Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mission Accomplished

...and we're off. The half-marathon began and I took off with the crowd. I had placed myself with the 9-minute pacing group at the start line since I was hoping to finish the half-marathon in about 2 hours. Within the first two miles, I felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom. I played it off as just nervousness and anxiety and I refused to make a bathroom stop. Despite the persistent urge to go to the bathroom, the first 9 miles were surprisingly wonderful. I had found a group of runners that I could pace myself with and I was unexpectedly averaging about 8:15-8:20 minute miles. I approached a few hills during the race and I could feel my pace slow down a little but I immediately checked my Garmin and kept up with "my group." During these initial miles, I took stock of the moment. It was the largest and the farthest race that I had ran thus far. I observed all the runners- young, old, small, large, male, and female. Some were running in solitude as I was while others were running in groups. I was simply in awe at that moment. There is a certain level of camaraderie and fellowship that is felt among all runners, whether we personally know each other or not. Without any words spoken, we understand both the joys and pains of running. Thus, I relished in the moment and felt proud and thankful to be present.

Along the way, there were several checkpoints where fans where cheering us on. I noticed small children holding signs honoring and encouraging their parents and loved ones to keep running. I observed residents along the course sitting with lawn chairs and applauding us for our efforts. It was my motivation and inspiration to keep it moving...but then it happened. Around mile 10, I lost the thrill of the moment and my legs seemed to be confused. They must have thought I was running a 10-mile race because they were hastily telling me to stop. My legs literally didn't want to move. I had to fight the urge to stop and walk. In addition, my need to use the bathroom had become stronger and even more prevalent, so I realized that this wasn't just nervousness.

At mile 11, I listened to my body and I had to make the much dreaded bathroom break. I also listened to my legs and the voice of doubt and began walking. My "running group" had left behind so I felt comfortable with taking a brief break from running. (They couldn't see me.) About 45 seconds later as the runners sprinted past me, that other voice of will and determination yelled loud and clear, "you can do this." So, I started running once again, I told myself that there was less than two miles to go. I checked my Garmin and I was back at my 8:20 pace and feeling good. As I approached the last mile, I saw the upcoming hill. My voice of doubt and fear whispered in my ear, "You're exhausted, just walk for a few seconds." So, I did. As the band was playing and the fans were cheering us on, I started to walk. The runners were passing me by with less than a mile to go. Then, I remembered the old mantra that my brother use to tell me, "just 3 steps." He would tell me to just focus on the next 3 steps when I would want to give up during our runs. He said that this would help me perservere through the difficult times and convince myself that I could do it. So, that's what I did. I counted, "1,2,3,1,2,3,1,2,3..." And there it was...the moment of truth, what I had been anxiously awaiting for, what I had spent the last four months training for, what I had sacrificed for...the finish line. I ran as fast as I could, thinking "you're there." As I crossed the finish line, I thought, "mission accomplished." With a final time of 1:53:13, I had not only survived my first half marathon but I had finished under two hours. Once again, I knew that I had made my father proud...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Keeping the Faith

(Sylvester and I before the race!)

As race day was approaching, I was becoming increasingly anxious for the half-marathon. Memories of my failed marathon attempt began to surface along with feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. Despite my years of running and my most recent four months of training, I was beginnning to question if I could even run the half-marathon. Have I trained enough? Am I really prepared? What if I get sick? What if I trip and fall? What if I can't make it to the finish line? All these questions lingered in my mind.

The week of the race I started to check the weather forecast, secretly hoping for inclement weather so I might have a cop out. I was so afraid of failing once again and I didn't know if I had the courage to make it to the starting line, yet alone the finish line. Suddenly, I was reminded of that voice that lives inside me that always loses the faith. It's the part of me that wants to give up, the part of me that is afraid to take a chance and simply afraid of the unknown. I have struggled with this inner voice for years and I vowed that I would never let this voice of fear discourage me from obtaining my goals. Thus, I knew I had to do it. Even it turned out to be the worst race ever, I still had to give it a try.

The morning of the race, my fiance and I along with our Yorkie, Sylvester (named after my father), woke up bright and early and drove to Dexter for the race. The forecast was calling for a slight chance of rain and the sky was full of clouds. Upon arrival, I saw hundreds, even thousands of runners stretching, jogging, and preparing for the course. I was terrified. The weather was a bit chilly that morning, so the three of us sat in the car for a few minutes while I tried to mentally prepare for the race. Sylvester gave me a few kisses telling me, "You can do it, Mommy." My fiance gave me his vote of support and encouragement and took a few pictures to capture the moment. I finally told myself that I had to get out of the car in order to run the race, so I did. We headed to the start line and patiently waited for the race to commence. My fiance took a few more pictures and we casually conversated with a few fellow runners. Within a few minutes, the race officials told us that there was going to be a 30 minute delay to the race due to a fallen tree along the course. Covertly, I was hoping that the race would get cancelled. At least this way, I wouldn't be a quitter. Hey, I can't run a race if it gets cancelled, right? (I would later find out that come hell or high water, most races don't get cancelled.) So, about 25 minutes later we head back to the starting point, much to my dismay. The butterflies were still flying around in my stomach and I felt a sudden urge to vomit. I fought the feelings of anxiety and I reminded myself of the importance of faith. I had to believe that I could do this. I had physically and mentally prepared for this day and I was willing to give it my best effort...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here We Go Again

With a renewed perspective on life, I was gradually rebuilding my relationship with running. My admiration and love for the sport was beginning to surface once again. I was starting to remember just what running meant to me. It's a fundamental part of who I am. I can't describe myself without including the designation of runner. It's a part of my being. It's a feeling that I can't always translate into words, but it's felt every time I put on my running shoes and put my feet on the ground (despite whether or not that run is good, bad, or indifferent.)

With the commencement of the spring season and a much needed interruption from the horrendous Michigan winters, I was running more outside. As I stepped out each morning in the brisk air, I thought to myself, "Running, I do love you." I had fallen in love with running again and this time, I was determined that nothing would come between us. As we restored our relationship, I decided that we would work on our communication, remain committed despite our occasional disagreements, and focus on some long-term goals. I was still determined to obtain my ultimate goal of running a marathon and I thought we would begin the voyage by completing my first half.

Without much hesitation, I signed up for the Ann Arbor-Dexter Half-Marathon and began my training regime. As my mileage increased, my body started to experience some aches and pains but nothing that shouldn't be expected as one trains for longer races. As the weeks progressed, I was having doubts about this whole half-marathon thing. However, still bursting with motivation and perseverance, there was no question that I would carry on. As I got closer to the race date, I decided to register for the Detroit Free Press Marathon. My initial thought was to wait to uncover the results of my half-marathon, but I decided against it. What if the race was a complete failure? I couldn't allow that to deter me from my dreams of running the full...So I did it. I registered for the race and continued my journey to the half. Just a few weeks from race day, I was experiencing more bumps and hiccups with my training (both physical and mental.) Calf pain, knee pain, fatigue, anxiety, and skepticism all seem to resurface but I couldn't let it hinder me...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Life Must Go On

While I was proud of my accomplishment, the months, weeks, and days that followed the race would be the most challenging times in my life. Each day seemed overwhelming with feelings of hopelessness and despair. Many nights, I experienced nightmares that relived my father's most feeble moments and reminded me of my helpnessness in it all. A place, a person, a picture, a song and even just a word would remind me of him. A constant void remained in my life that no man, woman, object, or experience could fulfill.

See, I have always been a Daddy’s girl. From infancy to adulthood, I have always had a special bond with my father. Maybe because I was adopted, maybe because I was the youngest, or maybe because I have always been so emotional. For whatever reason, my father has always been in my corner, my biggest cheerleader if you will. Even through the darkest hours in my life, when even I had lost faith and hope in myself, he never underestimated my potential to transform into something so beautiful. He always believed in me. He encouraged, inspired, and championed me to make the most of my life. He never let me down and he taught me the meaning of unconditional love. I would be lying if I said that his undying love and admiration for me has always been transparent. It took me years to really begin to fathom how much my father truly loved me. I often confused his words of wisdom and guidance as attempts to control my life and repress my independence. As I grew older, clarity and understanding of his love emerged along with a stronger love and admiration for my father. Even during his last few breaths of life, he never stopped loving me. While his physical strength subsided and his health rapidly declined, he continued to show his love for me through his words, thoughts, and actions; displaying to all, his devotion to not only me but to his entire family.

Well, it's been over 15 months since my father's passing and while the pain is not as profound it is still present. I believe the hardest part of my father's passing, is learning to live life again. For the longest, I felt guilty about exepriencing and enjoying life. It just didn't seem fair because my father wasn't present to experience it with me. Through it all, I have learned that life must go on.

Thus, each day, I recall the value of our health and the importance of making the most of my life. I have continued to run races and this year, I participated in the Annual Run for the Ribbon Prostate Cancer Event, again in honor of my father. I raised almost $600 and I actually took first place overall female in the 5k in a time of 22:06. Again, not my personal best, but a fabulous race nonetheless. It was awesome to run for my father and all those who have been impacted by prostate cancer.

As I prepare for my first marathon in October and my wedding just 13 days after the race, my only wish is for my father to be present. I realize that I can not turn back the hands of time, so I try to seize each moment and live my life to the fullest, honoring my father each step of the way...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This Is For You

The donations poured in and the preparation for the race began. I had begun increasing my mileage the previous weeks so I didn't feel the need for much physical preparation for a 5k. However, mentally I didn't know if I was ready to run such an emotional race on my first Father's Day without my Daddy. Nonetheless, I was determined to carry on.

A few weeks later, I had raised close to $400 and it was time to get my feet moving. On race day, I turned in my donations and picked up my packet including my blue ribbon symbolizing Prostate Cancer. I wrote "In memory of Delbert Beard" on the ribbon and pinned it to my shorts. It was a reminder of what this race was all about. It would serve as my cheerleader, my supporter, and even my partner for the next 3.1 miles. As I stood among hundreds of runners and walkers who were survivors of Prostate Cancer and supporters for this cause, it all felt surreal. Never did I imagine that my father would pass away so soon and so suddenly. Losing him only a month ago, the wound hadn't even begun to heal...

Mixed feelings of sadness, excitement, and nervousness began to take surface. I was beyond anxious to start the race. My palms were sweaty, my stomach was turning, and my feet were antsy. I stood among the crowd thinking about my father and his war with cancer. Once again, I recognized the fraility of our lives and how abruptly our health can simply be taken away. I looked above and spoke softly to my Daddy, "This is for you."

When the gun was shot, I took off running. It had been almost 8 years since I ran a 5k and the thought of pacing myself somehow elapsed my mind. The adrenaline kicked in and I ran off with the crowd thinking about those last few days with my father and his illness over the past 9 years. I thought about his numerous fights with cancer (his constant trips to the doctor's office for chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatment; his numerous hospital stays; his loss of coordination and body movement; and his inability to care for himself.) Despite these struggles, his will and determination to stay alive never subsided. While he lost many battles, he never gave up.

As I finished the first mile in rapid time, my breaths became shorter and my legs began to burn. I told myself to slow down, take it easy, don't push yourself too hard. By the time I reached mile two, I simply wanted to quit. The shortness of breath returned, my body was aching and my feet were telling me to stop. I thought about my father and his fortitude. He never gave up, he kept on going. So I continued as fast as I could thinking only 1.1 miles to go. As I crossed the finish line at 23:48, this wasn't my best time but this was definitely my best race. I had ran with a purpose and let me tell you that nothing can quite compare to how I felt as I crossed that finish line with a smile on my face saying "Daddy, this is for you."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Running with a New Purpose

After my father's passing, I returned home feeling ambigous about my future and what the next steps would be. My world had been demolished and I didn't know how to put the pieces back together. I soon discovered that nothing can adequately prepare you for such an enormous loss. There are no words that can be spoken, gestures that can be shared, or gifts that can be given that can rectify the feelings of anger, sadness and despair that you experience from losing a loved one. Nonetheless, I immediately returned to work and back to my "normal" life, hoping to find some solace, anticipating that a return to normalcy would help ease the pain. It would be months before I would learn that nothing would fill that void that had been etched in my heart and soul.

After many sleepless nights and endless days, I slowly began to find refuge in both writing and running. They both served as opportunities for self-analysis, discovery, and reflection. As I attempted to find acceptance and peace, I was determined that my father's passing would not be in vain. I have always been a firm believer that each experience in life can bring valuable lessons. This time would be no different. It is through this pain and loss, I realized just how fragile and temporary our lives can be. I was reminded to never take anything or anyone for granted and to truly seize each moment. I rediscovered the significance of love, understanding, compassion, and giving to others. Beyond that, I recognized the strength and depth of my love for my father. I wanted him to know that he would not be forgotten, his life and legacy would live on.

So, I decided that running would be my avenue for commemorating the most important man in my life. I had run several races before simply out of pleasure, but never for any true purpose. I decided that my running would have new meaning. I would run for my father and for all those who could not run. I would run to make a difference.

Shortly after his passing, I decided to look for races that supported Prostate Cancer, the disease that took my father's life. I thought it would be the perfect way to honor and remember his life while also raising money for a personal and valuable cause. So after a few days of searching, I found the Run for the Ribbon Prostate Cancer Event which included a 5k race. This event was held on Father's Day and raised money to support Prostate Cancer awareness, education, treatment, and research opportunities. It was absolutely perfect. I would spend my first Father's Day without my Daddy running a race in his honor. I immediately registered for the race and began collecting donations....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Finding My Motivation Again

After the failed marathon attempt, I focused on recovery. I spent about one month going to physical therapy and spent the following months continuing the strengthening exercises at home. I continued to workout at the gym, but I took a much needed break from running. It was hard to go back to the gym because many of my fellow workout and running partners knew that I had been training for a marathon. So, I told my injury story over and over again, feeling defeated each time the words came out of my mouth. Who trains for a marathon but doesn't run it?

As the months turned into years, I continued to exercise and slowly began to run again. I didn't have the same motivation as I did when I signed up for the marathon in the spring of 2006 but I still valued my health and fitness so I kept chugging along. However, I had no desire to race, not even a 5k. I put in a few miles here and there, but my on and off relationship with running would continue for the next three years. And then it happened. I will never forget the day. I received a phone call from my mother that my father's prostate cancer had spread to his liver. The doctor was estimating that he only had a few more weeks to live. He had been battling prostate cancer for over 9 years. On this day, he was told that the war was coming to an end and that he no longer had to fight.

My fiance and I (who was my boyfriend at the time) immediately drove the 8-hour drive to my parents. We joined my father and my mother at the hospital that night. My father and I hugged, kissed, laughed, cried, and began to say our goodbyes. My father knew it was his time. I didn't want to believe it, but he knew it and he wanted us to have our time together. He came home a day and a half later to savor his last days of life and to try to find some peace and comfort. For the next eight and a half days, I stayed by his side (along with my family) and watched his health rapidly deteriorate until he left this earth on May 18th, 2009. My world shattered right before my eyes. I had loss the most important man in my life and it all happened so quickly. I had never before witnessed someone die. I couldn't believe how quickly his body could betray him and simply fall apart. I was truly astonished. Words can not fully describe the grief and loss that both my family and I felt and continue to feel from the loss of my father. However, it is through this loss that my life was transformed.

During my father's last few days, my urge for running suddenly emerged, much stronger and persistent than ever before. I was hesitant to leave his side, but my family convinced me that I needed to get away, even if only for a few moments. So, I managed to get in a few short runs during his last days. During those runs, I thought about every moment that my father and I shared. I thought about our joys and sorrows, victories and defeats. I played the same song over and over on my Ipod, Stay with Me. I didn't want to let him go; I couldn't imagine my life without him. It was during these moments that not only did I fall in love with my father all over again but I also rediscovered my love for running. I was determined to run again and this time, it wasn't about me, it was about my father...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Through the Storm

It has been too long since my first post. My hope was to share my thoughts much more frequently, but just 81 days until our wedding and unfortunately, my time to write has been limited. Nonetheless, I continue this journey.

I have been in love with running for many years, at times, it has been all a girl could want or need. However, I must admit, at times we just don't get along. Maybe it's our inability to effectively communicate or maybe we let too many things come between us. Whatever the case might be, we have gone our separate ways...temporarily ending our relationship but always managing to mend it back together.

In 2006, I decided to follow my dream and train for my first marathon. I have always envisioned that one day I would endure the 26.2 miles and cross the finish line of a marathon. I finally had the courage and audacity to sign up for the Chicago Marathon. I had no idea of what this experience would entail but I took a leap of faith and jumped right in. Little did I know that the leap of faith should have included a subscription to Runner's World, extensive research in marathon training, frequent visits to the library, interviews and focus groups with marathon runners, and probably even a visit with my PCP. Okay, so I wasn't preparing for a dissertation but you get the point. While I wasn't completely oblivious to the necessary requirements of this endeavor, I was unware of what my body would have to endure for 16 weeks. I did take the time to visit the library on a couple of occasions. I examined a few training schedules and I found one that seemed like the right fit, but again, I had no idea of what was in store for me.

As I began the training, I was enthusiastic about my increase in mileage. I was becoming fitter and faster and it felt so good. It was truly amazing to see my body transform and truly adapt to running despite the internal and external conditions. I found both the physical and emotional strength to follow my training schedule and I was seeing so much progress, but shut the front door!! No one told me my toe nails would fall off, they forgot to mention (or maybe I just didn't ask) about this minor detail!?!?! I surely was not informed that I would forfeit my whole summer to early nights for much needed rest and early mornings for long runs. Did I mention no weekends? You spend one day of your weekend running for hours and the rest of the time you are just trying to get it back together. I sware that no one mentioned the significance of ongoing stretching, weight lifting, and cross training. I thought my job was to run!! Oh, and new shoes every 250-300 miles?? Really? Okay, so maybe I did receive some friendly suggestions along the way and I just failed to heed the advice. I guess I simply minimized the experience or maybe I was in denial. Either way, the more I was immersed into training, the more I learned how overwhelming this experience could be. No worries, I wasn't giving up. I held on. I was determined to achieve this goal, but then it happened. Three weeks before the marathon, I was running my last long run before the race at Gallup Park. It was mile 18 of mile 20. My knee gave out. I didn't want to believe it, so I attempted to carry on. Not possible, the knee was done and I was terrified that I was done. I took a couple of days off, hoping I could get right back on the "running horse." I just couldn't. I finally visited my PCP and even a Sports Medicine doctor. They confirmed that I had a case of "runner's knee." My genetics, lack of proper stretching and strength training, and my bad shoes all contributed to my injury. They felt as though that maybe it was not too late to still run the marathon. They encouraged me to rest and to see how I felt. It was ultimately up to my body. I spent the next week trying to relax and recuperate, but I knew it was over. I finally made the decision that my body just couldn't handle the marathon. I had failed. I let go of the dream and I let go of running...