracking me. A couple of days before the race, my mom said with pride, “you have quite the fan club there!” Having so much support touched me, but also freaked me out. I feared not finishing or getting injured and not even making it to the starting line. Even harder than training for the marathon, I started sharing the story of my eating disorder recovery publicly. Of course, I am happy that I did that. Most of the feedback I have received has been positive, and I raised $4,000 for ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders). Yet, I still, deep down, harbor this fear that people look at me differently (and some really do though I keep telling myself I’ve gained way more than I’ve lost).

Although I ran Boston once before, it was on the old qualifying standards (the standards were made five minutes faster after the 2018 race) and I had hypothermia for most of the race. I was miserable and barely remember it. So, for me, this felt like my first Boston Marathon. Without overdoing it, I tried to soak in as much of the experience as possible.

On the Boston Marathon Facebook group, people constantly joked about one of the items on the Adidas website. We are still not quite sure what it is – a purple sweater dress? On a whim, I decided to purchase one for myself so people would recognize me on marathon weekend. Yes, it was an $85 well spent to make people laugh and to be honest, it’s quite cute and comfy!

My purple thing!

Bryan and I went to the Expo on Friday hoping to beat the crowds. It was still super crowded, but enjoyable nonetheless (at least for me anyway since Bryan was disappointed there were a lot less vendors than 2018). When I picked up my bib, the volunteer exclaimed that I had a great number and that I must be pretty fast. I felt so honored and thrilled. Although at the back of Wave 2, I was so happy to be in Wave 2 this time!

I am also excited to be running the marathon on the 50th anniversary of female runners being able to race. During training, I read the memoirs of Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb, and felt so inspired. It still amazes me that during my parents’ lifetime (in other words, not that long ago) people thought women could not handle running 26.2 miles. We sure have proven them wrong!

The first thing we saw at the Expo were a large basket of Spike the unicorn stuffed animals. I already have a Spike from 2018, but I instantly fell in love with the 2022 Spike. When we noticed he was wearing a shirt with a white bib, it signaled to me that Spike was in my wave. Bryan offered to get me one. I also bought a pink unicorn headband to wear during the race.

The Spikes

I met up with friends on Saturday afternoon and evening. The running community is so supportive, but many of us interact solely online for most of the year. It is so fun getting to finally put names to faces, or catch-up after having not seen each other for a very long time.

The 45s

When I was dealing with my stress fracture, I read a book called “Rebound” that helped me so much in overcoming my injury. I got to meet and have coffee with its co-author, Cindy Kuzma, which was absolutely amazing. I came out of seeing everyone feeling more confident. I kept reminding myself that all of these people were there for me at my worst, and that their pride for me now was not based on what time I will run, but that I made it to the starting line at all.

Me and Cindy Kuzma

Me and some friends from the Boston Marathon 2022 Group

On Saturday night, I finally got to see my parents, who drove all the way from New Jersey for the marathon. While I was doing marathon socializing, they spent the afternoon at Fenway Park (not exactly the place of choice for two Yankee fans, but they felt that as baseball fans, it was something they needed to see at least once in their lives). My parents bought Bryan and I Boston shirts, and gave me a unicorn stuffed animal in honor of my running Boston. It was perfect.  

On Sunday, we went to church at Emmanuel College, which is where I work. I received a blessing both from Fr. Terry, the main celebrant of the mass, and from Sr. Janet Eisner, the president of the college and longest serving female college president in the country. My parents came in from NJ and my mother brought her famous spaghetti and meatballs to help me fuel.

With Mom and Dad at Emmanuel College

On my long run three weeks before race day, I agonized over whether or not to wear my Athletes Against Diet Culture shirt. Then I said to myself, “if people don’t like what you stand for, do you want to run with them anyway?” In the end, I was so glad I wore it. First of all, it was in appreciation for everyone who belongs to the Athletes Against Diet Culture group. Second, a few people told me they recognized who I was because of the shirt. After that I decided that it was going to be part of my Boston Marathon outfit.

Flat Kate is ready!

On race morning, after reading the journal entry I mention above, I headed to Boston Common to board my bus. Thankfully, I was able to get on a private bus, and I met a lot of great folks on the ride up to Hopkinton. I also got really antsy. It is not easy to arrive at your destination at 7:30am and not be running until 10:25am. Thankfully, I kept getting a lot of text messages wishing me luck. Between answering those and making sure to continuously hydrate, I kept occupied.

The walk up to the start line was long. When we got to the area of lining up in our corrals, I saw a long string of porta-potties with tons of people waiting. I suddenly realized I had to pee. I kept looking at my watch and at the lines. Finally, I decided I could not hold it and it was not worth it ruining my race. However, the line seemed to take forever, and I kept wishing people would hurry up. It also meant that I missed meeting up with my friend Bobby who I had been doing some training runs with and who was planning on a similar goal. By the time I got to the starting line, I was in the back of Wave 2 and it was 10:31am.

I was disappointed to be starting late, and a bit frazzled, but I quickly let it go and decided to get into gear. As some people reminded me on the porta potty line, “it’s chip timed, all that matters is the time recorded between start and finish!”

Up until the week of the race, I had been very iffy about my goals. For most of training, I told my coach that I just wanted to do Boston for fun. My coach was supportive of this. After all, I had already qualified for both 2022 and 2023 with my time at Chicago. However, he also reminded me that since I am paying him, he is obligated to always let me know what my potential is. Deep down, I think he knew that I thrive on competition and on pushing myself to the best of my ability. I also had a remarkably strong training season, not having to miss any long blocks for injury or illness and running a 5k PR twice. Sure enough, with the perfect weather, I made a secret pact with myself that I was going to “go for it.” I decided to set four goals as usual.

A goal: PR (sub 3:22:14)

B goal: qualify for Boston again (sub 3:30)

C goal: qualify for Chicago again (sub 3:40)

D goal: PR the Boston course (sub 4:02).

Miles 1-5

I start to tear up when it hits me that I have crossed the timing mat, and my loved ones are getting notifications that I am now running the race. This is it. I am running the Boston Marathon again. The first mile is way more congested than I had hoped. This is both a good thing (prevented me from going out too fast which is very easy to do on a course like Boston) but also a bad thing (I felt like I kept weaving in and out of crowds of people and trying to pass people). I am pretty happy with my pacing, and most of it is just by feel. My coach said to expect the downhills to be faster and the uphills to be slower, and not freak about it so long as my miles were not faster than 7:20s. At mile 3, I pass a group of guys and hear one of them say, “ugh come on, we are getting beat by a unicorn woman!” I just smiled to myself and said “yes, you are!”

Mile 1: 7:36  

Mile 2: 7:25

Mile 3: 7:38

Mile 4: 7:27

Mile 5: 7:37

Miles 6-10

I wave and smile as much as possible, enjoying the signs of when we enter a new town. However, I still feel like I have not quite yet found my people. I am constantly weaving in and out, and know I am not doing a good job of running the tangents. When I get to mile 10, I assess how my stomach feels. The voices are not as loud as they were during Chicago and my gut has gotten used to more fuel. I do not feel that awful bloated feeling I had at mile 10 back in October, and I continue with my planned fueling strategy.

Mile 6: 7:24

Mile 7: 7:30

Mile 8: 7:42

Mile 9: 7:38

Mile 10: 7:44

Miles 11-13

In the middle of mile 11 are two men dressed in bumble bee outfits. “Hi bumble bees!” I yell. This is what it’s all about, the spectators. I at least tell myself that I am enjoying what I could not notice back in 2018 when I felt so sick.

However, seeing two miles creep into the 7:40s, I get a bit freaked out and start to increase my speed. I also see the Wellesley scream tunnel and it gets me super motivated. Some of their signs are also hysterically funny. I do not stop and kiss anyone since I am on a mission to run this to the best of my ability and so far, I am on target pace.

I look down at my watch and see that I have crossed the halfway point at almost exactly 1:40. This is right on target for a 3:20 marathon, but I know that I have yet to conquer the Newton Hills. Expecting myself to positive split, I already feel slightly disappointed.

Mile 11: 7:42

Mile 12: 7:23

Mile 13: 7:28

Miles 14-16

After mile 13, I decide that I need to focus on savoring Boston and running by effort. I make the decision to stop looking at my watch, at least for the time being. I tell myself that I can always check it later on in the race. After all, a friend had given me a 3:20 pace band on the bus and I put it on my wrist at the last minute. I still feel really good, but know I need to save my energy. Bryan and our friend Elodie have said they will be around mile 15-16, so I get excited knowing I can start looking out for them. Unfortunately, I am still running in a huge crowd. They have a hard time seeing me, but spot me when I am zooming past them and I get to give them a brief wave.

Mile 14: 7:21

Mile 15: 7:40

Mile 16: 7:20

Miles 17-21

I brace myself for the hills, reminding myself to try to enjoy them. After all, these are the hills I have trained on the past couple of months and they are “home” to me. I channel my high school cross country coach who used to tell us to act like we were chomping up a flight of stairs and to remain calm. I also channel my friend Susan who likes to shout, “I love this hill!” Knowing that the hills were a challenge for me during training since I had a hard time keeping up with my friend Bobby whenever there was an ascent, I wonder if I may be pushing too hard. I start to feel pain in my right hip at mile 18. I search my Roo Pouch for Tylenol and cannot find it. Realizing I am not going to get Tylenol in me before I reach Boston, I try my best to block it out. I keep telling myself “You are OK. You’ve got this, just keep focusing on good form and get to the finish.” The pain keeps coming and going. This has happened before and usually just takes a good foam roll. I remind myself that it is likely not a fracture or anything awful.

When I get to Heartbreak Hill, I keep telling myself, “just get over this and the hardest part is over.” At mile 20, I briefly contemplate looking at my watch to see how I should pace myself for the last 10k, but then I decide against it. I want to enjoy this last 10k, not be riddled with disappointment that my goals are already off the table or pressure to meet them because they are still on the table. Suddenly, I hear my name being called. I look over and at first, I am confused. Then I see my friends Eddie and Kathy, and I smile and wave. After I wave to them, however, I realize I am so tired that I am not sure if I really saw them. Post-race I find out that that indeed were there (at least they say they were!), but we now have a running joke about marathoners having “Eddie hallucinations.” When I get to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I feel a burst of emotion. People are holding signs telling us that we’ve conquered it, and I feel super excited.

Mile 17: 7:38

Mile 18: 7:44

Mile 19: 7:24

Mile 20: 7:42

Mile 21: 8:10

Miles 22-25

Coming down Heartbreak Hill, I get another burst of excitement. I am still not looking at my watch, but I know the hills must have slowed me down, so I try to speed up. As a Boston College alum, running down the other side of Heartbreak Hill gives me a burst of energy. My parents have said they will be at Cleveland Circle, so I begin to look out for them. My quest to make sure I see them is keeping me occupied and able to forget the pain. Finally, at the corner of Commonwealth Ave and Chestnut Hill Ave, I see them. They picked a great spot to spectate since I can see them pretty clearly. I hear my mom shout, “I love you!” I blow them a kiss and yell “I love you!” back with a big smile.

 I thought the hardest miles of the race were the Newton Hills. I was wrong. It is definitely miles 23-25. After seeing my parents, it suddenly hits me that I am starting to struggle and that I want this thing to be over already. I feels like forever until I reach the mile 23 and mile 24 markers. However, the crowds are amazing. I am wearing my unicorn headband and people keep yelling “go unicorn!” and “yeah unicorn girl!” I try to soak in all of their love.

At this point, I assume I have slowed down and try to just focus on finishing strong. I am hoping that maybe I will see my husband soon and he can give me some sort of indication of how I am doing time wise.

Mile 22: 7:42

Miles 23: 7:47

Mile 24: 7:57

Mile 25-26

Ironically, while miles 23, and 24 seem to drag on forever, I seem to feel a newfound energy when I see the “one mile to go” sign. I also remind myself to not go too crazy since, for most people, the course ends up being a bit long due to the crowds and not being able to run the tangents. I briefly consider looking at my watch again thinking it could motivate me to move faster. However, I decide against it. What if it makes me upset?

When you see that Citgo sign…

Before I know it, I see the sign for Hereford. I actually felt like I had longer to go on Beacon St, so this is a nice surprise. I shout out loud, “Hereford!” It’s such a spectacular moment. I know at this point that I am going to finish the race. I do not even feel the small incline. When I make the left on Boylston, the finish line seems so close and yet so far away. I am so tired, but the crowds are so loud, and it is just incredible. You feel like a superstar the entire way. I consider peaking at my watch again to get a sense of where I am. I literally could not tell you my time if you paid me! However, I start to remember that this has been a longtime dream of mine. I want to feel nothing but joy when I cross that finish line. I can deal with the time later. I decide to be oblivious and just give the best finish line pose that I can possibly muster.

Nevertheless, when I get closer to the finish, I notice that there are time clocks for Wave 1 and Wave 2. Wave 2s time clock reads 3:29 something. Wow, I have to at least be under 3:30! And I know I started later than 10:25, so I have to be a few minutes faster than that at least!  I speed up really fast to make sure that I at least get my B goal. I put my hands up in a victory pose! This is it! I made it!

Mile 25: 7:49

Mile 26: 7:48

.5: 7:08

Finish line happiness

When I cross the finish, I look down at my watch and see 3:22 something. I am ecstatic. Wow, I really did not slow down as much as I thought! I feel surprisingly OK, but I have a lot of trouble walking. Another difficulty of the Boston Marathon course is that there is a lot of walking after the race.

My phone rings and I immediately answer it. “Congrats, baby! New PR!” It’s Bryan. Did I? My watch does not say so, but perhaps I have turned it off late. I will have to check the official results.

It takes a while to reach the place where they are handing out blankets and medals. For a while, I keep fearing that I missed getting mine, but then quickly look around and realize the people next to me do not have their medals either. When a volunteer finally puts a medal around my neck, I savor the moment. I have zero pictures of myself wearing my medal from the 2018 Boston Marathon due to being placed in the medical tent immediately after finishing. A nurse had to bring my medal to me almost two hours after I had already finished, and by that time, I was in no mood for happy photos. When I reach the thermal blankets, I hear screaming. It is my friend Sophia from elementary school! We have not seen each other in years. She embraces me and we pose for a selfie. I thank her immensely since she lets me have two of the blankets. By this point, I am feeling pretty cold!

It takes a while to find Bryan. A kind volunteer helps me reach where he is waiting with my bag of clothes. Instead of checking a bag, I gave my stuff to Bryan to carry. This was due to our experience of difficulty with trying to obtain my bag from gear check in 2018. The BAA was super secure (for which I am grateful) and would not allow Bryan to pick up my bag for me. It took multiple trips and phone calls from the people in the medical tent to the people in gear check to get things sorted.

When I see Bryan, we embrace! However, I also start to look at my phone and realize that my official finish time is 3:22:18. I did not PR. Bryan lied. To be fair, he was off by 4 seconds! Part of me is thrilled since it really is a better outcome than I expected. Part of me is also, I cannot lie, disappointed. I keep thinking back to places I could have surged. I wonder if looking at my watch would have helped me, especially right at the end.

With Bryan and Elodie in Boston Common

We take the subway and then the bus home, stopping briefly to get some desserts from Mike’s Pastry. I take a brief nap, and then we take my parents to dinner at the Stockyard, where I enjoy a big Manhattan and lots of delicious food.

Enjoying post- race meal at the Stockyard

Overall, it is one of the best days of my life. Some people told me I would never BQ again, and they were wrong. Even though I did not reach my A goal, I gained something really important from this race: more confidence in myself as an athlete. I thought for a while that I would stop doing marathons to focus exclusively on triathlons, but now I really feel like the marathon and I have some unfinished business. I would like to go for a sub 3:20! That being said, for the short term, my focus will turn back to tri since my next races are the Musselman 70.3 and Ironman Maryland.

Again, a big thanks to everyone who was a part of this day: the volunteers, the other runners, my family and friends.

Recovery is possible. Scary and hard, but possible and WORTH IT!

Irish 5k Race Report & Why I Am Glad I Learned to Love the 5k

I did not enter this race to win and perhaps, that’s why I won (in more ways than one).

I was supposed to do the Irish 5k in Pawtucket, RI in 2020, right before the world shut down due to COVID. It was supposed to be a meet-up with several running friends. Unfortunately, a few days before the race, I felt really sick and not up to racing. I said, “next year” but March 2021 was cancelled.

5ks are not the easiest to fit into a marathon training plan. Also, for the past several years, I have been notorious for hating 5ks. Speed has never been my forte. My current coach has really taken that into account. At first, I resented it, but now I realize how much I have benefitted from working on my weaker points as a runner. Back when I ran 60-70 mile weeks, anything faster than marathon pace was pretty awful. Now, running much less mileage and being a triathlete, I feel more comfortable at faster paces and 5ks have becoming something I look forward to rather than dread.

I am also notorious for putting too much pressure on myself and for being very anxious. I often check the weather a million times before race day. I scour races to find ones with the flattest courses. I even, as much as I hate to admit it, check previous year’s results to see if I have a chance at being a top finisher. COVID has shifted my priorities a bit. Having races taken away for so long, I am much happier to just run with people even if the conditions are not ideal, and that has led to me going outside of my comfort zone more.

In January, I ran an unexpected 5k PR of 20:54 at the Resolution Run to Kick Cancer in Lexington, MA in 16 degree weather. Coming away from that race feeling like I could have pushed a bit harder, I was eager to do another 5k. In February, I signed up for the Cupid’s Chase 5k in Wakefield. It was my favorite course and a picture perfect 50 degrees, so when, after racing my heart out, I ended at 21:13, I was a bit sad.

So, this 5k excited me because I wanted to do it for the sole purpose of meeting up with my friend Jeremy (we’ve had a running joke about running a 5k together for a while now with me backing out for various reasons) and spending the morning in Rhode Island. When I heard there was a huge hill the first mile of the race, I figured “great! Not going to feel bad about not getting a PR! Let’s see what I can do on something with some hills!”

The atmosphere was great. As someone who is Irish, I loved hearing the bagpipes at the start and having a chance to wear my Irish-themed socks and gloves.

Tina Muir, elite runner and founder of the #Running4Real community taught me about #nowatchme, which means running by effort instead of checking your pace. Running watches are great for so many reasons, but they can also lead to an unhealthy and unhelpful obsession with pace.

For longer races, I sometimes like knowing my splits since it can be very easy to go out too fast (after all, the first part of a marathon should feel like you are holding quite a bit back). However, I have completely stopped looking at my watch during 5ks (I do keep it on to get the metrics post-race). It has helped me so much and has allowed me to focus on just doing my best in the moment. In the past, seeing a slower split would often wreck my confidence, thereby not letting me enjoy the rest of the race. Seeing a faster split would sometimes scare me into thinking I need to slow down or that I cannot maintain it.

This race was no exception. I started up the hill and just said “maintain effort.” I could feel my legs slow down at some parts, but decided to just let them do their thing. At ¾ of a mile in, I started getting worried about how uncomfortable I felt. To make matters worse, the hill did not end with a downhill but a long straight-away so my legs did not get the break I had hoped for after reaching the top. Mile: 6:40 (according to Strava).

When the watch beeped, I passed this incredibly strong looking kid that could not have been more than 11 or 12. I was completely in awe of his speed and had I been able to string together a sentence I would have yelled to him “I wish I could have done this at your age!” I started feeling better by the halfway point. Mile 2: 6:38 (according to Strava)

At mile 2, I kept reminding myself not to speed up until at least halfway through the mile. In a 5k, one mile left is not “almost over.” A course marshal on a bicycle passed me and yelled something. I could not make it out. I thought perhaps he said “you are first place female, keep it up!” but then I quickly got rid of that thought. “He’s just being encouraging.” I knew I was in front, but I did not want to assume I was first. After all, at the MR8k in December, I spent the entire race thinking I was third place female only to realize that there were two elite level women way ahead of me that I had not been able to see. There was a prize for third that race, but no prize for fifth (although my husband bought me bagels!)

Thankfully during warm-up, I had studied the end of the course. I knew it was a slight incline and I knew exactly where the turn was. I made the turn and began to speed up. I knew I likely at least had an age group win, so I wanted to maintain whatever lead I had. Also, from my time as a high school cross country runner, I learned that people can surprise you can come out of nowhere in the last few seconds of a race. I heard footsteps behind me and sped up. I looked to my left and was relieved to see it was a dude. “OK, at least he’s not going to beat me out of an award.”

At mile 3, I could start to see the clock. 6:37 (according to Strava). I noticed I could break 21 and I sped up again. Then I heard the announcer. “Let’s hear it for our first place female!” Normally, I feel completely drained at the finish but I found some way to speed up even more, worried that someone could still beat me. I had no clue who was behind me. Then, I saw the tape, and I put my hands up with a huge smile. “And she’s looking happy!”

Breaking the tape felt amazing, though a few race volunteers actually asked if I was OK. I was, just needed a moment to catch my breath. Official time: 20:43. 11 second PR and first place win!

Post-race, I did a mile cool down with my friend Jeremy, who also crushed the race and my husband, who did great as well. We then watched a little bit of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and ate bagels in the car because I was really cold (sorry). It was a really fun morning!

What I love about the 5k is that unlike longer races, I can do more of them. They cannot all be PRs, but if one does not go as well as hoped, you can sign up for another one soon. Furthermore, I like just running without a watch and seeing where my speed takes me. All of my best 5ks have been run in that manner. Finally, I think going into a race without pressure really helped. Sometimes pressure can actually detract from race goals because worrying takes up energy, and it can be easy to go out too hard.

My coach has always told me “strong before long” and as a new coach myself, I now abide by this with my own athletes. As a runner, it can be easy to just do what you are best at all the time because it feels good, and it is less scary. However, it can also keep you stuck where you are. Moving to distances that are harder can be a challenge, but the more often you do something, the more comfortable it feels. Also, getting used to running faster paces (like 5k and 10k pace) has made half-marathon and marathon pace feel even better.

People often try to debate which race distance is hardest or most impressive. I do not think there is an answer to that question. Each has its own challenges, and training for any distance is hard work. Appreciate all of it and learn as much as you can!

So yes, I won this race, but the real reason I won this race is that I did not enter it to win, and I PRed in fun along the way.

This Lent, I’m Fasting From Diet Culture

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the start of the 40 days of Lent. Discussions of fasting and “giving things up” can make Lent a triggering time for those who have struggled with, or are supporting a loved with, an eating disorder/disordered eating. Fasting or restricting a person’s intake can lead to a lot of physical and mental health concerns, and therefore, should never be seen as a necessary practice.

How one observes Lent is a very personal decision but ultimately, the point is to focus more closely on God. And we cannot focus on God without loving our neighbor. Fasting is not required to love your neighbor, and in fact, it quite often detracts from it.

Think about it. You are in the cafeteria. Your friend is eating meat on a Friday. You say, “yo, its Friday!” and they put down their hamburger. What have you accomplished? The world isn’t any better than it was two minutes ago.

Now, let’s say you are in the cafeteria fasting from diet culture. You refuse to laugh at jokes about other people’s bodies. You make an effort to really listen to the person talking instead of worrying about your next appointment. Sure, you did not solve world peace, but you are slowly dismantling an oppressive system that labels only certain types of bodies are holy, moral, and worthy.

So, this year, I’m fasting from diet culture (at least I am trying to, that’s the other thing- God’s love is so vast that we can mess up, dust ourselves off, and try again).

  1. I will fast from media that tries to sell me diets, even if they are packaged in the name of “wellness.”
  2. I will fast from making judgments about myself or others based on their body size, including about their morality, their athletic ability, their struggles, their health, etc.
  3. I will fast from referring to certain foods as “good” or “bad,” realizing that doing so can also have racist and classist implications.
  4. If I do not find a purpose for doing a certain exercise beyond calorie burn or weight loss, I will refrain from that exercise.
  5. I will not laugh at jokes that poke fun at certain body types.
  6. I will honor my hunger, or if I am recovering from an eating disorder and cannot yet trust my body to give me hunger signals, I will put my trust in someone who can help me.
  7. I will fast from telling myself I do not deserve help, while at the same time, working to assist others obtain help if they are having difficulty.
  8. I will pay closer attention to the needs of those around me. Rather than restricting my own intake, I will think of ways I can give my own time, money, resources, ideas, etc.
  9. I will do more talking in spaces where voices like mine have been marginalized, and more listening in spaces where voices like mine have been dominant. 
  10. I will try to gentle with myself and others, while recognizing that being gentle does not preclude setting boundaries with people who say or do things that hurt me.
  11. I will try to be patient with others, remembering they may be struggling with something I cannot see.
  12. I will fast from listening to people who tell me that I am doing Lent the wrong way. This is between God and myself. It is not a contest.
  13. I will add my own voice and perspective to these since the person that wrote them does not know everything about everything, and is a work in progress too.

Great thing here is that once Lent is done, its great to continue these things. Lent need not be about giving something up and then rushing to do it again at Easter. It can be moving toward a long-term change that will ultimately benefit your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, and God.

I wish everyone a blessed Lent!

2021 Chicago Marathon Race Report

(if you just want the play by play of the run itself, feel free to skip the story)

September 28, 2019. Two weeks before the Chicago Marathon. I was having a great training cycle, and now a lot of the hard work was over. The schedule was 15 miles with 5 at goal pace. It started out strong until sudden pain stopped me completely in my tracks at mile 9. I had no choice but to call an Uber home, trying not to cry in the backseat. 

I rushed to my sports medicine doctor the following Monday. He thought it was a quad strain and that I could recover with some dry needling and rest. I remained hopeful until we got to the week of the race and I still could not run a step. In fact, I even missed the bus to work one morning because running across the street was impossible. My physical therapist, who was seeing me frequently and trying everything to get me to the starting line, had me do one last exercise. Lateral step-downs. If I could not do those without pain, Chicago was over. I could not even manage to bend my leg even the slightest.

The previous fall, I convinced my husband, Bryan, who was a bit reluctant, to enter the Chicago Marathon lottery. He did it and was accepted. It was too late to back out of the trip when flights and an Air B&B were booked. It also would not have been fair to Bryan who trained hard. On Facebook, I made the painful post that I would not be joining my husband on the starting line. I went into hard core cheering mode and was so proud of him. He finished strong! Everyone commented on what a great sport I was.  Yet, they did not witness the time I spent crying in bathroom stalls or into my pillow at night.

When we got back from Chicago, my doctor ordered an MRI. It was a stress reaction in my femur. While this news devastated me, I was also fortunate. It was a reaction, meaning it had yet to progress to a fracture and it was in a location that, my doctor explained, was more conducive to a quicker healing time. Nevertheless, it was still at least eight weeks of absolutely no running, and another three to four weeks of just run/walk intervals after that.

At 13, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I missed a great deal of eighth grade being in the hospital and various partial hospitalization programs. It almost killed me. My parents were told to make trips to my bedroom in the middle of the night to check that I was still breathing. I was so ashamed that I hid it from everyone, or at least tried to do so. I feared people finding out, so I made it my mission to seem as “OK” as possible. In college, I had to get the best grades. I could never miss a day of class, and I could never make a mistake lest someone think my eating disorder made me less capable, less trustworthy, less scholarly.

In graduate school, I refused to see a therapist or dietitian. I had to show the world “I’ve totally got this on my own.” Having help or support felt like admitting defeat and something that could risk my chances of getting into a PhD program or getting a job. The cost of getting treatment felt too high for a full-time graduate student and I refused to accept money from anyone for that purpose. I also had a severe mistrust of treatment professionals after some horrible experiences as a child (we’ve come a long way since 2002, even if we’ve still got work to do).

Given how careful I was with my training, my doctor said the likely cause of the injury was under-fueling. He ordered a bone density test which revealed osteopenia in my hips. I fell into a deep depression. Without running, I was not sure how to deal with my anxiety. I joined a Facebook group online called The Injured Athletes Club. I read sports psychologist Carrie Jackson Cheadle’s book Rebound. The book had a checklist of signs that a person should seek help for an eating disorder. I laughed at it at first, “there’s no way I’m struggling again at my age.” Bryan, who met me long after the worst of my battle was over, suspected something was not right and made me take it. Together, we clicked off most of the boxes. There was no denying that I could no longer do this by myself.

I had been seeing a dietitian right before the fracture, but now I had to really start listening to her instead of only doing a fraction of what she told me. She convinced me to stop looking at the scale, and to just focus on my performance. I went about the process of finding a therapist, which was literally harder than getting into a PhD program (and yes, even in a big city like Boston). My dietitian ended up recommending a woman who herself had anorexia and has now been recovered for over 25 years. At first, I was like “hell no!” I assumed that anyone with an eating disorder would be too broken or too damaged to actually help me. After all, I thought of myself as broken and damaged, which is why I had to keep my struggles a secret.

With nothing to lose and people on my back that I needed help, I e-mailed her anyway. She was completely booked, but I got off of her waitlist within a month. Long story short, I do not know how I would have gotten through the past two years without her. She taught me that I was not broken beyond repair, and that I could use my experiences to help others. She is the reason I still believe in full recovery.

 One of the exercises in Dr. Cheadle’s book was to make an anxiety pyramid. Basically, you put smaller goals on the bottom of the pyramid and larger goals on top, and you work your way up the pyramid slowly, checking things off until you get to the peak. On the bottom of my pyramid, I had “start cycling again” and “do run/walk intervals.” A bit further up I wrote “run outside again” and then even further “do a race.” Somewhere near the peak I wrote “do another marathon.” Then, in a fit of I’m-not-quite-sure-what, I wrote “run the Boston Marathon to raise eating disorder awareness and money for those who need treatment.” When I brought it to my therapist, I said, “if I qualify for Boston again, that’s what I’m doing. But I never will, so haha.” I never thought I might actually have to do it, or maybe deep down, there was a small part of me that believed.

At the recommendation of friends, I found a triathlon coach. On our consultation call, I planned to turn him down, thinking it was too much money to spend on myself. However, after an hour- long conversation with him that included me feeling comfortable enough to reveal my eating disorder history, my husband said, “he’s hired!”

Fueling myself properly seemed like an insurmountable challenge at first. There were times my husband had to talk me through eating before my workouts. There were times I thought of just giving up, and there were times I just wanted to revert back to old behaviors because they felt strangely comforting. However, it did really get easier and easier. I saw that my therapist and dietitian were invested not only in my recovery, but my athletic success and happiness, and that the two seemed to go hand in hand. Previously, as a child in treatment, I felt like everyone was against me. Sure, people told me they wanted me to be healthy, but it always seemed like being “healthy” had to come at the price of being myself. For the first time in my life, I did not have to feel afraid to be honest about my struggles for fear that sports would be taken away. I could still be an athlete and in recovery.

I became hooked on triathlons and started calling myself “triathlete” instead of “runner.” I am not going to lie. The sports world can be toxic for someone in recovery from an eating disorder (though it should not have to be). There is talk of “lighter is always better,” there is food shaming and body shaming. There are websites and groups that I have to stay away from. Yet, the training partners and friends I met through triathlon are people I could now not imagine my life without. I was shocked when I found myself telling them about my struggles, and thrilled beyond measure to have their support in maintaining my recovery while getting faster in the three disciplines.

When I could not run Chicago in 2019, I deferred to 2020. Due to COVID-19, I had the option to choose between running 2021, 2022, or 2023. When I first received the e-mail, I considered just forgetting about the marathon but somewhere deep inside, I knew I had to get closer to the top of my anxiety pyramid. I signed up for 2021, reminding myself to have very low expectations. When Bryan and I booked our hotel, I took a picture of myself wearing a crash helmet, joking around that Chicago was a cursed race for me. As many of you know, I use humor a lot as a way of dealing with stress.

For much of the spring, I was focused intently on the Patriot Half Ironman, a race I loved. In fact, I loved it so much that I considered doing another 70.3 in August. Yet, when talking to my coach, I realized that deep down, my desire to do another 70.3 right away was really an excuse to not think about and focus on Chicago. Ultimately, I decided against it in favor of doing some sprint triathlons that would not get in the way of my marathon training.

Training for a marathon again was scary. Having focused on shorter distances and triathlons post-stress reaction, I spent over two years not having done a run longer than a half marathon. My first 15 miler was humbling. I had to check in with my dietitian about how do long runs again, and this time, I had to actually do what she said, rather than ignoring half of the plan. For a while, it felt like every weekend I was posting about completing “my longest run post-stress fracture.” Sometimes while running I had to actually say out loud to myself, “you are ok. You are ok.” Somehow, the more runs I did where I did not fracture something, the more confident I became. I even ran by the spot where the injury happened, speeding by at marathon pace and giving it the finger. Nevertheless, I kept conveying to my coach how scared I was, and how this could be a mistake.

After winning my age group at the Sharon Triathlon this past August with a strong run off the bike, my coach turned to me and said, “see? Aren’t you more confident about Chicago now?” My answer was, “trust me, you don’t understand. The marathon and me, it a whole different ballgame.”

I told people I was just “training for Chicago to finish the race and survive.” I even told myself that. Yet, everyone could see that was a crock of crap. I refused to talk about race time goals with anyone, and yet, somehow, people would say to me, “that 3:20-3:25 looks possible,” or “I bet you are going for a 3:20-3:25.”

During taper, I injured my hamstring. I did not run for 10 days. Part of me was resigned to “here we go again, its Chicago, what did you think would happen?” Another part of me was like “fight, fight, fight.” My physical therapist worked with me, and on race week, cleared me to toe the line on Marathon Sunday. A mixed blessing, the weather predictions helped me get my mind off of my hamstring. With a predicted high temperature of 80 degrees and a starting temperature of 70 degrees, Chicago was going to be far from ideal marathon weather.

I talked it over with my coach. The Baystate Marathon was a week later and the weather looked much more promising. I would lose my race fee, but our plane and hotel were refundable. Should I switch?

We decided against it. There was a chance Baystate could be just as hot, and there was a chance Chicago would cool down before race day. Also, Chicago was a once in a lifetime experience given the travel expenses. Baystate could be done any year. Finally, I felt it was important to not let the Chicago Marathon beat me again. I had to show that race I was not afraid! Nevertheless, I prepared myself for a slower marathon time. I made a ton of Facebook posts about the weather. It was as if I felt the need to warn everyone not to expect anything from me.

My coach refused to stop believing. Training for triathlons certainly helped get my body more accustomed to the heat. Since the run is the last portion of a triathlon, triathletes often have to run when the sun is at its hottest. For so much of the summer, I would purposely do workouts later in the morning to prepare myself. However, Chicago was not a triathlon and I had been counting on some help from cooler fall temperatures.

Boarding the plane to Chicago was an emotional experience. The flight attendant announced, “I would like to invite all people running the marathon this Sunday to board first.” My husband pushed me forward. “That’s you.” At that moment, it really sunk in and I started to tear up. I was running this year. I was not sitting out. I realized that no matter what the weather was going to bring, I was truly grateful. 

Right up to the day of the race, I had no idea what my pacing strategy was going to be. Do I try goal pace and slow down if needed? Do I just go slower and treat it like a fun long run? At the expo, I took two pace bands: one for 3:25 and one for 3:20, hoping I would land somewhere in between. That night, my husband was helping me get ready and accidentally tattooed the 3:25 band to the plastic instead of to my arm. “Looks like you just have to run 3:20, I guess.”

My coach texted me, “I know the weather is not ideal, but just do your best. I really think you are going to surprise yourself here!” Several friends from Chicago also told me they thought the weather would not feel so bad to me after a season of triathlons. Still, goal pace was a game day decision right up until the I crossed the starting line.

Thanks to my Chicago friends Richard and Tiffanie for my pre-race coffee and pep talk!

When I left my hotel at 5:30am, it was already around 70 degrees, but it felt cool. I walked to the subway with a man from Puerto Rico. When I got the starting corral, I made friends with a guy whose daughter lives in the same town as my husband and me. While online for the porta potty, I started talking to a woman from Sacramento, CA. Getting the chance to talk to people from all over the world helped ease my nerves. I texted my mom, Bryan, and my coach making jokes about not being able to find transition and not knowing where to rack my bike.

I was originally assigned to Wave 1- Corral D. Over the summer, I found out that one could qualify for Corral C with a sub 1:35 half-marathon. I submitted my 1:34:55 from the Wallis Sands Half-Marathon and was moved up to C. This was a decision I did not think about much until I found out that Corral C would only have pacers for 3:10, 3:15, and 3:20. To run with the 3:25 pacer, I would have to move back to D. Just a few weeks prior, the move to D was a no-brainer, but with the weather being hot, a few friends advised me to start in C, as the 10-15 minute head start could make a difference.

Wanting to start as soon as I could and before the weather got unbearably hot, I lined up in Corral C slightly behind the 3:20 pacer. Yet, I kept questioning my decision. Chatting with the people around me was fun but it also increased my anxiety. The woman next to me had a PR of 3:23 that she ran last year. A few of the men in front of us had PRs in the low 3:20s that they ran fairly recently. Me? I had a PR of 3:30:32 from all the way back in May of 2017 and I was brought straight to the medical tent upon finishing.

Me texting my husband asking if I should run with the 3:20 group. Also a picture of how I felt about chocolate muscle milk after the race!

I texted my husband a picture of the big 3:20 pacer group sign with the caption, “Am I being dumb?” He wrote back, “Do it!” My husband is a physicist, and one thing about him is that he thinks things over very carefully. I knew if he thought I was hurting myself, he would tell me to move back and start slower.

When it was my time to go, I started running at a comfortable-but-faster-than-easy-pace pace. Since I was told the GPS often gets messed up in Chicago, I turned off auto lap in favor of just checking my time against my pace band at each mile marker. I aimed to be somewhere slightly slower than my 3:20 pace band, and I tried hard to remember the splits on the 3:25 one.

With so many spectators and me just being in awe of the sights of Chicago, I missed the mile 1 marker. Coming upon the first aid station, it was so tempting to skip. What would it hurt, right? Who needs fuel so early on? But I knew if I skipped that one, I’d skip another and another and keep playing a game with myself. My dietitian was clear I had to take Gatorade from every fuel station (with the exception of right after I had a gel). “I am NOT going to ruin this one. I have to give myself my best possible chance.”

During the first few miles, we passed by a couple of banks with jumbo time and temperature screens. 74 degrees read the first. 75 read the second. “Ignore. Ignore. Block. Block. Keep going.”

At mile 3, I looked at my pace band. Right on target for 3:20, almost exact. Fabolous’ song “My Time” came on (I decided to run with headphone but on low enough I could also hear the music from the crowds). Tears began to pool in my eyes, I started signing out loud but softly, “it’s my time, my time, my time.” Shortly after that, I saw Bryan with a “Kate 2.0 sign.” My heart melted.

For those that do not know, when I met with my dietitian for the final time before the marathon, I had serious doubts. “I’ve always screwed up with my nutrition in all my previous marathons!” She told me that instead of thinking about the past, think about this marathon as the first one where I would get things right. Somehow, somewhere in that conversation, we jokingly came up with “Kate 2.0” and it ended up sticking. I wrote Kate 2.0 on my arms that morning.

I continued to check my pace band at each mile marker, remembering each of my dedications. It was a great way to pass the time. I was also surprisingly right on pace with 3:20, even though I felt like I started a bit behind the pacer. At the 10k, I ran by an announcer, “3:20 group looking good.” Wow. I was with them. “Can I maintain this for another 20 miles?” I quickly erased that thought from my head. Thinking about how much I had left was not going to help. I grabbed my Gatorade and told myself, “this is just a fun long run.” In many ways, I was not lying. The course was beautiful and flat. If I wasn’t racing, I wouldn’t be feeling all nervous.

At mile 9, Bryan screamed to me. I almost missed him and then caught a quick glimpse of him with his second Kate 2.0 sign. “I love you babe!” I yelled. At mile 10, after my second gel, my stomach started to feel like it was going to explode. “I’ve consumed more than I used to consume for an entire marathon in just the first 10 miles of this race.” I skipped a Gatorade station in favor of just water.  I also started taking extra water to pour on my head and in my sports bra. The heat was not really bothering me yet, but I did not want to it start.

After telling myself, “this is so much better than bonking from being hungry” and “hey, you are still on pace, aren’t you?” my stomach calmed down. I returned to the plan with the exception of taking my third and fourth gels about a mile later than scheduled to space things out a little more. At the halfway point, I was literally right there with my 3:20 pace band. I was not feeling good enough to speed up, but I was feeling good enough to not slow down. “Just maintain and see how things feel in another couple of miles.”

 I was warned that miles 14-16 could feel pretty lonely, but I was so focused that it did not really bother me. As I crossed the mile 14 mark, Andra Day’s “Rise Up” started playing on my headphones. I start to tear up again. Back in 2019, this song helped me get through my injury. So much felt hopeless and out of control, and this song gave me comfort that somehow, someday, I would get back up and run again.

Inspired by the song, I start to remember the importance of feeling grateful just to be racing. So as not to get too obsessed and to stay focused on listening to my body rather than my watch, I decided from then on to only check in with my pace band every couple of miles, rather than every mile. At mile 16, I was still on pace. At mile 17, I heard a few men near me talking about prayer lists. Since I like to pray for people at each mile, I jumped into the conversation and told them I am a theology professor. One man asked me my name and said I was just added to his list. I asked for his name back and added him to mine. It was just the right confidence boost. One thing I love about running is that I thrive off of the energy and support of everyone around me.

At mile 18, I notice myself running with the official Nike 3:20 pacer. “Wow, how did I get up here?” Two men inform me that they are running 3:20s as well. For them, it’s a C goal due to the heat. Trying not to let their words scare me, I pipe up, “this is my big reach goal. I can’t believe I’m still here.” They tell me I am looking good. One of them says, “just believe in it. Believe in the 3:20. And whatever you do, don’t make a move until mile 25.” Shortly thereafter, I lost them in the crowd but I remembered their advice (and seriously wish I found them after the race to say thank you). Sadly, at mile 18, I also noticed that my left leg was hurting right where my stress fracture was. “This is just in your head.” I kept listening to my music and trying to forget about the discomfort, so long as it continued to stay below a two or three on the pain scale (which it thankfully did).

At mile 19, we enter Pilsen. A Mariachi band is playing, and I am loving the music.
“This marathon really is enjoyable and a once in a lifetime experience. Even if I slow down, I have to soak it in until the very end.”

Mile 20 is also emotional. In all of my previous marathons, mile 20 was the point where I would hit the wall and crash from intense hunger and nausea. This time I am not feeling that way. I am tired, but I have more left in me. I take my fourth gel, and notice I am now slightly behind 3:20 pace but not by much. I am still happy and hopeful. After all, my goal was sub 3:25!

Mile 21 is Chinatown. I look for Bryan, and for my sister and brother-in-law but do not see them (I find out later they were screaming for me and I missed them!). I am disappointed, but I quickly remove the thought from my mind. It’s time to really get down to business here. My legs start to really cramp up, and it’s the first time I notice the heat. I start to worry my sub 3:25 is in jeopardy and I just want the race to be over. Suddenly, I hear a noise- “Kate! Kate!” It’s my friend Richard who is volunteering as a course marshal. I yell “Richard!” and I feel a sudden burst of energy and I pick up the pace. No way am I giving up! It is the boost I need to get to the end, where I plan to look again for Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair.

At mile 22, I notice I am now again behind the 3:20 pace by a minute or two. I start to freak out and my mind starts to play games with me. “Kate, come on, you knew this was too ambitious. There was no way you were getting close to 3:20, or even breaking 3:25. Hah!” Then I start to think, “just skip the Gatorade, you aren’t going to make it now anyway.” I start saying really nasty things to myself, and I have to fight it. “No, no, you are not going to ruin my race!” I have to give it my very best shot, and that means taking in my nutrition and continuing to run as hard as I can. I decide at that moment to completely stop looking at my watch. Instead of keeping track of pace splits, my strategy becomes to pass people. I start picking people one at a time, and once I pass someone, I pick a new person. Guy in blue shirt. Lady in pink shirt. Dude in yellow. It distracts me and suddenly I am at mile 23. “Come on, Kate. You can do a 5k in your sleep.”

At mile 24, people are screaming. “2 miles left! 2 miles left!” I take double Gatorade, really feeling the heat. All of the screaming makes me want to speed up, though I am careful not to go too hard until I get closer to the finish. The volunteers and the crowd are so helpful and so kind. I then hear “1.5 miles left!”

Shortly after the mile 25 marker, I see a big sign “1 mile left!” At this point, I am hurting so badly but I know I am going to finish and that I am going PR. However, just by how much is still to be determined, so I know I cannot give up. I look for Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair but do not see them (they were apparently there too screaming super loud). At 800 meters to go, I kick it up another notch but am cautious. My legs are really bothering me, and I do not want to burn out before the finish. I am so grateful for all of the signs, especially when we make the final turn to run up “the hill.” I put “the hill” in quotations since it really is not that big of a hill, it just looks like a mountain because it appears at mile 26.

I give it everything I have as I make it up the small incline. 400m to go. I look at my watch and see 3:20 something. I know at that moment I have not completely stayed on pace, but the disappointment is so brief it can barely register. I am STILL IN THIS! 200m to go. I sprint. 100m to go. I start putting my hands in the air and I scream “Yes! Yes! Finally!” It is the moment I have been dreaming of for years, finishing a marathon happy and qualifying for Boston on the new standards. I am not going to let anything get in my way. It is not going to be 3:20, but it is going to be the fastest I can get today, everything I have.  I say to myself, “I promise, if I make it across this finish line and qualify for Boston, I am going to go for it. I am going to share my story and I am going to raise money and awareness.” I cross the finish in 3:22:14.

Or do I? “Wait a second, did that happen?”

It seems too good to be true. I keep running. What if I didn’t go over the mat? What if I stopped too soon? Finally, I notice that the people around me have started walking and a volunteer tells me I have finished. I start to cry. I do not care how weird I look! “We’ve made it! We’ve made it to the top of the anxiety pyramid!”

I start making the long walk back to the family waiting area. I run into the man who was praying for me. He finished in 3:11, and we have a great conversation. Tired as I am, I am enjoying the trek. It seems like everywhere I look, I am being offered something new. My medal. Pictures. Chips. Bananas. A blanket. A wet towel. Beer. Muscle Milk. My phone starts chiming, and I have a ton of messages from people who have clearly been tracking me.

It takes a while, but I finally meet up with Bryan, Renee, and Alasdair. They have the most amazing signs, and I almost start to cry again. It is one of the happiest moments of my life- definitely on the top five. My legs are incredibly sore, but I smile the entire subway ride home, even when going up the stairs. I love Chicago!

Many people have asked me what my next goal will be. The answer is that beyond the 2022 Boston Marathon, I am unsure. To be quite honest, running a marathon again has taken a toll on me physically and emotionally, even though this one went well. I wrote out this report because I felt it important show others that fighting the voices of anxiety, an eating disorder, fear, or addiction do not make you weak, they make you a warrior. I used to think “I shouldn’t have these thoughts,” but now I say, “I sometimes struggle, but I am a badass who fights.” And even if I, or you, have days that you cannot fight the thoughts or the pain, or that you need extra help fighting, that does not make you any less of a warrior. Recovery is not perfection.

That is why I am running the 2022 Boston Marathon for ANAD. ANAD provides free support groups for people struggling with eating disorders regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, or size. I have been a proud volunteer with ANAD for the past few years. Everyone deserves support, and I will not shut up until that is recognized.

Challenging the Traditional Gender Binary is not a Disorder: The Insensitivity of the Diocese of Marquette’s Comparison of Gender Dysphoria to Anorexia

The Diocese of Marquette recently received attention for issuing a guidance stating that “a person who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted ‘gender transitioning’ may not be baptized, confirmed, or received into full communion in the church, unless the person has repented.”

To defend this, the Diocese compares transgender persons to persons suffering from anorexia.

“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance says. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.

This shows not only how insensitive and close-minded the diocese is toward LBGTQIA+ persons, but also how out of touch they are with the reality of those suffering with mental health issues (many of whom are also gay or transgender).

According to ANAD, eating disorders, of which anorexia is the most deadly, kill one person every 52 minutes. Although extreme weight loss and/or body dysmorphia sometimes accompany an eating disorder, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically underweight. In other words, anorexia is not simply a thin person thinking they are overweight (which already is a problematic term given that the BMI is a racist, sexist standard that was invented to measure populations of white European men, not health). Going to sleep at night and not knowing if you or your loved one is going to wake up due to the physical effects of an eating disorder is an experience that I would not wish on anyone. I cannot believe that living with an eating disorder is living how God intended one to be, although I believe God’s love is never far from a person in the depths of one. 

Being gay or transgender is neither disordered nor unhealthy. The disorder, rather, lies in the hearts of those who remain closed to any challenge to a strict gender binary.  God desires our human flourishing, and unlike the case of an eating disorder, I cannot believe that a person being able to perform the gender identity that fits with what they feel in their heart is against God’s will or intention. What kind of God would want otherwise? The only reason being gay or transgender is life-threatening is our reactions. According to the Trevor Project, 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. As a college professor, I have read and talked to numerous students who have lost their faith in God due to the cruelty they have experienced from Catholic parents, clergy, teachers, and friends. I always tell them that with this reaction, they show a knowledge of God deeper than most. In the words of Edward Schillebeeckx, “it is better not to believe in God than a God than enslaves human beings.” Whatever “God” would treat them as such cannot be God at all.

When I was fifteen, I witnessed a gay teenager get kicked out of an eating disorder treatment program, a program he did not feel comfortable in since it was clearly and explicitly designed for cisgender girls. I can still vividly remember his mother’s cries. Perhaps, being only fifteen, people might let me of the hook for not saying or doing more. However, thirty-two year- old recovered me with a PhD in theology has no excuse and refuses to stay silent any longer.

I am a volunteer support group leader for people struggling with eating disorders, many of whom are transgender or non-binary. Transgender college students report experiencing disordered eating at four times the rate of their cisgender classmates. Eating disorders are linked to the experience of being forced to hide one’s true identity from others, to not be able to express themselves freely (something non-binary people would not have to do if we could all be more kind). Eating disorders are hell as it is. Imagine on top of that having to worry about where you can use the bathroom, or whether your relationship will be recognized by others, or whether you will be forced to leave your church, your gym, or even your family simply for being who you are. I hear stories like these all the time.

If the Catholic Church truly cared about people with anorexia, this comparison would never have been made. And, of course, the Catholic Church cannot claim to care about those with eating disorders and at the same time, deny sacraments to non-binary people. Eating disorders are issues of gender, sexuality, race, ability, and socioeconomic status. Discrepancies still exist among who gets diagnoses and treatment and who does not. You cannot be a true mental health advocate if you do not acknowledge this and attempt to dismantle gender and racial biases in health care.

Sure, many of you may tell me that this is just one diocese statement, that its likely not going to be put into practice in many parishes, and you are right. However, the words have been said and damage has been done. The pain of being rejected by one’s “home parish” is not always remedied by just going to a different, more progressive one, which, while it might be kinder, still cannot marry a gay couple. Also, not everyone has access to multiple parishes in their neighborhood.

The denial of sacraments to gay and transgender Catholics should bring pain to all of us. Leaving others out does not bring joy. Rather, it makes a mockery of the sacraments, which are not contests but encounters with God that are not meant to be reserved for the “in crowd.”

And yes, it also time for the Church to do something about weight stigma too. Funny the diocese mentions getting help for someone with anorexia, yet I cannot tell you how many people I know who have heard disparaging weight jokes from the pulpit during Lent.

It is sad how religious people often want to claim a certain “type” to be holy. Yet, God is beyond human, and therefore God does not have a size, a race, a gender, a sexual orientation, etc. So, really, we are all called to see the image of God in so many different people and places, and relationships. Maybe that’s challenging and uncomfortable sometimes, but Christianity was never supposed to be easy.

Err on the Side of Love, Caution and Sensitivity: Having An Anti-Diet Culture Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, let us work together to challenge our biases regarding weight and size, and to eliminate body and food shaming as much as possible. Comments that might seem silly can really hurt someone. Also, remember that people often struggle in silence and not all struggles are physically visible. Thanksgiving is already a very difficuIt holiday for many people struggling with an eating disorder, or who have been harmed by diet culture. It ALWAYS makes sense to err on the side of love, caution and sensitivity in your interactions.

Stop commenting people’s body sizes

A person’s change in weight could be due to an eating disorder, cancer, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and various other struggles. Complimenting someone on something that is a result of mental or physical struggle is extremely harmful. Furthermore, a person may already be sensitive about their bodily changes and they do not need to hear from you. Compliment people for other things.

“I love the dish you made.”

“Your new haircut looks really nice.”

“You always know how to make me laugh.”

“I’m proud of how well you did on your math test.” 

These things are a lot cooler than weight too!

Define being “good” or “bad” by how you treat others, not what you or others eat

You are not “bad” for having another piece of pie. You are not “good” for skipping desert, and you are not better than the person next to you who desired some pie. If you want to be “good,” bring food to a homeless person, spend time with someone who is lonely, send a gift to someone who could use some cheer. Those things actually make the world better.

Stop talking about food as if it needs to be earned

If you do a Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning because you enjoy it, great. I am doing one myself, provided I come back from my academic conference feeling OK. Share fun pictures of yourself running in costume or talk about the beauty of the course, or how proud you are of finishing, but please avoid comments about earning your turkey or punishing yourself for pie. Thanksgiving is there for all to enjoy regardless of what they did that morning or plan to do the next day.

Do not make derogatory comments about ANYONE’s body

Just as it is not OK to make racist comments just because you assume there are no people of color in the room, it is not OK to poke fun at the bodies of people who are not at your dinner table. Remember that when you call a person of a certain body type unattractive, undisciplined, or any other name, you are not just insulting them, but anyone who is of a similar size. You are also sending a message that a person becomes less loveable if their body changes.

If you are concerned about someone, approach them calmly and privately and focus on their behaviors and emotions, rather than their size/appearance

If you do suspect a loved one is struggling with food, approach them in a calm, non-judgmental manner when you are away from the dinner table. “I notice you seem to eat very little and I worry you are struggling” or “I notice you did not seem to enjoy the same stuff you did last year and I am concerned” will be taken better than “you look awful” or “you look like a skeleton.” Focusing on behaviors will also tell the person that your concerns are not superficial and reassure them that they deserve care regardless of their size (a big fear of many people with eating disorders is that if their appearance changes, they will no longer be deserving of support).

Set boundaries for yourself and your loved ones

Remember that not everyone is aware of the harm of certain comments or behaviors, so, at first, it is always best to take a gentle approach. “Please do not remind us of the calories in everything.” “We do not believe food needs to be earned at this table.” “We would appreciate it if you would not comment on people’s body sizes.”

Some will be happy to learn and will want to be sensitive to your concerns. Sadly, some will not. It is also OK to set boundaries if someone continues to intentionally (the key word here is intentionally- we all make mistakes from time to time) cause harm to you or a loved one.

“I really love your company, but I will not be able to invite you back if you insist on commenting on my child’s weight.”

“I know you are on a diet but talking about it constantly in my presence is triggering and I need to ask you to stop.”

“Your comments really hurt my friend’s feelings and she is important to me. I will not tolerate her feeling bullied at our table.”

“This conversation is tough for me to listen to, I am going to step outside for some space.”

Advocating for yourself can be really hard, which is why, if you are the loved one of a person who is struggling, STAND UP FOR THEM!

“I Get Knocked Down, But I Get Up Again”- Sharon Triathlon Race Report

Long story short, I was very excited for this race. My coach was doing it, and quite a few teammates were doing it. I had wanted to do this race very badly in 2019 and was told that I could not handle it. Watching my friends enjoy the post-race BBQ on Facebook while I was at home was pretty awful. If you read the rest of this story, you will know why I am laughing as I write that (even though I believed this person, who shall remain unnamed, for a very long time).

Thankfully, Sharon is only about a 30 minute drive from Brighton, so we left the apartment around 6:20 to get there at 7. I ate my UCAN in the car, and began my pre-race worrying. My new triathlon bike was sitting in the back of the car, and I kept wondering if I made the right decision. This would be my first race with her, after not feeling ready to ride her for either Patriot or Falmouth. For those that do not know, riding a triathlon bike is quite a bit different from riding a road bike, and it takes some time to get used to it.

The water temperature the day before was 79 degrees so I had prepared myself for no wetsuits or lava shorts. I had my friends praying to the patron saints of swimming, St. Adjutor and St. Marina, for cooler water temperatures. When we arrived at transition, I noticed some people were wearing wetsuits, and someone announced that the water temperature dropped to 77 degrees. I yelled to my husband to run to the car to get my wetsuit. While he was rushing there, I ran into a bunch of people who told me to go with lava shorts instead to avoid overheating and save transition time. I called poor Bryan while he was at the car to let him know not to rush back.

The swim was time trial starts, and my friend Sheri and I wanted to start together. Thankfully this time, she was amendable to not going first and we stuck ourselves somewhere toward the beginning but with quite a few ahead of us. The water felt great, and given the warm temp, I was glad to not be in the long-sleeved wetsuit. However, about 1/3 of the way through, I noticed something hanging over my face. The outer layer of my googles had somehow peeled off. Thankfully, I still had protection on my eyes, but the plastic in my face was definitely annoying. “Just ignore it, just keep going.” When we made the first turn at the halfway point, I sped up and passed a few people. I could not wait to get the goggles off. Strava says 919 yards at 1:51 pace. The race says 750 yards at 1:57 pace.

I pulled down my lava shorts while running through transition. This was it. The moment of truth. Sheri was right ahead of me, and we actually mounted our bikes together. Having her next to me helped, since mounting my tri bike still scares me. I got on and started riding. I yelled out “Roo Bitch!” (the name of my bike, that will be another story for another day). At first I took it easy to get my bearings and then got into aero and sped up. For the most part, the bike was enjoyable, and I passed quite a few people the first 8 or so miles. I had to slow down and come out of aero for turns (thankfully there were not too many of them), which is something I want to work on in the future.

At mile 8, two or three guys also on tri bikes passed me but then at mile 10, there was a substantial hill where I passed a couple more people. By mile 12, I was feeling really happy and strong. “I did it, almost there, nothing went wrong!” Or so I thought.  I made the turn into the finish line and it was very narrow. At dismount, the road was kind of bumpy. I slowed down, unclipped, thought I jumped down to the space in between my handlebars and my seat, but apparently did not go far enough. My leg got stuck and I began to wobble. At that point, I knew I was going to fall and just let it happen. I got right back up, did not even accept the hand of the worried volunteer next to me. “Thanks, I’m OK, I gotta run! I gotta run!” The race said 12.4 miles at 19.9 mph. Strava says 12.4 miles at 20.6 mph. (at least my moving pace was over 20!)

As I ran to the transition area, I tried not to focus on my disappointment. I knew that fall cost me some time, and I also knew the bike was not as fast as I had hoped. Running is such a mental sport, so I knew I had to just let it go or I would carry that disappointment with me and let it affect my run. “OK Kate, this is YOUR sport. Now is your time to shine! All the hard stuff is over!”

My dietician told me over email a few days before to have a gel before the 4.4 mile run. I did not want it at all, but I knew I needed every advantage possible in this run. I took it out of my water bottle and got it down on the first part of the course. I decided not look at my watch at all. I tried to pass the person in front of me. Once I got that person, I got the next person, then set my sights on the next one. My goal in every triathlon is to let no one pass me on the run. Mile 1: 6:50.

Second mile had some rolling hills. It reminded me of the course for the Loco Marathon- constant up and down and up and down, but nothing major. I still had no clue what my pace was, but I knew if I looked down I would freak out, so decide to just keep running based on feel. Mile 2: 7:04.

By mile 3, I was still feeling pretty good and I picked up the pace. A dude wearing Alphaflys passed me, and I made it my goal to try to pass him again. In my head, I referred to him as “Alpha!” By mile 3.5, I realized I was not going to catch him, so I just said, “keep Alpha in sight, that’s good enough!” Mile 3: 6:59.

At mile 4, I picked the pace up again. I could still see Alpha. Tubthumping by Chumbawumba played in my head. “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” I realized that was the theme of this race. I knew this was a strong run, and I had energy in the tank to push it more. Mile 4: 6:47

With .4 to go, I hit the gas for a 6:36 pace. I saw my husband and the finish line and started signing “I get knocked down, but I get up again….” A guy who I passed at the last turn suddenly came barreling in front of me but I didn’t care- he’s not in my age group anyway!

As I crossed the finish line, I looked down at my watch. First, I got the really good news. Average run pace: 6:53 (and this is the only sport of the day where Strava and the race results matched). I had been aiming for 7:15s with my coach, so this was amazing! I was completely thrilled! And I didn’t even feel that bad. Sure, I was happy to stop, but I feel like I could have kept going if I had to do so. Then, the final time: 1:27:32. Not my A goal of 1:26, but also way better than my C goal of sub 1:30.

As we made our way to the results booth, I suddenly realized that my knee was hurting. I looked toward the ground and saw blood dripping down my leg. Apparently, I hurt myself more than I realized, but I felt nothing while running!

After cleaning my leg with a towel from our duffel bag, I saw my swim and my bike times, and was crushed by disappointment. Slower than planned. Yet, my run was amazing. I also am first place in my age group, and fifth woman overall (out of 119 competing that day). Waiting to see if anyone who started later would finish faster than me was agonizing. In the end, no one did and I kept my age group win!

Getting to hang out with friends while waiting for the awards ceremony was a blast. I am a very stubborn person and tend to hang on to stuff for too long. I had to tell myself, “let it go. Sure, your bike could have been better, you could have not fallen, you could have done x,y, and z, but you also are lucky to be here.” When I see the final results, I also feel a lot better. The top 4 women are quite a bit faster than me. Even with everything going smoothly, I could not have beaten them. So, no regrets!

My coach came in third overall male, and my friend Wes came in first overall male (competing in the elite category). It was fun getting to cheer for them.

There was not as much fanfare for the age group awards, but we still get our names called out and a chance to stand on the podium for pictures. I never got to stand on a triathlon podium before, so it was a great feeling.

That is what I love about triathlon, my friends. It is three sports and two transitions (and yes, those matter), not just one event. As someone who can be very hard on herself, triathlon has taught me that you just have to take things one step at a time and keep going. Everybody, even the elites, has a sport or two they are stronger at, and a sport or two they struggle with. If you get so down on yourself for a subpar swim, or for people passing you on the bike, you risk not showing off what you can do on the run. Likewise, if you let fear of the run bring you down, you risk holding back on the swim and the bike. Similarly, you also cannot stop and celebrate if you are first out of the water, you have to keep going because those people way behind you are eager to catch up.

I would 100% enthusiastically recommend the Sharon Triathlon. I hope to be back next year, though there may be an Ironman in the works, so we shall see….