Monday, February 1, 2016

The Art of Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing.

 Runners are great at being perfectionists.  It's what makes us good. We have such attention to detail.  But there is a fine line between paying attention to details (which is good!) and getting lost in the details (bad! bad!). The devil is in the details, remember?  

We’ve all heard the advice: “It’s about the little things,” they say, “Do the 1%” they say.

Well, this is kind of misleading advice. There, I said it. Because focusing on the 99% is probably going to get you farther than focusing on the 1%. That’s math. Or common sense? Sometimes, we get too zoomed in and can’t see the forest through the trees. This is a problem. It is good to take care of the little things, as long as the little things don’t become the main things.

Let’s talk for a second about the things that aren’t the main things:

What you ate pre-race.
If you got a cup of coffee.
If you got a massage.
What spikes you are wearing.
How you felt in your pre race workout
What your weight is.
What the pace is supposed to be.
Doing too many strides.
Doing too little strides.
Doing too fast strides.
How much you hydrated.
Talking about all the race plans.
How much you were on your feet yesterday.
How much you slept last night.
The workout your competitor tweeted about.
How fast you did your warm up.
What lane number you are.
That damn weather!

Let’s talk about the main things that are the main things:

1. The work you put in over the last few months.
2. Your mindset.

It is actually kind of hard to mess up your race the day of—You’d have to do extreme weightlifting and sprint a mile during your warm-up. Or maybe join fight club and not talk about it. Or maybe join cross fit and talk about it. And that still wouldn’t affect your race as much as you’d think.

The problem is it is so so tempting to get stuck on the details.

Reasons why the details are easy to focus on:

1. Details help you take the pressure off. It’s like a defense mechanism. It resolves you from responsibility of your race. If you don’t race well, it is a nice excuse to fall back on. “Well, I would have raced well, except…”
I personally use/love/hate the “I would have raced well except I had bad positioning” too often.

It’s really scary to try and lose and have to be like, “Well. I’m not as fit as I’d like.” Or “I didn’t try as hard as I wanted to.”
That makes you feel bad on the inside. Where if you raced badly because of that Chicken Phad Thai spicy level 4 stomach issue, then it’s not really your fault!

2. Details allow you to zoom in so much that you don’t have to think about the race or the outcome. It is scary to line up and have no clue if you are going to win. It is stressful. One Phoebe tested (and unapproved) way to deal with stress: not think about the stressful situation whatsoever! (I call this “compartmentalizing”) Instead! Think about minor stressful situations that you can fix, and then feel that sweet, sweet since of relief when you fix them. NOTE: This is a terrible problem solving method.

3. Details allow you to feel like the race result is predetermined. If you take care of all the details, then it is the universe’s way of saying, “Don’t worry, Phe, all the evidence suggests that you have already won this race.”

Being a slave to the details is a terrible habit. It puts the fate of your race into the environment. And the environment is fickle. So don’t do it! And when you do it even though I just told you not to do it, these self-talk phrases can help talk you back to reality:

If ____________ ruins your race, your race wasn’t going to be jack shit anyway.

______________ is nothing compared to all the work you did leading up to this.

Weather affects the whole field, remember?

You never worry about this at practice.

You have run well before when this happened.

Just try hard. That’s all you have to do. Literally.

Bottom line: Don’t be a perfectionist. Be an ADAPTABLE perfectionist.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Silver Linings!

Why the sport of track is still awesome.

The IAAF shit show had me asking, “What’s the purpose of running?”
The question started as code for “I want to complain about everything and care about nothing. Because I can. I’ve been wronged! I’m having a crisis.”
What do runners do when they have a crisis? Half of us—the weirder half—go out and hammer a long run in silence while trying to cope with feelings. The other half (Like me!) talk to any runner and every runner (plus non runners and/or pets) who will listen or not listen! By the end, I was asking “What’s my purpose for running?”

All month, I’ve been talking to different runners and listening to their stories. Every single runner ended up talking about his or her purpose for running. Funny thing, no one’s purpose was money or fame (HAHA! FAME IN TRACK! JOKE OF THE YEAR. Except you, Usain Bolt. But you had to race a cheetah and be, you know, the fastest man ever of all time ever to get fame).
From my observation, professional runners get into the sport because (drumroll please!): we are better than most at it. This is not a sexy of a reason to like something, but it really is self-esteem boosting being objectively better than average at anything.

What is sexy is why we stay in the sport.

“I get a lot of self worth from trying to master a skill.”

“This is a journey of self-discovery: What are you made of?”

 “I’ve been given the time, some funds, and people who want to help. Not many people get that in anything they care about.”

“14 years in the sport and I still learn something new every day.”

“It’s exciting to devote your life to something and not be sure it will work out. It feels so sweet when it comes together. Kind of like love?”

“Running has taught me more than anything else about life.”

“I love my teammates. Being with them and celebrating their successes and supporting them though the losses is a bond that is hard to find elsewhere.”

“I like putting all my energy and emotion into something because I’m passionate about it.”

"We run to challenge ourselves and to truly see how good we can be and to find our limits. There aren't many professions where you actually find where your limits are and where you rank among your peers."

(not to mention:
“I like candy. And the more I run the more candy I can eat guilt free.”
“I like being able to fart without people judging me.”
“I like new running shoes.”
“I like sports, and this is the one I’m good at.”
But those are more superficial reasons and do not belong in this serious blog.)

Even though the corrupt people at the top are being terrible, they do not have much authority. We runners run because we like self-improvement, and we like company of other people who also like self-improvement. And dopers or money or IAAF nonsense doesn’t take it away.

And for the fans,
Still be fans.
Track is one of the few sports where the average joes and superstars are going through the same struggles. Our stories prove that humans can become superstars. And that superstars are human. These stories connect people. And then make people into better people.

And that’s why I still love track.

(If you want me to add your reason to the list, let me know, and I’ll add it to this blog.)

Friday, January 15, 2016


Quick thoughts on the IAAF Scandal.

Previous IAAF President hires his family and friends.
Seb Coe is Vice President. And is conveniently blind and deaf to corruption?
IAAF President and staff (aka: friends and family) take bribes to cover up positive doping test. Staff parties in Monaco, probably.
The entire state of Russia (plus probably Kenya, Morocco, and Turkey) were all cheating (No surprise there).
Seb Coe becomes IAAF President and inherits a shit storm.
SHIT STORM HAPPENS—the IAAF can apparently be bought/track is a joke
Seb says (paraphrased):
            “This sport is in a good state.”
            “These allegations are false.”
            “I never knew about the corruption.”
            "I have been fighting the corruption I didn't know about since my first day as president."
            “Ok. I know. We have a failed organization.”
“These are the darkest days for the sport.”
            “I am the man to fix this sport!”

You can find the detailed story HERE and HERE

We all knew there was massive doping. We thought it was because athletes/coaches knew how to cheat the test. We thought the IAAF was partly corrupt, but for the most part was working with WADA to help protect clean athletes. The IAAF’s job is literally to protect athletes and the integrity of the sport. Did it cross my mind that the IAAF could be the ringleader of a doping scandal? No. I feel like a butt of a horrible, horrible joke. I feel stupid for trying so hard during my professional career. I kind of imaging the Diack family watching the meets, cheersing and laughing at all of us that are, you know, devoting our lives to an almost hopeless cause.
The IAAF has lost all trust. All of it.  The system as it stands should be burned to the ground and rebuilt.

Should Seb Coe be President?
Seb was not the problem, and Seb will not be the solution. He does field questions like a true politician, and has some public support, so sure, I don’t mind if he stays president—as long as he does not have a blatant conflict of interest i.e: being paid by a sponsor invested in the sport. Because that would be ridiculous.  
Blaming Coe for the downfall of the sport is the easy out. That is not a good solution. Right now, at least he is obligated to make change, and he has the spotlight on him to keep him in check.

What was the problem?
The system rewards corruption and cheating.

The IAAF creates an event—an athletics meeting. They pay the big names in athletics to participate. This draws in fans. Sponsors fund the events in exchange for exposure at said events.

What makes these events popular? The rivalries and the superstars.
What is the easiest way to make a superstar? Cheat.
Now the sport of track and field has become a freak show. The once-in-a-lifetime talents and drug cheats are the stars of the show. They draw in fans. These fans make the advertising space more valuable. Therefore the IAAF gets paid more.

Cheats are good for the IAAF’s pocketbook. Plus, the officials of the IAAF get a nice little Christmas bonus when the cheats get caught! The cheats bribe the IAAF officials and the IAAF gets to keep the main attraction alive.

For those who didn’t follow, the money goes like this: Sponsorsà IAAFà Cheatersà IAAF. The IAAF is sitting pretty. No where does the cash flow go towards the majority of athletes. 

Possible solutions?
     1.     Do the sponsors support dopers? Let’s hope not. If they value a clean sport, they should be privy to the knowledge of positive tests. The sponsors could issue a fine for meets that support dopers. The financial incentive to have cheaters is too high, and this is the only way I can think of to hit the IAAF where it hurts—swift kick to the wallet. (This could be bad for the athletes, though. No sponsor money=no sport. We must be careful.)

     2.     Make the public aware of all positive tests. WADA proves someone is doping? BOOM, that person is outed to the media. Ruining an image is powerful. If a meet director puts in a convicted doper, shame on them. The IAAF can’t afford that public shaming at the moment.

     3.     Create a system of checks and balances—WADAs tests were working. Which is actually encouraging.  WADA also had no authority. Which is discouraging. The IAAF paying more to WADA probably won’t help much, considering WADA wasn’t the problem. But it does help the public image of the IAAF, which is valuable to the IAAF at the moment. The IAAF has to give some power to WADA. IAAF cannot hold the IAAF accountable.

      4.     Harsher penalties for drug cheats. This could possibly deter cheating from the athlete side.

5. Burn the entire system down. Create a new system from scratch with more athlete involvement.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

800ers' Thoughts During XC

In honor of championship cross-country season, I am going to take this moment and
             1.     Enlighten all of you to what it is like on the XC battle field for an 800m runner
2. Make the 800m runners feel a little better about their struggles. Or at least possibly more understood.


While all the distancers skip along on prerace chatting about their day, and goals, and boyfriends, and “How great is this course!?” 800ers are at the back of the pack wishing that an easy 7:30 pace was, in fact, easy. Newsflash distance freaks of nature! When your heart rate is 80 bpm on a tempo run, ours is 150 just walking to the locker room. Even the simplest movement revs up that anaerobic system.

It is a slight mind trip struggling to run 7:30 pace when you know you are going to have to drop sub 6 minuters the next day. But good news! 800ers do better at faster paces. Running a few minutes at 6 minute pace is in a lot of ways easier than running a few minutes at 8 minute pace! (Now, the rest of the minutes after the first “few minutes” in the race are a bit of a struggle.)
Plus! 800ers thrive under pressure. An easy run has zero pressure and zero reward. They don’t like to run just for the heck of it! 800ers want to see the fruits of their labor! This makes them much better racers compared to preracers. No guts not glory. 
Or for 800ers: No glory? No guts.

Warm up

During the warm up the distancers like to start out at a slow pace and go much longer than the prescribed 2 miles. I guess to make sure their body is good and warm.
800ers can’t go long because we will be good and tired. Plus, 800ers are ready to roll out the gate. The anxiety about the future inevitable pain is high. And anxious people run accidentally fast. Like a high school kid sprinting the first lap of a mile!

We’d prefer to run a few minutes hard until we get a little winded, do some drills, stride once, tie our shoes 3 times, do one more stride, pee, check for wardrobe malfunctions, and call it warmed up!

The Start Line

Distanters look so light on the start line—like gazelles. And they have high ponytails with ribbons. It’s like a fashion show for very dainty, very fit people.

An 800er’s thought: Why do I look like a linebacker? Am I gaining muscle? How am I going to get all this muscle 6k to the finish line?! I look like a cross dresser with my ribbon. Please let my buns stay on. Why are they doing so many strides?!

What an 800er feels like on the start line:

The Start

Distancers try hard to get to the front to avoid the hundreds of other distance runners also trying to get to the front.

800ers do not try to get to the front but accidentally do anyway. This is followed by panic and a “HOW THE F DID I GET UP HERE?!”

The Middle of the Race

This is where distancers are zoning out and trying to be patient. They are harnessing their excitement of the possibility of winning/PRing/making other people hurt. Plus they go wizzing past the dying 800ers. This gives them motivation and confidence.  

This is also where 800er surrender to hurt. They question a lot of things: Why am I out here? Why aren’t we done yet? Why did I go out so fast? Are they really picking up the pace right now?! How can I get off this course without my teammates and coach knowing?

My college coach always said: 2 miles is where you should wake up and start picking off people.
I honestly have no clue what he is talking about. I was thinking more along the lines of “Coach says this is where everyone besides me wakes up and picks me off. Don’t get picked off!”

The End of the Race

Distancers get faster at the end of the race. It’s like the harder they breathe and the more lactic acid-y they are, the faster they can go.

At the end of a race 800ers think: OK! Half a mile left! I can run a half-mile faster than anyone out here! This is my time to shine.

And that is enough to motivate the 800er for approximately 150m. The next 600m are an all out shit show. Form goes to pieces. And there are thoughts of “WHOEVER SAID THAT FASTER PEOPLE HAVE A BETTER KICK IS A LIAR!”

That last 50m though, No one has a chance!

Post Race

Distancers are quick to cool down for hours and talk about how fun that race was!

800ers have blood completely of acid. They are dizzy and hate anyone trying to make them do anything other than curl up in the fetal position. I’m looking at you race volunteer ushers. 800ers don’t even have the energy or focus to untie their shoes. No they do not want to cool down with you. They don’t want to cool down. Period.


Don't feel sorry for yourself. No one cares that you are an 800er, and that you are trying considerably harder than most people, and that you are wheezing, and that you went out too fast. Don't give yourself that excuse to give up. 

Always remember your team. That is the single most powerful motivating factor. This isn't about you. It's about helping your teammates who desperately need you.  

Embrace the hurt. It is going to hurt. You are going to feel terrible the last mile. Luckily how you feel doesn't determine how fast you run. You are tough. Prove it. 

Cool downs. Go cool down. Your hamstrings will hate you if you don't cool down and then sit on the bus for a few hours. 

Team bonding occurs in the XC practice van. Even if you can't keep up on workouts and runs, you are still a huge part of the team. Most team bonding occurs on the team van anyway. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Started from the Bottom, Now I'm Here:


HOLY SMOKES I FORGOT WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO RUN WELL. And let me tell you, it feels like... going on a roller coaster after you waited in a queue line for two hours. And then you are greeted with a funnel cake once you get off the ride. And then someone gives you one of those fast-pass-skip-the-line-passes to go again. And a giant check and "Congrats" texts are in there somewhere. But it actually feels better than that.

A year ago at this time, I'd line up at practice and have zero clue whether I'd shit the bed or have an okay workout. That was my scale: Shit-the-bed to OK. I tapped out at OK.

I'd line up at races pretending to not have anxiety.  But I wasn't fooling me, I had anxiety. It is hard to not have anxiety when your race performance feels out of your control.

Me. ON TV! At a Sports Bar!

Here's what happened.
A week before the race I looked at the start list. I noticed
1. 13 of my favorite people of all time are going to be in Iowa.
2. 13 of my favorite runners are all racing in the same 2 minute stretch?! That's 5 women too many, but if we played Survivor and had to boot 5 women off the start line, I'd most certainly get the boot. So I'll take 13 people. Plus I get out well, so it's really only a disadvantage for the 8 people that are not in the top 5 positions. So everyone's disadvantage is my advantage.

I went to the start line. Having slight anxiety, but still considerably less than a year ago. It was spitting rain and 45 degrees--which sounds bad, but actually my skin tone and lungs really thrive in that type of environment. Everyone's disadvantage was my advantage.

The official declared, "Waterfall start." For those who don't know what that means--you shouldn't because a waterfall start should never, ever happen in the 800m. Having an overcrowded field all race to the pole position within 20m is just asking for a train wreck. But whatever. I've got elbows and a good 20m dash PR.

About a minute into the race I noticed that I felt good! And then at 650m into the race when I was trapped in a box, I wanted out! Last year's races I would have rather just stayed in the box and hoped the box becomes a physical box so I can get off the track all sneaky-like with no one noticing.

I had gears on that home stretch. Gears that matched the other women in the field. And those women are like Ferraris. It's like I upgraded my 1991 Volvo station wagon in for a 2015 Porsche. I go from zero to 100 real quick.

I won one of those giant checks, which, by the way, is the BEST way to get paid. You can sign your name all big on the back. You can do a photo montage of you trying to cash it (in for singles). You can fashion it into a dress. You can sword fight with someone who also happens to have a giant check.
If I'm ever a Boss, I'm paying my peeps in giant checks

So even though this was an opener. And I didn't win. And it wasn't a super fast time. I showed improvement and have some traction. Which is exactly what I needed. I can take care of the rest now.


Why The 800m Comes Down To the Hunters And The Hunted
"The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I am being uncomfortable. I figure, you can’t grow fast twitch muscles but you can develop more efficiency, so if you’ve got someone who has speed and they’re willing to work like a 1500 runner, that person’s going to be tough to beat"

Women's 800m Up Close And Personal

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Gray Zone of Doping

What is cheating? Where is that very bold line that separates Doping from Clean? With all the doping scandals, it is looking like that line is in Russia, apparently. 

It seems pretty simple: Anything that gives an unfair performance advantage is cheating. Track is a sport where the most advantaged wins, and "unfair" is one of those weird, biased, undefinable terms--kind of like basketball foul rules.

Steve Magness (Known as the "Scientist of Running") and I discuss what it means to cheat. 

How do we categorize gray into black and white terms?  
What is "unfair"? 
Can too much talent can be a bad thing? 
Should I feel bad about that pre-race cup of coffee? 
And being a hermaphrodite is a talent, too, you know.

THE DOPING PODCAST (click below)!

FOR MY FRIENDS WHO DON'T LOVE SCIENCE! Here's a quick lesson in drugs, anatomy, and EPO!

The body basically has a giant tube running through it called the digestive system . It is good at keeping things out that should stay out. Technically, if you eat a penny and a day later you excrete a penny, that penny was never in your body. 
Drugs infiltrate this system and get into the body. This is why the FDA exists--so that they can make sure things that get into your body are semi-safe. 
There are no "risk free" drugs. Why? You take a drug to do something to your body, so therefore, it is doing something to your body. If there is evidence of physiological effect, that effect is going to have side effects. Usually the bigger the physiological effect, the larger the side effects. 

Everything in the body is based on concentrations. Too much or too little of a anything--muscle, hormone, cell growth is a problem. 
Let's take Dopamine for example. Dopamine is a hormone. Hormones are the messengers of the body. They tell other body parts what is going on and how to respond to the environment. Too little dopamine and you have Parkinson's disease and can't move your muscles. Too much and you are Schizophrenic. Being in the normal physiological range is, well, normal. And no one wants to be "abnormal."
Too much cell growth=cancer. 
Too many Red Blood Cells = Your blood is too thick to pump and you die. 
Too little Red Blood Cells= Anemia
There's always a consequence. 

So what's the deal with Supplements, man? 
Most supplements change your physiology about the same as food. This is optimistically thinking. Most supplements do not ever enter the body. But that Flintstones vitamin rock you just ingested--it has a hell of a placebo effect, so it may be worth the investment. 

If a supplement actually cured things, a drug company would test it to make sure it is safe and effective, and then patent it and then rake in the money. 

There are some supplements--DHEA, Red Yeast-- that do actually mess with your physiology a little--this is all that weird stuff that you see with body builders or herbalists that reject modern science. YOU SHOULD 100% STAY AWAY FROM WEIRD SUPPLEMENTS. They are not regulated in any capacity, so you have no clue what and how much you are putting in your body. 

In short: Eat a balanced diet and you shouldn't have to "supplement" it. 


Supplements might, maybe give your body more nutrients to digest. Drugs go in the body, pretend to be a part of the natural body system, bind to DNA, and cause superhuman, lasting effects. 

I hear this argument all the time: But Phoebe, it would be a level playing field if there were no rules.

Well, actually, it would most certainly not be a level playing field. 

1. Not everyone responds to drugs the same--there are people who turn into the Hulk at a very small amount of drugs. Races wouldn't be about who works hardest and races gutsy; it would be about who has the best drugs and whose body responds the best to those drugs. 
2. Unfortunately, drugs make a huge difference, there would be very little opportunity for clean people to survive in the sport.
3. Do you really want non-medical professionals making medical decisions?! People would get stupid with it. The "more is better" mentality would literally kill some people. 
4. The one with the best scientists (and least morals) would win.  
5. Drugs would take away the aspects that make runners the best people. Runners have grit, camaraderie, patience, perseverance... they have this because the ups and especially downs of running has bettered their personality. The secret is in the process. Drugs bypass this process and go straight to the results.
6. This is a sport, not a freak show!


Blood Doping: 8 weeks out from a race, dopers withdraw blood and freeze it. The body makes more blood to replace the loss. Then the blood is put back into the body pre-race. This results in more red blood cells in the body than physiologically possible. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. The cost: strain on the heart. Plus risky risky blood injections are risky.

EPO: Your body naturally produces EPO. It causes the body to make red blood cells. When you inject EPO, your body thinks it needs to make more and more and more red blood cells. More blood=more oxygen=faster human. 
One rare side effect of EPO: Immunogenicity. Your body sees the synthetic EPO as an intruder. The body then makes soldiers to attack the EPO intruder. Unfortunately, your body attacks both the synthetic and natural EPO. Which means you can no longer make red blood cells. Ever. You have to have transfusions for the rest of your life. 

Testosterone: Steroid hormone usually taken in cream form. Testosterone is an anabolic hormone--it causes your body to build things, like muscle mass, for example. It cuts down recovery time. It has a laundry list of side effects. Hormones control so many things that we do not know everything it controls.