Thanks for all the Fish

As an athlete, I like to think of myself as a perpetual student. My form can always be better; I will always have more to learn about nutrition; a fresh set of eyes will always see something different in my lifts. I’ve also spent a lifetime as a teacher of movement arts: a fight director, ballroom dance instructor, and (way back in the day) swim instructor. I’ve been on both sides of this table.

As a teacher, I make frequent corrections. My students are with me to learn; what I have to show them is something they aren’t experts in. I know more than they do and I see what their bodies are doing with an outside eye. As a result, I’m in a position to note when something they are doing isn’t quite right. The more I correct their form, the more they can grow in whatever movement they are learning from me.

My coach definitely had things to say about my elbows in this front squat

My coach definitely had things to say about my elbows in this front squat

I’ve noticed a knee-jerk reaction in my students to immediately apologize for whatever they are doing wrong. “Hey, the lead on that is coming a bit too soon. You’ll want to wait until the next beat to execute it.” “Oh! Sorry!”

It breaks my heart when students do this. Mistakes are a crucial part of the learning process. When you’re doing something new, or doing something you hope to become better at, you’re inevitably going to do it wrong many many times before you finally get it right. That’s why we practice; that’s why we drill. Being a student is all about making mistakes. It’s a matter of how we react to these mistakes that determines what type of student we are, and how quickly we will excel in the given movement form.

As a result, I never apologize to my coaches when they give me notes on my form. My knees coming together in a squat or my back arching a bit too much in a deadlift are not things to be sorry for. These are elements of the learning process; inevitable foibles that are required to move forward.

So I say “thank you.” I don’t try to explain what’s going on (unless what my coach is telling me contradicts something I thought was correct); I don’t apologize for the mistake; I don’t make excuses. I simply thank my coach and try to do it better next time.

Saying “thank you” also communicates to my coach that I am listening, paying attention, and respecting their expertise. It expresses the truth: that I am grateful for the help and for their expert eye, as well as their devotion to helping me get better at whatever it is I’m doing.

Don’t get me wrong; there are some mistakes that warrant an apology. Any mistake in which you are actually at fault for something will want to be accompanied by “I’m sorry.” Being late to class, stepping on someone’s toe, or accidentally grabbing someone else’s jump rope from the equipment stack (for example) are all moments where an apology is more than appropriate. The inevitable by-products of the learning process in a physical discipline? Not one of these moments.

So try it; see what happens. Don’t apologize for mistakes that only effect you. Learn from them, grow from them, and see what they can spring-board you into.

Fueling Up

Here’s something I’ve heard out on the road: “What are you doing?”
Me: “Fueling!”
Person: “But you’re only running [a half marathon; 10 miles; w/e]!”

Okay, so first of all, let’s get rid of the word “only” when describing distance. Sure, there are people in the world who run crazy ultra-marathons (a hundred or more miles over the course of a day or two). Sure, there are people in the world who do triathlons and other endurance events that are way harder than a 6, 10, 13, or even 20 mile run. But using the word “only” implies that in order to be a “real” athlete, I have to measure up to these people. You know what? The only person I have to measure up to is myself. I work every day to be stronger than the previous day; who are you to tell me that the person I am today is “only” anything?

Alright, that little mini-rant out of the way, onto the next one: fueling is about time on your feet and calories burned, not distance. If I’m running for over an hour, I fuel. That’s just the way it is. Personally, I find myself most comfortable when I take in about 100 calories after the first hour and then on the hour after that. If I’m going very long, I will try to do 50 calories on the half hour rather than 100 calories on the hour because it keeps my blood sugar/insulin from spiking and then (subsequently) crashing.

I use a variety of fuels when I run. I started with just Gu but gradually I have moved to prefer cliff shots. I love the gummy candy texture, and the fact that they come in easily dispensed blocks allows me to control my intake a bit better. With a Gu packet, I pretty much have to take the whole thing or none at all (I have yet to master the “take half of your Gu now half later” trick that I know some runners use). Pro tip: tearing the Gu packet open with your teeth will keep you from getting sticky fingers when you’re trying to fuel yourself.

These days, I’ve taken it a step even further. When I can, I try to fuel with (gasp!) “real” food. I have to put “real” in quotation marks because there’s not much really real about the food I tend to use. I favor Rx Bars (pretty processed despite their wholesome ingredients) and Pop Tarts (come on, seriously? I can’t call this real food). Half an Rx bar has about what I need for an hour’s worth of going and it packs up pretty conveniently. These puppies kept me on my feet for my Spartan Beast which took me an unexpectedly long eight hours of trudging. Rx bars have a good protein/carb/fat balance so that you’re not just getting carbs, but I will say they are pretty chewy. They’re approximately the consistency of a tootsie roll, so I find I can’t really run through my Rx bar snack break; I have to stop and walk it off.

Pop tarts are a whole other beast entirely. I’ve had mixed reactions from people when I tell them I use pop tarts as fuel. Some say “Oh my god, Pop tarts! I love those things! They’re so good and they’re not terrible for you!” Others reel in horror at the disgustingness I’m putting into my body. Let me set the record straight: Pop tarts are terrible for you. One pastry is 200 calories of pure carbs/sugar. To make matters worse, they are packaged two pastries to a packet. This means that either you have to come up with some method of keeping your extra pop tart clean and uncrumbled, or be forced to eat two servings of this already terrible snack in one go. Not okay, sneaky food industry. Not okay.

Suffice to say the Pop tart conundrum is pretty annoying. I, personally, grab a Ziploc and stick the whole shebang in my camelback. Over the course of a long run, I’ll go through two pop tarts so it’s not a big deal. That being said, I now understand why my mom was so adamantly against feeding these abominations to us when we were kids. They are, however, great quick carbs for when your body is burning fuel so fast that it’s hard to stay on top of things. As a result: runners, crossfitters, weight lifters… pop tarts are awesome for us. I’ll eat a quarter of a pop tart every half hour and find myself doing great for the run. As an added bonus, if you’re running when it’s hot out the heat will give you a nice melty pop tart center just like a toaster oven. Yum? Or gross? I choose yum.

Anyway, fueling is one of those things that’s different for everyone. You’ll have to experiment for the best results. The only real hard and fast rule is that you probably shouldn’t criticize another runner’s fueling techniques mid-race…. Especially if the other runner is a complete stranger who just happens to be running next to you for a while.

Rules of the Road: Runner/Driver Edition

I do a lot of road running. I like it; it lets me get out and explore my neighborhood (or close by neighborhoods), it lets me run in places where I feel like I can get support (i.e. water, bathrooms, call for help) if I need it, and it provides an interesting urban environment to take in as I go. I find all kinds of new and cool things while I’m running; museums, shops, coffee stops. I really enjoy getting to know the places around me as a runner, and it removes obstacles between meand my run because I can just walk outside my door and go if I want to.

However, there is one thing about road running that can sometimes put me on edge: the drivers. I admit that I live in Massachusetts; a state notorious for its lack of etiquette behind IMG_3562the wheel. That said, there’s just a few pretty logical little rules that I truly wish drivers would keep in mind when they encounter runners on the road.


 I get it. Sometimes, the shoulder is narrow. Sometimes, you’re driving on a really cramped two-lane street. I, too, am a driver and have experienced these things. But for heaven’s sake, if you spot a runner coming towards you, do your best to give them a wide breadth (obviously not at the sake of safety or obeying the rules of the road). There is no reason to try and get as close to the runner as possible while you zip by. Such behavior is pretty much guaranteed to scare the pants off of the poor runner. I try to be as courteous as I can be when I’m running on a busy road (and, honestly, I try not to run on busy roads); but there’s only so much I can do when a driver decides that they absolutely must be skimming the curb even when they have plenty of space on the other side. Try to stay aware of this while driving. If you can give the runner space without endangering yourself or others; give the runner space! Trust me, we don’t want to be in your way, we will try our best not to be.


I really don’t know what people are thinking when they do this but here’s the deal: it is not cool to honk at a runner for no reason as you drive past. Is this some form of cat-calling? Is this some kind of weird show of support or solidarity? Or is this the driver’s way of ridiculing and playing a practical joke on the runner? I have no idea. All I can tell you is that it annoys me, it startles me, and it breaks my focus. It’s a safety hazard because it makes me think there’s something I haven’t noticed that I need to notice coming up fast (after all, why else would the car make such an alarming and sudden sound?). Please, for the love of runners, don’t do this. Say a semi-silent cheer of awesomeness if you must, or give a thumbs up as you drive past. That’s enough support. Trust me.


In Massachusetts, pedestrians have the right of way at marked crosswalks. That means that if a pedestrian is waiting to cross (and certainly if they are in the middle of the road!), it is your legal obligation to allow them to do so. Now I’m not going to lie and say that I have always done this every single time I’ve been a driver passing an intersection, but it’s definitely something to stay aware of. You definitely do not want to speed up in an attempt to “make it” before the runner, or cause the runner to try and dodge out of your way as you go by (true story; I wish I could say this was an isolated incident). Be courteous to the runners out there; they want to live through their run.

IMG_3571Almost as bad is trying to “let” runners pass against a light at a traffic-controlled intersection. Most of the time, intersections that have walk/don’t walk signs are intersections that need them. Complicated traffic patterns mean that even though you are going to let the runner go doesn’t mean the runner isn’t at risk from another vehicle who doesn’t know that you are vagrantly disobeying local traffic laws. Honestly? I never walk against the light when I’m out running even when a driver waves me by. The last thing I need is a traffic incident to land me in the hospital for however long. I’ve got races to run, people. I don’t have time to be injured because I couldn’t wait the extra sixty seconds for the light to be favorable to me.

On behalf of runners everywhere, I personally thank you considerate drivers for your dutiful attention to these noteworthy items. Small acts of consideration can definitely go a long way towards making my run more pleasurable.

A Tale of Hills and Sandbags

Mount Desert Island is a hilly marathon. And when I say “hilly,” I mean quad-killing, think I’m gonna die hilly. Check out this monster:


In order to train for hills like this, my coach has me doing a number of things. One of them is sandbag hill repeats. The exercise is Neanderthal in its simplicity: grab large sandbag, place on shoulders, run up and down steep hill for about 45 minutes. The principle is that this will strengthen my legs far more effectively than normal person hill repeats (since my legs now have to accommodate the weight of the sandbag; in my case 35 extra pounds).

While this exercise is incredibly difficult to do (seriously, according to my Fitbit I burn more calories doing this than almost any other activity…. It’s because my heart rate spikes in the first sixty seconds or so and never really comes back down until I’m done), it’s also something I’m really enjoying for a variety of reasons. Reason one: I get to go run a hill on an awesome, shady path through some Endor-style woods. Seriously. My first time out there, I couldn’t help but think of this the entire time:


I remember wondering, as a kid, what kind of sadist Yoda was. I think I have sufficiently answered that question in my adulthood. Luckily my coach only makes me carry a sandbag and not piggyback him (my coach is a six-foot-something man built entirely of muscle; in my head I refer to him as “Gaston”).

Reason number two: there is something really viscerally thrilling about hauling this sandbag around in the outside world. It seriously makes me feel like the baddest M-Fer in the world. The added bonus is that the trail I use is a pretty popular one around here for runners (especially those of us doing hill repeats because… well… it’s a giant hill; about half a mile up an insane incline which is a pretty great split if you’re actively trying to run hills for your workout). I pass other runners frequently on the path. Every time I do, I get looks from them. The looks vary in purport; from the pitying “oh my gosh who the heck did you make angry to deserve this treatment?” to “oh my gosh, you’re the baddest M-Fer in the world!” Sometimes, other runners even cheer me on or say admiring things about me. Let me tell you how AWESOME that makes me feel as a girl who, up until her adulthood, was not “athletic” by any sense of the world and was always picked last for any sports team. It also reinforces to me how seriously awesome the global running community is; where else would you tell a perfect stranger how awesome they are simply because they’re doing something similar to your task but with an added degree of difficulty?

Reason number three: the view at the top is absolutely spectacular. I’m not sure I’ve managed to capture it in its glory, but I’ve tried on each occasion that I’ve been out there. Check this out:



What’s your training schedule look like?

A Pensive Moment

You ever have one of those moments where you find yourself doing something and, unheeded, your brain slams you to some point in your distant past when you were doing something absolutely, completely different and all you can think is “well dang, I never thought I’d be doing this”?

It’s been happening a lot to me recently.  I think this is mostly due to teaching my acting class.

This semester is the first time that I’ve had a classroom all to myself; not team-taught, not taught with supervision, not teaching off of someone else’s syllabus.  I make the rules, I enforce them, I create the lessons, and I have complete control over what goes on in my classroom during class.

Since it’s a rudimentary acting class, it requires me to go back to the fundamentals of my

Never thought I'd be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

Never thought I’d be on a plan to an academic conference about Shakespeare while reading his plays through the lens of a girl desperately hoping to pass her orals and become a Doctoral Candidate

own training which, essentially, requires time travel.  I think back to the person I was when I was doing these exercises, when I was turning in these kinds of assignments, when I was the wide-eyed optimistic student.  And thinking back upon that, I simply can’t escape the fact that I never could have planned things this way.

I never thought I’d be an acting teacher and certainly not within a university setting.  I never seriously thought I’d be getting a PhD (though the notion had crossed my mind, it wasn’t as something tangible or relevant until very recently).  And I certainly never thought that the academic world which is now my embroiled lifestyle could be a valid and sustaining life choice (though I guess, with the job market being what it is, we could debate the usage of the term “sustaining”).

It’s funny because it all seems so obvious.  My specific background lends itself really well to this kind of vocation.  That being said, there were a series of choices which seem to have logically set my feet on the path I now travel (and, if you really want to think of it this way, couldn’t have landed me anywhere else).  The question I keep coming back to is “well, if you didn’t think you’d be doing this, what did you think you’d be doing?”

The real answer is that I had no idea.  I knew I wanted theatre to be a deep part of my lifestyle.  I knew that certain works touched and moved me in a way that others did not.  I knew that I had enough and diverse background knowledge that I wouldn’t be happy being limited to a single middle-powered role in a top-down industry (theatre is totally a top-down industry).  I knew that I wanted to be an educator of some kind, but what kind was completely beyond my ability to understand.

I keep wondering what my students must think of the exercises that we’re doing.  I remember doing most of them myself, but (of course) I pointedly ignored the urgings of my teachers to keep the kinds of journals that I’m forcing my students to (by way of a graded assignment; see how tricksy I am?).  These days, I really wish that I had the kinds of resources that I am asking my students to develop for themselves.  There are other

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that'd land me here.

Summer 2007 at Shakespeare and Company; never thought that’d land me here.

reasons to keep track of things this way, but I will admit to the romantic hope that someday one of them finds herself in the situation I’m in: completely unwittingly winding up in my shoes and fervently hoping that something from her past can reach across the years to give her some guidance.

I think back to my teachers and find that I don’t think I appreciated them the way I should have.  Then again, I’m not sure I could have appreciated them this way.  I don’t think I could have understood the sheer amount of effort that went into doing what they do until this moment, when I was called upon to do it in turn.  And at the risk of sounding overly romantic, it’s kind of comforting to take my place in this cycle.  Even if, for just a short time, I can contribute to the turning of the wheel, it’s nice to know that my teachers’ teachings didn’t die with me.  Passing on the information is a real joy and, even on my bad days, I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to do so.

…Yes, even when I’m facing down a mountain of grading.  Which, by the way, is another thing I never considered until I became a university educator.  Assignments are as much (if not more) work for the instructor as they are for the student.  In case you were wondering why the instructor can’t party until the fat transcript prints.