Thursday, February 28, 2019


"Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance."
~ Samuel Johnson

A couple weeks ago, I watched as one of my senior runners ran a lifetime PR in the mile at an indoor meet.  As a coach, it's so incredibly rewarding to watch your athletes succeed.  But this performance really resonated with me and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Kesinia has been a good runner since I’ve known her.  And over the past four years, she has improved a ton.  But it has not come easily for her.  In 9th grade, she started off incredibly strong; running PRs in every distance and winning races easily.  But over the next couple years, even though she continued to run fairly well, she wasn't seeing the improvement that she expected given the amount of work she was doing.  Throughout each season, for every small step forward, she would take a few steps back and times that used to come easily for her were harder to reach and more often than not, didn't happen at all.  For so many athletes, myself included, when they have these long stretches of training where the work is being done but there is no change or the change is negative, they often stop to think about whether it's really worth it.  It's hard to stay after something day after day and not get the results you're hoping for, particularly when you may have had them in the past.  High school runners, girls in particular, often struggle to hit a steady groove and find themselves stuck or falling back when they feel they should be getting faster.  It's tough and a lot of them can't deal with it.  Some, like Kesinia, continue to fight through despite the lack of progress.  But so many others find themselves wanting to quit.  Kesinia’s story is so poignant because it shows that, regardless of where you are when you start, things will inevitably change and, despite your efforts, it may not go the way you want it to.  But, if you are willing to trust the process, to be patient, to do the work and to believe that progress is being made even when you're not seeing the results, then the pieces will eventually fall into place and that breakthrough will undoubtedly happen.  I reached out to Kesinia to see if she’d be willing to work with me on this post.  I wanted her to share her running story with others who may be in a similar boat or know someone who is.  Because it's never easy.  But in the end, as you'll see here, the fight for something you love it always worth it in the end.
As I mentioned, Kesinia is a senior at Lexington High School.  She has run cross country, indoor and outdoor track every year since 9th grade.  Which means she is currently finishing up her 11th season as a runner at LHS.  ELEVEN!!!  That alone is remarkable.  I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that she has been nose to the grindstone since her first day of XC.  When she started as freshman, she was already really good; easily making it into the top 10 on our XC  team and constantly scoring on the track.  She won the freshmen XC race of the Bay State Invitational and ran a personal best of 19:40 in the 5K, a time that she would not break until three years later.  She also handily won the freshmen race of the Middlesex League meet.  Indoor track was a fairly good season with consistent miles in the low 5:40s.  Not her best, but not far off.  Then spring track was another solid season with a 2 mile PR of 11:46, a time that, again, she would not break for 3 years.  This, however, was exactly the breakthrough she expected to have as she began her high school career.  Of course, she also expected it to continue on like this and that's where things went differently.  Sophomore year of XC she was part of our top 10 crew again, an incredible group of women that ended up winning the EMASS Divisional Meet and the MA State meet for the first time in 15 years.

There was nothing to be ashamed of, as she had several decent races.  But, despite her work, she was seeing no major improvements.  Her times were solid but she began to plateau and she did not break 20:00 in the 5k at all that year. “I was so excited that we as a team had accomplished so much together and blown past everyone’s expectations but I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself for a less than stellar season timewise, especially following my amazing freshman year.”  Her indoor season was especially frustrating for her.  Her fastest mile was a 5:48, which was not great compared to the 5:34 she had run two years before in 8th grade.  She still ran strong and scored for her team but her times weren't improving despite the amount of time she was putting in to her training.  Things weren't clicking and she never really felt great, like the runner she knew she was.  Not that it stopped her from sticking with it and continuing to push.  Outdoor her sophomore year was more of the same.  Her times were "fine" but she saw no major jumps in performance.  She was not able to break 12 minutes in the 2 mile, something she'd done easily just the year before.   And she was not happy about it.  Though I will say, in general, she was pretty happy most of the time.

During her junior year of XC things began to shake out a bit.  She wasn't necessarily crushing it, but she was chipping away at those old freshman year times and she could feel herself getting closer to where she knew she should be.  Indoor and spring were much of the same.  No huge gains per se, but some good races and times.  Not to say that she wasn't frustrated.  She was.  But, unlike the year before, she finally wasn't stuck or sliding back and just having that to grip onto was enough to keep her fired up and willing to work.  Finally, at the end of her junior spring, she had that small breakthrough that we'd been hoping for.  I say small because she didn't run a PR, but she did break 12 in the two mile which she hadn't done since 9th grade and was starting to wonder if it would ever happen again.  Both of us were thrilled, not about the time, but about the fact that things were clearly on an upswing for her and I know we both sensed that things were about to change.

Which brings us to this past fall.  Senior year.  She'd logged hundreds of miles, done tons of workouts, run race after race after race for two years straight and right from the get go her grit, patience and determination finally began to pay off.  Her XC season started so strong.  Unlike years past, she easily broke the 20 minute barrier at the start of her season.  Then, at the Middlesex League meet she flew, literally, running a 19:18 5K, a time that she hadn't thought within reach for years and a massive PR.  Finally the breakthrough had happened.  "I have never been so happy as after that race at Middlesex League meet.  Our teammate, Danna, came sprinting up to us with a huge smile on her face as she told us that all three of us had PR'ed. I have never felt so excited for myself and my teammates and we were all ecstatic and hugging each other and yelling.  I had finally broken my freshman year PR after 3 years of hard work and so much frustration.”  As she moved on to indoor track, the momentum kept building.  Due to several girls going away during the vacation weeks, her coach had her doubling in the mile and the 2 mile which is a big ask for any athlete but especially for Kesinia who still wasn't sure what her body was capable of based on past seasons. “This indoor season I finally got back my love for the sport.  For various reasons, including a stressful personal life, I began to look forward to practice and I could not wait to get on the track and forget about everything else that was bothering me.  Workouts went well and I was not bothered by the shin splints and fatigue of previous indoor seasons.”  Her work ethic and positive attitude paid off and this season she had her most successful indoor season ever.

And now we're back to the beginning of my post.  As I mentioned, I got to watch as she ran a huge PR of 5:19 in the mile at the Middlesex League.  After that, she came back and ran the 2 mile, coming in under 12 minutes and scoring for her team.  A feat that is truly remarkable considering she had already PRed, and therefore worn herself out, in the mile just hours before.  A week later, she closed out her indoor season with a solid 5:20 in the mile.  But the true surprise came when, she doubled back again and ran an 11:46 in the 2 mile just hours after crushing her mile.  “After my success in indoor track this winter, I am super excited for my outdoor season.  I'm on the verge of a something big in the 2 mile, I can just feel it.  I now know I can break 12:00 easily.  I just need to race on fresh legs and I have not doubt that I will finally crush my PR.  I will definitely say that over the years I have felt frustrated and tired to the point of tears, especially after races that I expected to go really well that fell flat.  But I never doubted what I was doing.  I never even thought about quitting.  Both the physical workouts and the support of teammates from running have become so crucial in my life that stopping was not even an option.  Not getting the results you want is hard and it definitely temporarily took the joy out of running for me, especially that sophomore indoor season.  But sticking with it and pushing through plateaus is what makes you mentally stronger.  And I know that is why I've had such a great year.  Coming up on my last indoor season I am sad because it’s my last one but I look forward to pushing myself and my teammates to be our best."  Bottom line here, if you build it, no matter how it's built, it will come.  Always push through.  Thanks, Kesinia.  Go get it this spring. Can't wait to watch you fly.

Listen to this:
Grow - Conan Gray

Thursday, February 14, 2019


🎶Running on concrete
I finally can breathe
I think I'm ready...🎶
'Grow', Conan Grey

Last Friday I flew down to Florida both to visit my parents and to run the Donna Half Marathon, a race I've been wanting to for a while now.  My mom was diagonosed with Stage 1 Breast Cancer when she was 60.  She's been cancer free for 12 years.  The Donna Marathon, officially titled the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, was created by Donna Deegan, a former journalist and three-time breast cancer survivor.  Funds from the event are dedicated to breast cancer research and care for those in need.  For a few years now, I've waffled back and forth on running the half versus the full; trying to make one of them work with my training plan and this year I finally just bit the bullet, signed up for the half, and planned the trip.  A little over a week before the race we had a polar vortex up here in MA.  I stupidly decided to run outside when the "feels like" was sub-zero.  The next day I woke up with a nasty cold.  Somehow, even at age 44, I still haven't learned some of life's most basic lessons.  Like don't run when they're issuing frost bite warnings and canceling school because of the temperature.  I took a couple days off and eased back into training but the miles were not the quality that I needed or wanted them to be and by the time I was packing up to leave I knew I wouldn't be 100% for race day.  Always a bummer.  I reached out to my coach to get a sense of what he thought I could pull off.  He never sugar coats anything, which is good, and told me that between the Florida heat, where I am in my training cycle and coming off being sick, a PR was not likely.  I agreed with him while also secretly hoping we were both wrong.

It was a quick and easy trip down and when I landed around 6:30 it was a balmy 68 degrees.  Heaven, as far as I was concerned.  My parents scooped me up, we had a mellow dinner and then I called it early because I was wiped.  I know, shocker.  The next morning my dad and I made our way over to the expo to grab my bib and shirt.  Their place is about twenty minutes from where everything was happening which was super convenient.  Since they live so far away from me, my parents have never made it to one of my races so it was fun to have them around for everything leading up to it.

My dad told the woman who gave me my number that it was for him and then laughed and said, 50 years ago, maybe.  She got a kick out of that. He did, too.  As you can see here, I forgot both my contact lenses and my hairbrush for this trip.  I brought three pairs of running shoes and bag full of snacks, both of which are clearly more important than seeing what's in front of me or my appearance. After the expo we met up with my mom for lunch and then I put my feet up and relaxed for the rest of the day, which was wonderful as it rarely happens at home.

My mom cooked up a killer dinner and then I headed up to get myself organized.  The race start was at 7:30am and I wanted to be there with enough time to warm up so I set my alarm for 5:45 which would give me a few extra minutes to grab coffee on the way.  My dad, bless him, was ready and willing to be my driver/wingman, even at that god-awful hour.  He was worried I wouldn't be able to park and wanted to take that stress off my plate.  I know, I'm lucky.  He dropped me off and I sat and finished my coffee and just chilled for a bit before I took off for a couple much needed wakeup miles.  It was humid and 60 which felt awesome but I knew it was going to be a challenge to race in given the weather I've been training in back home, particularly the humidity.  Whatever.  I checked my bag and walked over to the line to find a good spot for some last minute stretching.  It's noticaebly different to go to a race alone versus with a friend or teammate.  Particularly one that's far away from home.  Everyone is always friendly; that's a given.  But when you're solo, you're not as distracted, which isn't necessarily a good thing.  Oddly, I was in a really good head space pre-race, which is atypical for me.  I wasn't as nervous as I usually am.  Was it because this was my first race of the year and just a stepping stone on my path toward reaching my bigger goals?  Maybe.  Was it because I wasn't feeling 100% and didn't feel the pressure that I normally do when I am totally on my game?  Who knows.  So much of this particular race is about running for others, for those who have survived breast cancer, who are battling it, who have lost loved ones to it, for anyone who is touched by it in any way, really.  It feels very different than most of the races I've done because the cause is the key focus, not who might place or win.  It's a very positive environment to be in and the vibe was amazing.  Perhaps that was the reason I felt so at ease.  I was just happy to be there and be a part of it and to know that I was running for others, especially my Mom and Mother-in-law, who are both survivors.  A photographer captured this moment as I stood at the line.  It kind of sums up everything I am trying to say.  You'll rarely see me happy and smiling like this before a goal race.  I was really feeling the love.

As I mentioned, my expectations for this one were pretty low.  Again, there is always a little voice whispering, you never know, but really, I knew.  I didn't really have a goal, just to run hard and see what I had in the tank.  My marathon pace is 6:50, so I was hoping to run somewhere in the 6:30-6:50 range for this, depending on how I felt.  My first mile was a 6:45.  Right on target.  My legs felt great and I was itching to pick it up but forced myself to pump the breaks because I could feel the warmth right off the bat and knew that it would likely be a factor working against me later.  For the next few miles I kind of linked up with a group and zoned out.  I took fluids at every stop to be safe.  I settled into a good groove and coasted for a while.  Then I had a little panic moment because I looked down and noticed that my average pace was 6:51 and this was slower than I had planned.  I thought it was odd.  I'm pretty good at feeling my pace and I definitely felt like I was moving at a faster clip.  I checked my mileage at the next marker and realized that my distance was off which explained the slower splits.  I raced in Jax back in November on this same course which weaves through the neighborhoods of Neptune Beach and I remember having the same issue with my GPS for that one.  I now realized I was just going to have to stop focusing on my watch, which was no longer accurate, and run by feel.  Totally fine except that sometimes if I throw some faster miles in too soon I crash and burn mid-race, so I was going to have to really keep a pulse on how I was feeling.

I ran with this guy in the above photo for quite a few miles, using him as a pacer and hoping he was in the window I was aiming for.  Either way, he was a real steady Eddy, which was what I needed at the moment.  I owe him a thank you.  Side note - I did end up chatting with him post-race and he told me his distance was off as well and that the guy next to him had us running steadily between 6:35-50.  That was good to hear.  By mile 9, I was getting really tired and, as predicted, was really feeling the heat.  I was drinking water and then pouring it down my back.  I mean, it really wasn't that hot, but it felt like the tropics to me after the sub zero temps that I'd been dealing with the week before.  At mile 10, a young gal passed me as she said, way to go, girl.  That made me smile and helped me turn it up a bit to get to the finish.  Though, based on the below pic, I was a bit more dazed than I realized as I hauled it across the line.

I rolled across in 1:28 and change.  Not my best.  Not my worst.  And just about exactly where I should be given my sporadic winter training and the fact that I was coming off a cold.  I won't lie and tell you I didn't feel a tinge of disappointment as I'd hoped my general fitness was further along. Thankfully, my coach knew exactly what I needed to hear when I asked him about it.

Anything under marathon pace is a good workout if nothing else.  We can absolutely build from this. Don't be concerned that it wasn't faster.  We will get there.

That worked for me.  I shook it off, chalked it up to a good effort, met up with my dad and refocused on where we were going for brunch, something he was as excited about as I was.  For the record, the guy below in the pink wig stood, or I should say danced around, at the finish and high-fived every single finisher.  In the end, this was truly what this race was all about and as the dust settled and I gave it some more thought I remembered that I wanted to do this race first and foremost for my mom, who is such a fighter and that how I performed was not on the front burner when I signed up.

But then, I'm a runner.  And I like to aim high.  And I'm hard on myself.  Runner or not, a lot of us are like this.  It is what it is.  And if I've learned anything over the last few years it is that progress is rarely linear.  In running, we have to be patient and embrace all of it, the good and the bad, the strides forward and the slides backwards.  The rebuilding phase and the peak performance phase.  It's all part of the process.  We have to be okay with not seeing major changes and know that every race and run is a small step toward the bigger goal.  And we have to appreciate the journey and all that it offers us.  In this case, the opportunity to spend some quality time with my parents and to take part in an event that means so much to everyone in my family.  That is what I will remember most about this weekend.  And that is more than enough.

Listen to this:
Grow - Conan Gray

Friday, February 8, 2019


"My swagger comes from miles of missteps that screamed “No” & triumphs that engulfed them in a quiet "yes, I will".  For me swagger is the confidence to say, "Thank you for your opinion, but I'm going to do what I want."
~ Mel Lawrence

This year I'm going make a bigger effort to profile more people in my RUNNERS WHO ROCK series.  For a few reasons.  First, these features are so much fun for me to put together because I get to connect with the people that I'm profiling on a more personal level.  Second, there are so many amazing runners, musicians, runners who are musicians, musicians who are runners and people who just have a cool story to tell and are passionate about both running and music out there and they typically have a lot of great info to share.  And last, because I don't have as much going on in my own running world at the moment so why not learn more about those out there who are more interesting and most likely crushing it?  So, today I am thrilled to introduce you to Mel Lawrence.  She's not quite a household name, or at least, not yet.  Though, I'm guessing if you follow the pro running world at all you've probably heard of her, particularly if you are a steeple fan.  I've had the pleasure of knowing Mel since 2014 when I met her at my first Oiselle Birdcamp out in Bend, OR.  Yes, Mel and I are on the same team.  She's a hell of a lot faster and way more accomplished but you wouldn't know it in hanging with her.  She's warm, humble and hilarious.  We ran some trails together when we were in Bend and as I attempted to keep up with her, she and her sister Collier, told me this crazy story about wild animals living in their walls when they were younger, cracking each other up the entire 10 miles and significantly easing the pain of the run for me.  We spent a lot of time together that weekend, I don't know, I guess I was drawn to her positive energy and we've stayed connected ever since.  Lucky me.  Mel runs for Project Little Wing, a pro group in Bend coached by Lauren Fleshman.  She is currently in the middle of her indoor season where she focuses on mid distance racing.  I asked her to give me a quick high level snapshot of who she is and her career highs; to brag about herself basically, and this is what she gave me:

~ I have a twin brother (lives in SF after being in Portland for 11 years) and an older sister (who also runs for Oiselle and lives in Bend :-))
~ UW husky graduate; French major
~ Gearin' up for my indoor season, and I have at least 2-3 more races. It’s such a short season, but it’s so fun.
~ High School PRs: 4:48 mile, 10:20 2 mile, 2:11 800
~ College PRs: 4:21 1500, 9:08 3k, 15:50 5k, 9:40 Steeple
~ Current: 2:05 800, 4:11 1500, 4:33 mile, 8:50 3k, 15:40 5k, 9:32 steeple
~ I’ve lived in Bend for about 5 years and I love it.
~ Getting married in October this year!

Yes, she put her PRs in there, sprinkled among the other details.  But she has done so much more than just run fast.  Clearly, she's not one to boast, so I will do it for her.

Photo credit:Heather McWhirter

The photo above is from 2018 US Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa in June.  Mel placed 3rd in the 3k steeplechase behind Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs.  As of the close of 2018, given all of the race results for that specific year, Mel was ranked 4th in the USA in the steeple.  FOURTH.  I mean, that's just insane to me.  Last year I flew out to Seattle and got to watch her race at the Dempsey Indoor meet against the some of the best athletes in her field.  She took second to Shalane Flanagan in the 3K, coming in under 9 minutes and qualifying for US Indoor Champs.  Watching her race was magical.  She's so calm and cool despite the nerves she's battling and she's always smiling.  I was totally in awe of her the whole time.

Photo credit:Heather McWhirter

I know a lot of you reading this post have heard of Emma Coburn and/or Shalane Flanagan.  Do you see, now, why you'll likely be hearing more about Mel in the future?  I just love this gal.  She's such a cool cat and such a fierce competitor.  Ok, enough from me, let's meet Mel, a runner who really freaking rocks.


Name: Mel Lawrence
Where you're from: Reno, NV
Where you reside now: Bend, OR
Age: 29
Occupation: Professional Runner & part time customer service at Picky Bars

w/ her Little Wing teammates & Coach Fleshman

What do you love most about running?
I love being able to walk out the door, turn my brain off and just let my legs move me forward in any direction I want.  If I don’t turn my brain off, I also love that it’s a time to really think about things, mull things over, and you can do so without any distractions.

What do you love most about music?
That there is music for every type of mood I am in and for different times of day. The music I listen to first thing in the morning is very different from what I listen to while making dinner.

w/ her fiancee at a Red Sox game (love her even more now)

Band (current, all time or both): This is hard!  There are too many to choose from, but I could always listen to Coldplay.
Album (current, all time or both): I rarely choose an album to listen to in entirety.  I like to have a playlist with various artist of the same style.
Race venue: Indoors: The Dempsey at UW. Outdoors: Stanford or Eugene.
Music venue: The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington
Race distance: 3k
Show you've seen live? Again, this is really hard. For the last 5 years, my sister, brother and I have gone to a music festival called Austin City Limits. It’s our sibling trip.  One of the first years we were there we saw Outkast - that is one I will remember forever.
Ice cream flavor:  Cookies and cream

Sweet or salty? Salty
Live or recorded? Usually live
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Summer or winter? Summer (although I always look forward to summer at the end of winter and to winter at end of summer)

Which band or artist would you go see tonight if you could? Beyonce or Leon Bridges
Which band or artist (wait...but no longer alive or playing together) would you go see tonight if you could?  Beatles
Which band or artist would you like to have dinner with tonight if you could? Snoop Dogg
Which band or artist would you like to be playing alongside you during your next race (or long run)? Still thinking on this one.

Today, I feel like….(fill in the blank): I could use more sleep.

Top 5 Songs for running, dancing or both? 
This is a really hard question & I’m sure my answers would be different in a few months.  Have you seen Ellen DeGeneres’s new standup act, “Relatable”?  She talks about having a song where no matter what, you get on the dance floor. This is what I’m thinking of when I read this question. And everyone should watch Relatable.  
What comes to my mind first...
* 2 of America Most Wanted - Tupac (I really like old school rap)
* Run Around Sue by Dion (I also really like Oldies, which is very different from above)
* We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus (I don’t care what anyone says, but I love her voice)
* Crazy In Love by Beyonce
* Filthy by JT

Last 5 Songs you listened to today: I listened to Maggie Rogers new album, "Heard It In A Past Life"

Listen to this:
2 of Americaz Most Wanted - Tupac (feat. Snoop Dog)