Friday, August 19, 2011

Fit Folks: Nikki's 26 on 26

For the first edition of Fit Folks, I will share with you the story of Nikki Pisha, my great friend and running buddy. I first met Nikki in January 2010, when she was training for her second half marathon. She is now training for her first full marathon, which she will run in two months on her 26th birthday. At first, I wrote an epic essay about Nikki's history, interests, and inspiration, but I decided that you can read an essay written by me any time. And her answers to the questions I sent her deserve to be read. So here are her words.

When did you start running? Has running always been such a big part of your lifestyle? If not, when did it become that?
I started running in elementary school when I lived in Anderson, SC. Every year they had a race called the Michelin Midnight Flight. I wanted to run it because it ended at the Civic Center where my dad worked and because the race start time was way past my bedtime!  I ran the kids 1 mile fun run, and I was hooked.  I am still mad at myself for getting rid of the neon running shorts that they gave out each year (orange, green, yellow) in women’s small, so I could have rocked those suckers today! After running the first fun run I joined a running club.  I kind of stopped running in middle school, but picked it up again in high school with cheerleading (we had to run 2 miles every practice) and track team. 

How many organized runs have you done?
Races - Oh gosh, hmmm that’s a really good question!  I don’t think I can remember them all!  I know that I’ve run 3 half marathons. I would say a couple 10 milers, maybe 6 or so 10k’s and probably 10 5ks.  That’s a total guess though! 

Three 13.1 Medals

Do you get nervous before races?
I don’t get nervous about a race until I’m standing at the starting line.  I think it’s because I am ready to go once I get there, and I don’t want to stand around getting cold! 

Trying to keep warm before her first half!
Do you like to do other kinds of exercise or do you stick to running?
I stick to running. I also love kayaking (on calm waters), but do not own a kayak, so it makes it a little hard to really get into it. 

Kayaking on the potomac!
Are there any types of workouts/sports/exercise that you'd like to try or get involved with but don't currently?
YOGA!  I own a mat and have a couple groupons/living socials to some studios. I just need to go!  I am convinced that if I can finally find a good teacher, that I will really like it.  Over the years, I’ve only taken about 6-10 different classes at probably 3 studios, and I wasn’t able to get into it. Yoga gods, please take me in!! 

*Nikki and I have living social deals to stroga, so you'll be hearing more about her (and my) yoga adventures.

What are your favorite meals to eat while training? Before and after a run?
On nights before long runs, I really like spaghetti and turkey meatballs, but recently I’ve been eating Tryst sandwiches! Before races, I’ll eat a caramel chocolate brownie luna bar (the best!). After long runs or races, I’ll eat a bagel and drink a smoothie (the Naked smoothies rock!). 

Do you have a hard time fitting a run into your day? If so, how do you make sure it happens?
Sometimes it’s hard to fit in a run, but I usually know if I’m going to have something to do in the evening after work, so I will just get up early and get my run in.  I’ve made it a part of my schedule, so I’m used to early runs if I won’t have the time later. 
Proof that Nikki is good at planning ahead.

Is there any particular running gear you can't live without that you'd recommend to others?
I love love love my North Face running jacket.  It was a Christmas present from my parents, and I couldn’t have gotten through last winter without it! It’s hot pink, light weight, and has reflectors on it for those winter evening runs. I can’t wait to pull it out when it gets cold again! 

She makes me look grungy when we run together in winter!

Why is running important to you? 
Running is important to me for so many reasons. It gives me something to work towards, it keeps me healthy and in good shape, and it is something that I do for me. It’s actually really relaxing.  My absolute favorite time to run is around 6/6:30 in the morning when the sun is coming up and you can run through the tree covered sidewalks in Dupont and just listen to the birds. It takes you out of the city, and is a great way to wake up!  

On a 6AM run through Dupont to the white house.

What is the biggest challenge you face with running? Mental, physical, or otherwise?
One physical challenge that I face is that I have sports induced asthma. I take an inhaler on long runs, but I hate the shaky feeling that it gives me, so half the time, I don’t take it. Mentally, I am always trying to push myself father in my runs, which sometimes isn’t the best idea for my health.  I have had to learn to pull back when something hurts or is swollen and how to listen to my body telling me to stop. I’m still learning how to do this, and trying to get better at it. 

Are there any large obstacles you've had to overcome?
Luckily, I have not had any big set-back injuries to deal with (Knock on wood! I’m still weeks away from my marathon!). As for other obstacles, I would say weather and time changes are the worst! I love DC, and I feel safe in the city, but something about those dark 5:30 am runs before work creeps me out a little and is enough to drive me inside to the, oh gosh, I have to say it, treadmill. 

How are you training for the marathon?
I joined the Fleet Feet Marathon Training program.  It’s 18 weeks long and completely worth the money spent!
Photo Source

How much harder is it training for a marathon than it was for a half?
I think training for a marathon is different, not necessarily harder. It is harder because of the distance yes, but a half marathon is also a lot of miles.  It’s different because I am finding out how mental running really is.  My brain is the part that gets scared of the mileage.  But, I keep telling myself that if you can do 13, you can do 26. It’s also more about training with your entire body instead of just getting in the miles.  You’ve got to be strong all over (I’m working on this part), and then the mileage comes easier. 

Who or what inspires you to keep going when you're struggling?
For me, running is a competition with myself.  I don’t go out expecting to win races because I’m not a crazy fast runner, but if I beat my best time, or my projected time, then I’m satisfied.  So my inner competition with myself makes me push through.  Also, I have a great boyfriend who always tells me how proud of me that is, so that doesn’t hurt either!
Nikki and Eric supporting and celebrating each other.

Do you prefer to run in groups or alone?
I used to prefer running alone.  I’m an only child, so it was a great time to get some “me time” in.  Recently, especially during training times, I have really enjoyed running with people.  I love getting to catch up with Carrie on our runs, and my training group really helps me keep going on long runs. It’s nice to have company and a really good conversation! 
Nikki running with Carrie in her third half.
Nikki running with Eric in her second half.
What are the most interesting things you've learned in training for the marathon?
It’s not all about the running.  Cross training and strength training is really important too.  When you run, you use your entire body, so it makes sense that a strong all over body will get your further in your runs. 

Do you carry anything with you while you run?
The idea of carrying anything with me would have made me cringe a couple months ago, BUT I’ve had to change my tune.  My running coach for my training group requires that we carry a water bottle on all runs over 3 miles.  Seriously?! I was not happy about this at all.  However, I’ve gotten used to it, and it has really helped me to hydrate.  He also suggests (requires) that we bring an ID, smarttrip, debit card, health insurance card, and cash along with us in the pouch on our water bottles. It’s good to be prepared on long runs, and the cash has allowed for me to make a habit of stopping by the farmers market on the way home from Saturday morning runs.  

Do you have any fears or nerves about the marathon?
I am mostly worried that I won’t be able to complete my goal which is not walking.  I want to run the entire thing without walking otherwise I know I won’t let it count as actually running a marathon.  I know that sounds crazy, but this is the absurd mental competition I have with myself that I mentioned before! 
Does this girl look like she'll need to walk? I think not.

Would you recommend what you're doing to anyone else? 
I would totally recommend my training group.  It’s so great!  The fact that I got a schedule weeks ago that mapped out the next 18 weeks of my life training wise was fantastic!  All I have to do is follow the schedule and show up to training runs, and I am set!  Fleet Feet has programs from 5k up to marathon so you don’t just have to run a marathon to do a training program. 

What advice would you give someone looking to run a marathon?
Run more than one half marathon before signing up for the marathon, feel good about it, and get hungry for a longer race.  I decided to really do the marathon thing after my third half marathon.  I felt good after that race, and I knew that I could do more.  

In March 2010, my friends Hadley, Sarah, and I went to cheer Nikki (and Eric) on in Columbia Heights as she ran her second half marathon. At that time, I never in a million years thought I'd be running the same distance with her a year later. This girl, without even meaning to, completely inspired me to become a runner. By simply asking me to run with her and Hadley one day, and then encouraging me to register for the half, she changed my life a little bit. And it is cheesy but I am truly grateful. (And grateful to Hadley too). I continue to look to Nikki for advice and help with running and I admire her drive and dedication. She is not only a great runner but an awesome friend that I am lucky to have. Though I obviously wasn't ready to join her in running a marathon this fall, I can't wait to celebrate with her at the finish line and to party the day away for her birthday and for her huge accomplishment. No matter what happens, walking or no walking, it will be an accomplishment- it already is. I will be sure to update you on the outcome of her race.

I hope that Nikki's story will be motivating to you. And I hope that you're lucky enough to have a friend like her. Someone who accidentally inspired you to start something new, to do something scary. Because she can do it and so can you!

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