Tuesday, December 04, 2012
It's been almost a month since my last WEIGHTY blog. Didn't mean to leave anyone hanging, but you know how it is - things be busy yo!
A short update: my boyfriend and I are fine, the parties haven't stopped - but my attitude towards them is a little different than it was previously, and I'm trying - ever so hard - to forgive myself and just live with it and through it, as hard as it is on a daily basis.
That last blog lead to some of the longest and most supportive responses from you guys I've ever gotten - so THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me and sharing the love. We all know this isn't easy. And it's even harder to admit defeat sometimes, but knowing that everyone goes to that dark place every once in a while helps. We're not in this alone. And we often think the same things, even if we don't talk about them or write those feelings down for the world to see.
What I have discovered about myself is my avoidance to admit that healthy feels good. I don't know why it's so hard to say that. Possibly because food also feels good, but not in the same way. There's a disconnect in the brain - food hits a certain "feel good" trigger that I have relied on for SO many years. It's been my crutch for so long that I have convinced myself to believe that it's the way I am and that it, and being fat because of it, is what I am destined to. But my newer, healthier brain, knows that's a bunch of bull. It's just REALLY hard to call myself on my own bull. I got to it a bit in my last blog, but the healthy me still feels fake in a way. She's SO new that she's not "real" yet. It's like when I started running and was loathe to call myself a runner. I've run a marathon and I'm STILL loathe to call myself a runner. And that's ridiculous. But it's the same thing with my overall health. I still identify with the fat girl. And why shouldn't I? I was her for 25 years of my life. That's A LOT of tradition to break. I've only been healthy for 2.5 years. Fat me still thinks that's not enough time to call it true. So I am resigned to the fact that it's just going to take TIME, and lots of it, to convince myself that I really am healthy.
The tricky bit is that a healthy life is harder to live. And don't we all know it! In this world it takes CONSTANT work to be healthy. Fast food is just that - fast, convenient. Cooking and planning and shopping takes time and energy. Sitting in front of the boob tube is easy. Going out for a run or a walk requires motivation. HEALTHY LIVING IS HARD! But... it's worth it - right?
The thing that I now know that is still so hard to say is this: Living Healthy makes me feel good. In a different way than chocolate cake makes me feel good.
Unfortunately, chocolate cake makes me feel good like a kick to the gut. It's there, it's quick and it's very, very present. Living healthy makes me feel good all day. But it's not immediately evident. I have to really think about it. It's no big shot of adrenaline (or a sugar rush) - it's a constant, distant, and still very faint feeling. But it's there. And my only hope and wish is that over time it will get stronger. A building hum, from that distant buzz.
Maybe that's really what "Spark" means. At the beginning of this journey I was sparked. The smoke became a flame and then a blazing fire. I burned strong for a year and a half, lost 130 pounds, was a bright, shining star. But then the fire fades. The embers are still warm, and every so often, someone or something comes along to stoke the fire and the blaze comes back for a bit. But it's the embers that stay warm, and any fan of campfires knows that these embers are the best time to make smores :) It takes patience to get here and then to stay here. Without enough fuel, the fire will go out. But with enough time and energy, you can keep those embers glowing long and strong for days. And that's what I have to do. Live in the glow.
So for December I have taken on two challenges - neither of which are the least bit easy. The hard-ass in me gets more pleasure out of making a challenge ridiculously hard because the reward is bigger in the end. But in the flavour of the above realization, the true goal of both of these challenges is that I KNOW they will make me feel good.
Challenge #1 is the "21 Days of Fitness, 12 Days of Christmas and a New Year's Eve" Challenge. It involves walking or running ONE MILE every day for 21 days leading up to Christmas. It started on November 28th and goes to December 18th. Then from December 19th-30th (the twelve days of Christmas) you need to continue that good habit and add one additional healthy thing every day - be that drinking all your water, adding in another exercise, counting calories, avoiding sweets - just one more thing each day. By the time New Year's Eve rolls around, I'll be ready to celebrate in a gorgeous dress that I've already purchased. And the hopes are that I look even better in it than when I bought it! So far I'm going strong. I've gotten my butt out there and put in my time every day. Sometimes I have to drag myself to walk the mile, other days I've been able to run a few miles without issue. The thing is just to DO IT. Every day. It's not easy, but I feel better about myself for doing it. It was a good way to get out of the rut that I've been in.
Challenge #2 is that I've gone dry for the month of December. After polishing off the last of the wine on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend for no good reason I said enough is enough. Fact is fact - when I drink, I binge eat. And I don't need to drink to have fun. It sucks, because I would like to be able to have A glass of wine or a cocktail here or there over the holidays and with all the parties, but I just know that I lose control after that cocktail and end up eating the entire plate of hors d'ouevres that goes with it. So I'm the DD for the month. Works for me. And again - I KNOW I will feel better about myself physically and mentally for making this decision. It's not an easy decision to make, but I'm doing this for myself and for my health. And if I can make it through December, I can do anything! I'm not gonna lie - I miss it. And I think I'm craving it more because I can't have it. But I'll get over it. Alcohol is NOT an essential food group. It's empty calories and an inhibition zapper and this month especially, I need my inhibitions! So it's soda water and lime in a wine glass for me. And then I can be free to enjoy a few extras off the buffet table, be able to taste them for what they really are, and move on once I'm full.
And finally - there's nothing to feel bad about for choosing to be healthy. This holiday season, I will love MYSELF for making the best decisions for HEALTHY ME. I will not be guilted into eating extra helpings because someone else worked hard to make it. I have worked even harder for this life. And I need to prove to Fat Me that she is not my destiny and that her traditions are not my traditions anymore. My 2.5 years of hard work so far is worth more to me now than her 25 years of being unhealthy. What is in the past is in the past. It's time to look long and hard at the present and what I have earned for myself. THIS IS ME NOW. I am leaner, fitter, stronger and destined for a long and healthy life ahead of me. Living in the glow.
Tuesday, November 06, 2012
If I were a hermit I would be skinny.
Seriously - if all I had to think about was myself, my daily caloric intake and expenditure and had zero distractions from the outside world, this whole thing would be a piece of cake (or piece of reduced fat, sugar free banana bread).
But we all know that's not normal, and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to live IN THE MIDDLE. I'm either on the wagon or off the wagon and for a whopping 10 days in a row now (or more), I've been OH SO OFF.
Why? Because I have friends. And a boyfriend. And work. All the things that NORMAL people have, but who are ruining my life. Well - my skinny life.
When I was really fat (313 pounds of fat on a 5'2" frame) I didn't have a lot of friends. I had a boyfriend for a while, but that relationship was unhealthy in so many ways I lost count. I had the same job, but my coworkers were on health kicks too, so changing my daily Starbucks/Chipotle/Potbelly habit wasn't as hard as it could have been. In short - for the year and a bit that it took me to lose 130 pounds, I pretty much WAS a hermit. I gave up living (fully) to lose weight. And for a year of my life, that was ok. I was fine with that sacrifice. I had Spark, and the people here substituted for "real life" friends. I was fueled by "woohoos" and "way to gos" and by the ever decreasing scale. I wasn't lonely and I wasn't hungry because those things kept me full. I was my own best friend.
But times have changed. Sparkfriends don't show up at your office asking you to go out for dinner with them (mostly because they live in other states!). The scale doesn't follow you to a Saturday night party and tell you you're better off without wine and cheese and puff pastry and candy corn cupcakes. And instead of living just for myself, I am now living for 2 people. I have expanded my sense of who I am again to include my significant other, and that means that I have also "expanded" again.
Here's a common piece of advice that we have all read in about 100 different articles:
When you go to a party, eat ahead of time so you aren't hungry, stick to veggies and other low calorie options and limit your alcoholic beverage consumption to you can maintain control of your inhibitions and your calorie consumption. Concentrate on having fun with your friends and not on the food.
And here's the reality of the situation:
I go to a party at which I know about 2 people in the room. So already my social anxiety is high. How do we deal with that? Alcohol. Lubricates the conversation, and the salivary glands and EVERYONE else is drinking - heavily. This said party is in a TINY one-bedroom apartment, and every single surface is COVERED with food. Not a freaking carrot to be found. Cheese and crackers, pizza, pigs in a blanket, pumpkin bread, cupcakes, pie, coffee cake, candy corn, and SO MUCH ALCOHOL. Everyone at this party (and there have to be about 40 people crammed into this teeny tiny space) has brought both a food item and a bottle of something. There's even coolers of alcohol out on the balcony cause there's no more room in the kitchen. Admittedly, this is a kickin' party. Welcome to socializing in your 30s. We finally have the money and the means and the locations and the friend circles to do it, and do it up good. This is an experience that I have not had many of. I don't go to parties like this, because for my entire life I have been a loner. I don't get invited to these events. My boyfriend does. He makes friends like bees to honey and he has an invitation to somewhere awesome almost every weekend. I am profoundly jealous. So what do I do? I get TRASHED on far too much wine, and eat about half of the cheese and cracker tray and the pumpkin bread by myself. Because even though I followed the advice to eat before, and even though I wasn't hungry, and even though I was only going to have a small amount of wine, I literally went crazy. My brain clicked off, all sense of reason flew off the alcohol laden balcony, and I went into full-on food zombie mode. And this is what happens 98% of the time when I try to involve other people in my life. I lose control, and I become a food zombie. And I KNOW I'm not alone in this confession.
So I need to be a hermit. But that's never going to happen. In losing 130 pounds, I have gained so many things in my life that I never had before. But I know why I can't lose anymore weight right now - it's because I can't handle what I have gained from the last loss.
Here's another example:
After a series of very bad days that all ended with me on my couch with the bucket of leftover Halloween candy, consuming at lightning pace mini bar after mini bar after mini bar, I jumped back on the wagon yesterday morning. Mondays are good for "dieters" - Mondays are always fresh starts because they're built that way. Clean slate. Here we go. I had a great breakfast, great lunch, snacks were on schedule, and then my friend Jess called. Jess is a great girl. We're just in the baby stages of something that I felt could have been a really lovely friendship. It's like dating. We're still figuring each other out, but times with her are good times and I had high hopes. And then she found out she's moving to Michigan. This week. And my hopes were instantly dashed. It's not like we aren't going to ever talk again, but I am so desperate for a really great girlfriend in the city, I feel like I've been kicked. Things were going so well. So when she called me up to have dinner with her last night, there was no way I was going to refuse just so I could go home and have me pre-planned pumpkin and carrot smoothie. Add insult to injury, the restaurant we chose comped us strawberry mango bubble teas and an order of coconut shrimp IN ADDITION to our order. I am the type of person who feels like I'm being rude if I refuse food that has been given to me, for free. That's a issue. So I ate it. All of it. Plus half of my regular order. And half of the appetizer that Jess ordered "for both of us". And then I was so upset over being off the wagon again, I went home and consumed the rest of the Halloween candy.
I woke up this morning with a salt & sugar hangover. My head is still pounding. And I feel like I can't win. I can EITHER be skinny or have a life. Apparently I have no idea how to do both.
And the icing on the cake: Nikhil and I are not speaking right now because he caught me with my lover...the bowl of Halloween candy, right in the middle of a binge. I tried to cover it up, tried to laugh it off, but the truth of the matter is that I was so naked, so exposed, and so embarrassed by the incident that I blamed him for surprising me. I blamed him for a sweet and perfectly innocent and kind gesture(a gesture that I have complained he doesn't do enough of in the past) because I was so upset over what he had walked into that I went crazy. The fight about him "barging in on my personal time" escalated to the point that I asked him to leave my house. Which he did. In a very, very angry huff. And now we're not speaking because he is so hurt over something that I caused. But my own pride was so hurt, my own dirty little secret so precious to me, that I am at a loss for how to explain this to him in words that he will understand.
I am disgusted by myself. But I know I cannot heal from this until I can accept it. I'm just not there yet. Acceptance right now feels too much like an excuse for bad behaviour. And the longer I continue to berate myself for these actions, the harder I'm going to fight against it and the more I'm going to eat and binge. It's a horrible, terrible, awful cycle - and I know I'm not the only one out there who feels like this.
But how do you learn to love? How do you accept these hurtful things that you know about yourself and forgive the years and years of self-hatred? How do you drag yourself out from under the image of gluttony and sloth that is so red hot in your mind and smooth that over into something that you can find acceptable? I don't have the answers yet. I'm still in a place that feels FAKE when I say that I miss running. I won't allow myself to be that healthy person who can say things like that because for so many years I have fought so hard against that image. Fat Me is not gone yet. She's hanging on for dear life and she's an ugly bitch when she's angry. I'm living with the monster every single day and I don't know how to shake her loose. She is trying SO hard to rebuild and refortify the parts of her that I got rid of. She is the one that needs the fat - the fat is her fortress - the barrier against the outside world of "others" that might try to break me down. I don't know how to be exposed without the fat fortress. Because when people don't like me or get upset with me or cut me down or aren't what I expect when I'm fat, it's the fat's fault - not mine. But when I don't have the fat, when I'm just a regular person with nothing else to blame for my shortcomings, they are MY shortcomings. And I guess maybe I'm not ready to admit to all the things that I don't really like about myself yet. I'm really good at picking apart the things that I don't like in other people, but I can't accept those things in me. It's just so much easier to hide behind the fat. And Halloween candy tastes good. So it's too much positive reinforcement in negative actions right now for my good reason to fight. I feel like I'm losing the battle and I don't know what to do. And when I'm angry all the time, I'm leaving a path of destruction in my wake - Fat Me is trying to destroy the new things I have painstakingly built for myself - my health, my relationships, my sense of self.
If there's one thing I do know it is this: I don't need to be a hermit in real life to be skinny. Friends and events and work are all positive things that we need in our lives to feel normal and fulfilled. But I do need to get rid of the monster that lives inside me every day. This is not her territory anymore. But the death match going on in my head is exhausting, and there are times when I really don't know who is going to win.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
About 3 months ago, the top of my right foot started hurting me. It was exacerbated by a hip issue (likely bursitis of the hip) that came on right before the marathon. Trying to favour those injuries resulted in a lot of stress on my left knee, which for those of you who have read my marathon blog, know was a big issue for the last 10 miles of that race.
I've been deliberately ignoring the warning signs for a long time now. I didn't want the bad news and I definitely didn't want anyone to bench me for the marathon. I had worked too hard and too long to go out on an injury mere days before the big run. But I'll be honest - I was really freaked out that I was going to do some serious damage running 26.2 miles on those aches and pains.
I thought a week off running was going to be enough to heal. I booked the Hot Chocolate run specifically so that I wouldn't quit running after the marathon, but even when I booked it I was hurting and I knew somewhere in the back of my mind that there was a good possibility I wouldn't be able to run it.
Well, today I have been officially benched. And it sucks. A small part of me is relieved. And a small part of me hates myself for being a wuss and looking for an "excuse" not to train this week. But at some point I was going to have to face the truth of this. My foot isn't getting any better. The bursitis is fading, but it's still bothering me, and if I'm really honest with myself, it's bothering me too much to continue pounding on.
My chiropractor used a vibration tool on me today to test my foot and it almost sent me through the roof the pain was so intense (that was over 2 hours ago and it's STILL reverberating pain that I can feel just sitting at my desk). The tool vibrates the small bones in your foot to test for small fractures and so that test alone was pretty definitive, although she has referred me to a podiatrist for an actual x-ray. So there is hope yet that it's something else, but I almost know it isn't. Knowing how long it's been bothering me, and knowing when it's better and when it's worse, it has ALL the signs of a fracture that has been ignored too long.
I don't want to be in a boot :( I don't want to spend 6 weeks not running. But in some small way, I do. I still have the pool - and I'm looking forward to getting back there tonight. So perhaps, perfecting my freestyle stroke will need to be my main goal for a while. And I want to lose more weight. And the other honest part of that, that I have figured out over 9 months of marathon training and more over the past couple of weeks, is that in order to cut my calories enough to see a change on the scale, I can't eat enough to support a frequent running habit. I just don't have enough energy to get out there at night when I'm only eating my minimum calorie limit every day. So I need to lay low for a while.
I will medically defer my Hot Chocolate entrance to next year. Oddly enough, Nikhil is also medically deferred for a difference reason, so hopefully we can both still go and cheer on friends and maybe volunteer at a water station or something.
Yes, this is a big bummer, but it happens. And if my injuries last year taught me anything, it's that my body has the capacity to heal and to rebuild better and stronger than it was initially. Give it time to do that and I can do some pretty great things. It just gives me time to work on some other things for a while.
I might be benched, but I'm not out of the game completely. There is much work to be done on the sidelines, so that's where I'll be.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Congratulations. You've made it. This is the last blog in my Weekly Mile Series!
I remember ON2VICTORY's blog at this point in the game, so I can't say that I wasn't prepared to be a little...depressed about the whole thing. It's like post-partum, or post-wedding, or post- any other huge life event - I just trained 9 MONTHS for this one day in my life, and now it's over. Sure, I have other things to move on to, but my first marathon has come and gone, and in 6 short hours, the thing that I had been building up to for an entire year of my life was done.
The Monday following the race was a bit of a haze. On the day of the race, the things that hurt are obvious, but you are so jacked up on adrenaline and sports beverages that you don't really feel much. When you wake up the morning of the day following a marathon, EVERYTHING hurts. My abs, my shoulders, my arms, and of course my legs - everything had stiffened up overnight despite going to bed in my compression socks, and it took a long, hot bath and a lot of easy stretching just to get my muscles to want to cooperate. But once I did get moving, I seemed to keep moving pretty well. Judging by all the rest of the people that I saw hobbling in to Fleet Feet to get their medals engraved, I was one of the ones in GOOD shape.
By Tuesday, I noticed almost a revolving muscle soreness. My quads were still the big issue, but my shins (which hadn't bothered me at all Sunday or Monday) were now adding to the hurt. Walking was ok, going up stairs was ok, going down stairs was comical. One step at a time, wincing all the way.
I got my hour-long post-marathon massage on Wednesday and that was a world of good. This is the day that my body forgot that it had run 26.2 miles. By the end of the day I was back to my old self - up and down stairs with no issue, no more little niggles of pain here or there, it felt like it never happened.
Oddly enough, my brain seemed to work in reverse of my body. On Sunday, the physical pain told me I had done it, but my brain couldn't begin to comprehend just what "it" was. I was actually ANGRY at myself because in whatever world I was living in, I didn't think that it was hard enough. I felt like it should have been so much harder than it was - never mind the fact that I ran the last 10 miles in agony - my brain didn't care about that. Apparently I thought that if I was not dragging myself crawling across the finish line, that I didn't try hard enough. I know, I know - I'm really hard on myself. But there was an overwhelming feeling of "this is NOT ENOUGH" that followed me around for days after the run.
On Tuesday night I talked to a colleague who is also a fellow runner and Triathlete about my feelings. He assured me that what I was feeling was totally normal and a small weight was lifted. I started to feel a bit better about my accomplishment and see it as that. Tuesday was also when I wrote my Race Report blog, so reliving it mile by mile helped a lot in getting my brain to adjust to the reality of the situation.
Wednesday was the real day of change. For 5 days I had really been secluded from my normal world. I was around only my parents and my boyfriend, who love me and support me, but were really very one-note about the whole experience and I was ready to be done with their opinions about it and share my feelings and experiences with other people in my life. So while I was having my limbs joyfully massaged on Wednesday I chatted about it with my massage therapist, received accolades from my friends and colleagues all day at my first day back to work, and even got to show off my medal to my girls at Starbucks. It felt so good. And it finally sunk in that I had just done something BIG.
I still struggle with feelings of my accomplishment not being good enough, but I suppose that's what is going to propel me forward to do another one. I already know that I'm signed up to do the Chicago Triathlon next summer, but I know in my heart that I'm not done with the marathon. Some day I will train and run again. It's who I am now. I am a runner - and I am a runner who runs FAR.
There are different accomplishments in running. For each of us, the weight of those accomplishments is different. For me, the marathon was a big deal - but so was my first 5K, and my first 8K and 10K and 15K and Half Marathon. So I guess part of my thought process and a good part of my disappointment was actually in that the marathon was simply the next distance to reach. And OF COURSE I was going to reach it. Duh. But I suppose it's always fun to work it up into this impossible feat in your mind, to think that the more unattainable it is, the better it's going to feel when you DO attain it.
But an equally proud moment for me happened this week. All by myself. No crowd, no cheering, no back-up support, and no glorified finish line. On Monday I ran again. It was only 3 miles. An ease back into the sport and the discipline that I have spent so many hours over the past year doing. But I did it. I went out for a run after the marathon. I am running again. And to me, that's as much of an accomplishment as running that penultimate race is. I am a runner - and that short run on Monday only served to prove that to me again.
So in the spirit of getting back to it, this week has been all about GETTING BACK TO IT. The Marathon was a wonderful challenge, and 9 months of something else other than weight loss on which to concentrate. But I learned a lot of things while out there on the trail about myself and about my methods of discipline and about what I need to keep doing it day after day after day. So unless I can now apply those methods to the next goal, what good was learning them in the first place?
So as I venture back into my next challenge - losing another 50 pounds - I'm doing it as a marathoner. A runner who knows what hard work is, how tough it is to be disciplined and focused on one particular area of life, and how to apply the same tools and knowledge to other hard tasks. And so far, so good. I have been re-Sparked this week and have had an insane drive to stay on target with my eating and calorie counting. I started a new Team that I am thrilled to be a part of. And I am anticipating a successful first weekend, despite a trip to visit friends out of state. I'm feeling inspired and empowered right now and I want to ride that wave as long as possible. Spark even rewarded me today by making me Motivator of the Day. Sweet! But for those of you who are just learning about me and my journey today because of that status, I urge you to head back in my blogs a few months. Things have NOT been all unicorns and rainbows for me this year, and it's taken me a LONG time to get back to this point where I am ready and able to lose more weight.
Our journeys here all ebb and flow. That's life. The brain is the heaviest part of the body when we start a weight loss journey, and regardless of how much and how fast the body can lose pounds, the brain moves at a totally different speed - completely independent of anything else you do or plan or want. My brain moved QUICKLY over my first year here. I was ready for a change. But my plateau has been as much mental as it has been physical, and I have been unwilling and unable to make my brain move any faster up to this point. I can only hope that this marathon journey and the mental work that I have done to master my body in that challenge has prepared me to move forward with my next goal. So far this week I have managed to lose EIGHT pounds of water weight that I put on while eating like a fiend to train for the race. So I'm officially back to my lowest weight and ready to rock on getting even more gone.
There is life after running the Marathon. When you're training for it, this is the part that doesn't make it into your imagination. Put I have done it, and lived to tell the tale, and now that I'm on the other side of it, there is only more road ahead of me. But what I make of that new road is up to me.
One foot in front of the other. I did it for 26.2 miles. I can do it for a million more (literally and figuratively)!
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Well... I managed to write the title and now I have writer's block. I've been staring at the blinky cursor thingy for about 10 minutes now...
Where does one start when trying to describe running their first Marathon?
The day before? The night before? The Expo? The beginning?
How about at the end?
Yeah - the end sounds good. Because it's at the end that I finally get to say:
I AM A MARATHONER!!!
And this is the story of the one weekend in my life that took me from being "just a runner" to "a runner who has officially completed a marathon". This is the culmination of the last 9 months of training, 26 weeks of blogging about it, and the who, what, where, when and how that got me over that finish line and earned me this:
My parents arrived in town on Friday night with a boatload of mac and cheese from Costco, fresh bread and beer. It was a carb-loader's paradise! I was happy to see them after a little bit of an earlier-in-the-day scheduling snafu with my massage appointment. Long story short, I was scheduled for 3pm, when they called to confirm they confirmed me for 3:30pm, and then I was late and missed half of my (most important) massage before race day. Thankfully, my massage therapist felt so bad about it, he stayed overtime to get me back on the table after all his other appointments and gave me a full 35 minutes in addition to the previous 15, so I was good and worked out!
Friday night was a fairly regular night for me - I had to do tech for my show, which was actually really great at keeping my mind occupied. By the time I went home I fell into bed for a really good night's sleep, and was told to wake up the next morning only when I felt I'd had enough sleep to go fetch my parents for lunch and a trip to the Expo.
So on Saturday afternoon around noon, I meandered downtown to the condo that I had booked for mom & dad to a spread of bacon and eggs and English muffins that they had prepared for me in their little kitchen. We worked out some of the game plan for the day and then headed over to the shuttle buses taking runners to and from the Convention Center. It took quite a while to get there, but once in the hall the excitement was pretty fierce. We were greeting by the huge branding signage:
Once up the escalators, I went straight to the pick-up area to get my bib and race packet. Number 50121!!!
We spent some time browsing the Expo, checking out all the fun gear and cool t-shirts. I couldn't really decide on anything specific that I wanted even though I went in with getting a pair of compression socks and a new sports bra in mind. I think my brain was just on overload at that point and I wasn't really capable of making a decision about anything. We dropped off 2 pairs of my used shoes to send to Haiti (something that I really wanted to do since I didn't end up running for a charity this time around), and I had to stand in line for a little while to change the size of my race shirt. I had ordered a medium, which is the size I wear in all my running gear, but the Nike tops were REALLY small in the women's sizes, so since everyone was changing their mediums to larges, I had to wait in a line of women who were all waiting for someone to come turn one in since they were all out of large and extra-large. But I finally got one! After which we went to visit the NikeTown store to peruse their official race wear.
The theme this year was "Own Chicago"
If you scanned your race bib, your name came up on a screen for a pretty cool photo op!
And guess who I found?
The "Grandfather" of the Marathon himself, Hal Higdon. It was more than my hand that was shaking when I reached out to shake his. I think my whole body was in tremors I was so nervous! Although, I do have to say, he wasn't exactly "nice". He took the picture, and I know it was the end of Day 2 of standing in the Expo hall, but he didn't exactly have a lot of "bedside manner" at that point in the day. Maybe it's because I didn't have my copy of "Marathon" to sign - although I wish that I had thought to bring it.
The one thing I DO regret, is not buying the Marathonfoto Exhibition deal of $100 worth of photos for $65. I know I am going to want stuff from them, and I should have bought it, but by the time we came across their booth, I was tired, my feet were starting to hurt from walking around on the concrete floors, and I just wanted to get out of there and go home to rest. Hal warns about the danger of the Expo in his book, and after meeting him, it's hard not to take him seriously - "WHY are you on your feet walking around when you should be at home resting your legs?"
All in - we spent more time at the Expo than I should have, but it's hard to leave when it's your first invitation to the dance. But since it took us more time to get home after that than expected as well, all of sudden my nerves came crashing down on me and I started to panic a little bit about how much I had left to do that night. Once we got home, my parents thankfully took over the dinner-making duties while I threw my running clothes in the wash and started laying out and packing my bags for the next day. I had made lists of everything I didn't want to forget in advance, but running around my house that late in the game was not exactly "getting off my feet" so you could say that I was more than just a little stressed. I also got it in my mind that I HAD to watch "Spirit of the Marathon" before the next morning. A number of my friends who have run before recommended it to me highly and said it was definitely the thing to watch to get me in the mood. WRONG. We eventually DID sit down to watch it after dinner and it did nothing but give me nightmares. As any good movie should, the first half sets up all the challenges of training and the situations that all the profiled runners have to overcome to get to race day - but unfortunately, it spends a lot of time on detailing the horrible injuries associated with running and the possible things that can go wrong on race day (including death), and that was just not the thing that I wanted to be thinking about right before bed. I have been nursing a bad hip and knee for a couple of weeks, and I was already worried enough that they were going to slow me up, or possibly prevent me from finishing, so seeing a movie that detailed all the things that could go wrong only made me more nervous. I ended up stopping it mid-way through after a section about the power of female runners. At least we ended it on a good-enough note. But I should have followed my own advice from last week about not reading anything, which also should include WATCHING anything, right before the race. Information shut-down. It's all about YOU and nothing but YOU before the race.
My choice of pre-race fuel for dinner was a traditional one for me - steak and a baked potato. Most runners will choose to eat the pasta dinner the night before, but I like to super-carb up 2 nights before with the heavy pasta, and then make sure I have AMPLE amounts of protein in my system the night before to sustain that. The baked potato provides a ton of potassium (more than a banana) and lots of dense carbs as well. And I always pair the above with a dark green of some sort - broccoli, steamed spinach, or in this case, an arugula salad with tomatoes and mozzarella did the trick nicely. My parents picked up these gorgeous 12oz steaks from Costco, cooked medium rare (YUM), and I topped off the whole thing with some buttered bread and a nice, dark beer. Some people are against the consumption of alcohol the day before, but I find that one beer with my dinner relaxes me in addition to providing an extra carb boost, and I can usually sleep for at least a couple hours after a dinner like that.
So then it was to bed for a fitful night's "sleep" - can't say I wasn't prepared for that though. Here's my gear set-up all laid out for the next morning:
I have another pre-race tradition of doing an extended version of my daily stretching routine with my foam roller right before bed. Most of it involves standard stretches and yoga poses that I can cycle through in about 8 minutes every morning, but the extended version allows a full 5 deep breaths (or more) in each pose and a full-body roll-out of all my major muscle groups, also while deep breathing. It takes about 30 minutes to do, relaxes me as much as possible, and gets the oxygen flowing so that I can have a restful sleep and optimal muscles the next day.
I woke up every hour on the hour to check my alarm clock...
5am. The alarm finally goes off. And I practically BOLTED out of bed. I padded into the bathroom for a warm-up shower to get my muscles moving (something that I don't usually do on race mornings, but because the temperature had dipped outside so much overnight, I wanted to make sure this time that I left time for to give myself every opportunity not to seize from the cold). Since I was staying with Nikhil, I left him to another hour of sleep while I choked down the "super breakfast" that I had packed for myself the night before - loaded oatmeal (which I could only get through half of), a banana, black tea, a caffeinated coconut water latte drink (new on the market and TOTALLY effective, I really like them), a cheese string, and a large glass of water.
6am. Already on my 3rd trip to the bathroom to attempt to "vacate myself" before heading to the start line. Every runner that I know fears tummy issues during the race, and so I wanted to make sure that I was good and empty. No issues there - my nervous bladder determined that for me. And finally into my running gear, trying to take big, calming breaths through the whole thing, while honestly feeling like I might vomit. By this point, Nikhil was awake and getting ready as well, and trying to keep me as calm as possible. He is very good at talking me through my game plan and alleviated some of the nerves.
6:45am. Out the door and on our way to the first checkpoint on my plan to meet up with my parents and other folks who were there to cheer me on. At this point, seeing all the other runners actually helped a lot. Having been through many race starts at this point in my running career, it was like an old, familiar feeling, and there was a sense of calm that came over me knowing that I was in the company of so many other people from all different walks of life.
At the meet-up point with Nikhil - wearing THREE layers of clothing cause it was SO cold outside! 42 degrees when we started running.
7:30am. One last chance to get rid of anything you don't want to take with you :)
7:45am. In the Start Corrals! I was all the way back in M, but there were still hundreds of people behind me!
8:20am. Almost like clockwork, we were off and running. My parent's first checkpoint was the Randolph Street Bridge that overlooks the start line. They just made it in time to see me cross under and wave at them. I was only about 300 meters in at that point, but it was the perfect set-up for the rest of the race. They were so excited and I was so excited and I just KNEW that THIS was going to be a great day.
Mile 1-3 - The standard Chicago Race start-point, heading north on Columbus Drive to Grand Ave and then west to make a turn south on State Street to run by the famous Chicago Theater, continuing south to Jackson and the rounding north again on LaSalle to start the longer trek to the Lincoln Park Zoo. After seeing my parents at the first stop, I wasn't expecting anyone for the next couple of miles, so I set my sights on determining my pace, making sure I wasn't going out too fast, and just getting my race legs under me. I have to be honest that after a 2-week taper, you kind of feel a bit like Bambi out there. But once the legs remember how to work and warm up a bit, things felt pretty darn good all round. My hip was behaving and I was able to keep a decent 12 to 12:30 pace which is exactly where I wanted to be. My parents surprised me by making the second checkpoint along the way and called out to me around Mile 2. At that point I decided that this was going to be pretty darn fun finding them in the crowds, and I immediately started dividing up my race by where people were going to be located, which worked great for inspiration. Right on schedule, a group of my running friends were at Mile 3 right before crossing the bridge at Wacker, and I don't know who was more excited to see who! I got a high five from my friend Maureen that on a cold hand literally stayed with me for the next mile! Yowza!
Mile 3.5-7.5 - The first rest stop after the 5K mark, the long run up LaSalle Drive, through Lincoln Park Zoo and to the furthest north point on the route at Addison and Broadway - right next to Wrigley Field where the Cubs play. I did opt to walk halfway through this stop just to get a cup of COLD water in me and to conserve some of my energy even though I wasn't feeling like I needed a break at all. I was FREEZING, having shed my hoodie and gloves at this point for just my race tank. This was one of the windiest sections of the route and we were definitely fighting cold head-winds at some points which was slightly unpleasant, but far better than the alternative, so it was here that I adopted my mantra that took me through the rest of the race - "Relax & Focus" became the phrase that reminded me to breath, make sure my shoulders were down, my head was up, and my gaze was focused at least 3 stoplights in the distance to keep running towards that end point. Since I was scheduled to see Kathy (LOTUSFLOWER) and her family at the Zoo, I started looking for them around Mile 5, but unfortunately missed them at this point. Thankfully it was early enough in the race, and the excitement of the start was still with me enough to fuel me forward. I had already canned one hour of running and didn't feel at all like it! This is also the point in the race that "Bacon" became my running-mate (a guy dressed as a slice of bacon), so it was entertaining to say the least to be running in a pack of people that was greeted by all the spectators with a "GO BACON!" - hahaha! Both my parents and my running friends made it to the furthest north point and I saw them both within 200 meters of each other. Another huge boost of energy from that siting made for a very speedy couple of miles.
Mile 8-12.5 - Probably one of my favorite chunks of the race. At this point I was still feeling really good, I was right on schedule, and we were running down Broadway through Boystown, Park West and Old Town (some of my favorite Chicago neighbourhoods). The crowd support and entertainment here were amazing! In Boystown (one of our LGBT neighbourhoods), there was a stage performance of Drag Queens and the rainbow flags were flying. It was colourful and exciting and definitely took your mind off what you were doing and how far you had left to go, if only momentarily. Park West is a gorgeous section of town with beautiful tree-lined streets all changing colours this time of year, and the Native Indian Drum Circle came out to play for us with almost a full city block of drummers - so cool! My friend Chris was standing at the corner of Webster & Sedgwick and he spotted me coming from about a block away. He announced my arrival with a booming "JENN KINCAID! YOU ARE KILLING THIS KINCAID! I'LL SEE YOU FURTHER DOWN THE LINE!" And not a block later, a surprise siting by my custodian from work who had come out to see if he could spot me and just happened to get lucky! He called to me and waved and took a picture of me as I ran by. Into Old Town and straight down Wells Street - I know I recall being there, but my focus on getting to the next rest stop and the Half was SO strong at this point that I honestly don't remember much of it. We even had breakfast on Wells this morning and I said to my parents, "I know I ran here, but it's all a blur right now." But I did make it to the 12.5 mile aid station and my second GU of the day. My stomach was actually growling at this point, so I knew I was going to need something solid later on in the race. The GU would have to do for now.
Mile 13 - Round the corner on Adams and over the bridge for the 5th of 6 Chicago River crossings and I had made it to 13.1! This was supposed to be a big rendezvous point for all of my teams, but the only ones who made it were the girls (my running buddies) since I was SO close to my projected schedule that mom, dad and Nikhil just could make it with the train schedule. My projected Half time was 2:45 and I made it in 2:49 (with a running clock, so that accounts for Aid Station breaks as well at this point). But the girls gave me another boost of energy, more cheers and high-fives, and sent me on my way for the second half of the marathon!
Mile 14-19 - Not gonna lie, this part of the race is where it started to suck just a little. This is the west leg of the route that goes all the way out to Damen Ave just south of the United Center. While the neighbourhoods are pretty, and the view running back towards the Sears Tower (it will never be Willis in my book!) is pretty awesome, the end seems FAR away at this point and the miles don't tick my nearly as fast as you want them to. My body was genuinely starting to slow down at this point and when I slowed to walk at the Aid Station just past mile 16, my left knee gave in and I succumbed to a limp that I held for the rest of the race. I knew to look for another set of friends just past mile 14.5 and thankfully they found me which was awesome because I was absolutely needing the boost at that point. They were holding a big sign with "GO JENN!" on it. I have such GREAT people in my life! I hobbled through Greektown and Little Italy, testing out my knee to see how far I could push it. I knew it was nothing super serious and just due to my IT band and upper calf muscles tightening too much, but the pain was pretty real and every time I would start running after that point I would have to drag my left leg for a few steps until my muscles remembered how to bend and flex properly. I stopped a couple of times to stretch out my leg, do a couple of lateral squats, and massage my IT band and hamstring which seemed to help enough to keep me going. My friend Chris appeared again right before mile 19 (BLESS HIM to trek all the way out to that furthest southwest point on the route) and managed to spur me on again calling after me: "I'LL SEE YOU AT THE FINISH LINE KINCAID!!!" This was also the point in the race that I saw the "Super Team" - a group of runners in Avengers costumes - and I thought, well, if they can do this, so can I!
Mile 20-22 - Mile 19-20 took us through Pilsen - my second favorite part of the race. It is known that Pilsen always puts on a GREAT show for the marathoners and they definitely didn't disappoint this year. Huge Spanish puppet costumes, a man and a woman, that almost looked like giant pinatas were dancing through the streets and the crowd support yelling and dancing to the oompa oompa tuba music was sensational! It looked like the entire neighbourhood was out on the streets, handing out orange slices and candy to the runners. The energy came right where I needed it and I managed to run pretty much the entire next 2 miles to the banana stop! Thank god. I absolutely needed some solid food. Though my stomach was starting to lurch a little through the last couple of miles at this point, the banana sat very well with me and gave me the fuel my body was looking for. The tummy grumbles and discomfort went away almost immediately. I followed that up with a couple of pretzels from a supporter who was handing them out, although I needed another water stop so badly at that point, it took me almost a full city block to chew and swallow ONE pretzel! Although they looked amazing, I opted not to go for the orange slices in Pilsen because I didn't know what my stomach would do with citrus and it wasn't in my plan, so I was determined to stick to my pre-determined race plan. Unfortunately, this leg of the race was also the scariest for me. This was a record low year because of the cooler temperatures for casualties, but there was one man who had a heart attack and 10 others who were taken to the hospital. Between Mile 20-21, I saw a paramedic running a full-tilt up the street to a man who had collapsed right in front of me. I had to run around him as the paramedics attended to him, checking for his pulse and administering CPR. He was unconscious for sure, but was young, probably my age or just a little older. I knew I was still feeling fine at this point, but the sight is enough to scare you and remind you of what CAN happen, so I made sure to be doubly careful of checking my "internal threshold" for the rest of the race to make sure that I was in tune with how my body was feeling. One I cleared that scene, however, I was on my way to Chinatown and FINALLY saw Kathy and her family near the 21 mile marker. I was ELATED to see them - she had her husband and kids with her and I knew how much effort she had put into coming out to support me, so I was all smiles when I finally saw her. And then I saw my parents again about half a mile later, so that was another stockpile of good energy to keep pushing me forward. Dad even got a good picture from the Cermak Red Line stop coming into Chinatown of the runners en route!
Mile 22-25 - This physically and mentally felt like the LONGEST 3 miles ever. I walked a good portion of this, my estimate is that I walked about half of each mile and ran the rest on and off. I was still using my mantra and focusing into the distance, but I was using it now more for "run to the bridge, or the next stoplight, or that sign post, and then walk" than I was for straight running with the pull to the finish. This was the furthest south leg of the route down Wentworth Ave through Chinatown and south towards US Cellular Field where the Sox play. There's almost an evil trick at the end where you run east for a jaunt over the highway and you THINK you're at the ending point, only to find out that you turn right after the bridge instead of left to continue your jaunt south another full city block. I was on my own for this 3 miles, no energy boosts from friends or family and since we were nearing 6 hours in since the start of the first wave of Elite racers, were getting pretty thin in the crowd support department as well. It got very quiet. And running got VERY painful for me at this point. My knee was threatening to give out all the way, so I had to take it very slow when I was running, and stretch and walk as much as possible. It was during this 3 miles that I added about 30 minutes to my "dream" finish time of 5:15, even though my goal time was really about 5:36. But I could see the 40K sign looming in the distance and I knew what that meant, so I pushed myself to go for it and I wasn't disappointed. Standing between the 40K sign and the 25 mile marker were my girls! Still cheering, still showing strong support to get me into that final mile. I teared up a little at that point, said "I love you guys, thank you SO much for being here, I needed to see you so badly!" and then started a slow jog again with one finger in the air - ONE MORE! ONE MORE MILE.
Mile 26 - Since this is right where Nikhil lives, I was all of a sudden thrust back into home turf territory. I started to recognize the buildings around me and was humbled to run past the Firehouse where a HUGE American flag was hanging from an extended fire truck ladder right out into the middle of the street. I wanted to run the whole final mile, but my knee was just too sore, so I managed a run/walk until I hit the sign that said 800m. From there I could see Roosevelt Drive, I could see the massive crowds waiting to push us up that final hill, and I kicked so hard with everything I had left in me that to my surprise it almost felt easy. There was NO way that I wasn't going to run that final hill. All of it. No more walking, I was running this race home. Michigan Ave, past Nikhil's building, rounding the corner at Roosevelt road and weaving in and out of the other runners and I took the hill in perfect stride. My lungs were almost bursting from the cold air intake at the top, but I knew the final stretch was all downhill from here!
The Final .2! - My legs were flying and my eyes were scanning the crowd. I had reached the spectator bleachers and I could SEE the Finish Line. My eyes welled up and I had to choke back my emotions as my family screamed my name. They had made it! I had made it! And I threw my arms in the air as my feet hit the timing boards. My Chicago Marathon Finish Time: 5:41:42. I DID IT. I broke immediately into dry sobs as my legs tried to remember how to walk and a volunteer caped me with a heat blanket. I continued my walk down the Finisher's Chute to collect water and snacks and a recovery drink, but not before I was officially medalled and congratulated by a volunteer. I thanked her through tears that had finally found their way to my face after trying to calm myself down enough to breath (I was still trying to catch my breath from running and the emotion of all of it was almost preventing me from doing that). My dad caught this pic of me coming down the chute:
At this point I just wanted to get to the meet-up point to see my family so I bypassed the lines for the official finisher's photo, thinking I could come back later. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and once out of that area, I wasn't allowed back in, so I will not have an "Official" photo on the Marathon backdrop. Oh well. There will be plenty of other photos that surface from the race photogs that I can choose from. I would not have given up seeing my family to stand in line for 10 minutes for the world. I spotted my dad first who took me in his arms, emotion overcoming him as well, and I managed to choke out "I'm a Marathoner!" to which he replied, "You most certainly are, and SO much more than that!" Nikhil was next - pride all over his face, I was just so happy to see him. Mom had gone to invest in some beautiful roses and a Congratulations balloon that she came running back with to more tears and big hugs all around. My legs were killing me but I was just so pumped that it didn't matter. We hugged and posed for some silly pictures before opting to walk a little in search of food.
Who just ran A MARATHON???
THIS GIRL DID!!!
Since getting back over to the post-marathon party would have required walking FURTHER away from home only to have to walk back, I opted not to go. Because I don't know what was there, I honestly don't know what I was or wasn't missing, but I rather enjoyed walking into one of my favorite restaurants on Michigan Ave (Pita Heaven) to a large party of spectators who were also dining. Since I was the only one in the place with a medal, everyone was looking at me and smiling and giving their congrats. I ordered a HUGE plate of chicken gyro and potatoes and pita bread and salad and the four of us enjoyed a much deserved lunch together over phone and text accolades from friends and family members who had been tracking me from all other parts of North America.
After lunch, my mom & dad retired to their condo and Nikhil and I went back to his place for a LONG soak in the tub and a rest. I was too pumped to sleep much, but I was able to lie down and ice my knee and get my compression socks on to start the healing process. Later in the evening, I cabbed it over to mom and dad's place where we reminisced about the day, I heard the tales from their perspective, and we enjoyed some egg rolls from Chinatown that they ended up having to buy so they could use the bathroom! Haha. I relaxed with a couple of rum and cokes that hit the spot and finally knocked me out, and returned home with a smile on my face for a DEEP sleep.
Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving and my parents cooked me a full turkey dinner at my place while I dropped off my medal at Fleet Feet to have it engraved. So much to be thankful for this year. And surely a Thanksgiving to remember for years and years to come.
Today I saw off my family and have been slowly trying to return to a normal schedule - catching up on emails and making sure that anything urgent is taken care of before heading back to work tomorrow. For a brief moment in time, I was Super Woman. And although I have to return to mortal life now, I bring with me something really incredible that no one can ever take away from me. From this point on, I am a Marathoner. Something that only a very small fraction of the world can say that they have accomplished. Will I do it again? I don't know yet. But what I do know is that I did it once. And that is an indescribable feeling that changes you forever.
WHO JUST RAN A MARATHON???
THIS GIRL DID!!!
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