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Open Mic Friday: Laura

Posted Oct 24 2008 12:50am

Open_mic_friday Welcome to Laura!  You know her best from her blog, Absolut(ly) Fit.  She has been on the blogging scene for only a year and the running scene only two.  But in just 2 years, she has taken both the marathon and the blogosphere by storm.  Her current goal is to be the youngest female to run a marathon in each of the 50 states.   And we have no doubt she will. 

Why did you start running?

Because I couldn't do it. Let me explain with a few anecdotes. In college, I had heard of a program called Teach for America (check out their website at teachforamerica.com if you dno't know what it is), but mistakenly thought it was just a program that anyone could get accepted to and do if they weren't ready/qualified for a "real" job. I recently read a phenomenal book called "Relentless Pursuit" that profiled several TFA teachers at their school in LA, and was blown
away to hear how prestigious the program is and all the challenges that teachers face. The book emphasizes how difficult the job is, and when I recently spoke with a TFA recruiter and mentioned I had read the book, she groaned, and hastened to assure me that my experience might not be quite as tough and that the experiences profiled were very extreme in the amount of challenges (particularly violence) they faced. I replied that it was exactly those challenges that had me interested in the job! While you might think I'm pretty conservative if you met me (I often come off as a very rule-abiding yuppie), all it takes is someone telling me that I can't handle something to make me try. Another great example would be when I signed up for a riflery and marksmanship course at college. It was taught by an actual army drill
sergeant, and we learned how to shoot M16s. I walked in the first day dressed in head-to-toe pink and introduced myself by saying that I had never even seen a gun except on TV but that I was excited to learn!  Very Elle Woods of me, I know.

What is the most challenging part of your running?

I'd have to say it's continuing the challenge that keeps me running. When I first started Laura_happy_stride running, I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world if I could complete a 5K. When I did, I told everyone I knew, whipping out the digital pictures and proudly announcing my 33:00 finish as if it were a world record. Six months later, I worked my way up to a 5 miler, and ran the race having never run more than 4 miles in training (please note that I use the term "training" loosely, to mean the day after any alcohol-filled party where I inevitably developed a vodka-gut and tried to burn it off by going for a run). I just kept going longer and longer, and I still remember my mom thinking I was going to die when I set my sights on a 10 miler in the Adirondack Mountains! Each new race is another chance for me to get that amazing rush at realizing I've gone farther or faster than before, and now that I've started my 50 state challenge, it's a huge boost just to add another state to the collection even if
I don't PR. As for my mom, she's finally learned to take my crazy running in stride and doesn't totally flip out when I announce my intentions to do yet another marathon. I'm not sure how she'll adapt when I start going for ultras though, which I'm sure are in my future
someday.

What are your running goals?

Right now,  I'm content to say that my goal is to be the youngest female to run a
marathon in all fifty states, but after that happens (and it will happen!), I'm open to suggestions :)   I said that I'll run ultras, but it's not even that I really want to run 50 or 100 miles (honestly, that sounds kind of long and boring) - it's that I want to keep getting the feeling of achieving the impossible and doing something I didn't think I could do. I've never been a daredevil, and I'm usually pretty calculated in the risks I take, but there's just something about running that makes me want to push my limits and see just how far I can take this thing.

How do you fit running into your busy life?  

Time management is definitely an issue. I've been one of the busiest people I know, even from a very young age. When I was an adolescent, I was a serious dancer, and managed to squeeze in 15+ hours/week of ballet classes while still attending school full-time; in my teens, it was community/professional theater that took up my time (usually about 20 hours/week of rehearsals); in college, I kept myself busy by taking more than a full course load. One semester, I took 21 credits when a "normal" schedule was 12-15. Despite
transferring colleges and changing majors drastically (from drama at NYU to industrial and labor relations at Cornell), I could have graduated a full year early (I opted not to because I wanted to keep studying and learning as much as possible). Basically, I thrive on being busy - if I don't have a huge to-do list, I'm very unhappy and also end up procrastinating on what I DO have! There are certainly times that I kick back and relax, but even that often has a "check the box" aspect for me (e.g. catching up on my favorite blogs, staying up
to date on my favorite TV shows, reading all the library books I've checked out). My personality is very go-go-go, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

Who is your running hero?

Hands down that would be Dean Karnazes. I first heard his name two years ago, when I was running once a week for 3-5 miles at most and he was doing the North Face Endurance Challenge. I thought he was absolutely the craziest person I had ever heard of! Who knew that one year later, I'd be embarking upon my own crazy 50 state challenge?! I had the opportunity to meet Dean briefly at the expo for the San Francisco Marathon, and it was one of the greatest compliments I've received to date when he told me told me that he thought I was crazy.  :)

Why did you start your blog?

The first running blog I ever came across was called "Jogging for Normal People." I don't Laura_towpath even remember how I came across it, but I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever read (check out http://www.thatsfit.com/2007/04/10/jogging-for-normal-people-admiting-the-truth/ for one of my favorite posts). When I started reading it, the author had already abandoned it, so that led me in search of other running blogs, and one of those that I started frequently reading was Non-Runner Nancy's. She announced a virtual race and I decided to participate, but when she posted my results as "Laura the Lurker" because I didn't have a blog, I was so embarrassed by my new moniker (which sounded to me like some kind of pedophile who hangs out in dark alleys and lures small children with promises of candy) that I decided to create my own blog. At first I had the idea of filling it with tons
of advice and how-tos on fitness and weight loss, but it eventually became a personal blog where I posted about anything and everything.  It's funny: I've gotten a lot more positive feedback from posting about my (mis)adventures than I did when I was posting what I thought was more professional advice!

Which running bloggers have you met and which ones would you like
to meet in person?

I want to meet everyone in person! Seriously, since I'm running a marathon in each of the fifty states, I should be near everyone at least once, so I'm hoping to be able to meet as many running blogging friends as possible. So far, I've met Paul of PLe1der blog, Lam of The
Running Laminator, and Sassy of Sweet Sassy Molassy; I've also run by Chia of Chiarunner at the Portland Marathon, and we gave each other a high five but didn't get to meet up after. We're trying to plan another race together to do so! I'm also looking forward to meeting Marci of Runner's Rambles in Niagara Falls this weekend, and Christine of Runnin' Duff at the Disney Marathon in January. But really, I want to encourage everyone: if you see that I'm doing a race near you or the same race that you're doing, please drop me an e-mail! Running bloggers are a special breed  - I love reading everyone's blogs and I
think it would be so cool to get to meet in person as well.

Tell us about your job.   

I work for a large global consulting firm, and the best thing about my job is the culture. Like my university, it's very work hard/play hard.  I find my friends and other non-coworkers are always getting shocked about each end of the spectrum, but it's when you put them together that it all works out. There are nights I have to stay at work until 4 AM, and that totally sucks, but then there are days when I sleep late and go into the office in the afternoon for a margaritas-and-daiquiris Cinco de Mayo party! Everyone always seems to forget that I have to deal with BOTH parts, and so I'm always getting comments about how my job is either incredible or really terrible. Yes, I may be flying off to cool locations or eating at four star restaurants on the company dime, but to get perks like that, I need to work really hard. For me, it all balances out in the end, and I think that the two extremes fit my personality pretty well. I would rather have the extreme work and the extreme play than be somewhere in the middle all the time - it keeps my life interesting :)

What do you do when you aren't running, blogging or working?
What is "fun" for you?

Laura_finish_2 As I mentioned above, I'm really structured in liking to check things off my to-do list, so there are TV shows I watch every week (or at least tape every week and then eventually get around to watching).  These include reality shows like America's Next Top Model, Project Runway, The Biggest Loser, and Top Chef; sitcoms like The Office and Privileged; and dramedies like Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, One Tree Hill, Private Practice, and House. I also love to read - I love chick lit, diet/health/nutrition/workout books, and anything written by Jodi Picoult. Oh, and since my blog is called "Absolut(ly) Fit," I suppose I should point out that I do enjoy drinking - though I actually do it a lot less since I've started blogging! I love wines (I took a wine tasting class in college that got me really intrigued), especially a good Riesling. As for mixed drinks, when I'm being healthy I'll go for a flavored vodka and seltzer, but when I throw all caution to the wind, I love a good frozen drink like a margarita, daiquiri, or pina colada - the sweeter and fruitier the better :)
Other hobbies include figure skating (I hope I can still count that as a hobby even though I haven't really done it in a few months), cross-stitching, and cooking. I probably should have mentioned cooking sooner, because that's one of my favorite stress relievers!

If you could change anything about your running, what would it be?

I want to run more frequently, and keep up a more normal "training" schedule. Which leads me to...

Tell us about your current 21 day challenge and the habit you are
working on.

Jenn from Getting Fit and Loving It put out a call for all of us to do a 21 day challenge to either break or start a habit. I decided to do two challenges: trying to break one habit, while trying to start a new one. For 21 days, I'm avoiding what I call all "processed carbs"
(meaning bread, pasta, baked goods, etc) except the day before a race, when I'm allowing myself one meal with those items. At the same time, I'm trying to run every single day for a minimum of one mile. I'm only on day 3 but I've kept both resolutions so far - keep checking back with my blog to see how it goes! I love the idea that it only takes 21 days to break/start a habit, because it's relatively easy to tell yourself you're just going to do something for 21 days and that's it.  This spring, my doctor told me I had high cholesterol and I needed to cut out cheese, red meat, eggs, etc - at first it was really tough,
but now I almost never (last week's cheese binge aside) go for those things even though my cholesterol is back to normal! I think it's great to pick one thing at a time to change - before you know it, you're living a totally healthy lifestyle!

Your sidebar blog list is great - any advice on great blogs for runners?

There are so many running blogs out there, and I had a lot of trouble with the TIART where we were supposed to talk about our favorite blogs - I could have gone on for days! I try to read the blogs of everyone who reads mine, and then there are some that I just relate to or
inspire me. Even if you're a "lurker" like I was, there are so many blogs and sites (like this one!) that offer a great sense of community. Go find the ones you're passionate about, and read those.

Your race schedule has been unbelievably busy - how do you choose
your races?

Not in the conventional way, that's for sure! I'm all about signing up last minute for races. A lot of this has to do with work and my travel schedule - until a week or so before, it's impossible for me to know whether I'll be able to get to a race. This unfortunately leads to me paying a lot in registration fees because I can never take advantage of the early registration, but that's made up for by the fact that I usually don't have to pay travel expenses (see this article on CNN, for an explanation of how that works - thanks to Amanda from Run to Finish for sending that to me). I keep a big Excel spreadsheet with
races that I've heard about that sound fun, who else is running them, and what the next date is. When I know I'm going to be able to travel for work, I open the spreadsheet and see what races are coming up during that timeframe. Then it's just a matter of using Kayak to find an inexpensive enough flight that I can go! For 2009, my strategy for picking races is pretty much just going to stay loose, but I think in 2010 I'll have to plan a lot more because I'll be running out of states and will need to be sure to get them all in by my 25th birthday
in July.

This week's TIaRT topic is running and weight loss - any tips or
suggestions for runners on the topic?

The best advice I can give is to be aware of what you're eating and what you're doing. I've very informally coached some friends and family on weight loss, and the one thing I've really noticed is that so many people think they're being healthy and making great choices, but aren't. My mom had been gaining a bit of weight and couldn't figure out why - she said she was just picking at her food and never really eating full meals. One day I had her write down every bite she put in her mouth (even if it was just a taste), and finally she
figured out the problem: she wasn't eating full meals, true, but she had so many snacks or bites here and bites there during the day that it was adding up to more calories than just eating regular meals! This isn't to say that snacking is bad, by any means, but you need to
really be aware of what you're eating. Almost a year ago, I started logging everything I ate on DailyPlate.com, and it has really helped me tremendously. Holding myself accountable for every morsel has made me stop standing in front of the fridge and sneaking tastes of
leftovers, or grabbing any of the random pastries and munchies that are always around the office. When I know it counts, it's a lot easier to say no! The same goes for exercise. Topher of I'll Run for Donuts made a really good point recently when he said that running a marathon "only" burns 11 glazed donuts. That may sound like a lot of donuts, but when you think about all the stuff we eat while justifying that "it's okay; I'm running a marathon," it's probably way more calories than that! Just be mindful of your choices and it will be a lot easier to get/keep the weight off.

What is your biggest running challenge?

Now that I've been doing multiple marathons, it can be hard to stay motivated. In my first few marathons, I'd get to mile 20 and think,  "wow, only 6 miles to go! If I just keep the pace up, I can PR!" When I was only doing marathons once a month, it was easy to lay it all on the line; when I started doing marathons more frequently, my attitude changed, and it was more like "meh, I'm kind of tired. I'll just take it easy now and then try for a PR next weekend." I try to keep myself engaged with the reminder that "pain is temporary; pride is forever," but it can be really hard to push yourself so much. People are always amazed that my body can run so many marathons, but I think the real miracle is that my mind has allowed me to do it. Running is SUCH a mental sport, and I think it's almost tougher for us mid-packers than it is for the champions. They're running to beat someone and to win,
while we're running in the midst of hundreds or thousands of others, knowing that no matter how hard we try we're not going to "win". I try to remind myself that any race I do is still a huge accomplishment: I got out of bed that morning and pushed myself hard while my friends were all lying home in bed hungover from the previous night's festivities. However, getting into the mindset that any finish is an accomplishment can make it harder to push yourself. My brother got me a copy of "Brain Training for Runners" for my birthday, and one of these days I really need to sit down and read it - I think it will help a lot.

What has been your funniest moment while running?

That would have to be in the Portland Marathon, when I saw a spectator sign at mile 16 that said, "Holy crap, only 10 miles to go!" A few minutes later, I had to... well, you know. It was not funny at all while I was going through it, but in retrospect, I think that's pretty
funny. Note to spectators: do NOT use bathroom words in your signs!

How do your family/friends support your running?

My mom and best friend from high school came to my first race bearing signs that said, "Run Laura_sign   to the ice cream, Laura!" It was wonderful to see them on the course, and even better when they dealt with my cranky mood after the marathon when I was sore. My mom and I are extremely close, and she's only been able to come to one other marathon since
(Hartford), but I call her the second I finish any race to let her know how I did. Doing all these races on my own, though, one thing that was amazing for me was after the Akron Marathon, when I pulled out my phone to call her and discovered that I had several text
messages. My mom is not very tech-savvy, but she had somehow figured out that Akron allowed you to track runners' splits in real time as they crossed certain checkpoints, and she also figured out how to text message me to say, "Laura, you rock!" I almost cried when I saw that - it was SO cool that she learned how to do that for me! My other biggest supporter is my amazing boyfriend, who is really sweet about understanding my dream and being nice about me going away so many weekends to run. I always feel terribly guilty when I leave, but I'll never forget the time he spent ten minutes bragging about me and my
marathoning even though everyone else was clearly bored. He was SO proud of me and my accomplishments, and that meant the world to me! He loves that I have a dream and am striving to achieve it, and he's even gotten excited enough to agree to run a marathon with me next year (we're targeting the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, but he hasn't started training yet, so we'll see). I really want to get as many of my friends and family as possible to train for and complete a marathon - it's the best feeling in the world, and I just want everyone I love to experience it!

What advice do you have for runners?

Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorite Disney movies as a child, and I'd like to pull a short quote from the book.  "Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said, 'one can't believe impossible things.'  'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'"
Running was one of my impossible things. I feel like I've said this over and over, but just a few years ago, I would never in my wildest dreams have considered running a marathon. It was impossible for me - I wasn't a runner or even an athlete. A coworker from when I started running tried to convince me to do a half-marathon, and I told him that was crazy - I doubted I could even complete a 5K. But then I did it! Try not to be limited by what you think you can or can't do. I'm always surprised by the stories I hear of people completing marathons who either didn't think they could do them or with very little training, and I want everyone to know that you can ALL do a marathon if you set your mind to it. To stay with the Disney theme, Walt Disney said, "if you can dream it, you can do it." If you have the slightest inkling to try a marathon, even if it's overshadowed by fear and doubt, I really want to convince you to try (heck, pick a marathon in a state I haven't run and I'll come do it with you at whatever pace you want!). Running my first marathon changed my life by redefining what I considered within the realm of possibility. And what good is a
dream if it's easy or something that you already know is possible?

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