A Lark Became a Dream…

And the dream of running the 2014 NYC marathon died when my bone scan lit up like a Christmas tree.

It looked like I’d gone through an airport body scanner with round bags of drugs shoved into the heel of my shoe and the front of my tibia.  Such was the “uptake” of activity in those bones.

I knew the odds were not ever in my favor when the tech took the initial blood flow pictures (before the injection) and remarked, “Wow!  Look at that.  That’s a very intense area of blood flow going into your heel and tibia.”  She cautioned me that things were not looking promising, then sent me on my radioactive way for a few hours.

The bone pictures didn’t look any better.  Two big bright circles in my heel and at the base of my tibia.  She said it was up to the radiologist and my podiatrist to interpret, but I understood.  Me smart!

I still ran 8 miles that night (last Thursday), keeping to my training plan until I heard from my doctor’s nurse.

Then she called, and she said that the doctor didn’t get a full copy to look at, only the radiologist’s report, but that he/she reported “stress reaction changes” in both areas.  My doctor wanted to see me ASAP.

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Of course I asked what that meant and if I should keep to my plan of running 4 miles that afternoon, 8 on Sunday and 17 on Monday.  She said that it was my call, given that my doctor hadn’t seen the actual images herself, but that if I attempted it I would have to stop when I felt any pain.

Well, that meant not running at all.  So I shut things down, and met with my doctor yesterday with a disc copy of the scan.

And the fat lady is singing.

If not fractured, both the heel (calcaneus) and lower tibia are stressed to the point of fracture.  Since I came in relatively early with the pain, the bone scan is only showing early stages.  Later scans or x-rays would show the line of the break better as it heals.  Of course, that made me feel like maybe I would be a quitter to stop…like a better person/runner would keep going.

But I know that’s not true.  I am making a choice to stop, but that choice doesn’t categorize me as weak or uncommitted.  I know I could continue, and I could live with the pain.  I just don’t want to make that mistake.  The peak of my training is still ahead–it’s not like I’m even into the taper phase yet.

I don’t define myself by one race, and I will not run myself into the ground/a boot/a cast/no exercise for 3-4 months.  I risk fracturing both bones clear through by continuing, and if I do that, I will be sidelined from running far longer than if I rest now and let my body heal.

So I am done and out for this year’s NYC marathon, and I am resting my foot and leg for at least 4 weeks.  I guess there isn’t much more to say.  I will add another post in the next few days with some great links I’ve found and want to share along with more of a description of how this injury feels compared to plantar fasciitis–in other words, how I knew this injury was different.  Maybe the info could be helpful to other runners…

But for now, I’m sulking a bit.  This isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of my life, and I am keeping it in perspective, but I am allowing myself a day or two to be pissy, because this SHOULD NOT have happened.

I have been a runner for over a decade.  I log regular weeks of 20+miles, and I build mileage properly.  I can’t help but wonder what caused this injury, because it shouldn’t have happened, and though I know random injuries do arise, I have my blaming eyes squarely set on the one thing I’ve done differently during this training cycle compared to previous race training (one marathon, and too many half marathons and other races to count)…

THE FUCKING DREADMILL.

Looks like I picked the…

wrongweek

Happy running, peeps!  Enjoy your ability to get out there today…now that I can’t run, all I do is see runners (isn’t that the way?)!  I will be here at home, gorging myself on Game of Thrones books and cross stitching (almost done with my niece’s birthday present…a Paris scene)!

LaurenParis

 

 

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Spitting the Bit: The Summer of My Discontent

It’s been so long…I’ve neglected to post and basically abandoned the blogosphere for months, including following the blogs of so many readers. I apologize and hope all has been well and that everyone is smashing PRs. I just needed a break.

Though writing is easy for me in general (if not quality assured), writing about running can at times be a bit tedious. There are only so many ways to describe a Wednesday morning run, right? Plus, by the time I write about my run and then read the blogs of thirty other people describing their morning run, then go out for another run myself, the world can end up looking pretty small.

What’s more, writing burnout has coincided with running burnout.  No surprise, huh?  I have been mentally and physically fried.

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I talk about how running is a gift, and though I’m snarky as hell, I hope that my overall message is a positive one.  I love to run.  I appreciate the gift of good health and am grateful for each day that I am able to lace up my bright Smurf shoes with the custom orthotics and head out the door to kick some ass.

Still, the summer running has done a number on my attitude and my running times, and so I haven’t wanted to write much because it would have been 90% bitching, and who wants to read that?  I’ll try to condense my whining in this post yet keep it real as I describe what I’ve been up to this summer (assuming anyone will still take the time to read…and if you do, bless you!)

I’ll start with the running and then move on to some personal summer bits and bobs in the next post for those of you who love all of this very special flower and not just my running petals.

NYC Marathon Training

(Quick summary:  FML.)

If you’ll recall, I got into the NYC Marathon on the lottery drawing.  I did not expect to make it, but when I did, I (like many others) freaked out with excitement.  If I can make it there, well, you know…I can make it anywhere!

Here’s the problem.  I am a complete lazy bitch princess when it comes to summer running.  I fucking hate it.  What’s more, it doesn’t like me one bit either.

I typically run spring races for longer distances and take most of the summer off to rest my body and just do maintenance running.  It gives me a mental and physical reset.  I have run one marathon (Spring 2013), and I chose it specifically for those winter training months (Viva la Winter Running!)

Unfortunately, the NYC Marathon doesn’t set its calendar based on my training whims, and so I’m stuck with summer training for the first time ever (I will run fall half marathons, but those are much easier to train for.)

Now, I’m all full of admiration for those of you who knock out the lengthy summer runs with nary a complaint, especially you Texas folk, as I lived in Houston for 12 years and still remember the weather.  Some of you get up at 4 or 5 am to power through long miles and then go to church, work, etc.–

but as for me on a Sunday morning?  I love my king-size bed and the chance to sleep in.  So does HH (Handsome Hubby for new readers), and I hate to wake him up.

I’ve been getting up far too late (no one to blame but myself) and heading out the door too late in the morning to escape the heat.  In fact, the one morning I did get up at 6am and get out the door, I came in dying around Mile 9 only to have HH ask me if I’d checked the forecast and noticed that cooler weather was going to blow in around noon that day.

Such has been my luck, and boy have I paid the price.

I now know my sweat patterns and can time their appearance down to the half mile (do you know yours?).  The first running river of sweat always trails off the inside of my right elbow starting at the end of Mile 1, followed by the river trailing down the front of my tank followed by buckets of sweat dripping into my eyes and burning my corneas from Mile 2.5 on.  I have tried bringing a towel (tucked into the band of my SpiBelt) to wipe or at least hopefully redirect the flow, but by Mile 6-7 the towel smells so bad I can’t bear to bring it to my face.

I read once that more experienced runners might in fact sweat more (source), and I think that’s true.  I didn’t used to be a heavy sweater, but in the decade-plus that I’ve been a runner, I have turned into a SWEAT MONSTER.  I don’t just glow with sweat, I open a faucet somewhere in my pores and MAKE IT RAIN!

Just don’t come near me.  It’s gross, and what’s more, I’m flicking beads of it off my ponytail.  Be warned if you are running behind me.

All this sweat distracts me and makes it hard to relax and just get into the zone–not that I could anyway because my heart rate is elevated and I feel like I’m running through a sweat-flavored milkshake.  Humidity and I are not friends, and it makes 10 miles seem like an ultra.  Suck it up, right?  I know…but I’m just being honest.

To complicate matters, my plantar fasciitis in my left foot is as bad as it’s ever been, to the point where I am hobbled after runs and can barely limp for most of the day after a run.  Given that I run 5 days a week, this means that I am walking around like an invalid the majority of the time, which means that if I am not running, I am gimped out.  Fun stuff!

I think this is mostly due to to the plan I am using this time around.  I am a Hal Higdon devotee, and for my first marathon I used his Novice 1 plan.  This time I decided to step it up to the Intermediate 2 plan.

That lasted a few weeks until I recognized that I was cutting too many corners for other obligations/laziness/time issues/injury and leaving off too many miles.  So I dropped down to Intermediate 1, which has the same basic problem as Intermediate 2–a required medium-length run the day before the long run.  Hal says the medium length run the day before will ensure that you are tired so that you run the long run at an appropriate pace.  I say that Hal, you are the damn devil, and why not just trust me?  To quote Tommy Boy,

“I can get a good look at a T-bone by sticking my head up a bull’s ass, but I’d rather take a butcher’s word for it!”

For example, on Sunday I ran 7 miles at goal pace, which ended up around 9:30/mile, followed by 14 yesterday (I’ve adjusted the schedule so that my long runs are on Monday, and I will adjust back a few weeks before the Sunday marathon.)  It was just too much for my foot (the total for the week was 36, which isn’t so bad.)  Usually my PF only hurts in the morning and after runs, never during, since running loosens up the fascia.  Right now, though, it’s intense pain through the whole run, plus I’ve got pain shooting up both sides of my ankle, which I think is tendon pain from not landing on the foot right and from limping around when not running trying not to put weight on it.  I am icing tons and applying my special compound cream, but the pain and inflammation is winning.  I made an appointment with my podiatrist for next week.  She loves seeing injured runners limp in and insist that backing off miles is not an option.

If it were any other marathon, I would bail right now, but I can’t.  It’s New York!

So I hang by a thread, bitch and moan a lot, rub my cream, ask my kids to fetch me stuff, and run with a bad attitude, because I am running with pain, mentally am not in my happy place and further have nothing to prove, which was a huge motivation for my when training for my first marathon.  I wanted to show myself that I could do it, I was raising money for my sister’s disease, and in a strange way I think I felt like I was running those miles as an apology..a penance for being healthy while she suffered.  I had mental motivation and strength out the wazoo.

This time I feel like I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else but plenty of things I ‘d rather be doing other than spending quite so many painful hours on the hot asphalt, and I am struggling to find the desire to run the training miles, which is is the REAL marathon as most of us would agree–not the race itself with the support of family, friends and strangers and the medal and perhaps the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter bragfest, but the lonely miles, 20-40-60+ each week, known only to you and spent in your own way, one minute, one mile and one sweat drop/river at a time.

I am not giving up, just searching for some healing in my foot and some mental motivation.  It’s been a fantastic summer, just not where running is concerned.

What I’m running to: I’m Not the Only One by Sam Smith, Pusher Love Girl by Justin Timberlake

Coming in my next post…what I’ve been up to this summer and a description of Penis Thumb!

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How a Lark Becomes a Dream

My friend Holly (the only person I have ever run a race with…the Paris Half Marathon in 2011) emailed me several weeks ago.  She chews up marathons and spits them out on a regular basis…she is always in marathon shape, has raised tons’o money for breast cancer, is a running fanatic and an inspiration to me.

She is running the NYC marathon this November, having a guaranteed spot since her application has been denied for three consecutive years.

Any interest in signing up for the lottery drawing and running with me, she asked?

No problem!  I won’t get in, I thought.  I’ve read the horror stories of how difficult it is to get a spot in that race.  I paid my $11 nonrefundable fee and moved on.

You know where this is going.

I’m in.

I’m in.

Fing A, I’m in!

Out of 77,087 entries, I lucked out along with 9,169 other runners and nabbed a spot.  That’s a selection rate of 11.9%, folks.

I made it.

Start spreading’ the news.  I’m wiggin’ today.

I got the email around 5:00, just as I was heading out into a cold and windy late afternoon run.  I think I had a delayed reaction to the email. When I hear bad news, I get the ramifications instantly, like somebody dumped a bucket of cold water right on my head.  But good news?  Freaky lucky surprising news like this?  It slowly overtook me during that run like butter spreading on toast.  I ran a few minutes just repeating it in my head (“I made it.”)  Then I sped up as the excitement and adrenaline hit me and my imagination took hold of my heart.  By the end of the run, I was grinning, practically dancing as I pushed through that wind and ignored that spitting rain.

I think HH was surprised by the news and my high-pitched squeals of excitement when he came in the door.  I’ve never heard you mention this before, he pointed out.  True.  It was a lark.  I’ve never had the NY marathon in my sights.

But I do now.  I am thrilled and grateful.  

I want to be a part of it.

I don’t have any reasons, I’ve left them all behind…

These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you…

Hot damn, I’m in!

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Now I just have to get through my three half marathons in five weeks and then start thinking about training…you know, the easy part (ha!)  I won’t worry about that little tidbit right now.

Anyone else in for the dream?  I would love to hear it if you are…and wish me luck, peeps!

What I’m running to:  Well, now I will be adding anything to do with New York, of course, but this week I have been running to Burn by Ellie Goulding…

‘Cause we got the fire

And we’re burning one hell of a something!

 

Couch to Marathon Revisited

Last week I wrote a nasty post about people who decide to run a marathon and start from a zero balance (if you go back and read it, please take the time to leave the great comments from other bloggers!)  I wrote the post in part because I was conflicted about my feelings.  I want to support any runner, and yet I found myself almost angry thinking about the foolishness of people who want to just suddenly start running and think that they can run a marathon right off the bat.

I was surprised by my own vehemence on the subject, that I would feel so angry about people chasing the same medal that I had worked so hard for and potentially walking away with it in 6-7 hours versus my 4:22.  I saw the ridiculousness of it.  There will always be someone faster than you who could scoff at your time, and Lord knows there’s a whole gaggle of runners who could laugh at mine, so who was I to judge someone else’s journey?

Further, I’d written months ago in a post on joggers versus runners that speed is not the issue, and that committed runners who run slow paces have my admiration.  It’s easy to do something when you’re exceptional at it, right?  But to be committed to something for the love of it, even when you’re technically not the best?  That takes true love (not to mention more time out of your day to make the same training run commitment as the faster runners, and that adds up when you get into the meat of the marathon training!)

So where were my feelings coming from?  I love new runners, and I admire those who make the commitment to run long distances.  One of the commenters helped me understand my feelings on the subject.  She said I sounded like a marathon purist.  And I think I am.

I’ve only run one…I’ve only ever wanted to run one.  I held off on running it until I had my good reasons and was ready to make the commitment to train hard.  It deserved nothing less than my absolute best.  I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to do it, even though I’d been a runner for years.  I was afraid that I would get injured (which I did, btw!) and that I wouldn’t be able to give it my best.  I revered the distance (and the runners who tackle it) like it was holy ground, and I resented people who want to jump into the ring and immediately go after the lion.

Still, those feelings didn’t seem entirely like me either.  I hoped that other bloggers and running readers would chime in and help me understand my thoughts.

And you did!  Thank you for taking the time to comment.

So here are my (semi-revised and semi-just better expressed) thoughts now, in all their who gives a rip what she thinks glory.

Are you a person who is longing for a change, hoping to feel inspired, looking for a personal goal?  Hello, I love you and would like you to discover running!  It’s a life changer, a soul scrubber, a surefire way to squeeze more meaning into every day.  I write this blog in the hopes that some new person will stumble across some of my words in any random post and feel motivated to run.  Running has added untold meaning to my life in the past ten years.

Are you brand new to running?  No problem.  The internet is there for you to get you started!  Check out the Runner’s World website for tips and info on how to get started.  Google beginning running and you will find numerous articles.  Check out all of the amazing WordPress blogs written by everyday runners, and you will find countless sources of inspiration.

But start slow.  Please don’t set a marathon as your first goal, even if it’s a 28-week plan.  I want you to be able to run long-term, and I want you to learn how to incorporate running into your daily schedule, not just as temporary training.  Be kind to yourself.  Give yourself time to learn what it feels like to run and recover.  Give yourself room to adjust and cut back as necessary, since your body isn’t used to it yet.  Training programs, even the Disney 28-week plan, call for a certain number of miles on a particular day, and I don’t want you getting scared in Week 4 when you’re scheduled to run 6 miles and don’t feel like that number is possible.

Are you the type that needs a goal, though, to keep you going?  I understand!  I would say try a 5k first, but I know that when I started running, a 5k would have been the LAST race I wanted to run.  Run fast for a shorter number of miles?  No way…

So try a 10k (6.2 miles.)  See if you can find a 4-mile run…it’s a nice step up from a speedy 5k, but doesn’t add too much distance.  Or do what I did–I ran for years without racing, then ran a half marathon as my first race.

And if none of those work for you (because let’s face it, I’m not in your head and don’t know your needs and goals), and you set that marathon as your first target and get up off the couch or off the elliptical in Week 1 for training, then here’s what I want to say…

Good Luck!  I will cheer for you.  I may not agree, because I have your best interests at heart and am scared, but I will hope that the running gods spare you any injury and that most of all, you emerge from the process with your medal AND…

a love for running that doesn’t go away.

It’s more important than the medal.  It will stay with you and be a far better friend than that one piece of bling.

Happy running, and welcome to the club!

 

Couch to Marathon = One Extremely Hacked Off and Opinionated Blogger

I’m going to attempt to be delicate in this post, which is not one of my talents.  I’m getting ready to criticize someone about her running, which feels so wrong.  I don’t like attacking anyone personally, and I hope this lovely woman never stumbles across my blog (please, dear sweet lady, don’t find my blog because I do love you!), but I do hope to make a few points that other beginning runners might take not of based on the example.  I’m also wondering if I’m totally offbase in my thinking, and I’m hoping some readers will comment and give their thoughts.

In short, I’m going to be mean.

So let me get comfortable on my high horse, and here goes…

I follow a foodie blog.  Actually, I follow several, which I find pretty amusing since I am often found oogling beautiful recipe pictures while feeding my family the nutritional equivalent of a Hot Pocket.  I love to bookmark recipes that I (usually) never make, and I love these bloggers’ writing style (ever read Smitten Kitchen?  She is to die for, and don’t get me started on her recipes and photography!)

A few weeks ago, a certain blogger started writing about her marathon training.  Out of the blue.  Suddenly she’s on Week 1 of a program.

Say wuh?

I read the first post and felt confused.  She listed her music and her gear (she’s got a Garmin–I’m jealous!), but not one word on WHY she was doing this (which is not a big deal to most people but is the biggest beginning question to me.)  Her reasons may be private and not ones that she wants to share, but still…where is this coming from?

I didn’t recall ever reading about her running, but I wasn’t sure how long I’ve been following her.  I was going to search her blog for previous posts, but then I saw her mention in a reply to a comment that she did a Couch to 5k program last fall and then got sidelined by tendonitis in her foot for six months.  She’s recently started running again using the same program and is running 3x/week.

Oh no.  Oh please no.

Her Week 2 post described how she now considers herself a real runner because Week 2 of training is in the books, she ran a longer distance than she’s ever run in her life (5.65 miles) and she liked it.  Though her program only called for a long run of 4 miles, she ran 5.65 instead (um, why?), jogging up to five minutes at a time and taking walk breaks.

My brain was screaming.  It took every part of restraint I have not to leave a comment begging her to stop.  I looked through the comments to see if any other readers were runners who might offer a gentle word of caution, but all I saw were comments like “you go, girl” and “oh, you’re such an inspiration”.

Oh my goodness.  I’m a train wreck now.

Week 3 is now behind her, and things didn’t go so well.  She is now over a 15:00/mile pace for her long run (just over 6 miles), had to limp home in excruciating pain because of her foot, but is still counting the weeks until her marathon (25 to go!)

I have to wonder at this point…what program is this person following?  What running expert devises a program for non-runners to get to a marathon in 28 weeks?  Who encourages that kind of nonsense?

Jeff Galloway, of course.

Most runners know of Jeff Galloway…at least the name, anyway.  I knew he was the advocate of the run/walk approach, which encourages running for a certain number of minutes (or seconds, I guess) and then walking briskly for a shorter duration.

After looking into it, he’s got a whole thing going with Disney.  Disney offers a number of races and events on their runDisney website (here.)  They are very inclusive, offer many events and encourage runners of all levels.  Jeff Galloway is their consultant, and he offers a number of training programs for runners of different abilities.  He emphasizes getting to the finish line “without injury or pain.”

Sounds good so far.  Let’s get people fit and off the couch.  Let’s offer some 5ks, 10ks, and maybe a lovely half-marathon or two.  Great for beginners!  I’m all in!

But here’s where I get pissed.  They offer a training program for the MARATHON for people who aren’t runners.  I almost barfed as I read it…

The runDisney program for beginners covers 28 weeks (plus the week after the race) and includes 3 runs per week–two 30-minute runs on Tuesday and Thursday and one long run on the weekends.  That run alternates every other weekend between a shorter distance and a longer one.  For example, for the first sixteen weeks of training, the long run alternates between 3(!) miles and a longer distance (17 miles in Week 16!)  For the first several weeks, the runner can run for 50 seconds and then walk for 10.

Further, from Week 17 to race day, the program calls for 3 runs of 20 miles or more, including a 26-miler in Week 25.  He urges runners to run 2 minutes per mile slower than their goal pace during these long runs and not to worry if their long run pace is slower than 16:00 per mile.  Are you serious?

Here comes the nasty…this is not running a marathon, people.  It’s just not.

I want to be a cheerleader.  I do.  I talk about how I want this blog to encourage people to run and how runners want others to join the club and find the joy and peace that running brings.  Running changes people’s lives, their health, their confidence.  It’s a big tent…come on in!

But I just can’t see this.  Not for the marathon distance.

Why the need to go from zero to marathon?  I try to recognize that everyone has different personalities, and I want to be respectful of that, but this is too much!  I ran for years before even considering running a race (too much the other way, I know), and then I ran several half-marathons, a 10k, a 5k, THEN thought about tackling 26.2.  And even then, I didn’t have to do it.  In fact, though a runner for many years, I always said I’d never run one…until I had a specific set of reasons for doing so.

I myself would see no joy in completing a marathon at such a pace.  That medal would mean nothing to me.  And though I realize that such a medal could mean EVERYTHING to someone else, someone who has come from nothing, who has maybe begun a life-changing process, it still makes me mad.

And that’s where I feel so guilty.

The marathon takes a tremendous toll on your body.  It’s a dance of muscles and joints and tendons, electrolytes and glycogen, mental endurance and months of training.  It requires discipline in a way that’s so different from any shorter distance.  It’s a gorgeous, ugly, taxing feat.  And though I’m certainly no elite, I felt confident that I was equipped to take it on.

And here’s the meanest thing I’ve ever written, and it shocks me a little…if someone goes from the couch to a marathon in less than eight months, and walks away with the same medal that I would, it dilutes it.  It disrespects it.  And that’s not an inclusive attitude, and so I feel terrible, because I know that those people would be so proud of themselves and would have worked so hard, just like I did.  Why can’t I just be happy for them?  How would I feel if I read an elite runner’s blog and they said the same thing about people who run the race at my speed?  What is wrong with me?  I might not be proud if I’d run a marathon at that distance, but why can’t they be?

I’m shocked that I feel that way.

Further, it makes me mad because I worry about people.  The capacity for injury is huge, and the desire to not quit weighs heavy when you’ve been training for months and are close to race day (trust me!)  You need to tackle marathon training knowing that you have to be able to LET IT GO if you get hurt, and where does that leave a beginning runner?  On the couch and inactive again!

I know I’m not an expert, and Jeff Galloway is, but only running 3x/week?  And then 3 20-mile + runs?  Huh?  I know these people are jogging super slow, but still—how do they not get hurt?  And when they’ve just gotten going and are feeling so good about themselves, it would be sad to get hurt.  I don’t want someone who is just beginning to run get derailed by injury because they’ve taken on too much, because then they need time to recover and then they will be starting from scratch again.  If they’d just built up slowly and maybe set a 10k as their first race, they would have a far greater chance of becoming a true runner, nabbing that first special medal and avoiding chronic injury.

If you’ve never run a 10k or half-marathon, you will not have a good sense yet of listening to your body, of understanding aches and pains and what signals your body is sending you—these are things that come from lots of running experience, and they are so helpful during training.

There are differences between types of soreness/pain and their location.  It matters when you feel pain during a training run and when and how it goes away.  Understanding how you should feel on recovery days and how you shouldn’t…knowing your level of energy, your sleep, etc. during training…these are things you need to be very familiar with before you tackle a 7-month long training commitment.  

I can’t imagine going through the training I went through last winter without the experience and knowledge my previous half-marathons gave me.  I also can’t imagine setting such a huge goal to start.  When I started running, my initial goal was just to better myself.  I built up to running 3-4 times a week and got comfortable with varying mileage and speed and getting to know how running affected my body.  That experience was invaluable.

If you’re a beginning runner and you’re reading this, please don’t hate me.  Please start slow…there is so much joy in the 5k to half-marathon distance, and those medals will make you so proud AND more likely to be a lifetime runner!  There is simply NO NEED to start with the marathon.  Please feel free to leave a comment or add your perspective!

If you’re the lady who I’ve singled out and you ever stumble across this post, please know that in spite of my doubt and my nastiness, I still wish the best for you! 

And if you’re a runner like me, please add any thoughts of your own.  Correct me, yell at me, agree with me…I just really wonder what other people think!

Can You Run a Marathon? Maybe, but Why Would You?

Let’s say you’ve thought about the possibility.  You’ve bandied the idea around a bit.  Wouldn’t it be great to run a marathon?  Could I do it?  What kind of shape do I need to be in to start?  What are the issues I need to consider before starting?  What would the training program be like (spoiler alert: it will be long and often painful)?

Then naturally you come to my blog because I have such vast knowledge and expertise, having hobbled to the starting line of exactly ONE marathon.

You do this, of course, for the entertainment value and the honesty.  Yes, I will lay out the facts and the issues involved in running a marathon, at least in terms of what I experienced, and I won’t hold back, nor will I blow sunshine into your running shoes.

So let’s gather ’round my marathon medal and discuss, shall we?  I’ll try to answer some of the questions that I remember asking myself before I decided to run my first marathon, as well as some of the questions I would imagine other people are asking or SHOULD be asking themselves before beginning the process.

I think that most people first ask themselves if they can do it.  It was what I asked myself for years.  And here I go with advice.  I don’t think that’s what you should ask yourself to start.  I think you need to think about why you want to do it.  Trust me—the “why” is what powers you through.

It seems like lots of people put down the bag of potato chips one day and decide that they want to change their life and drop some weight.  They decide something like, “I’m going to get in shape.  I’m going to run a marathon within the next year.”  I think that some percentage of these people achieve that goal, and more power to them, but that’s a kind of experience that I just don’t know much about.  I’m more of an aim small, miss small kind of gal, and I ran for 8-9 years before ever even considering the sacred 26.2 distance.

Also, I think that the distance opens itself to such a wide range of experiences.  Some of these chip-dropping, lifestyle-changing people will soar.  Others will get to the finish line with a walk/jog combination, and it might take them 6 hours, but they also get their medal, and they all started from scratch.

It’s fantastic, and it’s powerful—but I can’t speak to it as motivation, except to say that I probably wouldn’t recommend it based on my training experience and my conservative nature.  Embrace running, but start small.  Be sure to build slowly.  Give yourself a reasonable goal, a timeframe for change and weight loss and the chance to become a runner for life.  Marathons will always be there, and I guess for me personally, it would be hard to imagine going from nothing to 26.2 in one year.  Maybe 18 months, but 12 would be really pushing it.  You have to respect the distance and the time it takes to prepare your body to even start the training.

Also, the training tested my appreciation for the sport.  Again, this is just personal experience, but all those miles pushed my love for running to its very limit, and I can’t imagine getting through some of those awful training runs without the base of love that I had and the years of running memories.  Again, it’s all about motivation, the big “why” of it all.  I feel like wanting to lose weight or get healthy just wouldn’t have been enough for me to get myself through some of those times…but then again, I’ve never been in that situation, so I’m not trying to judge it, only to say that I’m not qualified to write about it as a motivator.

Have you seen this video?  Most people have, but it’s always worth another viewing.  Not only does it include one of my favorite running songs, but the story is so powerful.  I guess I don’t have to wonder about the power of losing weight or making a life change as a motivator for running when I see this video.  It sums it up perfectly.

When I first considered running a marathon (after years of saying no way, nokay!), I was already a committed runner.  That’s what I can relate to… the current reasonably healthy runner, the person who laces up his/her shoes on a regular basis and wonders if 26.2 is possible as a race distance–no walking, all running, and likely with a personally difficult and respectable finishing time in his/her sights.  Can you do it?

Sure you can–I think!  I hope!  Body willing!  There are unknowns that I will speak of in other posts, but the general answer is yes!  But you need to think about why you want it, because you will refer back to your gut reason so many times throughout training.  Let’s remember, I called myself the MaybeMarathoner.  I didn’t know if I could do it, and the worry over that exact issue held me up for years until I finally decided that I didn’t know and would never know ahead of time if I COULD do it, but I knew WHY I wanted to try…and that was enough, even if I failed.

Whatever’s driving you to do it needs to be on steroids.  You’ve gotta be like Usher when he was hooked up with that chick from TLC and temporarily decided to try monogamy.  You gotta get it bad!  The mental commitment to yourself is as big as the physical, and even outweighs it at times.

For me, two big factors pushed me over the edge beyond the worry of whether I “could” do it.  First, of course, was my sister’s disease.  Setting my sights on the marathon was a way of raising money for AS, but it was also a way of making peace with myself for having good health while she suffered.  It was an offering.

It was a powerful motivator, and one I came back to many times.  In my mind, I didn’t want to try, I HAD to try.  I had to be grateful for my health, and it was the best way I could think of.

Second, I think I’d always had some kind of warped sense in my own mind that I would never call myself a real runner unless I’d attempted the distance at least once.  Now, if you said this to me, I would say you were stupid fo sho’!  I’ve written before about what I think it takes to be a runner, and nowhere in my official Are You a Runner? checklist does it say that you have to have run a marathon.  But, like many things in life, my standards for myself are neurotically different from my standards for others.  It’s just one of those things about me.  I like to call it cute and quirky.  HH calls it batshit crazy.

So, find your reason, whatever it is.  Don’t ask yourself if you can yet, just ask why.  Allow yourself time to become comfortable with it.  Will it see you through months of training?  Does it move you?  Inspire you?  It’s more important than anything.

Marathon Recap Part Two: 4:22:01

I tell our runners to divide the race into thirds.  Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.

Mike Fanelli, running club coach

Rest assured, queasy readers, that there will be no more bathroom discussions in my recap.  The benevolent potty gods smiled upon me, and not once during my race did I have to step into a Port-a-Potty.  What a relief!

On to the recap!  I’m sorry it’s long, but I’m covering the whole race in this post, so I hope you’ll bear with me :-).

From the first second, I knew I would savor every moment of the race regardless of my leg.  It was like everything was suddenly illuminated…a heightening of color, senses and awareness.  I love the feel at the start of a race when the motion of the entire group starts shuffling forward in a wave and then passes the starting line.  I rubbed the palm of my hand over my quad one last time just before hitting my music and the start button on my app.

How strange it was to begin slowly–so different from my half-marathon (HM) starts!  I enjoyed watching the half-marathoners instantly start to cut and move, jockeying for position.  Many HM runners are counting every second at the start of a race.  I ignored the slight urge to start hauling ass, instead settling into a comfortable pace behind the pace group leader and waiting for twinges in my leg.

The first few minutes of a race can be great people-watching.  Clothes, stride, attitude…every runner is different.  The feel of the mass of runners flowing up the street is incredible.  The energy that pours forth is contagious.  I loved those first few minutes, and my leg seemed cooperative and content.  I had instant hope!

Suddenly, everyone around me seemed to bing, and I realized that they must have all been wearing Garmins that were sounding the 1-mile point.  My app hadn’t even announced my first half-mile.  Cluster #1–I unstrapped it from my armband and detected the immediate problem…it hadn’t started when I pushed the button.  

Great 😦 …one mile and almost 11 minutes not counted.  Anal Angie hates not knowing exactly where she is, but it mattered so much less since it was a marathon.  I got it started and told myself that that and the missing Yurbud would be my only problems…positive thinking would rule the day (hint:  that would not continue to be the case!)

Those first few miles felt like a training victory lap.  I thanked volunteers, high-fived kids and  marveled at the spectator turnout.  I don’t know if Boston brought out more people to our small race or if it was a typical number, but they were so energetic, and it reminded me that I owe it to the sport to go cheer on a few races when I can and to definitely volunteer in the future.

Mile 3.something:  time for the marathon and HM to split off.  Marathoners to the left, please…you’re going to swing out west to Colorado and north to Nebraska for a few hours!    I looked with longing at the HMers heading right.  That’s how I identify myself, and for a second it felt wrong to try to “hang” with the maniacs.

First aid station, btw?  Gatorade in my face.  Why I thought I could keep a slow jog going and sip from a cup is beyond me.  Stupid is as stupid does.

Revelation at about Mile 4:  I didn’t like running with the pace group.  We were so bunched in!  I felt like it forced me to compare myself to them, and I didn’t want that.  Plus, someone would get slightly ahead, then cut over, forcing me to pull back.  Or someone would be so close on my tail that I would speed up to make room.  Or the leader would suddenly increase/decrease his pace, forcing the pack to do the same.  One girl seemed determined that NO ONE would come between her and him, so she hung practically on his ass, and this for some reason bugged me, even though I understand why she was doing it.  I found her annoying and didn’t want to be running behind or with her anymore.  Even her ass and her stride annoyed me (weird feeling, huh?  I know, it’s odd.) 

I didn’t like trying to keep up in aid stations either.  Some he jogged through, and some he stopped and walked through.  When he walked, I would get there after he did and then be sipping my Gatorade while he took off, forcing me to sprint to catch up, which I didn’t think I should be doing.  None of this was his fault–he was great, and many in the group seemed to be enjoying the “team” aspect of it.  I just didn’t think it was for me, yet I wanted to keep that pace, especially since my app was inaccurate.

Around Mile 8-9, he stopped at an aid station, and I decided to run through it so I could keep a steadier pace.  I figured he and the group would catch up in a few minutes and decided to enjoy the solitude until then.

I fell behind a woman who seemed to have a similar pace and a great style and had chosen to leave the group at the same time as I had.  I told her that she was holding the pace, and she laughed.  She was steady, strong on the hills and generally not annoying to me, for whatever reason.  She had a friend who was weaker on the hills and would fall behind but then would make up ground and catch up to us on the flat stretches.  The three of us continued like this for miles.  At one point, I made room for the friend to get in front of me to get closer to her friend (the leader), and I told the leading runner that she had a great ass, and that I should know since I’d been following it for four miles!  She was howling and slapping her butt in thanks.  

The marathon is a charismatic event.  It has everything.  It has drama.  It has competition.  It has camaraderie.  It has heroism.  Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.

Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder

I was running strong and finally at my own comfortable pace.  I was killing it!  My quad was loose and my energy was amazing.  There were no twinges going into my knee.  My app was giving me paces in the 9:18-9:30 range, and I felt limitless.  

Even better, being out of the pack gave me greater awareness of my surroundings, including the spectators.  Families had come out of their neighborhoods and set up shop with their kids for the morning, watching and cheering from lawn chairs, coolers stocked with food and drink and kids running along next to us and cheering with hands outstretched for high fives.  Many stood with signs, and I heard so many cowbells!  People were driving along next to us shaking cowbells out their windows.  The peace and joy and pride, mixed with euphoria is something I wish everyone could experience, and I’ve never felt that mix of emotions on a half-marathon before.

I realized that the 4:20 group had never caught back up with me, but I could turn and see them behind me.  I could hear them too…about every 5 minutes, the leader would yell at them, and they would all shout out whoops and hollers.  I decided to see if I could just stay ahead of them COMFORTABLY without pushing myself beyond what I guessed was reasonable for that stage of the race.  I tried to think of them as maniacs, zombies after the apocalypse trying to chase me down…competitors trying to steal my rightful place in line.

We approached Mile 15, zombies in the rearview mirror, and I took a moment to reflect on how easy and rewarding the first 15 Miles had been.  I’d run beyond my tempered expectations thus far, and I was starting to see the first round of walkers.  I was thankful that my body was cooperating.

I was about to enter the part of the race that had me terrified…an out-and-back stretch of nature trail, running from Mile 15-22.

I hate out-and-back stretches.  I find them demoralizing, disconcerting, dumb–basically any negative word that starts with “D.”  I could feel fear coming on, but I knew I was also scheduled to see TiffeeG for the first time at the entrance to the trail, and I also knew that I was running AMAZEBALLS.  My hamstring was really starting to tighten up, though, and I could feel the strain reaching up into my glute.

And I saw her, before she saw me.  The poster in this next pic is not the one she was holding up at the time…that one said Bounce That!!!!!  But I couldn’t take a picture, so this shot will have to suffice, and it definitely captures the spirit of my beautiful sister.  As I’m sure you can imagine, I was beyond emotional and inspired just at the sight of her.  I tossed her my jacket and kept screaming, “I love you!” as I ran past.  Seeing her meant the world to me.

 

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It could not have gotten any better, other than the pain in my ass.  And then of course it did.  Camped out just up ahead in the trees were HH and our boys.  I saw them starting to cheer and stand up, and all I can remember is slapping my hands to my cheeks.  HH told me that a woman in front of me thought they were cheering for her (we runners were pretty spread out by that point) and started to thank them for encouraging her, then saw that they were really doing it for me and was embarrassed.  Too funny!  They continued to cheer her on too!

HH ran along beside me for a moment to see how I was doing.  He said I was looking strong.  I told him that my quad was okay but that my hamstring was going to be the issue.

Seriously, does it get any better than this?  And I was cracking up at the sign that said, “You’re pretty!”  So damn funny!  Thanks, TiffeeG!

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The difference between the mile and the marathon is the difference between burning your fingers with a match and being slowly roasted over hot coals.

Hal Higdon

That stretch of nature trail was hellish, just as I’d anticipated.  At first it was thrilling, because I got to see the faster runners flying back by.  Their speed and determination was amazing…oh, the envy!  One woman was streaking along while dressed as the Wicked Witch—blazing her path while carrying her witch’s hat.  Geez!

The zombies were gaining on me, though, and I could feel my energy dipping.  They came closer and closer, and I knew I would have to just try and fall back in as they approached.  I reconciled myself to this fact and took my place in the (now much smaller) bunch.

I quickly became upset.  The leader was running too fast for me at this point.  They were running pretty fast, beyond what I wanted to give at that stretch of the race.  My app was giving me great paces, still on target to be quite close to a 4:20, but they started to pull ahead, and it felt like a strain to keep up.  My hamstring was hurting so bad, and it would not allow me to take long strides or make major pace changes.  Plus, I knew my energy was flagging, and I was only at about Mile 19.  I decided that he must be running closer to a 4:15, and I knew I shouldn’t overexert to keep up.  There was still so much ahead!

It hurt like hell to let them go.  Dismal.  Depressing.  Devastating.  I told myself that I wasn’t racing the 4:20 group, I was racing myself and the distance.  I needed to focus on my own race and my taut hamstring, not six people I’d never seen before and some arbitrary time on a stick.

So I slugged on, through the most solitary part of the course, by myself.  Looking back, I’m glad for this stretch of the race, when I dug the deepest.  Lofty goals were disappearing by the second, and everything was stripped down to the barest of motives.  Finish.  Keep moving, even if no one is watching and cheering.  One foot in front of the other.  Each step closer to the finish, regardless of how fast.

It gave me time to reflect on so many hours spent alone on the streets, to remember snot-crusted nostrils and saliva-soaked neck gators.  I thought of rain and snow and stretching and icing, of meal planning and hydration and commitment.  I thought of discipline, and of my family.

I thought of TiffeeG and pain for no good reason, suffering with no medal at the end, no applause and no spectators.

I don’t think I’d trade those minutes in the woods for anything–okay, maybe for a 4:15 finish or a cure for AS, but nothing else!

Finally, I spotted HH with the boys, TiffeeG and my friends Erin and Danielle behind him.  The timing was perfect.  HH ran beside me again and told me that I still had a great time.  He later told me that he was all ready to fire some smartass comments, until he saw that I had fallen behind the pace group I’d been ahead of before and once he saw how godawful I looked.  Smart man.

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I was overwhelmed to think that they would all stand there and wait in the cold just to cheer me on and support me.  I shouted I love you’s and thank you’s again as I passed, and I told my friend Erin, “If I EVER talk about doing this again, slap me, stop me, do whatever you have to do!  NEVER again!!!!!”

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I think she knew not to listen to me at that point!

Danielle had offered to run the last four miles with me.  She fell into step beside me, but not before I totally got in some lady’s way.  Sorry!

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I told Danielle that my body was trying to barf.  I almost felt vomit rising up in my stomach.  I was gutting it out at this point, but looking back, the worst was behind me.  I knew I was going to finish.  My hamstring was in a really bad place, but I was close to my goal and knew that nothing would prevent me from crossing that line.

I could hardly talk, and I hope she understood, though we did talk briefly about drawing the obvious parallel to childbirth.  It wasn’t cardiovascular, it was mental.  I couldn’t devote any energy to listening or participating in conversation.  I couldn’t focus on anything but the road and my steps.  I tried to draw from her energy.  I didn’t know it yet, but we were entering the most inspiring leg of the race.

My app told me that I was running at a 10:45 pace.  Balls!  I announced to Danielle that I couldn’t live with that and willed my legs to move faster.  I know I looked like hell and felt even worse, but I did not work my ass off to finish with 10:45 miles!  B to the S!  Hell to the no!

The spirit of the runners in those last few miles will stay with me forever.  Obviously, the elites and the sub-4:00 marathoners were finished or at least well past.  This seemed to be the group of runners ranging from the 4:00 hopefuls with missed goals, all the way to the 4:30 hopefuls having the race of their dreams.

There was a lot of pain evident in that last stretch.  So many people were walking or pulled over to the side working on leg cramps.  I myself was running at one point while trying to massage my own ass.  Hello, awkward!  Many runners were barely shuffling along…yet when we passed them, they lifted their heads and said words of encouragement.

“You got this, runner!”

“Keep going!”

“Finish strong!”

Was there anyplace I would have rather been?  Of course not.  I have never felt such spirit or sense of camaraderie in a half-marathon.  I tried to imprint every moment of it into my brain–when I wasn’t cussing and asking where the next f$#*ing mile marker was.

One man in front of us literally fell over sideways at one point.  Danielle rushed to help him while I trudged ahead trying to look over my shoulder.  She caught back up and said that he claimed to be okay, but we alerted the volunteers at the next aid station.

Speaking of aid stations, I skipped the last two.  If I had stopped, my muscles would have instantly locked up and prevented me from moving.  Plus, the thought of Gatorade was so nasty at that point.  I didn’t ever want to see Gatorade again in my lifetime.

We saw HH and the boys up ahead.  HH told me how far I had to go and that TiffeeG and Erin were waiting at the finish line.  Alex fell into step with me and Danielle, and we finished the last quarter-mile or so, just the three of us.

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I heard the cheers of the crowd and heard the announcer call my name as I approached.  I also could see TiffeeG and Erin.  I started crying, but managed a little pageant wave.

4:22:01!

I almost hate to include these pictures, because I look so awful, but I can’t not share…

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I hope you enjoyed the race recap!  Again, sorry if it was too lengthy.  I am off to New Orleans tomorrow to spend the weekend with good friends (including a visit from HH!), so I will post again on Monday with the race aftermath…beginning with when I stopped running and every single muscle in my body clenched up :-)!

Thanks for reading!

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