The Enlightening Marathon

Photos never do it justice... that was freakin' steep!

Photos never do it justice… that was freakin’ steep!

Most runners have a mantra (or two) that help them overcome a tough situation.  It might be a simple as “you can do it” or as deep as “keep running for those who can’t.”  I am typically deep and sentimental when it comes to my mantras.  I always think about how my mother would be proud, how I can be a positive role model to my daughters or about friends and family who have fought (or are fighting) cancer.   Those thoughts motivate me to push through the mental and physical barriers that try to keep me from moving forward.

Yesterday’s mantra couldn’t be further away on the mantra spectrum.  You see, I was smart (or stupid… still not sure yet) and decided to run a marathon 3 weeks after achieving a personal record in a marathon.  And not just any marathon…. a marathon that included a 2,200 foot climb up steep and winding roads through a national park.  A marathon that was going to be the most scenic racing adventure of my running career thus far, but a marathon that would also be the toughest one for me to complete.  I knew I could do it, but I wasn’t sure at what cost.  Would my knees buckle and leave me crying on the side of the road?  Would I hurt my ego as I crossed the finish line in last place?

We drove the route the night before the marathon.  It wasn’t like I hadn’t seen it before.  Last spring we came out and did the tourist thing.  At that time I never imagined running the road we were driving on.  As we drove it again the night before, I had a whole new perspective.  Wow, that was quite a climb!  I will be running up that?  This part of the road looks relatively flat, but there really is no true flat section.  I have to run down that?  How will my knee react?  There were some positive thoughts as well.  Holy cow, would you look at that view??  I get to stare at that for 5 or more hours?  I should just look at this marathon as a run to tour the Colorado National Monument.

I went to sleep thinking that everything would be alright.  And then I was wide awake at 4:30 am even though I didn’t need to wake up until 6.  My mind was racing.  Should I wear that shirt or the other one?  How many bottles of water should I carry?  What should I eat for breakfast?  What if it is colder at the top?  How the heck am I going to get up those hills??

Eventually it was time.  I was there at the starting line.  The road started off as a slight incline for the first half of a mile and then it went up.  Up, up and up.  I kept thinking about getting to the halfway point.  Once I was there it would all be downhill.  Then a negative thought popped into my mind.  Yeah, downhill looks good on paper, but the reality is that you could be hurting so bad by the time you get there that it really sucks to go down.  It is not fun to run downhill when your quads are on fire.

But wait, here comes the mantra.  I was recently reading a book about running (okay,  I tend to read these books a lot) and I came across an excerpt on hill training.  It emphasized the need to activate your glutes (yes, your butt) in order to alleviate some of the work that is ultimately placed on your quads when running up a hill.  It happened to mention the fact that you are definitely using your quads if you run up a steep incline and feel the need to put your hands on your knees.  Yes, I was just doing that the other day when I was running up a steep trail.

So, I decided on a new mantra: “Activate your glutes!”  Yep, that was it.  I kept repeating that over and over in my head (maybe out loud a couple of times too… not sure since I was in a daze).  I wasn’t really sure how to activate my glutes, but I just kept my focus on them and hoped that it was working.  Any time I felt like I wasn’t going to make it up the hill I just repeated the mantra.  Somehow I made it up the worst part… the first 4.5 miles of straight climbing.  That was when I reached the first aid station and was greeted with volunteers cheering me on.  I felt like I had just won a major victory!  I was pumping my arms up in the air!  And then I remembered that I still had 21.7 miles to go.  Um, I think I just used all of my energy on that climb and I am not sure how I am going to keep climbing.  “Activate your glutes!”  Then I was off again!

Any slight flatness or decline and I felt like I could fly.  Running on level road or running down a slight incline just seemed so much easier than before!  Of course I didn’t know how fast I was going.  I had decided to leave my Garmin behind and just run based on how I felt.  Afterall, my only goal was to finish.

It seemed like forever, but I finally made it to the final incline (well, I was smart enough to tell myself that there could be a few surprises down the road… which there were).  I was feeling okay.  My legs were still with me and I didn’t feel any unusual pains (not even in my knee).  I tried to tell myself to take it easy going down.  From mile 14 to mile 20 it wasn’t so bad.  A bit rolling, some flattish, slight declines with a few of those “surprise” inclines.

Then I looked over the cliff and saw the road.  Steep switchbacks heading down.  I looked out and could see the park where I would finish.  Just a down and out.  That was it.  I tried to tell myself to take it nice and easy going down, but I don’t usually listen when I spout good advice.  I didn’t focus on my glutes as much because I turned my attention to my form.  I tried to get into a downhill rhythm.  Then I saw them.  The runners who were walking down the hill.  One even stopped to stretch his… yep, he was stretching his quads.  I wanted to yell “you should have activated your glutes on the uphills!” but I figured that it was better left unsaid and I just said “Hi!” instead.  I was so sure that I was going to get passed going downhill.  Yet, somehow I managed to be the one doing all of the passing.  That made me wonder if I was running too fast.

When I passed mile 22 I knew I was as good as gold.  Miles 20-22 are usually my toughest both mentally and physically.  Not this time.  I was even speeding up.  And then there it was right before mile 25.  One more freakin’ hill.  Nothing major, but not something you were hoping to see again.  I just kept going because I didn’t want to be passed.  As I came down I saw a friend of mine.  I ran right up to him and we crossed the finish line together.  I was so relieved to be done that it didn’t dawn on me for a minute or two to find out what my time was.  I couldn’t believe it when I found out I had done that crazy course in 4:03:34!  I was expecting to take at least 5 hours.

Then I realized something.  Nothing is out of reach.  You just have to work hard to grab it.  I never believed I could be so strong and endure so much.  Running that marathon was an enlightening experience that I will never forget.  What’s next?  I’m not sure yet, but I will let you know.

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Hopes, Dreams & Aspirations

A half marathon completed 3 months after Baby #3.

A half marathon completed 3 months after Baby #3.

OH CRAP!  I just realized something.  Maintaining intense physical activity for 6 – 7 hours without stopping is just crazy.  It is like “fall over in your grave before you make it to the finish line” crazy.  What the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this thing??  And to think that it could actually take even longer if I feel the need to crawl during the final 5 miles of the half marathon!  

Why would a part-time working mother of 3 small children do something like this?  I am not so sure about the answer to that question any more.  Why in the world would someone with thalassemia (low hemoglobin) AND hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) do something like this?  It’s not enough that being a mother makes you fatigued… let alone anemia and a slow metabolism.  Then add on 2 – 3 hours of working out.  Okay, now I know what I was supposed to say here.  If I can do this, then you sure as heck can!

Everyone has their own personal hopes, dreams and aspirations.  Running marathons and finishing (hopefully) half ironmans just happens to be mine.  I can’t let the little things get in the way of my dreams now can I?  So, you may not want to run a marathon, but what are your dreams?  Do you pursue them or do you make excuses?  I believe that you don’t really want it if you aren’t willing to go for it.

I watch my friends and family set goals and reach high.  They inspire me to do the same.  They may or may not run marathons or bike 50 miles like I do, but they take risks and make things happen.  I see the beautiful work of an aspiring photographer.  I know dedicated teachers who are a positive influence on the lives of children.  I hear about the friends that advocate for the causes they believe in.  I have family and friends that risk their lives so that others may live.  I watch stories unfold right before my eyes.  People who do remarkable things are all around us.  It might be easy to say that someone who runs a marathon or finishes an ironman is amazing because it is right there in front of you.  But take a closer look and you will see other dreams coming true.

My headline for this blog is: “my mother inspired me to run… now I am a mother inspiring others to run!”  Sure, that is what I hope to do.  But maybe they will be inspired to do something that they have always dreamed of doing, not necessarily running.  That’s okay too.

I Will Tri

This morning marked the end of a journey.  It was my last Saturday morning run with Team in Training.  I remember nearly 2 years ago when I sat in the information meeting just 6 weeks after giving birth to my third child.  I was determined to run a marathon and I knew that Team in Training would help me accomplish my goal.  I was no newbie to TNT.  I had already completed a Grand Canyon hike with the Team in San Francisco and I was well-informed on how the money raised was used for cancer research and to support cancer patients and their families.   Not only did I want to run a marathon, but I knew that joining the Team would be a great way to form valuable friendships.

I was easily suckered in at that first meeting.  The next thing I know I was at the first training wondering if I would be able to keep up with the fastest runners.  I saw a woman there who looked to be about my age.  I remember that she kind of looked a bit tough and she had all of her running gear.  I assumed that she had been running for a while and I must admit that I was a bit intimidated by her.  At the trainings that followed, that running chick always seemed to go above and beyond.  She would run extra miles and turn around to go back up over the bridges.  One day I decided to stick with her and see what would happen.  Wouldn’t you know it, we became each other’s best motivator.  We became good friends…. life-long running buddies.  Even though we are now separated by thousands of miles, I say “life-long running buddies” because we already have future plans to meet up for races around the country.  Even though I don’t see my running buddy, she is still motivating me to do my best and to never give up.  I can’t thank her enough for that.

So we ran the Walt Disney World marathon.  Oh wait, let me back up for a minute.  Let’s not forget the Jacksonville Bank Marathon just 3 weeks before that.  Four of us crazy teammates decided to do our long training run (20 miles) during the Bank Marathon.  We figured that we would run the first 20 (you know, to train) and then just walk the rest (you know, to recover).  Well, that really sucked.  We don’t recommend doing that.  The Walt Disney World marathon was a much better experience even though I still thought I was going to die at mile 22.  But what do you expect during your first “real” marathon?  Pain… lots of pain.  Out of the 4, I came in last… not my best moment, but I finished!

Of course we couldn’t stop there.  My buddy calls me not too long afterwards to ask if I would be willing to coach the Fall Team with her.  Sure, why not?  Oh, but please note that when we say “Fall Team” we mean that the participants train during the summer so they can run a marathon in the Fall.  I hope you realize that I live in Florida.  I soon found out that training during the summer really SUCKS.  In order to beat the heat (whatever that means because the heat doesn’t care what time of day it is) we had to wake up at 4:00 am in order to start our runs at 5:00 am.  Not that I was a Friday night party animal, but waking up at 4:00 am on a Saturday morning really SUCKS!  But you know what?  It was worth watching those participants finish their first half-marathon.  What a rewarding experience that was!

Then what? Oh, of course I couldn’t stop there.  I just had to run another marathon with the Team, but first I had to do my own thing and finish that Goofy Challenge.  Then I was able to meet up with the Team and give it my full attention again.  But let’s go ahead and mention that I couldn’t have done the Goofy without another running buddy who I was fortunate enough to meet through TNT.  Okay,  by now you should realize that it is so much easier to finish a race when you have a MOTIVATOR!  Now THAT was FUN!  Seriously, I was ready for it and didn’t feel like I would die.  It appears that marathons seem to get easier as you run more of them.

Done with Goofy and then back to TNT to finish training for the next marathon.  I had to go back and forth between which marathon to do, but I finally decided on the Country Music Marathon in Nashville.  So, I was chugging away at my training and having fun meeting more amazing people when… WHAM!  Yep, I was hit with THE INJURY.  Whatever, you blasted injury!  It really pissed me off and I had to take a running leave of absence.  But, needless to say, I was determined to at least finish the half-marathon.  And I did.  Somehow.  Still not sure how I ran nearly the whole thing, but I did.  It SUCKED, but I pushed through.  Maybe that is why I won the TNT award for “Most Determined.”

And this morning was our celebration run.  Now what?  Oh, right.  Of course I have a plan.  Now I will finish my first triathlon.  Let’s shoot for an Olympic on June 23rd.