Friday, October 29, 2010

In the Hallway

"I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible." — John Steinbeck 

I had to make an incredibly tough and painful decision this week...a decision whose outcome I knew was right for me but also a decision that would alter my future forever.  I needed to end a serious relationship and face all those feelings I had been avoiding for way too long.  Sometimes just running is not the answer, sometimes we have to simply stop and draw on all the strength we learn from running to face the not-so-great times in our lives.

As someone said to me this week, "Well, when one door shuts, another opens, but it sure is hell standing in that hallway."  So, in the hallway, I stand.  I am learning that just standing can be okay.  Eventually, I'll move, but I need my comfort zone right now.  This is the time for it.  It feels very much like my last marathon, during the few short walk breaks I took:  "I just need to walk for a legs need to reset...I need to make sure I get a gel and water down."  And man, did it hurt running after that walk, but, eventually, the rhythm returned, pace crept back up and the miles ticked by once again.  

This blog started with a goal for running 40 miles for my 40th birthday.  The race I was going to do it in (supported) closed out before I could register.  An alternate possibility is the same day my son in making First Communion.  With those doors closed as well, I'm not sure if and when the next will open or when I will be ready to exit the hallway anyway.  Maybe my 40 miles will not be consecutive.  Maybe I will run 10 a day for 4 days in a row or 20 for 2 days in a row.  I don't know.  But, what I do know that this goal was never meant to be a stressor in my life, and I refuse to let it. The goal is also about the journey, not just running the miles. 

On my other blog, I once described my comfort zone as "soft, safe, sound, with no surprises lurking around the corner. In fact, there are no corners, just rounded edges, like mountains of pillows. It is reliable, never changes and never catches me off guard. Everything there just flows, in a very unchallenging, complacent way."  While I may just hang out here a little while, I'm not going to bring in any pillows.  I have too much to do.  

First and foremost, I already cracked one door open and signed up for a bucket-list race, giving myself a birthday present.  The Big Sur Marathon (yes, as in California) is May 1st and I have been eyeing it for some time.  I took a leap of faith (upon seeing that it was 86% full and currently closed) that I'd come up with the money, time, babysitters, and something to overcome my fear of flying, to jet out across the country to run.  I have family in Monterey and have been there twice, but not in 17 years.  I remember once sitting in Salinas, feeling a close kinship with author John Steinbeck. He was born there, but made Sag Harbor, Long Island, NY his adult hometown, which is where I grew up.  In that moment, surrounded by all that beauty, I got it.  So, I registered and know, if I put the energy forward, I will get there.  The "hows" don't even need to be discussed.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Carl Hart Fall Duathlon

"Our human tendency is to notice and appreciate things only when we are at risk of losing them, or have already lost them. Think about it: Love. Health. Strength. Freedom of movement. Relationships. Job. Peace...Why do we do this?" -Kristin Armstrong

I love the blog that Kristin Armstrong writes for Runner's World.  As usual, her post this week really resonated with me.  While I think the above quote is a great reminder, it was the following one that kind of hooked into my brain and stayed there all week: "Today was one of those times where the sweetness of this statement overrides all else: 
 I run because I can."

I was looking at some race calendars on-line and saw this duathon listed, happening in 2 days, and I thought, "why not?"  I had done the spring version of it once before (my only other multisport race...that story here).  A younger version of myself would have conjured up a multitude of reasons not to go (all fear-based), but Kristin's statement kept playing over in my mind.  Why would I go do a duathlon when I have not been out on a road bike in a year and 1/2?  Why would I try to sprint 2 short runs broken up by a windy bike leg, when I am just coming off marathon training?  Why would I give up a Sunday Morning sleep-in?  Because I can.  Simple.  No other reason.  Because I have a healthy, fit, strong body.  Because I can.

It's the same reason why I drove an hour by myself, blasting P!nk (new and old) and Eminem (old) on repeat, marveling at the sunrise.  It's the same reason why I posted the second fastest female bike split (by 17 seconds), beat my PR by 3 minutes, won my age group and came in 4th female overall.  It's the same reason why I stayed for the awards, cheering for all the other age groupers, even the girl who passed me on the last run to take my overall podium spot (after all, she did yell, "GO GIRL" when I flew past her on the bike, and was also really cool when she caught me back on that run).   It's the same reason I love doing this stuff.  Because I can. And for this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Oh, and, thanks so much the the guys at Port Washington Cyclery, who did a very last minute tune-up on my very neglected, dusty road bike.  It's too old and probably not the best fit for me anymore, but they helped make the ride as smooth and awesome as it could be...  

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thinking Big.

"A question from your friend the Universe:
Just how much time do you spend thinking really, really BIG?
Good, very good! 
Because that's exactly how much of it you're going to get."
-Mike Dooley

Okay, so I am one of those girls who has a "vision board."  Actually, I have 2.  I have one that I change, and one that I made just for this year.  On the one that I change, I often hang information about upcoming races or races/goals I hope to achieve in the future.  I firmly believe in this process because it has concretely worked for me all my life, even as a child.  Yet, I still have those moments in which I hold myself back and don't dream big.  I continue to question the "whys" around this, and it's an ongoing process.  

After last week's marathon, I recovered beautifully.  I was tired and drained and hungry all week, but my legs were fine.  FINE.  They were just a little sore the first day and almost 100% the second.  I was teaching Spin at about 90% on the third.  It was on this third day that someone asked me how my legs were feeling and, when I told him, his response was: "Then you really didn't race that race."  WTF???  There were moments that I almost died out there, almost walked off the course in grand dramatic fashion, throwing up my arms and swearing aloud to never run again.  For F-sakes, I took 38 minutes off of my only other marathon time.  I ran this faster than I ever thought I'd run a marathon.  I was SORE that first night.  Again, WTF???  He explained that he was not trying to minimize my accomplishment (which he genuinely thought was great), but trying to help me see that I have more to give, that my potential is much greater than what I think it is, that if I really put everything I had out there, I would be going down the stairs on my ass.  Even as I write this, I'm not 100% sure how I feel about these comments, but it did get me thinking.  Even before our conversation, I had been searching out races, already planning for the next one.  I was ready to go again, ready to break 4 hours.  NOW.  "You should go do Philadelphia in 6 weeks."  I looked it up. Obviously, it's already sold out.  But, if it wasn't, I'd be going.  I know this 100%.  

I also know I have that sub-4 hour marathon in me.  I know I'll have to work for it and stick to a more regimented training program and actually do speedwork, blah, blah, blah.  But, if I want it, I know I can get it.  Then, I started thinking bigger: "Well, turning 40 next year moves me up an age group and changes my Boston qualifying time..."  I initially laughed at this thought ("Me? Slow Me? Thinking Boston?") but stopped myself VERY quickly.  Louder than that voice of doubt was (finally) the voice that said: "You know, it might take a while, maybe even another age group jump, but you can do it."  

So, up on my vision board it went, and there it will stay until it happens.  

Oh, and one more thing.  I spent the entire day today cheering on my sons' football and baseball (doubleheader) endeavors.  It was a gorgeous fall day and I am an unbelievably grateful mom...I have 2 gifted and amazing kids.  After everything was over and we were in the car, my 11-year old noticed the new charm necklace I am wearing from Jessica's Gifts (thanks to the blogging community for sharing her products), commemorating my 2 marathons.  After studying them in silence for a second, he looked up at me and simply said, "I am really proud of you, Mom.  Really."  If that's not inspiration, I really don't know what is.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hamptons Marathon: You Can Keep That Parachute

If you have taken the time to read this little blog, you know I had a dream a while ago about setting a half-marathon PR.  In the beginning of the dream, I was running with a training parachute strapped to my waist, which I eventually removed, gave to a gas station attendant to hold for me, and went on to set a PR.  I know the parachute was symbolic of all the things...people and beliefs...that hold me back in my life, both in running and other ways.  These last few weeks have been a painful process of unhooking them, getting re-centered and moving forward.  I am not entirely there yet, but I proved to myself during my second marathon that, when I just listen to myself, not anyone else telling me what I "should" or "should not" do, I can be (even more) awesome.

My first marathon time, last year at NYC, was 4:44, slower that I hoped.  I had so much "noise" in my head around that race, so much advice, and such a sharp learning curve (I had only run my first half 6 months earlier) that I think I lost confidence in what I knew.  I thought I was eating properly, but did not, and was a mess during the middle miles, having to walk much more than I planned.  All that said, it is still one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I ran yesterday's marathon in 4:06.  Yes, easier in both course and logistics than NYC but, that is still a huge PR.  And, I did it because I listened to no one else but myself. Of course I read the training programs and other sources of information and pulled bits of advice that I thought would help me, but I turned down the volume on all that "noise." This was all mine.  I knew my training runs had gotten quicker (probably faster than all the "experts" would advise), but I did them how they felt right to me.  I worked my training schedule around my spin classes and while I never really ran "enough," I ran enough.  I went with my instincts as far as nutrition and it worked.  I listened to my body during the race and compensated for what it needed.  Other than sore legs, I felt fantastic at the finish.  I had no one telling me what to do during the run, to slow down or to speed up.  I ran from start line to finish line with Jen, but I still ran the race I wanted and needed to run.  That gas station attendant from my dream can keep that damn parachute.  Thanks, but, I don't want it back.  My race report follows, and is written just for me, but you can take a peek if you want:

Friday, 10/1, 6:30 pm.  I am walking into a local restaurant that Jen and I both know serves good pasta.  We have both completed all of our work and other business for the day.  Our children have completed a string of activities and are finally settled into their respective homes for the weekend.  We are finally settling in to non-mom mode.  I take the first deep breath I have taken in a long time.  Besides my children, I am leaving behind a soggy basement that was flooded due to the huge rain storm that came up the east coast and a relationship that is in a really bad place.  I have not had a good week.  This restaurant has recently changed ownership and does not yet have a liquor license.  We half joke with the waiter that we need a glass of wine, order our dinners and talk about our plans.  Our race is 2 hours away and we are heading out tonight to pick up out packets so we don't have to rush to do it in the morning.  We have to get there by 9:30 pm.  Our waiter brings our regular drinks and, with them, 2 huge paper cups filled with red wine.  He looks at us, winks, says "shhhhh," and walks away.  We crack up, look at each other say, "What the hell, red wine is healthy," and drink away.  We think we are probably the only 2 women who go out for a pre-marathon meal and have free wine handed to us.  But, that pretty much sums up who we are.  Half-way through the meal, my wine is half-gone, Jen's a little more, and the waiter appears with 2 more cups.  Self-control kicks in, however, and those are left on the table (except for the little bit that Jen smuggled into the car).

Saturday, 10/2, 8:00 am.  We are standing in the start line for the race.  We could not have asked for better marathon weather.  It's picture-perfect.  It's Jen's first and my second marathon.  We made our packet pick-up the night before with 10 minutes to spare.  I had an okay night's sleep.  My thoughts were racing and I was very emotional and reflective over the place my life is in right now.  But all that is channelled as the gun goes off and we start to run.  We stay at a good pace for the first mile, but then, as they continue to fly by, I notice we are getting faster, which makes me nervous.  I am thinking (and sometimes saying) that we need to slow down.  But we just felt soooo good and smooth.  At times, it was effortless. Our pace just kind of happened.

Mile 6: This is where the half-marathon and full marathon runners split off.  The majority of the racers are doing the half, so the crowd is about to disappear and it's about to get very quiet.  We've been running near 2 guys who are in their triathlon team uniforms and they quickly earn the nickname "tri-guys" in my head.  I have spent many hours spectating at various triathlons and never, ever tire of watching the men race.  They, hands-down, have the best bodies ever.  These 2 are no exception, and, when I see them turn right to continue down the marathon course, I am admittedly happy.  Hey, I'll take motivation no matter how I can get it!

Miles 8-10: I begin to wonder why I do this.  The time ahead seems insurmountable.  I notice little twinges in my left arch, my right calf.

Miles 11-13:  Suck. We turn down a very open, very long straightaway in the middle of open marshlands.  It is the first "turnaround" section of the course, so other runners are coming towards us.  I enjoy this new perspective and get a high-five from someone I know.  We finally hit the turnaround, head back down the straightaway and it is suddenly very windy.  It stays that way.  It is not fun.  It seems like it never ends.

Mile 13.1:  I question how I am ever going to do what I just did all over again.  That last stretch of road took a lot out of me.  I have been keeping up with my gels and water and just try to push the doubts aside.  I think we are going to pay for a too-fast first 1/2.  We make it there in 1:58.  It's a half-marathon PR for both of us.

Mile 16:  I know this is where my family is going to be and that energy pulled me through the last 3 miles.  I see my Mom and Dad and my sister and her 2 daughters.  I am so grateful they are there.  They are holding signs and screaming and waving and it is so SO awesome.

my beautiful nieces

coming up to 16

Miles 17-19:  Just like in NYC, this is where my wall hits.  My stomach is not growling and I don't feel like I am going to pass out like I did last time, but I just don't want to run anymore...ever.  I continue to take in nutrition and we begin to walk the water stops to make sure we hydrate well.  My thoughts are all over the place and I strangely begin to become jealous (like, angry jealous) of runners who are walking.  This has never happened before.  We left tri-guys behind a while ago, there are only 1 or 2 runners in sight, and it's very very quiet.  We hit a stretch of dirt road in the woods and both of us seem to be feeling slightly better, our breath calmer, our foot strikes lighter.

Mile 20: I have never been so happy to see a mile marker.  It feels like it took forever.  In my mind, it is as if something miraculous is going to happen at 20, like the goddess Nike herself is going to come down and carry me the rest of the way.  Not so much.  However, the wall is definitely behind me.  Mentally, I am back in the game.  I tell Jen that we now just have to put them in the bank, one by one.  

Miles 23-25: Another turnaround and it seems like the 25 mile sign is never going to arrive.  Jen keeps saying she just wants to finish. We pass the same person who gave me the high five earlier and he is singing "Nasty Girl" by Nitty aloud, a song I love to use in Spin class that always gets me moving and is just dirty enough to make me smile.  Today it makes me laugh and feel lighter, and I just keep reminding myself to put one foot in front of the other....over and over and over again.  I don't know it now, but later I find out that Jen has resorted to downright praying and is trying to remember the "serenity prayer." Today, this is hilarious to me, for many reasons.  Finally, the 25 mile marker appears.

Miles 25-26.2: First tears spring up as I pass 25 and someone yells, "one more mile to go." Jen is clearly suffering.  Her breathing is really shallow and hard and she seems on the verge of tears.  I keep reminding her to breathe, to calm down and that she is about to finish her first marathon.  But that last mile seems soooo long.  We round a corner to the last 1/4 mile and Jen yells "WHERE IS IT..WHERE IS THE DAMN LINE??"   We finally see the finishing chute with rows of spectators screaming and yelling.  I see that my family also made it there.  I am high.  I am yelling with everyone else, feeling so good, completely over the moon.  I cannot believe how great I ran this race.

approaching the finish
4:06:11: Jen and I cross the line together, receive our blankets and medals and give each other a big hug.  I am just overwhelmed with a flood of emotion.  As my legs seize up, it all starts to pour out of me, as if my muscles want to squeeze it out until there is nothing left, no sadness, doubt, fear, or pain. Jen is clearly in trouble. She feels dizzy and nauseous and I just try to support her as best as I can.  I know how strong she is and how deep she dug for those last few miles and how proud I am to have run this race with her. After some food and water and photos and chatting with family and friends, we start to walk/hobble back to the car.  It feels so good to take my running shoes off (Nike Frees by the way) and walk in the cool grass.  It's sweet and soft and, at this moment, it's the little things that make all the difference.  


sole sisters

me and the beautiful Bella