Tagged: marathons

Vancouver Marathon – 5/1/11

The following is a guest post by one of my running buddies in our running group, Lauren Cureton:

The Vancouver Marathon was my third marathon and quite possibly my favorite. I’m not sure if we could have asked for better weather or a more beautiful course. Add in a really fun vacation with my husband, good friends, our five year anniversary celebration, three marathon PR’s, Meredith’s birthday celebration, and tons of amazing food, and it was pretty much a perfect trip.

The night before all the girls got into town we decided to celebrate our anniversary a day early. We went for drinks at a bar/ restaurant called Lift, which is right on the water. We got to watch lots of rowers practicing under the setting sun. After that we made our way over to Rain City Grill where we had dinner reservations. Before dinner came, Nick pulled out a tiny black box and said he had a present for me. I was definitely caught off guard as we had said dinner and the vacation were going to be each other’s presents. Anyway, I opened the box and there was the prettiest, most perfect circle diamond necklace. I got him a card. Oops. But, no, seriously, it was so sweet of him and a memory of our five year anniversary that I will never forget.

Friday morning we met up with Kristi and Stephanie at Medina, a cute Belgian cafe. It was so good to see them as we had all been looking forward to this trip for quite a while. After lunch, we headed to the Expo to pick up our race packets and check out the gear. Sadly, there was not a lot of cool marathon stuff, which was slightly disappointing. They did have a Create Your own Button station which was a slight consolation. I racked my brain for something funny, but had nothing. Instead, I flipped back through a motivational email Chris had sent me and wrote, Believe. Push. Don’t Give Up … a helpful mantra for the race for sure.

Now it is Saturday morning, the day before the race. I’m starting to get a little nervous that it is actually almost here. Nick and I met up with the girls and headed to O’Douls for breakfast. We all ordered blueberry pancakes with two different bread basket appetizers. Carbs, carbs and more carbs. Yesss.  We went for an early pasta dinner at Ciao Bella. After lots of pasta, lots of bread, and lots of red sauce we were officially on carb overload. Walked a bit after dinner and swung by the grocery store (which was playing Hockey … coolest grocery store ever?!) for some mini water bottles (they only had Evian, which was fine because that’s all I’ll carry during a race … I’m very fancy;)) and Canadian Twizzlers … a necessity for post race. We walked the girls back to their hotel and then parted ways.

Sunday morning was finally here and I couldn’t believe it. It’s so funny to me when you train, think, and anticipate something for so long and then that day finally comes. I slept okay and woke right up as soon as the alarm went off at 4:30am. The girls came over to our place around 5:30am and we ate our English muffins with PB and made sure we had everything ready to go for the race. Nick and Kristi headed out early as the half marathon strangely started earlier than the full. Steph, Mer and I left not so long after that and had a small hiccup with the transportation, but eventually got to the race start. We checked our bags and hit up the port-o-potties, which had extremely long lines. Start time was getting close and I was getting anxious. Then we had an incident with this incredibly rude girl who insisted we were in the wrong line. I kinda thought Meredith might punch her in the face. Fortunately, some nice people let us back in and all was fine. We rushed to the starting line with not much time left at all before the race began.

I was nervous. This had been a really fun, hard, interesting training season for me where, for the first time, I actually started to push myself … to see how fast I could go. I had a couple of great half marathons, finishing the Austin 3M Half and the Rock n Roll Half both in 1:43:14. I had definitely gotten faster, but didn’t know how that was going to translate in a marathon. Marathons are scary. A lot can happen over 26.2 miles. My first one, in Portland, I ran in 4:53. My second one, in New York, I ran in 4:12. This one I desperately wanted to run under 4 hours. I didn’t convey that to barely anyone, but I wanted it badly. Meredith and I had pretty much done every training run together this spring … over 500 miles … and our goal going into the race was to run consistent 9 minute miles and stay together as long as we could. We exchanged good lucks at the start line and took off.

As we eased into the run, miles 1 – 7 took us through downtown. They were pretty and uneventful. The weather was nice … maybe even a little warm at 43 degrees. We chatted and laughed quite a bit … mainly about Saved by the Bell and other early 90’s TV shows. We were checking our watches constantly to make sure we were on pace. At mile 7, we came across this really cool band with a DJ and a violin player. We contemplated stopping the race and just hanging out to listen to them–they were that good–but decided since we had put in over 4 months of training we should probably keep running. Around mile 9, one of my favorite memories of the race, a guy in the crowd points to us and yells, “Good pacing girls. Stick together.” I don’t know why, but this made me choke up a little bit. This guy must have been a runner and I felt like he knew what we were experiencing/ trying to do.

We ran through Chinatown, Rogers Arena, False Creek’s inner harbor, and eventually into Stanley Park. The sun was shining and we could look to our right and see mountains and water and look to our left and see huge trees and tons of flowers. Seriously, the scenery along the course was breathtaking. I tried to take it all in and keep reminding myself how lucky I was to be able do something like this.

We were in Stanley Park for a while and, unfortunately, they had run out of cups and GU’s since the half marathoners had run through earlier and must have taken them all. Luckily, we were prepared with our mini waters and GU’s. I have always had a hard time taking GU’s during races and was a little worried how this was all going to play out. In New York I only took two and ran out of steam around mile 16. This was my fear for today, so I was bound and determined to force those GU’s at miles 10, 14, 18 and 22. I even wrote it on my arm so I wouldn’t forget. When it came time to take them, we would take turns holding each other’s water so we could get the GU out and opened. This was incredibly helpful and I didn’t miss a GU. I have no doubt this helped me power through until the end.

After finally making it out of Stanley Park, we headed to the dreaded Burrard Bridge. Going up it at mile 17 wasn’t so bad, but I knew we would have to return over it up a steeper incline at mile 24, which I was not excited about. We were now in the Kitslano neighborhood. It was mile 18 and we were still together, side by side, and still peeling off 9 minute miles. I was still feeling strong and very happy we had made it this far together.  I had crashed and burned by this point in NY, so to still be feeling good was quite a relief. This stretch was tough, though … lots of rolling hills and out and backs that made it challenging. We headed back for the return over the Burrard Bridge, which absolutely felt like it was never coming–so much so that the next day we were all convinced they had changed the route mid-race, even though we saw people crossing it on our way over.

Miles 20-23/24: Mer and I are still together. Talking had pretty much ceased and, at this point, we were just trying to make it to the end. I was trying to keep up, but was falling slightly behind. Crap. Keep moving, I tell myself, but it was getting hard. Really hard. I grabbed a cup of water and tried to force it down. Then, like a miracle, Nick appeared. He and Kristi were waiting for us around mile 24. I was totally not expecting him, but it was a much needed and pleasant surprise/ boost. I saw Kristi join in with Mer as we parted ways. Going into the race, I didn’t really know how long we’d be able to stay together, but getting to run 23/24 miles together was pretty freaking cool and it was very comforting to have her there next to me.

Alright, home stretch, up the Burrard Bridge. Kill me. I want so desperately to stop. Nick is running a few feet ahead of me, trying to pull me through. I know I’m close to 4 hours. All I can say to him is, “Help me. Help me.” He’s like, “I’m not sure what you want me to do.” I tell him I’m not sure either. I’m whiny and want to know if the finish line is ever coming. Nick assures me it’s right around the corner. He runs ahead through a tunnel of people and pumps his arms up, getting them to cheer for me. I want to laugh because this is funny, but I just keep moving my feet. He’s bound and determined to help get me in under 4. We turn the corner and I see the finish line. FINALLY. The clock still says 3 something. GOOOO! I’m trying. Nick wants to split off, but I won’t let him. He stays behind me until the end. Finally, I cross with an official time of 3:58:16 … a 14 minute PR. I collapse crying into Nick’s arms with such a mix of emotions of relief, exhaustion, and complete happiness/satisfaction. I did it … under 4 hours!

I looked over and saw Steph, who rushed over and gave me a big hug, and then saw Meredith sitting in a wheel chair. (Don’t worry, she was ok). I made my way over to her to exchange hugs and congratulations. I couldn’t stop smiling. We met up with Kristi and Nick, who both had great races in the half and try to collect ourselves. It truly was a beautiful course with near perfect weather and I just felt so lucky to be able to share this experience with my husband and great friends. Steph (3:50), Mer (3:56), and I were fortunate enough to all hit PR’s, which was cause for celebration.

Here are my splits: 9:09, 8:59, 8:57, 8:58, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:02, 9:00, 8:54, 7:48, 8:57, 9:02, 9:03, 9:15, 8:47, 8:58, 8:56, 8:51, 8:58, 9:05, 8:47, 8:46, 8:45, 9:19, 9:17, 8:50 (last .65)

I woke up the next day not feeling too terrible. A little sore, a little dehydrated, but not bad. It was rainy and cold again … seriously lucked out with the weather for race day.  All in all this was a great trip and fantastic race with wonderful friends. I’m so happy I got to share it with you guys. Vancouver has now earned a special place in my heart.

Can’t wait for the next one 🙂

BMO Vancouver Marathon Website

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First Official Long Run of the Marathon Training Season

7/16/11 – 10 MILES

Yesterday was the first long run of my marathon training.  After taking some time off from my last marathon in February –actually, a little too much time off–then a back injury after a spectacular fall four steps into an easy run, it was time to get back into the swing of things.  I have spent the last six weeks getting my base built back up and have been averaging 20-22 miles per week before this first long run.

My goal race this fall is the Williams Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa.  I had planned on running it last year but was feeling a little burned out and decided to defer the race until this year.  I will be training with Bill and Heather, the WRRC, and the Dallas Running Club (DRC).  My goal is the same as every marathon, to run a sub 4 hour marathon, and that’s what I will be training for.

Met the White Rock Running Co-op (WRRC) at 6AM in the Fuzzy’s Tacos parking lot.  We had a great turnout of around 30 or so people.  I was irritated to discover that I brought my fuel belt but forgot the water bottles in the fridge.  Argh.  It’s a good thing most of our run would be at White Rock Lake, which has water fountains every mile or so.

The starting temp at the start of the run was 84 and the humidity was 74%.  Yikes.  Everyone was drenched in sweat within five minutes of running.  We have all struggled with the extreme heat in Dallas since the beginning of June, including many evening runs at or above 100 degrees, but such high humidity has been rare this summer.  Everyone put on their game faces and powered through.

Our goal was to keep a 9:45-10:00 pace, but the downhill to the lake–not to mention the “fast group” in the front–kept our pace pretty fast the first 1.5 miles, somewhere between a 9:07 and 9:30.  We knew we would not be able to keep up this pace in the heat.  We also knew that we would be stopping at just about every water stop along the path.

I know that I tend to run too fast on my long runs, and one of my goals this season is to slow down to at least a 9:30 pace on most long runs.  With summer temps so high this year, I don’t want to run faster than a 9:45 pace until it cools off.

The run itself was relaxed and the conversation lively, as always.  It was nice to run with a group again and talk to people I haven’t seen in awhile.  Everyone did great, but we did have to stop at all the water stops.  Took a Gu after the first hour of running, which really helped me up those hills the last 1.5 miles of the run.  I felt great on the hills, and was proud that every single one of us ran up the hills without having to stop and walk.  It’s great to know my base is back.

Afterwards, breakfast at Fuzzy’s (including beer for a select few!) and lots of laughs.  I am really looking forward to training for my 7th marathon with such a great group of friends.

Stats:  10.23 miles @ 9:50 pace

New York City Marathon – 11/7/2010

Pure Awesomeness! New York 2010: A Marathon Like No Other by Hari Garimella

Along with several of my friends in the Sixx AM group, I was fortunate to run the 2010 ING New York City Marathon on Sunday 11/07/2010.  It will be an experience that I will cherish forever.  This was my 8th Full marathon (my first was in Dec 2007).  If you ever had to run one marathon in your entire life, I say —–bite the bullet, spend the money, do what it takes, and run New York!

The NYC marathon’s 45,000 runners start in Staten Island.  There was a large contingent of international runners from Italy, France, Sweden, and Holland, in addition to other countries and the USA.  There were also many famous people running NYC (Jared “Subway” Fogle, Al Roker, Bobby Flay, Ed Norton, etc).  Truly a diverse cast!  Runners cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn.  The first 13 miles of the course are through Brooklyn, at which point you enter into Queens, and then cross the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan.  After a few miles through Manhattan, you then enter the Bronx (which accounted for only 2 miles of the course) and enter into Harlem.  After crossing through Harlem, you finally arrive at Central Park (finish line).  This marathon is so full of energy and life, and there was not a moment I was bored (I was smiling all 26.2 miles).

My goals for this marathon were as follows:

1) I was going to have fun!  What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges of NY City?

2) I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon.  I had them in all 7 previous marathons.  Based on my training records, I decided to focus on a goal of finishing the marathon in 4 hours and 20 mins.  I had attempted to finish my previous marathon in 4 hours in Eugene, Oregon, but had the dreaded cramping at mile 17.  I was determined to not let this happen again.

3) I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning.  You had to get a time of 4 hrs and 30 mins or better to get your name printed.

To begin with, I had an awesome group of friends that I trained with in the Sixx AM group. Thank heaven for the Crazy 8’s hill workouts, ladders, tempo, and long runs on hilly roads.  That laid the foundation for our race and helped me through the difficult portions on race day.

Friday afternoon, Nirisha and I arrived in NYC.  After checking into our hotel, we headed to the Expo.  NYC is truly an international marathon.  We saw so many runners from Italy, France, and Sweden (the Swedish contingency had 70 rooms booked in our hotel).  This was probably one of the best expos I have ever been to.  We spent about 2 hours at the Expo and headed back to our room.

Saturday morning, Nirisha and I went to Central Park to take a look at the finish line of the course.  Nirisha had reserved a seat in the finish line bleachers so that she could get to see the elite athletes (and later on me) finish.  Saturday evening, we met Heather and Marc for dinner at Serafina’s (Italian restaurant close to Times Square) to carbo-load on pasta and pizza.  We said goodnight and went back to the room to get some rest.

I laid out my running gear, which included my full length lime green CEP compression socks which I trained with prior to the marathon.  I also decided that I was not going to carry any water bottles in this race.  I also planned to only consume water and gel throughout the entire race.  I had grown to detest Gatorade.  As a new strategy, I also made the choice to drink water only when I was thirsty on the course (instead of pounding water like in my previous races).  As I had mentioned before, I was targeting a 4:20 finish.  All of these were my “tools” to avoid the dreaded calf cramping.

I woke up at 4AM on race morning and started getting ready.  I did 20 mins of dynamic stretching and ate 6 mini-Fig Newtons for breakfast.  I said goodbye to Nirisha and headed to the subway to catch a ride to the Staten Island Ferry.  I arrived at the Ferry at 6:30AM and climbed aboard for the exciting ride to Staten Island.  We passed by the Statue of Liberty and several other landmarks before arriving at Staten Island.  At that point, we then boarded buses which took us 3 miles to the start line.

It was a very cold morning, and the wind was blowing quite a bit.  I wished I had worn a pair of pants.  I only had my shorts, CEP socks, full length technical shirt (with my name stitched on it, thanks to Nirisha), and a throwaway cotton shirt.  A lot of people came prepared with sleeping bags, tents, jackets, and blankets.  Luckily, the organizers of the marathon put up tents for runners to wait in.  I immediately headed to one of these tents and patiently waited in there.  I had two hours to wait since I was designated to start in the last wave at 10:40 (there was a 9:40, 10:10 and 10:40 wave starts).

I struck up a conversation with a lady from Costa Rica.  I was fascinated to hear about how she trained for NYC (this was her first marathon).  She mentioned how tough it was to train in Costa Rica, given that they do not have special areas designated for exercise.  They would run very early in the morning.  For her long run, she ran an 18 mile race (which was part of a 13.1/18/26.2 mile race in Costa Rica).  She did not have any other opportunities to do any other long runs.  It is at times like these I realize how fortunate we are in the US, with so much space to be able to run in.  During the conversation, she also told me that she paid $400 for the entry fee for the NYC marathon (I was shocked, since I paid $185).  The conversation helped speed up the waiting process.  At 10:00AM, we said goodbye to each other and headed to the start line.

At this point, I really started getting excited that I was finally going to run the marathon and not think about the cold weather.  We started to line up at the start line in front of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  To begin the opening ceremonies, someone from the New York Philharmonic sang a great rendition of “God Bless America.”  This was followed by Frank Sinatra singing “New York New York.”  What an amazing way to start the race!  The race had begun!

We all started running on the one mile long Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn.  This is the only time people can run on the bridge.  The bridge and huge vastness of the bay were a sight to behold.  Also, this was one hilly bridge (I later found out that all the bridges were hilly on this course).  Many runners were taking pictures as we ran across the bridge.  I wished I had brought a camera with me.  This was a slow first mile.  I ran close to an 11 min pace for my first mile.

We then got into Brooklyn, and this is where the excitement started. I have never run in a marathon where there are miles and miles of spectators cheering the runners on either side of the road.  This was just great.  It was at this time that I was glad that Nirisha had stitched my name on my shirt.  I lost count of how many high fives I got, and also how many people cheered me.  I always used to think that New Yorkers were a surly bunch.  Now I know that I was completely wrong.  New Yorkers are the most amazing and welcoming people in this country!  There were so many kids cheering.  I even got a bunch of comments commending me (and also making fun of) on my lime green CEP compression socks (these were a godsend).  I took everything in good spirits, smiled, and  continued to run.

At around mile 3 we had the first water stop.  Sticking with my pre-race strategy, I just sipped about two ounces of water (in prior marathons I would pound two full cups of Gatorade at each stop).  I did this at each stop until mile 26.  At around mile 5 I took my first sip of gel (EFS) and again sipped some water.  Everything was going perfectly according to plan.  I continued running and felt like the crowd was only cheering for me (I am sure other runners felt the same, too). Around mile 10 I   took another sip of EFS gel.

With all this cheering the first 11 miles seemed effortless!!  It was at this time that we entered into the township of Williamsburg, where the majority of the population were orthodox.  There was a sudden silence (it felt more like I hit a brick wall) after all of the initial cheering in Brooklyn.  I guess the people of Williamsburg were not too excited about us running through their neighborhood.  The men were so silent.  The women seemed to be looking at us with strange looks.  I remember reading a previous blog by our buddy Danny where he mentioned that he was afraid to even spit in this neighborhood.  I felt the same way.  I think this was my fastest two miles.  I had to get out fast and get some crowd support again.  It was at this point that we entered into Queens, where the crowd support started again.

I continued to keep an even pace through Queens, with no aches or pains.  I took the next sip of gel at 15 miles right before the Queensboro Bridge (entrance into Manhattan).  It was at this time that the course was starting to get hilly.  I felt strong and confident (partly due to running crazy 8s during training).  I was also glad that I did not start out fast in the race, because I was starting to overtake a lot of people at this point.  Many of the runners were walking on the Queensboro Bridge.  It was a hilly bridge indeed.  We then entered into the first phase of Manhattan (1st Ave).

This was such a morale booster.  The crowds were going strong again.  I felt so energetic, and again giving and getting high fives.  I could have sworn that, at times, a group of at least 30 people cheered for me.  I am sure every runner got the same great New York welcome from the crowd.  This crowd simply knew how to make every runner feel special.

At mile 17, I did a pain threshold check (this was where I cramped at the Eugene, Oregon marathon).  I was doing great and feeling great with no pain or discomfort.  At mile 18, I had some more water and gel, and kept on running, overtaking all the runners who started out too fast.

At mile 19 I hit the next hilly bridge called the Wills Ave Bridge (okay, now I am starting to think every bridge in New York is hilly).  I was still feeling strong.  This was where the borough of Bronx began.  The crowd support was okay here for the 2 miles that I was in the Bronx.  Next I entered into Harlem.

I have never been to Harlem before, and I would have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The crowds here were enthusiastic and I felt rejuvenated.  All of Harlem was cheering the runners.  I knew that the finish line was now less than an hour away.  I realized at this time that I had not looked at my Garmin during the first 21 miles of the race.  I ran based on how comfortable I felt.  I was still on track for a 4:20 finish.  This was also my undoing, because now I started looking at my Garmin every two minutes until I finished the race.  I was also beginning to feel tired at this point.

The 21st mile was over.  Now came the “fun” part of the course (miles 22 through 24).  According to the map, this was a hilly portion of the course.  And my friends, yes, it was hilly.  I took my last sip of gel and water, and struggled all the way up.  The crowds continued to cheer the runners, and this got me through this part of the course.  I was so thankful when I made it to the top, and we came around to the entrance of Central Park at mile 25.  At this time I started feeling my quads and calves getting sore.  I started praying that I wouldn’t start cramping, and was thankful for the little downhill that followed.

The downhill was followed by some uphills, at which point I started to silently curse.  My quads and calves began to throb.  I started to say a prayer begging the running gods to not let my cramps begin.  Every time I have had my cramps, I have collapsed on the pavement screaming in pain.  Thankfully, the muscles were just throbbing.  The climax of the muscle throbbing peaked at 25.5 miles, at which point I chose to walk for 2 mins, so that I could allow for the muscle throbbing to subside.   I checked my watch, and saw that I had 7 mins left to make it to the 4 hours and 30 min mark (to get my name printed in the New York Times).  At this point I decided that I was going to run and push the pace, cramps or no cramps, and if I was going to collapse, I would do it at the finish line in style.

I entered into the final phase of the race in Central Park and saw a downhill (thank heavens) towards the Mile 26 marker.  I was so happy, and then as I crossed the 26 mile mark, I saw that the last 0.2 miles was uphill.  I was mad at this point, and my calf and quad muscles were starting to seize up.  I did not stop.  I kept going with determination to finish and finally crossed the finish line at 4 hours 27 mins and 34 secs.  I was done!! And then, all of a sudden, my muscles stopped throbbing!  My prayers must have been answered!  I was so happy!

The first person I recognized at the finish line was the Costa Rican lady I talked to before the race at Staten Island.  We were so happy and surprised to see each other and we hugged.  I was so happy for her that she did fantastic on her first marathon.  We said goodbye, and I proceeded to get (ahem…demand would be a better word) my finisher’s medal.  All runners then received an apple (fruit, not the computer) and a goody bag with Gatorade.  I also got a Mylar blanket (which I still have no idea what purpose it serves, other than being a cosmetic item that really does not warm you up).

I started to look for Nirisha at the finish line, but could not find her.  We had decided earlier to meet outside Central Park at 77th and Columbus, since it was impossible to hook up at Central Park.  There were so many people that it took 45 mins to get out of the park.  It was starting to get cold when I got to the corner of 77th and Columbus.  I waited another 45 mins for Nirisha to show up (luckily Mike hooked up with me while I was waiting, and I had company).  Nirisha and I then went back to the hotel, freshened up, and met Heather and Marc for dinner.  I later heard that everyone from the Sixx AM group did great in the marathon.  I was happy to hear that.  We had all trained very hard and it paid off!

Coming back to my goals for this marathon, and whether I achieved them:

1)    I was going to have fun!  What other way could one see all 5 boroughs of New York and run on the bridges on NY City?  Yes, I had a lot of fun.  In fact, this was the most fun marathon of all 8 that I have run.

2)    I was not going to get the irritating and debilitating calf cramps in this marathon.  I had them in all 7 previous marathons. I succeeded in keeping the cramps at bay for the entire marathon, except for a time period of 2 mins towards the end of the race.  I credit it to proper training and running based on how well conditioned I was.  I was 7 mins off my goal (4:27 vs 4:20), but no big deal.

3)    I wanted my name to be in the NY Times the following morning.  You had to get a time of 4hrs and 30mins or better to get your name printed. Yes, my name was in the NY Times.  They actually printed the names of all the finishers up to 4 hrs, 45 mins.

I had a successful and happy time in New York.  I was happy that my wife came with me and help me prepare for this exciting weekend.  I was happy that our friend Heather got engaged to Marc on this weekend.  I was also happy that all my friends did well in the NYC marathon!  I hope you all will get to run it someday!

The ING New York City Marathon Website

Running Rules

I hate rules and I don’t like people telling me what to do–ironic considering I was a teacher for so many years.  If you tell me I can’t do something, first I’m going to ask why, and then if I don’t like your answer I’m probably going to do it anyway.  I guess all those years of being shy and obedient have come to this.  I like to call it  The Little Miss Goody Two Shoes Backlash.

Right now I’m all about breaking the rules when it comes to running.  But what are the rules exactly?  You know, the ones about building up mileage slowly, wearing supportive shoes to correct pronation, stretching before and after a run, eating before and after a run, and so on.  After five years of reading Runner’s World, I’ve come to realize that whatever you read one month about running will usually be disputed in the next month’s issue.  The rules I’m mostly talking about, though, are the ones that are self-imposed.  I think each person has their own set of running rules that they follow, so my rules probably won’t be your own.

Some rules were made to be broken.  For example, I totally believed the salesperson when I bought my first pair of running shoes.  He watched me run back and forth a few times and told me  my shoes needed to be supportive, and brought out the perfect pair for me (or so he said).  They did serve their purpose for awhile, and got me ready for more serious running, but eventually I started to have a persistent problem with plantar fasciitis and wanted to try something lighter and more natural.  I switched to Nike Free and the problem went away.  It probably wasn’t even the shoes that caused the problem, but I knew that was the first place I should look to make a change.  Even more importantly, I wanted to make a philosophical change and go with something a little more “natural.”  Again, just because someone told me something was “the best” for me, I knew what I wanted, and I loved the way running felt in the lighter, more minimal shoes.

Having said all that, I’m also a strong believer in “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”  Most of my running friends are perfectly happy with their shoes, and a lot of them wear the same brand season after season, which is great.  The bottom line is, you have to find what works for you, and not fall for the latest fads and gadgets just because someone tells you it will change your life.  That gets expensive after awhile, too, unless you ditch the shoes altogether and run barefoot–my favorite break-all-the-rules way to run.

I’m definitely a rule breaker as far as stretching goes.  In essence, I don’t.  I used to have a rule that I needed to stretch before and after every run.  Then I gradually went with stretching afterwards.  Now I usually just start running, and then I stop.  Simple.  I used to do yoga several times a week, back in the days before I ran, but I never seem to make time for it these days.  It’s definitely on my list of things to reincorporate into my life.  I know it will improve my core strength–and the feeling after a good yoga workout is priceless.

Walking during a run is a love/hate rule for me.  When I run from my house I will walk to the corner first, but that is usually because my Garmin hasn’t calibrated with the satellites yet.  I count it is as a light warm-up.  And these days, when the evening temps are still in the high 90’s, I like to walk briefly at the end of my run before I come back inside the house.  I will even take short walk breaks during a run when it’s this hot, if for no other reason than it’s just so dang hot–and walking is a rule I rarely broke in the past.  But during a race, walking is a sign of weakness–but only for me.  I admire those who employ the walk/run method, and wish I could walk without beating myself up.  Which doesn’t mean that I don’t walk during a marathon in those last six miles.  I’ve only run one race where I didn’t have to stop and walk some, and that was the race where I qualified for Boston.

The best rule I’m breaking lately is not caring as much about pace.  I still run with a Garmin, but now I have the cheaper, simpler watch that only tells my average pace for the entire run.  I used to finish my runs by scrutinizing each mile lap, but now I’m okay with just knowing the overall average.  I’m also okay these days with running 3.98 miles instead of an even 4.  In the past, I would’ve run around the parking lot to finish up.  Now I’m happy with “close enough.”

The biggest rule, though, numero uno for years, was being a slave to the training plan.  I used to follow my plans religiously, doing everything in my power to never miss a scheduled run.  If I did miss a run, or didn’t run as far as I was supposed to, it was like the earth had collided with the moon.  It was an instant guilt bath–and I would make up that missing run/mileage by the end of the week.  Now, I’m much more easy-going.  Yes, if I’m training for a marathon I’m going to do my best to stick to the plan.  I know full well how 26.2 miles can feel twice as long if I’m undertrained.  When I’m not officially training–and I really am trying to run only one marathon per year now–I’m going to enjoy my runs more and not beat myself up so much.

So, what does all this mean for the serious runner?  It simply means finding what works for you.  We’ve all read the running books and the running magazines and the running blogs, but the bottom line is that no one knows your body like you do.  Some things work, and some don’t.  The shoes that work for you may not work for me.  Your training plan may get you that sub four hour marathon, but it may run me into the ground.

Find what works for you, and run with it.

Death Valley Marathon – 2/5/2011

Three days after running the Boston Marathon last year I talked my good friend Hari into running the Borax Death Valley Marathon with me.  I’ve never liked crowds, so silly me for running Boston, right?  It’s no secret that I love the desert, and I guess I was looking for something completely different from my other marathon experiences, so I settled on Death Valley.  Besides, how badass would it be to say I had run a marathon in Death Valley–and survived? 

Thursday, 2/3/11

The three days before leaving for Death Valley were snow days, which is pretty much unheard of here in Dallas.  We had to get up at 2am to catch a 6:30am flight to Las Vegas, and hit the road by 3am, which meant almost no sleep the night before.  Hari drove down from Allen on icy roads to pick us up, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.  Had a spat with Michael after he didn’t pack the night before (like I told him to) and then tried to cram all his stuff in my already full bag.  He retaliated by not bringing the cameras, so it was a very quiet drive to the airport.  Poor Hari.  The icy roads outside were nothing compared to the chill inside the car.  It was freezing cold in the airport terminal, too, so we were all glad when we were finally able to board the plane.  The extremely empty flight left at 6:35am, and I enjoyed the great scenery from the window.  Even though we were tired and grumpy, catching a 6:30am flight turned out to be a great idea.  There was no wait whatsoever at baggage claim or picking up the rental car.

Leaving Vegas, we missed our exit because of construction and had to backtrack 20 miles to our turnoff.  We decided to stop at Target for snacks for the trip.  The temperature was very chilly, in the low 50’s, and despite this I decided I’m still not a Vegas fan.  It all seems so fake and surreal and somehow sad.  The scenery, however, driving to Death Valley was exactly what I love most:  desolate, dry, stark, and dramatic.

When we arrived, we were surprised to find an unmanned park entrance—and a machine that took  our $20 entrance fee.  We passed Zabriskie Point and the sign for Badwater Basin, and I thought of both the film and the ultramarathon.  Our rooms weren’t ready at Furnace Creek, so we went to the Forty-Niner Café and carbo-loaded (veggie wraps with Portobello mushrooms), then drove the marathon route.  Hari and I quickly realized it was going to be a challenging course for us, with lots of rolling hills and an uphill climb most of the second half.  At least the 13 mile turn-around was at the base of a huge hill that we wouldn’t have to run up.  We were grateful for that.  I told Hari we would have to run conservatively to save our energy.  

We  got our room keys, unpacked, and rested in our rooms, and I realized I forgot my magic Teva flip flops for after the race (I swear they cure plantars and all other foot ailments).  I would really regret not having those flip flops after the race.  Afterwards, we had dinner in the saloon (pizza) and wondered aloud where all the runners were.  Except for a large table of California runners, there was no evidence of an impending race.  Exhausted from the long day,  I made fun of Hari’s “murse” (man purse) and he retaliated by telling me to always wear contacts and calling my glasses “lasers.”  After receiving a text from a teacher friend that the next day was another snow day in Dallas, I finally fell asleep.

Friday, 2/4/11

I slept great but woke up with a desert dry air induced headache.  We met Hari for a huge carbo-loading breakfast of whole-grain blueberry pancakes and decided to spend the day doing some light sightseeing in the park.  We drove over to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the western hemisphere, and walked out to the water basin.  We all enjoyed looking up at the sign on the side of the mountain showing sea level:  282 ft above our heads.  The weather could not have been better, with temperatures in the low 60’s and snow on the tops of the mountains above Badwater.  Hari and I were awed by the fact that the Badwater Ultramarathon starts where we were standing.  For those who don’t know, the Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135 mile race that starts at Badwater Basin (-282 ft.) and finishes on Mt. Whitney (8,300 ft).  Oh, and it’s run in the middle of July.  Race organizers consider it to be “the most demanding and extreme running race offered anywhere on the planet.”  We resolved to come out and spectate one day (NOT RUN!).

We drove to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and hiked a part of Mosaic Canyon, where we were visited by two ravens.  We also watched a coyote nonchalantly walk through the motel grounds at Stovepipe Wells, then had lunch in the saloon there (yummy fresh salads with avocado, corn, and black beans).  I made everyone stop off for a short walk along Salt Creek on the way back to look for pupfish (found only in Death Valley–we saw exactly one), and noticed tape on the road marking the miles, the first evidence that our race would be taking place the next day.  I started to feel very antsy and energetic.

We rested in our rooms until 5:30 (couldn’t sleep) and had dinner at the Forty-Niner again.  I have to be bluntly honest and say that I had the absolute worst spaghetti I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.  Hari had the special bowtie dish, which was better but swimming in oil.  Except for our prerace dinner, everything else we had eaten in the park had been great.

Hari went back to his room and Michael and I took a short drive down the road to get away from the lights to look at the stars.  I used the Google Sky app on my phone to locate the planets and constellations.  The milky way shone bright overhead and we saw a few shooting stars.  There is nothing I love more than stargazing and looking into the wonder and mystery of the universe.  We went back to our room and I laid everything out for the race.  I got another text from Dallas  and was incredulous  that they were having their fifth snow day in a row.  I was asleep by 8:48pm, nervous but excited, and happy to have seen the desert stars.

Saturday, 2/5/11

RACE DAY

I woke up at 5am, ate two small blueberry muffins, and drank way too much water before the start.  I felt nervous and unsure about how warm to dress.  Even though it was very chilly outside, I knew it wouldn’t last.  I met Hari at 6:30 and we walked over to get our bibs at the saloon, and we were both very surprised that there were no timing chips.  After sitting around in our cabin until 7:45, we finally walked over to hear the race announcements.

About 200 people lined up on Hwy 190 at the start line.  The race director gave a nice shout out to those coming from other countries, including Texas, so we felt honored to be included.  We sang America the Beautiful and the young American girl next to me said she didn’t know the words.  There was definitely a different vibe at this race.  People didn’t seem to be overly friendly and chatty like at most marathon starts.  It’s not that they weren’t unfriendly, they were mostly just aloof.  We realized that most of the Californians we had met on the trip seemed to be that way.

Since there was no chip timing and the marathoners would start first, Hari and I made sure we were fairly close to the front.  We could both feel the downhill as we started and knew it would make the finish that much more grueling.  No matter how many marathons I’ve run (this was number six) and lessons learned, I always start out too fast.  Hari said we were “galloping,” but it was hard to run conservatively on a downhill start.  There was one good, steep hill around mile 2, but the course settled into some long, slow, gradually rolling hills .  I noticed a woman who looked my age just ahead of me, so I made it a point to pass her a few miles in.  I realized there seemed to be many more men than women running this race.  Later I found out there were 142 male and only 30 female marathoners. 

Since this was an out and back course we had to run against traffic the first half, then on the same side as traffic the second half.  This was probably smart, since there were times in the second half when I would have welcomed a car running me over from behind.  The race director and park police kept driving past us with flashing lights, telling everyone to run on or close to the white line.  No headphones were allowed.

My training for the race had been less than stellar, but my legs felt great the first half.  We kept the pace around 9:05-9:07 and stopped for water every three miles.  We also carried our own water packs because of the sparse water stops, and we saw many people running with camelbaks.  Thankfully, the sky was hazy and the temperatures remained cool for the first half.  We were still running in the desert, though, and I couldn’t believe how many people were running without hats or sunglasses.

At mile 6 we could see the huge hill at the halfway point, 7.1 miles away in the distance.  Hari asked if we were going to have to run up that hill, and I assured him that was the halfway point.  We were amazed we could see seven miles down the road, but that turned out to be a bad thing the second half of the race.  The road felt nice and flat, with small rolling hills.  We began to have delusional thoughts that the route might not be as bad as we had initially feared.  At 6.5 miles the half marathoners turned around, and we thinned out.  It is always a bittersweet moment in a marathon when the half marathoners split off, and you realize how much harder and longer your journey will be than theirs.

At mile 10 I felt good, and I was able to take in the beautiful scenery.  I had been fascinated with Death Valley since I was a little girl, but could never talk anyone else into going with me.  I couldn’t believe I was running a marathon there, entirely below sea level, and that there was snow on the mountains above me.  Hari and I ran with a man from Wisconsin for awhile who left us at the water stop, and then we ran behind a young college sophomore girl who talked about her late night adventures the night before.  When Hari complained about her bragging about her late night and being able to run faster than us, I reminded him that she was 20 years old.

Hari and I talked about running, literally, in the footsteps of Scott Jurek and Dean Karnazes on this stretch of the Badwater Ultramarathon route.  It was really cool to know that we were running a small part of that extreme course.  Right around that same time Hari tripped and almost fell, so I took it as a sign that it was time to stop putting ourselves in the same league as Jurek and Karnazes.

Michael passed us in the car around mile 10, and cheered us on.  It was great to see a familiar face.  At mile 11 we started to see the first fast marathoners double back and pass us.  Hari and I made a point to tell the runners good job and way to go.  We couldn’t believe that only about 20% of the people thanked us, or acknowledged our encouragement in any way.   Most simply ignored us.  This happened over and over, so we had another long discussion about how different this race was from others.

A runner passed us with a handheld radio playing music, and we thought he was pushing it on the “no headphones” rule.  I rarely run with music, so running with my thoughts has never been problematic for me.  Of course, my thoughts do drive me crazy those last six miles of a marathon, so maybe I should try it sometime.

There was a very nice downhill to the mile 12 water stop, then we saw Michael again just before the turn-around at mile 13.1.  The turn-around was nothing more than tape on the road, and absolutely NO ONE was there to make sure that everyone ran to the official turn-around tape spot and didn’t cut corners, so to speak.  We both wondered how this could possibly be a Boston qualifying race when there was no official race person standing at the turn-around.

The turn-around tape spot

I was starting to feel a little tired and the uphill seemed to start immediately.  I stayed optimistic, put my head down, and trudged on.  Hari and I both got serious at this point and didn’t say much to each other.  A woman passed us from the opposite direction running in the middle of the road, and I was glad to note that she seemed my age and I was ahead of her.  My competitive spirit was still strong at mile 13.7.

From a few conversations along the way it seemed that a majority of the runners in this race did a lot of trail running.  I wished I lived in a place that had more trails to run on.  We started passing a young man cheering us on who parked on the side of the road and played music with his car doors open.  He was one of only five spectators the entire route.

I tried not to think about how many more miles there were to run, and wondered why marathons were so much harder than our long runs at home.  I decided to run the rest of the race one mile at a time and not continually calculate how many miles left to the finish.  I failed miserably, as always.  Water stops every 3 miles was not working for me at all the second half.  I kept calculating how much further to the next water stop, even though I had water in my fuel belt.  Three mile water stops are simply too far apart the second half of a race, especially in Death @#*$% Valley.

We saw Michael again at miles 15, 17,  and 20.  At some point I started to feel some chafing on my inner thighs, and a blister somewhere, too.  It was getting harder and harder to stay with Hari.  He had been running like a well-oiled machine since last summer, and carried it forward into Death Valley.  He finally pulled ahead around mile 19.  He looked strong and just kept going, without looking back.  I was happy for him and hoped he could keep the cramps away that plague him at every marathon, but I was also sad that I couldn’t keep up.

The hills became unrelenting.  They weren’t big hills, but they were enough to make it challenging.  It was mentally tough to see most of the race course along the edge of the hill.  The long, gradual, uphill stretch was always visible just ahead for miles in the distance, and it was hard not to get discouraged.  I decided to keep my head down and just follow the white line.  This helped a lot. 

At mile 21, I was bone tired of slogging uphill.  Some of the hills were significant, and I noticed that every single runner in front of me, as far as I could see, was walking on the uphills and running the downhills.  It was very hard to resist, and I started doing the same.  I remembered my trail running friends telling me this is a common practice in ultras and trail runs, but probably like everyone else, I hate walking in a marathon.  I resolved to get over it and just do what needed to be done.

I used the white road markers as my guides and kept telling myself, over and over, just run to the next mile marker.  I saw Michael just before mile 23.  I took that opportunity to stop and whine.

I ran most of the race behind a man in a Hammer Nutrition jersey, whom I started calling “Hammer” in my head.  Just keep following Hammer.  When he stopped and I passed him, I told him to keep running, that he had been pulling me along.  We passed each other back and forth until the finish line.  He said he was running Death Valley in preparation for a 50 mile race he was training for, and offered me $10 if we finished together.  I passed a young man and exchanged encouragement.  I saw him later that night in the restaurant and he told me it was his first marathon.  Wow, Death Valley for your first marathon!  How do you top that?

I could always see Hari far ahead in the distance–I mean, I could see his neon green compression socks.  I also saw the moment he stopped running and I knew his arch nemesis, cramps, had paid a visit.  Eventually I caught up to him and we proceeded together.  We passed the road sign exit to Beatty, NV—30 miles—and joked that we should add on some extra miles for fun.

Even though I was exhausted, I was still enjoying myself.  I wasn’t beating myself up over having to take walk breaks on some of the uphills, and finishing was never an issue.  It was starting to get very warm, and the other racers became very encouraging.  Twice we had to stop to help Hari stretch his calves.

Finally, blissfully, there was that fantastic hill around mile 2, only this time it was a steep downhill.  It felt great to let it rip, and I felt like I was flying.  It reminded me of the St. George Marathon and qualifying for Boston.  It was the best feeling in the world.

It didn’t last long.  At the bottom of the hill we started the long uphill to the finish.  Hari was in a lot of pain and had to stop and stretch his calves less than half a mile from the finish.  We were so close.  I told him to keep moving, that we were almost done.  All I wanted to do was finish the race and be done, and it was killing me to stop with the finish line in sight.  Hari walked a little more and I took off, finishing less than two minutes ahead of him, and feeling guilty for not waiting on him.

I finished in 4:18:27.  Not my best time, but not bad considering I had walked some–and it was Death Valley, after all, so I felt entitled to extra badass bonus points for the location.  It felt incredible to be done.  I got my medal and  yelled encouragement to Hari as he crossed the finish line.  We took pictures with Hammer, who had finished a few minutes earlier than me and got to keep his $10 bet, and picked up our t-shirts (well, Hari did, but I was told they had run out of all the small sizes–at yet another race!!!!!). 

We hobbled to our cabin, sat in the rocking chairs outside, and drank a celebratory beer.  My feet missed my magic Teva flip flops, and I realized that I had The Worst Chafing Ever.  Ugh.  I rested, but didn’t sleep, then we all headed over the saloon for the awards ceremony.  I had won 2nd place in my age division!  In a marathon!

We got dinner from the Forty-Niner and ate it in the saloon, and I had a nice conversation with a man from Utah while waiting for our food.  He told me about the Top of Utah marathon, his favorite race (slightly downhill), and told me I would enjoy it.  Earlier, I had overheard this same man tell the waitress that last night’s spaghetti was the best spaghetti he’d ever eaten, that it was hard to find good spaghetti, and since my spaghetti from the same restaurant had been so awful, I have to assume that spaghetti in Utah is like Mexican Food in Kansas.

Since I had forgotten my magic Teva flip flops I had to wear my boots to dinner, and because of the terrible chafing I had to wear a skirt.  I looked kind of stylish, but only I knew the real reason why.  (Full disclosure:  I was in so much pain from the chafing that I bought some Desitin in the gift shop.  I took a lot of ribbing from the guys, but it worked.)

I was asleep by 9:00pm.

Three months later, I have to say that the Death Valley Marathon was one of my favorites.  I loved the small size, the desert setting, running in a national park, and the challenges of the course.  It was tough at the time, but it was an awesome event.  Running with a dear friend like Hari made it all the more memorable.  Most of all, I will always cherish the little red ribbon I got in the mail for placing 2nd in my age group–a marathon feat that will surely never again occur in this lifetime!

Finish time:  4:18:27                                                          

Place:  80/142

Gender:  12/30

Age Division:  2/5

High temp:  85

Low temp:  54

Wind:  17 kph

Humidity:  14%

(All photos courtesy of Hari, Michael, and Hari’s camera)

Headfirst Into the Wind

The Weather Gods sometimes like to torture us runners, and nowhere is this more evident than in Oklahoma City.  I’ve been reading about the experiences of several friends at this past weekend’s Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and the cold, windy, stormy weather conditions, and it brings back memories of my own challenge there in 2009.   In fact, OKC 2009 holds top ranking as the Worst Marathon Ever for me–in particular because of the wind.

Oklahoma is where I was born.  My parents are from a little town in the southeastern corner called Broken Bow, but I was born in the next town over because it wasn’t big enough to have its own hospital.  I was brought home on a cold, icy night in early March, so maybe bad weather just naturally goes along with Big Moments in my life.  It certainly seemed to follow me on my first two marathons.

The fact that I live in north Texas means accepting that the weather can be dramatic at times, if not downright dangerous.  There’s nothing to break the wind out here on the prairie, and summers mean blazing hot temps and high humidity.  Sometimes the wind can seem unrelenting, and can blow for days and days on end.  I tend to do most of my running along the perimeter of White Rock Lake in the center of Dallas, which means there is usually a headwind side and a tailwind side.  People who run with me know that running into a strong headwind is my least favorite thing to do–especially in the winter–and may cause me to grow quite grumpy (which, as those who run with me know, is a huge understatement).

Rewind to December 2008, my first marathon.   Training  for the White Rock Marathon went well, and even though it was my first, I went into the marathon thinking I might be able to pull off a finish time just under four hours.   On race morning, however, the Weather Gods decided to give us a very warm, humid day, with winds gusting to 30 mph. This,  coupled with the usual rookie mistake of going out too fast, spelled disaster for me.  A large part of the course is along White Rock Lake (hence the name of the race), and at mile 13 we headed straight into the wind.  It was like pushing against a brick wall.  At mile 16 I was so beaten down I could not have told you my name, and by mile 19, at the start of the hills, I was toast.  I finished in 4:16:22, humbled by the wind and happy to be finished.  My more experienced marathoner friends felt bad that the weather had been so tough for my first marathon, but I shrugged my shoulders and started thinking about the next one.  I wanted more, and I knew I could do better.

I decided to try a spring marathon.  The 2009 spring training season was extremely cold and windy.  It seemed as if every week the weather would be nice and mild until Saturday morning, when we would wake up at an insanely early hour only to be met with cold, extremely windy weather.  At least it was good training, we told ourselves, and we knew we would be ready for anything in Oklahoma City.

The weather that April in OKC was almost identical to White Rock’s, with even stronger winds gusting to 45 mph and the temps in the low 70’s at the start.  The entire spring training had been cold and we weren’t acclimated to the heat and humidity yet.  Those of us who had run White Rock in December felt jinxed.  Looking out the hotel window that morning at the flag waving wildly in the wind, I felt disheartened and strongly annoyed.  I couldn’t believe it was going to be a repeat performance of marathon #1.

I decided to make the best of it and soldier through.  The first half of the race wasn’t too bad with the wind at our backs, but the high humidity seemed to sap the energy out of my legs.  When I reached the lake just after the halfway point and made a sharp left, it was like coming to a standstill.  My legs were moving but I wasn’t going anywhere!  I must have had quite a scowl on my face because a volunteer ran over to me at one point and asked if I was okay, and if I was “going to make it.”  I looked at him as if he were crazy and yelled out, “Of course I’m going to make it!” and took off.  It was just what I needed to get me around the lake.

There is a long stretch of gradual incline before the finish line at OKC that was like a death march that day.  The wind was full-on in our faces, pushing us back, and it never stopped.  I remember gusts so strong that I would lose my footing, and the wind blowing dirt from a construction site against my legs felt like needles against my skin.  The worst part was that almost everyone was walking at this point, which is my own personal achilles heel.  It’s always tough for me to put the blinders on and ignore those walking around me, especially the last few miles of a marathon.  My brain starts screaming why are you running, they’re not! and I start debating the merits of walking vs. running.  On this day my mind won, and I finally broke down and cried.  I didn’t want to walk, but I did.

One of the best things about OKC is the long finish chute, and I felt like I had earned the screams of onlookers as I crossed the finish line.  I had not enjoyed my second marathon, and wondered if I would ever try another one.  My friends assured me there would be good marathons in my future (they were right), but my first two seemed a steep price to pay for the privilege of a good race.

There’s no getting around it:  marathons are tough.  But that’s why we run them.  Good weather or bad, calm skies or strong winds, we take a deep breath and get the job done.  So congratulations to all those who battled the elements and won in Oklahoma City this past weekend, and here’s to the good stories that will come out of the struggle.

Looking for My Joy

Somehow after running the Boston Marathon last year, my blog–and my running life–seemed to run out of steam. It wasn’t so much that I lost interest in things, it was more like letting the air out of the balloon, very, very slowly. Last summer was much hotter than normal, and I ran a lot less because of it. I got slower, and I lost my running spark. Many of my friends were training for the NYC Marathon and I felt cut adrift–and a little sad that I wasn’t going with them. I bailed on running my planned marathon in November and focused instead on training for the Death Valley Marathon this past February (which will be an upcoming blog in the very near future). I struggled to keep up with my training partner on our midweek sort-of-long runs and couldn’t figure out what had happened to my joy of running.  Unlike the Lucinda Williams song that laments  “you took my joy, I want it back,” I couldn’t just “go to West Memphis and look for my joy.”  Mostly I wondered, what is going on with me?

I suppose everyone goes through cycles of good running and bad running, but this was larger than that.  I wasn’t depressed, everything just seemed off.  It all seemed to go back to Boston.  I was extremely disappointed in getting sick days before the marathon, but in the end it wasn’t a big deal.  Qualifying for Boston was a bigger deal to me; running the race was the icing on the cupcake.  I remember feeling the same way when I graduated from college.  I had busted my butt for four years, taking it all so seriously and checking my GPA over and over, only to find myself in cap and gown wondering, that’s it? I wished I had allowed myself to have more fun in college.  In hindsight, I think I did the same thing to myself with running.  I had pushed myself mile after mile, always trying to get faster and stronger, but I had forgotten to have fun.

So here I am, still looking for my joy.  Though I still seem to be struggling with my running, I have made some changes.  It’s Spring Break and I haven’t run once the entire week.  Some of that is because of my allergies, but most of it is because I just haven’t felt like it. And you know what, I’m not beating myself up for feeling that way.  The pre-Boston me would’ve been mortified to take off from running for a week, but the post-Boston me is okay with being an occasional schlub.  I have also decided not to run another marathon for awhile.  Six is good for now.  As a matter of fact, I’m not planning on racing at all.  Most, if not all, of my runs will be for fun and at a comfortable pace.  My Garmin died about three weeks ago and I have enjoyed running without thinking about my pace every few minutes. I have also bought a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves, which are similar to Vibrams without the five fingers, and enjoy running in almost nothing on my feet.  I’ve even run a mile or so barefoot, and loved feeling like a kid again.

Will it all work?  Will I be able to return to the days when I couldn’t wait to get home so I could tie up my shoes and hit the pavement?   Will I find my joy again?  Only time will tell, but chances are good I will, as long as I don’t forget to have fun.

Lessons Learned from Boston

Every marathon teaches me something, and this one was no different. Usually the lessons come to me a few days after the race, but this time the lessons came fast and furious the last five miles. Since I spent most of the race in my head–and not on the course where I should have been–I was a receptive student.

Lesson #1: Run with friends. I want to travel with friends, run with friends, and celebrate with friends. Running alone is hard. Even though friends are made during the race, they are fleeting, and it’s not the same as running with someone you’ve trained with. I seem to need having someone else there who knows all my strengths and weaknesses, someone who will keep me honest and won’t let me give in when I start to fade. I also think I run better when I feel responsible for someone else’s success, when I know they are counting on me to help them reach the finish line. Even if you only start together, just knowing my friends are out there really helps a lot. (This may not seem like a big lesson, but for someone who tends to keep people at arm’s length, this is big. I’ve only really learned the true value of friendship since I started running.)

Lesson #2: Enjoy the race. This is a lesson I forget and have to relearn every single marathon, so I’m still working on it. I take these things much too seriously. I should have accepted the fact that I was sick and let the crowd help me along the course. Instead, I mostly tuned them out, intent only on finishing the race. Maybe this was a self-preservation tactic, but it wasn’t very much fun.

Lesson #3: Be kind to yourself. Even though I felt under the weather during the race and knew I wasn’t going to have my best day, I beat myself up for 26.2 long, grueling miles. That made the race even more miserable, of course, and certainly had a negative effect on my performance.

Lesson #4: Accept the fact that there will always be good races and not so good races. Every single run is different. We all diligently keep our running logs, analyze our data, and most of us never really know why we run better on some days than others. You can do everything right and still have a bad race. Accept it, learn from it, and move on.

Despite everything, I had a great time in Boston. It was tough, but I learned a lot about myself out there on the course. I made it to the finish line, and that’s all that really matters. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in my time, but when it’s all said and done, who really cares?

Besides, there’s always next year, and revenge is so sweet . . .

BOSTON – After the Marathon

Sprinting to the finish line had taken everything out of me, and I suddenly felt completely and totally exhausted. I was still walking, but I can’t say the same for all of the runners who crossed with me. Many crossed the finish line only to collapse on the ground. Some simply stopped and bent over, overcome with pain and emotion. I kept walking, but I had tears in my eyes.

I didn’t know if Michael and Dominique had made it to the finish line or not, so I followed the rest of the runners as we were tended to by the volunteers. I have never been congratulated and fussed over so much by any other set of volunteers after a race. We were immediately offered water—as many bottles as we wanted—and then given space blankets. Next, another person put a little piece of tape at the neck of the blankets to keep them closed, and then a volunteer passed out little black lunch bags that had chips, an orange, and a granola bar inside. We kept walking, and I wondered if I would ever receive a medal. Finally, we made our way to a table where the medals were given out. I noticed that every single volunteer made a huge deal out of placing the medal carefully over each runner’s head and congratulating them. I loved all the personal attention, and thought of all the races I’ve run where someone wordlessly hands you a medal at the finish and doesn’t even put it around your neck.

Next, I needed to find the bus with my bag so I could find Michael and Dominique. Like everything else about this marathon, finding my bag was easy and very organized. I walked to the end of the bus line and realized I had made it all the way back to Arlington St., one mile from the finish line and one block from the hotel. It was too much. I sat down in the middle of the street, wondering if I would be able to get back up. I have never felt such complete and utter exhaustion. I took off my Nike Free’s and socks ( I love you Free’s and Injinjii socks!!!!) and assessed the damage: one small blister on my left big toe.

I called Michael and left a message: “Please come and get me. I can’t make it back to the hotel by myself.” I left the same message for Dom. Come to find out, I really had beat them to the finish line. I threw on my Teva flip flops just as Michael and my daughter walked up, and we made the slow walk back to the hotel. I was very, very tired.

There was a long line of runners and family members in the elevator line at the hotel, but it didn’t matter. As long as I didn’t have to run, I was happy. I saw Will in the lobby and was shocked to hear that he had finished less than two minutes ahead of me. We both qualified at St. George with almost the same time, and we both finished Boston with almost the same results—and I hadn’t seen him once the entire day.

Up in the room, I lay down on the floor for the longest time and didn’t move. Dominique drew a hot bath for me and I spent thirty minutes soaking and thinking about the race. We discussed dinner, even though I had no appetite, and Michael and Dominique decided to go out for a beer so I could take a nap. I have never felt so tired in my life as I did after Boston.

I rested but couldn’t sleep.  Steve called to tell me he and his family were downstairs in McCormick’s and Schmick’s, but I was too tired to even go down and meet them.  I was amazed to hear that he had also struggled and finished two minutes ahead of me.  Just like Will, how could we have missed each other the entire day?

Michael made a reservation at McCormick and Schmick’s for dinner, thinking we could finally get clam chowder, but I ordered lobster bisque and a Caesar salad instead.  I had no appetite—which usually happens to me after a marathon—and my head was so congested I couldn’t taste a thing anyway.  I ordered a celebratory beer but couldn’t enjoy it because of how I felt.  After all the fuss the night before, none of us ordered clam chowder.

Back in the room, I was too tired to do anything but watch TV from bed.  Michael and Dominique were both tired as well, and I don’t remember falling asleep.  The next day I cried when I said goodbye to my daughter, then Michael and I caught our flight back to Dallas.  I wore my Boston jacket for the first time, proud to be a new member of the club.  I felt worse than I did the day before, and the descent into Dallas felt like sharp needles were being stuck into the sinus cavity above my left eye.  It was all I could do not to cry.

Two days later I went to the doctor.  Prognosis:  sinus infection and bronchitis.  Armed with penicillin, two different asthma inhalers, Nasonex, and a prescription for cortisone, I spent the next two days home from school, resting, writing, and reflecting on this incredible adventure.

BOSTON – The Marathon: Heartbreak Hill to the Finish Line

Cresting Heartbreak Hill was the best feeling in the world.  I surged down the hill towards Boston College and stopped for water.  The ground was so slippery with littered cups that I almost fell down.  Knowing I had made it over Heartbreak gave me a burst of energy and I took off, passing runner after runner, amazed that I was still able to pull off an 8:45 pace so late in the race.  It didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before I was back to playing mind games with myself.  Mostly, though, it was one big pity party, and I was the guest of honor.

Running through Brookline into the center of Boston was like coming out of a fog.  I was aware of every footfall, every yell from the crowd, and for the first time I realized how much my legs and feet hurt.  I looked around and could tell I wasn’t alone in my pain.  One older gentleman was leaning sideways as he ran, and I almost asked if he was okay but figured as long as he was still moving forward he would make it in.  One young girl who had written “This is my first marathon!” on the back of her t-shirt was visibly struggling, and the girl running with her tried her best to convince her that she could do this, she was almost done, just a little bit further.

Even though I only had five miles left to run, it felt like a million.  I continually set small goals for myself: just make it to that sign, now make it to the red light, now pass that woman in the orange t-shirt, and so on.  I saw someone being carried away on a stretcher, and could tell it was a female runner in a white cap.  I was glad it wasn’t me.  I passed a woman running on a prosthetic leg, and felt inspired to keep going.  If she could do it, so could I.

The course slowly made its way downhill, but it was not flat.  There were numerous small inclines that made me grumble.  Some of the downhill portions were actually quite steep, but I was so miserable I couldn’t even enjoy the downhill running.  It didn’t seem to make the running any easier.  Where’s Waldo, a girl in costume who had stayed near me most of the race, finally pulled away, as did Minnie Mouse.

The course eventually made a wide turn that took us past Fenway Park and alongside the Green Line, and I was in familiar territory.  This was where we had gone the other night in our search for the elusive clam chowder.  The crowds were so loud and thick, it was almost overwhelming.  People hung out of building windows, and the edges of the course were lined with thousands and thousands of outstretched hands.  I slapped some, ignored others, and trudged on.  I told myself, over and over, that I was never going to run another marathon.

Finally I could see it:  The Citgo sign, mile 25.  If I could just make it to the sign it meant I only had one more mile to run, and then this agony would be over.  That sign was how the Rocky Mountains must have looked to the pioneers heading west, deceptively close, but farther away than it seemed.  I became aware of some chafing on my inner thighs, and it really hurt.  Why the heck was I chafing there?

I wished I had written my name on my shirt or bib.  The entire run I had heard other people’s names being called out for encouragement, but I was glad of my anonymity.  I was feeling so poorly, I didn’t want to be noticed or seen.  I think, on some level, I didn’t even feel worthy of running the Boston Marathon because I knew I wasn’t having my best day.  Now, running the last few miles to the finish line, I would’ve liked hearing my name yelled out.

Mile 25!  I pulled it together one more time only to see yet another hill, an underpass.  It wasn’t too tough, and I liked the break from the crowds.  More running, then I could see the course making a sharp right that I didn’t expect.  I looked to see what street we were turning on—maybe it was Boylston!—but was confused to see it was Hereford.  Hereford?  Did something happen?  Did they have to change the course?  Where was Boylston?  I checked my Garmin to make sure I hadn’t misread the mileage.  Just keep going.  Of course, like a sick joke, Hereford was another very slight uphill.  There was a left turn just ahead, though, and this time there was no doubt about it:  Boylston Street and the finish line, just ahead.

That final half mile run to the Boston Marathon finish line is something I will remember on my deathbed.  I felt like a champion, and knew how stupid I had been to feel unworthy of being there.  I had fought and conquered, and I was going to cross that finish line leaving nothing on the course.  As the crowds cheered me on, I gave it all I had, passing runner after runner, and sprinted to the finish at an 8:28 pace.  Something I will never forget is hearing “Angela Turnage, Dallas, TX” as I crossed the finish.

Even though I missed a PR by a long shot, and instead finished at “only” 4:32:25, I was happy.  I had run the Boston Marathon—sick!—and finished strong.