The Runner Diaries — Brittany Lewis

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Inspired by Refinery29’s Money Diaries and The Cut’s Sex Diaries, welcome to The Runner Diaries, where we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look into a week of training with runners of varying ages, paces and GPS coordinates.

This week, we have Brittany Lewis, a 28-year-old Upper East Sider juggling a vigorous PhD program with training for her first Boston Marathon.

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Lewis with her sister

THE RUN DOWN

Name: Brittany Lewis
Location: New York, NY
Age: 28
Training For: Boston Marathon
Occupation: Student
Goal race? Boston Marathon
Following a training plan? Yes, loosely following a generic plan I poached from the Internet ages ago)
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs? The Most Informal Running Club, Ever (TMIRCE) NYC, and November Project NYC
How long you’ve been ‘a runner:’ Since 2013
Goal weekly mileage: 35-40 miles

RUNNER’S STATEMENT:

“Why Boston?”

In April 2013, I was two weeks into the most stressful month and a half of my life. I was studying for my medical boards, an epically tortuous test given to medical students after they’ve finished two years of training, and I was feeling sorry for myself. Then, out of nowhere, my sister texted me to tell me about the terror attacks at the 2013 Boston Marathon — and that her close friend was OK. I hadn’t even known it was Marathon Monday, but was happy her friend — who had been about a mile from the finish at the time of the bombing, confused, scared, tired, and phoneless — was unharmed.

Thankfully, no one I knew personally was hurt that day. Yet I was still shaken by the bombings, and they made me question why I had been spending every day with such a stressful, singular focus. I couldn’t yet contemplate becoming a runner, but the seed was planted.

After the test in May 2013, I left medical school to start a PhD program (I’m in a dual-degree program, the second half of medical school is completed after I finish my PhD). Working in a lab was a huge culture shift from medicine and I discovered huge gaps of free time. In retrospect, I guess it’s not surprising that I began to fill that time by running (but it also helped that an important relationship abruptly ended and I had a lot of pissed-off energy that needed to go somewhere).

The goal of running in Boston didn’t arise until about about until a year ago, after I’d been running casually but consistently for about two years. Boston is such an iconic race, arguably more so after the terror attacks, and it’s also meaningful because it runs near my hometown of Andover, Mass. Additionally, I realized that the 2017 Boston Marathon would coincide roughly with the end of my PhD work, when I’m set to leave the lab and return to the crazy stress of medical school. Consistent training will be difficult when I’m working in the hospital, and there’s no better time than the present!

To guarantee my entry into the course, I picked a qualifying race in early September, one of the last dates before the mid-September cutoff. The race (a hybrid road race/trail race in Milwaukee called the Lake Michigan Marathon) was a strugglefest from about mile 16, primarily because I hadn’t trained on hills. I positively split the race like a boss and I’m still not quite sure how I finished, but repeating the mantra “Boston” over and over in my head definitely helped. My race time ended up being only thirty seconds under than the qualifying cutoff. Now that I’m getting close to running the actual Boston Marathon, I’m so glad I gutted out those last 10 miles.

Currently, I run about four days a week (track workout, tempo workout, easy run, and long run averaging 30-40 miles per week). I ran for a year or so before adding in speedwork, and wow, it really made me faster. With the exception of my long runs, I tend to run with a group — there are tons of free fitness groups in New York, so it’s easy to find friendly people to sweat with. I also spin a couple of times per week because I love the classes and instructors at my gym, and because it’s good cross training. In addition, I’ll usually throw in an elliptical workout for some cross training/guilt-free Netflix binging. The training plan has evolved less from serious thought and/or research, and more from picking activities and running groups that I find enjoyable.

Monday, March 20 // Day One

6:16 a.m. — Alarm #1

I set specific alarms that give me the maximal amount of sleep-in time. If I snooze once (9 minutes), I’ll have exactly 10 minutes to get dressed and get out the door in time for my 7a.m. spin class. I value each and every minute of my sleep.

Last week was a down week in term of mileage, so I’m feeling extra peppy in the spin class. The first song in the set is Young MC’s “Bust a Move,” which adds to my enthusiasm. It’s impossible to listen to that song and not feel energized. After the class, I scurry back to my apartment, picking up my regular coffee order along the way and make breakfast.

8a.m. — Breakfast

  • Medium hot coffee with steamed skim milk (every morning without fail)
  • Hot, unsweetened wheat cereal with splashes of wheat germ, chia seeds, unsweetened soymilk, frozen blueberries and strawberries, almonds, and raisins
  • Two clementines.

My diet is kind of haphazard, and while I try to eat healthy, I often fall victim to my lazier self and pick up pre-made food or takeout. My New Year’s resolution this year was to eat less added sugar (I’ve been consuming a remarkable amount of junk food lately). So far, my only success has been with breakfast, where I’ve replaced sugared oatmeal with a plain hot cereal (to which I promptly add a ton of sugar-laden fruit, but I still think it’s healthier).

9 a.m. — Arrive at work. I’m feeling moderately stressed about a meeting I have with my boss later this afternoon. Despite coming into work yesterday, I’m still behind. Headphones go in and I stare intently at the computer screen until lunch.

NoonLunch

I gave up trying to pack a lunch for work years ago: it was a losing battle. Instead I usually visit the hospital cafeteria, which has a nice salad bar. I start with a mix of mesclun and romaine, then add whatever toppings appeal to me that day. Today it’s a smattering of carrots, beets, broccoli, tofu, edamame, craisins, croutons, and olive oil/vinegar as dressing. I grab a banana and then snag a couple of chocolates from the lab snack drawer. Back at work, I make a small breakthrough with my data analysis just before meeting with my boss.

3:30p.m.Snack

Post-lunch hypoglycemia hits with a vengeance. More chocolate.

5:45p.m.Snack ‘N Dash

I grab a snack of waffle thins (basically crackers), swig some soymilk and change quickly before running out the door again.

6:15p.m. — Run: 6.3 miles

Easy run from my apartment to the East River track (~3.5 miles). I don’t turn on my GPS watch when I run “easy miles” – I’m more honest about running at an easy effort when I don’t see paces on a watch. I then meet up with my group, The Most Informal Running Club, Ever to do a track workout. This workout varies week to week, depending on what the group leaders have cooked up. Tonight they have to improvise, as part of the track is still covered in snow from last week’s storm. We start by running sets of two 300-meter intervals, separated by 15-30s rest. We do 4 sets total (~1.5 miles).

The second part of the workout is special: partly because the track is partially unusable, partly because it’s the first day of Spring, and partly because it’s just plain fun, we play freeze tag on the soccer field. My watch logs about 1.2 miles, mostly in the form of terrified sprints away from the “freezers.”

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(This is what it looks like to play freeze tag.)

8p.m. — Bar Recovery

Let’s be real, this is why we put up with the track workouts: beer at a local spot near the track, chased by hot salty pretzels. I try a small chocolate milk stout, which unfortunately does not have enough chocolate flavor, and some hunks of pretzels.

10p.m. — Home and snacking

I realize I haven’t eaten much in the way of real food since lunch, but why start now? I spread a couple wedges of Laughing Cow cheese onto a bunch of crackers and stay awake just long enough to brush my teeth before collapsing into bed.

Daily mileage: 6.3 miles (running), 13 miles (spinning).

Tuesday, March 21 // Day Two

5:46a.m. — Alarm #1

Snooze once.

5:55a.m. — Alarm #2

Out of bed for my 6:30a.m. spin class. I actually started spinning before I became a runner and loved it right away – all of the crazy endorphins from exercising intensely without the impact of running. The biggest consequence of regular biking has been a noticeable increase in the size of my quads, to the point where I’ve had to buy larger pants (I like to say that I’ve “hulked out” of my clothes). Oh well, I’ll always argue that strong > skinny.

7:30a.m.Breakfast and prep for work

Breakfast is identical to yesterday’s, because I’m a creature of habit.

10:30a.m. — Snacks

Hit up the candy drawer. More chocolate! Don’t judge. Being an adult means I can decide to eat sweets at any time of day, New Year’s resolution be dammed.

Noon — Lunch.

Again, my lunch is identical to yesterday. The salad bar is the primary way I get vegetables during the week.

5p.m. — Dinner

Dinner tonight is scrambled eggs with some cheese on homemade dark rye bread. I love eggs and I’m a lazy cook. I also polish off some leftover, boxed ravioli. I’m running low on bread, so I toss some ingredients into the breadmaker and attempt to catch up on the The Bachelor.

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2nd place in my age bracket isn’t too shabby!

10:30p.m. — Bedtime

Daily mileage: 13.3 miles (spinning)

Wednesday, March 22 // Day Three

5:51a.m. — Alarm #1

Normally, I run with November Project on Wednesday mornings, but it’s just not going to happen today. I can feel a cold draft coming through the window next to my bed and I make the executive decision to sleep in a tiny bit more, and exercise in the warmth of my school’s basement gym.

6:30a.m.Treadmill Workout: 6 miles

I head to the gym. After a quick warm-up on the treadmill, I invent what I’m calling a “rolling progression hill workout.” (I get bored without a clear workout in mind — also, I get competitive with myself, so speed work and playing with paces is usually my go-to when I’m working out solo. My biggest weakness, I’d say, is going easy enough on “easy runs.”).

I run 800 meters at a slight incline, then bump up the speed as I lower the treadmill back down a notch for another 800 meters. At the end of the mile/second 800, I increase the hill again and continue with the same pace for 800-meter before again flattening out while increasing speed. I continue increasing pace from about 8:10/mile to 7:20ish over the course of 6 miles, then cool down.

8a.m. — Breakfast

I eat my normal breakfast before I scurry off to work.  

Today’s a busy day because in addition to my regular lab work, I’m helping conduct a client interview for our school’s Center for Human Rights. The program provides forensic interviews for victims of abuse and torture that are applying for asylum in the United States. It’s an incredible program but each interview leaves me feeling depleted, and today is no exception.

1:30p.m. — Lunch

I treat myself to fancy salad lunch (sweetgreen) and return to work in the afternoon, but I feel exhausted and barely make it to 5pm without nodding off at my desk.

5:20p.m. — Snack & Dash: More (Unplanned) Miles

Switching gears entirely from my morning, I quickly shovel some cheese and crackers into my grumbling belly before changing into workout clothes and heading to Central Park. I’m meeting up with a photographer friend who wants to do a story on runners training for their first Boston Marathon. I jog to the meeting spot and then once around the reservoir because I’ve arrived too early and it’s freezing cold outside (maybe 9 minute pace? I don’t turn on my watch). My photographer friend snaps some quick photos of my running back and forth while wisps of frozen snot are blown off into the whipping wind. I feel glamorous.

By the time I get back home, I have time only for a hot shower and some more cheese and crackers before tumbling into bed.

9p.m. — Bedtime

Daily mileage: 11 miles

Thursday, March 23 // Day Four

7a.m. — Wake up and breakfast

Sleeping in today! I toast some homemade rye bread rolls with hummus, cheese, and Sriracha for breakfast. Perhaps strange, but super yummy. Instead of lab this morning, I’m shadowing a doctor at the hospital while she rounds on patients.

12:30p.m. — Lunch

Free food for the hospital staff! Today it’s Indian-inspired, with rice, chickpeas, and some kind of peanut-ty broccoli salad. Plus cookies. The cooks at the hospital make the best cookies. I devour several.

2p.m. — Back to lab. I’m not quite sure why, but I feel utterly exhausted.

4p.m. — I decide to leave work to take a nap. I set an alarm for 6p.m., which will give me just enough time to rally before my tempo workout tonight.

7p.m. — Tempo workout with TMIRCE

Thursday tempo workouts with The Most Informal Running Club, Ever (TMIRCE) are typically my favorite runs of the week. I rouse myself from the clutches of a REM cycle and take the train downtown, thinking I’ll take the workout easy if I’m not feeling it.

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Tempo Miles Crew! [photo courtesy of The Most Informal Running Club Ever, NYC)
Today the workout is 3×1-mile repeats at 10k pace with 90 seconds rest in between. As is usually the case, running wakes me up and I feel much more alert than I had all afternoon. I try (unsuccessfully) to run even splits (they end up being 6:23/6:14/6:09/mile, way faster than my 10k pace, oops). About halfway through the workout I roll up my long sleeved shirt to discover that I’m wearing two watches — I forgot to take off my regular watch when I put on my GPS watch. Did I mention that I was tired when I left my apartment?

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Photo via @verndogs

8:15p.m. — Dinner is half a beer at the bar post-workout, chased by a cup of Panera’s macaroni and cheese and a hunk of bread.

10:30p.m. — Bed

I’m asleep by now.

Daily mileage: 6.1 miles (3ish miles of the tempo workout plus warm up and cool down)

Friday, March 24 // Day Five

6a.m. — Wake Up & Workout

I wake up feeling much better than yesterday, thankfully, and head out to the school gym for some cross training on the elliptical. The WiFi at this gym tends to be spotty but it’s working today and I’m able to watch some running videos on YouTube. The videos almost distract me from the creepy dude lurking around the gym. He’s clearly not a student, wearing work boots, jeans, and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, and he reeks of cigarettes. He pokes around a couple of machines but seems more interested in looking creepy than actually exercising. I am annoyed. Why do some guys insist on being weird and icky?

8a.m. —  Breakfast Treats & Coffee

I stop by Padoca (a Brazilian bakery) to buy a couple of breakfast treats that I can’t pronounce (but I know are delicious). I chase one down with a cup of strong black coffee.

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Heaven. Photo via The Restaurant Fairy

Work is quiet today and largely uneventful.

12p.m. — Lunch

My salad from the cafeteria. Boring, I know, but I need the vegetables.

3:30p.m. — Snack

Second delicious Brazilian treat. I offer to share with a coworker, but eat most of it myself because it is delicious.

7:30p.m. — Banana Skirt Class

I join a dance class with girlfriends. We are taught choreography for Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” I am unable to learn the majority of the steps, but no matter! It’s the enthusiasm that counts, right?

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“Come on now, follow my lead.”

9:30p.m. — Dinner & hydration

I pick up a slice of pepperoni pizza* for dinner and attempt to hydrate before my 20 mile run tomorrow.

*Early in the marathon training cycle, I’m much more thoughtful about my long runs — I make sure to eat “safe” foods for dinner and avoid alcohol, and I get myself to bed early (“safe” foods meaning things that I eat regularly, and avoiding alcohol because it disrupts my sleep). However, by the end of the training cycle, I’m much more relaxed. I know that if this run totally sucks or I feel slow, it doesn’t have much bearing on my marathon performance. I’m three weeks out from my race, and I know I’m in good shape no matter how the long run feels tomorrow. Therefore, I go to a dance class the evening before and fuel with cheap pizza.

11p.m. — Bedtime

Daily mileage: 0 miles (45 minutes on elliptical, 60 minutes in dance class)

Saturday, March 25 // Day 6

6a.m. — Wake Up + Breakfast

Today’s my long run day, and it’s special because today I am running my longest distance before the Boston Marathon. A friend of mine is hosting a fundraising event as she trains for Boston, and she’s mapped out a group run from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side in Manhattan that will cover my needed 20 miles.

My breakfast today, like most long run days, is a Clif Bar and a banana.

8a.m. — 20-mile Long Run

The last 20+ mile run I did was this past August as I trained for my Boston qualifying race. During that day, certain places in New York City hit a heat index of over 110 degrees. I remember running laps of the Reservoir in Central park, 1.5 miles at a time, and stopping at the end of each lap to soak my shirt in the water fountain. I made it 14 miles before overheating and finishing the rest of my run on a treadmill. I showed up at my gym dripping wet, salty and stinking, to run the final 6 miles. It was miserable.

Compared to that day, today’s long run was glorious! I ran with friends, including my wonderful sister, and I didn’t contemplate puking or passing out once (avg pace is 7:47/mile, but that doesn’t include stops for street crossings, bathrooms, etc).

11:30a.m. – Onwards — Calorie Replenishment

I lose track of everything I ate post run (not including the 4 GU’s mid-run). It started with half a bagel and cream cheese, another banana, and some kind of yogurt protein drink. On the walk home from the run I stopped for a croissant, and a few hours later I made some toast with hummus and cheese. Later in the evening I went out and got another salad from Sweetgreen.

Later — More Sustenance

There may have been more snacks throughout the afternoon. My hunger tends to come in angry waves after a long run. Overall, though, I feel pretty good – my preferred plan after a long run is to take a long shower and then a longer nap, and after that I’m usually recovered. Today my only complaint, besides general fatigue, is some stiffness in my feet that resolves after I walk around for a little bit.

10p.m. — Bedtime

I’m pretty useless at doing anything productive today, and I fall asleep early.

Daily mileage: 20.7 miles, hooray! Longest run in the Boston training plan, complete!

Sunday, March 26 // Day Seven

8a.m. — Wake up

It’s my recovery day, which means I get to “sleep in.” I’ve always been a morning person though, so I’ve never been able to sleep the weekend away like normal people. I make a breakfast with scrambled eggs, cheese, and more homemade bread rolls.

10:30a.m. — Coffee & Breakfast

I go to a coffee shop to get some work done. I drink a black coffee and have a store-made pop tart thing while I write, and then stop for groceries on the way home.

3p.m. — Baking & Feasting

I’m feeling energetic today, so I make a batch of sweet potato gnocchi. I don’t have enough storage containers to contain the finished product, so I eat whatever’s remaining. Sleepy from all this Sunday productivity, I take a nap.

5:30p.m. — “Recovery” Gym Time

I don’t usually exercise on my rest day, but I wake from my nap feeling restless and decide to go to the gym for a very easy elliptical workout. It feels good to move after sitting at my computer for most of the day. I stop for some frozen yogurt on my way home and then heat up a cup of miso soup.

11p.m. — Bedtime

Daily mileage: 0 miles

Weekly mileage: 44 miles (running) plus some assorted spinning, ellipcal-ing, and “dancing”

A look back — Thoughts on the week!

It was great fun chronicling my biggest training week in the lead up to Boston — while I log most of my runs on Strava, I’ve never given serious thought to my training plan. Looking back, I can see that I’m lacking the “easy run” component of my training. I don’t spend much time in the relaxed, conversational effort zone. I don’t particularly enjoy running at “easy” paces — I get bored and frustrated, and usually end up speeding up anyway. So while I logically know that running easy is an important part of marathon training, I don’t see myself adding it to my plan anytime soon.

I’ve also never taken a serious look at my diet. Again, definitely room for improvement — the whole low sugar resolution has not worked out so well, and I think I would benefit from eating more regular meals instead of scattered snacking throughout the afternoon. But overall, I think (I hope?) my diet isn’t terrible.

I’m pleased with how the week ended up: I reached one of my highest mileage weeks ever, and my body feels pretty good. I think the mid-week exhaustion came from a combination of the extra miles as well as some stress from work, because I’m sleeping at least 8 hours most nights. As far as my training goes, I feel prepared and excited for Boston — the only steps left are the taper and the frantic checking of the weather report!

Brittany Lewis

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Happy running, everyone!

Brittany Lewis is a student and runner living in New York City.

 

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