This is Why I Run

So it should come as no surprise to you that I’m training for a half-marathon.

This morning, I was really working hard to convince myself to get out and run 8 miles. The weather was A. MAZING. and I knew that already and was excited about it. But I wasn’t excited about running my usual route. And it took me an hour to try to find another route before finally settling on heading out to one of my other favorite trails. It’s an out and back flat and basically in the woods.

Of course, I hit a couple several some walk breaks. And the fifth mile was the longest. But it was during that mile that I was walking a bit and heard a man’s voice from behind me saying, “Come on, girl. You’re doing great. Keep going.”

He was a complete stranger. And he never had to say a word. Most of the runners I passed or that passed me today said hello or just nodded and waved. And that’s typical. Usually it’s during an actual race that the strangers encourage you and you encourage them.

But that’s what I love about the running community. I mean, sure. You have your elites who are super competitive. But even those folks are encouraging of their competition. Hell, half of them even train together.

And then you have the rest of us. We train and we run and we fight to keep going for a medal or a shirt or a beer or to prove something to ourselves, to become better, to have a new goal, to do something different, to be with friends. And we all understand what that journey can be like or what it might mean. And we run not to beat people but to be with people.

When I’m running–at least in a race–it’s no surprise to hear words of encouragement. But it still makes a difference every time they come.

And so today I walked a few more seconds and then kept going with the run. There were a few more breaks, but I finished those 8 miles faster and stronger than last week.

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Running with Heart

Six years ago, sitting on a balcony in Mexico with my best friend and a copy of Endurance Magazine, I was talked into registering for the City of Oaks Marathon.

“We can so do this,” she said.

Keep in mind, I’d NEVER run a race. She’d done a few, but not anything longer than a 10K.

“I will if you will,” I said.

So we signed up. And then I started a PhD program and she resumed life with her husband and five children (whom she’d had for just over a year at that point). Needless to say, our lives blew apart and so did our training. So we made another pact. Let’s change our registration to the HALF MARATHON. Brilliant. No problem.

My longest long run between August and the beginning of November that year was 8 miles.

On a treadmill.

Yeah. I know. I can hear you laughing from here.

No really. Pick yourself up off the floor. It’s unbecoming at this point.

As you might imagine, that race sucked. But I finished it. And the feeling I had coming across that finish line…I rode that high for a good three days.

And the day I crossed that finish line, I knew I’d do it again. With a more than a little more training.

Post 13.1 City of Oaks 07 2

And I have. Over and over. Seven half-marathons, one full, a couple of 10 milers, several 10Ks, and…finally…a few 5Ks.

I became a runner.

Even though running and I are frenemies.

So I was excited today to register once again for the City of Oaks 13.1. And even convince a potential new running (or at least racing) buddy to join me.

I mean, really excited. Because, y’all, I’ve been doing Insanity this summer. And NOTHING has made me miss running more than that.

In spite of the fact that I’m not the world’s greatest runner. Certainly not the fastest. Usually I’m the most self-conscious when it comes to running with other people–even my best running friends.

Maybe it’s because, when all else fails, I run with heart. Because it’s the activity that helps me stay healthy…mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s the thing that contributed to the machine beeping at how low my resting heart rate was when I went in for my most recent physical. And what contributed to my blood pressure being only marginally higher.

It’s the thing that sometimes helps me to appreciate my body and all the many things it can do.

And I was reminded of that even more acutely this afternoon as I sat in a hospital room, visiting a man and his family–none of whom I’d seen in years. But they have always been so special to me. He is working to become strong enough to have surgery to install a heart pump. Without that…or a brand new heart altogether…he won’t be with us for much longer. As I watched the ways in which his wife, daughter, granddaughter, son-in-law and neighbors take care of him and pour love into him, I was reminded of just how powerful it is to work from the heart. Whatever the work.

I know how powerful the heart can be–and how devastating it can be when the heart no longer functions. And maybe it’s another reason I keep running. Because at the end of the day, I can still run and move my body in so many beautiful ways…ways in which other people cannot. And sometimes, I run for them.

A Fifth

I did my fifth half-marathon this past weekend in Charleston.

And got a new PR.

This was the second ever marathon, half-marathon, and 5K in Charleston for this group of race organizers. And it was evident for many reasons. I’m confident they’ll work out the kinks in a few years. The nice part was that it was small. As in, my chip time was only about a minute off the race clock. And folks, I’ve YET to run a race where that was possible. Also, we got a pretty cool medal. And you know you’re running in a southern coastal town when, at the finish line, they have boiled peanuts, shrimp and grits, and beer waiting for you.

Of course, I had to survive the wind that never stopped and the course that, once you got out of downtown, was so boring I was ready to gouge out my eyeballs. I should have occupied my time by counting warehouses. Then again, I probably would have lost count. Fortunately, I was hovering around a pace group and that kept me focused on different things. Like how likely they were to smoke me by the end.

But I did survive. The pace group did leave me, but I came down the chute with a sh*t eating grin on my face looking up at the race clock and knowing I’d done it. I shaved 7 minutes off my time from my last half in March of last year.

Not too shabby.

The other nice thing was that my legs and hips NEVER hurt. I just got tired. Part of that was, I think, because I didn’t really fuel up well the day before. Or the day of. Or the entire week before this whole nonsense was supposed to go down.

I thought I was going to be able to report that I’d run the race of my life. Because I did…for nine miles. And then that ninth mile was the longest EVER. And there was some walking between 10 and the finish line. What kept me going, however, was the knowledge that two cups of Shock Top awaited me at the finish. Don’t judge me, people. Beer is a GREAT recovery drink.

And then I got in that VERY LONG line for the beer…after I snagged some fruit, a bite of a bagel, some A-MAZING green tea that’s produced locally…and the longer I waited, the crankier I became. Then, FINALLY, I got up to the man with the taps to the sweet nectar and handed over BOTH of my tickets. That’s right. I two-fisted it outta there. And then dove back through the line for a cup of boiled peanuts (because they were warm and I was not). And then I headed over to the shrimp and grits area to see if one of my peeps was there. On the way, I drank beer #1. Quickly. As in, gone in thirty paces.

And lest you judge me for THAT, I would like to point out two things: (1) three cups, two hands–you do the math, and (b) holding two cups of beer when you’re already cold only makes you colder.

Which is why I made my way around to near the entrance of the tent to wait for my friend…and cuddle next to a heater. Meanwhile, I started in on those boiled peanuts and kept refueling my body with liquid. And then my friend showed up. He’d not yet gotten his shrimp and grits and we decided it was time. And then I took a step.

You know how when you’re drinking and not moving you don’t really feel the effects of what you’ve just done? And then you stand up/take a step? Yeeeeeaaaaaaah.

Wowza.

The shrimp and grits were kinda tasty. The boiled peanuts were freaking awesome. And I finally righted myself enough to head back to the finish line to wait for my best friend to finish the marathon.

I have to say…I was UNBELIEVABLY proud of Robin that day. Turns out she’d pulled off the course at mile 2 and debated walking back to the hotel.

Y’all. She does. not. quit.

Ever.

She gutted it out from mile 2 to the finish line. She’d been sick the week before and her stomach was jacked the morning of the race. She was never more proud of earning a medal than that one on Saturday. (And she’s done a half Iron Man). I was proud of her, too. Especially since that course only got more boring in the second half (kinda like the Patriots/Broncos game did later that night).

I’m also proud of her husband who scored a PR in the 5K, having shaved 5 minutes off his time in about 5 weeks. And thankful that he was able to still run support staff for us as well.

I also came away from that race feeling more ready for this full marathon I’m supposed to be doing in March. Of course, I have to register first…

Starting with Goofy

I ran my fifth and final race of 2010 this past weekend: the OBX Half-Marathon. While standing with one of my running buddies in the corral waiting to start, I struck up a conversation (like you do when penned in like a herd of cattle) with an Amazon woman standing next to me wearing a shirt from the 2009 Goofy Challenge. You know, the one where you go down to Disney World and run the Donald Duck 13.1 on Saturday and the Mickey Mouse 26.2 on Sunday…and walk away with 3 medals and two very sore legs. And she’s done this not once, not twice, but FOUR times…and will likely do it again in January. According to her, once you do it once, you are addicted. She has also run the Boston Marathon–not because she qualified, but because she raised funds. She, like me, admitted that she’d never be fast enough to qualify. But she got my hopes up, especially when she said running Boston was everything everyone said it is. And this woman, mind you, has an average 13.1 finishing time that is slower than mine.

Somewhere in the first couple of miles of this race this weekend, I started thinking about why it is that thousands of people pay money to run lots of miles on a Sunday morning–and do all the training leading up to it. And I realized that every runner has a story. And every runner has a reason.

For some, it’s to make an extra couple of grand on the weekend when they finish 13.1 miles in 62 minutes.

For some, it’s to commemorate the birth of a child–and getting that pre-pregnancy body back.

For some, it’s the only thing that keeps them going…because focusing on 13.1 or 26.2 is way more fulfilling that that stupid number on the scale that never seems to budge.

For some, it’s proving something to someone else.

For others, it’s proving something to themselves.

For some, it’s showing the world that 42 is better than 35, and almost-31 is better than 21.

For some, it’s the feeling you get when you finish faster than you ever did…or just that you finish at all.

For some, it’s about letting go and trusting–really letting go and trusting–the work you’ve done and the hours and miles you’ve logged training to get you through a few hours in a day where so many variables can make or break your race experience.

For some, it’s the feeling of knowing that you are loved and cared for when your favorite people are at the finish line.

For some, it’s the feeling of knowing that the people bundled up in their coats and drinking coffee(?) are there to cheer you on–even though you are all complete strangers. But a stranger’s encouragement can be the thing to get you over the bridge.

For others, it’s about reclaiming–or claiming for the first time–one’s identity as an athlete…or as a runner.

There are many reasons to run. But whatever got you out there to the start line pales in comparison to the feeling you get when you cross the finish line.

And that’s why I run.

 

13.1 Miles of Green

On March 22, the culmination of weeks of training and long runs (some of which were inside) came down to the starting line of the VA Beach Shamrock 1/2 marathon. I lined up with 4 other awesome girls to run the next 13.1 miles. Some people thought we were crazy for doing this thing. I mean, honestly, why in the hell would people PAY to RUN 13.1 MILES. To say nothing of the other crazies who would start an hour later to RUN 26.2 MILES.

Not the people at the starting line. But then, if we’re all crazy, how would we know?

In November, 2007, I completed my first 1/2 marathon at the City of Oaks in Raleigh. That one started when Robin looked at me in August and said “We can do that marathon.” Notice, the marathon was NOT what I completed. With starting grad school that fall, my training schedule blew apart and I dropped back from the full to the 1/2. Robin, with 5 children, did the same. Al, on the other hand, driven by the need to complete a marathon before he turned 30, did the whole thing. When I crossed the finish line, I said my next goal was to run an ENTIRE 1/2 marathon.

I had heard about the Shamrock 1/2 for awhile and thought: it’s flat, at the beach and sponsored by Yuengling…so I knew there’d be good beer at the finish line. I registered for it and sent an email to Robin and Alison to see if they wanted to join me. The group grew to a total of 5 women. We trained…some days together…some days cursing each other when others had a good long run and we didn’t. And then we showed up on a Friday in March to this FANTASTIC house in VA Beach. Our support staff was comprised of 3 of the 5 husbands who chouffered, cooked, shopped, checked the hot tub (and filled it with hot water because it wasn’t getting hot enough), made mimosas, bought us fun stuff at the race expo, got up when we did on race day and dropped us off at the race course (before sunrise)…and were there at the end to cheer us down the home stretch.

Robin stayed with me the entire course…and I was the slowest that day. Somewhere around mile 3 was a beer tent. Miles 5-7 were through a wooded highway with random signs along the way to keep us laughing (Baseball is wrong. Man cannot walk with four balls). Then we ran onto Ft. Story…occasionally catching views of the beach. All along the way was this little bitty girl with her green tights on and then short shorts on over that…and a sports bra…with perfect abs and her little belly button ring. Her and her dude would run past us and then walk. We’d pass them. Then they’d run past us and then walk. And we’d pass them…and so it went for a LONG time. Somewhere between mile 11 and 12, I looked at Robin.

“You see that girl in the green tights? I’m crossing the finish line in front of her.”

And then the 2:30 pacer passed us.

Damn.

Robin looked at me.

“Um. We’re passing the pacer, too. C’mon.”

OK. Green tights girl was one thing. But the pacer? I didn’t know if I had it in me.

“Come. On. I am NOT finishing behind the pacer.”

And we passed him. We finally turned the corner to the finish line…in front of green tights girl and the 2:30 pacer…never having stopped to walk. And we crossed that finish line in 2:27:02.

And it felt AMAZING.

Seriously. I was high off that for the next 4 days.

And here are some pictures from that magical day:

Trying to find the start line

Trying to find the start line

Sunrise over VA Beach on 3/22

Sunrise over VA Beach on 3/22

FINISHED

FINISHED

The happy support staff

The happy support staff

Unaware that I will feel this tomorrow

Unaware that I will feel this tomorrow

Operation Shamrock has begun

Sort of.

I was convinced to run the City of Oaks 1/2 marathon in 2007. It was my first race ever…and it was followed up a couple of weeks later with the Turkey Trot 8K. And I haven’t run a race since…not because I haven’t wanted to, but because my schedule was crazy and I wasn’t able to consistently train or because things were so up in the air with the adoption process that I never knew when we’d be leaving.

But now we’re back. And I’m back to training for the Yuengling Shamrock 1/2 Marathon in VA Beach. And I have company for the race.

I started officially training last week. Folks, I gotta tell you, when you are generally an active person and then you just kind of hang out for 6 weeks, trying to get back in the groove is UGLY. The first day back (a week before training officially started) I couldn’t even run 10 minutes. Thankfully, that is not a current stat. Last Saturday, I was able to do my long run and felt like I could have kept going. But with the fun weather this week (otherwise known as the Blizzard of ’09), it hasn’t been great. I’m still planning on the long run in the morning, though.

After the City of Oaks (in which I ran/walked), my goal for my next one was to run the full distance. Screw speed. That will be the focus for my third one. Let’s face it: I. Am. SLOW.

Of course, Al says I have to get in a marathon before my next birthday. Just because he did one before he turned 30.

We’ll see about that.

For now, training for the Shamrock 1/2 is plenty enough. I’m hoping to actually keep you updated as I go…you know, motivation and self-monitoring and all…

Oh, and if you have any fun green wear that you think would be good for race day, let me know. I mean it. Really.