A time to beat

I earned this with a little extra help from strangers.  The running community is so amazing.

I earned this with a little extra help from strangers. The running community is so amazing.

Seriously, it has been decades since I last posted a blog.  I could use the excuse that I have been overwhelmed with family and work, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.  A lack of inspiration is the main culprit of my hesitation to put words to paper.   Once in a while, I post a random photo of the sunrise to facebook after one of my morning runs, but that’s about all I got over here.  Yes, I am loathing in self-pity for my misfortune of being introduced to a place that doesn’t exceed my expectations for running greatness.  The real problem is my recent exposure to a running and triathlon mecca that filled my heart with inspiration and my mind with thoughts of “something beyond myself.”  Kind of like when you find yourself.  Then your life changes and you regress back into the darkness.

Until recently, when I was humbled.  And inspired.  Humbled by others, and inspired by my own self.  I didn’t need a place to inspire me.  I found it within.

I have silently been working hard over the past few months.  Okay, not as hard as I could have been working since I was lacking a bit of motivation.  That may sound odd coming from me, but it’s true.  I still did my thing.  Got up at the crack of dawn to do what I needed to do… most days.  Other days I just waited until after work so I wouldn’t have to get up early.  I got out there in the cold and did my duty… most days.  Other days I just settled for the treadmill and was perfectly content keeping warm inside.  I pushed myself through a tough workout when I needed to… most days.  Other days I just kind of accepted a mediocre pace and thought “I must just be having a bad day.”  Okay, I didn’t always give my running the full attention it needed.  I was being pulled in so many directions that I kind of let that line slack a little.

After my 50, I thought “that takes a lot of time and work, so maybe I should do something shorter.”  It took me months to figure out what to do.  In the meantime, I kind of just ran when I felt like running.  I knew that I had to set a goal soon or else my running (and my weight) would suffer.  Why not bring it down a notch and run a half-marathon?  However, I couldn’t just run another half, I had to beat my best time.  That’s all I wanted.  Until a few months into training when I looked at the results from last year and realized that I might even have a chance to place in my age group.  I never let that goal run past my lips though.  It is a secret goal I kept to myself.  Out loud I said that I wanted to break my personal record.  I’m not even sure who I said it out loud to… maybe just my husband.  I had stopped shouting out my plans to everyone within ear shot.  Probably because I never took the initiative to join the running community here.

The night before the race I considered joining the 1:45:00 pacing group.  I had never done a pacing group before.  I didn’t like groups during a race.  I usually just thrived on being alone.  On the morning of the race, I saw the pacer with his sign and I thought “okay, I will just kind of hang back and see what happens.”  By mile 3, I was chatting with the pacer and a few of the other runners in the group.  By mile 5, a 63-year old running veteran introduced himself and started chatting with me.  At mile 10, Jim was still with me and the pacer was about a minute behind us.  At mile 12, I was silent, but Jim was still there.  I wanted to slow down, but I wouldn’t.  I had to stay with Jim and I had to stay in front of the pacer.  For an entire mile, I quietly chanted “You are strong.  You worked hard.”  Even though the second part of the chant wasn’t entirely true, I never let a negative thought seep in.  I maintained the same pace even though I was never able to accomplish that during a training run.  I always slogged at the end.  Not this time.  I completely surprised myself.  I beat the 1:45:00 pacer by one minute.  And to think that I was only trying to beat my 1:49:00 time.  Not only that, but I placed 3rd in my age group!

I won’t forget Jim for his help.  He had done that half-marathon before in 1:36:00 so I know he could have finished in a faster time.  All I can say is that I hope to be still moving like him when I am in my 60’s.

I have been stuck in my own little world since I arrived here, unwilling to step out of my comfort zone.  I think my experience at this race has changed that.  I know that all I have to do is extend a hand and someone will be there to take it.  I can find what I found in Colorado.  I just have to move past my inhibitions.


Race Anxiety

Crossing the finish line of my last triathlon.

Crossing the finish line of my last triathlon.

What do I wear?  What will the weather be like?  How do I taper?  What should I eat?  What are the rules?  Oh my, I am losing my mind!

This is me when race anxiety sets in.  I can’t seem to make any decisions and I suddenly have a hundred questions that I don’t know the answer to.  A running race is a bit more tolerable.  I only have one discipline to worry about.  One event.  All I have to do is run.  Not now.  Now I have to swim, bike AND run.  AND I have to figure out how to move from one to the next.  AND I have to figure out how to sustain energy for 6 to 7 hours.

I don’t know why I suddenly feel overwhelmed.  I have been running for 7 years.  I have been cycling and swimming for a year and a half.  I have finished 2 short triathlons.  I have run over 2 dozen races.  I have been training for this specific race for over 4 months!

It is called “race anxiety” folks.  Most people have it.  Newbies have it and experienced athletes have it.  Even Olympians have it.  This just happens to be my biggest bout of race anxiety to date.  This is my longest, hardest race ever.  I always thought Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge would be my most difficult race.  Nope.  I always seem to strive for a challenge greater than the last.

Now I drive people crazy with my nerves.  I can’t even talk without stumbling over my own words.  This triathlon seems to be on my mind 24/7.  I think about each workout leading up to the race.  Then I change my mind about what workout to do on what day.  Then I change my mind about how long the workout should be.  Then I change my mind about the intensity of the workout.  Yesterday I went for my last longish run: 8 miles.  But it turned to 6 miles as I was running because I couldn’t make up my mind about whether I should push myself or back off.  I finally took the smarter option, but the answer didn’t arrive until I reached the 3-mile turn around point.

I have seriously read about 10 articles about how to taper for a half ironman and each article said something totally different.  All that did was feed my anxiety.  I still haven’t made up my mind about what I am doing this week…. 5 days before the race.  I don’t know if I am going to completely rest before race day or if I am going to jog a few miles and take a dip in the lake.  I tried to look back in my fitness journal to get some answers, but that didn’t help.  Some days I felt good doing a tough workout the day after an easy workout and some days I felt like crap.  There was no logic to my crappy days nor was there any logic to my good days.

As I write up my gear checklist I have to think about all of the possibilities.  Will it suddenly be a typical Colorado wacky day and turn to 30 degrees?  Or will the weather decide to kill me with 80 degree temps that my body has no idea how to handle?  Will I need to pull on pants and a long sleeve shirt during the transition or can I just slip off my wetsuit and call it good?

What if my bike suddenly falls apart or gets a flat tire?  Will I know how to deal with the stress or will I fall apart and start sobbing right there in the middle of the course?  Should I grab food at the aid stations and risk crashing my bike into an innocent bystander or should I try to stash as much fuel as I can on my bike?  Will I even be able to eat enough, stay hydrated and perfectly ph balanced?  Or will I crash my bike as I try to steer and avoid other cyclists while opening my gel packet?

What if I get too close to another cyclist?  Will I be able to pass another cyclist fast enough to not get penalized?  Will I get annoyed with backing off my speed if cyclists are always passing me and I am unable to go faster?  Am I confident enough about my cycling abilities to not get stuck behind a large crowd?

Will my legs fall off as I start to run?  Should I wear my fuel belt or just rely on the water and fuel stations? Since I know my half marathon pace like the back of my hand, will I get frustrated when I can’t maintain my normal pace?  Will the sun beat down on me and force me to move at a turtle’s pace?

Whew!  I think it helped me just to vent all of that.  Those questions have been going through my mind for the last week.  I don’t expect anyone to answer them because I know I just have to figure it all out on my own.  I never expected my first half marathon to go perfectly so why should I expect my first half ironman to go perfectly?  We can’t learn from anything until we experience it.  There will be setbacks, but there will be successes.  It should be about the journey and not the destination, but sometimes the competitive spirit can only focus on the destination.  However, that can lead to great disappointment.

Today someone said something that really stuck with me.  A coach I met in my class told me that the destination should be viewed as the celebration of all of the hard work that has already been accomplished.  That’s right.  I have done all of the work.  I have been disciplined and dedicated.  I have pushed myself.  I have believed in myself.  Now, it is time to celebrate.  (At least this is what I keep telling myself, but my driven nature seems to keep rearing its ugly head and I revert back to panic mode).

The first half marathon!

Napa to Sonoma half marathon

Bridget and I met while attending San Francisco State University’s teaching credential program.  We became friends the first time we started talking to each other at lunch.  It was awesome that we had all of our classes together and we even got selected to student teach at the same school right down the road from where we lived.  Of course we spent a lot of time attending classes, studying and teaching.  I don’t think I was really involved in a lot of physical activity during that time…. I was too busy trying to get through the program.

That’s why I really have no recollection of whose idea it was.  At first it was a trail run 5K.  Somehow we talked our significant others into doing the race with us.  Maybe I realized that running would help me burn off the baby fat that was still lingering even though my daughter was already 2 years old.  We ran that hilly 5K pretty well and even came in on the top 10 list… okay, so maybe there were only about 20 runners in the whole event.  I suppose that sparked the next plan.  We were going to run a half marathon.  Not just any half marathon, but the one that would take us through the vineyards from Napa to Sonoma where we would finish with some free wine tasting.

Bridget and I trained.  We ran longer and longer distances.  I remember the longest was the loop that went past her house and my house along the bay.  It was a nice run and our paces seemed to fit well together.  We would often listen to music and occasionally engage in conversation.  We suffered together.  We were able to motivate each other and make it to the start of that half marathon feeling like we could actually finish.

Bridget’s boyfriend at the time (now husband) decided that he would run the race with us.  Yeah, he didn’t train for the event, but do men ever have to train for those things?  I was surprised that my husband came, but didn’t run with us.  He could also do it on a whim if he wanted to.  Yet, he remained my best supporter and race day photographer.  The night before we all went out for pasta.  The boys insisted on wine, but Bridget and I refused. We had worked too hard to let it all go.  Besides, wine would be waiting for us at the finish line.

I remember that it was a very warm day and the vineyards never seemed to end.  I don’t think we expected quite so many rolling hills, but they didn’t bother us so much.  Finally, the finish line was in sight.  It never felt so good to cross that line.  We had just finished our first half marathon!  Wow, that was quite an accomplishment!  Too bad we weren’t really in the mood to enjoy our free wine… but the mexican food was great.

After that, Bridget and I planned to run the Rock n Roll half marathon in San Jose, but Bridget wasn’t able to finish the training due to an injury.  Yet, she was still there to cheer me on as I ran my second half marathon.  We kind of tried to keep up with each other after that.  We did a few smaller races and eventually it was time for me to move to Florida.  It was hard, but we found new running buddies and we kept running.  Bridget and I eventually finished our first marathons.

The last time I talked to Bridget she was still pushing that jogging stroller.  I look forward to running with her again!  She was my motivation to achieve greater things.  I may never have finished a half marathon if it weren’t for her.  Thank you Bridget!

The half-marathon I will never forget!

I tried not to think about it as the day approached.  I wasn’t too keen on walking a half-marathon.  I just kept telling myself that the plan was just to finish it and not to worry so much about how I would actually get to the finish line.  I wasn’t as stressed as I usually am when I pack for a race.  I only brought one pair of running shorts, one shirt and one pair of running shoes.  Normally I would make sure I always had a spare of each item.  I didn’t really worry too much about what I ate during the days leading up to the event.  I didn’t feel any real excitement about the race and I mostly just focused on enjoying a vacation weekend away from home.  It was almost like the race was just an after thought.

I eventually arrived in Nashville and spent some time looking around the race expo.  I wasn’t interested in purchasing any race attire or souvenirs.  I didn’t feel the need to take home any mementos other than the medal that I would receive if I crossed the finish line.  The Goofy event a few months ago was a different story.  I made sure I had purchased a shirt that very clearly stated that I had run 39.3 miles.  That was an obvious necessity.

When I went to the inspiration dinner later that evening I was inspired (not an unusual feeling for me at those events).  A young woman talked about how she lost her sister to cancer many years ago.  She cried often during her speech and it brought tears to my own eyes.  I listened as they announced all of the top fundraisers and I was utterly impressed.  At the end of the dinner I still wasn’t sure about my own goals during the race, but I knew that I had already done something… I had raised $3,000 to help fund cancer research.  What more did I need to do?

As usual, I couldn’t sleep that night.  I tend to run races on very little sleep because I have so much trouble falling asleep the night before.  I woke up not very refreshed, but ready to get it over with.  We took our team photo down in the lobby and wished each other success on the race.  A few participants were running the marathon and I felt a twinge of jealousy because that had been my original plan.  Yet, I knew I had just been dealt a different set of cards.  I knew that this would be a challenge and challenges usually motivate me, but for some reason I just wanted to get through it and be done.

I waited with another participant near the starting line.  We actually waited a very long time because we had arrived so early.  She was nervous because it was her first half-marathon and she wasn’t confident that she had properly trained.  I encouraged her as best as I could.  Come to find out later, she actually did quite well.

I went to my corral up near the front.  The only reason why I was up near the front was because I had registered with a decent finish time for the marathon.  I considered moving back since I feared that I would be the only one stopping to walk.  I often get annoyed with people who decide to stop in the middle of the road, especially at the start of a race.  I didn’t want to be one of those people.  Yet, I also didn’t want to get stuck in the back where I had to deal with weaving in and out of traffic if I decided that I would pick up my pace.  I decided just to stay in my assigned corral and move off to the side.

At that point, I began to get a little worried.  The furthest I had walked in the past few weeks was 6 miles.  And of course I hadn’t been on a run in over a month and a half.  I just assumed I would be fit enough to finish because I maintained my fitness through cycling, swimming and weight training.  However, I knew that people who thought that they could run a half-marathon without actually training for it were just plain stupid.  Now I was standing there wondering if I was one of those stupid people.  Not only had I not trained specifically for that event, but I had an injury to deal with.  I began to wonder if I had made a mistake.

Well, it was too late to reconsider because the next thing I knew I was following the crowd past the starting line.  I started at a slow jog because I didn’t want to inhibit anyone behind me.  People were still passing me, but at least I had a decent speed.  After jogging a block or so I felt the adrenaline pumping and I started to pick up speed.  I wasn’t about to be that slow person holding up traffic.  I kept thinking that I should stop to walk.  Actually, that was a recurring thought throughout the entire race.  I never really ever responded to that thought except maybe a few times when coming down a steep incline or during an approach to the water table.  The next thing I know I was at the 5K mark within 31 minutes.  Yikes!  I told myself that I needed to slow down because there was no way that I would be able to maintain that speed.

Every now and then I would consider the pain in my left leg and lower back.  I would consider it thoughtfully.  It was more of a dull ache and not a sharp shooting or severe pain.  I didn’t feel any numbness in my leg or foot so I knew that was a plus.  I couldn’t find a real excuse to stop running at the pace I was moving at.  Then I focused on endurance.  Yeah, I would probably tire myself out before I got to the finish line.  I hadn’t run this far in a long time so I knew that fatigue would take over all areas of my body.  These thoughts always ended with a final decision:  to just keep running until I was either in severe pain or too tired to move my legs.

And the hills!  Wow… Nashville is hilly!  All of my running buddies know I love to run hills.  It is actually the best part in my book because I usually tend to pass loads of people who are wearing down.  Well, you might think that I would get even more tired since I hadn’t been out for my regular Tuesday night bridge runs in quite some time.  Sure, I was more tired than usual, but you know what?  That pain in my left leg would subside when I ran up an incline.  No pain meant more running.  On the downside, I had to go easy with the declines because those made the pain worse.  So, I was passing walkers going up the hills, but runners were passing me as we went down the hills.  They must have thought I was some sort of freak.  Who runs up hills but walks down them?

It was one hill after another, but I didn’t really notice like most normal people would.  The only hill that I actually cursed was the one at mile 12 because I was just so dang tired.  At the marathon / half-marathon split at around mile 11 I easily talked myself out of joining the marathon course.  I knew that would have been just plain stupid.  As I neared the finish line I couldn’t believe that I had continued to run pretty much the whole way.  Not only that, but the time just flew by and I couldn’t believe I was already almost there.  It was then that I felt a wave of emotion.  I had to curse the hill just so I would refrain from shedding the tears.  I just could not believe what I had done despite all of the setbacks.  I wasn’t sure if I should have been proud of myself or if I should have cursed at myself for being really stupid.  I just knew in my heart that whatever pain I was feeling was nothing compared to the pain that Elizabeth and her parents have endured.  I nearly choked at the thought of what it would be like to have a sick child and feeling helpless as she endured endless treatments.  I almost felt like I had no right to stop and walk.

Somehow I managed to cross the finish line at 2:19:18.  My worst time ever, but not by much.  My first half-marathon time was 2:17:55.  A far cry from my fastest time of 1:49:57 (accomplished just a few short months ago), but how can I complain?  My goal was 3 hours!  I was planning to WALK!  What happened?  I don’t know, but I will take it.  I just can’t believe I did it.  I really can’t.

Of course I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed the next morning.  Then I would hear the endless “I told you so’s” and never be able to redeem myself.  But to my utter amazement, my left leg and lower back were perfectly fine.  Strangely enough, I didn’t feel even the slight pain that I had been feeling over the past few weeks.  Yet, I wasn’t left in tip-top shape.  Nope, my body had to reward me with a strained right calf muscle.  Now I am limping around on my other leg.  Okay, whatever.   I will take it.

Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge: Finale

Well, I actually put the word “finale” in my title so this has to be the end of the story.

I woke up at 3am.  Again.  The pain from yesterday’s run remained.  There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of soreness, but just enough that I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles.  Usually when you run a marathon you want to be in prime shape.  I was definitely not in prime shape.  What the heck was I about to do?  It just didn’t seem so fun anymore and I was really nervous.  Once again I tried to lie to myself by saying that I would be happy just as long as I finished.  I thought about how I could probably surpass the 16-minute/mile requirement.

I knew that I would need to wear cooler clothing (shorts & a tank) because the sun would definitely come up while I was running and the weather forecast stated that it would be a high of 70 degrees.  For a runner, that is hot.  I couldn’t even believe that it was that temperature in January.  I guess I should be used to it by now since I have lived in Florida for over 2 years.  Actually, I am not quite sure why I even thought 70 degrees was hot because I had braved many runs through the hot, sticky Florida summer.

I decided to wear my Team in Training singlet because I knew that there would be a lot of supporters out on the sidelines.  Even a few of my friends were going to be running the marathon with Team in Training.  When you wear the purple you are noticed and I definitely wanted to be cheered on at around mile 22.  And this was really a training run for me anyway (sure, whatever) since I am training to do another Team in Training marathon in April.  I love the camaraderie of the TEAM so I knew it would help me get through these next 26.2 miles.

After I had my delicious whole grain waffles slathered in peanut butter, I headed out the door.  This time I decided to drive over to Epcot because I didn’t want to worry about the shuttle.  I also forgot to mention that after the half marathon the day before, I had to walk about 2 miles to find my shuttle home… just not willing to do that after the marathon.  I arrived early and actually had an awesome parking spot (just hoped that I would find it later so I wouldn’t have to walk miles around the parking lot) and I stayed warm and snug in my car until my friend called to say that she had arrived.

We met up and joined the herd to the starting corrals.  Surprisingly, this herd did not seem as large as the day before.  We were actually moving faster than a shuffle.  That was a relief.  Maybe we wouldn’t have to endure so much weaving in and out of walker/runner traffic during the race.  Actually, my friend and I made a deal not to weave during the next 26.2 miles.  We wanted to conserve our running and it would also force us to start out slow.

So, Mickey and Goofy were on stage this time and when we crossed over the starting line I could already notice the difference from the day before.  It was so much easier to run without smashing into the people in front of me and next to me.  My friend and I maintained a good, but slow, pace.  Something was bothering me though.  My right knee was acting up.  It hurt so much that I knew I was overcompensating for the pain and that really worried me.  I kept thinking about how much it would suck to have to walk and I didn’t want to make my friend do that (she had been explicit about sticking together the whole way no matter what).  Then, miraculously, my knee just suddenly stopped hurting at around mile 2.  I don’t know what that was all about, but the pain was gone and I was so relieved.  All I could feel now was the residual soreness from the day before.  I was certain that pain would stick with me (and intensify) during the rest of the race.  I just had to deal with that slight inconvenience.

As my friend and I ran through the theme parks, we would pick up the pace because there would be so much adrenaline from the crowd of supporters (and of course there were people yelling “Go Team!” thanks to the purple).  We would yell at each other to slow down, but for some reason we couldn’t until we exited the park.  Then our pace would slow during the long and boring trip down the road to the next theme park.  There weren’t as many people out on those roads.  When we passed the half marathon mark all I could say was “we just did 2 half marathons, only 1 more to go!”  Our half marathon time was 10 minutes slower than it was the day before, but we weren’t upset about that.  We knew we had done a good job at starting off slow so we wouldn’t die in the end.

Every once in a while I would feel a sudden burst of energy and feel the need to pick up the pace.  My running buddy and I didn’t always get these bursts of energy at the same time, but it would force us to push through.  I had the job of getting us up the hills (since I love climbing up those hills) and my running buddy would need to get us down the hills (she is a speedster when it comes to downhills).  Sometimes we would talk, but most of the time it would be silent.  It didn’t matter either way because we were just happy that someone else was suffering right alongside.  Sounds cruel I know, but we don’t take offense.

There was a nice incline right around mile 19.  I remembered it vividly from last year.  It wasn’t the incline that scared me, but what would happen afterwards.  During the marathon last year I had lost my 3 running buddies at around mile 20 because I just couldn’t get my legs to go.  I had hit the WALL.  This time I was running in this same spot again, but I actually felt pretty good.  There was an out and back portion around mile 20.  I saw 2 people I knew ahead me on the “back” as I was heading “out.”  I waved to them thinking that I would probably not be catching up with them.  I knew they were strong runners (and they both were male… just had to throw that in).  Well, guess what?  We passed one of them within 5 minutes and the other one within 10 minutes.  Oh, that only got me going.  I was feeling GOOD now.  I mean, how many people can say that they feel GOOD at mile 22?  I was still worried that I would hit the WALL, but it never happened.  Sure, I was in pain, but I kept moving and my mind was on a positive vibe.  We ran through the last theme park like it was nobody’s business.

When we were at mile 26 I knew I couldn’t really sprint to the finish line, but I tried my best.  I focused on looking good for pictures so I could keep my mind off those blasted 0.2 miles.  Then we were across and it was over!  I didn’t cry this time, but I was full of contentment.  Okay, and pain.  Lots of pain.  But it’s alright because I expected it.  Come to find out, I had beat last year’s marathon time by 5 minutes!  And to think all I wanted to do was finish…  My friend and I also realized that we had run the second half of the race faster than the first half!  That was remarkable!  We had done a good job at pacing ourselves in the beginning and it helped us get through those last few miles.  I was so proud of our achievement!

So, I hobbled back to my car and managed to drive back to the hotel.  A nice warm shower was such a treat.  My friends decided that we should return to Outback Steakhouse and I agreed.  This time we shared a Bloomin’ Onion and I enjoyed a steak!  It tasted so good!

If you have been inspired by my story, please make a small donation to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  I will be running a marathon in April in support of this cause.  Please check out my website:  http://pages.teamintraining.org/ncfl/madrid12/haponte