Saturday, March 2, 2013

Muscles, Mantras, & Miles

Yes, this one is about running.

I'm a girl.  I cry every time I watch "Steel Magnolias."  I can't just throw the Victoria's Secret catalog in the recycling bin without looking through it, even if I'm not buying.  I like wearing terribly uncomfortable high heeled shoes.
Pay no attention to the dust.  I totally wear them.
I can recite "The Princess Bride."  I use body wash, not soap, and I put it on floofy, pretty-colored sponges, not washcloths.  More than once, I have said the words, "I don't know why I'm crying, but..."  And, (not to set my gender back or whatever) I'm not so good at parking my car, especially if it involves backing into a space.  I get choked up if the conversation turns to the last season of "Friends", and cried when Grayson proposed on "Cougar Town" because it reminded me of when Monica and Chandler got engaged.  I enjoy looking at wedding photos, even if I don't know the people in them.  Weird as it may sound, I did not cry during labor or when either of my children were first born.  Maybe exhaustion made it too difficult to summon tears?  Maybe my heart is 2 sizes too small, like that of the Grinch?  Although those theories are plausible(ish), I'm pretty sure I know why I didn't cry.  For one thing, I had the two easiest labor/delivery experiences I've ever heard of.  It's rather sickening, really, how easy childbirth was for me.  The other reason I think I didn't cry is that I already felt so close to my babies.  My mom and sister were in the delivery room when both my children were born, and they both teared up at first meeting.  I remember very clearly the feeling of "Oh, I know you!" as soon as my infant was placed in my arms for the first time.  It didn't seem like I was meeting my babe for the first time, either time, it felt completely natural and normal to finally be holding them.

Several hours after Baby was born, though, the tears started, when my brother-in-law visited us in the hospital and brought a gift from my sister.  Inside the prettily wrapped box was this shirt,
a printout of a registration form in my name for the Women's Half Marathon being held 8 months hence, and a card which I could barely read through my tears.  I'm pretty sure the words "you can do this" were on there somewhere, but the sobbing made my brain kinda mushy and it's hard to remember.  Spoiler alert!  She was right.

Race #6- Women's Half Marathon, November 18, 2012

My sister is smart, especially when it comes to running and racing.  As a birthday gift for her sister-in-law, Kristi-Anne, she registered her for the same race, and convinced another friend of ours, Kim, to make it her first half, too.  While it would be Jenn's fifth(?) half-marathon, me and the Ks could all train together for our first.  Jenn hosted a training plan party for us a couple of weeks after I was cleared to run, post-baby.  We used the Smart Coach system from the Runner's World site, and went home with 4 pages of training to-do calendars.
**Alert!** Alert!  **Alert!**
**You're likely not to care about the next part unless you're planning to train for a long distance race.**

The plan was basically 3 weeks on, 1 week off, with each on week including an easy run early in the week, some progressively harder speedwork in the middle of the week, and a long, slow run on the weekend.  All three of us were running about 10-15 miles/week at that point, and the plan took that into account, along with our individual paces and goals.  During the off week, we still put in some miles, but they were all easier runs.  After a few months, we reevaluated and decided to take 3 weeks off of training.  We had started our plans quite a bit sooner than was necessary, and would be ready (according to the Smart Coach, anyway) to run 13 miles 3 weeks before our race.  So, for a while, we just ran when we wanted to, as fast or as slow as we wanted to, and then started training training again 9 weeks before the race.  (It may have been 12 weeks.  If it matters a whole lot to you, I'll look it up on my calendar and tell you for sure.)  

It was great, training together.  Running with friends is nice any way you look at it, but running with friends toward a mutual goal is hard to beat.  By the end of our training, the Ks had raced a 5k and a 10k slightly faster than I, but we were all pretty even during our distance runs.  After a lot (and I mean a LOT) of discussion, we decided to stick together, and to run with the 2 hour pace group.  

The race was held in St. Petersburg, where I was born and raised.  My best childhood friend and her sister-in-law, who live in that area, also decided to run it as their first half.  (No, it is not necessary to keep track of sisters and sisters-in-law for this story.)  All of us out-of-towners arrived the day before the race, picked up our best-yet goody bags, spent some time at the fabulous Expo picking up freebies and quietly complaining to each other about the shocking prices on much of the gear, and then all had dinner together at a great Italian restaurant.  After dinner, the husbands and my oldest nephew went out for dessert.  Both Baby and 5 y.o. went to sleep without much trouble while Husband was out with the men.  Then, at about 9:45, Baby woke up.
Not so much this...

...lots of this.
Turns out, Baby doesn't particularly like sleeping in places other than her own bed.  Every time I would sway/rock/bounce/jiggle her to sleep, she would wake up within seconds of being placed in the port-a-crib.  Every time I would sit down or lay in bed while holding her, she would wake up screaming.  5 y.o. is a sound sleeper, but even he woke up around 12:30 a.m.  Finally, she stayed asleep when I laid her down at about 1:30.  I reset my alarm to give myself more sleep, for 4:25 instead of 4:20.   My back was killing me from having walked her around the hotel room for hours, and I wanted to cry from exhaustion and frustration.  I kept repeating the mantra, "It's just a race" over and over in my head, and also kept reminding myself that I had been sleep deprived for the majority of the preceding months, and that my sister-coach had insisted that the sleep the night before the night before the race was more important than that the night before the race.

I hopped on the shuttle from the hotel lobby (with the 2nd place finisher overall, I might add!) and met up with all the friends and sisters and in-laws I knew at the bag drop area.  It was cold- the coldest day since February.  We took our turns in the port-o-potties, and lined up in our corrals.  The Ks and I were together, but the other 3 were significantly faster, and thus in different starting spots.  During the singing of the National Anthem, Kim and I looked at each other, and one of us said, "Seriously?  What are we doing here?  This is crazy!"  It was crazy.  A half-marathon?  Me?  The same girl who, the only time ever cheating in school, cut short her mile run?  The same girl who was still nursing her baby?  The same girl who had HATED running for over 30 years?  Thirteen point one miles.  No *&$#ing way!  But then, someone loud and important said, "GO!" and the only thought in my head was "just run".  

For the first 5 miles, I was able to stay pretty close to the 2 hour pace runner.  For those that don't know, many races use pacers who somehow, magically, run at the exact goal pace of a lot of people, while holding high a big stick with the finishing time printed on it.  After mile 5, and the first of many cobblestone roads, I kinda slowed down for no reason.  I could still see the Ks, who could still see the pacer, but I wasn't even really thinking about how slow fast I was running.  It's a curse, being able to let my mind wander like that during competition.  I saw my family, and got a burst of speed, I saw Kim dance as she rounded the corner where there was a live band, and couldn't help but smile.  Then, we came to the Pier of Doom.  It was so windy, my earbud kept flying out of my ear.  I felt like I was running in place, and would never be done.  I tried to remember the time, as an 8 or 9 year-old, that I had gone to that same pier with Monique and her family and gotten to play the arcade games, but it was not working one bit.  I couldn't stop thinking about the cold and the wind and the fact that I was going so slow.

I kept the Ks in sight for a while longer, but tried to send them mind messages to go on without me.  I didn't want to hold them back, and I couldn't seem to make myself run any faster.  As I approached a lake, I saw my dear childhood friend coming toward me, having already rounded the lake.  I yelled her name, she waved and smiled, and I almost doubled over in pain.  Turns out, yelling her name had made me pull an abdominal muscle.  It felt like a cramp, but would not go away.  I stretched.  I walked.  I rubbed.  I pressed.  I groaned.  I ran.  Then, started the whole cycle over again.  The Ks were waiting for me at the next water stop, just past mile 9.  I told them about my pain, and they gave me some tips.  By mile 10, I had convinced them that they really should go on without me, as I was not going to be able to keep up and didn't want to ruin their races.  

Around mile 10.5, I saw the first place people going past in the other direction, nearing the finish line.  Then, I suddenly slowed to a walk.  I had to actually say the word, "NO!" in order to get myself moving again.  The pain in my abdominal muscles had subsided a bit, and walking wasn't helping it anyway, so there was no reason not to run.  Shortly after, my right knee started hurting.  Bad.  Around that same time, I saw someone holding a sign that read, "Remember Your Why".  Of course, it was supposed to be motivational, but I wanted to stop and think, because no matter how I tried, I couldn't come up with a good reason to be running that many miles.  Baby?  No.  She doesn't care what I do.  5 y.o.?  No.  He already thinks I'm awesome.  Husband?  No.  He loves me no matter what.  Because I love running?  No.  I can run without running a halffreakingmarathon!  Trying to think of a "why" distracted me until my sis, who had finished, like, 6 hours before, ran up to me.  I asked her how her race was, she said I shouldn't be able to talk so well, I told her it was my dumbknee, not my effort that was slowing me down, she said I was almost there, that I could see the finish line, I called her a liar...  Eventually, I could see the finish line.  It sort-of registered that there were a lot of people lining the sidewalks and cheering, and I was sort-of proud for running the whole last mile when I was in so much pain.  Mostly, though, I just wanted to be done.  Kristi-Anne was the first person I recognized once I had crossed, and my first words to her were, "Where's my medal?"
  I got my medal.  I survived.  And it was really, really, really hard.  Anyone who tells you that running a half-marathon is easy is someone who has run marathons or ultra-marathons.  It was way harder than I expected, but also one of the things I am most proud to have accomplished.  And I don't just say that because it's what people say.  I raced 13.1 miles.  I trained for months.  I got 3 hours of sleep the night before.  I pulled a muscle and hurt my knee.  I was the last of my friends to finish.  But, you know, it was just a race. :)

Result: 2:11:38

My advice?  Do what you can, even if you think you can't.  Even if you sound like a crazy, yelling "No!" in the middle of the street, even if you're tired and achy and cold and behind.  You might just surprise yourself, with what you can do.  

Prediction for my 2nd Half-Marathon finishing time?


  1. You still beat my first half time by 20 minutes! You can (and did) do hard things! Congrats!!

    One of my favorite parts, "I asked her how her race was, she said I shouldn't be able to talk so well, I told her it was my dumbknee, not my effort that was slowing me down, she said I was almost there, that I could see the finish line, I called her a liar..."