“If you divert over to the other block, you will be able to finish the marathon and get your medals. No one will know the difference.” That was the message delivered to us somewhere after Mile 19 this past Saturday at the Fargo Marathon. My running partner, Duana, and I shared a knowing look with each other, but we needed a moment to sort out the options that had just been made available to us before making our decision official. We could accept the diversion, cut something along the lines of 1.5 miles from the race, but maintain course support (water stops, mileage signs, volunteers directing us at corners and turns, and traffic support from local police at intersections). Or, we could take the paper map in the volunteer’s hand, move to the sidewalk and guide ourselves to the finish without any support or signage in an unfamiliar city as they were starting to erase the course in front of us. We would get in the requisite 26.2 miles, but there wasn’t a guarantee that there would be a finish line when we got to the end. There wasn’t really any decision to make. We took the diversion. We heard one last “no one will even know” as we turned right instead of going forward and Duana found her voice and said what we were both thinking, “but we will know.”
However, I was surprised to find that I was not nearly as upset as I thought I might have been at this situation. We had gotten off our pacing, (or more accurately, I had gotten us off our pacing) many miles back. It wasn’t really any surprise when the volunteer jumped out of her jeep to tell us we were starting to ‘time out.’ I had been fearing for some distance that we would be swept off the course and delivered to the end via this same jeep, so the option to continue on under our own volition was the far lesser evil of the possible bad outcomes we were facing. I did have a few moments when I thought Duana would be disappointed and mad/sad that I had lost our collective mojo and she told me she was worried that I would be emotionally bereft that we were cut short, but once we settled that neither of us was going to have a break down or try to break-up our friendship over what we were in agreement was the right decision, we commenced marching forward. Maybe it helped that both of us have successfully completed 26.2 miles in the past, or maybe we were just too tired to think of anything other than the rest of the race in front of us.
So, what happened? There was no big drama, no weather issues (in fact, it was perfect cool and overcast running conditions), no race-related injury; not even a huge marathon-style bonk – just a gradual loss of momentum that finally took over the pace we needed to sustain to finish within the allotted time limit. There are a thousand tiny little things that go into the success or failure of any endurance race, but I can point to two main challenges that grew over the miles and literally and figuratively slowed us down.
From the moment we started the race, we were in last place. I am used to being at the back of the pack and those other slowbees are ‘my people,’ but none of them showed up to this race. There was a woman in a white shirt who was within eyesight for most of the race until she dropped out and another gal walking on crutches who was just ahead of her until she dropped or was pulled, but otherwise it was very lonely back there at the end. I was not mentally prepared to be in a class by ourselves, all by ourselves. There were two volunteers (a mother and daughter) who took turns tailing us on bicycles and/or in the aforementioned jeep, and occasionally a motorcycle police officer (we learned later the husband/father to the volunteers), but we were often on the course all by ourselves. At one point our bike escort peeled off for a quick bio break and directed us to follow the bike path into the woods and she would catch up. There was no one around us, we couldn’t even see girl-with-crutches or white-shirt-girl and started to wonder if we were lost. Finally, we spotted an empty runner’s gel on the ground and were relieved to see a clue that we were still on the race course. All along the way, bands that were playing for the front of the race were packing up or gone. We saw empty lawn chairs where locals had been greeting racers. At this point, we were still easily maintaining our pace, but being alone in what is normally energetic and full of people can definitely mess with your head. At least it messed with mine and I started asking myself why there was no one else in this race in our pace group. You need all the energy you can muster to focus on what you are doing, so that mental distraction was the opposite of helpful.
The other challenge was nutrition. It is not unusual to feel a little nauseous during a race and that is usually my clue that I actually need more fuel or electrolytes. I was getting nauseous and occasionally a little lightheaded, but I would eat a little something or take a hit off my electrolytes and feel better. However, at the end of the race it was clear I was not keeping up with my body’s demands as I ate less in this longest of runs than I had in our shorter ‘longest training run’ a few weeks prior. To combat the nausea, we switched around our run/walk intervals and that helped for awhile, but somewhere around Mile 16, both my body and my spirit weren’t in the run anymore and we dropped to all walking. At least that resolved the nausea, but as I watched our splits get slower and slower I knew we were running into danger of exceeding the course limit. I wanted to ask our ever-present bicycle escort whether we would get swept, but I was afraid of the answer, so I just kept going with the specter of not being able to finish joining us for the journey. If I am being honest, there was also a part of me that would not have been disappointed to just go ahead and give up, and quit the race.
Somehow, we didn’t. We pushed on at a dangerously slow pace and kept putting one foot in front of the other. When offered the diversion, we took it and kept going. I even managed to make a joke when we magically arrived at the next mile marker without having to go past the previous one that “that last mile really flew by.” Duana snorted and we continued on. At this point, she was about 20 paces ahead of me, but routinely stopping to let me catch up or at least making sure I was still tagging along. After Mile 23, it was clear that both of us were starting to feel the pain of all those accumulated miles in our hips and feet. At Mile 25, Duana’s right hip was starting to get the better of her and she picked up a small limp. She looked at me and said she had 3 words for me, “Thank ‘effing God” and I knew she was talking about the wisdom of taking the diversion. We plodded past the last band on the course singing out “you have 3/4 of a mile to go” on a repeat loop. We made our way into the Fargodome under sheer force of will. Our tailgate party/family cheered us on the last few steps where the announcer butchered our names and Brian and my friend Lee ran out to greet us. Once past the finish line, we tromped on down to the end of the stadium to collect our medals.
How far did we go? Upon consulting our separate GPS devices and eyeballing the course map, we know it was somewhere north of 24 miles – 24.something, there was some consensus around 24.7 miles although we don’t really know for sure. Less than 26.2, in any case. Did we deserve to get medals for our not-quite-a-marathon? I suppose that is debatable, but when I look at my medal it is a reminder to me of everything I pushed through to find my way to the finish line. Just like in life, the journey is rarely (ever?) as expected. And I am not pretending that we did the full race, so I’ll take the medal and the accompanying disclaimer that goes with it.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs Lincoln? It was not all doom and gloom by any stretch. I became fond of our traveling family of escorts – especially when the daughter told me that she and her mom rode with the final finishers every year. It takes a special kind of kindness to choose year over year to be with those who are guaranteed to be struggling (and probably in less than stellar moods). Back around Mile 11 when things were still going well, we encountered a water stop with a DJ playing and we danced and jogged our way through, singing along to “We Built This City.” At one point where a band had closed up shop, a man ran along beside us playing music from his iPhone to make sure we had some tunes. We got high fives and well wishes from the small handful of folks who hung out along their sidelines to make sure they were there until the bitter end passed. One of my best friends, Lee, flew out to North Dakota to be there for us. Showing up for people is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Brian even tracked down a Tibetan gift shop so he could bring Nepalese prayer flags to Fargo, which he hung on the porch of our Airbnb house. Plus there is no greater (or louder, seriously) cheerleader on the course than my husband. We saw Lee and Brian numerous times throughout the race and we always heard his whoops and hollers long before we got to them. We raised more than a few bucks to fight blood cancer and honor Duana’s Pop-Pop. Not to mention the texts, emails, and Facebook posts of support and encouragement we received as well. We are both truly lucky to have such amazing friends and fans in our lives.
Plus, we had each other. I can’t begin to imagine what this day would have looked like without Duana at my side. At one point when I was having a minor pity party, I told her she would have finished the full 26.2 if I weren’t there slowing us down. Without missing a beat, she replied that she wasn’t there to run a full marathon by herself. She was there so we could do this event together and whatever happened it would be a collective effort. That by itself made the event special, even if it wasn’t quite the end we had envisioned. Also, the main reason I set out to do this crazy thing was to prove to myself that I could rebound from my broken foot. That those dark times did not define my future outlook. Maybe I didn’t get the 26.2 mile prize, but I managed months of training and 24.whatever miles on my feet on Saturday. That feels like success in my book.
I have been trying to run the San Diego Rock N Roll Half Marathon for three years. And I have wanted to run it for even longer. My first attempt in 2013 was stalled before it started when friends got married the same weekend as the race. (It was a fantastic gypsy/camping wedding out in the woods and I was extremely glad not to miss it…) Last year I started training, raised the required donations and then had to drop out a month before the race due to injury. I figured the third time’s the charm and started training for San Diego again this past January. My training was conservative and I stayed healthy, but the specter of re-injury hung over the season. Unlike other races where I had finish times in mind (even if I said I didn’t), a huge success for me this time would be to make it to the start line in the first place. As I told many of my training teammates, I had “unfinished business” in San Diego and some part of me needed to conquer that race once and for all.
Race morning we met in the lobby of the hotel at the un-godly hour of 4:30am for our shuttle ride to the start of the race. We arrived somewhere close to 5am and the race started at 6:50am. For whatever reason, if shuttling is involved, there is an unwritten rule that you must arrive ridiculously early. I had slept 0 hours the night before, so I’m not sure why it mattered when I got on the shuttle. In any case, I had plenty of time to (repeatedly) use the porta-potties, eat my traditional hard boiled egg and English muffin with peanut butter, and attempt to shake off the nerves. Finally, we made our way to the starting corrals and shuffled towards the start line. A small wave of emotion came over me as I crossed the start line and I realized that I was really, actually, doing this thing.
Fortunately, the marine layer over San Diego kept the temperature from being too hot. That being said, the weather was very humid for my Pacific Northwest sensitivities and sweat was pouring down my face from the get-go. Given how beautiful it is in San Diego, the race course is curiously largely residential. Running through neighborhoods does have it’s charms and in one particular stretch I could have partaken of any of the following being offered to runners: mimosas, fireball shots, whiskey shots, bloody marys, and margaritas. I honestly can’t imagine any of those going down well while running 13.1 miles, but I did see one runner make an abrupt U-turn to get a shot of whiskey so I guess it works for some folks. Around the bend in another neighborhood, women were stationed on both sides of the streets handing out napkins. I might have cried upon receiving one of those napkins to wipe off my face, but it was a little hard to tell the tears from the sweat at that point.
For whatever reason, bystanders felt it was important to tell the runners we were “almost there” and that after whatever hill we were on it was “downhill the rest of the way.” These statements were both lies. I heard an “almost there” at mile 4. That is not even the halfway point. Why on earth would you tell a runner they were almost there when they had over 9 miles to go?? On behalf of all runners everywhere, please CUT THAT CRAP OUT. It’s annoying, it’s the opposite of encouraging and the only time I want to hear it is when the finish line is in eye-shot. And even though I should have known better, I really (*really*) wanted the “downhill the rest of the way” lies to be true. It was a huge letdown anytime I rounded the corner and there was another hill in front of me.
Around Mile 9, a fellow teammate who was not running the race jumped onto the course to run to the finish with me. This is an amazing gift and having a running mate makes the time go by so much faster. However, there is another racing phenomenon known as the “Bite Me Zone.” This is when you are getting tired, you are probably a little bit sodium deleted (note sweating comments above) and you are emotionally DONE with this race. Except you are NOT DONE with this race. I was full-on into the ‘Zone’ when Tamira joined me on the course. She was friendly and upbeat and wanted to check in with how I was doing. She has since told me I was not nearly as cranky as I felt, but I finally did have to tell her that I appreciated her company as long as there was no talking (except for me occasionally complaining that we were going uphill again after being promised that it was downhill-the-rest-of-the-way). She tried valiantly to get me to sprint the last .10 of the race across the finish line but I would have none of it and kept my slow and steady pace all the way to the end.
It was a good race, and a tough race, and I was glad to be finished. I also want to give a huge shout-out to my coaches Tessa and Erica who were both a very welcome sight when I saw them out on the course.
Aside from the injury issues last year, I have run in the Seattle Rock N Roll race series every year it’s been held. This is my “home race” and I didn’t want to miss it. Besides, after missing out last year, I thought why not try and run 2 half marathons this season. The Seattle race was just a couple of weeks after San Diego’s race and I figured if I was trained for one, I would still be trained for the other one two weeks later. After finishing the San Diego half-marathon, I was tired, but I felt there was still another half marathon inside of me.
I was hoping for another overcast day like the one in San Diego, but I woke up to bright blue skies without a cloud in sight. I was nervous about the heat, but it was a cool morning and if I could sweat my way through San Diego, I could sweat my way through Seattle. One big difference with this race is that the start line is only a few blocks from my home. I slept in my own bed and wandered down to the race at the far more reasonable time of 6:30 instead of 4:30. I was also starting this race with my longtime running partner, Duana. She was not in San Diego so it was a comfort to have her here this time – even though she was running the full marathon and so the only time we would see each other was in the starting corral.
I had raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this season in honor of my good friend Josh Dand’s cousin, Keegan, who lost his battle with blood cancer. In both races, I wore the same jersey with Keegan’s name written on the back. The race started with a fanfare of fireworks shooting from the Space Needle and we were off. Early in the race, a random stranger shouted at the top of her lungs, “DO IT FOR KEEGAN.” Maybe a mile later a runner came up behind me and said, “You’re running for Keegan? I have a friend running for Keegan in Florida today.” If San Diego had been my own personal unfinished business, this race I was going to focus on Keegan, and for Steve Palesch, and for Gil – those who had lost the battle with blood cancer. This was their race.
One of my favorite parts of the Rock N Roll series of races is the high school cheer teams out on the course. The have some of the best signs (“If Britney Spears can make it through 2007, you can make it through this race.”) and yell out encouragement (“After this race, you won’t have to go to the gym for a month!”) and offer high-fives. I decided that high fives from kids and cheerleaders are filled with jolts of energy and that I was going to return every high-five offered to me. I also heard Tamira and another teammate hollering out my name at one of the cheer stops and this time I had a smile on my face when she saw me.
Close to Mile 9 there is a long slow section that goes through a mile-long tunnel. That might sound nice on a sunny day, but it’s muggy and the walls are covered in car exhaust and it’s all uphill. As I mentally prepared to approach the tunnel, I reminded myself that this race was for Keegan and “Do it for Keegan” was going to be my mantra. I entered the tunnel and that mantra powered my way up the hill. After that, you have another bit of a hill before the most beautiful glorious long downhill on the race. I decided Steve Palesch and Gil were going to power me up this next hill and once again I found myself at the top of the hill in short order. When I got there, I found one of my coaches from last year was helping out on the course. Yon sprinted up to meet me and it was a wonderful surprise to see his smiling face (and he is always smiling). He ran me down the hill and then ran back up again to greet other runners.
Between Mile 10 and 11, I noticed that I was not having my usual “Bite Me Zone” moment. Although sunny, there was a wonderful breeze and the weather remained cool. It was, in fact, perfect running weather. The Seattle course also showcases the city in a way that the San Diego course fails to do – we start at the Space Needle, skirt Lake Washington, and run along the waterfront on top of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. I saw Coach Erica at Mile 11 and she asked if I needed anything and I was happy to report that I felt good. As I came around the bend after Mile 12, I saw teammate Craig – or rather I heard him chanting my name and running up to run with me. There is nothing that beats hearing your name when out on a race. A few seconds later, I heard someone else yell out my name and found my good friend Mark was on the sidelines holding up a sign that said, “Run Lyda Run” and I was able to give him a quick and (sorry Mark) sweaty hug. Craig ran me to the bottom of the last push to the finish and as I entered the finishing chute, Brian was there on the sidelines to give me a high five. I basically floated across the finish line from all the support I received from my friends and family.
Before these races, I had begun to wonder if the Seattle event was getting a little tired and routine for me. But what I found is that sometimes the familiar has it’s own rewards. No one yelled out my name in San Diego like they did here. In Seattle, I knew the course well enough to ignore the “almost there” folks and I knew exactly where the hills were located and how bad (or not) they would be to climb. I reconnected with the reason I was running in Seattle in a way that I didn’t quite capture in San Diego. I was grateful to both races as I gained something important from both of them. As Dorothy says, there is no place like home, but she never would have had that sentiment if she hadn’t left Kansas in the first place. I may or may not run the San Diego race again in the future, but I will definitely be back home where I belong for the Seattle Rock N Roll race.
I love structure and process. Even in my current state of no-job-ness, I have established my own routines and habits for how I manage my time each day (see How to be unemployed for the bulleted list…). After deciding it would be helpful to create meal plans, I actually created a spreadsheet template that I can fill in each week. And one of the reasons I keep going back to Team in Training year after year is that it provides a structured program for my running. I am currently in between training seasons, so I found a running partner who keeps my running on track at least one day a week.
As part of this structural madness, when I go running, I wear a Garmin watch that records my pace, distance, and even plots out my run on a map when I upload the data online where I track my performance over time.
Left to my own devices without all these self-imposed organizational techniques, I am prone to procrastination of epic proportions. When I trained for races outside of Team in Training I was often getting done
as after the sun was setting because I put off running to the last possible hour of the day.
Structure, organization, plans, guidelines are my security blanket. Without them, I seem to flop from the “all” to the “nothing” end of the spectrum. But sometimes I think it’s healthy to shake ourselves up a little, even if only in small ways.
This past week I went out for a solo run. I started my Garmin and about two minutes in, I asked myself what would happen if I turned off my watch and just went for a run? It wasn’t easy as there would be no record for posterity of my efforts on the interwebs, but I stopped the timer and decided to ‘just run’ for a change. My pace wouldn’t matter and I wouldn’t know what it was anyway, so I felt myself relaxing. When you aren’t obsessed with your splits and stuck in your head about your run, you can remind yourself why it is you run in the first place.
I looked around and saw the beautiful fall colors, I heard the crunch of the leaves beneath my feet. I was running along a street that overlooks the Puget Sound and saw a ferry crossing the water below me. It was a cool, crisp autumn day. The kind that is perfect for running. I ran simply and only for the joy of it.
How often do we go through the motions and follow our systems and plans without remembering why we are even doing these things in the first place? Sometimes we have to turn off the timer, put away the spreadsheet, set down the calendar and remember to enjoy ourselves.
I went to see my hairdresser Christy a couple of weeks ago. I was telling her about all my job seeking efforts and my frustration at how slow-going it all seemed to be. (The best hairdressers are as good of listeners as the best bartenders.) She commented that if it was going to take a long time, I might as well enjoy it.
There is no rule that says you are required to be somber and serious while looking for a job. In fact, that approach probably hinders more than it helps. Of course, I wasn’t trying not to enjoy myself, but I had gotten wound up in the routines and habits, that I forgot to relax and enjoy the ride. I am very fortunate that I have an amazing support system of family and friends, who have gone out of their way to help me. I have a loving husband who since he’s working from home these days I actually get to spend time with for a change. I have a roof over my head and food in my belly, and I am financially able to weather this storm without being one (or two or ten) paychecks from homelessness. I have much to appreciate about this journey.
When you are running towards an intersection where the light at the crosswalk is about to change and you don’t have quite enough time to make it – but if you run and run hard maybe there is a chance you just might make it. So you kick it into gear and make it across the street with one second to spare. Then you remember that you don’t have to run, you aren’t making a reluctant choice to run, you are lucky that you get to run as hard as you can. I am very lucky in both my endurance training and professional endeavors that I “get” to run and I’m going to do everything I can to enjoy both to their fullest.
As I watched the coverage of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on TV and followed the personal stories from my friends on Facebook, my first thoughts were simply for the care and safety of those in Sandy’s path. When the coverage switched to recovery efforts, my attention switched to the decision of whether or not to hold the New York City Marathon. I have always seen endurance races as hopeful and inspirational events. Initially, I thought holding the race could be a positive way to distract people from the struggle to get their lives back to normal. However, as I watched the pain and anger in the faces of those still in the throes of trying simply to live; to get food and water, electricity, heat, gas, I realized the wounds were simply too fresh and raw. These folks were at the starting line of their own personal marathon to normalcy. Throwing a 26.2 mile city-wide party would simply add more salt to the wound. I understand that the economic impact to the city for cancelling was not insignificant and I doubt anyone argues that NY needs all the economic help it can get right now. And, as much as Mayor Bloomberg and race officials said the race would not divert resources from the recovery effort, I can also understand how anyone else might say ANY police, fire, or other workers that were working the race are resources that could be helping those in need. I don’t really know if their reassurances about resources were true or not, but the reactions of the people of NY were emotional responses, not rational ones and they were starting to turn that emotion against the running community in general. I am such a lover of this sport, and I hated to see runners cast in the role of villain, so I was honestly relieved when the race was cancelled.
Of course, I wasn’t registered to run this race, so it’s easy for me to be relieved from the comfort of my armchair. I didn’t spend months and months training, I hadn’t asked my friends and family to donate funds to a charitable cause on my behalf, I wasn’t running in honor or in memory of someone close to my heart, or in celebration of any personal triumph over adversity. But I have done all those things for other races and I can easily imagine the aching hearts of those who did them in anticipation of this event. After one of the worst hurricanes this nation has seen, missing this one race pales so much in comparison that these disappointed runners didn’t even have a right to complain. They must put on their brave faces, openly share only their concern for the hurricane victims, and try to tell themselves and the world that it’s only a foot race.
Having been to the running rodeo a few times now, I have come to learn that disappointment and running are often partners in endurance running. Injuries plague even the fittest runners. For slow-pokes like myself there is the ever-present threat of being taken off the course for missing time limits. They don’t call it “hitting the wall” for nothing and some runners aren’t able to finish their race in the face of overwhelming physical and/or emotional obstacles. Even if you cross the finish line, it’s often in a disappointing time – maybe just short of a Boston qualifier for the faster runners, or your body is so wrecked you can barely remember getting there. It’s also not unusual for runners to find depression waiting for them on the other side of 26.2 miles once the high from crossing the finish line wears off. Given the never-ending opportunities for disappointment and disillusionment, it’s sometimes a wonder that anyone does these events at all.
In the middle of writing this, I took a break to meet a friend for lunch. We were chatting about the NYC marathon decision and I remembered that she had recently run a local half-marathon. I asked her how it went and she excitedly recounted the highlights of the race – where she saw her son and her husband on the race course, how Mission Impossible played in her headphones as she powered her way up one of the tough hills, and how for the first time she actually sprinted the last few hundred feet to the finish line. She said it was one of the best races she had ever run, and she even beat her time just a few months prior by almost 20 minutes. I could almost see that runner’s high in her eyes as she described the run. For even a chance at one of those magical moments, that is why we bear the pain and suffering that is training for an endurance event. And, honestly, if the training were not fraught with peril and frustration, the rewards would not be nearly so rewarding. Every lost opportunity and failed effort steels a runner’s resolve and makes the victory later just that much sweeter.
To the NYC marathoners who are staring straight into the face of disappointment and let-down right now, take heart. This too is part of your journey and the true athlete knows there will be more chances, more races, and victories yet to be had.
Including yesterday, I have completed 4 half-marathons, a full marathon, and countless 10K and 5K runs. I have participated in the Seattle Rock n Roll series every year it’s been held. You would think this would be old hat and that I would just stroll out to the start line like I was going out to get the mail.
Okay, even I don’t really think I will be quite that nonchalant, but it continues to surprise me how anxious and excited I get before every race. This year the start was literally in my back yard – just a few blocks from my home in Seattle Center. And this is my 3rd season with Team in Training, so I pretty much know the pre- and post-race drill with that group as well. I almost skipped out on the inspiration dinner and victory party figuring I had already “been there, done that.”
Yet, come Friday night (after the inspiration dinner), as I was laying out my gear and pinning my bib to my race shirt, I found the butterflies were starting to flit around inside of me. I didn’t settle down to sleep until almost midnight and my eyes flew open at 5am. As I walked over to the starting corrals with my friends, I could feel the palpable pulse of nervous energy in the air that seems to be present at every race. It was clear I was not the only one feeling a sense of anticipation.
Why the nerves? Even though I know from experience that my legs can carry me the distance, every race is unique and the possible hurdles are numerous. Am I hydrated enough? Did I bring enough food to fuel me? Will old injuries flare back up, or new ones present themselves mid-race? Will I be fast enough? Every runner, from the back of the pack to the winner, has a couple of numbers in their head at the start line. There is the finishing time you expect you will do based on your training, there is the time you would be happy with, and there is your dream fantasy PR (Personal Record); plus there is the slight fear of a dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish).
Ironically, I think it is exactly this guaranteed unexpectedness that keeps me coming back. You never really know exactly how all your training and the events of the day are going to come together for the finished product. Generally speaking, I like my life to be well-ordered and within my control. (Ask any of my friends – I don’t even like surprise parties.) However, I think it’s important to welcome a little uncertainty into our lives. Because, really, we can’t control everything and sometimes we all need a little reminder of that fact. Plus, once the start gun goes off, it’s not like these things are pure torture – the races are fun and I enjoy running them. They are always filled with unexpected pleasant surprises, too. This race, I was thankful for the small gifts, like finding a porta-potty with a small line, and for bigger gifts like getting an exhilarating second wind at Mile 9. Hearing a few of my TNT teammates scream out my name at Mile 12.75 and give me high-fives as I ran by gave me a shot of energy that practically catapulted me to the end.
Every time I cross the finish line, it represents the fears I have conquered, the obstacles I have overcome, and the pure joy of running with tens of thousands of other crazy people who love the sport nearly as much as I do. In spite of any doubts or misgivings I had on the other side of the start line, all I can think about at the finish line is how much I want to recapture the experience I just had. So, it will be no surprise to anyone, least of all myself, when I sign up again next year for another round of pre-race butterflies.
Tonight I carpooled to practice with a fellow Team in Training participant. As we inched onto the road to take us to Green Lake, traffic got slower and slower until we came to almost a dead standstill. Then we saw the sirens and lights, which pretty much guaranteed we were going to be late. As we sat there in the car, the weather got worse and worse. It started to rain, and then rain harder, and then a light snow started splattering the windshield. My car mate looked at me and said, “I am not running in that weather.” I tried to make light of it by saying the temperature wasn’t all that cold outside and given the traffic it might be gone by the time we got to practice anyway. But she would have none of it and said these conditions simply were not working for her. (She told me later that it was probably for the best that I was driving as she would have turned the car right on around and headed for home.) I told her that I hoped it would clear up as I wanted to get our run in whatever the weather or whether we were profoundly late (which was quickly becoming a certainty). We got the car parked and found the rest of the team doing laps on one of the hills and were given instructions to do some warm-up and then hit the hill. As we started out, the snow and wind was blowing directly into our faces and I thought my partner was going to pack it in right then and there, but she was a trooper and soldiered ahead.
Running hills is actually one of my favorite phases of the training season. It’s not that I’m any good at it. I huff and puff my way up and generally my face turns red from the effort. And we slow-pokes do not go any faster on the hills, so my usual slow jog becomes a true slog of snail-like proportions. But I am the little engine that could and snail speed or not, I chug my way up the hill each lap. I get supreme satisfaction from reaching the top of the hill and the steeper the hills become, the greater the satisfaction. Plus at the end of a hill-laced run I physically feel great. My blood is pumping, my legs feel strong – I am the queen of the universe. It’s also hard to be cold when you are expending so much energy. So, sitting there in the car on the way to practice, I was anxious to get there and excited to get started. It’s even ever so slightly possible that I was jabbering on and on (and on…) about how great it was as we inched our way there.
After we got warmed up and knocked the hills out, we walked back to the car and compared notes about how the run was for each of us, weather not withstanding. I mentioned that this was a cold run, but hardly the worst weather I had seen compared to other seasons or even to one of my personal runs this season (along the waterfront when the skies opened up and dumped literally buckets of water on me). She commented that she had never trained for a race before (of any length). She always ran just for fun or exercise, so if the weather was bad there was nothing pushing her to go anyway. Her experience with Team in Training was the first time she had to force herself to go run when any sane person would stay put. I had completely forgotten what it was like to do this for the first time. I was so used to putting up with any manner of crazy conditions and situations that I already knew tonight would not be so bad. I wanted to slap my hand to my forehead for being so dense. As usual, I made the classic mistake of assuming anyone else would have the same expectations or experiences that I have had. It’s easy to go run in the wet spring snow when you already know what it’s like. Far more impressive to get out there and run in those conditions when you have no idea how cold it will be, whether you have dressed warmly enough, whether you can get up hills you have never run before. So kudos to her on this dark and dreary night for running anyway.
Team in Training asks that we do not wear headphones during our training runs. A lot of folks find it difficult, if not impossible, to run without some kind of musical distraction. Fortunately, I have always run without headphones or music, so it’s not a problem for me. Although I definitely wear them on the treadmill (treadmills are of the devil and music or TV is the only thing that makes them remotely tolerable), I find that wearing headphones when running outside leaves me too disconnected from what’s going on around me. And when I run along the waterfront from my office in downtown Seattle, there are too many countless opportunities to be mowed down to not be fully aware of my surroundings. Methods of potential maiming include; trains, cars, buses, cyclists, pedicabs, segways (it is Seattle), skateboards, roller blades, and perhaps the most dangerous of all – TOURISTS and COMMUTERS.
That being said, I do run the risk of getting a little bored if I don’t have some sort of mental activity to keep my brain stimulated as my body slogs along. Way back when I first started running, I used to sing to myself as I went up the one long, steep hill in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, the only song I know all the words by heart is the 12 Days of Christmas. But on the upside I did find I could track my progress by the number of “days” it took me to get up the hill.
For the course from my office, I created a little narrative to carry me down the waterfront. From the gym, I head out to the parking lot at Pier 48, there I pick up my theoretical car and take it with me down to the Ferry Terminal, where I send it across the Puget Sound. Then I decide I am theoretically hungry so I run to Ivars Acres of Clams for a little make-believe snack. From there I decide I should go check out the Seattle Aquarium and I run down there. After cruising the aquarium, I think I might like to have a party. A huge party that will take an entire PIER to hold everyone. So I run on down to Pier 62/63 to check that out. Then I think my party will probably want more adventure, so I head over to the Cruise Ship Terminal. But then I think I’m getting tired of all that partying and decide to run to the Edgewater Hotel to see about a nap. At that I point I think to myself, “hey, I have a day job, I better get on back” and I turn around.
The return trip has a little bit of a different bent. My mind returns to that classic animated Sesame Street episode where the kid gets lost on his bike. If you haven’t seen it, this bizarro character (seriously, someone over at the Children’s Television Network had to be taking some serious drugs when they made that thing) tells him to remember all the landmarks he passed along the way and just go through them backwards to find his way home. So, I replay all the landmarks I passed on the way in reverse and suddenly I’m back at the gym and the run is done.
I suppose that’s a goofy way to get through a run and I probably risk revealing too much of my inner weirdness by sharing this, but surely I’m not the first or only person in the history of running to employ some unorthodox practices to get them through their runs…
I found this Dr. Seuss quote that seems to better justify my techniques…
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
My training schedule calls for two “rest” days a week, on Mondays and Fridays. On these days we are supposed to limit the time on our feet, which means no cross training, no nothing. Relax, enjoy life; you know, rest. I am pretty faithful to keeping my Monday nights clear, but I’m lucky if I have even a fifty-fifty success rate for resting on Fridays. I get so busy, I can never seem to get all my runs in on the other five days. Which is not to say I inadvertently rested on a Wednesday, instead of on a Friday, but rather that I ran with the team on Tuesday, worked out with my trainer on Wednesday, walked two-plus miles home from work on Thursday, and all the sudden I’m out of days and I need to get one more run in for the week. There is something fundamentally messed up at being too busy to make time to do nothing.
I intellectually know that resting is an extremely important part of training (per the Team in Training guidelines, “Recovery days are mandatory!”). When we stop to rest, we let our bodies heal and are just that much stronger for it. I can think of countless times when the run after a rest day is particularly good. That should be evidence enough that it’s a good idea. But I think there is a the nagging feeling that chases many runners that if you stop and rest you wont start again. After all Sir Isaac Newton even came up with a LAW regarding being at rest:
A body that is at rest will stay at rest ~Newton’s First law of motion
But, then again, the guy came up with the theory of gravity laying around watching apples fall on his head, so I’m guessing he was not much of a distance runner.
Our bodies are actually very ingenious at getting what they need and they will take a rest day (or two, or ten) for you if you don’t take them proactively. Don’t take time off your feet and you are more likely to get sick (there goes three days of training). Ignore the need for healing and you are more likely to get injured (there goes three weeks of training). I would know, I’ve experienced both.
The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it. ~Sydney J. Harris
So, this season I’m working hard at taking my rest and relaxation seriously. My Mondays are, in fact, sacred, so I can count on getting at least one rest day each week. I have also reminded myself that nothing bad happens if you only run four days one week. And stopping to take a break now and then is not just good for running. How many times have any of us been banging our head against the wall trying to solve a problem and when we finally let go of forcing ideas, the solution presents itself to us as is by magic.
Don’t just do something, sit there. ~Buddhist Quote
I was walking home from the local grocery store a few years ago which included walking up a short, but steep, hill. A woman was about half a block ahead of me with two extremely full grocery sacks. It was obvious that her arms were heavy as she hauled them up the hill. About two-thirds of the way up she stopped in her tracks. I thought, naturally, it was because the bags were heavy, but she did not even set them down. Instead, she leaned over, planted her nose in a rose that was in full bloom along the sidewalk and took a huge deep breath and then went on along her way. You could have hit me over the head with a frying pan I was so shocked to see a real person actually stop and smell the roses. But the truth is if you don’t stop once in awhile and take in a big, deep breath, you will miss all the flowers.
Every Saturday we start our practices with a “mission moment” in which we hear stories about how blood cancer has touched the lives of those we are raising funds for and their families. Each season I go into the practices thinking that I will not be as impacted as I was the first year, and somehow I end up being more affected than the year before. There are the stories of survivors, memories of those who fought valiantly but ultimately succumbed, and hope for those still in the midst of their personal battle. Blood cancer doesn’t seem to discriminate based on age or gender and strikes children and grandmothers alike. For some reason, the stories that are the hardest for me to hear are those about the very little boys who are afflicted. This Saturday we heard the story of Joseph Boyle who was diagnosed when we was 2 and left this world for a better place when he was just 5 years old. Yesterday would have been his 21st birthday.We were all given laminated pictures attached to safety pins to wear on our run.
Standing in the cold and rain at 8am on a Saturday morning, it was honestly a little tough for me to totally absorb this little boy’s story. I was moved and saddened, but also distracted by the thought of running in the rain. And it was a rough start. My feet were like lead blocks that I struggled to lift with each step. Everything was stiff and I felt like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz in desperate need of an oil can. It was only a 40 minute run and I slogged and dragged my sorry self every step of the 20 minutes out.
But then I turned around and something happened. My legs warmed up, my joints loosened up, and I began to relax into the second half of the run. It was at this point that I started think of Joseph Boyle. What kind of fucked up cancer takes 5 year old little boys from this world?? What must his parents have gone through – so excited to have him join their family, only to have him taken away so soon. And it was not an easy life, considering his final years were spent with doctors and in hospitals. I started to get mad and the madder I got the faster I ran. Every footstep became my personal rage against this injustice.
Blood cancer – you are a ruthless, evil disease, and you don’t play fair. You are a thief and a cheat. I may not be fast but I’m determined as hell. I’m coming for you and the running trail is my warpath. Every dollar I raise is a nail in your coffin and I run for the day I can dance on your grave.
I was on the phone with a client this past week who also happens to be a runner. I asked her how her training was going and she said not very well, that she hadn’t been running and was going to have to basically start over. We chatted briefly about how the “re-start” seemed to be a fixture for most runners.
There are those for whom running has become an ingrained fixture in their lives and they couldn’t imagine going more than a day or two without running. If that’s you, I’m both happy for you and hate you a little. I am not one of those people. It’s one of the reasons I train with a group like Team in Training. The group keeps me accountable and focused on my next endurance event. But I will tell you after my feet cross the finish line five months from now, the only running I’ll want to do is towards the sofa.
The price I pay for half a year of laziness is that I have to start over from scratch every Jan/Feb when I get itching to do another endurance event. Here in the middle of February my body has figured out that things have changed… It’s discovered that those first runs were not a fluke and my hibernating muscles are being rudely awoken from their slumber. And like waking a sleeping bear, they are not happy about it. Things ache, muscles get sore, I get sore, I get sleepy. I probably have another good 2-3 weeks before my body settles back into the routine and ‘remembers’ what it’s like to be a runner.
I suppose my running life would be easier if I kept it up year round, if even just in a maintenance program of light running in the ‘off’ season. But there seems to be something equally important for me psychologically of not running. I love doing the Seattle Rock N Roll half marathon precisely because it’s held in late June and am able to ‘take the summer off’ and save the very best of Seattle summer weather for whatever fun stuff strikes my fancy. That often includes being active – riding bikes, kayaking, hiking. But it also includes cloud gazing, porch lounging, and lazy Saturdays spent reading. I love being a runner and no matter how many times I leave it behind, I’m always drawn back into it. And I also can’t imagine a life in which there is no room for cloud gazing, too. I wonder sometimes if this time away is also part of the draw. I miss running which is what prompts me to sign up each January. It’s hard to miss something if you don’t have a little time and space away from it.
And other obstacles get in the way of our best laid plans. A runner’s life is inevitably filled with injuries large or small that take us off our feet for periods of time. Never mind life in general with work, travel, illness, family, weather, holidays. It’s easy to say those are simply excuses, and sometimes they are, but other times we have a few too many balls in the air and something has to give, and sometimes that thing is running.
The good news is there is much to be said for starting anew. I look forward to starting my training, meeting new people, seeing old friends again. The fun I get from these re-starts reminds me that you can get back on the horse. I have re-started so many times that I know instinctively that a break from running is far from a permanent situation. Success in running, or in anything really, is not about how many times you stop or fail, it’s about making the choice to start again.
Fall down nine times, get up ten… ~Japanese proverb