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. Get The Runner Diaries delivered to your inbox, here.
This week, we have 33-year-old Elizabeth Carey, a public relations guru and runner who just recently relocated to Seattle, Washington. The former Division I athlete and post-collegiate sub-elite is currently figuring out the best way to juggle her full-time job (and side gigs) with her new status as an age grouper and recreational runner, all while training for ultra marathons in the process.
Name: Elizabeth Carey
Location: Seattle, Washington
Training for: Trail and ultra races—including Backcountry Rise
Training plan: About eight months ago, I hired coach David Roche, whose, “Some Work All Play” philosophy and Trail Runner columns about training appealed to me. Although I have been a professional coach and worked with a range of athletes, I cannot coach myself.
Part of any running communities, clubs or training programs? Oiselle Volée, SWAP Team
How long you’ve been a “runner:” Since joining the high school track team in the spring 1999.
Weekly mileage: 35-55 (ish)
Running is my lifeblood. It’s a constant, evolving presence in my life—one that introduced me to confidence, health, my best friends, a career, heartbreak, and hope. It’s become more ritual than routine—a daily spiritual practice, an exercise in self awareness, a river I revisit.
As a former Division I athlete and post-collegiate sub-elite, I’ve struggled with my identity as a current age-grouper and recreational yogger. This is a privileged, superfluous perspective. I cannot forget that running and racing is a gift. So I continue to chase both fitness and the confidence to compete wire-to-wire. With a focus on feel and flow, I’m exploring new trails and distances, ignoring splits.
Sunday | Day One
9:30 a.m. — Wake up to the sound of laughter and kids running down a hall. My husband and I stayed with friends after going to a season opener football game at the University of Oregon. The kids aren’t ours, but they are cute. We get up and hang with the family.
10 a.m. — Smoke from nearby wildfires is so dense I wonder if I should run the 8 miles that’s slated. I’ve run through this summer’s unprecedented smoke all over the Pacific Northwest, but this is the worst I’ve seen, and I can feel a burning taste at the back of my throat even as we just sit around. I’ve got a headache (half hangover, half need-a-coffee) anyway, so email my coach to see if I can swap today’s run for tomorrow’s rest day.
11:30 a.m. — Brunch, finally. I order a black coffee, chicken salad, and tater tots with cajun seasoning. I’d been craving tots since yesterday’s 21-ish-mile long run, and devour most of them.
3 p.m. — We decide to hang with our friends for longer, so I’m glad coach greenlighted a rest day.
5 p.m. — Husband and I start our long drive home to Seattle. We’re both getting hungry again but decide to hold out til Albany, where we can indulge in a regional treat: Burgerville.
6:30 p.m. — In an epic splurge at the fast, seasonal, and local restaurant, I order fries, a burger on a gluten-free bun (I’ve had food allergies forever), and a marionberry milkshake (which is so delicious that I actually share, a little).
11:30 p.m. — We get home and crash into bed.
Monday | Day Two
10 a.m. — Wake up after a long-awaited sleep-in. It’s Labor Day and having a day off is glorious. Make and drink coffee. Start laundry, clean up around the apartment, check-in for the next day’s flight for a work trip. Since my husband and I recently moved to Seattle, I work remotely as a senior PR account manager at Backbone Media, an active lifestyle agency in Colorado.
11 a.m. — Eat a Picky Bar. Make the husband a meal to take to work and pepper him with questions about my impending fantasy football draft before he leaves for the swing shift.
11:45 a.m. — Do a few dynamic warm-up moves and run what’s quickly becoming a go-to 8-mile loop around Lake Union. I listen to a low-key playlist (Good moldable headphones—made by Decibullz, one of Backbone’s clients—have changed my tune about running with music. I used to be a “no headphones” runner because I thought I needed to “tough” endless mind chatter out). I notice leaves changing, and keep the pace super relaxed.
My foot aches in a spot I injured almost two years ago. In a mind-bogglingly weird game of chicken with a stranger who forced me off a trail in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, I badly sprained my lisfranc ligament. I’m not stoked about the current sensation.
At home, I do a two-minute plank, foam roll, write a haiku for my Strava upload, and jot down some “breadcrumb” ideas to write about later. As a freelance writer and former magazine and digital editor, I find some of my best ideas bubble up on runs.
1:30 p.m. — Make a smoothie-style bowl, with oats, frozen berries, vegan Shakeology, peanut butter, and unsweetened vanilla almond milk, sprinkled with sea salt, dried ginger, and cinnamon.
2 p.m. — Prepare for the fantasy draft (clearly the best use of my time!), while changing laundry and cleaning.
4:30 p.m. — A deep-tissue massage! My entire right side, including my foot, really needed some special treatment. In Denver, once I had a decent job and could afford it, I scheduled a sports massage at least every few months in an effort to nip injuries in the bud and relax.
6 p.m. — Draft, with a lot of seltzer water.
7 p.m. — Make avocado “toast” with two fried eggs on a sweet potato, with some greens and cucumber, topped with coconut aminos, nutritional yeast, and Tapatio hot sauce. My diet has oscillated widely as I have navigated both food allergies and eating disorders throughout my life. These days, after attempting handful of approaches, I aim to eat whole, colorful foods with a balance of protein, fat, and carbs. I allow myself splurges and forgiveness, too; I’ve found eating “perfectly” backfires—and it’s widely inconvenient.
8 p.m. — Pack, clean, write out to-do lists, check in with my family.
10:30 p.m. — Head to bed as husband is getting home. Try to read a book and fall asleep.
Mileage: 8 miles
Tuesday | Day Three
5:45 a.m. — Alarm sounds; I hit snooze.
6 a.m. — Get up and reheat coffee. Training plan calls for 8 miles, starting with an easy to moderate pace with the second half at 20-mile race pace—in preparation for the inaugural Backcountry Rise Trail Race, which is this weekend. I signed up for a 20-miler that winds through the Mt. Margaret Backcountry with views of Mt. St. Helens awhile back.
I debate my route, drink water, and head out into gross, green, smokey air. Even jogging super slow, my foot hurts when I run downhill. When it doesn’t improve, I cut the run short to 4 miles, and figure I can try the workout tomorrow.
7 a.m. — Roll, stretch, shower, pack, make coffee, chug water.
8 a.m. — Call into meeting with coffee in-hand. Tackle inbox and plans for trip.
10:30 p.m. — Make smoothie with vegan Shakeology, frozen tropical fruit, ginger, almond milk, spinach, and almond butter.
Noon — Call a Lyft to the airport.
12:30 p.m. — At my gate, I realize flight is at least two hours late. Snag a schmancy vanilla soy latte to sip, and coconut chips and pistachios for flight. Plug into laptop and call into another meeting. Eat an apple and coconut chips.
5 p.m. — Eventually, in the air, get a decent wifi signal. Drink club soda, and eat an RxBar and pistachios.
1 a.m. — Local time, land in NYC. Get in taxi queue and ride out to hotel. Massage swollen foot.
2 a.m. — Check into hotel. Triage work priorities. Text husband that I made it. Fall into bed.
Mileage: 4 miles
Wednesday | Day Four
7 a.m. — Wake up, send emails, check Slack. Go back to sleep.
10:30 a.m. — Get up. Coach has encouraged me to take a week off. Not sure I am on board with that. I used to loathe — and actually did everything in my power to avoid — total rest days, but I can commit to not running today. I get back to work ahead of tonight’s event.
Noon — Order room service brunch—a veggie omelette, home fries, lots of ketchup, and a pot of (disappointingly weak) coffee.
5 p.m. — Grab a yogurt, fruit cup, and Snickers (eek!) at hotel to eat en route to the work event. It is a special all-comers and elite meet that will include tributes to an athlete who recently died. It’s a gut-wrenchingly sad, genuine, and heartfelt tribute. There’s something special about high school tracks, and racing under the lights; it’s an inspiring place to be.
10:30 p.m. — It’s pouring (and has been all night), and I help with take down, which is a great real-life CrossFit workout. Foot is swollen, but not super painful.
11:30 p.m. — Grab dinner with clients: A bun-less burger with fries and a glass of red wine. The waiter pokes fun at my bun-free burger, but I shrug it off and enjoy my fried potatoes.
Midnight — Still wired and wound up from the event. Fire off some emails and read news online until I’m sleepy around 2 a.m.
Mileage: Big fat 0
Thursday | Day Five
4:55 a.m. — Alarm goes off. Pack up and catch a ride to JFK with a client contact. We pick up an athlete, and hit traffic, so when I get to the airport I rush to the TSA line (So worth $90) and run to the gate to make my 7:25 a.m. flight.
8 a.m. — Drink seltzer water and coffee. Alternate working, writing, and napping. Eat a Picky Bar and some pistachios.
10 a.m. — Land in smoky Seattle, so excited to see my Colorado BFF, who is visiting and racing this weekend, and landed at the same time. We meet up at baggage claim and take an Uber to my apartment.
Noon-ish — After taking care of some work, we walk downstairs for lunch at a cafe in our building. It’s dangerously close and one of the most delicious in our neighborhood. I have an americano, cinnamon apple muffin (gluten-free!), and salad with lots of greens, veggies, and seeds.
4 p.m. — Shut off the laptop and shut my eyes for about 20 minutes. That’s a gamble, as I rarely nap because I wake up groggy, but I needed some rest.
5 p.m. — Friend and I take a walk, exploring the busy neighborhood. We stop for a happy-hour marg, chips, and guac at a Mexican restaurant. Debate whether I should run tomorrow and/or this weekend; coach says no if there’s pain.
7 p.m. — We head to a local running store where our friend from Colorado is hosting a Q&A panel about trail running for women.
8 p.m. — Friend and I decide on sushi dinner, because the seafood in Seattle is nothing if not fresh. I order a seaweed salad, salmon roll, and a citrusy cocktail.
9 p.m. — We see people with ice cream everywhere, but Molly Moon’s ice cream shop line is surprisingly short, so we splurge. I eat a split cup of berry and vanilla bean flavors as we walk back to the apartment.
10:30 p.m. — Bedtime.
Mileage: Big fat 0
Friday | Day Six
7 a.m. — Wake up, drink coffee, work.
9 a.m. — Make a smoothie-style bowl, with oats, frozen berries, Shakeology, almond butter, and unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
Noon — Snack on veggies and hummus. Forage around pantry for a Larabar. Drink lots o’ water.
3 p.m. — Close laptop, pack up our running and camping gear, and hit the road. Drive out to Issaquah to pick up another friend. Snack on goodies in car—apple, strawberries, popcorn—as our adventure turns into a long road trip, thanks to Seattle’s traffic.
5 p.m. — Stop at Fred Meyer’s for the important trifecta of beverages: Stumptown coldbrew with coconut cream, La Croix, and canned House rose and pinot noir. Basic, but delish. Drink half the coffee to stay awake at the wheel.
7:50 p.m. — Pull into the Mt. St. Helens Learning Center, which is hosting race participants, plus the start, finish, and camping. Friends race inside to get spaghetti dinner while it’s available and I eat a dinner I packed—sweet potato, beans, a bag of microwaved frozen veggies, smothered in evoo and spices. It is not great.
8:30 p.m. — Set up camp in the parking lot alongside other car-camping runners and vanlife situations. Chill in camp chairs, crack a can o’ wine and another La Croix, and shoot the shit. Massage my foot, which is feeling better, in hopes of a miracle. Decide that if it feels good, I’ll run the half marathon instead of the 20-miler, with the caveat that if it hurts, I must slow down and/or stop and walk. I cannot just sit here in the wilderness of a still-recovering blast zone from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens without at least trying. It’s grown up green since I last saw it. Even in the dark I can tell it’s beautiful. Fog and clouds have moved in, low and misty.
9:30 p.m. — Crawl into sleeping bag.
Saturday | Day Seven
5:45 a.m. — Alarm sounds. I wake up tired and sore all over after a night of tossing and turning. I head to the 50k start to cheer on my friend and fill my mug with free coffee. Foot feels pretty good, even when I jog around the parking lot, so I check in and drop down to the half.
7:30 a.m. — Eat a too-ripe banana and Picky Bar, with water and coffee. Hang with my other friend, who’s racing the 20 miler, and get my race kit together. Catch up with a college teammate who showed up as well.
8:30 a.m. — Head to the start, foregoing a warmup, and debating what to wear. Opt for singlet only, as the fog is burning off and the chill from last night’s rain is evaporating.
9 a.m. — Race starts! In an immediate bottleneck on a single track of downhill switchbacks with soft, unpredictable gopher holes, my foot is jolted awake. I have to slam on the breaks every other step, based on the line of people in front of me, but eventually make moves to pass, try to spread some positivity, and get into a rhythm. The first miles are rolling and beautiful along Coldwater Lake. I sip water. I concentrate on smooth, short strides—grateful for each one. Until I hit a 3-mile climb and wheeze a little. I eat a Honeystinger gel.
10:15 a.m. — A woman running the 20-miler passes me and I wallow for a few minutes before I tell myself to give fewer fucks. I wipe snot with the kerchief my friend tied around my wrist; it’s a reminder to channel the bravery of her best friend, who has incurable cancer, and who we admire greatly. I realize I am just fine; I will catch my breath. I alternate power hiking steeps and running up to a ridge overlooking the lake. From there the cruiser trail is smooth and fun. I nosh on a few Honeystinger chews and sip more water. I use gravity and the fear of someone behind me to pick up the pace. I don’t see another human til the second aid station. The trail is quiet and breathtaking. The last mile includes climbing the switchbacks we ran down at the start; I struggle to breathe, but keep pushing til I cross the line, dirty, tired, and happy.
11 a.m. — Cool down for a mile with my dear college friend who crushed her first trail race. Drink water. Cheer on finishers—including my kick-ass friends who both finish first in the 20-mile and 50k races by big margins and crash the men’s top 5, so our car swept the distances. (Gotta love a small race and corresponding ego boosts.) Regardless, the inaugural race was a beautiful challenge that I would do again.
Noon — Hit up the post-race burrito bar. Eat a burrito “bowl” sans flour tortilla, with mounds of beans, ground beef, veggies, and some sort of avocado dressing. Catch up with old running friends who raced. Drink kombucha.
1 p.m. — Pack up camp. Drive closer to Mt. St. Helens for a better view of the volcano. Drink a few slugs of the questionable leftover cold brew, and water. A friend takes over driving for me as a pounding headache sets in.
3 p.m. — Try eating some chips and mochi as my stomach turns. Not feeling so hot. Take ibuprofen, drink multiple La Croix, eat some popcorn, and try rolling up into a little ball.
4 p.m. — Start feeling better and take the wheel again. Driving into Seattle, we see the smoke has cleared. We’d planned to hustle back so we could go out on the town, but my Colorado BFF and I are feeling pretty wiped. We unpack, shower, and order delivery.
6:30 p.m. — Devour Thai food, including red curry with chicken and veggies over steamed white rice, while watching the season premiere of one of my favorite crass shows, You’re The Worst. Share a can of rose with my friend.
10:30 p.m. — Stay up long enough to say hi to my husband, who is just getting off work, and then crash.
Mileage: 14ish miles
Total weekly mileage: 26 miles
A LOOK BACK — THOUGHTS ON THE WEEK
My tendency to sacrifice sleep clearly doesn’t serve me, nor do my tendencies to overcommit myself and overanalyze what I eat. Regardless of the skeletons in my closet when it comes to nutrition, I needed the reminder I will likely live through a junk-food-filled week. Apparently my weakness is fried potatoes! I was able to avoid most of the allergens that upset my stomach, including wheat.
I’m lucky to have a coach and friends who talked me through an injury—one that was neither exacerbated nor healed by racing, and one that I’m now working with a PT to correct. It’s taken me years to be OK with non-running days, but at this point in my life, I’m open to their healing powers. And I’m learning to be OK with a low weekly summary on my Strava profile.
The week of peaks and valleys left me both exhausted and grateful, filled up by the support I feel and the opportunities running has afforded.
ABOUT ELIZABETH CAREY
Elizabeth Carey fuses passion for running, writing, and adventure in Seattle, Washington, where she recently moved with her husband and cat from Denver, Colorado. A member of the Oiselle Volée, she works for Backbone Media as a senior PR account manager, maintains a few side gigs, and has nearly two decades experience in the running and outdoor industries.
Twitter + Instagram: @elizabethwcarey
Featured Image: Jess Barnard