What I've learned from running the Boston Marathon 2019

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Hi everyone!
First of all, big THANK YOU to every single person who had reached out to me leading up to and right after the Boston Marathon. Ugh, when I think about that weekend, those days, it still makes me a little bit sad and I am still tearing up... it was really intense and really emotional for me. Having shared my whole running journey so publicly online, there is no denying, that I felt a certain pressure and responsibility, even if it was just all in my mind.

I hate to say, but I think I do need to admit that the past 6 months were emotionally intense, that especially in the marathon, all of these major life changes do matter. I said to my friend Laura: yes, I acknowledge all the changes I have been through and the move to another country, but I didn't want to make excuses for training, I could have done better. She asked me: why are you beating yourself up so much? It really hurts to see you do that. Both of us sat at Canal Street Market and we just cried. She was saying the truth. It even hurt myself to see myself like this. 

And I haven't felt like this in a very very long time. I have been feeling uncomfortable in my own skin for the past 4 months especially having gained weight over the winter with a lack of exercise due to limited running.. I have been just super self conscious. It's wild and it's hard. Another dear friend Sydney pointed this out the other day too: especially in running and in sports (and on social media!), we always see another woman who is more muscular, more skinny, more toned, who runs more miles, does more weight training, of course you always feel like you're not doing / training enough. For someone like me who had an eating disorder (orthorexia - in which you're wayyyyy too occupied with eating 'healthy food') in the past and  then when I was diagnosed with low bone density (osteopenia), I feel like I need to watch out for what I eat and consume. Nevertheless, after finding my balance again in 2012, I definitely built a stable and good relationship towards my own eating again, which was all fun and amazing up until these recent months...

I have to think of how I first started running at 19, how excited I was and how much I loved it, and then once I entered my undergrad studies, how I stopped running again, trying to find a balance between studying, family responsibilities and a social life, consequently how miserable my time at school was. Thus, when I started grad school this past October I promised myself that I will make it work. I am gonna study full time, work part-time and train. Now that I think about it, only in December and January, I wasn't even sure if I would make it to the starting line to Boston... but I did. 

Also, this is not 'another eating disorder' story, but I believe it is important to de-stigmatize this topic, that especially as athletes, men and women alike, we all struggle with it even if not a lot of us speak openly about it. It is enough and it is more than time that we see more different bodies and people running and exercising. And for me it is time to start building a healthy relationship with my own body, with my eating and my soul again. 

Here are the 5 things I've learned running my third marathon, the Boston Marathon this year:

  1. Be better with eating (fueling) and hydrating: because of the above mentioned struggles, when I was supposed to carb-load, I don't think I ate enough. I remember on Saturday, I went 5 hours or so without food and then my breakfast the morning of the race was around 6.30am, but my start wasn't until 10.50am. Thus, I was spent and had no energy left around 16-18miles in. I also had 3 Maurten gels with me, which going into the race, felt like a lot, but another friend for example, took 7-8 gels throughout the marathon.. it just shows, for next time, I want to be better prepared, knowing how many gels and how much food my body will need to run a solid race. Same goes with hydration, I was already feeling incredibly dehydrated the weekend before at the Berlin Half, but for my next training cycle and really every day, I am gonna try doing a better job with drinking enough water and electrolytes. Fellow runner Michelle also reminded me that nutrition is one of the hardest factors to master through running. There are just so many things that can happen with your body, especially when you're nervous / stressed [speaking of body changes under stress... my period came 3 weeks late because of this race, wild isn't it? But that's another post for another day!]

  2. Take in the unique Boston energy: I was too much in my mind during the race, and it was Huyen against Huyen. It felt worse than breaking up with someone else. In this particular marathon, it felt like breaking up with the sport I love so dearly, but also breaking up with myself. I tried. I tried to stop looking at the watch, stop being concerned with my finishing time. I tried to smile. But I just couldn't. As much as the people cheered me on and yelled: you got this girl to my face, I was incredibly pissed and disappointed inside. Now, I think it is totally okay for you to have a bad race and let your emotions come, but when you qualified for the one and only Boston Marathon, try to take in the energy. Prepare your mind and heart for an incredible weekend. Here, people stand by you at the starting line to cheer. I've never experienced that before. And especially after the bombing in 2013, we the running community show that we are stronger than hate, that we do this out of respect and love for the sport. So try to enjoy it, try to smile, try to be present.Train your mind and take care of yourself: this is probably the hardest part, because you never know when these negative thoughts creep into your mind. It's been really hard doing the necessary workouts and long runs here by myself. While it's really good training for the race to come, since you're running by yourself anyways, I always feel nervous days leading up to a workout.. so it's been a few months of 'high alertness'. Thus, there is definitely potential for improvement, to take training and racing with more ease and more positivity. 

  3. Embrace the journey, yes even the setbacks: yes, I cried for a week straight and let all my emotions come, but it is totally fine because you know what? I am feeling incredibly motivated to get back to work and become better than I was that weekend. Running and running marathons is a long-term and long-time journey, so embrace all the ups and downs. When you compete and care about the sport, especially when being injured, especially when not having reached your goal, it is okay to feel disappointed and sad, but the bigger question is: how do you get back up? Embrace the journey!

  4. Honor your community and the people who got you here: I need to give a big shoutout to all my friends who supported me throughout the years, especially who helped me with this big decision of moving across the country, and then the ones, who have been there for me throughout this training cycle. I relied heavily on them to keep me accountable, but also for mental support. I didn't tell my parents that I was running the Boston Marathon until the morning of. Not sure what changed my mind since I wasn't planning to tell them at all, but think it had something to do with: hey if anything happens, you know I was running the marathon. It was also the thought of every single person rooting for me, that brought me to the finish line. I stopped and walked like a million times, and wanted to give up on myself, but it was knowing that so many of you are on this road with me, feeling what I am feeling, tracking me.. I wanted to finish, for all of you. So THANK YOU, for bringing me to the starting line healthy. And for carrying me through the finish.. in one piece. I love you!!

The universe wanted this for me and maybe, I also needed this race to say goodbye to my former self. Here it is to all the baby steps forward, because as Beyoncé says so beautifully: "Hey! I'ma keep running cause a winner don't quit on themselves!"

Mekdes  took the bus the same morning to meet me by the finish line. I was fighting my tears because I was so sad, nevertheless she was there. So were all the people on the course and around the world. Thank you!

Mekdes took the bus the same morning to meet me by the finish line. I was fighting my tears because I was so sad, nevertheless she was there. So were all the people on the course and around the world. Thank you!

Facetime with sister  Faith . She always calms my heart and mind.

Facetime with sister Faith. She always calms my heart and mind.

Caitlin  and me Sunday before Marathon Monday. Last reassurances and guidance from one of the best people in the NYC running community.

Caitlin and me Sunday before Marathon Monday. Last reassurances and guidance from one of the best people in the NYC running community.


On the London Marathon

Congratulations to everyone who ran the London Marathon this past weekend and the Paris Marathon the same weekend as the Boston Marathon! With so much press and publicity for this weekend's race, I took some of the studies inside the book I am currently reading: "Women's Sports" by Jaime Schultz and dismantled what I see as a media scientist on my IG stories. Have a look here

Sadly, I couldn't find any news article in which Brigid Kosgei, who at 25 won the London Marathon, was interviewed or was able to share her voice and comments about her race. For example, in this BBC news article, Kosgei is mentioned 6 times, and although British woman Purdue is mentioned only 3 times, she gets to share her voice and say something about her experience. Imagine, African athletes are more than just runners, but actual human beings that have a voice to share. Also, imagine a world where a brown or black girl reads this article and feels empowered to continue / start running and athletics... This very short video here was the only thing I could find in which she is welcomed in her home country Kenya. When we speak about elevating women's running and women's sports (although I hate to clarify that because women's sports is just sports), there is still so much work to be done to advance to the level where men are at. 


“It is important for girls to see media representations of sportswomen. One survey determined that nearly seven out of ten girls in the U.S. believe that there are not enough female role models in sport. […] This is especially true for girls and women of color, as the limited reportage of American women’s sport centers white, conventionally feminine, heterosexual, and able-bodied athletes. And for all media consumers—male and female—proportionate coverage of women athletes acknowledges that sport is a human activity and not just something for and about men.”

As I am reading this book, I continue to be outraged and see that even in 2019, there are so many men (and women) who keep the circles closed. Who don't step up, speak up for women of color, who don't see that mainstream media (yes even in running) continues to tell the same old (white supremacist) story. Yes, even for me on a smaller level, I experience that people within my community don't take me seriously, the dudes are not letting me in to share my opinion or voice. It's been an incredible motivator for me to keep my writing going, to keep recording my podcast, because I don't see the nuanced stories that I want to see. And as the first black woman to be elected into the US Congress Shirley Chisholm said: “If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

BTW: Did you read about Mo Farah's argument with Haile Gebrselassie and how Mo left the hotel without paying his own bill? I must say, for having won 11 out of 12 marathons, I love how Eliud Kipchoge just does not care about money nor a glamorous world. Instead, he cares about the bigger picture, what him and his presence can do to make this world a better, healthier  and more peaceful world to live in. Read more about it here.

Photo by Paul Harding / PA

Photo by Paul Harding / PA

"There is freedom in running. Go and run and your mind will be free. That is what is needed in the whole planet." - Eliud Kipchoge, London Marathon champion, he now owns the fastest and second fastest time ever set in the marathon

I am back in Berlin and I appreciate the support and love received from all over the world! Can't wait to share all the beautiful things I experienced on my trip to New York after Boston plussss I respect and acknowledge the momentum here in Berlin! There are so many good things happening, I am excited and motivated to continue the work.

Love you lots and drink your water, have your massage, get a bike and surround yourself with good energy!
xx

Huyen 


Currently admiring...


My friend Alice's food and wellness project Earth Seed Provisions.

Aida Solomons #beforeiletgochallenge and Orthodox Easter dance.

Beyoncés Homecoming documentary on Netflix.

Rahhel Woldu's IG stories as she's training for her next marathon.

The Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum.

The new African restaurant Teranga up in East Harlem.

Sprinter the track and field film about the young Jamaican Akeem.

As recommended by my friend Sydney: the furniture store Lichen in East Williamsburg.

Representation Matters: Karen Okonkwo on digital activism.