Sunday, July 24, 2011

Why a Marathon? Another Reminder...

At 6:00a.m. this morning, I began my quest to complete marathon #3, a challenge that I thought I would never be able to conquer. The past two weeks preceding this marathon were no different than the others, unfortunately, as I was plagued with knee pain. This time it was accompanied with some hip and lower back pain. Thus, I vowed to take it easy after my 10k last weekend. I allowed myself to rest as needed this week which meant no running for three days while enjoying a massage and sleeping late in the mornings. However, the pain continued just one day before the marathon and I was uncertain of my racing future. (I am starting to wonder if this pain is a sign for me to slow down to physically and mentally prepare myself for race day because I think otherwise I would just keep going.)

The Carrollton Marathon was over a two-hour drive from our house so we spent the night in a hotel and woke up at 4:00a.m. to head over to the race. I was following my usual pre-race routine of stretching, meditating, multiple bathroom breaks, and kisses from Sylvester when I realized I forgot to put on deodorant. Epic fail!! I told my husband that there was no way that I was running 26.2 miles in the heat without it. (I get funky on 5-mile runs in 20 degree weather!!) It was 20 minutes from start time but I begged my husband to take me to look for some. After two failed attempts at gas stations, we decided to get back to the race. While in the car, we searched for anything remotely close to deodorant. We found some hand sanitizer and my husband told me to use it since it kills bacteria and bacteria is what makes you get stinky. (My husband's theory, not mine, but I heeded the advice.)

We arrived back at the start line at 5:58a.m. WHEW, close call!! I began the race feeling nervous about my knee and the fact that I didn't get to use the restroom at least one last time. (I usually go at least five times before the race, this time I only went twice.) However, I knew that the show must go on! I started out running the first four miles close to an 8:00 minute pace. My knee was feeling good so I went with it and ran a pace that felt comfortable. I started running 7:35-7:45 miles and at mile 13, I realized that I was on pace to run under 3:30. I continued with that pace despite my stops at mile 6 and 15 to drop some "kids" off. My stomach seemed queasy for some strange reason. I also realized that my husband's theory of hand sanitizer as deodorant might be working after all, so I used more at the restroom stops! = ) Around mile 19, I started to lose my thunder and my pace was dropping to 8:15, 8:40, and it kept going down. The heat was exhausting. I was so hot and dehydrated, I just couldn't seem to drink enough. This constant flow of water and Gatorade made my belly feel like it was going to bust! Not to mention, my legs were fatigued and I started to feel pain in my legs and on the top of my foot. At one point, I remembered thinking that every muscle in my lower body ached...(well, at least that is what I told myself.) At mile 19, 20, 21, and 22, I asked myself why a marathon wasn't 20 miles, or 21 or 22 or 23 for that matter. I just wanted it to be over with. I was miserable and I kept asking myself why I even wanted to run this damn thing. (Note: Around mile 14, I was telling myself how much I love marathons and I couldn't believe how fast the time was going by. I was enjoying the scenery and just happy to be there. Funny, how my tune changed.) I had to make one final stop at mile 24 to drop more "kids" off and I struggled the last couple of miles. A fellow runner reminded me that we had just 2 miles to go and that I had to finish strong, words that I needed to hear!!

As I pushed myself those last miles, I began to fall in love with the marathon all over again. I thought about the physical and mental challenges that a marathon brings. I recalled the months of training and preparation that lead up to that day and the sense of accomplishment when you finish. I also remembered the camaraderie and support from fellow runners on the course which is remarkable.

As I came closer to the finish line and I saw my husband and our, dog Sylvester, I was ecstatic! When I was about 200-300 meters from the finish line, I realized that I was just seconds from my previous marathon time. So, I pushed it, and ended up finishing at the exact same time as my last marathon (at least unofficially according to my Garmin and the race clock, the official results have yet to be posted.) As I crossed the line, I felt so humble, yet so proud. (However, I won't lie, after that initial rush, I felt HOT, SWEATY, NAUSEOUS, TIRED, and THIRSTY! I just wanted to sit down and eat my Popsicle!)

Overall, it was a great small race with awesome volunteers and runners. I was originally leery about the 3 loops for the course. However, I became fond of it because it allowed me to count down loops rather than miles, well, at least initially! = ) I also appreciated the fact that I knew what to expect after the first loop and I could anticipate the course!!

At the end of the day, my husband and I share our highs and lows for the day. In response to my husband, I stated that the marathon was both my high and low. With tears in my eyes, I told him that it was my high because I remember those days when I yearned to run a marathon but that voice inside me told me that I wasn't strong enough, fast enough, brave enough, or determined enough. Years would pass by when I simply looked at marathon registrations, never having the tenacity, courage, or determination to fill out the form and begin my training. Now, here I am with three marathons under my belt in the past nine months and I can't help but be thankful and proud. I explained to my husband the physical and mental challenges that one must endure to complete a marathon. There is a point in the race, where you have to tell yourself, that you can, that you are strong enough, fast enough, brave enough, and determined enough!! There is a point where you push yourself to go farther than you ever thought was possible!! Cliche, I know but these words hold so true to my heart and soul!! Running provides me with the self-confidence and reassurance that I can tackle whatever obstacle that comes my way. It encourages and inspires this small town girl who often feels lost in such a crazy, big world. It reminds this girl who is often full of self-doubt, fear, and anxiety that I can do whatever I set my mind to, an irreplaceable feeling. I feel as though we all seek those challenges and experiences in life that allow us to self-examine, reflect, grow, find meaning, and validate our existence. Running fulfills this role in my life.

While sharing my high, I also noted to my husband that running another marathon was such a blessing. I feel so blessed and fortunate to be able to run 26.2 miles and I am so grateful for my physical health and strength that allows me to put one foot in front of the other.

When I discussed my low for today, I also reflected on my marathon. While I made it to the finish line and I conquered some obstacles, I recognize the places for growth. I still battle that voice that tells me that I can't do it, that I am not worthy. That voice that tells me to give up because it is just too difficult, often telling me that it is absolutely impossible. You know, that voice that immobilizes your faith, hope, and perserverance and feels you with fear and doubt. At times during the race, I allowed this voice to prohibit me from continuing. It was nearly unfeasible to find the mental strength that I needed to endure and to push on. There were several points towards the end of the race where I knew that I was still close to reaching my goal of 3:30-3:35 but I couldn't find the inner strength to push myself slightly further...disappointing as I reflect back on those moments.

At the end of the day, when I ponder on the total experience, I am merely thankful to have finished another marathon. I am so thankful to possess the physical and mental health and strength to run 26.2 miles. I am so grateful to have the love, support, and encouragement from my husband, family, friends (including DM) that help me to achieve my goals. I am reminded that I do love marathons!! (I have been secretly planning for marathon #4 for the past month, contemplating the Monumental Marathon in Indy in November!)

Ultimately, I am reminded to live, love, and be happy; seizing every moment and believing in myself!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Journey of a Marathoner

Yesterday, I ran my second marathon, Glass City, exactly 6 months after running my first marathon, Detroit Free Press. I definitely didn't planned it that way...It was 4:30a.m. and I was brushing my teeth, getting ready for Glass City, when I had the epiphany that it was exactly 6 months since I had become a marathoner. I yelled at my husband that I had just made the connection and I truly believed this held significance in my marathon journey.

To quickly recap my first marathon experience, I must remind you that it was just 13 days before our wedding...and no, that was not the initial plan. After signing up for the Detroit Free Press Marathon, my husband and I decided to move our wedding date up by 8 months. No, I wasn't pregnant, but yes, we were beyond ready to start our union. Little did I know that it would be extremely difficult to plan a wedding in just a few months while simultaneously training for my first marathon. Needless to say, I ran my first marathon with inadequate physical and mental training. (Hey, it is hard to give it your all when you are picking out bridesmaid dresses, decorations, music, flowers, and the list goes on!)

During those months of preparation, I struggled with ongoing knee pain that included interruptions in my training schedule, a cortisone injection to help me manage the pain, and significant damage to my overall self-confidence. Despite my attempts to recover and become 100% healthy, I entered the race with an injured knee and high hopes of just making it across the finish line. I won't go into further details, other than saying, my knee gave out at mile 17. I spent the last 9.2 miles, walking, jogging, and slowly running to the finish line. I survived and I was thankful for that. However, I knew that my marathon journey had only just begun.

Even through all of the physical and emotional struggles of training, I knew that I would do it all over again. I was determined to train again, this time smarter and stronger with a renewed purpose and focus. I was now happily married, so I could cross at least one obstacle off the list. I was also determined to run a spring marathon in the hopes that this goal would keep me motivated to train during the brutal Michigan winters. I entered the winter months with a sense of purpose and motivation that I never knew existed. I must admit that I had been a fair weather runner, who often abandoned her outside running during the coldest months only to return to it when the temperature began to reach about 50 or 60. This year, I stayed focus and put in the most mileage ever. To put it all into perspective, I ran just 99 miles during the first 3 months of 2010. In 2011, I ran 795 miles in the first 3 months. My goal was to not only run a better marathon, but to become a stronger runner. Yes, I've been running for over 10 years, but I admit that sometimes I lose sight of my goals. I often allow fear and self-doubt to impede my goal attainment.

Once again, I knew that maintaining consistent training during the vicious Michigan winters would provide me with not only the foundation to execute a better marathon in the spring but the confidence I needed to obtain my goal. If I could survive running in the cold, ice, and snow, I could do anything, right? Thus, consistency was the name of the game!!

When race day came, I had high hopes but I was afraid to make my expectations known. I had failed at the marathon before, I was terrified of failing again. The two weeks prior to the race, I started having knee pain that I eventually connected to my intense speed workouts. So, I decreased the intensity of my workouts and really focused on easy pace running along with strengthening and stretching my leg muscles, core, and back. The week of the marathon, I drastically reduced my mileage, visited my masseur, and made a few trips to the chiropractor. The knee pain subsided but it didn't completely disappear. I woke up on race day with minimal knee pain but it still brought back horrible memories of my first marathon. I shook off all the negative energy and I prayed that I would simply do my best. Truth be known, I was hoping for a 3:35-3:40 marathon which would qualify me for the 2012 Boston Marathon.

The morning of the race, I made 3 trips to the bathroom which reduced the amount of time for my warm-up. I started the race with not even a mile of warm-up, but I held on to my self-confidence. I knew that I was ready. I thought about all of the long runs in the 0 degree temps, my 20-mile training run on a treadmill (that's just torture), and all my preparation until that day. After a brief stock of my training over the last 4 months, I continued my running, thinking, "just give it all you got."

I started out the race fairly conservative and I managed to stay with the 3:40 pacing group for the first 11 miles of the race. At mile 11, I had bathroom issues that I could not defer any longer. I had to stop but in the process, I lost a good 3-4 minutes of time. Right after my bathroom stop, I saw my running mentor, Tom. I was surprised and thankful to see him. He provided me with some much needed encouragement and motivation while he ran with me for about a half mile. I let him know that I had been staying with the 3:40 pacing group until my bathroom break. He told me that I could easily catch up with them. At that point, I started putting in 7:30 miles so I could catch up to the pace group.

At mile 16, Tom found me again. This time he had on shorts and was ready to go. We ran about 3 miles together, passing up the 3:40 pacing group. My splits were back to 7:30s and 7:40s. I felt stronger than ever. Tom told me that I looked great. He reminded me of my 60-70 mile training weeks and told me that I was ready for this day. It was exactly what I needed to hear. At mile 20, I started to slow down, I was afraid I couldn't manage the pace for another 6.2 miles. I began to doubt myself once again. There was no running mentor or friend to boost my confidence and encourage me the rest of the way. At mile 22, I really lost steam and was hovering around an 8:45 pace. I tried to adjust my ponytail and my hair tie broke. I had to finagle it back together while running in the wind. Have you seen all of my hair? There was no way I was running another 4 miles without my ponytail! :) Miles 23 and 24, I was just hanging on for dear life. I needed some motivation at that point!! Where's Tom when you need him the most? I just couldn't push myself. Physically, I was a little tired, but it was definitely the mental barriers that were holding me back!! Plus, that wind started to get brutal again!! It was smacking me in my face and literally pushing me around. At mile 25, I stuck with my mantra, "just give it all you got." I ran mile 26 at a 7:42 pace, my second fastest mile of the race. My official time was 3:38:41, an hour and 13 minutes faster than my last marathon. I had met my goal and qualified for Boston.

Lessons were learned during this race and I definitely have room to grow. However, I have to say that I was humble and proud to run across that finish line knowing that I had achieved my goal!!