Monday, June 01, 2009
It's Monday morning, 22 hours post marathon finish and I'm sitting in my easy chair with ice on my knee, ankle and back, and my medal around my neck. I debated whether or not to put that medal on this morning since I had no plans of leaving the house, but hey - I earned it and I want to remember the glory while I nurse my aches today
As you may know, I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to start this marathon, let alone finish it, due to achilles tendonitis. I've been off my feet for most of the past two weeks, taking my nsaids and icing my ankle every day. I spent a few too many hours at the race expo shopping and tasting goodies and shopping some more... but that is all part of the race experience. I prefer to go to the expo two days before the race so that I can spend the last 24 hours resting but that just didn't work out this time. When I got to my hotel room I cleaned out my "expo" bag, read everything written about the race and then proceeded to figure out what I would wear. The weather was cool and overcast, atypical for San Diego at this time of year, so I wondered whether to go with a singlet or a t-shirt? Wear a long sleeve shirt for the morning or my running jacket? Ironically, it took me as long to make these decisions as it took me to run the first 5 miles of the race LOL. I decided on a shirt over a singlet, and then packed my race belt.
I didn't sleep on Saturday night (I never do before a race), I just rested, and got up at 3:30 a.m. Our plan was to try to catch the 5 am hotel shuttle to the start line, which we did. The race start area was reminiscent of an olympic village, on a small scale. There were rows of tents with cytomax, fruit, snacks, water, and coffee; the perimeter was marked by hundreds of UPS trucks ready to check race bags; the center of the "village" had massage therapists loosening up the early arriving runners, medical tents dispensing body glide, bandages and ace wraps, and of course, there were hundreds and hundreds of porta-pottys, with lines of people snaking in all directions. Runners were congregating - there were the running Elvis', the Team in Training clusters, the super heroes, and yes, the pink-hatted Lopers (my club). I had a quick warm-up massage and hung out a bit with my club and then it was off to the starting corrals. The Marine Corps marching band played through the start line and America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner were sung. As a veteran I am always moved to tears during these songs... unfortunately not everyone around me felt the same way and the crowd started surging around me towards the start line as I stood at attention. I found myself situated nearly 2 corrals father back than when I started but wasn't too bothered by it since my time starts when i cross the start line, not when the gun goes off.
I'm feeling pretty good right now... my ankle feels strong and I'm ready to start... until I actually start running. Every time my left foot hits the ground I feel the shock right up my achilles tendon. I slog through the first few miles hoping that it will loosen up (even though I know that tendons don't "loosen up" the way muscles do). I'm taking it slow, running about 1 minute slower per mile than i'd like in hopes of easing my ankle in to the rest of the run. Unfortunately, by mile 8 I'm forced to start limping during my walk intervals in order to give my ankle a little relief. Even as i limp along I'm aware that this very action that relieves my ankle pain will create a plethora of other muscle problems -- back, hamstring, and calf muscles will all scream at me before the race is over -- but for now, its a brief respite.
We are making our way along the 163, a highway that has been closed for the race, and with each run interval I find myself pulling farther away from Stacy and Hazel. I check my garmin, I'm not running any faster than before, so they must be slowing down? The highway has a pronounced camber to it and I keep weaving from one side to the other trying to find the most level ground. The camber is most disturbing when the downhill side is on my right, I suppose because my left foot strikes ground sooner than my right, therefore hitting harder than expected. I remember thinking "Lord, I'll be glad when we are off this part of the route"!! During our walk breaks I slow down so that they can catch up to me. And so it goes, with us yo-yo-ing apart and together again. We finally get back onto regular streets somewhere after mile 11 and proceed together for awhile... then Stacy and Hazel encourage me to move on without them. Stacy is feeling like she's pushing too hard and really wants to walk a bit more, and Hazel has committed to staying with her. I'm feeling like I've been holding back in spite of my injury and want to push a little harder, so after 12.25 miles I forge ahead on my own. My husband is waiting for me at mile 14 and that thought helps to distract me from the growing pain in my hip (all that limping is catching up with me already!). When I reach him all I can think about is refilling my bottle with sport drink and forging on, hoping to make up some time. I didn't realize I had a time goal until I saw that we had run a 3 hour half... much slower than my recent times... and I decided to see if I couldn't maybe pick up the pace and break 6 hours. Typically, your full marathon time is roughly double your half time plus 10-15 minutes. That meant that I needed to run the next 12.5 miles in record time to reach my goal!
I choose to ignore my pain and focus on my intervals while I watched my garmin for a decrease in my average pace. I admit it, I'm a number junkie. I hated that we lost 5 minutes at a 12 mile potty stop, causing our average pace to jump from 13:15 to 13:37... I knew I wouldn't see a 12 minute average for this race, the slow start and injuries would guarantee that, but I hoped to bring it down to something between 13:15 and 13:30, which would allow me to finish in about 5:47-5:55. All seemed to go according to plan until around mile 15 --- my calves and quads started to spasm each time I transitioned from a walk to a run. Since I choose to run this race using Galloway's 1:1 ratio, that meant I was dealing with this painful transition every other minute! I have been troubled by this before and knew that it meant my electrolytes were out of balance in spite of drinking only sports drinks during the run... I started looking for salt and found some spectators with pretzels. Have you ever tried to chew pretzels while running? It feels and tastes like drywall in your mouth, and they didn't even taste salty to me... a bad sign, indeed. I finally came upon a medical tent around mile 16.50 and got a salt packet - that's right, just like the ones at McDonalds - which I proceeded to pour directly into my mouth and chase down with cytomax. My husband was going to meet me next at mile 22, so it would be awhile before I could get to my electrolyte supplements... Luckily I came across another Loper who had a cell phone and i called ahead, asking dh to have two electrolyte tabs waiting for me. For the next 5 miles I took one to two salt packets from every medical tent I passed and ate them. Gross, but effective. My cramps never went away but at least they didn't become any worse either. The one minute walk intervals seemed to fly by, but the run intervals seemed to go on forever...
When I got to my husband just past mile 22 I downed my salt tabs, refilled my sport bottle and rushed off... at this point I could see that I might actually make my time goal, but had no time to stand and chat. I grabbed a frozen washcloth (one of the best things I know of to give you new life on a long hot run!) and took off.
I must admit that I added a few more walk intervals into my miles at this point, but always stayed conscious of my average pace and final time goal... every step was a mental and physical struggle, but this is where the Resolve to Finish really came into play. I kept telling myself, over and over, "one minute at a time, one mile at a time" until I actually entered the Marine base. The course snaked through the base and I couldn't tell where the finish line was... my garmin already had me at over 26.2 miles so I knew it couldn't be too far, but this is the part of every race where the "old me" tries to take over - my insecure self starts talking and saying that I might as well walk, I can't possibly run the rest of the way, it doesn't matter anyway, I've gone a marathon's distance already, why keep running? Then the "new, athletic me" tries to debate the merits of running - the glory of finishing, the faster chip time, reminding me that there's no reason to save any energy now... Unfortunately, it is a mental battle that I'm still trying to learn to fight and win as an athlete. I admit, I gave in to the old me more than I'm proud of and continued to use my intervals right up to the very end. i ran across the finish line, but not a moment before I had too, and that is my only regret for the race. I would like to let go of the "old" way of thinking and believe, from the bottom of my heart to the top of my head that I CAN run longer and farther than I think I can, and actually stop the naysayer in my head from ever being heard again. I didn't give that too much thought at the time because the announcer was calling out my name as I crossed the line! I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and picked up my medal. Rather than proceed through the food lines and medical tents, I chose to stay at the finish line and greet the others from my pace group that had elected to run solo or with their other friends... it was a joy to see them come in and I felt lucky to be able to stand there and offer them their first congratulatory hug! Stacy and Hazel finished 29 minutes later and were surprised to see me yelling and waving at them as they crossed the line!
We made our way out to the family reunion area and chatted wtih other Lopers about the race and the day. Honestly, I was not looking forward to the 90 minute drive home! I knew that as soon as i stopped moving I would stiffen up... yet I couldn't stay there forever, so we headed to the shuttles which would take us off the base and to our car.
I'm stiff and sore today, which is to be expected, but I'm proud of what I accomplished yesterday - I not only got a new PR, but achieved it in spite of the challenges I faced. I remembered that I could only run the race I had in me for that day, and I ran that race to the best of my abilities!
Thursday, May 28, 2009
T minus 2 days and a wake-up, and I'm having a crisis of confidence.
I have come full circle since my first (and only) full marathon 14 months ago. I started training for that goal with every intention and belief that I would accomplish it - failure was NOT an option. Although I had anxiety over the ever-increasing training distances and often lay awake all night before a club run wondering if I would be able to keep up with my group, I knew in my heart that I WOULD cross that finish line.
You see, I'm stubborn. Not usually one of my best character traits, it has served me well as I endeavor to become an athlete at the ripe age of 48. I have decades of failure programmed into my head, but I have the will and tenacity to change that. I set out to run my first marathon before I turned 50 and I did. My only expectation for myself was to finish - upright, conscious and under my own propulsion (I didn't think there'd be much glory awaiting an overweight middle aged woman crawling, or worse - being dragged - across the finish line). I rode the emotional roller coaster of doubts, injuries, accomplishment and elation during my 7 months of training, but I never lost faith that I would get that medal at the end of the 26 miles 385 yards.
I took some time off from running after that first marathon despite of the fact that my recovery consisted of a whole two days. I had to decide whether or not I wanted to continue to run - continue to do the very thing that has NEVER come easily to me. I have tried over the years of my adult life to "become a runner", but the runner's high had always eluded me. I began to doubt there was such a thing, barring pharmaceutical assistance! So I showed up on Sunday mornings once or twice a month to meet some friends and do an easy 4-6 miles, without any weekday running. Then the new running club year started and I committed to becoming a pace group leader - persuaded in large part by my mentor (who was also my former pace group leader) that I had insight and experience to share (I think he just wanted me to co-lead with him so he could take a few Sundays off for church!). I was quite sure he was brain damaged to think so (which isn't far from the truth, but more on that later) but I figured I might as well keep showing up since I had worked so hard to learn to run in the first place.
In order to stay motivated I signed up for a half marathon two months out and added some training miles before and after my club runs. It was not fun, but I was determined (there we go again, my stubborn streak was in full bloom) to improve my stamina so that I wouldn't fall behind all the new runners in my pace group.
As luck would have it, my mentor suffered a brain aneurysm 4.5 months into our training. Thankfully he had emergency surgery and is recovering fully, but it took him out of running for rest of the year. That meant that I was the only pace leader for my group... I could no longer hide in Chuck's shadow and just offer quiet support, I had to manage the entire run...
I couldn't take time off, I couldn't sleep in, I couldn't fall behind - people who had never run a marathon depended on me to help them get there, and finish.
It was a blessing. The act of focusing on the success of others enabled me to transition from worrying all night about whether or not I would finish a run to becoming a stronger, faster, more confident runner. I started entering more 1/2 marathons (3 in 4 months) and continued to train my group for their marathon (which I was not initially committed to doing). My group dwindled in size, as is usually the case when the runs get into the 18-22 mile range, and I bonded closely with those few who stuck it out. I was mentally, emotionally and physically ready to run side-by-side with my group from start to finish , insuring that each one of them crossed the finish line under self-propulsion -- until two weeks ago.
One week after my last 1/2 marathon (a new PR for me!) we did our 22 mile run. I felt a little more sore than usual in my IT band and piriformis muscle, but didn't think much of it. The following week I headed out for an "easy" 12 mile run and pulled up lame at 5 miles . I hobbled back to the car and went home to my advil and ice, hoping this was but a temporary setback. Three days later I acknowledged that I had to see a Dr. (thanks SP_Nancy for pushing me!!!), and came away with a diagnosis of acute achilles tendonitis. Rx: No weight bearing, rest, ice and prescription strength antiinflammatories until race day. There went my last two weeks of training/taper. Still, I was optimistic that I would recover and be able to race.
Fast forward one week. I felt pretty good, walked 5.5 miles with my group on Sunday but restrained myself from running, and was able to handle the discomfort the rest of the day without meds. So off I go to Disneyland - the Happiest Place on Earth, right? Not exactly... certainly not after 11 hours on my feet chasing three kids all over the park! My ankle and knee decided that this was too much too soon and started wailing 2 hours before the Parade even began (and 4.5 hours before the fireworks!). What to do, what to do? My friend and her kids came with me, had no transportation, and had come all the way from Atlanta to experience this day; I certainly didn't want to ruin it for them, but I didn't want to ruin race day for me either. Doubts began to set in; if I was in this much pain after walking around for a day (which included sitting breaks, as we managed to get on every slow moving ride there was! Thank you Disney for Pirates and Its a Small World!!! And Autotopia, which the kids did 3 times!!) how could I run a marathon? There are no breaks in a marathon. On a good day my body aches after 20 miles, how could I go farther on a broken body? What if I get swept off the course? Quelle Horreur!!!
So what did I do with all these doubts and anxieties? I tried to stuff them down with frozen lemonade, a hamburger and french fries, dried fruit snacks and oyster crackers. I knew it was bad when even all that food didn't calm me down - it just left me feeling FAT and hobbled, instead of just hobbled
So here I am, 54 hours away from what should be the easiest marathon I'll ever run, with no personal ego at stake, at a pace designed to get everyone of my group to the finish line... and I'm worried sick. Will I be able to run at all? Will I be swept off the course? Will I DNF? Heck, will I even start? Can I, after 11 months of advising, encouraging and supporting others accept my own advice? That finishing is all that matters, and if you can't finish you still did better than those that did not even start? Can I celebrate their success without berating myself for my failure? Will my obstinateness cost me the next six months of running? I am back to where I was when I first started running; full of doubts and anxiety - only now I am lacking the conviction that I will finish.
T minus two days and a wake-up, and I'm having a crisis of confidence...
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
I was trying to think of an appropriate title for this blog, and I realized that I've been counting races this year, and this is my 4th 1/2 this year, but my 5th in my lifetime. Hard to believe, because it feels like I've been doing them forever, but no. I ran my first 1/2 twenty six years ago and didn't run another until last Labor day. Wow.
There is no comparison between my first half all those years ago and now. That one was harder than I expected as the first 4 miles or so were straight uphill and then the next 9 were rolling hills and flats. I was ignorant and a lot younger and just kept moving. I had no expectations because it was my first run and so I think I enjoyed it - until the finish line. I got done and found out that all of my friends had finished over an hour before me, and I was overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and failure. I didn't run another 1/2 until 2008.
This last year and a half mark my rebirth as a runner, and the big difference is that now I KNOW that I am one. Yesterday's race was no longer about finishing; there was never any doubt in my mind that I would - it was about besting my previous time, setting a goal that might be just a little bit unattainable, and then reaching for it. My finish time is relative - not to my friends' as in years ago, but rather in comparison to my own progress.
Truth be told, I had no doubt that I could get a new PR (personal record). During these last few weeks of training I was consistently pulling faster times than in my last race. The question really was "How MUCH faster could I go"? For me, there is a fine line between pushing harder yet doing well and pushing harder and collapsing in writhing pain. Obviously, I want to avoid the latter at all costs, but no one draws that line in neon yellow for me, so how do I know where it is? I decided that I should try to match my Sparkfriend Bev's time of 2:39 - it was six minutes faster than my last race, meaning I would need to drop nearly 30 seconds per mile to make that mark.
After barely 3 hours of sleep my girlfriends and I headed out to the race finish where we would leave our car and be bussed to the start line. It was barely 4 a.m. and the race wouldn't start until 6:30... I thought of that shirt that says "This seemed like a good idea 3 months ago" as I tried to figure out whether or not to wear a throwaway shirt, a long-sleeved shirt I could tie around my waist or my favorite running jacket; in the end, I settled on a garbage bag! I wear a water belt with extra pouches for gels, my inhaler and in this case, my camera, so I really didn't want to be weighed down by anything else.
When we got to the starting corrals we found a few other members of our running club and chatted for awhile, stretching as best as we could in the crowd. I had a bad feeling about the day ... just a sense of malaise that things weren't going to go well, as I'd had no sleep and had many aches and pains before we even started. My friend Hazel and I started out, running from Fashion Island in Newport Beach to Corona Del Mar. We wound our way through lovely tree lined streets jammed with beautiful homes built one on top of the other (welcome to high end beach real estate - CA style) and back towards Newport Beach. By mile 6 we made our way into the Back Bay Ecological Reserve, running on the bike path through what might otherwise be called wetlands but in Newport are referred to as "a gem". I will admit that part of the course was very peaceful. Tall grasses, still water and quite a few birds allowed me to forget that I was running through one of the most expensive pieces of real estate on the West Coast.
At the half-way point I realized that I was on track to break my previous time but not close to matching Bev's so I started to lengthen my run intervals. I had been playing with the intervals in the first half of the race as well, but was still being conservative; now I decided I needed to consistently run longer intervals in order to reduce my overall time without actually running any faster. Throughout the run I was bothered by a nagging feeling of needing to use a restroom, but as soon as I would walk that urgency would go away so I decided to forge ahead. Can I tell you that the mental anxiety of whether or not to stop was far harder than any physical challenge the course presented?
Hazel suggested that we push harder after reaching mile 10, but I reasoned with her that pushing for a full 5k might backfire for me... I'm no sprinter, but rather tend to be slow and steady. I feared tiring out too soon and so we continued on... gradually lowering our average pace per mile by running more and walking less. The last mile and a half included a final turn to the finish, but we had no idea how far we would have to run after turning. Always worrying.... should I push now? Or wait some more? I can certainly bring a kick to the end, but how long can I sustain it? If I kick too early, I'd wind up slowing down as I cross the finish line, and who wants to do that? The decision was actually made for me as I passed the 12.5 mile point - I got a sudden cramp in my calf and told Hazel I needed a walk interval. She decided to run ahead so that she could get a picture of me crossing the finish line. I walked for about 20 seconds when I realized that if I didn't start running again I would regret it later. I thought of a sign I had seen along the course: "Pain is temporary but your times live on the internet forever!" -- and took off.
As I turned the corner I could see the finish line about .2 miles ahead (roughly 385 yards, or nearly four times the length of a football field) and started my kick. I felt strong, my cramp was forgotten, my mind was on one thing only - how close am I to my 2:39 goal? I think I cramped up around 2:36... have I been running for more than a couple minutes? It would be close... I didn't want to stop and look at my Garmin, so I pumped my arms and went as fast as I could - finishing in 2:39:34, only 14 seconds behind Hazel.
As the volunteer draped a medal around my neck I checked my gps and found that I had sprinted the last bit at a six and a half minute/mile pace!! I didn't know I could even run that fast! Which made me wonder... why did I have so much energy left at the end? Why didn't I push myself harder? Why is my fear of failure so strong that I can't push through it until the end is in sight? And what am I going to do differently next time to change that?
I have decided that I would like to run 50 races before I'm 50 years old; this was number 14 in my life, so I have only 36 to go...
Sunday, April 19, 2009
I guess that's not an entirely accurate name for my current state of affairs since my marriage is pretty solid, but I have started to feel like running, which was a unifying activity for us for the past year and a half is starting to become divisive. You see, I am starting to really blossom as a runner and my husband is barely hanging on until he can stop running.
In the past my wonderful husband was always faster than I, had more stamina than I and could start and stop a running program at will with seemingly no negative impact on his body. I, on the other hand, struggled each time I tried to start running. Shin splints, back pain, swollen ankle joints, swollen hands - you name it, I've suffered through it. Add to that the fact that I was slower than molasses going up the hill backwards on a cold winter's morning and you might begin to get the picture... running was not my strong suit! A year and a half ago I decided to try to change that. I joined a marathon training clinic and dragged my dh along - for support, I told him - but really to help him get his high cholesterol under control. Day one I did the prescribed time trial, and he just took off thinking he already knew his pace, why bother with a silly time trial? The clinic leaders recommended that we join a pace group 1-2 minutes slower than our time trial time, so after a 12 minute t.t. I joined the 14 minute group and dh just fell in with the 11 minute group.
For the next 4 or 5 months we went every week and ran with our respective groups, increasing our mileage every week. My group ran 2/3 intervals, while dh walked 1 minute every mile. As our mileage increased I got stronger and dh found himself struggling more and more. I finally convinced him to put his ego aside and join a 12 minute pace group. And so we went... occasionally running together during the week, but always at my "slow" pace... for the next 4 months.
On marathon day my husband decided to run a 13 minute pace but there was no 13 minute pace group so he opted to join my group and run with us. It was truly a joy and a bonding experience to run our first marathon together every step of the way, encouraging each other and crossing the finish line hand in hand. That was when I was sure that running was the prescription for continued closeness after 20+ years of marriage.
Fast forward one year... while we are both still training with the marathon clinic I am far more motivated than my dh. He doesn't want to do another marathon and has run two 1/2's this season without ever doing any weekday running. The past month has really been trying for us - I ran my best 1/2 marathon to date, which was 8 minutes faster than his personal best, and have been consistently "outrunning" him on our group runs. I do not gloat at my increased speed, nor do I belittle his efforts, but he is obviously feeling a bit discouraged. Last weekend I set out to run 20 miles and he stated that he planned to run no more than 13 - until his ego interfered! He passed me on the road and just kept running... until he literally could not take another step, finishing the day at 15 miles. I applauded his efforts but he just couldn't stop himself from minimizing his accomplishment since I ran the full 20.
What in the world is a person to do???? I don't want to stop running, or stop improving, but the fact is that I am becoming more fit and swifter than he and unless he puts some time and effort into his training that is not going to change anytime soon. I will continue to praise his efforts, and hope that his ego is bruised just enough to motivate him to train a bit more, since in the end we will both be winners.
Monday, March 16, 2009
This morning I ran 18 miles and thought nothing of it. That in itself should be cause for celebration, but the truth is that the run was a piece of cake and it gave me plenty of time to think... the real celebration is not that I ran 18 miles, but that I ran 18 miles and thought nothing of it! That I went on with my day the same as if I had done a little 5 mile loop around my neighborhood! No exhaustion, no aches that didn't go away once I stopped running, no limping, gimping or whining.
I'll never forget the first time I ran 18 miles (or 15, or 13.1, or 12 or 10 for that matter!) - I walked around (no, I LIMPED around) for two days pinching myself and muttering like a crazy lady - "18 miles! Can you believe I ran 18 miles? Holy cow! 18 MILES!!" I'm sure everyone who crossed paths with me thought I was suffering from schizophrenia or delusional psychosis what with all that muttering and those disjointed movements! And yet, here I am, a mere 14 months later and the number 18 doesn't even cause me to blink an eye. It is, after all, just a number. It doesn't elicit feelings of dread, anxiety, self doubt or awe; it doesn't bring me joy or make me feel superior in any way. It is, after all, just a number (yes, I know I said that twice; I felt it was worth repeating!).
I realized today, as I ran my 18 miles, that I was, finally, a runner. I'm no longer a 48 year old woman TRYING to run; I'm no longer a fatty wanna-be athlete ATTEMPTING to run; I no longer make excuses for my pace (fast or slow, it is MY pace) -- I just get out there and do what I need to do, and I enjoy the experience of ticking off the miles as I go. It doesn't matter if I turn around at 3 miles for a quick 10k or I turn around at 9 miles as I did today - each one brings its own challenges and rewards and I have learned to just "BE" as I take on each run. I'm actually (I never thought I'd say this!) enjoying my runs.
Now if I could just find the joy in spending 60 minutes on a treadmill...
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