The Lessons I Learned In 2011

It’s safe to say I learned more in the past 12 months than I did during any year in middle school, high school or college. Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Sure, in high school I learned about parabolas and I read some great American novels and stuff, and in college I learned the most efficient way to crack open a box of wine.

But the best life lessons I’ve encountered in my 26 years on the planet came my way this year. For me, 2011 was a year marked by living alone, training for a marathon and forming new relationships.

See? This is an example of what I mean by "new relationships." My undying love for 16 Handles played a crucial part in my journey through 2011.

I started to take running and racing more seriously, and consequently I found myself riding ridiculously high some days — in the spring I PR’d practically every weekend — and hitting some nasty lows, mostly due to my own silliness on the race course. Even on the bad days, I always loved what I was doing. I trained for a marathon and a half marathon through gnarly Crohn’s flare-ups, and I did my best to figure out my priorities on a daily basis.

You probably want to know about these groundbreaking lessons though, don’t you?

Oh. You don’t? Well then.

If you do want to read all about the things that have made their way into my brain this year, then read on. I’ve got some stuff to share.

Every run has a purpose. At this point, I should tell you that most of the “Great Lessons of 2011” come courtesy of Coach Cane and Mrs. Coach Cane.

Mrs. Coach Cane and me after the Mini 10K. She is my hero, in case you didn't know that already.

Working with a professional running coach opened my eyes to the world of competitive running. Am I competitive? Not quite. With myself, yes, of course, but I’m not out there placing in races or lapping people in Central Park.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, yes, every run has its purpose, and I truly didn’t realize this until I started working with The Great Coach Cane. In 2010, I went out every day and just kind of ran. I didn’t have a watch, I had no idea what my pace was and I rarely ran races. I ran, and I loved it. But once I started working toward a goal — the Hamptons Marathon — Coach Cane explained that I would no longer just “go for a run.” Junk miles weren’t going to help me bang out 26.2 miles on Race Day.

Coach Cane, you handsome devil.

Instead, he gave me a training plan that had me running five days a week. To my understanding (because honestly, the terminology still baffles me just a little), I did speedwork on Tuesdays, a short, slow recovery run on Wednesdays, some sort of tempo run or hill work on Thursdays, long runs on Saturdays and a slow recovery run on Sundays.

See that? Every run had a purpose in helping me prepare for the marathon.

Right now I’m not training for anything, so I’m big on the junk miles (11 miles on Christmas Eve, 4 miles on Christmas and the following day, a rest day on Tuesday, 10 miles Wednesday, 5 miles yesterday and 13.1 miles today, which I am calling the First Annual And Not Necessarily Annual Ali Feller New Year’s Eve Eve Half Marathon. Let me know if you want in for next year. I’ll make medals and stuff.)

This is just personal evidence that I did, in fact, run 13.1 miles today. They weren't my fastest, but I did them.

So that is Lesson #1. Onto the next…

Even elite runners run slowly sometimes. I guess “slow” is a relative term, but I remember the first time I did a group run with Coach Cane’s City Coach runners. We did a warm-up from JackRabbit’s Upper West Side store into Central Park, and I was all, “I am so cool, I’m running with winners, I’m a winner too, now let’s sprint this warm-up!”

And then Coach Cane told me to chill. Turns out, even his speediest runners don’t do a 7:30 pace when they’re warming up. I was dumb. I am maybe still a little dumb. But we’re two lessons in, and look how much I’m learning already!

Every race won’t be a PR. Fine. I learned this one the hard way, I guess. I hadn’t raced much before 2011, so when I started signing up for races in Central Park, I knocked out personal records almost every time. I was running varied distances and I saw myself quickly getting faster.

Less waving, more running, Ali. Someday you will learn...

Then I got deeper into marathon training, and I got slower. I grew more tired. I started to slow down when I raced. And then I kissed my glory days goodbye, at least for a little while.

A good friend sat me down one day (“sat me down” roughly translates to “lashed out at me on GChat using all caps, which means she was Internet yelling) and gave me the kick in the short shorts I needed.

Oh Emily, you smart, evil woman.

She’s so wise and she said that not only will every race eventually not be a PR, but it’s also important to have non-time goals for some races. Goals like “don’t vomit at mile three” or “try not to cut people off so much, you jerk” are good goals to have. Those are just examples though. Go ahead and make your own. And thanks, Ironman friend, for the “pep talk.” Even though I don’t recall it being particularly peppy.

Your Garmin (or any timing device, really) can be your best friend or your worst enemy. When I’m running fast, I want to kiss that watch on my wrist. When I’m inching up Cat Hill and I see digital evidence of my rapidly slowing pace, I want to throw it in the woods. See? Best friend, but also worst enemy.

The Garmin 110: a useful and sometimes heinous device. Only heinous when I'm running too slowly though...

I’ve become semi-addicted to running with my watch, more because I like to track my distance than my pace. But I’m not blind to those pace readings, and sometimes after a run I analyze them and I get really happy or kind of pissed.

I’m learning to have a loving relationship with my watch, and I’m learning that I don’t always need to have the watch with me. I’m not codependent…right? Proof: Yesterday I mapped out my route beforehand and then ran Garmin-free. It was nice.

Running 26.2 miles can actually be fun. I never wanted to run a marathon. I have a “life list” and when I was younger I put things on it like “go skydiving” (check!) and “go on a safari” (no check yet) and “French kiss a boy” (no check there, Mom, I’m waiting for the right man, obviously). But last year, when I started getting more into running and had a handful of half marathons under my belt, I knew running a marathon was my next big goal.

Hi! I'm running a marathon!

So I went ahead and did that. And it was awesome. It was challenging, I got sweaty and man did I want to start tazing anyone on the sidelines who cheered for me and told me I was “doing great” beyond mile 13 (no, I really wasn’t, I was slowly dying, actually), but I look back on all 26.2 of those miles with a tremendous amount of affection. I loved running a marathon. I can’t wait to do it again.


Negative splitting is when you run the second half of a course faster than the first half. Who does that?! I clearly do not. You know what I’m good at? Going out really fast and then burning out with a handful of miles still to go. That’s basically my strength.

Oh, that’s not a good thing, you say? Fine. Coach Cane would agree with you, and we’re working on it. But this still counts as a lesson, because before this year I had no idea what “negative splitting” meant, and now it’s a term used often in my family.

For example, the day after Christmas Brian joined my family for a big lasagna dinner (he cooked it, we all basically did nothing but eat, and Ryan sliced some bread and Michaela poured water), and Ryan commented that I negative split my meal. I started eating kind of slowly, but then I really kicked it up a notch and piled more and more food onto my fork. We are learning to incorporate negative splitting ideas into all ways of life.

I am a runner. It’s true, and in 2011 I finally accepted it. I run often, I run happy and I run because I love it. For a long time I identified myself as a “writer” or “former dancer” or “really good eater.” But this year, I latched onto that runner title and felt proud to own it.

We are cousins and we are also runners. Sweaty, nasty runners.

I am not the fastest runner and I’m not the runner who can log double-digit miles daily without my legs feeling like they’re going to fall off. But I’m pretty enthusiastic about running, so that’s cool.

While running was a huge part of my year, it wasn’t the only thing I did. So here are some other, non-running related lessons:

You have to actually like yourself before you can expect someone else to like you…or even love you. How cheesy is that? But stick with me here…

After The Great Breakup of 2011, I was not in the greatest place. I had lost my appetite, and instead of eating meals I was drinking drinks. I went out a lot to distract myself and I barely slept. I got really good at running with a hangover, though, so that was good I suppose.

For a few weeks, I was figuring things out. I wasn’t in the steady relationship I had quickly grown used to, and I didn’t really know who I was without it. Sad, maybe pathetic, but true.

It took me a little while to get back on my feet. During that time, I somehow got picked for Run For The Rabbit, and that changed everything. Suddenly I was surrounded by new, exciting people (Hi, Brian!) and I had something productive to work toward every day. I refocused, got back on track and replaced some of that wine I guzzled nightly with water.

Run For The Rabbit press conference = best day ever

Eventually, I was in a good, happy place. I had a new apartment all to myself, I was spending time with new friends and I was training for a marathon! I was really happy, and at some point I met Brian and I invited him to “watch the Run For The Rabbit commercials on my TV in my apartment.”

That brings me to my next lovely lesson…

Living alone is amazing. One of the bullet points on the aforementioned “life list” was to live alone. When I moved in with my last boyfriend, I thought that I would never get the chance to have my own place. I was kind of OK with it, because moving in together would be fun, right? Well, no, actually. It was not always fun. And because of that, I got my own apartment in the end!

MY apartment. You get out.

I love living alone. I hate that it’s so dang expensive and I hate that every month when my rent check/Time Warner bill/Con Ed bill arrives, I don’t get to walk down the hall to some roommate to be like, “Yo, pay me half of this.” But I’m making it work.

You can survive just fine on two haircuts a year (max), zero eyebrow waxes and absolutely no manicures, plus pedicures only when you go home to see your mom and she’s just dying to shell out the $20 for you. Trust me. My grooming may be in a sad state, but the money I’m saving on those little luxuries means more Brooks Adrenalines filling up my closet. Also, I’ve never had a manicure last longer than the walk from the nail salon to my apartment, so why bother?

There is a lot of good in people. I used to doubt that. I really did. I met some mean people over the past few years. But this year, when I was raising money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, you people came out of I don’t even know where and helped me send a nice $20,000 check to some smart scientists in labs who better be finding a cure for this damn disease right now. I was floored by the constant support I received while I was fundraising. I received donations from people I went to school with, and I received donations from old friends, new friends and distant family friends. Best of all, I saw donations come in from total strangers.

You are not all total strangers, but you ARE all good people.

Every now and then I’ll be walking down the street frantically and someone will slam into me, usually with 19 bags in tow, and I’ll get all pissed and I’m like, “She is the worst human alive, and all people are terrible!” But then I remember this summer, and the fundraising, and the niceness. And then I still think that bag lady is a bit of a bitch, but I feel better about the world in general.

This also goes beyond donations, by the way. I got amazing emails from people I don’t even know when I wrote that whole breakup post in the spring, and that was my first sign that people are cool.

A positive outlook makes all the difference. Crohn’s, you tried really hard to bring me down this year, didn’t you? You are such a little witch. But I showed you, didn’t I? You flared up, and I ran a marathon. You flared up again, and I ran a half marathon.

Can't bring me down, Crohn's. Mwa ha ha. Last laugh goes to Ali...for now.

Since there isn’t a cure for Crohn’s disease, my medicine doesn’t always do the trick. But I am convinced that attempting to be less stressed and staying happy and positive really did push some of the Crohn’s into a more chilled-out place. My mom agrees, so it must be true…because she teaches third grade. We’re not doctors, but we still know stuff.

Here I am with my mom, probably talking about Crohn's or cake or something.

It’s really important to have a few good friends you can go to for whatever you need on any given day. Like the friend you can always count on to tell you your next run will be better, or the friend who is always up for that fourth glass of any alcoholic drink on a Wednesday night at a local Irish bar. I really don’t care if I have two friends or 132 friends — as long as those people are quality people I can depend on, it doesn’t matter how many of them I have.

Lauren, friend of the year 2011.

My friends, both old ones and new ones, were everything to me this year. They were there on the wonderful days and they were especially there on the awful days.

You use “was” when referring to something that definitely happened, and you use “were” in a “wishful” or “if” situation. Yes, I am an editor. And no, I did not really understand when to use “was” and when to use “were” until this year, when a coworker kindly explained it to me.

In case you’re still confused, here are two examples:

  • I was out to dinner last night and I ate two buckets filled with mussels (true story).
  • I wish I were better at portion control (also factual).

See? It makes sense now.

You can meet people on the Internet, and other people might think that’s weird, but those Internet people may become some of your best friends. Thank goodness for the online land, because without it I wouldn’t have met Emily. Or Lauren. Or the entire kickass Sweat Squad. Some of my favorite people have names to me now, but they were once just Twitter handles or “the Runner’s Kitchen girl.”

Emily, Lauren and lots of flashy colors. This picture makes me giddy.

You will be OK. I didn’t believe it for a while. I had to look at picture of it on my phone every single day before I realized that it was true. But here I am, and at least for now, I’m very much OK. And you will be, too.


There you have it — just about everything I learned in 2011. Of course there’s more, like I learned where all the bathrooms are in Central Park and I learned what time they all open and which ones are the cleanest (Tavern on the Green, you open the latest but dang you are spotless).

I’m pretty pumped about learning some stuff in 2012, too. Stay tuned.

YOUR TURN: What great lessons did you learn in 2011? Share them with me, so I can learn more stuff vicariously through others.



39 Responses

  1. I learned that even though I’ve never been an athlete… that given some time and training I might just be one. Also, that eating healthy and being active seems to keep my Crohn’s in check which is really nice when it comes to wanting to go out to do a run/walk because I live in the middle of no where and would have to knock on people’s doors if I need to use the bathroom. I’m not saying that’s a deal breaker but it makes me look a little crazy I think.

  2. That Runner’s Kitchen Girl thinks you’re pretty awesome. So glad that we met “in real life” and became friends in 2011. Also, your was vs. were explanation is great!! (I am a grammar nerd and am seriously very appreciative).

    This year I learned that it is important to follow directions during races. Especially at the finish. Otherwise, you may run a 14 mile PR instead of a Half Marathon PR.

  3. Wow, 2011 turned out to be pretty awesome for you 🙂 I know it’s cliche but I really think “what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger” is so very true. Good luck on an even more amazing 2012!

  4. You can also use “were” if you were talking about multiple people.

    “We were eating dinner last night.” 😉

  5. I recently started following your blog and I love your positive attitude! My 18 year old cousin has Crohn’s disease and is in the midst of a major flare up and is in the hospital and will be there for a while so your blog and your fundraising just became even more personal to me. Thank you for what you have done to raise money to fight this disease! Do you still have T-shirts available?

  6. I have learned that I’m so much stronger than I ever thought I was. Both physically and mentally. I’ve learned that life is too short to be around people that suck the happiness out of you. I’ve learned there’s something to be thankful for everyday, even if it’s not a so called “good” day.

    The real icing on the cake for my 2011 was running back to back half marathons for the first time on NYE and NY Day and getting a PR! Can’t really think of a better way to end and start a new year! 🙂

  7. I learned happiness doesn’t always necessarily just happen. You have to create it.

    I also learned a wonton a day keeps the doctor away…I learned that little beauty from my fortune cookie.

    Oh, and for someone who claims she doesn’t cook, it sure looks like you have a lot of spices 🙂

  8. This post just makes me smile and look forward to 2012.

    Happy New Year and I’m glad I got to meet you in Vegas. Here’s looking forward to a great year!

  9. I learned that running along someone else and cheering them on as they PR is just as exhilarating as setting your own PR. I did that this week with a friend who is fairly new to running and it was awesome! Happy new year Ali!

  10. Oh my goodness, I love love love your last lesson learned and the one about loving yourself. So so so so so true!!! All of these lessons are great ones, actually, and I have to say that if I made a list it’d probably look very similar to yours. Another lesson I learned this year was that it really does help to share you feelings…even if you are just sharing them on the internet!

  11. Negative splitting? Seriously who does that. I trained for and ran my first marathon this year too. The second half was 13 minutes slower than the first apparently that is not the way to go. If you ever figure that out please share your secret with me. What did I learn this year? I learned that ice baths (with your clothes on) change lives. I’m new to your blog. All the best in 2012.

  12. What did I learn in 2011? So much! First and foremost, its ok to be weak if you use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Second of all, plans don’t always work out and even if they do, stressing about them will not change the outcome. The best things happen when you let go and relax. Finally, this was another year the proved to me that you can get through anything and accomplish anything with a positive attitude.

  13. Ahhhhhhh!!! LOVE every single thing about this post. Just how far you’ve come in a year, how much you’ve learned, how much stronger you are, how much HAPPIER you are, how much healthier you are. It’s awesome! If 2011 taught you this much, just imagine what 2012 will bring, huh? Cheers friend!!

  14. I learned if you move to a new state for the same job you’ve hated for a couple years, a new location will not cure your hatred for said job. On the flip side I learned relationships tend to pop up when you’re not looking, when you least expect them to. Now I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned in 2011 to make positive changes in 2012. Onward and upward! 🙂

  15. I took your “you’ll be okay” picture and put it as a wallpaper for my iPad. Seeing it everyday helps just a little.
    You are truly an inspiration. You took your low and made it into a very high high. I hope to do the same in 2012.
    Happy New Year!

  16. This post just reminds me how much I heart you. This year hasn’t been the greatest for me, but I’ve learned way more about myself and other “stuff” than any other year, for sure. Mostly to be ok with not achieving every goal I set and instead learn why it didn’t happen, be flexible and deal with change. I also learned the importance of “faking it till you make it” – it should not be underestimated in both professional settings and personal ones. I’m excited for 2012 🙂

  17. By far, my most favorite post from you!!! I LOVE every word and was smiling reading through it all, because it gave me even more of a glimpse into who you are and how you think. MOre of the personal side, and I really dig it. I also LOVED living alone for two years after my divorce, I also totally agree that everyone should live alone at least once in their lives. It is truly the best experience of my life, learned so much. A haven all mine! And running with a so so smart. I never realized it either until very recently and now every run I do has a purpose and it is helping me gain endurance, some speed and distance!! Cheers Ali to 2012!!

  18. Woah you really did have an eventful and insightful year! I just have to say how inspired I aleays am by your strong and positive attitude!! Your a rock star! 2011 taught me that no matter how much I plan and have backup plans for my backup plans, life is going to work itself out how it’s suppose to so I better just settle in for the ride! 🙂

  19. This was my freshman year of college (still is, actually). I rushed friendships– I was lonely, what can I say? But because I didn’t take time to enjoy the newness, my quality of life suffered greatly, and the challenges that could have been avoided were instead intensified. the main pieces of advice that I’d give to myself 5 months ago are: LIVE IN THE MOMENT and everything will follow. DONT RUSH THINGS; everything is going to fall into place. (yes, even boyfriends to my never-had-a-boyfriend status ><)

  20. This year I learned the importance of really living your life. Watching my granny battle cancer made me realize the importance of family and making every day count. Next year I am training for my first marathon…Columbus 2012!

  21. 2011 was such a good year for you! And I am so inspired by this post! I’m not saying 2011 was bad for me, but I am looking forward to getting out of 2012 what you did this year. You accomplished so many things this year, some things tangible, some things worldly, its amazing. I learned something just reading! Good luck in 2012!

  22. In 2011 I learned that your body can do anything your mind puts it to 🙂

    I learned it’s cool to push your limits and when you do, you realize what you’re capable of — you inspired me to sign up for my first marathon in April 2012 (something I never even knew I wanted to do!)!

  23. Love this. So glad 2011 was a great year for you!!

    -I learned that I like to “run”! This makes me happy and also makes me laugh because really?!? Who am I?!? 2011 is now officially the year of the first 10k, 10k pr, many, many slow solo runs, and the year I was crazy enough to apply for ( and be accepted! Agh!) a half marathon.
    – I learned that branching out is worth it. Yay for new friends!
    -I leaned that introducing yourself by an awkward moniker you created years ago because you thought ” you’d never meet anyone anyways” is awkward. But that your Internet friends will still be nice, so its worth it. Thanks, friends. (and in the future, stick with names that don’t include “fat” and ” bridesmaid”…)

    And yes, I obviously want in to the Ali nye eve run. I was not kidding at all earlier when I suggested tees and medels.

  24. ali this is so cute!
    i love all of this! and i read the whole thing! you have had such an amazing year, and i have LOVED reading your blog. so happy i stumbled upon your little part of the internet! happy new year! keep kicking crohn’s in the butt!

  25. Great post! I am just starting my love/hate relationship with my garmin but it certainly seems like it could be a great tool for improving times.

    I love how your story is so unpredictable, you never would have known you would be where you are a year ago.

    Happy new years 🙂

  26. I adored this entire post. I thought I had a pretty mediocre year, nothing to write home about, but this made me realize that I wasn’t looking at the smaller, and yet just as important things that happened to me in the last 12 months.

    I guess the biggest thing I learned is that I’m way more capable than I give myself credit for. I CAN work full time, go to grad school part time, maintain a long distance relationship, and still live my life. Well, usually. Sometimes I come home, down a glass of wine, and crash at 9pm. But often I’m a normal person, so that’s nice!

  27. Hi I love this and you. Oh and thanks for the reminder that there are a lot of shitty people but the good ones make up for it. And that everything will be ok. Whatever it is. Mostly. Ok no really it will.

  28. I do ‘t remember how I found your blog, it was around the fundraising time….but I think your blog is my favorite to read every day, thanks for all your posts and I wear my I love sweat shirt all the time!?!?

  29. I learned that I’m not a roommate person. After forcing myself into the situation for years, I think the only roommate I can really have are my parents because I can live there rent free and they will feed me. I learned that if “loved” ones aren’t willing to support you in your goals, I’m not willing to call them “loved ones”, and most importantly I learned things aren’t just handed to you…you have to make them happen. No matter if its a job, a workout, a successful relationship, or cleaning the dishes, everyone can make the choice every day to make that day a better day.

  30. Amazing post! I definitely agree with the Garmin thing, you love it and hate it at the same time. Yet, I can’t imagine running without it. Also that it’s okay to go slow sometimes or not PR!

  31. “You use “was” when referring to something that definitely happened, and you use “were” in a “wishful” or “if” situation.” ^^ This was also one of my favorite things I learned in 2010. I love explaining it to people too, they always seem amazed that there’s actually a difference :p

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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