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.
Yesterday, I completed my 5th half marathon, running the Seattle Rock N Roll Half Marathon. If you were to ask me today how I felt about the race overall, I would say it was okay – not great, but okay. It was a little too sunny for my tastes (50 and overcast being my definition of perfect long distance running weather) and I got a little dehydrated as a result, but nothing horrible happened and although a little sore, my feet were in far better shape than they were after last year’s race. I think it’s fair to say I was hoping for better results, although runners are notoriously under-satisfied with whatever result they get, and I can’t really complain. Overall, the race was fine…
But it’s not the whole race that stands out for me this time around. It’s the last 1.1 miles that really make the story. Let’s go back for a moment to that sunny weather. When you train all season in typical Seattle weather (cool and cloudy), it can throw your game off a little to suddenly be running in the sun come race day. Although I was carrying plenty of Gatorade with me on the course, and every coach I encountered made a big stink about drinking electrolytes, I was not actually drinking enough of the stuff. I don’t have a good explanation for this. It was just one of those mistakes that you don’t realize has caught up to you until, well, it catches up. I was starting to feel less than great as we entered the second half of the race, and the chickens came home to roost somewhere between Miles 10 and 11. This is the point at which I was, as they say, bonking. My run intervals became shorter, my walk intervals became longer until it was all walking. My two race buddies had gone on to finish their own races (first rule of race day is that everyone runs their own race), so I was by myself and along with being exhausted, and a little nauseous, I was also in the midst of a good ol’ fashioned pity party.
I started thinking that after a season of extolling the miracles of interval training, here I was on race day sucking wind. The coaches I encountered were all telling me I looked great, but I felt grumpy and miserable and I didn’t believe them. I whined to myself that although I saw coaches, I hadn’t seen any of MY coaches that I had trained with all season. Wah, poor me. And then I actually saw a familiar face in Coach Erica and she pointed out that I was close to Mile 12, almost done, and that I looked good. I finally decided to look at my watch and face the music of how pathetic I must be performing. That was when I got a little surprise. I was at 3:00 hours exactly with just over 1.1 miles to go. One of my goals for this race was to finish it in less time than last year. Last year my finishing time was 3 hours and 24 minutes. I had 24 minutes to go a little over a mile. I suddenly realized that my goal was actually still within my reach. I even started to run (and made myself stick to my walk intervals so I wouldn’t burn out). My entire perspective shifted and I focused on the next 24 minutes. I ran into another teammate I knew, Craig, and then another TNT participant, Miguel, who each ran with me for a bit. And then I rounded the next to last corner and saw Coach Shelby, and soon after saw my husband and my friends cheering me on. Not only was I doing this, but after 3 hours on my feet in the sun, I felt not only good, but great. I had found that elusive second wind.
I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 22 minutes. Not a particularly spectacular race time, even by my own standards, but I was overjoyed by the outcome. I had proved to myself that even when the chips are down, you don’t have to count yourself out. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings – or, in this case, until the huge lady crosses the finish line.
For all the talk about missing the forest for the trees, sometimes the opposite is true. We miss the miracle that is a single tree because we can’t stop thinking about the entire forest. If I had stayed hung up on the overall race, I would have missed the opportunity to prove to myself that there was still a reserve of grit and determination left to propel me forward. At the time I looked at my watch, I couldn’t change the three hours that had already gone by, but I did have the power to focus on what I had in front of me.
Ask yourself: ‘Can I give more?’. The answer is usually: ‘Yes’
~ Paul Tergat, Kenyan professional marathoner
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.”
On Tuesday evenings I run with my Team in Training group around Green Lake and at this time of the year it’s still getting dark pretty early. For tonight’s practice, we ran on the “inner” loop which has no path lighting. This means we run in the dark. I have a small headlamp, but it mostly just allows me to see the time on my watch and maybe 1 foot down the trail. And my eyesight is only good for staying on the path (generally) and not falling on my face (most of the time), but otherwise I have to rely on my other senses to keep my bearings. Because of my pace (faster than walking, slower than running – I call it “slogging”) I am quickly by myself for all but the very beginning and end of the runs. Despite being a ridiculously social person, I enjoy having my running time to myself. When you run in the pitch dark, you are truly alone with your thoughts. Mostly I focus on my breath and tell myself to relax into the run. Somehow, when it’s just me and my breathing and the darkness, relaxing comes easier. Tonight I ran a negative split (meaning the second half of the run was faster than the first). Running a negative split is about holding back and starting out slow to warm up, and then easing into a more steady pace for the finish. I will confess that I have never been very good at negative splits. It’s not that I start out too fast, it’s more that I start slow, warm up slow, and then finish off slow – I’m usually all about the even split. For whatever reason, tonight, running in almost complete darkness, I was able to focus solely on my running and finally achieve the elusive negative split.
If you were to encounter me on the street, I hardly look like an endurance athlete. I’m on the brink of my 43rd birthday, short, and about 75 pounds overweight. Running is not generally the first thing one associates with middle aged women of my size. In fact, if you were to encounter me out on the trail, running looks pretty much like the last thing I should be doing. I am painfully slow (it’s not too hard to walk faster than I slog/jog), my face gets bright red, and I am generally huffing and puffing like a pack-a-day smoker. If I was being sensible I should be out walking, not pathetically attempting to do something that only barely resembles running. I have walked a half-marathon and I can extoll the many virtues of walking. The training is easier, you see more along the way, and if you have a good walking partner you save boatloads in therapy sessions. But regardless of all I have going against me and all evidence to the contrary, I can’t stop running.
There is something inside of me that simply yearns to be out running. I see other runners and it pulls strings deep within. The other day, I hopped on the bus and saw a couple out for their morning run. When I got off downtown and crossed the street, I saw them again. They had managed to run downtown in the same time it took me to ride the bus and I could see from their back-packs that they were running to work. As soon as I saw them, I didn’t think they were crazy or wonder how they did it, I just wanted to be them. I wanted to be the kind of person who runs to work.
I think the other thing skinny folks forget when they see us larger-proportioned athletes out there chugging away is that we can’t see what we look like. I don’t see the red-faced little plump girl. I only know how I feel from the inside. I hear my breathing and it reminds me I am alive. I feel the rhythm of my feet hitting the ground, and the cadence is comforting, if not mesmerizing. I feel the strength of my legs and am in awe of the distances they carry me. I feel strong, powerful, enduring. Or sometimes its more the way I feel after a particularly tough run. The running itself can be filled with aches, pains, and frustration, but when I have reached deep down into the reservoir I didn’t know existed and found a way to propel myself to the top of the hill, gone faster than before, or when my foot crosses the finish line, I feel like I am on top of the world. It’s not that elusive runner’s high, but the even more addictive drug of accomplishing your goals.
Why running? I have no idea. Does anyone really know why we have the passions we do, and does it really matter? I have friends who find themselves through art, music, cooking, or raising their families. It is just this thing I do. I have gone years without running for one reason or another and yet I always come back to it. People ask me if I am going to do triathlons. Maybe some day I’ll take on that challenge, but I mostly think why would I want to do those other two things when I could be running. One of my favorite race shirts had this on the back – “Run.” I guess I love it so much because it was such a great reminder not to over-think; just run, period. Why do I run? Because I have the soul of a runner. Period.