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So, Pocket recommended my own article to me as part of their Best of 2017. Which, like, WHAT?! Then I found out it was one of the most-shared music features across a bunch of sites this year (again, WHAT??!). I’m still processing it all. I didn’t write as much as usual this year, but I’m proud of this piece and so humbled that it was a small part of an overdue story about a deserving and inspiring artist. I hope it helped more people appreciate or revisit her work, and maybe fit into a much larger conversation about women reclaiming their part of the narrative in 2017.

Some thoughts on being a female runner

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This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

I really wish this was the only message of its kind I got over the past few days, but it isn’t.

Three women who went out for runs in the past two weeks didn’t come back. All I can think about — and, apparently, all many of my friends, family, and loved ones can think about, too — is how easily that could have been me.

Running is, for the most part, a solitary sport. Maybe that’s why I like it so much. I can count the number of people I run with on one hand, and that’s by choice.

A running partner is a big commitment, at least, it is to me. You have to gel on an unspoken level: who sets the pace, who chooses the course, who moves behind when the path narrows. You have to know whether they’ll push you or force you to pace yourself or match your speed and endurance. You have to trust them enough to be okay with being around them when you’re bare and incredibly vulnerable — no makeup, just out of bed, sweaty and smelly, running on fumes. You have to be comfortable enough with them to know that most of your time together will be shrouded in silence.

Suffice to say, I run alone most of the time.

I run early in the morning, usually around 6:30 a.m., but in my 13 years of running, I’ve been out on a run practically every time of the day — 5 a.m., 3 p.m., 10 p.m., you name it. I run by the East River and the Hudson River and the outer loop of Central Park. I run busy New York streets and quiet suburban ones. I run my old cross country route through my hometown’s wooded park; I run the secluded trails of Central Park. I run in double layers of leggings and fleece tops and jackets and I run in spandex shorts and sports bras.

I am always afraid.

I am always afraid, even when my mother sternly tells me to stay away from the trails if I’m by myself and I laugh it off and tell her to stop being paranoid. I am always afraid because I’m neurotic and anxious and that’s just my nature. I am always afraid because things happen, because solitary women anywhere, doing anything, are always targets. I am always afraid because the female jogging victim seems like such a regular phenomenon that I don’t know why there aren’t actually statistics to source about how commonplace attacks on them are.

Sometimes I am more afraid than others. Sometimes I cut runs short or run faster than I can handle or just don’t run at all. Sometimes that fear quiets itself to just a very slight whisper, sometimes it only exists in the habits I’ve formed, like how I swapped my weightless iPod shuffle for a much heavier iPhone, because what if something happened?

You know what? I’m angry. I’m so, so angry, and this isn’t the first time I’ve said so. I’m angry because these brutal attacks keep happening to women and I’m angry because I’ve been criticized and made fun of for being upset. I’m angry because people have gone so far as to create an entire sub-reddit to mock my fear. I’m angry because this doesn’t happen to men.

All of this anger and fear, even if it usually just exists on a subconscious level, is exhausting. I’m tired. I want to walk out the door one day with nothing but my keys and just go. I want to know what that sort of freedom feels like. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

On women who changed my life

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This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs

I don’t need a special month to celebrate women. I don’t need a special hashtag or a sharable animation or a montage of badass influential women. I don’t need it to be Woman Crush Wednesday or anything like that. I don’t need an excuse to celebrate women who have influenced my life, because I do it all the time. I do it because it’s important to me to reflect on who I am and who made me this way. I do it because it’s important to acknowledge women for their contributions to society whenever. I’d do it every day if I could. I do it because I hope maybe it inspires someone else to think about a lady hero or two (or three) in their lives.

But because there’s an extra level of relevancy and there’s an excuse to do so, in honor of Women’s History Month, I present to you a list of six women who changed my life. They’re not all famous and they’re not all super old, but they are all amazing in their own ways. These six women are lady heroes, women I aspire to be like, women who have taught me in so many ways, left an indelible mark on my soul, and inspire me to be my best self:

Mary Tyler Moore set a baseline very early in my life for what lady heroes mean to me. I’ve written about this before: when I was little, I could stay up all night watching reruns of the Mary Tyler Moore show. Of course, so much of it went over my head at the time, but not all of it. A lot stuck.

I knew that Mary Tyler Moore helped to create the world of Mary Richards. She was partly responsible for a representation of a woman in the workplace (which was the first time I knew I wanted to be a journalist). Mary and her fictional counterpart instilled in me the values of hard work, but mostly, the values of friendship. Mary taught me the importance of having a ride or die BFF, even (or maybe especially) if she’s different than you. We have Abbi and Ilana today, but Mary and Rhoda were the OG best friend soulmates.

Later on, Mary taught me the importance of being brave, and that happiness is a choice. So many horrific things had happened to her in life and yet she never gave up or became bitter. She never threw pity parties. “Pain nourishes courage,” she said. “You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.”

Jane Fonda is… incredible. Strong. Fierce. Opinionated. Passionate. Unwavering. The latter half of those qualities were my north star in middle school. I wanted to be just like Jane. I wanted to know what it felt like to have beliefs so strong that they wouldn’t be shaken, even if they weren’t always popular.

Twelve and thirteen were big years for me. That was a time where I started to figure out who I was, and, as I fell out of a clique, what I stood for. I went from being a cool girl in the cool clique to to the girl who would buy the New York Times at the coffeehouse during lunch, the girl with the Michael Moore book under her arm, ranting about how Iraq was Vietnam part 2, lecturing about how free speech was being infringed upon in schools — very serious and very uncool to fellow tweens.

But when everyone else sneered and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about, I refused to concede. I knew that, on a lot of things, I was right. That’s all because of Jane. She taught me to be brave and stand up for what I believe in. She also taught me that even the strongest of women deal with insecurity, which made me believe that I wasn’t so hopeless, after all. Looking back, I’m so thankful that I had such a rock solid lady hero to guide me through such a turbulent time. I probably would have drowned without her.

Tina Fey came into my life around the same time for the same reason. I thought I was very clever and sneaky, watching SNL in my bedroom while my parents slept, even if I fell asleep before it was over. After that first episode, though, no matter how heavy my eyelids, I forced myself to stay awake through Weekend Update.

I was drawn to Tina, her wit and her IDGAF attitude. I fell down an internet rabbit hole and quickly found out her writing swagger and fell even more in love. This was a woman I wanted to be: A leader. Someone comfortable with doing her own thing, even if it was weird. A boss bitch in a boys’ club.

When Mean Girls came out, I was so incredibly thankful. Everyone else looked at it like just a funny teen movie, but I saw more. I felt like the film had been made just for me, to show me that I would survive petty girl drama, that it was all so ridiculous and actually damaging. That laughter she gave me for several days after school for at least a year took the place of tears.

Mrs. Brock is a woman whom words do not do enough justice. They just don’t. I have never met a person whose heart is so big and so full of love and compassion. I have never met someone who just wants the best for everyone. She was a saint of a teacher who rarely got flustered, who never really raised her voice at us.

Maybe that’s because we all respected her too much. Maybe that’s because she actually respected us. She had this unique way of treating her students like we were real almost-adults — not children — and at the same time was sweet and gentle and maternal without being condescending.

This woman taught me so many things: dedication (from the number of times she would open up her classroom doors for help at 7 a.m. to the number of miles she runs in a week to the fact that we’re still friends seven years after I graduated high school), confidence, what it really means to be a mentor. The list goes on.

Whenever I realize that I’m sort of taking someone under my wing and feel wildly unqualified, I just think: “What would Mrs. Brock do? What would she say?” Whenever I’m running and I’m tired and I want to quit, I think: “if you were running with Mrs. Brock, you wouldn’t dare stop — and she wouldn’t let you if you tried.” Whenever I have doubts about any of my dreams, I remember how she insists: “You have to be your own advocate.” That sort of special mentorship and influence is something I hope I can emulate someday, though I’ll never be the same.

Mrs. Delellis-Johnson (Also affectionately known as DJ or Deej) is, simply put, brilliant. In 9th grade, I took a creative writing elective with upperclassmen that was taught by the notoriously tough, genius-level smart, and acerbic 10th grade English teacher. She did not give a shit about your feelings and would not hesitate to call you stupid to your face if it was warranted. I was terrified.

I was a bitch to my middle school English teachers. I was. They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t conform to the rigid five paragraph structure they set for everyone else, and I didn’t understand why they wanted me to. I routinely pissed them off announcing things like: “What you are teaching us is wrong. A five sentence minimum per paragraph rule is wrong. A paragraph is a complete thought; there’s no quota. A paragraph could be one word.” I was getting antsy. I was getting fed up. I was beginning to want to give up on writing.

But Deej was different. She actually liked my writing. Like… a lot. She submitted my first short story to a Scholastic contest and gushed that she thought it was smart and more mature and advanced than it should be for a 14 year old. I finally felt like I was doing something right.

She really was the first teacher who gave me confidence in my writing, who believed in me and understood my style. She never tried to pigeonhole me into regressive styles meant to teach weak writers — she challenged me to be even better. This continued over the next three years of high school, and she always went above and beyond. She edited and advised on pieces I wrote for a variety of places, from contests to college admissions essays to a bullshit screenplay treatment for a (still unfinished) screenplay I laughably submitted to Sundance when I was 17. She is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I miss her and I cannot thank her enough for everything she’s done for me. If she hadn’t come into my life at that crucial time, I honestly don’t know if I would have continued to write.

Stevie Nicks completes the list, because, of course. There are many, many words to be said about Stevie, some I’ve already shared, some that are still waiting to be written.

When I graduated college and took a grownup job that wasn’t editorial, I stopped writing altogether. I was so burnt out from all the pieces I churned out between school and internships and so disheartened by all the editorial job openings I’d see that only paid $25K a year. (Fun fact: you can work an entry level position at one of the major magazine publishers in New York and qualify for food stamps!) I’ll never be a writer, I cried on more than one occasion. I will never be a writer. Those words felt like a death sentence.

I can’t really name the a-ha moment. I had been listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac in my senior year, and at some point, it just occurred to me that the woman I admired so much has never given up. She has never let obstacles define her or hold her back from creating. She has never changed who she is to make someone else happy. She is probably the most authentic person I (don’t) know. And that’s what made me write again. She does things on her terms. She made me believe that, yes, I would be a writer, and I would do it my way. Stevie made me refocus my creative energy into writing about things I actually care about. Writing about what I care about reached other people who cared about the same things, which brought a few really wonderful, beautiful, special people into my life. It was a chain reaction of magic. And it’s all because of Stevie.

Who I am today, at this very moment, is really the product of these women and their influence. Maybe that’s going to change in the future, but right now, I’m pretty okay with it. So even if none of them ever have a chance in their lifetimes to read this, I’m throwing this out to the universe. Thank you. For everything. I mean it.

Year in Review

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

So, I guess this is the time of year where I’m supposed to start reminiscing. I guess this is the new year. I guess everybody’s doing it, so that means I should, too. Isn’t that how it works?

I’ve never really felt like the new year started on January 1st. The dead of winter, when everything is bare and gray and it gets dark at 4 o’clock and you’re sad because the holidays are over and there’s just a long stretch of cold and nothingness to look forward to? That’s how we’re going to restart?

To me, the new year still begins in the fall, in September when the air starts to get crisp. The time of year when it’s not quite too cold for shorts, but you start getting goosebumps. That time of year when there’s still, literally, a new leaf to turn over. Sometimes I associate the start of the new year with my birthday — even though I hate it — because it’s maybe not the start of a new year, but the start of my new year.

But the Gregorian calendar doesn’t give a damn what I think, and the year is going to change in a little more than 48 hours. I don’t remember making any resolutions on January 1st this year. I don’t really have any planned for next. I don’t think you should limit yourself to one day of the whole year to make a decision to change something in your life. Do what feels right, when it feels right. Do what makes you happy.

But getting back to the reminiscing. I put it off until the last minute, becausethat’s what I always do I thought maybe I hadn’t done much in the past year, but I was wrong. I’m still not the person I want to be (what’s new?), but I think I got a little closer this year.

I made friends and I lost friends. Each one of them has been in my life for a specific reason, however brief or long it may be. I fought with some of them, but they stayed and still loved me, even when I said intentionally hurtful things. You really do get two families — the one you are born with and the one you choose. I think I made the right choices.

I wrote a lot and then I stopped writing as often. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was tired. I was so tired. I was living somewhere that made me hate New York. I was working too much — which isn’t a problem if you love what you do, but I had grown to loathe it. The misery and hate and pessimism out of my pores and stained everything I touched. The words stopped coming as easily. Sometimes they weren’t very buoyant, but they were always true.

I learned to live a little. There were nights I stayed out too late or drank a little too much or spent too much money. There were workouts I skipped and pieces I never wrote and chores I didn’t get done. But I learned, after years of denying myself, that maybe having fun isn’t such a bad thing. I learned that being productive 24/7 doesn’t make you a better person. It makes you a burnout, sooner or later. I learned that it’s okay to relax. It’s okay to sometimes act your age.

January
At Christmas, my parents sat me down and told me that I was not allowed to go to any of Fleetwood Mac’s second leg shows, tempting as it was. I needed to be “fiscally responsible.” I solemnly agreed. Three weeks later, I decided life was too short, my credit card limit too high, and my future chances like this too few. I decided that I was an adult, right, so I could make my own decisions. Was it irresponsible? Absolutely. Was it fun? Was it worth it? Yes and yes.

Favorite thing I wrote: On New York

February
Oops. I did it again. It was emotional. Also, the first time people started recognizing me in public for my writing, and professing their love for it. Which was weird. Awesome, but weird.

Favorite things I wrote: Rock On, Gold Dust Woman | Lessons From the Queens of Comedy

March
Oh yeah, that time I went on a road trip to VIRGINIA with Krissy and Cathy to see Fleetwood Mac. AGAIN. That time we drove there and back in one night, got home at 6:30 a.m. and went to work at 9. Sometimes, you have to let yourself go on adventures.

Favorite thing I wrote: Long Distance Winner (on running)

April
I remember very little about April. Which goes to show that things that probably matter a lot to you right now may be completely forgotten in a few months.

Favorite thing I wrote: How to Handle Hate Mail

May
I met Carly (strange, I know, because I think we’ve secretly known each other our whole lives) and the summer of infinite possibilities began. Carly taught me, among many things, to stop making excuses for why I couldn’t do things and to start saying yes more.

I turned 24, kicking and screaming. Did I still look at everyone around me doing more than me and feel sorry for myself and insecure? Yes. (I still do that and I don’t know if I will ever grow out of it.) But did I start to think that maybe I had done a decent amount to be proud of already? Yeah.

Favorite things I wrote: Happy Birthday, Stevie Nicks: Our Rock and Roll Fairy Godmother | Oh, I Don’t Know (on my birthday)

June
Noel and I were reunited after six months apart. We hadn’t gone that long without seeing each other, until now. That was the last time I saw her for real. Sure, through social media, texting, and FaceTime, we are practically inseparable 24 hours a day. But long distance friendships are hard. They really suck. Nothing compares to being with someone in real life.

Bonnaroo was sweaty and exhausting and amazing. I saw Robert Plant and did not, as I had worried, have a heart attack. It was an experience, one I can’t wait to have again. But the fact that I got to spend a whole week with my best friendsister was maybe an even better experience.

Favorite thing I wrote: Betrayal (on Joni Mitchell)

July
I quit something for the first time in my life. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to quit anything. It didn’t matter if I got a crummy chorus part in the play or if the basketball coach was playing favorites. You signed up for this. You don’t have to do it again, but you made a commitment for now, my parents drilled into me. And that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life since then: I make a commitment and I stick to it, for better or worse, because quitting is unacceptable.

Except that it’s not. It’s okay to quit things if that’s what makes you happy. I left my lease early — it wasn’t anything major like walking out on a job. There were no arguments, no bad roommates, no drama. I didn’t leave people hanging — someone else took my spot. I just realized that location matters for some people, that it matters for me. Where I was living wasn’t working. So I moved closer to work and closer to my stomping grounds. Life instantly got easier and I didn’t get angry on the subway anymore, because the A doesn’t have anywhere near the delays as the N or the Q.

It’s okay to quit things in order to be happy. Stop equating quitting with failing. Stop worrying about what other people will think about you. Fuck the haters. Seriously. People judging you for doing you have no place in your life. Do not set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

Favorite things I wrote: New Beginnings (technically June, but it’s about my July move soooo) | Vanessa Carlton’s Blue Pool EP Subtlely Stuns

August
The summer of infinite possibilities was coming to an end and I felt like I hadn’t gotten anywhere. I lost count of how many dream jobs I applied for. Writing wasn’t as easy as it used to be. I started to feel bitter and defeated.

But people notice you even when you think they don’t. I got offered a piece with Quartz because a former college classmate and colleague of mine thought, from what I posted and shared on social media, that I was the right person to do it. I think it turned out pretty well.

Favorite things I wrote: Taylor Swift’s fight against Big Music doesn’t make her a champion of the creative class (the Quartz piece) | Houseboats

September
I remembered how to have fun. I saw Emmylou Harris. I saw Robert Plant again and realized how fucking lucky I am. There’s a lot that I want and don’t have, but I do have a lot. I saw so many of my favorite aging rock stars and heroes — some multiple times — in the past year, and not many people have those same opportunities.

Somehow I was confident enough to hold my own with Henry Diltz, Pattie Boyd, and a slew of real grown-ups. And I learned a lot from them, but I also learned to trust myself and my abilities more.

Favorite thing I wrote: On Henry Diltz and Capturing Memories

October
I finally got a new job, one that I didn’t even apply for, one that I love. People will remember you and will recommend you for things they think you are capable of. Impressions matter. Work ethic matters. Staying in touch matters.

People still don’t like it when you write about them! But writers are always going to be writing about other people. As Anne Lamott says, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

The most you can do is be truthful and know that you never do anything with a mean spirit. After that, another person’s feelings are out of your hands.

Favorite thing I wrote: The Funemployment Chronicles

November
There have been few things as exhilarating in my life as staying up all night on the rooftop of Le Bain with my sister on her birthday. There’s something about Manhattan rooftops that make me feel alive.

I also ate really good chicken fingers at a diner that morning at 4:30 a.m., and no, Carly, I will not forget them.

Favorite thing I wrote: On Comparison

December
I randomly got to meet Vanessa Carlton and it was surreal, not just to meet an artist you admire and respect, but to meet someone whose work you really grew up alongside. I met Warren Zanes, who wrote my favorite book of the year, not just because it was plain good, but because he writes about Tom Petty with the admiration and feeling that I write about Stevie Nicks. And I think that’s pretty rad. These two writers got me inspired again.

(I also lost my chill a little over Star Wars. #sorrynotsorry)

Favorite thing I wrote: this.

11 Things Old Souls Are Tired of Hearing, Because No, We’re Not Trying To Be Hipsters

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This post originally appeared on Bustle.

I am secretly 65. Or at least, I’m a 65 year old trapped in a 24 year old’s body. I think I was born old; a feeling that many of my fellow old souls probably understand.

The past fascinates me. I spent a lot of my childhood in the care of an older babysitter who would play Abba and The Mamas and the Papas, and allowed me to watch My Fair Lady over and over. After dinner and bathtime, I would beg my mother to let me plop down in front of the TV before bed. Of course, by that time, the only thing on cable mildly suitable for kids was Nick at Nite. And so I drifted off to sleep to The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

As a teenager, I took an intense interest in the ’70s. I devoured films by old Hollywood icons and drove everywhere blasting classic rock through the speakers of my mom’s minivan. Today, I hunt for vinyl records in my spare time and have seen bands like Fleetwood Mac more times than I can count on one hand. But more than my taste in music and movies, being an old soul has had other implications: I find that I get along remarkably well with people at least twice my age, more so than I do with most 20-somethings.

Old souls are often misunderstood — both by people their own age and by those with years on them. It’s fun to joke about now and then, but really, there are a few things we’re tired of hearing. Things like…

1. “You know, he’s old enough to be your grandfather.”

Thanks, I am well aware that my crushes on men like Robert Plant and Robert Redford are a little age inappropriate and that my mom may or may not have had crushes on them when she was my age. Handsome is handsome! But, like nearly every other celebrity crush, they’re never going to come to fruition. That is, unless, someone invents a time machine.

This goes for real life too. Personally, I couldn’t date someone more than a few years older than myself, but a lot of old souls tend to, especially since we get along better with older people to begin with.

2. “You’re just trying to be a hipster.”

I’m certainly not buying records because they’re cool again. I buy records because I love how different vinyl sounds, especially if it’s an older record with crackles and soft pops. While stopping in an Urban Outfitters to pick up an expensive reissue of a classic rock album is easy, it’s not as fun searching for elusive wants and rarities while building a collection. It’s just what I like to spend my time doing.

3. “You couldn’t possibly like that. It was made before you were even born.”

I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that I needed to be carded before I liked something. Few things are as inane as regarding age as a prerequisite for taste. It’s just as bad as my asking my parents how they could possibly like Taylor Swift or the latest Hunger Games movie — aren’t they a little old for that?

4. “You’re so boring. Come out! Live a little!”

Old souls are also often introverts. We are very comfortable being alone with a book or movie to digest on our own. Big parties aren’t really our thing, but we will gladly talk about life for hours over dinner with you. We don’t not know how to have fun, it’s just that we enjoy different things.

5. “You’re such a mom.”

We like to take care of people, and we’re always going to be the mom friend, the one with the band aids and extra napkins who wants to make sure you ate something. Better safe than sorry.

6. “Don’t you want to do what people your own age are doing?”

Which is…? There is no set way to spend our youth. We’re all on our own path, doing what makes us happy. And sometimes, that’s knitting to an old record at home.

7. “That band is not as good as they were in the ’70s.”

Any fan of any classic rock band that’s still actively touring has probably heard this one too many times. Of course bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sound different. They’re senior citizens with a hard partying past. We’re not oblivious to this. But, unlike our parents, we didn’t get the chance to see them in concert in the ’70s because we weren’t alive, so we’ll settle for watching them continue to rock now.

8. “You’re kind of intense.”

We’ve probably heard this a million times since we were young. Old souls are more mature — that’s one of the reasons why we get along so well with much older people. We relish deep, intellectual conversations, and that’s not a bad thing.

9. “Do you even know what’s on TV or the radio these days?”

Um, being an old soul does not mean living under a rock. We have an affinity for the classics, but modern pop culture does not go ignored.

10. “I bet you wish you lived back then.”

Actually, no, not really. There’s a difference between taking interest in the past and romanticizing it. As much as I would love to experience certain parts of history, I like the 21st century, with my moderately improved rights and ease of technology. There’s still a long way to go in terms of establishing equal rights between race, gender, and sexualities, but we’re a lot better than we were a few decades ago. Plus, information about all-things-old is much more attainable now than ever before. I don’t think I could trade in either of those modern amenities.

11. “You like everything my parents like. How old are you?”

A lot of things “meant for old people” are just better. Of course, that’s not a hard-set rule, but I’ve found that most things meant for adults are just smarter. If I can enjoy them in the company of other old people, even better, because old people are awesome. (And to answer your question, I’m 24.)

Images: Hedgehog Fibres/Flickr; Giphy

Long Distance Winner

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This post originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

I started running when I was 11. I was a kid who wanted to go out for every sport, so when I was old enough to, it was a given that I would join the middle school track team. But it was more than that. Running felt natural, it felt right to me. It felt like something I was meant to do.

After school, I would hurriedly change into shorts and a tee shirt, lace up my Nikes, and headed out on a mile long loop that circled my house, the nearby elementary school, and community gardens. It was my time. For awhile, there was no pressure. No one made me run but myself. I was a latch-key kid; I could have just as easily sat on the floor in front of the TV and inhaled all the sugary cereal (which I did on occasion). It was my choice to head out the door every day.

When it came time to pick our events for track, I knew the mile was mine. I was little and quick, and reveled in running suicides during basketball practice, but sprinting races intimidated me. The sprinters were bigger than me. More confident. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a sprinter. Everyone but me.

The crowd was decidedly thinned for the mile. At the time, it seemed like a long distance. Having traumatized so many kids after years of dreaded gym class fitness tests, only the seemingly insane willingly chose it as their number one event. I was one of them.

Roughly 1600 meters make up a mile. Four laps around a standard sized track. When the gun went off, I shuddered, shocked, then cautiously took off. Even as time went on, my reaction remained the same. Surprised by something I was expecting, then nervously bolting.

Here’s the thing about racing. Like life, there are leaders and there are followers. There are those who sprint at the sound of the gun and those who hang back with the crowd. For a long time, I was in the second group.

For the first two laps, I would hold my own, watching the girls who flew wildly at the start fade away. One by one, I passed them until it was just another girl on my team, Molly, and I stretching away from the rest.

The distance between the two of us ebbed and flowed. Sometimes I was right on her shoulder. Most times, she had a solid 200 meters on me and I focused on her back like a target, imagined myself catching up and blowing by her. When we rounded the track into the final 200 meters, I would pull out my not-so-secret secret weapon: a kick. A burst of energy where I sprinted as hard as I could, felt my legs go numb and just flew.

Still. A late burst couldn’t make up for a hesitant start. I was second place, always. Often, mere seconds separated us. But still. Second place burned. It wasn’t first. I wasn’t the best. I forgot about all the other girls behind me, instead focused on the race as existing solely between Molly and myself, and I lost.

“Where do you get that kick?” my coaches would ask, bewildered. Who was that girl I became in the final showdown, and where was she for the rest of the race?

The sprinter was confident. The slow starter was not. She was overly cautious and afraid to fail. What if’s plagued her mind. What if she started too fast, couldn’t hold it, and failed spectacularly? Cautious Carrie hated second place, but she far preferred it to last.

I didn’t win my first race until the day before my 21st birthday, nearly ten years after my second place streak. I set my personal best, running a 5K in less than 20 minutes. That morning, on the way there, I didn’t think I could do it. I knew it was in me somewhere, but I was afraid. “Go out strong,” my dad said sternly. “Have some guts.”

Have some guts. Don’t be afraid. Lead, don’t follow. All lessons that apply to both running and life. All lessons I have come to embrace. But here’s another lesson that I’m just now learning: have guts, but pace yourself.

Months before that middle distance win, I ran the New York City Marathon. I finished faster than my goal time — fast for a first timer, period — and still, within hours after it was over, regrets plagued my mind. I could have done better had I pushed myself more. If only I had started with my actual pace instead of underestimating myself. If only I hadn’t stopped to pee at mile 18. If only I hadn’t walked through that one water stop. If only, if only, if only.

Looking back, even with all those nagging questions still in my mind, I won that day. I had guts. I was fearless because I finished. Sometimes being cautious is a good thing. What if I had gone out hard? Maybe I could have finished faster, but when you’re running a 26 mile race, is that a chance you’re willing to take?

This is why people make that “life is a marathon, not a sprint” analogy. It’s long. The pace changes. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. It’s not finished in one fell swoop. You’re in it for the long haul.

“You’re only on mile six of your marathon,” my dad told me recently, when I was in the throes of a quarter life I am not accomplishing my dreams and goals yet crisis. “You’ve still got a long way to go.”

Whenever I feel impatient or dissatisfied with things, I remind myself of that. Think of how I felt at mile six, still in Brooklyn with three more boroughs and twenty more miles ahead of me. It seemed mammoth. Possibly insurmountable. So far away. And yet, so close, and so achievable. I could picture myself crossing the finish line, just as I can begin to picture my future now. Have faith in the long distance winner.